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NFL power rankings: Panthers pinball season continues

Carolina’s power rankings shoot up after win against Murrayless Cardinals

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s officially that time of the week: NFL Power Rankings. The (5-5) Carolina Panthers earned high marks across the board after a win over the Arizona Cardinals, who were playing without star quarterback Kyler Murray. Despite that, media outlets still bumped the Panthers up by significant margins. ESPN, CBS Sports and the New York Post all improved Carolina’s position by seven spots.

Aggregating several rankings, the Panthers come out to an average of No. 19 (last week: No. 24) in the 32-team NFL. The team’s power ranking continues to bounce around like a game of pinball on a weekly basis.

Let’s check out what outlets around the league are saying about the Panthers after Week 9: No. 19 (was 25)

Cam Newton is back and scoring touchdowns, Christian McCaffrey is healthy and living in the second level of defenses, and the Panthers are once again a credible NFC playoff contender. Newton had a surprise supporting role in Week 10, accounting for two touchdowns and a downfield pass that resulted in a defensive pass interference call in a 34-10 win over the Cardinals. Coach Matt Rhule said Monday that Newton will work with the first-team offense this week in practice, a sure sign the former MVP will replace P.J. Walker as starter on Sunday against Washington. This all remains a bit, well, weird considering the circumstances that led to Newton’s exit from Charlotte — but Rhule and Panthers brass deserve some credit for putting the greater good ahead of pride.

NBC Sports: No. 20 (was 22)

The Panthers cut Cam Newton to start a rebuild only to bring him back after Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold — who they traded a second-round pick for — proved ineffective. None of that matters. Cam is back and scored two touchdowns on his first two snaps in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals.

CBS Sports: No. 15 (was 22)

With Cam Newton back, they have a real chance to make a playoff push. The defense is playing good football and getting better.

ESPN: No. 17 (was 24)

Most important remaining game: Sunday vs. Washington

I easily could have gone with one or both of two games against NFC South rival Tampa Bay in the final month of the season, since Carolina likely will need to win one to make the playoffs. I went with Washington because the Panthers have lost three straight at home and must take care of business at Bank of America Stadium to make the Bucs games meaningful. This will be emotional because it’s the return of former Carolina coach Ron Rivera and Cam Newton’s return as the starter. A dud here would be a huge blow following a big win on Sunday at Arizona. — David Newton

ESPN Football Power Index: No. 20 (-0.6) (was 23)

Sporting News: No. 18 (was 22)

The Panthers got a huge break with no Kyler Murray on the other side and it led to their defense dominating in Arizona, boosting their offense with a few early takeaways. Christian McCaffrey, not Cam Newton, sparked things most, but now the question is whether two successful gadget plays from Newton open the door for him getting a shot to start vs. Ron Rivera and Washington.

Pro Football Network: No. 22 (was 25)

We’re done trying to talk ourselves into Sam Darnold, right? I can’t help but think how fun Justin Fields would be in a Panthers uniform. This team is in a tough spot now. They have a young defensive nucleus and some great offensive weapons. But they’re paying their running back a ton of money, and they’re on the hook for almost $19 million for Darnold next season.

Carolina doesn’t absolutely need to select a QB in the 2022 NFL Draft, but they must rebuild their offensive line at a minimum. Then, Carolina’s front office must pray it can either get good enough play to give Darnold another season or bad enough play to get a top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Panthers’ brain trust — head coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Joe Brady, and general manager Scott Fitterer — are in a tough spot. Owner David Tepper doesn’t strike me as an incredibly patient owner. He wants to spend money and make splashes. That’s tough to do without a franchise QB.

Yahoo! Sports: No. 20 (was 24)

Sunday was fun and Cam Newton’s return touchdown with the ”I’m back!” proclamation was a great moment. But now it appears Newton will be starting and it has to be stated that last season he struggled mightily to throw the ball. We’ll see if some time off helped that.

New York Post: No. 18 (was 25)

Sports Illustrated No. 20 (was 23)

A team can’t get a bigger boost of adrenaline than the Panthers did from Cam Newton’s scoring touchdowns on his first two touches in his return to the team. Matt Rhule said Newton will prepare in the hopes of starting this week against Washington, suddenly making things a lot more interesting for a team that’s currently in position to be the NFC’s No. 7 seed.

DraftKings: No. 10 (was 22)

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. 18 (was 20)

It’s still tough to judge this team after they beat the Cardinals without Murray. We need to see the Panthers beat a good team with their starting quarterback, and at the moment that seems like a tall task. They’ve only done that once this year, arguably, when they beat the Saints with Jameis Winston.

Sam Darnold is out but he wasn’t playing well while he’s in. Cam Newton, meanwhile, seems to be nearing the end of his career. It’s hard to see Newton really excelling for the Panthers based on what we saw last season in New England. I know some folks might be excited but I’m not sold at all. There’s no better way to time out than this Sunday when the Panthers take on Washington.