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NFL power rankings: NFL media declares Carolina Panthers its newest shiny toy

National media has clearly warmed up to the oft-ignored Panthers. But will the sudden interest sustain?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

It is officially that time of the week: NFL Power Rankings. It’s a buying frenzy and NFL media is greedily snatching up Carolina Panthers stock.

Just one week after a No. 24 average power ranking, NFL writers sprinted to their laptops to pile on massive valuations to the Panthers — most notably Pro Football Network’s No. 7 ranking, an incredible jump of 18 spots from No. 25 last week. “This is the kind of Carolina Panthers team I expected to see,” proclaimed Pro Football Network. Of course they did.

The Panthers are the “in” team of the week and national media loves itself a shiny new toy. And if they lose to the Houston Texans on Thursday? All will return to normal and that same media will completely forget about Carolina. But let’s hope they keep up the wins.

Ok, ok. I should clarify that not everyone jumped on the bandwagon., Sporting News and Sports Illustrated were much more cautious and tempered in their assessment of the team than others. Props to them.

Aggregating several rankings from around the Internet, the Panthers come out to an average ranking of No. 14 (was 24) in the 32-team NFL.

Let’s check out what outlets around the league are saying about the Panthers after Week 3: No. 18 (was 25)

Wins over the lowly Jets and a decimated Saints squad invite some doubts about the validity of their 2-0 start, but the Panthers certainly look like a team that has the ability to hang with the majority of the NFC. Sam Darnold has been efficient and mostly mistake-free behind a sturdy offensive line, while Christian McCaffrey has put the offense on his back in consecutive weeks. The defense has been the real revelation here; led by Shaq Thompson, Carolina continues to swarm the opposing quarterback and put offensive game plans in the blender. The schedule stays soft in Week 3: A Thursday night road trip to Houston to face third-string rookie QB Davis Mills. The Panthers have a chance to hit October with serious momentum.

NBC Sports: No. 16 (was 26)

Sam Darnold passed for 300 yards for the first time since Week 12 of the 2019 season. What a difference going from Adam Gase to Joe Brady makes.

CBS Sports: No. 11 (was 23)

Matt Rhule has this young team playing good football. The defense has a chance to be special and can really impact a game.

ESPN: No. 15 (was 23)

Fantasy surprise: QB Sam Darnold

You can’t say Christian McCaffrey here because nothing he has done is a surprise. So, the nod goes to Darnold who, while not lighting it up, has shown the consistency the Panthers were hoping for when they traded for him. Darnold has three touchdown passes to only one interception, and he also has a rushing touchdown. Most impressive is that he has completed 68.5% of his passes, way up from the 59.8% he had in three years with the Jets. — David Newton

Sporting News: No. 20 (was 25)

It’s hard to get a good read on the Panthers after the Jets and Saints made a lot of mistakes in the matchups against them and Sam Darnold simply did what he needed playing off Christian McCaffrey and the aggressive young defense. But that does look like a pretty good formula for wild card-targeted success.

Pro Football Network: No. 7 (was 25)

This is the kind of Carolina Panthers team I expected to see — not the 2-0 Panthers ranked high in the NFL power rankings, but the young squad that could play spoiler to better teams throughout the season as they continue to grow.

I’ve been steadfast in my opinion that Matt Rhule is a program-builder and that he is the kind of person to make that happen at the college and NFL level. They won’t win the NFC South, and they might not be a playoff contender by Week 18. But they’re high here because you are what your record says you are.

Yahoo! Sports: No. 14 (was 25)

Sam Darnold will get a lot of attention, but it’s the defense that needs more respect. This is a really exciting unit with what looks like a top-end pass rush. The Panthers made life miserable on the Saints’ offense. Keep an eye on Carolina as this could be a playoff team.

Sports Illustrated: No. 17

Should the Panthers be higher? Maybe. But I thought about the old tried-and-true “who would you pick to win on a neutral field?” method and I’m not ready to put them higher than this. That was obviously a very impressive performance against the Saints, but this is still a young team and I’m interested to see how it handles whatever speed bumps or growing pains pop up along the way.

DraftKings: No. 2 (based on point spread differential)

Point spread offers a little more context about each team, and how a team is performing against the number can provide some insight. It’s more art than science, but it’s one more piece of information to figure out the best, middle of the pack, and worst around the NFL.

This isn’t a great reference for how teams are right now, but come November, we should have a good handle on the teams that are performing best. Seeing the Eagles and Panthers up top could prove to be a relic before too long. Regardless, seeing as it’s only Week 2, we’re seeing a lot of movement on the board.

New York Post: No. 12 (was 23) (no write-up)

Czikk’s view: No. 20 (was 25)

Can you tell I’m slightly suspicious of national media overvaluing the Panthers? That’s because I’m more likely to take advice from folks at Cat Scratch Reader, the Charlotte Observer and other in-state outlets that cover the team all year round. Don’t be fooled by national media taking interest in their newest fad.

I do think the Panthers will come back to earth. They’re simply nowhere near the Buccaneers or the other elites of the NFL, and that’s not at all a shot at the team. In fact, I really like Carolina’s potential.

Are they worthy of, let’s say, a No. 15 ranking? I’d love to see that but let’s see more evidence first. The Panthers remain a young, unproven squad. I’ll keep them at No. 20 for now.