CHARLOTTE - Follow five media outlets throughout the season as their writers update their NFL power rankings, presented by Daimler Trucks North America.
ANALYSIS: "Christian McCaffrey returned to practice last week -- now the Panthers need their superstar RB back on Sundays. The Carolina offense sputtered again in a frustrating loss to the Eagles that featured three Sam Darnold interceptions and pass-protection issues that we didn't see before No. 22 exited with a hamstring injury in Week 3. Such is the importance of McCaffrey, a driving force in both the running and passing games. He seems especially essential to Darnold, whose turnover-prone ways have returned without his safety valve sliding out of the backfield. "Sam needs to take what's given him," Matt Rhule said. "If we do that, we'll get back on track quickly."
ANALYSIS: "Most improved player: WR DJ Moore
How they've improved: Consistency is the biggest difference. Moore had an outstanding 2020 season, but his catch rate (66 of 118) was only 55.9%, and he had only four receiving touchdowns. His catch rate this year is 70% (35 of 50), and he already has three receiving touchdowns. He has become Sam Darnold's favorite target, not Robby Anderson as some expected."
ANALYSIS: "Two straight losses has them reeling a bit. The offense didn't do much against the Eagles, which is a concern. They need Christian McCaffrey back."
ANALYSIS: "Due largely to excellent play from quarterback Sam Darnold, the Carolina Panthers started the 2021 season 3-0.
The Darnold we saw Sunday in Charlotte looked a lot more like the player who struggled for three seasons with the New York Jets, and as a result, the Panthers have now dropped two straight.
Frankly, Darnold did not play well against the Philadelphia Eagles—at all. He completed 21 of 37 passes for just 177 yards with a single touchdown and three interceptions, as many as he threw in the first four games combined.
Two of those first three picks came in a Week 4 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, giving him five interceptions versus three passing scores in those two losses. In Carolina's three wins, Darnold threw three touchdown passes and just one pick.
It's almost as if there's a correlation there.
Carolina's next three games are against teams who are a combined 5-10 this season, so there's a chance here for the Panthers to turn things around.
But to do so, Darnold has to cut out the mistakes that have cost the team so dearly the past two weeks."
ANALYSIS: "I bought all the way in and got burned—Carolina cracked the last couple of weeks against the Eagles and Cowboys, and the offense really looks like it misses Christian McCaffrey."
The Panthers are 6-9 all-time against the Vikings, with a 3-2 record at home and 3-7 record on the road.