CHARLOTTE - Follow five media outlets throughout the season as their writers update their NFL power rankings, presented by Daimler Trucks North America.
ANALYSIS: "Cam Newton is back and scoring touchdowns, Christian McCaffrey is healthy and living in the second level of defenses, and the Panthers are once again a credible NFC playoff contender. Newton had a surprise supporting role in Week 10, accounting for two touchdowns and a downfield pass that resulted in a defensive pass interference call in a 34-10 win over the Cardinals. Coach Matt Rhule said Monday that Newton will work with the first-team offense this week in practice, a sure sign the former MVP will replace P.J. Walker as starter on Sunday against Washington. This all remains a bit, well, weird considering the circumstances that led to Newton's exit from Charlotte -- but Rhule and Panthers brass deserve some credit for putting the greater good ahead of pride."
ANALYSIS: "Most important remaining game: Sunday vs. Washington
I easily could have gone with one or both of two games against NFC South rival Tampa Bay in the final month of the season, since Carolina likely will need to win one to make the playoffs. I went with Washington because the Panthers have lost three straight at home and must take care of business at Bank of America Stadium to make the Bucs games meaningful. This will be emotional because it's the return of former Carolina coach Ron Rivera and Cam Newton's return as the starter. A dud here would be a huge blow following a big win on Sunday at Arizona."
ANALYSIS: "With Cam Newton back, they have a real chance to make a playoff push. The defense is playing good football and getting better."
ANALYSIS: "The Carolina Panthers are quite the ping-pong ball in 2021.
There was a three-game winning streak to open the season. A four-game skid that followed. An injury that felled quarterback Sam Darnold. And now, in a plot twist befitting a Hollywood movie, quarterback Cam Newton's return to Charlotte.
Newton didn't play much of a role in Carolina's blowout win over a banged-up Arizona Cardinals team: He ran the ball three times and attempted four passes. But two of those resulted in touchdowns, and he told reporters afterward that it felt great to stand under center again for the team he led to Super Bowl 50.
There's no guarantee the Newton signing will pan out, and the Panthers aren't without flaws. But Gagnon cautions not to count them out in the NFC playoffs."
ANALYSIS: "A team can’t get a bigger boost of adrenaline than the Panthers did from Cam Newton’s scoring touchdowns on his first two touches in his return to the team. Matt Rhule said Newton will prepare in the hopes of starting this week against Washington, suddenly making things a lot more interesting for a team that’s currently in position to be the NFC’s No. 7 seed."