- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The cynics are out in full force. As soon as I credited coach Ron Rivera with the Carolina Panthers' resurgence they pointed out the schedule.
"He scheduled these awful teams,'' one wrote on Twitter.
"Giants, Rams, Bucs and Vikings it should be easy!!'' wrote another.
It should be noted that when the 2013 NFL schedule was announced Carolina's was deemed the toughest based on a 138-116-2 (.543 winning percentage) record by its 2012 opponents.
The cynics then were saying the Panthers were in for another long season. Now that they've won three straight and four of their past five to improve to 4-3, some are suggesting the schedule is too easy.
I can be cynical, too.
True, Carolina's four wins came against teams that are struggling. The New York Giants (1-6), St. Louis Rams (3-4), Minnesota Vikings (1-5) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7) are a combined 5-22. They are having dreadful seasons.
But in a league where the difference between the best and worst teams are a handful of players and plays on any given Sunday, in a league where 27.1 percent of the games have come down to a fourth-quarter comeback victory, one must consider just how convincing the Panthers have handled these opponents.
As in outscoring them by a combined 134-38.
In past years, the Panthers would have found ways to make most of these games close. They likely would have lost half or more of them.
So pick if you will on the schedule, the Panthers don't care. Rivera certainly doesn't.
“It doesn’t matter what others think, because the truth of the matter is how we feel about ourselves, and we feel pretty good about who we are,” he said after Thursday night's 31-13 victory against the winless Bucs.
But for those that are all about won-loss records, the next four games are for you. Atlanta, San Francisco, New England and Miami are a combined 15-11.
“Will we be tested down the line? Absolutely,'' Rivera said. "Every week’s a test. In this league when you win a football game, it’s a big deal. No matter when, where, how -- a win is a win is a win.”
Last I looked, all wins count.