CHARLOTTE – NFL teams have no input into when their bye week falls, but that doesn't stop players and coaches from expressing their thoughts on whether it falls at the right time.
"We need it body wise, but we're rolling," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said before the Panthers took a three-game winning streak into their weekend off. "I've been on teams where we were rolling, then we went on the bye and we lost like three games in a row."
Munnerlyn has had more than his share of post-bye bellyaches, which means the Panthers have as well. A rookie in 2009, Munnerlyn and the Panthers actually won after the bye his first two years in the league (including the 2010 team that finished 2-14), but since then Munnerlyn is 1-5 after the bye. That includes his third and final year in Minnesota last season when the Vikings stood as the league's lone unbeaten at 5-0 but then lost four straight after the bye and didn't make the playoffs.
Munnerlyn's experience, however, is more the exception than the rule.
All but nine of 32 teams since division realignment in 2002 have a better winning percentage in games after the bye than they have otherwise. The Panthers are in the minority, but it's really close: Over the previous 15 regular seasons, Carolina has won 53.3 percent of its games off byes (8-7) versus 53.9 percent of its other games (118-101-1). Win Sunday against the Jets, and the Panthers too will sport a better post-bye week record.
Since 2002, NFL teams have won 55 percent of their games off the bye. The Panthers are trending toward a similar success rate, a reversal of a trend from early in head coach Ron Rivera's tenure.
Rivera's first four seasons after the bye bordered on disaster. His first team in 2011 suffered a 30-3 loss to the Titans – still ranking as the second-most lopsided home loss in his six-plus seasons – and the loss to the Cowboys after the bye the following season brought the decision the next day to part ways with general manager Marty Hurney.
The next year, in 2013, the Panthers followed a 38-0 victory over the Giants with a dud of a loss at Arizona after the bye (though that team then responded with eight consecutive victories). The 2014 team bottomed up with a 31-13 loss against Munnerlyn and Minnesota but then rallied from 3-8-1 to make the playoffs.
The resilience of the 2013 and 2014 teams after post-bye losses set the stage for Rivera and Co. to have some post-bye success the last couple of seasons.
One of Rivera's signature victories came after the bye in 2015, when a team that had built a reputation for struggling after the bye visited a Seahawks juggernaut that the Panthers had pushed but lost to multiple times. Chatter on both fronts screeched to a halt after a dramatic 27-23 victory that catapulted Carolina toward a historic 15-1 season.
Then last year the Panthers took a step back at 6-10 but again stepped up after the bye, sacking Carson Palmer eight times in a 30-20 triumph over the Cardinals.
"I don't think there's a real magic formula to it. I've tried to look at it," Rivera said. "Early on we weren't very good coming out of the byes, and then we started being pretty good out of the byes. I really just think it's about the players."
Rivera also credited the players for his strong record in November and December. The Panthers are 36-15 in those months under Rivera, going at least .500 down the stretch every season. So far they're 2-0 this November, and Rivera would be quicker to credit success this Sunday on the recent penchant for strong finishes.
Still, the bye falling toward the end of the season improves the Panthers' prospects of finishing strong yet again. While the Saints and Falcons got their break back in Week 5 and the Buccaneers lost their late bye to Hurricane Irma and will play every week from Week 2 on, the Panthers are rested and ready for what should be an entertaining stretch run.
View practice photos from the week leading up to the Panthers' game against the Jets.