This article is part of our Team Previews series.
State of the Franchise
The Panthers' 2012 season started glaringly similar to their 2011 campaign with a disappointing 2-8 record through 10 games. However, entering Year Two of the union between coach Ron Rivera and franchise QB Cam Newton – who had set records for rookie passing yards and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in his debut season – preseason expectations in Carolina were perhaps a tad unrealistic. To put that notion into perspective, three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil bought a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer prior to the season featuring the headline, "Why the Carolina Panthers will win Super Bowl XLVII."
While the Panthers started off sluggishly, they at least tended to be competitive in most of their games out of the gate. Besides two blowout home losses at the hands of both Manning brothers, the Panthers lost four consecutive games to the Falcons, Seahawks, Cowboys and Bears, all by five points or less, in addition to an overtime loss to the Buccaneers in Week 11. Along with the tough start, Kalil and former Pro Bowl LB Jon Beason were both placed on Injured Reserve and the Panthers fired GM Marty Hurney, throwing the future of Rivera into uncertainty after just a season and a half at the helm.
It wasn't until a late-November Monday night game in Philadelphia that the Panthers turned their season around. Newton not only passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns, he also scored on a pair of runs. The team went