Carolina has built a 6-2 record and has been led by a tough defense and an opportunistic offense. Ten weeks ago, the prognosis on Carolina rested on the health of Jake Delhomme's arm and the concerns of the Carolina pass defense.
Delhomme is on pace for his second highest yardage total of his career, despite the team being 26th in pass attempts and 7th in rush attempts. His 7.7 yards per pass is 2nd best to his Pro Bowl year of 2005. His TD totals aren't going to eclipse any personal bests at this rate, partially due to a potential team record of rushing TD (currently on pace to finish very close to 2005's anomalic Stephen Davis TD season). He's on pace for 10 INT (and to this point, not many of them have been his fault - from the Jeff King INT where the ball was wrestled away to the numerous Tampa INTs coming off balls that should've been caught), which would be a career best for a full season for him, and better than 2006's 13 game season (11 INT).
Deangelo Williams is on pace for 1000 yards as the starter and 8 total TD; Jonathan Stewart would project to around 800 yards and 10 TD, second all-time for a Panthers individual season and would put Stewart tied for 4th team all-time within one year.
The OL has given up only 11 sacks so far this year, despite having to rotate in backups due to injury. It's doing well in power rushing situations, but the major flaw has been allowing run pressure to stuff the RBs. Carolina has allowed a number of defenders to slip through and get free shots at RBs that barely have the ball.
Carolina's defense looks to be able to put up as stingy a point total as ever, currently ranking 3rd in the league in points scored against; despite facing five of the league's highest rated rushers, the run defense is 13th, and the pass defense ranks a hefty 7th in the league.
The pass rush has been adequate, scoring 13 sacks; most of that's come from the ends (Julius Peppers has 4; Charles Johnson has 3.5; Tyler Brayton has 1.5 and Hilee Taylor has 1) with 3 coming from non-DE positions (only 1 from DT, Damione Lewis).
Best Surprise - the team came together in ways that last year's team couldn't dream of. Despite the Smith-Lucas fight, the team has found ways to mend hostility between the offense and defense; each unit is better because of it. New leaders have sprung up to replace the old leaders last in the last few years.
Biggest Mistakes - the most glaring concerns so far has been ball security. Against Tampa, the Carolina receivers dropped a ton of passes, including three INT that were deflected off the Panthers' hands; Panthers' DBs and LBs were dropping sure-fire INTs. Steve Smith had 6 drops in 6 games; Muhsin Muhammad's one drop was a sure TD that ended up going through his numbers to the ground and Carolina had to kick a FG. Jake Delhomme has fumbled four times, and has lost 3 of them (one was returned for a TD, another led directly to a TD inside the ten).
Next largest is penalty - the Panthers were averaging around 10 per game early to lead the league, but luckily have pared that down a bit to around 4.5 for the last four games. After that, it's general inconsistency - the team has struggled in one half and played well in another; it's had a few letdowns in games. It's not as bad as last year, where the team got blown out multiple times, but it's still something to watch as the team can be streaky.
At 6-2 during the bye week, Carolina looks to sit pretty so far, showing up in the standings as one of the elite in the NFC (which is, for once, stronger than the AFC). Looking ahead to the next two weeks, Oakland and Detroit are two of the worst teams in the league. Five of the final six, however, are very tough football games, and the two divisional games (at Atlanta, at home on MNF against Tampa Bay).