The Carolina Panthers have won four straight games.
The streak came just when the season seemed lost for the Panthers. The team had dropped its first two games of the season, both at home, and lost their star quarterback, Cam Newton, indefinitely, with a foot injury.
Under backup Kyle Allen, the team has won four straight, three of them on the road.
But what does it mean? Is this a playoff team that just had a shaky start to the year and has found its footing? Or is this a team doomed for mediocrity that had a string of winnable games?
Four games represent a quarter of the regular season, so clearly it’s not trivial to win them all. But we looked into the past to try to see just how good a team has to be to win four straight.
It turns out it’s not all that uncommon to win four straight. It’s happened 31 times in the last two full NFL seasons (not counting this year, in other words).
Looking farther back for the Panthers: The team is in its 25th season. With this current stretch, Carolina has had a winning streak of four games or longer in 13 of them — more than half.
In all eight years that the Panthers made the playoffs, they had a winning streak of four games or longer. And the 12 previous Panther teams who had streaks were far better than the dozen teams that didn’t, as their combined records show.
Panthers teams with streak: 120-71-1, .628
Panthers teams without: 70-122, .365
Not only didn’t a Panther team without a streak ever make the playoffs, but they’ve also never finished with a winning record. Two of them — 1999 and 2009 — finished 8-8, the high-water mark for a streakless team.
So, a four-game winning streak is, at the least, a sign that you’re not terrible.
That matches the results for the rest of the league.
In the past two seasons, there have been 24 playoff teams. Twenty of them had four-game win streaks. Six of them had more than one in the same season. So, of the 31 streaks in the last two years that we told you about earlier, 26 of them were by playoff teams.
Only five of the 40 teams to miss the playoffs had a four-game streak.
So it seems like a playoff berth is almost a lock, right? Well, not quite. It hasn’t been quite the same postseason guarantee with the Panthers as we’ve seen around the league in the last two years. Yes, all eight Carolina playoff teams won four straight, but so did four teams who missed the postseason. So, based on team history, there’s a two-in-three shot this year’s team makes it.
Let’s address some of the common arguments against this year’s team being playoff-worthy:
They lost their first two!
True, but that matches Panther teams of the past. The 12 previous Panthers teams had a combined 22-45-1 record (.317) before starting their streak. Incidentally, they went 29-26 (.527) after the streak ended, a sign that it could just take a while for the team to hit its stride.
They’ve beaten bad teams!
Also true. Carolina built its streak against Arizona, Houston, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay — teams that are a combined 10‑13‑1 (.438).
This just in: Winning streaks often come against teams that aren’t good. The 12 previous Panther winning streaks came against teams that finished their seasons with a combined record of 473-630-1, a winning percentage of .428.
So, it seems that a four-game win streak is significant, regardless of who you beat. And we can conclude that this year’s Panthers team is probably pretty good.
What will it take for them to join the ranks of playoff locks or at least near-locks? Just one more win should do it.
Six Panther teams have won five in a row. Five of them made the playoffs. Four went to the NFC Championship Game, two went to the Super Bowl.
Around the league, there were 17 five-game win streaks over the last two years. Playoff teams had 15 of them.
So the Oct. 27 game at San Francisco will be a crucial one for this Panthers team in determining just how special this year could be.
Of course, there’s always 2004. That was the year after Carolina’s first Super Bowl loss. The team stumbled to a 1-7 record in the first half of the season, then ripped off five wins in a row. Carolina won just one of its last three, however, missing the playoffs and finishing 7-9 — the one team for whom a five-game streak didn’t lock down a successful season.
Guess we’ll have to play the rest of the games to find out.