They lost six games by eight points or less, they had fourth quarter leads in eight games they ended up losing, they had injuries all over their defense, and they had to setup a new offense and a new defense.
Since the Panthers were "close" to making the playoffs this year, they should be able to make the playoffs next season.
Here are four reasons why the Panthers will make the playoffs next season.
In 2010 a young Detroit Lions team lost by five points to the Chicago Bears in their first meeting, lost by three points to the Philadelphia Eagles, lost by two points to the Green Bay Packers in their first meeting, lost by eight points to the New York Giants, lost by three points to the New York Jets, lost by two points to the Buffalo Bills and lost by four points to the Chicago Bears in their second meeting.
A year later the Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by seven points to open the season, beat the Minnesota Vikings by three points in the third game of the season, beat the Dallas Cowboys by four points in the fourth week of the season, beat the Carolina Panthers by 14 points, beat the Minnesota Vikings by six points in their second meeting of the season and beat the Oakland Raiders by one point.
The Lions won six close games in the 2011 season when they had lost those games in the 2010 season.
The 2011 Panthers lost to the Arizona Cardinals by seven points to open the season, lost to the Green Bay Packers by seven points in the second week of the season, lost to the Chicago Bears by five points in the fourth week of the season, lost to the New Orleans Saints by three points in the fifth week of the season, lost to the Minnesota Vikings by six points in the eighth week of the season and lost to the Atlanta Falcons by eight points in the 14th week of the season.
That is six close games that a young Panthers team could have easily won.
If the Panthers win these six games, then they finish the season at 12-4 and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
You may recall that the 2010 Lions lost six close games, but in 2011 they won those six close games.
Now take into account how similar the Panthers and Lions are.
They are both lead by elite QBs (Newton and Stafford,) elite skill players (Smith, Stewart, Williams, Olsen, Johnson, Best,) solid offensive lines (a combined four Pro Bowl caliber players) and are both led by one key elite defensive player (Suh and Beason.)
Next season the Panthers should be able to win the close games they lost this season.
Everyone would agree that Cam Newton is one of the five best rookie quarterbacks ever.
And historically top five rookie quarterbacks have shown drastic improvement from their rookie season to their second season.
Dan Marino improved his completion percentage by 6 percent, threw for about 2,800 more yards, threw for 28 more touchdowns and improved his QBR by 13 points.
Fran Tarkenton threw for about 600 more yards, threw for about four more touchdowns and threw the deep ball more efficiently.
Peyton Manning threw for about four hundred more yards, threw 13 less interceptions, improved his quarterback rating by about 19 points and won 10 more games.
Johnny Unitas threw for 1,100 more yards, threw for 15 more touchdowns, improved his quarterback rating by 14 points, improved his completion percentage by two percent and won four more games
Joe Namath threw for about 1,200 more yards, completed about 80 more passes, averaged about 70 more yards per game, threw for one more touchdown and won two more games.
So based on statistics Newton should throw for about 1,200 more yards, should improve his quarterback rating by about 16 points, should throw around five less interceptions, should improve his completion percentage by about six points and should win about five more games.
This means that Newton should throw for 5,200 yards, should have a quarterback rating of 100, should only throw 12 interceptions, should have a completion percentage of 66, and should win 11 games.
Newton will improve enough to single-handedly carry the 2012 Panthers to the playoffs.
The Panthers will be able to draft a “game-changer” in the first round of the 2012 draft.
Sporting News believes that the Carolina Panthers will select Quinton Couples out of North Carolina, Todd McShay has the Panthers drafting Ricky Reiff out of Iowa, the Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has the Panthers drafting Alshon Jeffrey out of South Carolina, and Yahoo! has the Panthers drafting Justin Blackmon out of Oklahoma State.
If the Panthers draft Couples, they have three defensive ends that can average 10 sacks a year in Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson and now Couples.
If the Panthers draft Ricky Reiff, they now have four great offensive tackles in Jordan Gross, Jeff Otah, Byron Bell and Reiff.
If the Panthers draft Alshon Jeffrey or Justin Blackmon, they have three Pro Bowl caliber receivers in Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Alshon Jeffrey/Justin Blackmon, and they also have their first “jump ball” red zone receiver since Mushin Muhammad.
Whoever the Panthers draft with the eighth pick, the player will be an immediate game-changer who will help the team make the playoffs.
The Panthers lost six key players for significant amounts of time this season in Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Ron Edwards, Jeff Otah, Mike Goodson and Travelle Wharton.
Once Beason and/or Davis returns, the Panthers will have two or three of the best linebackers in the NFL (do not forget James Anderson’s incredible season).
If Edwards returns, the Panthers will finally have some experience on the defensive line and not have to rely so heavily on two mediocre rookie defensive tackles.
If Goodson returns, he gives the Panthers a Darren Sproles-type of threat that will make the offense almost unstoppable.
And if Wharton and Otah return, they will give the Panthers an offensive line that has three to four potential Pro Bowl players.
The Panthers will become a much better team if the six players can return and stay healthy.