NFC South: 2013 NFL Week 10 Power Rankings

A weekly examination of the Panthers’ Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 12 | Power Ranking since 2002

Quarterback Cam Newton says the Carolina Panthers are getting into the meat of their schedule, and's Power Rankings are all the proof he needs.

Over the next seven weeks the No. 12 Panthers (5-3) have four games against teams ranked in the top seven, including two against NFC South rival New Orleans (6-2), ranked No. 6.

They have two more games against teams ranked in the top 20 -- the No. 14 New York Jets (5-4) and the No. 19 Miami Dolphins (4-4).

That's strong when you consider Carolina's five wins came against No. 31 Tampa Bay, No. 30 Minnesota, the No. 29 New York Giants, No. 26 Atlanta and No. 25 St. Louis.

Those teams are a combined 8-33, which is why a lot of eyes will be on Sunday's game at No. 5 San Francisco (6-2) and the following week's game at home against No. 7 New England (7-2) to see whether Carolina is for real.

The combined record of the four upcoming opponents ranked in the top seven is 25-8. That's strong. But the combined record of Carolina's second-half schedule doesn't look quite so intimidating at 36-30 thanks to games against 0-8 Tampa and 2-6 Atlanta.

If the NFL playoffs started today, the Panthers would be a wild card and the No. 6 seed in the NFC. Coach Ron Rivera believes this team has playoff potential.

The meat of the schedule will determine that.

"You play who you are supposed to play," Rivera said. "You sit there and you look at Atlanta, and you can’t tell me they’re a 2-6 team. There are a lot of good football players on that team, a lot of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros and future Hall of Famers, so you play who you play.

"Am I excited about the [upcoming] challenge? Yeah, because it’s the next biggest one. It’s the 49ers and I look forward to that challenge. We’ll get a good indication as to where we are."
A weekly examination of the New Orleans Saints’ Power Ranking:

Preseason: 14 | Last Week: 5 | Power Ranking since 2002

The New Orleans Saints (6-2) fell only one spot after their worst all-around performance of the season -- a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets. That’s fair, because the Saints have proved that they have one of the highest ceilings in the NFL when they’re on their game.

However, if they don't bounce back quickly, the Saints are in danger of dropping into the middle of the pack -- both in the Power Rankings and the actual NFC standings. Over the next two weeks, the Saints will host the Dallas Cowboys (5-3) and the San Francisco 49ers (6-2) -- two of the other top NFC teams jockeying for playoff position.

The Saints typically do their best work inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, especially in prime time, where they’ll be when they host the Cowboys this coming Sunday night on NBC. It will be critical for them to keep that up, because the schedule doesn’t get any easier.
A weekly examination of the Falcons' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 4 | Last Week: 23 | Power Ranking since 2002

A few week ago, the Atlanta Falcons climbed three spots in the Power Rankings after beating the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, they dropped three spots after a loss to the Arizona Cardinals. And now, following a 34-10 loss to Carolina Panthers, the Falcons are down three spots again to No. 26.

At least the Falcons have been consistent with the threes.

Actually, inconsistency has killed the Falcons during this dismal, 2-6 season. One week, quarterback Matt Ryan has a career-high 148.4 passer rating and then the next two weeks, he throws seven total interceptions. One week, the defense is blitzing and creating turnovers and the next week, it's giving up an 80-yard touchdown run.

If the Falcons could just find some balance and consistency, maybe they would have a chance to put together one of those eight-game winning streaks, as they've done twice under coach Mike Smith. But a season-ending injury to top player Julio Jones is likely to keep that from happening.

Sure, getting Roddy White healthy from hamstring and ankle injuries and the imminent return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) from short-term injured reserve could help, but that won't solve all the issues plaguing the underachieving Falcons.

Not to mention the schedule doesn't get any easier during the second half of the season with games against Seattle, New Orleans, Green Bay and San Francisco. The Falcons might catch a break if Aaron Rodgers' collarbone isn't healed in time for the Dec. 8 matchup at Lambeau Field.

Whatever the case, the Falcons have to start playing their young players and start planning for next year.

Power Rankings: No. 31 Buccaneers

November, 5, 2013
A weekly examination of the Buccaneers' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 19 | Last week: 31 | Power Ranking since 2002

The latest edition of the Power Rankings is out and it’s looking more and more like we’ll need an end-of-season playoff for the bottom spot.

The Jacksonville Jaguars continue to hold on to No. 32. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a very solid No. 31.

Both teams are winless and currently are battling for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. It’s a shame that the Bucs and Dolphins aren’t scheduled to play this season because that may be the only way to truly decide the worst team in the NFL.

If that hypothetical playoff could somehow take place, I’d put my money on the Jaguars to win. The Bucs have more talent, but they seem to have developed an uncanny knack for losing games they could have won.