It doesn't take a genius to tell you that the 2012 iteration of the Carolina Panthers are underwhelming. They have talent, but the problem that has reared its head this season is one of inconsistency (reliable players playing unreliably), and injury (Carolina do not have adequate depth). This has combined for a season that is eroding the will of the most stalwart fans, and killing any hope moving forward. Ryan Kalil being placed on IR yesterday was just the icing on a cake of disappointment. Despite all this, things are going to get better-- and there are stats to prove it.
According to Football Outsiders' 2012 efficiency ratings the Carolina Panthers faced the 9th most difficult schedule in the NFL leading up to their bye week. With the exception of New Orleans (24th) and Tampa Bay (23rd), the teams they faced all ranked in the top-ten in efficiency. Opponent's records speak for themselves, but Seattle (10th), New York (8th), and Atlanta (4th) are legitimately four of the best teams in the NFL by DVOA.
Should it be solace for a 1-and-4 Panthers team to know they lost against three really good teams? No. To do that would be to accept mediocrity, yet the good news is that it gets a whole lot easier from here.
In their remaining eleven games the team's schedule drops in difficulty considerably, down to 19th in the league. Their next five have the Panthers facing Dallas (19th), Chicago (3rd), Washington (20th), Denver (9th), and Tampa Bay. The Chicago game can safely be penciled in as a loss, but those other four games are all potentially winnable contests for Carolina. 2012's back-end gets even better, featuring Kansas City (30th), Oakland (29th), and New Orleans again.
If the Panthers rattle off another five losses, then we can talk about top-three picks. For now, let's see how the rest of this plays out. For what it's worth, given the quality of competition the Panthers faced in those first five games Football Outsiders projected just 1.9 wins as what should have been attainable for Carolina. Given their one-score losses to Atlanta, Seattle, and Tampa Bay things could have been a lot better than even the projection, and maybe just maybe this season will be salvageable.