NFL Power Rankings Week 5: Taking the Temperature of All 32 Teams
The NFL season has reached the end of its first quarter after Week 4 and, as is usually the case in the NFL, there seem to be a lot more questions than answers.
The top handful of teams in the league at this point are generally agreed upon, as are the bottom five, but the other 22 teams are pretty much a toss-up. The NFL is known for parity, but 2012 has taken that to a new level with only two teams winless and just a trio of teams still undefeated.
But with most teams having four games under their belt, we can begin to notice which teams are getting hot and which teams will need a miracle to even start defrosting by the end of the season.
So here's my way of telling the league to say "Ah!" or bend over and drop your drawers, because it's time to take everyone's temperature.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
It's difficult to watch this team and believe they're the same group of guys that played so well for Romeo Crennel down the stretch last season.
Matt Cassel is lauded as a game manager but has turned the ball over constantly this year. Not only that, but they're coming at critical points in the game.
Dwayne Bowe is just now getting healthy, so that could help Cassel turn things around, but those two will have to click early and often to overcome Kansas City's terrible defense. In four games this year, they've given up over 40 points twice and just gave up another 37 last week.
Many picked the Chiefs as a surprise team, but surprisingly bad is not what they had in mind.
31. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have some talent on their roster, but it's no secret they're in the middle of rebuilding and will have to take their lumps before things turn around.
Injuries have also taken their toll, specifically on offense where it seems like each week there's another receiver hitting the injury report. Even with a depleted group, Carson Palmer has looked good overall, but has made some vital mistakes.
The instant success of new general manger/head coach combos around the league in recent years has put more pressure on Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen to win early, but it's more realistic that the two will need a couple seasons to purge the mistakes of past regimes and move forward.
30. Cleveland Browns
Temperature: Warming Up
The Browns have lost all four games they've played this year, but they've all been hard-fought and closely contested.
So far in 2012 Cleveland has lost by one, 10 and seven points twice. Three of those four losses came to playoff-caliber teams—two of them divisional rivals. Oddly enough, their biggest loss came to the Buffalo Bills.
Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson have both played well since their Week 1 debacle, but the Browns continue to come up just short. Until they can start turning their close losses into close wins, they're going to remain at the bottom of the pile.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Ever since losing a close game to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1, the Jaguars have had few bright spots.
Their one win on the season came against a division opponent, and everyone knows those games are so tightly contested that it's almost always a push.
The 23 points scored against the Vikings in Week 1 has been their highest output of the season, with their 22-point showing in a victory over the Indianapolis Colts coming in second. In the other two games they've scored seven and 10 points.
The only bright side thus far has been Maurice Jones-Drew, who doesn't appear to be suffering any affects from a lengthy holdout, and the defense has looked halfway decent.
28. Tennessee Titans
The bright spot of the season has been Jake Locker. I think he's going to develop quite nicely and will be the face of their franchise for many years.
Unfortunately, he's likely to miss a couple weeks, and was really their only spark on offense.
Even with Chris Johnson's performance against the Houston Texans, I don't foresee a magical turnaround to his season. He looks like a guy who checked out a while ago.
Tennessee doesn't even have a good defense to fall back on, so it's looking like their overtime win against the Lions will likely be their high point of the season.
27. New Orleans Saints
Temperature: Warming Up
The Saints have been a mess since the start of the season.
A very, very predictable mess.
Anyone who thought all the offseason turmoil wasn't going to negatively affect this team was fooling themselves. A football team needs focus to properly execute on the field, and that focus must start early on in the offseason.
With all the bounty talk, the Saints were unable to ever really concentrate on the task at hand. Then losing their head coach—and their backup head coach—only made matters worse.
The close loss to the Green Bay Packers would, however, suggest they might be close to snagging a win here soon.
26. Indianapolis Colts
Everyone knew the Colts were going to really struggle this season, so perhaps the bar was set so low that any amount of success comes off as more impressive than it really is.
But either way, the Colts have done fairly well given the minimal amount of talent they have to work with.
Andrew Luck has been impressive, again, considering the weapons he has, and the defense has played better than expected in a transition to the 3-4.
That being said, these Colts will still be lucky to end the season with more than three wins.
25. Miami Dolphins
Temperature: Warming Up
When your only win of the season is against the Oakland Raiders, you're not going to open many eyes. But close losses to the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals suggest this team might not be as bad as many thought.
They've definitely taken their fair share of Hard Knocks (see what I did there?), but Ryan Tannehill appears to be coming on and Reggie Bush, much to my surprise, is starting to look like he might actually be a legitimate workhorse running back.
Like most of the teams at the bottom, the Dolphins are going through a lot of transition, and that means getting knocked down a few times before being able to get up. These Dolphins just might sneak up on some people, but they're never going to truly contend.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's been close losses all season for the Bucs, so they're getting a slight bump for that, but it's hard to overlook the way in which this team has been losing.
The collapse against the New York Giants was epic and unforgivable. Then they let the game against the Dallas Cowboys slip away the week after, and ended last week by giving up a last-second game-winning field goal to the Washington Redskins.
Either the Bucs are showing they're still a young, undisciplined team, or the NFC East has their kryptonite.
The real concern for the Bucs has to be Josh Freeman, who has looked totally inept far too often this season.
23. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are 2-2, but those two wins have come against the Kansas City Chiefs (ranked dead last) and the Cleveland Browns (ranked 30th).
Their losses have come in brutal fashion, both of them blowouts to division opponents by a combined margin of 44 points. What makes the most recent loss even worse is the incredible collapse of a 14-point lead over the New England Patriots.
Every bonehead mistake possible has been made by the Bills, and they show no real sign of letting up.
They're ranked ahead of the Dolphins for now, but it could be just a couple weeks before the Bills show us they're clearly the worst team in the AFC East.
22. Carolina Panthers
If you were a Cam Newton doubter before the 2011 draft, you were feeling pretty sheepish for just about the entire season as Newton went on to crush nearly every rookie record a quarterback could set.
But now, vindication might be setting in.
Newton has not only played poorly in key spots, but he's making very bad decisions that are costing his team. Case in point, fumbling the ball on what would have been a game-sealing first down in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons.
Then there's the obvious immaturity that's showing through—like nodding off at a post-game press conference in Week 3 and heading to the locker room to sulk last week.
If Newton regresses the way he appears to be, the Panthers will be in a lot of trouble.
21. Detroit Lions
The Lions are excellent proof that being good on just one side of the ball will not equate to a winning record.
If Detroit could put together anything that even looked like a defense, they have a very good shot at being 3-1 right now. Instead, they simply can't stop anyone from scoring and their offense hasn't been able to pick up the slack.
Even when the defense does show up, as it did against the Vikings last week, the special teams decides to stay home and allow the Vikings to return a kick and punt for touchdowns.
Without a lot more discipline, the Lions will go from contender to the same old misfits very quickly.
20. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are not as bad as their blowout loss to the Chicago Bears would indicate, but they're obviously not as good as they looked in their Week 1 win over the New York Giants.
Tony Romo is a liability far too often. He has flashes where he looks like he can be a great quarterback, but has games like Monday night on too consistent a basis to be considered anything more than middle-of-the-pack.
The receiving corps is average, the offensive line is bad and the defense has a few key injuries and isn't playing up to expectations.
Dallas is likely to see darker days before any bit of light.
19. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks became a defensive team the second they hired Pete Carrol. That has been his focus since day one, and by and large, he's succeeded on that side of the ball. The defense has been an obvious bright spot for the Seahawks.
Unfortunately, the offense is anemic and Russell Wilson is not providing the spark Carrol was hoping for.
Teams don't fear Wilson and aren't shy about putting eight guys in the box to stop Marshawn Lynch and leave their corners on an island.
The Seattle defense has kept Wilson in a position to win games, but unless they can start scoring points more consistently, the Seahawks will once again find themselves hovering around .500.
18. Washington Redskins
The Redskins are the opposite of the Seahawks.
Robert Griffin III and the offense can find ways to put up points, but the defense has looked inept for most of the season and it will only get worse with Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker sidelined for the year.
If Seattle and Washington could merge into one team, they'd be a force. Instead, they're two middle-of-the-pack teams looking for answers on either side of the ball.
17. St. Louis Rams
Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of the Rams. Other than the Bears, to whom they lost, there have not been any real challenges. They lost to the Lions in Week 1 on a last-minute drive and have beaten the Redskins and Seahawks.
There's really not a whole lot to go on from their first month of the season other than they have the potential to be that team that can win the games they're supposed to, but are unlikely to pull the upset any time soon.
If St. Louis can get Steven Jackson in a groove and allow more passing lanes for Sam Bradford, it could help get them a few of those surprise wins.
16. New York Jets
They're breaking icicles off their nose right now, but I don't expect Rex Ryan to allow that to continue for very long. Even with their best defensive player and offensive weapon sidelined for the year, I believe Ryan will find a way to keep the Jets competitive.
I don't foresee the playoffs in their future, but they will continue to be a real headache for any team they face—especially once Tim Tebow is officially the man under center.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers could be facing a crossroads in their season. They hit their bye week after blowing a 10-point lead to the lowly Raiders and now must face the Philadelphia Eagles the week after beating the New York Giants in a tight game.
Should the Steelers lose and drop to 1-3, I'm not sure they will be able to recover. The defense is lacking talent with James Harrison and Troy Polamalu on the sidelines, and looks old and slow even with those guys playing.
The offense has struggled to find a running game without Rashard Mendenhall, and I don't believe his return will fix that. The offensive line is once again far below average and is likely to prevent the offense from ever really clicking.
2012 could prove to be the year that forced the Steelers to reboot after several years of success.
14. Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos are sitting at .500, but with two losses coming against the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons—two of the top teams in the league.
And those games were close and hard fought.
But what I see from the Broncos is a defense that is carried by two very good edge rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, and an offense kept afloat by Peyton Manning.
Individually, this is not a very good team, but it goes to show what a few standout players can do to improve the play of everyone around them.
It would not surprise me to see the Broncos go on to win the AFC West, but it also wouldn't surprise me to see them drop a few games in a row.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati has won three games in a row, so they're obviously on some sort of roll, but the competition also has been sub-par.
The Bengals have beaten the Browns, Redskins and Jaguars the past three weeks after getting blown out by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1. So really, it's hard to read too much into their first month because there's a very good chance their record is a result of a favorable schedule.
Still, there is a lot of talent on this team and there's something to be said of a team winning games they're supposed to win.
12. New York Giants
The Giants have looked like an average team all year.
They lost to the Cowboys in Week 1, then needed a monster effort in the fourth quarter just to overcome the Buccaneers. They handled the Panthers in Week 3, then came out flat against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
The talent on the Giants roster might be a bit overrated on both sides of the ball, but it's hard to rate them too low because of their history. They've been doubted in the past only to roar back and end the season hoisting the Lombardi.
Having them this high is more a fear of doubting them then it is a judgment of their play thus far.
11. New England Patriots
I'm sure the Patriots are still feeling good after their 35-point run to end their game against the Bills with 52 points, but they should also be nervous that they fell so far behind to begin with.
The Bills might allow that sort of comeback, but few other teams will.
That being said, their two losses on the year have come by a combined three points to the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens, two teams you're very likely to see higher up this list.
Problems usually don't plague the Patriots for very long, but this is a team in search of an identity for this season and that search could result in a few untimely losses.
10. Chicago Bears
The Bears defense might not be what it once was, but snagging five interceptions is a great way to mask your team's offensive woes—specifically along the offensive line.
Not only did the defense's effort mask the problems on offense, but it allowed the offense to flat out play better. Jay Cutler was not forcing passes because he didn't feel the pressure of the game on his shoulders, and the Cowboys defense felt as though it had to make a play to match what the Bears had done against Tony Romo.
The effects of a good defense cannot be overstated. If the Bears give even half the effort they gave against the Cowboys for the rest of the season, they will stroll into the playoffs.
9. San Diego Chargers
Like the Bengals, the Chargers are a tough team to judge.
Yes, they're 3-1, but those wins have come against the Raiders, Titans and Chiefs. Putting it kindly, that's not exactly the NFL's best.
Their one loss was a blowout at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, so this team is a toss-up.
But for once the Chargers are starting the season strong and beating inferior competition, which is the first step in getting back to the playoffs.
8. Minnesota Vikings
I really like the Vikings and what they've been able to do.
Christian Ponder has made incredible improvement in his second year, Adrian Peterson is looking like himself and the defense looks like it might be ready to really show up any day now.
If they can get all that clicking to go along with an explosive special teams game, the Vikings could start knocking off the big boys of the NFL.
These guys are my dark horse team for 2012.
7. Green Bay Packers
Kind of like the Giants earlier, the Packers are rated this high based on what they've been able to do in the past more so than what they've done after four weeks of this season.
Regardless of what you think of the call by the replacement refs against the Seahawks, the fact is the Packers took it on the chin that day from a team that, on paper, doesn't hold a candle to Green Bay.
And beating the Saints by one point might have been impressive last season, but this year it looks bad if your offense can only muster 28 points against what is proving to be a pathetic defensive squad.
Aaron Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the game, however, and they have found a running game with Cedric Benson, so this could easily turn around. I think the Packers are generally rated too high, and I'm including myself in that, but it's hard to doubt they'll start clicking soon.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
After getting manhandled by the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, the Eagles responded with a pretty good showing against the Giants. They're obviously not playing their best football quite yet, but the fact that they're finding ways to win has to give them a ton of confidence.
Andy Reid finally ran the ball and stuck with it, and putting the ball in LeSean McCoy's hands is always a good way to win a game.
If the play-calling continues to stay balanced and Michael Vick continues to avoid turnovers, that defense will do the rest.
5. Arizona Cardinals
They might not be the most talented bunch, but don't try telling any of them that.
The Cardinals defense is playing out of their minds and are helping Kevin Kolb stay calm throughout the course of the game, which is cutting back on his turnovers.
The offense still has a lot of problems, like the lack of a running game and a bad offensive line, but as long as the defense continues playing well, the offense has enough to get the job done.
4. Baltimore Ravens
Other than a one-point loss in the final minutes to the Eagles, the Ravens have played extremely well all season long.
They began by blowing the Bengals out of the water, coming back against the Patriots and holding off a strong effort by the Browns. The offense is coming into its own and really starting to execute the no-huddle more effectively, and Ray Lewis and that defense are playing well as always.
As Joe Flacco gets more comfortable in the no-huddle offense, the Ravens will only continue to get better and are in the driver's seat in the AFC North.
3. Atlanta Falcons
I'm not quite sure if the Falcons are good enough to keep this up throughout the course of the season, but right now they're playing mistake-free football and getting the job done when they have to.
Matt Ryan is easily having his best season as a pro as he continues to look like a front-runner for league MVP, and the running game is starting to come on after looking nearly non-existent for the first couple weeks of the season.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers dropped one to the Vikings in Week 3, but responded the way great teams do by taking their frustrations out on the next team unfortunate enough to cross their path.
The Jets felt the sting of the 49ers' loss to the Vikings to the tune of 34-0.
The San Francisco offense will have to continue to improve as the season goes on, but as long as they avoid making mistakes their defense will keep them in any game. Even with the loss, it's important not to lose sight and overreact—this is still the best defense in football.
1. Houston Texans
Without a doubt, the Texans are far and away the best team in the league after the quarter mark. They are undefeated and, with the exception of a late push by the Broncos in Week 3, the Texans have yet to even be challenged.
The Broncos have been the only team they've faced with any real playoff aspirations, but the Texans have won games in blowout fashion as they should.
The trio of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster is the best in the league and their defense is second only to the 49ers.
In short order, the Texans have gone from marginal playoff hopes to legitimate Super Bowl contenders.