The Steelers and Panthers are the last two teams in the NFL to have a bye this season. Conventional wisdom is that a week off later in the season, when teams are most tired and injuries have taken a toll, is more desirable than an early bye. Despite having almost exactly inverse records (Pittsburgh is 7-4 while Carolina is 3-7-1), both teams are contending for playoff spots thanks to the NFC South being historically bad. So what can we expect when the two teams return from their rest?
Pittsburgh has won four of their last five and, entering week 13, will be no worse than half-a-game out of first place in the AFC North. Three of their final five games are at home and they play two critical games with AFC North rival Cincinnati in weeks 14 and 17. Pittsburgh has already split its two meetings with Baltimore and Cleveland this season. Three of their four losses have come on the road, but besides the Bengals, their only away game is against a mediocre Atlanta. The Steelers are 5-6 against the spread including a 3-2 mark at home. All five of their home games have gone over the total. When Pittsburgh returns from a bye, they’ll host New Orleans who will be playing on a short week after taking on the Ravens on Monday night. Since 2007, Pittsburgh is an NFL-best 8-1 following a bye week.
Despite failing to win a game since week 5 (31-24 over Chicago) and having the worst point differential in the NFC through eleven weeks (-85), Carolina is right in the thick of the playoff race. Thanks to a division full of sub-.500 teams, if Carolina can regroup during their bye week, they could wind-up hosting a postseason game. After starting the season 3-2-1, the Panthers have dropped five straight. They are 1-2 against their division with one game left against each of New Orleans, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay. Their other two remaining games are winnable contests against Minnesota and Cleveland. The Panthers travel to face the Vikings in their first game after the bye. Carolina is 6-5 against the spread, 2-3 on the road, and four of their five games outside of Charlotte have gone over. Since Ron Rivera took over as Panthers coach, Carolina is 0-3 after regular season byes and 0-1 with a week off leading up to a playoff game. That doesn’t bode well for a Panthers team in desperate need of a recalibration.