Power Rankings: Preseason 23. This week: 31.
Where they stand: It’s chaos in Carolina. The Panthers are 1-7 and things aren’t going to get any better this year. The youth movement simply has not worked. Maybe it’s a case of veterans not stepping up to help ease the process. But more likely it’s that the young players just aren’t all that talented. After all the offseason talk about jazzing up the passing game, it hasn’t happened. The Panthers don’t have anything resembling an NFL passing game and no one has stepped forward at quarterback.
Falling: Steve Smith. Not all that long ago, Smith was as talented as any receiver in the game. The talent may still be there, but the production is not. In Sunday’s loss to New Orleans, Smith had one catch for 9 yards. You can put most of the blame on the quarterback struggles or the fact the Panthers don’t have a lot of other threats at wide receiver. But the bottom line is the Panthers aren’t getting the type of production they should from Smith. He hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game and hasn’t caught a touchdown pass since Week 2.
Rising: Charles Godfrey, safety. He has a team-high four interceptions and has been a playmaker in the secondary. Godfrey had only two interceptions in his first two seasons. He has shown a nose for the ball that even the Panthers didn’t think he had. Godfrey also has been a solid tackler. The only downside to his performance is that he hasn’t had an interception since Week 5, but that’s largely because the Panthers have been falling behind and opponents aren’t throwing a lot.
Midseason MVP: Linebacker James Anderson. You have to look long and hard for bright spots, but Anderson is one. In his first year as a full-time starter, he has shown a knack for making plays. He has 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, an interception and 77 tackles.
Outlook: There are no sudden cures on the way. In fact, it’s likely things will get even worse. With head coach John Fox almost certainly gone after the season, there is the potential for things to get even uglier. Fox always has had control of his team throughout his tenure. But his lame-duck status jeopardizes his power. If the losing continues, it might get to a point where owner Jerry Richardson pulls the plug on Fox and finishes the season with an interim coach. That’s not a real attractive option, but all the Panthers really have to play for the rest of the way is draft position in 2011.