Jets/Panthers...Virtual Clones!



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We mentioned during our summer series of NFL Divisional Previews that the Carolina Panthers were surprisingly similar to the New York Jets. We said 'surprisingly' because the Jets are in the headlines CONSTANTLY, getting media praise for their fantastic defense and physical run-based offense. Carolina did the same thing last year, but might as well play their games in Dubuque, Iowa.

With those two teams squaring off this evening in NFL Preseason play, this seemed like the ideal time to run a more in-depth comparison. You may be skeptical at first. After all, the Jets ultimately did reach the AFC Championship game while the Panthers didn't even make the NFC playoffs. Keep an open mind!

NY Jets 9-7
Carolina 8-8

The Jets barely snuck into the playoffs, winning their last two games against teams doing tank jobs to rise up to 9-7 and qualify. Carolina just missed after a late season surge to the .500 mark. Note that the teams played each other heads up last year, with the Jets winning 17-6 at the Meadowlands. If you take that out, the teams were both 8-7 when not playing each other. You can't assume Carolina wouldn't have won a home field rematch.

Last year's storylines took very different directions. The Jets made some noise early, buoyed by a media-friendly head coach who always has something to say. Carolina started horribly, and hid as best they could from the media because of embarrassment. But, when it was all said and done...the teams were both 8-7 when not playing each other.

Caorlina 6.1 points allowed per game
NY Jets 7.1 points allowed per game

You regulars know this is one of our favorite stats. We measure points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more to get a true sense of offensive and defensive ability. The Panthers and Jets were the best two teams in the NFL last year. Even though New York had the reputation of being the best defense in the was Carolina who actually performed best in the category with the best indicator value.

Here's the top five:
1...Carolina 6.1
2...NY Jets 7.1
3...San Francisco 7.9
4...Cincinnati 9.0
5...Indianapolis 9.1

Only three teams managed to hold teams below nine Drive Points per game. Carolina and the Jets were truly in rarefied air in this regard. You literally heard ON A WEEKLY BASIS that the Jets had the best defense in the NFL...and possibly one of the best defenses in the history of the league. Everyone was comparing them to the 1985 Chicago Bears. Carolina was a full point better when giving a long playing field to defend.

Now, you may be thinking that the Jets were slightly worse in Drive Points, but they were probably MUCH better in takeaways. Weren't the Jets always turning games around with a well-timed interception?

Carolina 37
NY Jets 31

Ha! Carolina was also better at forcing turnovers! Don't get us wrong, the Jets truly did have an excellent defense. Carolina was just as good. It was one of the biggest underreported stories of the 2009 we kept mentioning week after week last year to no avail!

If you're wondering about the top five:
1...Green Bay 40
2...New Orleans 39
3...Philadelphia 38
4...Carolina 37
5...Buffalo and San Francisco 33

These are arguably the two most important defensive stats in existence, particularly when you can thrive in both at the same time. Green Bay, New Orleans, and Philadelphia were helped by playing in shootouts where opponents were forced to pass a lot to stay in the game. Carolina was playing many defensive struggles, yet was still able to take the ball away at an amazing clip.

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Okay, we've hopefully convinced you of the similarities defensively, what about offense?

NY Jets 172.2 yards per game
Carolina 156.1 yards per game

The Jets clearly had an edge here. But, they ranked #1 in the whole league after all. They had an edge over everyone. What's important to note here is that both the Jets and Carolina were among the elite in this stat. We're talking about 'clones' today. Both teams had great defenses, and both teams did their damage on the ground offensively.

Here's another top five for context:
1...NY Jets 172.2
2...Tennessee 162.0
3...Carolina 156.1
4...Miami 139.4
5...Baltimore 137.5

With Drive Point defense, we saw the Jets and Panthers among three teams 'on an island' with San Francisco below the 9.0 threshold (and well below it on a percentage basis). Here, we see three teams on an island as well, with Tennessee joining today's twosome above the 150 threshold. Nobody else in the league even topped 140 rushing yards per game.

So, the Jets were better here...but the Jets and Panthers were in an elite group that was way above the rest of the pack.

Carolina 70.5
NY Jets 62.0

Both teams were awful in the air. The Jets were breaking in rookie Mark Sanchez. Carolina saw the 'hopefully temporary' implosion of Jake Delhomme's career...followed by the breaking in of young Matt Moore as a starter. Neither team could do much in the air except for the most rudimentary elements of the passing playbook.

No reason to pull out a 'top five' here. Both teams just missed the bottom five!

26...Carolina 70.5
27...St. Louis 64.0
28...NY Jets 62.0

There are 32 teams in the NFL as you know. We don't mean to drive the clone thing into the ground. Should we even mention that both teams are currently led by former Pac 10 quarterbacks?

In summary:

*In an era where quarterbacks are ruling the day, Carolina and the Jets are doing their damage on the ground because they don't currently have high impact quarterbacks.

*In an era of high scoring shootouts, Carolina and the Jets are playing fantastic defense.

*Both teams were able to play around .500 ball with that combination last year, with their stellar defenses giving them a puncher's chance every time out.

*Both teams hope improved quarterback play in 2010 will help them improve their won-lost records.

*Both teams are hoping that regression to the mean doesn't bite them in the butt defensively, cancelling out whatever gains they might make in the area of quarterback experience.

As you map out the coming season (aided by what you learn tonight from a very busy NFL Preseason slate), keep in mind that these two teams are basically joined at the hip. If you think one has a chance to make a run a greatness, you have to include the other in the conversation too.

Las Vegas has been slow to notice these similarities. They've posted 9.5 wins for the Jets on the Regular Season Win props with the Over a slight favorite. They've posted just 7.5 wins for Carolina, with the Under a slight favorite.

This is why the NOTEBOOK is such an important part of your handicapping arsenal. Oddsmakers are unduly influenced by the media...and they don't even understand advanced handicapping statistics!

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