NFL Power Rankings: Bryce Young isn't giving Panthers any reason for optimism going forward

The Carolina Panthers called the right play late in the first half Sunday. Jonathan Mingo ran a post route and was wide open for what would have been a touchdown.

And Bryce Young absolutely missed him. He overthrew him even as Mingo was as open as a receiver can be in that situation. The pass wasn't close either. If there's one play to sum up Young's rookie season, that was it.

The stat line for Young that flashed on the bottom lines of the other NFL games — it's not like much of the country was watching the one-win Panthers take on the New Orleans Saints — was hard to ignore. At halftime, Young completed 3 of 15 passes for 29 yards with a lost fumble. The Saints don't have a bad pass defense, but it isn't frightening many opponents. It crushed Young in a 28-6 Panthers loss, dropping Carolina to 1-12 this season.

There have been many low points in this horrific Panthers season. Head coach Frank Reich was fired before his first season was done. Team owner David Tepper continues to draw attention for his impulsive decisions. But the worst news is the Panthers' blockbuster trade in March to get Young continues to look like a complete miss. If Young doesn't turn things around, it could be a long-term problem given what the Panthers gave up.

The Panthers traded the ninth overall draft pick and a late second-round pick this year, a 2024 first-round pick and a 2025 second-round pick, along with receiver DJ Moore, for the top pick to get Young. The ninth pick (which the Bears traded to the Eagles) ended up being NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite Jalen Carter. Moore has been very good with the Chicago Bears and scored twice Sunday. The Panthers' 2024 first-round pick is almost surely going to be first overall, with a pair of elite QB prospects in Caleb Williams and Drake Maye potentially in the class, and the Panthers don't even own the pick. And, of course, the Panthers passed on C.J. Stroud, who is having a historic rookie season, to take Young.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young is having a very quiet rookie season. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young is having a very quiet rookie season. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

The problem with Young isn't that he's making a ton of mistakes, which is good. He has nine interceptions and five lost fumbles, which isn't good but not egregious for a rookie. But he isn't making much happen either. For a No. 1 overall pick, there is a troubling lack of "wow" plays this season. He has just 20 completions of 20 or more yards, the fewest of any quarterback with 350 attempts. His 5.3 yards per attempt is 0.8 yards behind any other regular starting quarterback. Other rookies struggle but at least give their teams a handful of highlights that remind everyone why they were a top pick. It's hard to come up with any great highlights for Young over his 417 attempts. If you watched Young all season and didn't know where he was drafted, you'd never guess he was the first overall pick. That's an issue.

That sets up a weird offseason, especially as the Panthers try to sell their head-coaching job to attractive candidates. The Panthers' optimism surrounding Young will be that he was the first overall pick and his situation as a rookie was poor. You'll probably hear a lot of "if the Panthers can build a better team/staff around Young he can improve quickly" this offseason, but there's not much from his NFL tape to indicate that's true. It's a lot of blind hope based on his college career.

Young isn't a bust, yet. It's too early for that. It's hard to judge any quarterback on less than a full season in a bad situation. But it's also fair if the Panthers are secretly having some buyer's remorse and wondering what Young's struggles could mean for their coaching search.

Here are the power rankings after Week 14 of the NFL season:

32. Carolina Panthers (1-12, Last Week: 32)

There's a fascination with winless or undefeated teams. Nobody remembers one-win teams. That's why the Panthers are lucky. If they didn't win that 15-13 game in Week 8 over the Texans, we'd spend a lot more time focusing on them. They'd be a major story, trying to avoid becoming the first 0-17 team. But they did get that win, and they're just another awful, forgettable team. That's a good thing because it doesn't seem like they're winning another game.

31. Washington Commanders (4-9, LW: 30)

The Commanders could be a major spoiler in the last four weeks. They play the Rams this week and could wreck their postseason dreams. Their final two games are against the 49ers, who are going for the No. 1 seed, and the Cowboys, who can't afford a divisional loss in the NFC East race. All that said, the Commanders don't look like the type of team that can pull off any of those upsets.

30. New England Patriots (3-10, LW: 31)

The Patriots got a win Thursday, and that might have sent some fans looking up draft tiebreaker scenarios. The tiebreaker is strength of schedule. The team with the easier schedule gets the better pick. Currently the Patriots have that tiebreaker over the Cardinals and should maintain that through the season because they have an easier remaining schedule than Arizona. An 0-4 finish will likely get the Patriots a top-two pick and a shot at Drake Maye or Caleb Williams. Another win, and that's not so certain.

29. Arizona Cardinals (3-10, LW: 28)

The Cardinals will pick in the top three if they lose out. That's in danger if they win at least one more, because there are some four-win teams and the Cardinals aren't in great tiebreaker shape against them at the moment. Players don't care about draft picks and won't tank, but some fans who are dreaming of Marvin Harrison Jr. or a top quarterback won't be mad if the Cardinals lose out.

28. Las Vegas Raiders (5-8, LW: 23)

For a while, it made sense for the Raiders to evaluate rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell. With interim coach Antonio Pierce saying everything will be evaluated this week because the Raiders need to win, it seems like a QB switch back to Jimmy Garoppolo could be an option. And after losing 3-0 at home, something has to change.

27. Los Angeles Chargers (5-8, LW: 22)

Justin Herbert has a fractured finger and there's no reason to bring him back this season. The only reason for him to play again would be Brandon Staley trying to save his job, but it's possible that decision has been made already. This is a lost year for the Chargers and they need to start thinking about next season.

26. New York Giants (5-8, LW: 29)

I don't know where the Tommy DeVito story is going, but let's just all enjoy the fun while it lasts.

25. Tennessee Titans (5-8, LW: 27)

Will Levis is a good example of a rookie QB who has struggled some but has enough splash plays to get the Titans excited about his potential. He was great as he rallied the Titans from a 14-point deficit in the final minutes at Miami to pull off a stunning upset. There's plenty to iron out — he had many mistakes Monday night, including a pick-6 to a defensive lineman — but there's also something to build on.

24. New York Jets (5-8, LW: 26)

There was an interesting report in the Deseret News that the Jets told Zach Wilson when he was benched that he would be traded after the season. The Deseret News, which cited sources close to the situation, is based in Utah where Wilson played at BYU. Wilson was brought back to the starting lineup Sunday and had his best game as a pro, with 301 yards and two touchdowns in a win. Just another chapter of Jets drama.

23. Chicago Bears (5-8, LW: 25)

Matt Eberflus might be saving his job. Wins over the Vikings and Lions were impressive. Chicago is clearly playing better. They have a chance for a few wins over their final four games (at Cleveland, vs. Arizona, vs. Atlanta, at Green Bay). If the Bears are showing progress and winning games, why change coaches?

22. Atlanta Falcons (6-7, LW: 18)

I think it's fair to wonder if three NFC South coaches get fired. For every team that can't win the 2023 NFC South, the owner should be asking serious questions. The Panthers have already fired their coach. The division-winning coach might get another year but maybe that's it. In Arthur Smith's case, he has two 10-loss seasons and if the Falcons don't win the division this season, they will look back at blowing Sunday's game at home to the Buccaneers. What reason would there be for Arthur Blank to sign off on a fourth season for Smith?

21. New Orleans Saints (6-7, LW: 21)

Derek Carr was sacked, slammed the ball down and center Erik McCoy had enough. He started yelling at Carr and teammates had to step between them as they left the field.

Teammates argue and in most cases it's not nearly as big of a deal as it is made out to be. In this case, it seems like the frustration over Carr is not just limited to Saints fans.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, LW: 24)

The NFC South might be a mess but at least there's a three-way race for the division. Thank the Buccaneers, who rallied in the final couple minutes for a game-winning touchdown to win at Atlanta. That saved their season. The Saints, Falcons and Bucs have just three games combined remaining against winning teams, and the Bucs have two of them (against the Packers and Jaguars the next two weeks). But they're alive, thanks to Baker Mayfield's last-minute heroics.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6, LW: 17)

The Steelers lost to the Patriots and Cardinals in a five-day stretch. Those two teams are 4-20 against the rest of the NFL. I don't think Mike Tomlin will be fired, but the last two games have been so bad it's a viable conversation now.

18. Seattle Seahawks (6-7, LW: 16)

Four losses in a row have put the Seahawks in a bad place. They probably need to beat the Eagles next Monday night to stay in the playoff race. The good news is if they do beat the Eagles, they could win out. Their final three games are at Tennessee, vs. Pittsburgh and at Arizona.

17. Los Angeles Rams (6-7, LW: 20)

Over the Rams' last three games, Matthew Stafford has 10 touchdowns and one interception. He was fantastic again Sunday even though the Rams lost an overtime game at the Ravens. There is no time for moral victories, but what the Rams are doing in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year is impressive.

16. Indianapolis Colts (7-6, LW: 12)

The Colts got blasted Sunday, and that's mostly because they're not a great team. They're at seven wins because they are well-coached and they have won some close games. Just because they lost Sunday, let's not lose sight of the fact that they are having a much better season than anyone anticipated and have done so through major injuries.

15. Green Bay Packers (6-7, LW: 11)

The Packers have a favorable remaining schedule, so they're still in decent shape to make the playoffs. But that bad loss was a reminder the Packers aren't quite there yet. They had the game in hand, due to some of the same breaks they've been catching the past few weeks, and then blew it at the end. They just can't let that loss linger.

14. Minnesota Vikings (7-6, LW: 19)

It's shocking how fast the Joshua Dobbs story crashed to earth. Nick Mullens got the nod in the fourth quarter when Dobbs was benched in a 0-0 game, and Mullens at least did enough to get a 3-0 win. That game was hideous but a huge win for Minnesota's playoff hopes. Mullens probably becomes the Vikings' fourth starting quarterback in this weird season for them.

13. Houston Texans (7-6, LW: 10)

The Texans will be in a tough spot. C.J. Stroud is the future of the franchise and he suffered a scary concussion Sunday. Even if he's cleared, do they put him back on the field right away? Does the wild-card race affect their decision-making? If the Texans were 3-10, it's safe to say Stroud might sit an extra week or more. With Houston right in the middle of a playoff race, there will be pressure from both sides.

12. Denver Broncos (7-6, LW: 14)

The Broncos are one game out of first place in the AFC West. Amazing. The Broncos are very unlikely to win the division. Their Week 1 loss to the Raiders will probably kill them in tiebreakers, if it comes to that. But the fact that we should consider Chiefs/Broncos tiebreakers for the AFC West is remarkable.

11. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-5, LW: 9)

Kudos to Trevor Lawrence for playing Sunday through a high ankle sprain. He moved better than you'd figure from a player with that injury. He still missed plenty of passes he usually makes and didn't look quite right. And he might not for a while. The best news for the Jaguars is the Texans and Colts also lost, or else the AFC South might be up for grabs.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6, LW: 13)

I'm very interested in the Bengals now. They seem to have a different energy trying to save their season around Jake Browning, who is doing a great job in replacing Joe Burrow. The Bengals have beat two playoff contenders in a row and look like a playoff team themselves.

9. Cleveland Browns (8-5, LW: 15)

Joe Flacco has had a good career, but it was hard to imagine him being a plus asset for a playoff team at age 38, off a bad season with the Jets, having been out of football from the end of last season to mid-November. But that's what is happening. He has five touchdowns in two games and has given stability to an offense that needed it. This Browns team is almost certainly going to the playoffs, and Flacco is a big reason why. What a story.

8. Detroit Lions (9-4, LW: 6)

The last time we saw the Lions look like potential Super Bowl contenders might have been all the way back in Week 4, when they dominated the Packers. Since then, they've had a few good performances but all against bad teams, and the last four games have been troubling. They should have lost to the Bears twice in that span, did lose once to Chicago and were outclassed at home by the Packers on Thanksgiving. The Lions are still very likely to win the NFC North, though that's not a lock anymore. The real concern is that this Lions team we've seen the past few weeks looks like a prime one-and-done candidate for the playoffs.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (8-5, LW: 7)

Here's the funny thing: Have you heard the Chiefs say Kadarius Toney wasn't offsides? No. Just that a penalty shouldn't have been called for whatever reason. It's a bad look to have a complete meltdown over a penalty being called a penalty.

6. Miami Dolphins (9-4, LW: 5)

The Dolphins took a 14-point lead on a bad Titans team, against a rookie quarterback at home, with less than five minutes left. There's no other way to say it: What a choke job by the Dolphins. Miami again looks like a team that is good but not good enough to be a real contender this season.

5. Buffalo Bills (7-6, LW: 8)

If the Bills can just make the playoffs, they could advance to the Super Bowl. There's nobody in the AFC they can't beat. The problem is the Bills are still far from a playoff lock even after a win at Kansas City. Their odds are up, but just to 35.5% to make the playoffs at DVOA. They need another upset or two against a very tough remaining schedule. Up next is Dallas.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (10-3, LW: 2)

The Eagles have been absolutely overmatched and outclassed over their last seven quarters. They were blown out by the 49ers and the Cowboys. The Cowboys beat them by 20 despite giving up a defensive touchdown. The Eagles have the talent to rebound. They still have the inside track to the NFC East title due to a soft schedule and tiebreaker advantages. But their outlook is a lot different than it was going into that 49ers game.

3. Baltimore Ravens (10-3, LW: 3)

What a week for the Ravens. They won in overtime against the Rams, which is a quality win, especially considering the rainy conditions. Then they watched the Chiefs and Dolphins lose at home. The Jaguars lost too. That opens the door wide open for the Ravens to get the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

2. Dallas Cowboys (10-3, LW: 4)

The Cowboys are still very likely to finish second in the NFC East and get the No. 5 seed (and that seems like it could cost Dak Prescott an MVP award, based on how voters usually decide the award). But now that Dallas has a quality win, it legitimizes the hot streak they've been on. There's a big gap between Dallas and the No. 1 team, but the Cowboys deserve the second spot.

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-3, LW: 1)

The 49ers got the one Eagles loss they needed to get in pole position for the No. 1 seed. If the 49ers beat the Ravens at home on Christmas, the top seed should be theirs. They will be heavily favored in their other three games (at Cardinals, at Commanders, vs. Rams). We all know the 49ers are dominant, now just imagine them having a bye and being two home wins from a Super Bowl.