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2021 NFL Power Rankings: Carolina Panthers

Throughout the 2021 NFL season, we will compile a consensus NFL Power Rankings that averages the rankings of all 32 NFL teams.

Here is where the Carolina Panthers rank in terms of average, best and worst:

Below you will find a Week 9 roundup for the Panthers in our consensus 2021 NFL Power Rankings.

ESPN -- Rank: 20

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. -- David Newton

NFL.com -- Rank: 21

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.

CBS Sports -- Rank: 19

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.

USA Today -- Rank: 25

They currently find themselves in the NFC playoff field even though Carolina hasn't put together a good performance since September. Maybe new CB Stephon Gilmore can change that Sunday if he can provide sufficient dirt on the incoming Patriots.

The Athletic -- Rank: 22

How's the head coach? Despite going more than a month between victories (and still without Christian McCaffrey), the Panthers are in wild-card position. They got back there with a grind-it-out road win that required 47 rushing attempts, 35-plus minutes in time of possession and three scoring drives of at least 15 plays -- a service academy hat trick. Credit Matt Rhule for sticking with what worked, in a game that he and his team really needed.

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