NFL Power Rankings: 2008 Week 9 Edition
For the social-climbing Carolina Panthers, the living is easy for the next few weeks.
The No. 3-ranked Panthers, the latest interlopers into the top five of ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings, will enjoy a Week 9 bye. At 6-2 after an impressive home victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8, coach John Fox's club vaulted four spots in the weekly poll of our experts. While they rest, the NFC South leaders can reflect on an impressive first-half run and what lies ahead:
• They have overcome starting the season without star receiver Steve Smith, who was suspended by the team for two games for disciplinary reasons, to notch victories at the San Diego Chargers and at home against the Chicago Bears in his absence.
If the Panthers take care of business while the Tennessee Titans and New York Giants -- No. 1 and No. 2 again this week -- struggle against tougher opponents in November, Carolina might lead these rankings by the middle of next month.
The Titans, who are 7-0 after dispatching the Indianapolis Colts 31-21 on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," will be tested by an upcoming slate featuring a Week 9 home game against the Green Bay Packers followed by road dates at the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars. If they somehow survive that gauntlet and emerge 10-0, the doubters' cries will become whispers.
That said, Week 9 does promise a few slugfests.
We've called upon some of our voting members to provide team-by-team commentary. Thus, for your reading pleasure, you'll have:
• Tim Graham on the AFC East
• James Walker on the AFC North
• Paul Kuharsky on the AFC South
• Bill Williamson on the AFC West
• Matt Mosley on the NFC East
• Kevin Seifert on the NFC North
• Pat Yasinskas on the NFC South
• Mike Sando on the NFC West
On the next edition of ESPN's MNF (8:30 ET), the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Washington Redskins in a battle of the No. 4 and No. 5 teams, respectively, in our latest rankings. The Steelers slipped just one rung in the rankings after a seven-point home loss to the Giants in Week 8.
Washington remains at No. 5 this week after surviving a visit to the Lions, who remain No. 32 in the rankings despite a game effort in a 25-17 loss.
The previously mentioned Cowboys-Giants game will feature another battle of top-10 teams. By outlasting the Bucs 13-9 in Week 8, the Cowboys vaulted seven spots to No. 8 this week. That was the biggest leap in the rankings, although the Ravens apparently impressed many voters with their pasting of the Raiders. Baltimore jumped six spots to No. 14.
The Jags' Week 8 home loss to the Cleveland Browns caused them to tumble eight spots to No. 20. The rarefied air of a top-10 berth was too much for the Cardinals, whose four-point loss at Carolina cost them five rungs in the poll. They are now No. 13.
(Editor's note: LW indicates each team's ranking last week.)