Panthers in the power rankings before Week 9

NFC South: Buccaneers 3rd, Saints 6th, Falcons 23rd

ANALYSIS: "The feel-good vibes of the Panthers' three-game winning streak are history, replaced by the frustration of a three-game skid. Teddy Bridgewater seemed well set up for a prime-time breakout performance, replete with a charming postgame interview with Colleen Wolfe. Instead, the quarterback looked uncomfortable in the face of a blitz-drunk Falcons defense and dealt with physical issues after an illegal hit left him with a sore neck in the second half. Bridgewater has been a nice story this season, as have Matt Rhule's Panthers as a whole, but it's time for Christian McCaffrey to return and reclaim the starring role of this offense."

NFC South: Buccaneers 4th, Saints 8th, Falcons 27th

ANALYSIS: "Reason for optimism: Defensive coordinator Phil Snow

The first-year NFL defensive coordinator has dealt with losing his Pro Bowl tackle and his starting end, safety and cornerback. Snow started six rookies in Thursday's game against Atlanta. And yet the defense has played well enough to give the Panthers a chance to win almost every week. The credit goes to Snow, whose ability to adjust and use of multiple formations in a bend-but-not-break attack has made the Panthers more competitive than many expected through the first eight games. He has by far made a bigger impact than offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who came in as the hot coaching candidate."

NFC South: Buccaneers 4th, Saints 10th, Falcons 26th

ANALYSIS: "Three consecutive losses has them reeling a bit. But isn't that the team we expected to see?"

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NFC South: Buccaneers 4th, Saints 5th, Falcons 22nd

ANALYSIS: "They've still got a chance to crash the playoff party, if Christian McCaffrey comes back soon."

NFC South: Buccaneers 4th, Saints 7th, Falcons 29th

ANALYSIS: "Maybe we were right about the Carolina Panthers.

After peeling off three wins in a row to get to 3-2 on the season, it appeared that many pundits (including our NFL analysts) had underestimated Matt Rhule's team. But after losing to one-win Atlanta Falcons team, the Panthers have hit the halfway point of the season 3-5 and well off the lead in the NFC South.

Rhule didn't mince words when asked about Carolina's up-and-down first half.

"Bill Parcells said it best: You are what your record says you are," he told reporters after the loss. "I want to be a team that is better in the second half of the season than we were in the first half."

Improving in the short term isn't going to be easy. In Week 9, the Panthers travel to Kansas City to face the defending Super Bowl champs. That's followed by a home date with the 5-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers."

Carolina is 2-4 all-time in six meetings with Kansas City through the years.

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