CHARLOTTE - Follow five media outlets throughout the season as their writers update their NFL power rankings, presented by Daimler Trucks North America.
ANALYSIS: "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."
ANALYSIS: "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."
ANALYSIS: "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."
ANALYSIS: "The Panthers are 3-0 after dispatching an overmatched Houston Texans team on Thursday night. But a third Super Bowl trip is going to be awfully difficult, because while the Panthers won the battle in Week 3, they may have lost the war.
Carolina's defense was stifling once again, allowing just 193 yards of offense and nine points. But that defense also suffered a major loss, with rookie first-round pick Jaycee Horn suffering a broken foot that could require season-ending surgery.
On offense, star running back Christian McCaffrey was felled by a hamstring pull that will cost the 25-year-old multiple games, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
The Panthers beat the lowly Texans without their best player for most of the game. But against teams that can actually move the ball (like next week's opponent in Dallas), it could be a different story.
The pressure on Sam Darnold just skyrocketed."
ANALYSIS: "The NFL team that most confounds me is Carolina, hence its drop to 14, despite the undefeated record. My puzzlement stems from a few factors. Like Sam Darnold, the quarterback the Panthers signed this off-season who had struggled in New York. Some of his less-than-ideal career start stemmed from the pressure of playing there specifically, under the brightest and most critical lights in sports. Mostly, though, I believe it was due to the lack of talent around him. I wrote about Darnold this past summer, in a story about Olympic surfer Kolohe Andino. One part—that two elite athletes became friends by bonding over impossibly high expectations, early failures and how they overcame them—resonated more with me early into this season. Beyond Darnold, Carolina is deeper than the Jets and more talented than the Jets. So it’s not surprising that Darnold’s new team appears vastly superior to his old one. Next week’s game against the Cowboys should help sort all this out."
Carolina is 5-9 all-time against Dallas, winning the last two in the series.