NFL Power Rankings: Week 3 Grades and Analysis
The clash between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football gave us the perfect end to what has been a chaotic and disheartening Week 3 of the NFL season.
I won't say anything more on the topic of officiating throughout this entire post, I promise.
But now that the Week 3 games are in the books, we can start tabulating the NFL's newest set of power rankings. In these rankings, we also included a grade for each team's performance during the NFL's third week.
We'll kick things off with the most impressive AFC team through three weeks.
1. Houston Texans (Current record: 3-0, Week 3 grade: A-)
The Texans went on the road and beat Peyton Manning in a tough place to play, which was far from a easy task. Defensive end J.J. Watt may be the best player in football through three weeks (5.5 sacks).
2. Atlanta Falcons (3-0, A+)
A cross-country trip to the 2-0 Chargers did little to slow down the unblemished Falcons. Quarterback Matt Ryan, the NFL's highest-rated passer at 114.0, ranks as the early leader for MVP, and the defense has been a pleasant surprise.
3. New York Giants (2-1, A+)
The Panthers were a sexy pick at home on a short week, but the under-manned Giants burned Carolina to the ground while sending an early message to the rest of the NFC. Impressive win for the defending champs.
4. Baltimore Ravens (2-1, A-)
How Torrey Smith (two touchdown catches) played at the level he did Sunday night is the inspiring story of the NFL season. Anyone with any kind of connection to a sibling knows just how impossible a situation that really was. The Ravens getting a win was a minor subplot of Smith's difficult day.
5. San Francisco 49ers (2-1, D)
The 49ers were beat at their own game (physical in the trenches, fast defense, running the football) by a team that won just three games in 2011. Hiccups happen in the NFL—especially with the top and bottom teams being as close as they are now—but Sunday's beat down by Minnesota was one of the more unexpected results of the 2012 season.
6. Arizona Cardinals (3-0, A+)
The Cardinals made believers out of a lot of doubters Sunday at home against Philadelphia. Seasons aren't made or lost in three weeks, but Arizona has put itself in prime position to secure a playoff spot. Few defenses have been better through three games.
7. Green Bay Packers (1-2, INC)
8. New England Patriots (1-2, B-)
The Patriots played well enough to beat an AFC contender on the road, but the defense was a let-down again late. And even at 1-2, New England looks like a team that can win 11 or 12 games again this season.
9. Seattle Seahawks (2-1, INC)
See No. 7.
10. Dallas Cowboys (2-1, B+)
If the Cowboys can put together a performance where all three phases play well, this will look like one of the NFL's more dominant teams. But if even one is off, like the offense was Sunday against the Buccaneers, Dallas looks pretty average. A win is a win, however, especially coming off a beat down in Seattle.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (2-1, D)
The Eagles laid an egg in Arizona, and much of the talk has centered around Michael Vick's nine total turnovers in three games this season. But you can't put all the blame on Vick for Sunday, as that offensive line was mostly run over by a really good Arizona defense. If Vick plays 16 games in 2012, it'd be a minor football miracle.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1, B)
Cincinnati started a wild game by calling a throw from receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Wildcat formation. Gutsy call, but one that worked to perfection. From there, Andy Dalton just needed to get his one awful throw out of the way (interception in the end zone) before he played really well. Big win on the road for a Bengals team that has struggled to get wins in big games.
13. San Diego Chargers (2-1, D)
The Chargers had a golden opportunity to stamp their names as true contenders in the AFC in Week 3, but San Diego mostly laid down as the Falcons did anything they pleased Sunday afternoon. Philip Rivers (two interceptions) was again poor in a Chargers loss.
14. Denver Broncos (1-2, C)
Hard to believe that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are a combined 3-9 to start the 2012 season. To be fair to Manning, however, a three-week opening of Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Houston was never going to be easy.
15. Chicago Bears (2-1, B)
The Bears defensive line continued dominating Sunday against the Rams, which is a good sign moving forward for that defense. But on the other side of the ball, Chicago still has big problems protecting Jay Cutler. 2012 might be a teetering act for these Bears.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2, C-)
Sunday won't be the last time a team loses a two-score lead late, but the Steelers might kick themselves for this loss when the playoff seeding starts heating up in a couple of months. Losses like Sunday's in Oakland can be the difference between a road and home playoff game, or, at the worst, making or missing the playoffs altogether.
17. New York Jets (2-1, C+)
The Jets throwing to Tim Tebow on third down pretty much sums up the kind of struggles this offense still has. But far and away the most concerning part of New York's win Sunday was the loss of Darrelle Revis, who tore his ACL on a non-contact play. The sound you heard was the Jets' 2012 season going up in smoke.
18. Buffalo Bills (2-1, B)
Winning on the road in the NFL is always hard, even if it's going into Cleveland and beating the lowest ranked team in these power rankings. The good news for Buffalo is that running back C.J. Spiller, a revelation this season after starter Fred Jackson went down, should only miss a game or two with a banged up shoulder. Buffalo couldn't afford another major injury.
19. Minnesota Vikings (2-1, A+)
The Vikings were impressive Sunday in so many different aspects. The game plan from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was rock solid, and the defense played faster than any defense we've seen in Minnesota since the 2009 season. This team was put to task physically and they met every challenge. Overall, one of the best wins of the 2012 season, from any team.
20. Detroit Lions (1-2, B)
These Lions are never out of any game, and they proved that again Sunday in Tennessee. Few teams have the mental willpower to overcome a 14-point spread with less than 100 ticks left on the fourth-quarter clock. You just wish Detroit hadn't thrown it all away with one decision in overtime.
21. Washington Redskins (1-2, C+)
In leading the Redskins back from a two-score deficit, Robert Griffin III continued to impress. But it's clear this was a different defense without two important players in Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker. Those are much bigger losses than anyone wanted to admit in the lead up to this game.
22. St. Louis Rams (1-2, D+)
The offensive line didn't give Sam Bradford much help, but this was a deflating performance from the Rams quarterback. Every time you think he's ready to take a big step forward and stay there, he has one of these performances (152 yards, two interceptions, six sacks).
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2, D)
It's never a good thing when your offense is below 100 yards deep into the fourth quarter. And considering the upgrades made at every area (running back, offensive line, receiver), that kind of output should never be acceptable. Maybe that loss in New York was more deflating that we imagined.
24. Carolina Panthers (1-2, D-)
The spotlight of national television and a matchup that looks winnable, and the Panthers come out Thursday night and play terribly. The distressing part of the night was Cam Newton, who forced throws and then looked like his dog died on the sidelines. Let's keep in mind that this wonder child is still learning how to play the position.
25. Indianapolis Colts (1-2, C)
The Colts will feel like they let a very winnable football slip through their grasp at home. But Colts fans shouldn't concern themselves too much with the win-loss record. Andrew Luck's progression as an NFL quarterback is the real purpose of this season, and he still needs work on being more consistent.
26. Miami Dolphins (1-2, C-)
Personally, icing the kicker is something I've never liked. The stats say that icing the kicker actually improves the second kick's chances of being made. Sunday in Miami, Joe Philbin was on the wrong end of a bad icing. The Dolphins didn't lose only because of that decision, but some will spin it that way.
27. Tennessee Titans (1-2, B)
One has to credit the Titans for beating an aggressive, pass-rushing defense without getting anything more than 24 rushing yards from Chris Johnson. It was a gutsy performance from the passing game. But what about losing a 14-point lead late in the fourth? Getting that first win looked awfully difficult for this team in 2012.
28. Oakland Raiders (1-2, A-)
Love the guts of the Raiders, who many have written off and who were universally written off in Sunday's matchup with the Steelers. A high draft slot still benefits this franchise infinitely more than winning five or six games, but you just never know what a big win like Sunday's can do for an entire season.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2, B+)
The same that was said about the Raiders can be said about the Chiefs, who are arguably more talented all-around but have sleepwalked through the 2012 season. Coming back from 24-6 down could be the proverbial slap in the face Kansas City needed. The first two games will be an afterthought if the Chiefs can go on a run now.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2, B)
Blaine Gabbert was mostly horrible for the first 55 or so minutes, but his connection with Cecil Shorts for an 80-yard touchdown was a big-time throw. Credit the Jaguars defense for making in-game adjustments on Luck, too. He went cold for long stretches after taking a big lead.
31. New Orleans Saints (0-3, F)
You simply can't lose 18-point leads at home—especially when the team you're facing couldn't stop a college offense through two weeks—and expect any grade but an "F." The Saints are in trouble. Things won't get any easier when they make a trip to Green Bay to play a football team that might still be red in the face come Sunday.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-3, C)
Sunday was a winnable game for the Browns, especially after Spiller went down in the first half. But this is still a team feeling its way on offense, and I'm willing to allow that unit time to gel. The Browns remain trapped in a never-ending rebuilding cycle, however, so there needs to be positive signs showing up consistently sooner rather than later.
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