This post was inspired by a friend of mine (yes a 49er fan) who recently scoffed at Seattle's ability to play on the road, despite the Seahawks' 4-1 record over their last 5 road games. These wins include a playoff victory and an agonizingly close loss against a 13-3 team that had a well-earned extra week's rest.
Despite the obvious change in Seattle's road performance beginning with the Chicago game last year, people still cling to the idea that Seattle doesn't play well on the road. When confronted with Seattle's impressive road record over their last 5 away games, my friend just smiled at me and said, "A five point win in Carolina? Come on, man."
So I wondered if I was just drinking the Kool-Aid. Seattle fans want to believe that the road woes are behind us, but are we deluding ourselves? So I decided to do some amateur analysis. I am not versed well enough in the Xs and Os of the game to be able to comment on Carolina's defensive front seven, which I am led to believe is one of the top units in the league, nor can I adequately break down their rushing attack, which ranks sixth in the league in yards even though one of their two games came against the top ranked defense in the league.
One thing I can do is analyze the Panthers' record over the last two seasons and try to come to a conclusion as to the quality of a win in Charlotte. It doesn't make for exciting reading, but it provides a little fodder for defending against lazy criticisms of Seattle's performance on the day.
Carolina's record against playoff teams since the arrival of Cam Newton:
September 18th, 2011:
Green Bay 30 at Carolina 23. Carolina came within 3 yards of tying the defending Super Bowl champions late in the fourth quarter. Green Bay would go on to a record of 15-1.
October 9th, 2011:
New Orleans 30 at Carolina 27. Carolina led 27-23 with under a minute to go in the game. New Orleans would finish with a 13-3 record.
October 16th, 2011:
Carolina 17 at Atlanta 31. Carolina led the game early in the fourth quarter. Atlanta tied in the first minute of the final quarter and took a touchdown lead with 7 minutes remaining. A Cam Newton interception led to an insurance touchdown with 2 minutes remaining and the eventual 14 point disparity. Atlanta would go to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Three of their losses were to teams that won at least 13 games.
November 20th, 2011:
Carolina 35 at Detroit 49. Carolina led at the half 27-14 and were tied with Lions until late in the fourth quarter (2:28). A Newton interception led to a late TD and the 14 point win. Detroit was 10-6 on the year. Four of their six losses came to teams that won at least 13 games.
December 11th, 2011:
Atlanta 31 at Carolina 23. Carolina led 23-7 at the half and held their advantage until early in the 4th quarter when Atlanta scored to take a one point lead. Olindo Mare missed a 36 yard field goal with 5:12 remaining that would have given the Panthers a 2 point lead. Two plays later, Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones for a 75 yard touchdown accounting for the final 8 point margin. Carolina would reach the Atlanta 27 yard line on the next drive, but could not advance further.
December 18th, 2011:
Carolina 28 at Houston 13. This game is mitigated by the fact that T.J. Yates was fill-in quarterback for Houston. Yet Houston came into the game 10-3 with Yates winning his previous 3 starts. Houston had a playoff caliber roster and would win a playoff game with Yates at quarterback.
January 1st, 2012:
Carolina 17 at New Orleans 45. Carolina gets rolled in the final game of the season against a Super Bowl caliber team.
Carolina's 2011 recap: The Panthers finished with a 6-10 record, but were competitive in all but 2 games. They played six playoff teams, winning only once, but were in contention in the fourth quarter in five of the six. Three of their losses were to teams with a combined 28-4 record. The defining characteristic of this team was that it was extremely competitive (particularly at home) against the best teams in the league, but was unable to finish close games against good teams.
September 30th, 2012:
Carolina 28 at Atlanta 30. Atlanta needs 2 field goals in the final 5 minutes of the game to squeak out the game in their building. The game winner came with 5 seconds remaining. Atlanta would finish 13-3 and lose in the NFC championship game.
October 7th, 2012:
Seattle 16 at Carolina 12: The Panthers fail to convert on 4th and 1 at the Seattle 1 yard line. A touchdown would have given Carolina a 1 point lead with just under 4 minutes left in the game. Seattle had yet to open the playbook for Russell Wilson, but would go on to an 11-5 record, win a road playoff game, and come within half a minute of the NFC championship game.
November 4th, 2012:
Carolina 21 at Washington 13. On the road, the Panthers win decisively against the eventual NFC East division winner. Washington was 3-6 after the game, but would go on to win their final 7 games.
November 11th, 2012:
Denver 36 at Carolina 14. Carolina was simply outclassed at home by a very good Denver team led by Peyton Manning. After a predictably slow start, Denver would finish 13-3. Every one of Denver's wins was by at least a touchdown.
December 9th, 2012:
Atlanta 20 at Carolina 30. Carolina wins easily at home against the eventual number one seed in the NFC.
Carolina's 2012 recap: Carolina would finish the year with 7 wins, but 7 of their 9 losses would be by less than a touchdown. They were once again exceptionally competitive against all comers, but could not finish games consistently.
Over the last two years, the Carolina Panthers have played against teams that have won 13 or more games six times. Four of these games were played in Charlotte. The average point differential of these four games was -5.5 points and includes a win. Carolina has only failed to be competitive at home in 3 of 16 games over the last two years. Although they have only won six of those games, their M.O. is to give even top tier teams fits but fail to convert those games into wins.
Elite teams with playoff and even championship level rosters have struggled to separate themselves from the Panthers, regardless of venue, but particularly in Charlotte.