CHARLOTTE - Follow five media outlets throughout the season as their writers update their NFL power rankings, presented by Daimler Trucks North America.
ANALYSIS: "The Panthers will stick with Sam Darnold for now, because Sam Darnold's backup is P.J. Walker, and P.J. Walker isn't playing at Temple anymore. Matt Rhule has boxed himself into a corner: It's becoming apparent he's whiffed on his hand-picked starting QB for the second straight year, and the coach has no escape hatch ... for now, anyway. After Sunday's ugly 25-3 loss to the Giants, reports surfaced that the Panthers are "evaluating their pursuit of a franchise quarterback," and Carolina is expected to be involved in trade discussions for Deshaun Watson. The legal entanglements of Watson will likely keep him out of action no matter where he ends up by the trade deadline, but Carolina looks ready to make a major push for another hard reset at QB."
ANALYSIS: "Prediction we missed: The offensive line
I really was optimistic that Cameron Erving was the answer at left tackle, and that the Panthers had upgraded enough across the board to handle a few injuries on the line. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The line has been a mess, giving up 21 sacks the last five games. That's 4.2 sacks a game. Compare that with Sam Darnold's three years with the Jets, when the line that gave up 2.5 sacks a game was called a mess."
ANALYSIS: "Sam Darnold is having big-time issues after his fast start. They can't protect him either, which doesn't help."
ANALYSIS: "Last Thursday, Carolina head coach Matt Rhule told reporters that he was 100 percent committed to Sam Darnold as the team's quarterback despite the Panthers dropping three straight games after a 3-0 start.
'I believe Sam is going to be a great quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, and I haven't done any work on anyone else,' Rhule told reporters. 'He's my focus, and I expect him to play his best football moving forward. I'm not looking anywhere else.'
A few days later, Rhule benched Darnold in favor of P.J. Walker in a game in which the Panthers had the fewest total yards and points of Rhule's tenure as head coach.
Granted, Darnold is hardly the only one to blame for Carolina's recent woes. But after throwing one interception over the first three games of the season, Darnold has seven over the last four. He was also flagged for intentional grounding in his own end zone.
It's looking more and more like Darnold is more stopgap starter than solution for the Panthers' passing predicament.
'That's three consecutive losses to teams with losing records for the Panthers, and it looks like the Darnold era might already be coming to an end in Carolina,' Gagnon wrote. 'This team was a phony contender at 3-0, and not even the return of Christian McCaffrey is likely to change that. I wouldn't be surprised if they were to lose their next three or four games to pretty much bring an end to their 2021 season.' "
ANALYSIS: "Sam Darnold’s descent has been a troubling update for the Panthers, who are now floating in purgatory after a hot start. While Matt Rhule’s team deserves credit for trying to stay aggressive and take advantage of their early success, one has to wonder if their ultimate decision—getting rid of Teddy Bridgewater, leaving them between a rock and a hard place with Darnold and a prospective Deshaun Watson deal—will pan out in their favor."
Carolina is 20-35 all-time against Atlanta dating all the way back to 1995.