It's amazing how you can have such high hopes for your team, only to have them let you down. The Panthers, once the national media's Super Bowl hopefuls, have now sunk to mediocre at best. This team will first of all have to win three in a row to close the season (unlikely the way the Steelers, Dirty Birds and 'Aints have been surging of late), and rely on a LOT of help from teams including - dare I say, Dallas - to help push back other contenders. Ain't gonna happen folks.
This team has recently been banged up with injuries, and even those folks that are out haven't contributed an amount equivalent to a hill of beans. Panther "star" receivers Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson have not played up to their potential, with both close to the NFL lead in dropped passes - only slightly behind another ego-maniac Terrell Owens for the league lead. The Panthers offensive line, once thought to be gelling around Week 6, have not been able to block an 80-year-old woman to create running room, thus creating scenarios for Jake Delhomme to win with his arm, which isn't going to happen. If you want to win with a QB's arm on this team, it would have to be with 35-year-old Chris Weinke, who's arm is superior to Delhomme's, but without a running game, the defense can key on shutting down Carolina's receivers. Those same receivers who couldn't catch a cold on Sundays this year.
Carolina's defense, once revered as one of the top 10 defenses in NFL History, has been terrible too. They cannot stop the run, which is surprising, and All-World freak DE Julius Peppers, once the league leader in sacks, hasn't touched an opposing quarterback for meaningful plays in almost a month. The secondary is old and brittle, and once-hopeful CB Chris Gamble seems to give up on plays, therefore creating more work for geriatric S Mike Minter. Gamble will need to start improving again if he wants to continue earning fat cash as a Panther. He has already lost his PR job to Smith, which is something the Panthers did not want to rely on, but the return teams and special teams overall have been dreadful at best.
As you can see, the Panthers have been a colossal disappointment. If they were to somehow luck out and get into the playoffs, the "Big Boys" - Dallas, New Orleans and Chicago - would have a field day wiping them from contention again. What can I say, but "better luck next year, fellas!"