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Panthers face toughest strength of schedule in '13

Life might feel a tad unfair for the Carolina Panthers, who struggled through a 7-9 campaign and missed the postseason, only to be rewarded with the toughest road to Super Bowl XLVIII based on their 2013 strength of schedule, as compiled by NFL Network researchers on Thursday.

Facing a slate of teams that finished 138-116-2 (.543) last season, the Panthers might wonder how the Denver Broncos -- the AFC's top playoff seed in 2012 -- wound up with a dance card of opponents who produced a mark of 110-146 (.430).

It's pretty simple, really.

Six of Denver's opponents next season come out of the AFC West, a division the Broncos scattered to the wind in 2012. Denver went 13-3 last season. The rest of the division was a putrid 13-35. (By the way, the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers also boast some of the lightest strength of schedules, simply based on how ugly the West was a season ago.)

The Panthers, meanwhile, come out of an NFC South that included the 13-3 Atlanta Falcons and three 7-9 teams. Not a bad group when you add up the win-loss totals.

Bottom line: Strength of schedule is a siren's song. Last year's darlings stumble; new powers arise; everything you thought you knew -- you didn't.

It's fun to look at, but next season will take care of next season.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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