Power Rankings: No. 5 New Orleans Saints

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

Preseason: 14 | Last Week: 2 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Saints (9-3) fell three spots after their ugly 34-7 loss in Seattle on Monday night. But a closer look at the voting breakdown shows they're in a virtual three-way tie for third place with fellow 9-3 teams Carolina and New England.

Voters couldn't agree on what to make of the Saints after their stunningly poor showing. Three of the six panelists kept the Saints at No. 3. But they also received votes at No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6. The Saints will get a chance to clear up the confusion when they host the Panthers on Sunday night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Was the loss to the Seahawks just one bad night under an avalanche of difficult circumstances? Or a sign that the Saints could have trouble with a Carolina team that exudes many of the same qualities (stifling defense, physical run game, mobile dual-threat quarterback)?

The Saints will have the benefit of home-field advantage; they've been dominant at home in night games over the years. But they'll be handicapped by a short week of rest after a cross-country trip. So the intangibles are a wash. It's up to the Saints to determine their own fate on the field.