Breaking down the Panthers' ranking

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas.

When it came time to do our preseason power rankings, no team drew greater differences of opinion than the Carolina Panthers. They ended up ranked No. 20.

John Clayton voted the Panthers No. 11 and I had them at No. 14 and second in the NFC South. But Clayton and I were the exceptions and I think the rest of the panelists sold the Panthers short.

Six voters put the Panthers in the 20s and they were rated as low as 27. I can understand some of the skepticism. The Panthers are coming off a losing season and they didn't do anything dramatic in free agency.

But I think Carolina can be a playoff team, with some contingencies attached. Jake Delhomme's elbow has to stay strong and Julius Peppers has to rebound from a slump in 2007. If those two things happen, Carolina could even challenge New Orleans for the NFC South title.

Sure, it's an assumption to say Delhomme will be better than ever after having Tommy John surgery. But indications are, he might be. I've talked to him this offseason and he's thrilled with how his rehab has gone. Delhomme says his arm is stronger than ever and admitted the elbow was bothering him for several seasons before it fell apart. His presence alone should be worth at least a couple more wins and, if Peppers can get back to double-digit sacks, a questionable defensive line will be respectable.

Throw in the fact John Fox is a solid coach, the offensive line should be much better than last year and rookie running back Jonathan Stewart looks like a young Stephen Davis and Carolina could work its way into the top 10 before all is said and done.