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Senior NFL Columnist

NFL Power Rankings: Beat-up Saints can't rest with Panthers up next

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The critics once had it out for the Panthers' Ron Rivera and Cam Newton.

No longer.

Carolina is on an eight-game win streak, and has a legitimate chance to win the NFC South.

Fire Ron Rivera.

Get rid of Mike Shula.

Cam Newton isn't a franchise passer.

At some point in the first month of the season, we heard all of that when talking about the Carolina Panthers as they struggled to win games.

After winning eight consecutive games, setting up a huge road game Sunday with the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South lead, it's laughable now.

Rivera has morphed into Riverboat Ron with his coaching decisions, an aggressive coach who will take chances.

Shula has molded Newton into an MVP candidate, a quarterback who has matured in a lot of ways, most notably inside the pocket. The Panthers have the second-ranked defense in the league, which complements Newton's ability on offense.

The Panthers are ranked fifth here in my Power Rankings, and a victory next week could propel them even higher.

They will play the Saints twice in the next three weeks. If they sweep the games, they are division champions.

Fire Ron Rivera? Laughable now, and he can thank Shula and Newton and that fierce defense for making it so.

RANK TEAM MOVE (LW)

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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