CHARLOTTE – Follow five media outlets throughout the season as their writers update their NFL power rankings, presented by Daimler Trucks North America.
NFC South: Buccaneers 3rd, Saints 12th, Falcons 25th
ANALYSIS: “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.”
ANALYSIS: “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.”
ANALYSIS: “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.”
ANALYSIS: “The Carolina Panthers are struggling.
After roaring out of the gate with three straight victories to open the season, the Panthers have dropped three in a row after falling in overtime to the Vikings in Week 6.
With running back Christian McCaffrey on the shelf, more offensive pressure has been placed on quarterback Sam Darnold of late. The results haven’t been pretty: Darnold completed just 17 of 41 passes against Minnesota with a passer rating of 55.6. The offensive struggles have left Carolina’s defense on the field more, and an exhausted Panthers D was carved up in Week 6 to the tune of 571 yards allowed.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule told reporters that he’s aware the offense needs to improve substantially.
“Again, I think we had a plan,” Rhule added. “I think we felt good about it. Obviously, today, it didn’t look very good at times. We’re just gonna continue to evolve and try to get better.”
Darnold’s bad game against Minnesota wasn’t solely his fault. Panthers receivers dropped a number of passes that hit them in the hands. But there have been enough flashbacks of the Darnold who struggled so badly in New York over the past few weeks to ratchet up the concern level in Charlotte.”
NFC South: Buccaneers 2nd, Saints 12th, Falcons 26th
ANALYSIS: “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.”