The Panthers' 1-4 start puts them in select company -- and not in a good way. Carolina is one of only seven teams that made it to the Super Bowl to start 1-4 or worse the next season, and if history is a guide it'll be next to impossible -- but not unprecedented -- for it to wind up in the playoffs. A look at how the Panthers stack up against the rest of NFL history's early-season mysteries:
USA Today SportsJeremy Brevard
2002 St. Louis Rams (0-5)
In 2001, Kurt Warner won his second league MVP award and led St. Louis to the Super Bowl for the second time in his Rams career. But after losing Super Bowl XXXVI to the Patriots, Warner looked like a different quarterback, throwing seven picks to just one touchdown pass during the first three games of the 2002 season. Then in Week 4, Warner added one more interception to his tally before leaving the game with a broken finger. Not surprisingly, the Rams lost all four of those games, then dropped their Week 5 matchup with San Francisco to fall to 0-5. Marc Bulger subsequently righted the ship, winning five straight to rally the Rams to .500, but St. Louis lost its next two after Warner returned to action and eventually finished the season 7-9.
1976 Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4)
After winning back-to-back championships in Super Bowls IX and X, Pittsburgh had its sights set on a third straight title heading into 1976. And while the record will show that the ‘76 Steelers boasted one of the best defenses the NFL has seen, you wouldn’t know it by the way the year started — with four defeats in the first five games, including a 31-28 loss to Oakland in Week 1 and a 30-27 loss to New England in Week 2. To make matters worse, quarterback Terry Bradshaw was hurt in a Week 5 loss in Cleveland, leaving rookie Mike Kruczek under center in his absence. Fortunately for Kruczek, he spent most of his time handing the ball off to Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier while the Steel Curtain defense did the heavy lifting. Over the final nine regular-season games combined, Pittsburgh allowed just 28 total points to its opponents, and after finishing the regular season 10-4 and crushing the Colts in the divisional round, the Steelers lost to the Raiders in the AFC championship game.
1999 Denver Broncos (1-4)
Hall of Fame quarterbacks are difficult to replace, and there’s no better evidence of that than the ‘99 Broncos. After winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and ‘98, Denver went into the ‘99 season knowing it would be without John Elway, who had retired during the offseason. What they didn’t anticipate was the poor play they got out of Elway’s replacement, Brian Griese, who completed just 55 percent of his passes and threw five picks to four touchdowns during Denver’s 0-4 start. To make matters worse, the Broncos lost reigning MVP and 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis to a torn ACL in Week 4. And while the team did rally for a Week 5 win to improve to 1-4, the consistency simply wasn’t there, as Denver finished the season 6-10.
2016 Carolina Panthers (1-4)
After starting 14-0 last season en route to the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance, few expected the Panthers to be 1-4 and in the NFC South basement five weeks into 2016. But that’s where Carolina stands, thanks in part to the absence of defending league MVP Cam Newton, who missed Monday’s loss to the Bucs with a concussion after an inconsistent first four games under center. Additionally, Carolina is sorely missing Josh Norman in the secondary, where the Panthers are allowing 8.4 yards per attempt and 13.3 yards per catch this season, both numbers among the worst in the league.
1999 Atlanta Falcons (1-4)
The ‘99 season didn’t go much better for the Broncos’ opponent in Super Bowl XXXIII, as the Atlanta Falcons kicked off their first-ever NFC title defense by going 1-4 in their first five games, too. A large reason for the Falcons’ slide was the loss of star running back Jamal Anderson, who tore his ACL in the first quarter of Atlanta’s Week 2 loss to Dallas. Anderson was replaced in the backfield by the forgettable Ken Oxendine and Byron Hanspard — each of whom never played again after the 1999 season. Combine the Falcons’ NFC-worst rushing attack and a defense that allowed 23.8 points per game, and it was a recipe for disaster, as Atlanta went 1-6, 2-9 and 3-11 en route to a disappointing 5-11 finish.
2004 Carolina Panthers (1-4)
Of course, long-suffering Panthers fans are probably used to the routine of following up an NFC title run with a letdown, seeing how Carolina did the same thing in 2004. After falling to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, the Panthers took a nosedive, losing four of their first five games on the way to a 1-7 start. But it was hardly all Carolina’s fault, as the team was ravaged by injuries. In the first four weeks, alone, the Panthers lost wide receiver Steve Smith (broken leg) and running backs Stephen Davis (knee) and DeShaun Foster (broken collarbone) to season-ending injuries, and for the year, Carolina put 14 players on injured reserve. If there’s a bright side, it’s that the Panthers somehow won six of their final eight games to finish 7-9 overall.
1987 New York Giants (0-5)
Only one team in NFL history has ever won a Super Bowl then started the following season 0-5, and that dubious honor goes to the ‘87 Giants, who struggled mightily in Bill Parcells’ fifth season with the team. But three of those losses can be blamed at least in part on the league’s players’ strike, which took most of the Giants’ regular players — and many of their opponents’ players — off the field during the 24-day work stoppage. With starting quarterback Phil Simms out, New York turned to replacement player Jim Crocicchia, who lost the only NFL game he ever played in the third game of the season. Next, the Giants turned to Mike Busch, who didn’t fare much better in his only career start. New York finally got its first win the week Simms and the rest of the stars returned to the lineup, and then went on to win six of its final 10 games, but at 6-9, the Giants still finished at the bottom of the NFC East.