Before the season started and you were picking your sleeper 2-0 teams, you probably would not have looked at the Carolina Panthers. They began the season with a game against the San Diego Chargers, arguably the best team in football with the best running back, but won that game through a strangely familiar final drive with Jake Delhomme at the lead. The second game would be significantly easier, playing against a consistently inconsistent team, if you will.
The opponents ahead are what will decide how the Panthers' season will conclude. The only real competition from Weeks 3-12 are Minnesota, a stumbling team, and their division rivals. You can expect a healthy 75% winning percentage barring a serious injury to a key position.
The Panthers are blessed with a relatively simple schedule, but they begin hitting big roadblocks in Week 13 when they play Green Bay. Tampa Bay, Denver, New York (G), and New Orleans follow respectively. Green Bay has shown itself a capable team in this short time. Tampa Bay has a superb mix of young guns and veterans. Denver also narrowly beat San Diego and is Carolina's equal. The Giants, needless to say, are Super Bowl Champions. New Orleans is a division rival in a game that may have serious playoff implications. If the Panthers can win three or more of these five games, they have a definite chance of making the playoffs.
The Panthers will probably make the playoffs, either as the champion of the NFC South, or as the wild-card. But can they win in the playoffs? The rest of the league will constantly be challenged by top-notch teams, while Carolina plays the dregs of the league. No matter where they are placed in the bracket, they must play at their best to get by the entire NFC. If they do that, they must then play the best of the AFC, a superior conference, to win the Super Bowl.
The verdict? The Panthers will not emerge as victors of the Super Bowl, but will make the playoffs and with Jake Delhomme leading them, will bring every game down to the last drive.