1. Atlanta- Finally, a change of identity, even though the personnel has been screaming for it for a while now, and look at the results. Atlanta has led by at least 20 points in each of its first three games. That’s what good teams do. Even more impressive, they completely put away the two games they played on the road….. in different time zones.
2. Houston- You could almost call the Texans 1a, as they have the same league leading point differential, but there is one huge deficiency in this team right now that keeps it a spot below Atlanta; special teams. Consider that on three of five kick returns, Trindon Holliday hasn’t made it back to the 20. Worse, Shayne Graham has just 7 touchbacks in 18 kickoffs. Those field position issues add up against good teams.
3. Baltimore- You know Baltimore is kicking themselves for the way they lost to the Eagles, but the win over New England, especially after a very poor opening of the game, and the Ravens have established themselves as a prime contender. The big difference is the offense this year is getting the job done and performing at an elite level.
4. San Francisco- Expect Jim Harbaugh to use the loss to Minnesota has a nice teaching tool. Everyone was ready to anoint the Niners as the best team in the NFL after week two. I think the 49ers players were too. I know people were talking about this defense as easily being the leagues best unit after week one, but it’s been surprisingly mediocre thus far in the season.
5. Green Bay- First they open the season in San Francisco, then we have the replacement debacle. For all that, they went out west against what was expected to be two of the top defenses in the league, and should have won at least one. People forget that against Seattle, Aaron Rodgers had to use a kickers ball on the two point conversion play, and a bogus roughing the passer call wiped out an interception that would have set the Packers up in good scoring position and iced the game. People say it shouldn’t have been close enough for a hail-mary to win the game, and they’re right.
6. New England- The Arizona loss was disappointing. But to Bill Belichik the loss to Baltimore was the most maddening. Maybe it was because his defense allowed almost as many passing yards to the Ravens as it had allowed in the first two games of the season combined. Facing a quality offense, the Patriots surrendered over 500 yards of offense. That definitely will make for an angry Hoodie.
7. Arizona- Don’t tell me this is because I’m not buying them. Don’t tell me because I think Miami could potentially beat them this week that I’m not buying them. I fully expect the Cardinals to be around the entire season. But I also know that Kevin Kolb has yet to prove himself as a consistent game manager, as he has successfully been thus far this season. It’s not the defense that needs to show me anything. I just need to know Kolb can keep enabling the defense to force teams into submission.
8. Chicago- The offense, it has it’s obvious problems. They can’t protect the guy under center, and truthfully, if you’re a Bears player, do you really want to “protect” Jay Cutler? Okay, in the spirit of winning football games, yes. The offense has been dreadful, but no team in the NFL has a better combination of defense and special teams. Even Jay Cutler can’t keep this team from contending all year.
9. New York Giants- As long as they have Eli Manning, they’re going to contend and be very good. Eli may never put up the gaudy numbers his elder brother has, but he may ultimately be better remembered. The Giants defense has shown some holes, anyone who lets the Bucs score as many points as they did has questions. And, it’s not like the Cowboys offense has been on fire in their two games following the season opener. But generally speaking, Eli and company find ways to win ballgames. No team in football gains more yards per drive than the Giants do.
10.Minnesota- Am I crazy? Don’t forget how close this team is to being 3-0. Okay, it’s equally as close to being 1-2. That said, the one game in which there was no doubt? It came against the 49ers when everyone thought they were head and shoulders above everyone else the best team in the NFL. The Vikings at the moment don’t do any one thing exceptionally well, but they’re solid in most every phase. If there’s one area of their game that could use some substantial improvement, it would be the running game. And that isn’t far fetched to foresee as Adrien Peterson continues his return form a torn ACL.
11.Seattle- They’re 2-1, but everyone in their right mind knows they deserve to be 1-2. That said, they had a chance to win late at Arizona, and defensively dominated the Packers for the first half on Monday night. Offensively, they don’t really have a clue, and eventually that will probably catch up to them. But for right now, you’d be hard pressed to argue that many more than 10 teams in the league are better.
12.Denver- Denver wins at Pittsburgh to open the year and then proceeds to drop two in a row, but only a combined 12 points to the two best teams in the league. So, let’s keep the shovels away from Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The AFC West looks like anything but a treacherous gauntlet, so Denver isn’t going away.
13.Dallas- The Cowboys should be weekly ranked compared to the Cowboys teams of previous weeks. It is absolutely impossible to get a feel for this team, and as long as the coaching staff and core talent remains in place, it will stay as such. They can be world beaters one day, embarrass themselves the next week, and then scratch out a hard fought victory over a team they should have beaten easily. Welcome to Jerry World.
14.San Diego- San Diego fans were probably feeling a bit good about themselves after starting the year 2-0 and just breezing thru Tennessee. Lost in all of that though might have been a dose of reality that could have been served by remembering the victory over the Raiders was aided greatly by the lack of a long snapper for the Silver and Black. Fear not though, the reality check was delivered loud and clear by Matt Ryan and the Falcons this past Sunday afternoon. It will be very interesting to see how they bounce back from this on the road against Kansas City.
15.Pittsburgh- This might be a little bit high, and might be entirely on reputation alone. In fact, I’m positive it is. It is based completely on the fact that I expect them to turn it around, at any time, meaning, I wouldn’t want to play them this week. Wait, nobody does. Perfect. Quick little question though, on what opponent did both Denver and Oakland post their highest scoring game in the young season? If you said Pittsburgh, you win the grand prize. The Steelers defense has been among the leagues worst, particularly against the passing game. Not having Ryan Clark against Denver, okay, I’ll grant them that. But they also got to face the Mark Sanchez led Jets aerial…..we won’t call it an assault, so…..yeah, you get the point, and then the Raiders. And they still rank so poorly. Pittsburgh doesn’t want to admit it, and argues they will use it for motivation, but that defense plain and simple, is old.
16.New York Jets- This team is 2-1? Please, someone explain how. Oh, right, because Miami absolutely had no interest in winning last week, at least kicker Dan Carpenter didn’t. I should punish the Jets more for the win they barely eeked out, but I’ll let them get by on the fact they’ve won two of three games. They haven’t been very good on offense or defense, and their advantage on special teams comes mostly due to Carpenter’s struggles on Sunday. I guess moving Joe McKnight to cornerback is going to solve everything, right? And remember the last high profile passer to struggle with a 50% completion percentage, well, at least you might get 1,000 yards rushing from him. So, I mean if the quarterback can’t hit half his passes, and can’t run, maybe a change there might not be the worst thing.
17.Buffalo- Oh, Buffalo, why did you have to lay that egg in week one? I wanted so much to give you guys a lot of love, but that 48-20 beat down won’t just disappear. Beat New England this week, and then we’ll see what happens. The Bill have recovered nicely, and have discovered that no team in football has a better trio of backs. Some may have thought Tashard Choice is only here because of his relationship with Chan Gailey. No, it’s because he’s a good running back.
18.Detroit- This team reminds me more and more of the early 90s Falcons. They can fling it all over the place with a cannon arm at quarterback, they have big time talent at the receiver position, and a couple backs who can make some plays. But they can’t run when they have to, and they can’t stop a soul to save their life. Consider the Rams and Titans have combined for 64 points against them. Against their other four opponents they’ve combined for 63. Their offense is good enough that they can compete. Good enough to make the playoffs in this improved division? Don’t think so.
19.Philadelphia- It was once said if you turn the ball over, you lose, that simple. Don’t tell the Eagles that. And certainly don’t tell Michael Vick this. He can talk all he wants about his renewed work ethic, and his film study, and his attention to detail. Shut it Michael. He is still reckless with the football, can’t make adjustments at the line, and doesn’t read defenses well. Now, can he win football games? Absolutely. But not when his coach insists on him playing in an offense that ultimately requires quarterbacks that are none of those three things. As long as Andy Reid insists Vick can be a pocket passer, the turnovers will continue, and the losses will soon mount. Vick flourished in Atlanta with the support of a strong running game and an offense built around his talents, even if he didn’t work at them. Maybe it’s Andy Reid’s ego, I don’t know, but he’s mismanaging a dynamic playmaker, and perhaps writing out his own death certificate as Eagles head coach. I mean, for Pete’s sake, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning have been more valuable with their legs this season.
20.Miami- Ryan Tannehill may be in over his head, but he’s not so submerged that Miami can’t wind up a solid football team. They play good defense, and despite giving their rookie quarterback next to nothing to throw to, should be competitive in most games they play. Most games they play won’t be a season opener on the road against a Super Bowl favorite. The Dolphins schedule is ridiculously manageable all the way thru November. There’s a possibility when they play the Patriots in December, they’ve put themselves in the playoff discussion.
21.Tampa Bay- So the Buccaneers have apparently gone from an idiot who had no idea what he was doing (Raheem Morris), to a meat head who wants to make sure everyone knows he knows what he’s doing, and how he’s going to do it. It appears to get as far away from the Morris disaster as possible, the Bucs could have possibly gone too far the other direction. The defense is good, and helps make them competitive, but bottom line, Josh Freeman is not. He still doesn’t get it. The only quarterbacks who have been of more harm to their teams thus far this year are Cutler, Brandon Weeden, and Vick, and thats because each have twice the turnovers Freeman does. Other than that, there may not be a worse starting quarterback in the league. For a fourth year starter, this cannot happen. When you’re dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed, and 30th in passing yards for yourself, in today’s game, you’re going to stink. This ranking is reflective entirely of the fact they’ve managed to still find a way to be competitive in their two losses.
22.Cincinnati- Sure, 2-1 is nice, but one score wins over the Redskins and Browns don’t equate to a whole lot of respect. Especially in your only real test, you were blasted out of the stadium by the Ravens 44-10. The offense, the passing game in particular, is exciting, and will score points, and will win shootouts with other mediocre to bad teams. But their defense, in particular against the run, won’t let them beat anybody that’s worth their salt. Their run defense isn’t just the worst run defense in football, it’s the worst by a wide, wide margin.
23.Indianapolis- Before the season a Colts fan tried to tell me this was going to be a very competitive team this season, and that a playoff berth may not be in the cards, a 6 or 7 win season that might leave them in the discussion into September was. I told him no way. Beating the Vikings by three, at home, and then losing at home to the Jaguars doesn’t dispel that theory any. Maybe he met competitive in the division, if so, well, competitive to avoid last place? Absolutely, it’s an absolutely horrible division. So, maybe in that sense, yes, they’re going to be competitive.
24.Washington- Will someone please tell Robert Griffin III that every team hits every quarterback? Or at least every quarterback they can get to. Why does he act shocked, or think we should be shocked, that teams are trying to hit him, hit him often, and hit him hard? If I hear one more post game press conference where he talks about how he’s “going to keep getting up”, I swear….Aside from that, he’s been as good as advertised, maybe better. The Redskins have yet to score under 28 points in a game this season. Unfortunately they’ve yet to allow less than 31.
25.Carolina- The discussion over Cam Newton’s leadership abilities not withstanding, there is plenty of cause for concern in Charlotte. Jonathan Stewart back on the field certainly helps, he’s shown again to be a far more effective rusher for the Panthers than DeAngelo Williams has, and that should benefit Newton, who has struggled to find the electricity and magic he had last season. Granted, there isn’t a lot to film wise to figure out Newton. Defenses would adjust, and easily. The question is, can he? This is where the dangers of taking a quarterback number one overall who only played one season, and for all intents and purposes had a very, very limited playbook.
26.Oakland- The come back win against the Steelers was nice, but it’d been better if it had been in the 1970s. As is, that wasn’t a very good Steelers team. What’s more telling is that in their first two games they were perhaps single handedly undone by losing a long snapper to injury, and were embarrassed by a Miami team that has questions galore on offense. Yep, same old Raiders right now. These next two games, at Denver, then at Atlanta, will make or break their season. Lose them both, and the wheels will be off before Halloween
27.New Orleans- I’m so giddy I can’t even talk about it.
28.Tennessee- The Tians are bad, really, really bad. And I’m really having second thoughts about them being here, but they did beat the Lions, so I have to give them credit for that. But if not for an incredible special teams day, that wouldn’t have happened. Remember, they lost their opening two games by a combined 72-23 score. Granted, those were expected playoff contenders New England and San Diego, but even still….. That’s not even remotely competitive. Another long year is coming in Nashville, and I won’t even talk about Chris Johnson.
29.St.Louis- Once again the offense is atrocious, and that’s having played two of the league’s worst defenses already. They play in a division where defense is put on a premium, and while theirs is good, it’s not at the level of the other three. Unfortunately, the other offer more promise to put up points against a quality defense than the Rams do. The Rams have done a poor job of protecting Sam Bradford, and giving him viable weapons to throw to. As a result, we can’t come down too quickly on him, but the clock is ticking.
30.Cleveland- This is perhaps the only offense that’s on the Rams level. It’s a shame too. Trent Richardson is a mighty fine football player at running back. Unfortunately, there are questions all over the rest of the offense. Despite all that, they are 0-3 but with their losses by an average of just six points per game. Does that mean we should expect a rebound? No, it’s a bad football team. But at least they’re worth watching a full game for.
31.Jacksonville- Maybe Maurice Jones-Drew is starting to get his legs under him. The Jaguars can only hope, because he literally is their only hope. You thought Obi-Wan Kenobi felt alone watching Leia’s message? Imagine Jones-Drew looking around the huddle.
32. Kansas City- So am I saying the worst team in football just beat the Saints? Yes, I am. Beating an 0-3 team in overtime means nothing, and right now, beating the Saints doesn’t add a whole lot of credibility either. Congratulations, you joined Carolina and Washington. What stands out more is the fact that they were blown out by both Atlanta and Buffalo. The performance in the first half against Atlanta, and the second half against New Orleans show you what this team can do. But what when you do that for just 1/3 of the season, you start to believe the other side of them is what you’re going to see most often.