That's not to say that they haven't had talent on their teams in the last couple seasons—they have. They were frustratingly inconsistent, due in part to injuries.
The team's talent level isn't the only thing comparable to that 2003 team. In the 2003 season opener, Rodney Peete was replaced at halftime by Jake Delhomme, who led a big second half comeback capped off with a last minute touchdown. This season opened with a shocking last minute comeback win as well.
They had four OT wins in that 2003 season, and seven of their 11 wins were by three points or less. Two of their four wins this year are by three points or less.
The 2003 team and this year's team both share that elusive quality that's a huge positive—if they're in the game late, they are going to find a way to win.
With the other NFC South teams playing inconsistently, and the Panthers boasting a good mix of talented veterans and athletic youth, Carolina might surprise a lot of people around the NFL throughout the season.