Power Rankings: No. 18 Carolina Panthers

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

Preseason: 23rd | Last Week: 24th | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Ron Rivera was asked on Monday what it means for the Carolina Panthers to have a chance to improve their record to above .500 for the first time since 2008 on Thursday night at Tampa Bay.

"That's huge," Carolina's third-year coach said. "Because we're relevant."

The Panthers (3-3) also are becoming relevant in ESPN's rankings, improving six spots to a season-high 18th. They have won their last two games and three of their last four for their best start under Rivera, whose past two teams opened 1-5.

Here are a few NFL rankings that make the Panthers relevant:

  • Third in total defense -- fourth against the run and fifth against the pass.

  • Tied for sixth in takeaway-giveaway ratio at plus-5.

  • Second in points per game allowed (13.8).

  • Seventh in run offense.

  • Quarterback Cam Newton ranks 10th in the league in passer rating at 95.0.

  • Newton ranks second in the NFL in third-down rating behind Peyton Manning at 114.3.

There are more, but you get the point.

And if Carolina gets to 4-3, it will become more relevant.

"We're a young team that has gotten to the point now where we're doing the things we're capable of doing," Rivera said. "It's a great opportunity for us, this team, this city to make a mark. We have to go out and do that."