Mi casa es su casa.
En route to a 12-4 record, the Panthers were the only team in the NFL to finish the season with a perfect regular season home record (8-0). In these eight victories, they had an average margin of victory of 15.4 points. That’s more than two touchdowns!
Where did this home dominance come from?
In an admittedly flawed exercise, ESPN ranked the NFL’s fan bases before the 2008 season and considered several factors —such as the rabidity of the fans and the loudness of the stadium. The Panthers’ fans were listed as the 25th-best in the NFL. Even if the rankings are only somewhat accurate, it can be assumed the fans aren’t pushing the Panthers to victory.
Maybe the groundskeepers are to credit. While the trend among NFL teams has been to move to FieldTurf for its ability to be played on in all types of weather, the Panthers use grass. They’re good at it, too. In a poll of NFL players, the surface of Bank of America Stadium ranked as the fourth-best grass field in the league.
While any advantage a playing surface gives can be muted by the fact that both teams play on it, head groundskeeper Tom Vaughan and his crew of seven also keep the practice field in shape.
Maintenance of the fields goes beyond making it look pretty. Even when players aren’t being driven into the ground like a railroad spike, they are at risk of being injured as they run and cut on the surface. On a poor field, players are more likely to be injured.
The injury report for the final home game of the 2008 season has only two Carolina players listed. However, a dearth of injuries and an 8-0 record cannot be attributed solely to the playing surface. Otherwise, the teams voted as having better grass playing surfaces (Tampa Bay, San Diego, and Arizona) would also have been perfect at home.
Perhaps, the 2008 season was simply an outlier. Since 2001, the Panthers have been merely mediocre at home. From 2001 to 2007, the Panthers had a home winning percentage of .429 (24-32) compared to a .500 (28-28) winning percentage on the road.
While it’s possible that the 2008 Panthers have turned a corner and are going to continue to be ungracious hosts, it is more likely that they took advantage of a soft spot in their schedule.
Of their eight home games, only two came against teams that made it to the playoffs. Overall, their opponents had a combined winning percentage of .438 (56-72). The 2009 home schedule looks to be much tougher. The Panthers will play host to teams that had a combined winning percentage of .570 (73-54-1) last year, four of which made the 2008 playoffs.
If the Panthers are to repeat as champions in the tough NFC South, they will need to maintain their unwelcoming attitude.
Why do you think that the Panthers were so dominant at home in 2008? What do you think their home record will be in 2009?