Power Rankings: No. 3 Carolina Panthers

A weekly examination of the Panthers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 4 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Carolina Panthers may have two teams ahead of them in ESPN.com's Power Rankings, but they still have a chance to rank first in the NFC when the playoffs begin.

Carolina (11-4) has to win at Atlanta, San Francisco (11-4) has to win at Arizona and St. Louis has to win at Seattle (12-3). It's not that farfetched. The Seahawks losing at home to the Rams seems to be the most unlikely of the three.

But if Carolina's perfect storm occurs, that would make San Francisco the NFC West champion in a tiebreaker against the Seahawks. The Panthers, the NFC South champions, would win the tiebreaker over San Francisco for the top seed based on a 10-9 victory over the 49ers on Nov. 10.

Of course, the Panthers also could fall all the way to a fifth or sixth seed. That would come into play if Carolina lost to Atlanta and New Orleans beat Tampa Bay to win the NFC South and No. 2 seed.

Then Carolina's fate would depend on the outcome of the San Francisco-Arizona game.