American Football

The Carolina Panthers are, absurdly, still alive for a wild card berth in 2022


Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers
And this man is the main reason why | Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

This won’t happen, but it might.

The Panthers are still, barely, mathematically alive in the wild card race. That’s an absurd statement to write for a team that fired their head coach after going 1-4 to start the season. It’s even more absurd for being true. It is most absurd for it requiring a 7-9-1 Panthers team at the end of the season to win a whole host of tie breakers against other teams to make it in.

The path is the narrowest possible one I can imagine, but it does exist going into Week 17 of an 18 week season. That’s more than Panthers fans have had to be happy about in a very long time.

Their competition for the last wild card berth are the Washington Commanders, the Seattle Seahawks, the Detriot Lions, and the Green Bay Packers. The obvious scenario here is that the Panthers win out and their competition loses out and the lowest seed in the NFC defaults to Carolina. That won’t work, however, because an 8-9 Panthers team necessarily wins the NFC South.

To make a wild card berth, the Panthers have to tie the Bucs and beat the Saints to finish the season with a 7-9-1 record, in second place for the NFC South. Having fun yet?

In this event let’s break down the Panthers path forward by team.

The Commanders

Ron Rivera’s team already has 7.5 wins, so they’d have to lose out and tie the Panthers at 7-9-1 to end the season. The relevant tie breaker in this scenario would be record against common opponents. The Commanders went 1-2-1 against the Giants, the Lions, and the Falcons this season, while the Panthers went 2-2 against them.

Technically, the Commanders still have the Browns on their schedule as another common opponent, but they can’t win any game left this season and still end up tied with the Panthers, so their only possible tie breaker would pit the Commanders 1-3-1 record against common opponents against the Panthers 2-3 record. That gives the Panthers the edge.

The Seahawks and the Lions

There is some wiggle room in how the rest of this accomplished. The Seahawks and the Lions can win no more than one half of a game apiece to end the season. In other words, they can’t do better than an 0-1-1 record to end the season. That would tie them with the Panthers wild card winning record of 7-9-1, the Panthers would win the tie breaker based on head-to-head record against both teams. Each team can tie, or lose, any game that they please so long as they do not tie more than one of them each or win any of them.

The Packers

The 7-8 Green Bay Packers can also win only half a game more this season if the Panthers still want to earn a wild card berth. Assuming both teams are tied at 7-9-1 to end the season and no other team in the NFC has more than 7.5 wins, then the Panthers and Packers would proceed through the NFL’s tie breaker scenarios until they reached a metric relevant to their seasons. They have not played each other nor are they in the same division, so the first tie breaker between these teams would be records against common opponents.

The Giants, Buccaneers, and Lions are all common opponents between the Packers and the Panthers.

The Packers are currently 1-2 against them with one game remaining against the Lions that they can do no more than tie in to keep this scenario alive. That leaves their best possible common record as 1-2-1.

The Panthers in this scenario will necessarily be 2-1-1, by virtue of the tie against the Bucs that sends them on a wild card chase in the first place. That gives them the edge against the Packers in a head-to-head tie breaker.

The multi-tie chaos

Since the Panthers wild card berth is necessarily dependent on a tie with a 7-9-1 Commanders team, any other team finishing 7-9-1 would make this a three to five way tie.

Head-to-head records should simplify a lot of this, if I’m reading the NFL’s tie breaker policy correctly. The Commanders beat the Packers, the Lions beat the Commanders and the Packers, the Packers can, at most, tie the Lions in this scenario. The Panthers beat the Lions and the Seahawks. The Seahawks beat the Lions.

In a five-way tie, that puts the Commanders at 1-0, the Lions at 1-2-1, the Packers at 0-1-1, the Seahawks at 1-1, and the Panthers at 2-0 in terms of head-to-head records. The Panthers would advance in this scenario.

The four-way tie scenarios get increasingly arcane depending on which teams are involved, but the Panthers should come out on top based on their lack of head-to-head losses and common opponent tie breakers results against each team.

The three-way ties are easy, the Commanders or the Panthers own a head-to-head win over the other three contenders, and then the Panthers own the common opponent tie breaker against the Commanders.

All of this seems beautifully stacked for a Panthers wild card berth to actually happen, until you remember that it all rests on the unlikeliest of outcomes: a Panthers-Bucs tie this week. And then there is the simple matter of four other teams having to lose or tie a whole bunch of games, but what is January football for if not dreaming?

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