(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Last Season: Finished 12-4, first in NFC South; Lost to Arizona in the divisional round of the playoffs.
GOOD THING GOING: The Panthers rediscovered their running identity. It was reminiscent of when Stephen Davis and Deshaun Foster shared the rock during the Super Bowl run.
DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart combined for 28 touchdowns and 2,351 rushing yards. Both men became the new focal points for the Panthers' offense.
Steve Smith may not score as many touchdowns anymore (he had six last season), but his 1,421 receiving yards was his best total since 2005. He benefited from having Muhsin Muhammad on the opposite side. "Moose" overcame his debacle in Chicago with 923 receiving yards last year.
PRESENTABLE PROBLEMS: Even with a new contract, the jury is out as to whether Jake Delhomme can carry the Panthers to Super Bowl glory.
Delhomme was picked off five times in the embarrassing 33-13 playoff loss to Arizona. He also had disappointing outings against the lowly Lions and Raiders last season.
There is also no telling if Julius Peppers will indeed return to the team. Peppers wants out of Carolina and is itching to play in a 3-4 scheme.
CRUCIAL GAME(S): The Panthers have been notorious for dropping their season opener at home. The first game won't be an easy one with NFC runner-up Philadelphia coming to town on September 13.
Two key rematches for Carolina is the road trip to Arizona on November 1, then a matchup with the New York Giants that could once again decide home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Last season's epic overtime game saw the Panthers blow a 21-10 lead and allow 301 rushing yards to the Giants in the 34-28 loss.
WHAT TO BELIEVE IN 2009: The Panthers literally had almost everything going for them until that infamous playoff game against the Cardinals.
Now, a team with so much talent heads to 2009 with so many questions.
Can they repeat as NFC South champs? Was the playoff loss a fluke? Will Julius Peppers suit up for the Panthers? Can Jake Delhomme be trusted? Is the window of opportunity closing?
THE PICK FOR 2009: 10-6