This isn't the first time I've recently read a prediction that thinks the 2012 Panthers will be the same as the 2011 edition. I saw a 2013 mock draft that has the Panthers picking 9th again. As it stands SI points to the schedule and a lack of improvement on the defensive side of the ball:
All told, the 2012 Panthers will look awfully similar to last year’s squad. This is a team that again will provide plenty of excitement and entertaining contests, and one that will again play its opponents close (six of their 10 losses came by eight points or less last year). But, ultimately, expect the Panthers to wind up on the wrong side of .500, somewhere in 6-10 or 7-9 range. This is a team still a year away from contention.
Yet let's discuss some of the other perceived weaknesses: OL, DL & DB. There is no question the Panthers have some questions on the offensive line. They have a rookie at LG and potentially a 2nd year UDFA at RT. The worst case scenario if both start is they struggle at the start of the season but certainly should improve as the season wears on. The best case scenario has a rejuvenated Jeff Otah at RT and a younger RG that steps up and wins the job over Geoff Hangartner.
The lack of defensive line improvement is a legitimate concern given that once again the line's improvement hinges on the return of Ron Edwards. Even if Edwards actually plays this year he is still only one guy in a line depending on a lot of youth to step up. The best case scenario is that the Panthers scheme limits the need for a deep rotation at DT.
In the defensive secondary I again think the improvements the Panthers have made are being over looked. They added two free agent safeties that are both coming into their prime and should be driven to compete and win starting jobs. Sure they have yet to really prove anything but even the worst case scenario should include improvement simply from the added veteran depth.
The rest of the breakdown includes the Panthers should have drafted for need instead of Best Player Available, i.e...taking Kuechly a LB instead of a DT or CB. The main reason cited is he won't be much help in the near future since the Panthers were already strong at LB.
So as offseason reviews go this one is a little more realistic than many others I have read but I think it still overlooks the impact of player growth and having another season to adapt to a new scheme on both sides of the ball. I also think the review fails to consider the impact of returning injured players and the potential additional improvement of the offense with Chud at the driver's wheel. I fully expect a big jump from the defensive improvements but maybe not quite as much as the offense did in 2011.