A group of NFL coaches and talent evaluators ranked the Panthers in the top half of the 12 playoff teams.
Of course, the team the Panthers are facing in this Sunday’s wild-card game is rated above them.
ESPN’s Insider site asked four coaches and talent evaluators to rank the dozen playoff teams.
They put AFC powers New England and Pittsburgh at the top of the list at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, followed by New Orleans, which will host Carolina on Sunday in an NFC wild-card game.
Minnesota, which lost to the Panthers in Charlotte in Week 14, came in at No. 4 in the ESPN Insider rankings.
The Panthers were tied for fifth with Atlanta, giving the NFC South three teams in the top six.
“They really are not explosive offensively. Their receivers don’t threaten you at all,” one of the insiders told ESPN. “Cam (Newton) is their leading rusher. He is everything. He is their entire offense.
“If you keep Cam in the pocket and force him to beat you with his arm, which someone like Philadelphia could do, the Panthers could have some trouble. I just don’t think they have enough on the perimeter in one-on-one matchups and I don’t think they are strong enough as far as pass protection.”
The NFC West-champion Rams were ranked seventh, while Philadelphia – the NFC’s top seed – was slotted at No. 9 after a couple of subpar performances by quarterback Nick Foles to close out the regular season.
One of the insiders, a personnel director, put the Saints at the top of his ballot.
“They have a proven quarterback, a solid offensive line and they finally got enough production out of their defense to hold teams off as their offense scores points,” he said. “And they have Sean Payton.”