CHARLOTTE - Follow five media outlets throughout the season as their writers update their NFL power rankings, presented by Daimler Trucks North America.
ANALYSIS: "The status of Christian McCaffrey is cloudy and perplexing, even if you're not a CMC fantasy owner. Matt Rhule told reporters on Monday that the star running back -- sidelined since September with a hamstring injury -- is scheduled to return to practice this week with the hope that he can play in Week 9 or 10. This is the same hamstring injury that didn't even warrant an immediate trip to injured reserve when McCaffrey was initially hurt back in Week 3, so doubts about the team's ability to properly monitor the situation are fair. The Panthers need McCaffrey to make a playoff run, but they also know one more setback could wipe out a second straight year of the 25-year-old's prime. You can feel the tension of the situation from outer space."
ANALYSIS: "Biggest Achilles' heel: Pass protection
The offensive line proved it could run block, paving the way for Carolina to rush for a season-high 203 yards on 47 attempts in Sunday's win at Atlanta. That kept the Falcons from loading up against the pass as teams did the past four weeks, collecting 15 sacks against Sam Darnold during that span. But teams will load the box and force the Panthers to pass, and the line remains vulnerable."
ANALYSIS: "The defense came up big against the Falcons, which they might need to do again with the possibility they won't have Sam Darnold this week because of a concussion. P.J. Walker will face a challenge against the Pats if he starts."
ANALYSIS: "Notching a six-point win over an offensively challenged Atlanta Falcons team does not fix all that ails the Carolina Panthers. But after dropping four games in a row after a 3-0 start, the Panthers will take a win any way they can get it.
It wasn't a pretty performance; Sam Darnold threw for just 129 yards with a passer rating south of 69.6. But the Panthers held the Falcons to just 213 yards of offense and racked up 203 rushing yards on a whopping 47 attempts.
Not only did the win get the Panthers back on track and back to .500 for the season, but there is also reason for optimism that the team's struggling offense will be getting a major boost ahead of next week's home date with the New England Patriots. Per ESPN's David Newton, running back Christian McCaffrey is expected to come off injured reserve this week, putting him on track to play for the first time since Week 3.
If Carolina is going to get back into the playoff picture in the NFC, the team needs its best offensive player on the field."
ANALYSIS: "The Panthers fancied themselves buyers, upgrading the roster in-season after a 3–0 start, so it was nice to see Stephon Gilmore make the game-clinching interception in his first game on Sunday. Matt Rhule clearly has this franchise headed in the right direction, but Carolina just feels like one of several teams in the league that’s treading water until it finds its quarterback of the future. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s pretty much how I felt about this team at the midpoint or final week last season."
View all of the best photos from pre-game, in-game and post-game from Carolina's win at Atlanta.