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NFL power rankings: Panthers keep the good times rolling

National media books another seat on the Panthers hype train

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s officially that time of the week: NFL Power Rankings. The Carolina Panthers improved to 3-0 on the season after dispatching the Houston Texans on their own home turf Thursday night, 24-9.

Last week I lambasted national NFL media for jumping on the Panthers hype train too early and I’ll continue that sentiment this week. From some of the comments last week, it’s clear that many CSR readers weren’t buying into the sudden widespread interest either.

As predicted, one of the most egregious offenders — Pro Football Network — dropped Carolina from No. 7 to No. 15 one week after proclaiming “This is the kind of Carolina Panthers team I expected to see.” PFN has now changed its tune, calling the Panthers “Paper Lions,” and asserting that “it’s still early to believe in Sam Darnold over the long run.” (The term paper lion refers to someone with the appearance of strength or power but who is actually weak).

Aggregating several rankings from around the Internet, the Panthers come out to an average ranking of No. 13 (last week: No. 14) in the 32-team NFL.

Let’s check out what outlets around the league are saying about the Panthers after week 3:

NFL.com: No. 13 (was 18)

“We’re a football team. We’re not the Carolina Christian McCaffreys.” Panthers left tackle Cameron Erving struck a tone of defiance after McCaffrey exited Thursday night’s win over the Texans with a hamstring injury that will likely cost him multiple weeks. The Panthers took advantage of a soft schedule to jump to a 3-0 start, but they enter the teeth of their slate without their superstar running back or rookie first-round pick Jaycee Horn, who broke multiple bones in his foot against Houston. Carolina addressed the secondary loss with a bold trade on Monday, sending tight end Dan Arnold and a third-round pick to the Jaguars for cornerback C.J. Henderson, last year’s ninth overall pick.

NBC Sports: No. 13 (was 16)

As a Jet, Sam Darnold trailed on 59.4 percent of his dropbacks. He has yet to trail as a Panther. The offseason surgery to have Adam Gase removed from his life is paying dividends.

CBS Sports: No. 9 (was 11)

They haven’t exactly lit up a murderous schedule, but 3-0 is 3-0. The injuries have to be a concern, especially with Christian McCaffrey down for a bit and Jaycee Horn down for longer - maybe the season.

ESPN: No. 12 (was 15)

If there were a comeback player of the year for somebody who wasn’t injured that previous season, Sam Darnold would have a big head start. He has gone from the worst total QBR (41.4) over the past three seasons with the Jets to No. 6 so far this season. He has completed 68.2% of his passes, way up from his league-worst 59.8% in New York. He has thrown three touchdowns to only one interception and has three rushing touchdowns, two fewer than he had from 2018 to 2020. According to recently traded tight end Dan Arnold, now with the Jaguars, Darnold is playing at a “premier level,” a level that could continue. — David Newton

Sporting News: No. 16 (was 20)

The Panthers took care of business against the Jets and Texans, with a most impressive win over the pretty good Saints in between. They have big challenges ahead with Christian McCaffrey and Jaycee Horn out with the Cowboys and Eagles next.

Pro Football Network: No. 15 (was 7)

Now that we’ve gotten the “you are what your record says you are” energy out of the way, we can be honest about the NFL’s paper tigers.

The Panthers struggled against the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football, particularly after losing Christian McCaffrey to a hamstring injury. Robbie Anderson appears invisible, leaving DJ Moore as the team’s only legitimate playmaker.

Carolina is 3-0, and the rest of their schedule isn’t too difficult at first glance. But it’s still early to believe in Sam Darnold over the long run.

Yahoo! Sports: No. 14 (was 14)

The CJ Henderson trade is a good risk for the Panthers. There have to be reasons the Jaguars wanted to give up on the ninth pick of last year’s draft after one year and three games, but the Panthers had a need at cornerback after Jaycee Horn’s injury and they didn’t give up much to find out if a change of scenery helps a talented player.

New York Post: No. 12 (was 12)

Sports Illustrated: No. 14 (was 17)

DraftKings: No. 4 (was 2)

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. Through three weeks, things are still moving a lot, but some teams are settling in up top and toward the bottom.

Czikk’s view: No. 17 (was 20)

The Panthers have defeated two bad teams and another team, the Saints, who look to be an average-to-good team. But on Sunday the Panthers will head to Arlington to take on their first true test of the season: the (2-1) Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys currently own the NFL’s fifth-best offense (yards per game) and fourth best rushing attack.

I think the Panthers lose and drop to 3-1, but I still think they’re around the 15th to 17th best team even after the expected loss. Dallas looks really strong right now.