It’s officially that time of the week: NFL Power Rankings. The (4-5) Carolina Panthers dropped three spots this week in our aggregated power rankings after a deflating 24-6 home loss to New England. Quarterback Sam Darnold threw three interceptions including an 88-yard pick six. Darnold has now thrown for less than 200 yards passing in four of the past five games, a stretch that includes two touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
National media unleashed its fury on Darnold, suggesting that the quarterback’s time in Charlotte is close to complete. Words to describe Darnold below include “crushing,” “punishment,” “terrible,” and “mess”. Yikes.
Aggregating several rankings, the Panthers come out to an average of No. 24 (last week: No. 21) in the 32-team NFL.
Let’s check out what outlets around the league are saying about the Panthers after Week 9:
NFL.com: No. 25 (was 21)
The Sam Darnold era in Carolina reached its nadir on Sunday against the Patriots. The struggling quarterback appeared skittish and tentative in Joe Brady’s offense, throwing three interceptions — including a crushing pick-six — in Darnold’s latest nightmare performance against Bill Belichick. Matt Rhule elected to keep Darnold behind center for the entire game, despite his struggles, but Rhule could lose his team if he doesn’t give backup P.J. Walker a chance to fix a broken offense. Carolina’s decision to trade for Darnold and pick up his fifth-year option is beginning to look like a huge error in judgment by the organization.
NBC Sports: No. 22 (was 18)
It was cruel and unusual punishment to make Sam Darnold play against a Bill Belichick defense again.
CBS Sports: No. 22 (was 19)
The offense is terrible with Sam Darnold. They might need to make a change. He can’t get anything going.
ESPN: No. 24 (was 20)
Bold second-half prediction: QB Sam Darnold will get benched.
This doesn’t feel as much like a prediction as it does an inevitability based on Darnold throwing 10 interceptions in the last six games, five resulting in losses. It’s not just the mistakes. It’s also the lack of overall productivity by the offense, which has one touchdown in the past three games. Darnold getting back to making the poor decisions that prompted the New York Jets to trade him to Carolina and move forward with rookie Zach Wilson just seems to cement his destiny. — David Newton
ESPN Football Power Index: No. 23 (-2.6)
Sporting News: No. 22 (was 20)
The Panthers are a competitive team when considering the defense and the play of a healthy Christian McCaffrey. But throw in the mess of Sam Darnold and they often have no chance when they should.
Pro Football Network: No. 25 (was 21)
The Giants were outplayed in this game, but it didn’t matter. Daniel Jones threw for 110 yards. They went 0-for-2 in the red zone offensively. But the defense held up strong against a very potent Raiders offense, holding them to just 1 TD and 3 FGs.
But even as the Giants struggled to get to or score inside the red zone, the Raiders also refused to capitalize inside the 20-yard line, going just 1-of-6. New York safety Xavier McKinney also managed to intercept two Derek Carr passes, one of which went for a touchdown.
The Giants’ offensive line is still awful, but if their defense can be opportunistic and they can take care of the football, they can keep games close enough to give them a chance down the stretch.
Yahoo! Sports: No. 24 (was 25)
Matt Rhule wouldn’t make a definitive comment on Sam Darnold continuing to start after Sunday’s game, but it’s not hard to note his frustration. “We can’t have a quarterback throwing the ball up in the air,” Rhule said. “He knows that. I know that. Whether we have to get with the coaches and figure out is it the coaching, is it him, what is it? We just can’t keep doing this. But I have to see everything before I can probably answer that better tomorrow.” At some point soon, the Panthers need to see if P.J. Walker gives them a better chance to win.
New York Post: No. 25 (was 23)
Sports Illustrated No. 23 (was 18)
Points in poll: 65
Highest-place vote: 19 (1 vote)
Lowest-place vote: 24 (1 vote)
Preseason rank: T-24
After a white-hot start, the Panthers have found themselves back in a more realistic place. Sam Darnold was not the reclamation project the Panthers had hoped. Their defense, while on a breakneck pace at the beginning of the season, is starting to regress to the mean despite some savvy upgrades. This is not the kind of losing streak that makes us question the Matt Rhule regime, but it is the kind of losing streak that makes us wonder why they did what they did at quarterback to begin with.
DraftKings: No. 22 (was 15)
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. 20 (was 17)
On Sunday I learned that bringing back Christian McCaffrey wouldn’t suddenly solve all the Panthers problems as I had been implying over the past few weeks. I should have known better because when Sam Darnold plays like this, it’s just hard for everyone. I honestly feel bad for the fan base and even a little bit for Darnold too, who from all accounts strikes me as a well-liked teammate.
For a portion of fans it’s probably already clear that Darnold needs to go. For most others, it might be getting really close that point.