1996: They finished with the best record ever for an expansion team in 1995, and started off 1996 with a throttling of the Falcons in their new stadium opener. I know the score isn't that impressive, but they completely dominated every facet of the game. It was an ass whooping.
1997: After coming short of the Super Bowl the year before, they were older, and.......well, older, mostly. Kevin Greene had bailed on the team to go to San Fran so he could wrestle in WCW, and the team was a massive disappointment. In what would turn into a pattern, they lost to the Redskins.
2000: They finished 1998 with the 3-5 best offense in the league depending on what stats you use, and were a choke job against the Steelers from making the playoffs out of nowhere. Still, 2000 wasn't meant to be. They came out completely uninspired and lost to what turned out to be a pretty blah Redskins team.
2003: I guess some people were optimistic after 2002, even though I'm not sure they should have. The Panthers rode some late game dramatics to a win over pseudo rival Jacksonville.
2004: the Panthers had lost the Super Bowl the year before, and were presumptive favorites to get back to the game. However, they were thoroughly outplayed on primetime by the Green Bay Packers.
2005: After a furious charge to end the 2004 season, Panthers were again favorites to reclaim the NFC throne. And while their mash unit would eventually lose in the NFC Championship game to the Seahawks (after maybe the best football game I've ever seen the week before), they stumbled out of the gate, losing to a team that had spent training camp practicing in Lowe's parking lots with donated equipment. I don't give a poo about narratives, that game was inexcusable. That Saints*** team was wretched.
2006: The Panthers reloaded and were SI's pick to win it all. Then they started the season with a completely lackluster effort against the Atlanta Falcons. I have tons of words about the 2006 season because I don't feel it's ever really discussed but that'll be another day.
2007: I don't really know if there were any overly optimistic people heading into this season, but I'm sure some people still like to pretend it was a 12 win team if Jake hadn't gone down. So sure, let's include it. They went into the Edward Jones dome and took care of business against some preseason darlings in St Louis. Of course that team was a husk of itself and no one knew it yet. Still, good performance on the road. If you were really stoked about the 2007 team (you shouldn't have been) this would be living up to expectations.
2008: they were dogs heading into that first season and no one was giving them a second thought no one tell me there were high expectations. They were picked to finish 3rd in the south in most publications.
2009: The Panthers had just lost in the 2008 divisional game in hilarious fashion, but most people (on here especially) just attributed that to a random jake game, and that they would bounce back. The defensive corps was in place after all. They opened with the Eagles and-
The Panthers enter the 2012 season with high expectations. Sure, they're a complete sieve on one side of the ball, and instead of addressing the worst parts of their defense they took a luxury player in the first round, but the offense was great last year, and should be even better this year. Right? RIGHT?
Basically Tampa is a trap game as hell and not the kind this team has historically won.
On the other hand, the past is the past (only two players were on the super bowl team) and has no bearing on current performance.