The Carolina Panthers' first season as an NFL squad was the 1995-96 campaign. They boasted a top-10 defense and finished 7-9. The next season, the Panthers defense allowed the second fewest points in the league, the team finished the regular season undefeated at home with a 12-4 overall record, and went to the NFC Championship game. Though they would lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion, Brett Favre-led Green Bay Packers 30-13, that Carolina team set the precedent for all Panthers teams to follow.
In each season between that NFC Championship game appearance and the 2002 drafting of Julius, the Panthers defense would fail to crack the top-10. But the, with the second overall pick, first-year GM Marty Hurney drafted the dominant, homegrown product out of UNC. Peppers would play defensive end for the Panthers from 2002-2009. In those eight seasons, the Panthers boasted a top-10 defense five times. In Peppers' second season, the 2003-2004 campaign, Carolina went to the Super Bowl XXXVIII, losing an all-time great game to the New England Patriots thanks to an historic 41-yard kick from Adam Vinatieri.
Despite being anchored by the likely future Hall of Fame linebacker Luke Kuechly since drafting him with the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Panthers have finished the season with a top-10 defense. One of those season, the 2015-16 campaign, they lead the league in takeaways, Cam Newton was named MVP as leader of the league's highest scoring offense, and the Panther made their second Super Bowl appearance. Though they would lose 24-10 to Von Miller, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, it appeared that the Panthers, with Newton at QB and Kuechly leading the defense, had dynastic potential.
Fast forward to today, November 15, 2019, and the Panthers sit at 5-4. Not only are they on the outside of the NFC playoff picture looking in and Cam Newton has been shut down for the season. What's more, despite Kuechly continuing to play at an All Pro level - with 17 tackles in Week 2, Kuechly surpassed Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher for the most tackles by an NFL player through his first eight seasons - the defense ranks in the bottom quarter of the league. And despite RB Christian McCaffrey ranking only behind Minnesota's Dalvin Cook in yards from scrimmage, the Carolina offense ranks 11 teams score more points per game, and 19 teams average more total yards per game.
Going simply by records, this weekend's home game against the 2-7 Falcons looks like a cake-walk. But Atlanta held the Saints to their lowest scoring output since Week 2, so Carolina cannot come out flat after a dramatic Week 10 loss in Green Bay. For a squad already in the throes of change, likely looking at offloading a former MVP in Cam Newton in the off-season, falling to 5-5 with two matchups against New Orleans and another against Seattle on the calendar, could spell an early and disappointing, albeit not terribly unexpected, end to the Panthers' season.