Ellis L. Williams: Panthers and Matt Rhule went all-in with nothing to show for it. It cost them.

Ellis L. Williams, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Football

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The bye week is a time of self-reflection and introspection. Teams usually delegate resources to internal scouting, searching for answers that explain their on-field strengths and weaknesses.

The Carolina Panthers (5-7) have plenty of the latter entering their Week 13 bye. They rank 29th in overall offensive DVOA, 31st in passing and 21st in rushing. Defensively, they dropped outside the top five in DVOA and are trending in the wrong direction. (DVOA measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.)

The Panthers have allowed 60 points over the past two weeks in losses to Washington and Miami. Both games held important playoff implications as Washington currently holds the final wild-card spot. Carolina has just a 6% chance of making the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight.

How did the Panthers get here? That is a question Carolina should attack this week. It’s a challenging proposition that coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer must answer realistically.

During the offseason, rookie and free agent evaluations dominate most football conversations. There is such a hyper focus on what new players can be brought in and how those external additions can improve a team’s situation.

However, more challenging and equally important is accurate internal scouting. A team cannot adequately forecast its range outcomes until it fully understands its own roster.


Confirmation biases and wishful thinking should be a decision maker’s sworn enemy. Instead, such practices are to blame for the Panthers’ uncomfortable situation. Losers of seven of their last nine, they are heading closer toward a top-10 pick than a playoff berth. Trading for quarterback Sam Darnold and cornerback C.J. Henderson cost them all but one top-100 selection in 2022.

They weren’t a Stephon Gilmore away from breaking their three-year playoff drought, either. Let’s unpack how the Panthers miscalculated their situation and project where they can go from here.

The Panthers’ 3-0 start feels like it happened another season ago.

Venture back to those days and remember the energy surrounding Carolina. They led the NFC South entering Week 4 and made two splash trades over two weeks, signaling they were ready to win. Fitterer acquired Henderson and a fifth-round pick from Jacksonville for tight end Dan Arnold and a third-round pick.


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