Power Rankings: No. 6 Carolina Panthers

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

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 12 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

"The Panthers seem to be the 'it' team right now, and there are plenty of reasons why. They have playmakers on offense, a stout defense and one of the NFL's best coaches."

Those were words on ESPN.com's Power Rankings before the 2006 opener, when the team was ranked No. 2.

They just as easily could be the words for the 2013 team that moved up six spots to No. 6 after Sunday's 10-9 victory over the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park.

The Panthers have won five straight games and six of their past seven to improve to 6-3 heading into a "Monday Night Football" showdown with AFC powerhouse New England (7-2).

They have done it with playmakers such as quarterback Cam Newton, wide receiver Steve Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams on offense. They have done it with a stout defense that ranks second in the league against the run, in total yards allowed per game and in points allowed.

It's way too premature to compare Ron Rivera to the best coaches in the NFL, considering less than two months ago there was speculation he might not make it past the bye week, but he certainly is in the running for 2013 Coach of the Year.

And this team is trending upward. The 2006 team lost its first game and finished 20th.

You might be wondering where No. 6 ranks for the Panthers in recent rankings history. It is their highest ranking since 2008, when they were ninth after Week 9 and fourth at the end of the regular season.

They started 20th that year, similar to this season when they began 23rd.

They also got to No. 4 in 2005 and were third during their 2003 Super Bowl season after Week 7.

A MNF win over No. 5 New England would thrust them into the top five, and as Rivera said Monday, it would take them from being relevant to "very relevant."