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Panthers in the power rankings before Week 1


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 1st, Saints 15th, Falcons 26th

ANALYSIS: "Sam Darnold Revenge Day is almost upon us. The new Panthers signal-caller gets his chance to send a message to a Jets team that unintentionally sabotaged the start of his career, even if the absence of Adam Gase (where is Adam Gase anyway?) takes some of the helium out of the narrative. Darnold had an up-and-down preseason, and his future as a viable NFL starter will hinge on whether he can cut down on the turnovers that undermined his first three seasons in the pros. Carolina picked up the fifth-year option on Darnold's rookie contract, but it won't guarantee him job security beyond this season. It's put up or shut up time for the former USC star."

NFC South: Buccaneers 1st, Saints 18th Falcons 27th

ANALYSIS: "Is this too low for Carolina? Perhaps, but it is concerning that a team that went 5-11 and ranked 24th in points in 2020 might be in a worse situation at quarterback. Whereas Sam Darnold is younger and perhaps has a higher ceiling than his predecessor, Teddy Bridgewater, we have yet to see the former Jet play at a high level for an extended period (Bridgewater was better in every credible QB efficiency stat last season). Even if Darnold makes a leap, his supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, he has Christian McCaffrey, Robby Anderson and DJ Moore, but the offensive line is near the league's bottom.

Carolina invested its entire 2020 draft on the defense, but the likes of Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos and Jeremy Chinn -- not to mention rookie No. 8 overall pick Jaycee Horn -- are not yet proven in the pros. The defense could be very good down the road, but there is still work to be done."

NFC South: Buccaneers 1st, Saints 19th, Falcons 22nd

ANALYSIS: "Sam Darnold is the quarterback - for now. He's essentially in a prove-it year. If he struggles, you can bet they will be targeting a replacement next year. The young defense should be better."

Pro Football Talk
NFC South: Buccaneers 1st, Saints 9th, Falcons 26th

ANALYSIS: "They're moving in the right direction, but they still have plenty of work to do to get to where they want to be."

NFC South: Buccaneers 1st, Saints 18th, Falcons 28th

ANALYSIS: "The first year of the post-Cam Newton era for the Carolina Panthers didn't go so well. After one lackluster season from Teddy Bridgewater, they hit the reset button at quarterback.

The looming question is whether it did them any good.

Per Anthony Rizzuti of Panthers Wire, Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady insisted that the switch to Sam Darnold under center is a big step in the right direction.

"I have something with him," Brady said. "I'm confident in Sam. I feel like he has a great grasp of the offense right now."

Darnold largely struggled during his first three NFL seasons with the New York Jets. The 2018 No. 3 overall pick averaged 13 interceptions per season, has a mediocre career passer rating of 78.6 and has won only 13 of his 38 starts.

The odds of a major turnaround this year in Charlotte aren't good."

Carolina is 4-3 all-time against the Jets, featuring a 3-1 record at home and 1-2 mark on the road.

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