It’s officially that time of the week: NFL Power Rankings. The Carolina Panthers lost their third game in a row to fall to 3-3 on the season. This one was an entertaining game that came down to overtime, with the Vikings coming out on top. Sadly, the Panthers didn’t earn style points in this week’s power rankings.
Most national media bumped the Panthers down to the 18th to 19th range. ESPN kept the Panthers at 17th, the highest ranking of the outlets below.
Aggregating several rankings, the Panthers come out to an average of No. 19 (last week: No. 15) in the 32-team NFL.
Let’s check out what outlets around the league are saying about the Panthers after Week 5:
NFL.com: No. 19 (was 15)
The Panthers appear to have a Sam Darnold problem. Darnold showed promise during Carolina’s 3-0 start, but the absence of Christian McCaffrey has coincided with an extended stretch of rough play by the fourth-year QB. Darnold deserves credit for leading the Panthers to 11 unanswered points to force overtime in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, but he was deeply ineffective before those final two drives. Darnold threw an interception, lost a fumble and didn’t cross 100 yards passing until the 6:30 mark of the fourth quarter. On Monday, Matt Rhule acknowledged Darnold needed to be better and declared the Panthers’ days as an air-it-out offense are over. “We’re going to redefine who we are,” he said. “That’s the only way we can win.” Yikes.
NBC Sports: No. 19 (was 15)
Since 2010, there have been five teams to start the season 3-0 and lose their next three games. Only the 2017 Falcons went on to make the playoffs. Carolina is headed in the wrong direction.
CBS Sports: No. 18 (was 15)
Sam Darnold has been ordinary the past few weeks, opening up the talk again that they need a quarterback to build around. He’s struggled the past few weeks.
ESPN: No. 17 (was 12)
Week 1 confidence rating: 5.1
How it’s going now: 5.0
Injuries are an easy excuse for when things go bad, but they really are a factor in Carolina going from 3-0 to 3-3. Statistics show how drastically the loss of running back Christian McCaffrey has impacted quarterback Sam Darnold and the offense. But equally as big to the defense was losing cornerback Jaycee Horn and linebacker Shaq Thompson. They are two first-round picks who play a big role and aren’t easily replaceable. The sack and pressure numbers have suffered greatly without them. Without the three players mentioned here, the confidence rating should be lower than I have it. — David Newton
Sporting News: No. 20 (was 17)
The Panthers have faded fast from 3-0 with Sam Darnold struggling and Christian McCaffrey ailing. Their offense that had so much potential is now a mixed bag of occasional flashes. The run defense woes also are very real.
Pro Football Network: No. 19 (was 18)
They might be a Wild Card contending team if they weren’t producing horrific quarterback play. The Carolina front office took a gamble bringing Sam Darnold in through trade instead of drafting a quarterback, and it doesn’t seem to be paying off.
Losing Christian McCaffrey is a massive blow to an offense that has long relied on him taking an enormous workload. However, with Joe Brady calling the plays and DJ Moore and Robby Anderson being outside at receiver, the blame ultimately lands on Darnold.
Yahoo! Sports: No. 18 (was 14)
This is a Panthers team that felt well enough about itself to trade for cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Stephon Gilmore. That won’t mean too much if the offense continues to falter. The receivers can’t drop so many passes, Matt Rhule wants more of a commitment to the run game and yes, Sam Darnold needs to play much better.
New York Post: No. 19 (was 18)
Sports Illustrated No. 18 (was 11)
The sky is maybe possibly falling on Sam Darnold—he was dreadful in a Week 5 loss to the Eagles, but his performance in Sunday’s overtime loss to the Vikings is harder to grasp. He didn’t play well, but was also burned by a number of drops and put together an impressive 11-play, 96-yard drive in 87 seconds to put the game-tying eight points up at the end of regulation. The defense is probably a year away from being truly elite anyway, but the Panthers would have an interesting decision to make on Darnold should the first third of the season repeat itself two more times.
DraftKings: No. 8 (was 6)
DraftKings has moved from subjective assessments to using spread differential. Point differential is a helpful tool for figuring out the best and worst teams. However, point spread can offer a little more context to how good or bad teams might be. The top of the rankings includes most of the really good teams and the bottom includes most of the really bad teams.
Czikk’s view: No. 16 (was 16)
I’m going ol’ conservative yet again, keeping the Panthers right where they are. I like them in this middle-of-the-pack area and I still think they’re capable of making one of the wild card games.
I traded away DJ Moore last week in my 0.5 PPR fantasy league, who had the fifth most receptions in the NFL at the time. I traded Moore because I desperately needed a good running back. But I’ve also begun to see that the Panthers offense runs on Christian McCaffrey, as ESPN alluded to above. His presence changes everything around him. When he’s not in the lineup the Panthers have a tougher time opening things up, particularly in the passing game. Moore benefits when McCaffrey is taking attention away. Or at least that was my basis for justifying the trade. Let me know what you guys think in the comments.
It reminds me of when I was watching a Bengals game in 2018 when A.J. Green missed nearly half of the season to toe injuries. One of the Bengals coaches told the play-by-play guy that the Bengals offense goes when Green goes, and I thought it was a bit of an exaggeration. But I understand it more clearly now. Even in a team sport like football, having your best player out can have a huge impact on how your offense functions. I think we’re really seeing that play out in Carolina right now.