Power Rankings: No. 26 Carolina Panthers

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

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 21 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Let's get this out of the way quickly: The Carolina Panthers tumbled five spots to 26th in ESPN's Power Rankings after Sunday's 22-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

There's no debate that this is not a good football team, although coach Ron Rivera believes it's better than its 1-3 record indicates.

Now let's get to something we can debate based on the weekly rankings. Which is the worst conference in the NFC, the South or the East?

Thanks to the 5-0 New Orleans Saints, who moved to second behind Denver, the average ranking of the South is 20.0. The East, with Dallas and Philadelphia tied for first at 2-3, has an average of 23.5.

So the South is slightly better.

That remains true if you throw records into the equation. The South's cumulative record -- Saints 5-0, Panthers 1-3, Falcons 1-4, Buccaneers 0-4 -- is 7-11.

The cumulative record in the East -- Cowboys 2-3, Eagles 2-3, Redskins 1-3, Giants 0-5 -- is 5-14.

What does all this mean? Not much except the Saints are on pace to clinch the South title by the 10th game unless Rivera is right and the Panthers are better than their record indicates.