NFL Power Rankings Week 3: Your Guide to the Best and Worst Teams in the League

Bob CunninghamSenior Analyst ISeptember 18, 2012

NFL Power Rankings Week 3: Your Guide to the Best and Worst Teams in the League

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    With two weeks of the NFL season in the books, we're officially 1/8th of the way through the 2012 edition of the greatest sport—and sporting organization—on earth.

    It's incredibly difficult to rank teams after only one week, but a second week really doesn't make the job any easier. In reality, it takes about four weeks—or the first quarter of the season—to get a true read on each team and where their true strengths and weaknesses lie.

    With that said, don't be alarmed by the dramatic rise and fall of some teams. Truth be told, nearly every team really should walk away with an "incomplete" until more games are played and there's more than just, on average, 120 plays of offense and defense to look at through two weeks.

    However, that would be incredibly boring reading material and all this prognostication really strokes my ego.

    So let's take a look at where your team comes in after Week 2, and likely give you a reason to never read my power rankings ever again.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Last Week: 25 (-7)

     

    Well, at least for a week it looked as though Blaine Gabbert might not be a sensational bust.

    Unfortunately, with public opinion (and my own) already leaning toward pegging him as a wasted draft pick, all it was going to take was one bad game for everyone to stop expecting anything out of him, and that's where we find ourselves now.

    Gabbert injured his leg (his glute or hamstring, depending on who you ask) and his status for Week 3 is up in the air. But I have a feeling some phantom injury will be Mike Mularkey's excuse for starting Chad Henne and hoping to at least move guys out of the box and get a little offense going.

    As it stands, Gabbert has done little, even dating back to his rookie season, to show he can be an effective NFL quarterback.

31. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Last Week: 17 (-14)

     

    Yikes.

    This cannot be how Romeo Crennel wanted to restart his career as an NFL head coach. Crennel has always been a defensive guy, yet his squad in Kansas City looks like they would give up points to the local high school team.

    Sure, Matt Cassel is putting up some decent numbers, but of course that's going to be the case when they're starting the game down 14 points.

    The Chiefs made C.J. Spiller look like O.J. Simpson and just can't seem to get out of their own way. There is still time for them to pull it together and keep a little dignity for themselves this year, but it looks like things are going to get out of hand quickly in Kansas City, and heads could roll because of it.

30. Tennessee Titans

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    Last Week: 21 (-9)

     

    We all knew Jake Locker was going to be a work in progress, so his struggles against the San Diego Chargers were not exactly noteworthy. The plus side for the Titans is that Locker continues to show flashes that should indicate all he needs is time.

    So those of you calling for Matt Hasselbeck are completely wrong, off base, and ignorant. Sitting Locker and playing Hasselbeck sets back not only Locker's progression as a quarterback, but the progression of the team.

    Knock it off.

    What's more disheartening is the play and demeanor of Chris Johnson. He's not interested in playing football if it means having to grind his way for the tough yards. He wants the home run or he's going to throw a temper tantrum and call out his offensive line.

    Which, by the way, has already happened.

    The offensive line has not blocked all that well for him, but a guy who just got done screaming about being the best running back in football—and being paid as such—should be able to make something happen.

    Oh, and the defense is no good. Sorry, Titans fans, it's going to be a long one.

29. Oakland Raiders

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    Last Week: 23 (-6)

     

    If Carson Palmer had some weapons, we might see the Palmer of old. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is the Raiders are severely lacking on offense.

    And to make matters worse, they're now being hit with the injury bug.

    Palmer obviously doesn't trust anyone other than Darren McFadden to make a play for him consistently, and those two alone are not going to win games for this team.

    Not only are guys not stepping up on offense, but the defense managed to allow 35 points to a Miami Dolphins team that could barely get out of its own way in Week 1.

    Some of that is an improvement from Miami, but a lot of it is simply a lack of talent and focus from the Raiders.

28. Cleveland Browns

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    Last Week: 32 (+4)

     

    The good news is Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson stepped up big time and were clearly able to put their Week 1 debacle out of their minds.

    The bad news is it still wasn't enough as this week the defense took their turn in messing things up.

    When your team is flip-flopping which side of the ball is going to show up, it's certainly not going to equate to many wins.

    Right now, the Browns are still trying to figure a lot of things out and they're going to be doing a lot of losing until they can piece everything together.

    It has to be heartbreaking for Browns fans to see the offense move the ball and put up points this week while the defense gets gouged after watching them in Week 1 and feeling as though the defense was going to be a strong point.

    I said last week I didn't think that defense was as good as the Philadelphia Eagles made them look.

    And I may have even overrated them.

27. Miami Dolphins

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    Last Week: 31 (+4)

     

    The Dolphins get a little bump here mainly because of how poorly the teams beneath them played. They won their game in Week 2, but it was against a Raiders team that, as noted previously, has a ton of problems on both sides of the ball.

    Ryan Tannehill played much better, even though head coach Joe Philbin would certainly like to see him be able to push the ball downfield a little more.

    Reggie Bush was the real story of the game as he gouged the Raiders defense for over 170 yards and looked like he might be coming into his own as a between-the-tackles featured back.

    But again, don't get too excited, Miami.

    It was the Raiders, after all.

26. New Orleans Saints

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    Last Week: 16 (-10)

     

    Anyone who thought the Saints were going to come out and play like nothing had happened this offseason were either delusional Saints fans or just delusional in general.

    There was too much going on for the team not to be affected.

    Between all the media attention and the uncertainties surrounding members of the team and being forced down to the third-string head coach, if you will, there was just no way the Saints were going to look the way they did last season.

    I don't rate Sean Payton as highly as others do, but it cannot be easy going from the guy who has been there the last six years, to Joe Vitt, to Aaron Kromer.

    And even if Kromer is able to get something established in the short term, the team will be turned back over to Vitt in another month, so that will minimize any progress the team is able to make now.

    There's no communication on offense and the defense is atrocious. Add in the continued circus surrounding the team, and I think we may see the "Ain'ts" for the first time in recent years.

25. Indianapolis Colts

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    Last Week: 28 (+3)

     

    It didn't take Andrew Luck long to show the composure everyone saw from him in college that led to all the hype and eventually made him the No. 1 overall draft pick.

    Luck led the Colts very well on the final drive to put his team in a position to kick the game-winning field goal and notch his first NFL win.

    However, I don't foresee him getting many chances to do that moving forward this season. Even after this win, there's nothing to make me think these Colts will be able to win more than four games.

    And that number has only gone up from my preseason prediction of three because they get to play the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans twice.

    Luck will be a bright spot for the next 14 weeks, but there's not a ton of potential around him, and this winning feeling they have right now is sure to be short-lived.

24. Buffalo Bills

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    Last Week: 29 (+5)

     

    First things first, I really don't expect the Bills to stay this high for very long. Even though they're 1-1 right now, their win came against the Kansas City Chiefs, who I have ranked as the second-worst team in the league.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick still is doing nothing to show he deserved any of that contract extension, and the only real bright spot has been C.J. Spiller. With Fred Jackson going down once again with a knee injury, Spiller stepping up became essential, and he's done that so far.

    That, of course, comes with the caveat that it's still September. However, Spiller caught on at the end of last season and his strong play thus far in 2012 seems to show a pattern more than an early-season aberration.

    The Bills are a team a few people picked to really surprise this year, but for me the only surprise would be if they are able to avoid being swept by their division.

23. Washington Redskins

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    Last Week: 18 (-5)

     

    Once again, Robert Griffin III looked very impressive. He used his feet a whole lot more than he did in the win against the New Orleans Saints last week and still found time to show off his arm.

    His play on the field and the way he says all the right things in front of the cameras has me on board as a believer. This kid, at least on the surface, has a shot at greatness.

    That was the good news. Now to the bad news.

    To make matters worse after losing to the St. Louis Rams, the Redskins lost Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker to injuries for the entire season. That is an enormous blow to their defense, which was already starting to look a little thin as Sam Bradford and a seventh-round rookie running back tore them apart.

    RGIII might put up numbers in his rookie year that rival Cam Newton's from his inaugural season, but Griffin could also experience in the same numbers in the win column.

22. Minnesota Vikings

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    Last Week: 24 (+2)

     

    Despite a last-second loss to the Indianapolis Colts, I think there's a lot to like about this Vikings team and their prospects moving forward.

    They're not going to contend this season, but I like what I've seen from Christian Ponder. This kid has made significant strides and could prove to be the real deal. He seems to really trust Kyle Rudolph and Percy Harvin, and Adrian Peterson will only get better as the season goes on and he gets healthier.

    The defense also looks solid so far, as they did last season, and should get better weekly.

    I could be wrong, but I think the Vikings could surprise and win a few more games than people are expecting.

    I still put their cap at nine wins and a more realistic number at seven or eight, but I do think we're going to see a steady progression from this group that will have people talking about 2013 with high hopes.

21. St. Louis Rams

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    Last Week: 26 (+5)

     

    Sam Bradford was surgical in his dissection of the Washington Redskins' defense, Daryl Richardson proved that draft status does not determine future success, and the defense stepped up when it had to.

    And Danny Amendola is determined to catch every pass Bradford ever throws.

    For a young team with a brand new head coach, they appear to have a pretty good foundation coming together—which is really all anyone in St. Louis could hope for.

    The Rams probably played better in their loss to the Detroit Lions than they did in a win over the Redskins, but just the fact that they stuck with a team far superior in talent one week and then were able to win a close game the week after dropping one has to be encouraging.

    Now they just wait for Steven Jackson to recover from his "groin injury."

20. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Last Week: 14 (-6)

     

    Only beating the Cleveland Browns by one score is going to drop your team down the rankings, but the significant drop is more about the teams around them than anything.

    That being said, the Bengals have some real worries and areas that need their immediate attention.

    The way the defense is being gouged on the ground is extremely worrisome. They were a playoff team last season in part because their defense proved so stout when it counted, but that has not been the case through two weeks this season.

    It's a bit early to be afraid of a sophomore slump for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, but their production is not where the Bengals would like it to be as of now.

    Cincinnati appears to have taken a small step back, but that small step will likely be enough to keep them from showing up in the postseason.

19. Carolina Panthers

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    Last Week: 22 (+3)

     

    When these Panthers are clicking, they're going to be extremely difficult to stop. That offense is so dynamic with their ability to play traditional NFL football on one play and run the option the next that they're going to cause headaches for a lot of defenses.

    The offensive line will just have to become more consistent at opening lanes for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart the way they did against the New Orleans Saints and not get pushed around like they did against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.

    Defensively is where the Panthers will run into trouble. The defense helped out and scored some points against the Saints in Week 2, but they also allowed the Saints to come roaring back at one point and actually make it a game.

    If they want to be a playoff team, they will need to develop that killer instinct and be able to put teams away early.

18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Last Week: 20 (+2)

     

    For three quarters, the Bucs had their way with Eli Manning and that New York Giants offense. Unfortunately, the game doesn't end after the third quarter, and the Bucs paid for acting like it does.

    Allowing over 500 yards to Manning does not look good, but I believe head coach Greg Schiano will make sure something like that doesn't happen again. The Bucs are a young team that had a mental letdown and really paid for it.

    Things like that are correctable rather quickly.

    Ranking them this high also comes from betting on Josh Freeman to really pick up the pace and turn things around on offense. I'm giving the edge to the Bucs over the Carolina Panthers right now because the Bucs seem like a more balanced team if they can correct their mistakes moving forward.

    And as a quick sidenote regarding the Bucs: When it comes to Schiano vs. Coughlin, count me as a member of Team Schiano. Absolutely love the attitude and think it translates to a tough team.

17. Seattle Seahawks

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    Last Week: 27 (+10)

     

    After losing a game they probably should have won, the Seattle Seahawks went in to their Week 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys knowing they had something to prove and could not afford to lose two in a row.

    So they went out and beat the Cowboys into the ground, making something of a statement in the process.

    Russell Wilson continues to improve, Marshawn Lynch went into Beast Mode a few times, and the defense was suffocating all game long.

    If Lynch can continue to be productive on the ground, his presence is going to bring an extra man into the box and allow Wilson to see and exploit a lot of man coverage. I'm extremely impressed with Wilson and expect him to do nothing but get better as the season progresses.

16. Arizona Cardinals

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    Last Week: 30 (+14)

     

    Maybe I was wrong about the Arizona Cardinals. Maybe their defense really is good enough to overshadow and compensate for an anemic offense and turn them into legitimate contenders.

    Even as I write all that, I can't bring myself to believe it. And frankly, I'm upset with myself for not being brave enough to rank them much lower than this.

    Everything I see tells me these Cardinals are simply not good enough on offense to continue winning games, even if the defense does appear to be very good.

    The defense is full of athletes who play fast and hard, but the offense still doesn't have a leader at quarterback, has a group of underachievers at running back, and has no weapons on the outside other than Larry Fitzgerald.

    The middle of the pack is the highest I could put the Cards, but I'm not happy about it.

15. Chicago Bears

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    Last Week: 6 (-9)

     

    So maybe the Bears aren't as good as I initially thought, but they can't really be as bad as they looked on Thursday night, can they?

    My support of Jay Cutler has been wavering, but I expected big things from him when the Bears went out and got his old teammate Brandon Marshall. Unfortunately, even reunited, both guys have fallen far short of expectations, even acknowledging the season is still young.

    Matt Forte appears to be a little banged up and is losing carries to Michael Bush, and the offensive line looks to be in complete disarray.

    The defense still looked solid given what it was forced to work with, but now guys are calling out Cutler publicly for the way he acted during the game against the Green Bay Packers, and all that's going to do is create a rift.

    The Bears could start to plummet hard and fast if something isn't done immediately.

14. Dallas Cowboys

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    Last Week: 10 (-4)

     

    The Cowboys got punched in the mouth by the Seattle Seahawks early and had absolutely no answer all game long.

    The loss itself was not nearly as disturbing as the lack of fight the team showed after they got down early.

    There was no sense of urgency, no leadership, and everyone took their own turn getting sloppy and finding ways to give the momentum to the Seahawks.

    The Cowboys have proved over the years they don't know how to handle even mild success, and for all the talent on this team, 9-7 still might be the best they can muster if Week 2 is any indication.

13. New York Jets

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    Last Week: 15 (+2)

     

    I'm giving the Jets one more week before I start sending them down the rankings. It looks like the Buffalo Bills are not very good, so their offensive showing against them might not mean much.

    However, they're still a division opponent and it's always hard to dominate someone in your own division.

    Then they ran into a good team in the Pittsburgh Steelers and were bottled up, but played pretty well on defense despite giving up 27 points.

    In short, there's still some information to gather on these Jets, but I get the feeling they'll be an enigma all season long.

12. Denver Broncos

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    Last Week: 8 (-4)

     

    Despite turning the ball over four times in the first half, the Broncos still found themselves with an opportunity to win the game at the end.

    But their defense couldn't get Peyton Manning the ball after bringing them to within six points and they dropped a tough game to a tough Atlanta Falcons team.

    If Manning could get back even just one of those three first-quarter interceptions, there might have been a much different outcome. Each interception put the Falcons in a position to score points and ultimately gave them a big enough cushion to win the game.

    Manning is by no means 100 percent back, but the Broncos still appear to be a good team. If they can help Peyton out until he gets back to his old form, they will really start rolling late in the year.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Last Week: 12 (+1)

     

    The Steelers defense was able to contain the New York Jets offense without two of their starters in Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. That has to be a confidence booster.

    The problem with the Steelers will be their offense and, more specifically, their run offense. Rashard Mendenhall's return date is fuzzy and the ground game isn't going far without him. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer simply are not cutting it to this point.

    The line also isn't helping matters.

    Ben Roethlisberger is playing well enough, but he's still getting used to Todd Haley's offense and could have a couple bumpy games here and there. When that happens, they will need to the run game and defense to be on point.

    The Steelers are good once again and look like they will be contenders in their division, but they might lack the talent along the offensive line and run game to compete in the conference.

10. New York Giants

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    Last Week: 11 (+1)

     

    The Giants are tough to figure out.

    They dropped one to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, then had to rely on a historic fourth-quarter performance from Eli Manning to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and avoid the dreaded 0-2 start.

    The only thing that matters at the end of the day is getting the win, but they lost Ahmad Bradshaw for an indeterminate amount of time and could find themselves without a running game. Should that happen, any team with a secondary better than the Bucs should be able to find a way to beat them.

    The Giants defense is also very shaky in the back half and could have a lot of trouble against the NFC East.

    The G-Men find themselves this high because they are the defending Super Bowl champions and have found ways to fix their issues in the past. This season will likely not be any different.

9. Detroit Lions

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    Last Week: 9 (—)

     

    The Lions lost to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2, but put up a good fight against one of the league's very best teams.

    Foreshadowing alert.

    They were able to stick with the 49ers for the most part, but the absence of a running game and some bonehead penalties really set them back. Specifically, running into David Akers on a field-goal attempt took a field goal off the board and eventually led to a touchdown for San Francisco.

    Spotting the 49ers, or any team, four points is going to be difficult to overcome.

    Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were contained well by the league's best defense, but against anyone else, those two will prove a deadly combination and have them competing with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

8. Baltimore Ravens

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    Last Week: 3 (-5)

     

    As has been the case for years, the Ravens offense was plagued by two big problems: The receivers disappeared, accounting for only 80 yards, and Ray Rice was somehow forgotten.

    If Joe Flacco wants to be known as an elite quarterback, he is going to have to turn turnovers into touchdowns, and the Philadelphia Eagles gave him plenty of opportunities to do that. But too often, Flacco was hurrying throws and looked erratic.

    Rice was extremely efficient on the ground, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forgot about him late in the game and Flacco could not make the throws when he needed to.

    Then at the end, when it mattered most, the defense folded and allowed Michael Vick to once again march down the field for the game-winning touchdown.

    The Ravens are a good team, but they must correct these long-running mistakes if they want to take the next step.

7. New England Patriots

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    Last Week: 4 (-3)

     

    Is the Arizona Cardinals defense that good, or did Tom Brady and Co. just lay an egg? Did losing Aaron Hernandez affect the game plan so much that Brady was unable to be effective? And where in the world was Wes Welker?

    These are all questions everyone is asking, but no one will be able to answer for a few weeks. With my analyst cap on, I think the Patriots are a little overrated and are prone to falling apart if their game plan doesn't work exactly as laid out.

    Even though they allowed just 20 points, the Patriots defense looks spotty, which has been par for the course since the beginning of 2011.

    Brady has shown throughout his career that a defense getting in his face and making him move is his Achilles' heel. As a matter of fact, it's why the New York Giants have two Super Bowls in five years.

    Barring some quick thinking from Bill Belichick, New England could start looking mediocre in a hurry.

6. Green Bay Packers

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    Last Week: 7 (+1)

     

    It's always important to give credit when it's due, and the Packers defense deserves a pat on the back for their showing against Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.

    They confused him all game long and were able to rattle him as badly as I've ever seen him. Individually, Clay Matthews is looking like an early candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and the Packers look like they could be getting back to what made them a good defense in 2010.

    Aaron Rodgers continues to be one of the best quarterbacks in the entire league and the presence of Cedric Benson in the backfield will open up the field even more for Rodgers.

    If the defense continues to improve, Green Bay easily moves up the rankings and becomes one of the scariest teams in the league.

5. San Diego Chargers

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    Last Week: 19 (+14)

     

    While the Chargers have not beaten a good team yet (with wins coming against the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans), the fact that they're winning early and beating teams they should be beating is an encouraging sign.

    Also, it's a refreshing change of pace for a team known for dropping games early and starting slowly.

    Philip Rivers have been impressive and so has the defense. Ryan Mathews is slated to come back in Week 3 and his return could also signal the return of a running game. Adding Mathews in to what they already have going will be huge.

    The Chargers are also playing good special teams and using that phase of the game to their advantage rather than using it to give games away as they did last season.

    The only real competition for the AFC West will come from the Denver Broncos, but if the Chargers can continue to limit the mistakes, there is no doubt they have the talent to compete in the AFC.

4. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Last Week: 13 (+9)

     

    While neither of their wins have been pretty, the bottom line is the Eagles are 2-0. They once again overcame a ton of turnovers and were able to beat a good Ravens team in the final minutes of the game.

    The scary part for the rest of the league is the Eagles are nowhere close to playing their best football. Obviously, when you turn the ball over nine times in two games, there's a lot of room for improvement.

    And defensively, for as good as they're playing, they will only get better as that unit sees more snaps together.

    Last season, Philly would lose close games and those added up at the end of the season to keep them out of the playoffs. This year, the Eagles are finding ways to win close games despite playing poorly for a large chunk of the contest, and that will add up in their favor at the end of 2012.

    Once the Eagles limit the turnovers, they will be one of the scariest teams in football.

3. Atlanta Falcons

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    Last Week: 5 (+2)

     

    After waiting for a couple years for it to happen, it looks like Matt Ryan might finally be taking that next step.

    He's running the no-huddle offense and doing it to near perfection. He looks comfortable and he's making good decisions and throwing the ball accurately.

    Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez look like they're going to have incredible individual seasons as beneficiaries of Ryan's evolution that will translate to a lot of wins for the Falcons.

    On the other side, Mike Nolan has that defense playing extremely well and was even able to confuse the great Peyton Manning. As we've seen, that's no easy feat.

    If there's one problem with the Falcons, it's Michael Turner and the invisible weights he has tied to his ankles. Atlanta will need to find a steady running game if they're going to be stay hot in the back half of the season, but there's time to figure that out while they win games on Ryan's arm right now.

2. Houston Texans

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    Last Week: 2 (—)

     

    The Texans took care of business against the Jacksonville Jaguars and showed no reason why they should move away from their runner-up spot.

    On the other hand, they showed no reason why they should be No. 1, either.

    The Texans have their best football ahead of them, which has to terrify any teams on their schedule. Let's not forget, even though Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson were all on the team last season, they didn't even get a complete game together due to separate injuries.

    Once those guys start to click, they're going to be able to do things we haven't seen since Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.

    And those Cowboys didn't have Ben Tate.

1. San Francisco 49ers

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    Last Week: 1 (—)

     

    The only team that will be able to dethrone the 49ers is the 49ers. Only with one incredibly ugly loss would I move them from the top spot on these rankings because, frankly, there isn't a team in the league on their level as of now.

    The offense is moving full steam ahead with Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore leading the way, and the defense is the best in the league from top to bottom.

    The 49ers' weakest link on defense is still stronger than most teams in the league. And as a unit, they're nearly flawless.

    If that defense stays consistent and Smith can continue to get better each week, the 49ers are on the fast track to Super Bowl XLVII.