1. New York Giants
Last Week: 2
The Giants haven’t played a complete game yet, but what they’ve shown is flashes of what made them the Super Bowl champions a couple of years ago. If Eli Manning can stay healthy and keep his young receivers active, the Giants are staring down a long playoff run.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 8
The Ravens might be the most complete team in the AFC right now. Their pass defense has left a lot to be desired, but they clamped down when they needed to, and Ray Lewis showed a preternatural instinct for diagnosing plays to stuff the Chargers at the end of this week’s game.
3. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 9
The offensive explosion continues unabated in New Orleans, and Drew Brees looks to be on pace to throw for about 10,000 yards. But the running game is already wearing down (in Week Two!) and, while Darren Sharper is providing big plays, the defense has left a lot to be desired.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 7
I hinted at it last week, but in case you didn’t know, Tony Gonzalez is a pretty fantastic weapon for a young quarterback to have. I still don’t think the Falcons are an elite team, but it’s looking like this year isn’t going to be dominated by elite teams.
5. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 4
It’s certainly something when you can take a bathroom break and miss the Colts' entire offensive performance, and they still win the game. That’s neither a condemnation of the Colts' offense (who took about 30 seconds to score every time they touched the ball) or a mark of approval for their defense (who were half asleep until Chad Pennington started lobbing shovel passes 50 yards downfield at the end of the game).
6. New York Jets
Last Week: 14
It takes some brass balls to send your third-string quarterback, former Patriot Kevin O’Connell, out as a captain, just to dig into Bill Belichick. But the Jets defense looked fantastic, and they backed up all the smack they talked last week.
7. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 5
At some point, the Vikings are going to have to shake out of their slow first-half playbook and put some series together or some team is going to catch them. I mean, it’s great that they’ve mastered retooling at halftime, but it’s not going to help if San Francisco blows up on them 35-0 in the second quarter.
8. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 18
It’s too bad Frank Gore exploded like he did on Sunday. Not bad for the 49ers, who suddenly look like an NFL franchise by the way, but too bad for Gore because his performance is going to be overshadowed all week by the even more insane day for Chris Johnson. But…Gore’s team won.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 19
It all came crashing down for the Steelers in the fourth quarter. Troy Polamalu and Jeff Reed standing on the sidelines, looking like extras from a really bad funeral scene. They’ll be fine this season, but it’s going to be rougher than they thought.
10. New England Patriots
Last Week: 3
At some point, you have to believe that New England will find their groove. But for the time being, they’re pretty quickly falling apart.
11. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 6
A slow and steady drop until McNabb comes back, but they’ll have an awfully big hole to climb out of in the NFC East when he does. The defense clearly misses Jim Johnson and Brian Dawkins.
12. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 10
It was the perfect set-up. Sunday Night Football. Brand new stadium. Tony Romo coming off a great performance, a huge divisional game, and… Well, things didn’t end up quite how Jerry Jones hoped. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Really.
13. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 11
Without Matt Hasselbeck, this is not a particularly good team. What is it with rib injuries to quarterbacks lately? Next the NFL is going to mandate no hitting the quarterback in the upper body.
14. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 12
Green Bay’s defense has flashes where it looks fantastic, but ultimately, it can’t contain anything for too long. As for their offensive line, it has flashes where it looks terrible, and ultimately it can’t contain anything either.
15. Denver Broncos
Last Week: 17
Say what you want about the Broncos' offseason, but they’re sitting at 2-0, and they saw a nice uptick in production from their offense this week. They’re still not contenders, but they’re not who we thought they were.
16. Chicago Bears
Last Week: 20
Jay Cutler in a nutshell: Leading the team on a game-winning drive, Cutler takes his helmet off and rests it on his head. Looking more stoned than the cast of every Cheech and Chong movie, he manages to miss the referee standing two feet in front of him, and gets whacked in the face. The he manages to catch his flying helmet behind his back by his fingertips.
17. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 22
The Bills are going to be fine. They won’t be great. 8-8, probably, but they’re making headway. Have your popcorn ready, just in case.
18. Houston Texans
Last Week: 24
An offensive showcase to mask how horrible their defense really is. No coverage on Chris Johnson? Really, Texans? Still, that climb to .500 doesn’t seem so far off any more.
19. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 10
A one-man explosion, which dwarfed the fact that the Titans couldn’t really put anything together outside of a handful of amazing runs. This isn’t the same team that put together a great year last year, and I think they’re a few mediocre games away from Vince Young lining up behind center again.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 19
Forget what Marcus Fitzgerald is Tweeting. The Cardinals have to be thrilled with their performance on Sunday. I don’t have a ton of faith in these guys to keep this up, but they’re still dangerous.
21. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 21
From the most accurate passer of the week to Jamarcus Russell. The Raiders got the win this week, though. And I’m pretty damn sure one of Russell’s passes landed within 50 feet of his target. Progress, folks.
22. San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 13
The Chargers had it, but Ray Lewis read right through their scheme, and the Chargers' line couldn’t keep him from stuffing Darren Sproles in the backfield. They’re probably better than this ranking allows, but without Jamal Williams, the wheels are still slowly coming off the bus for the Chargers.
23. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 26
Chad Ochocinco dared himself to do a Lambeau Leap, and to his credit, he did it. Sort of. It couldn’t have been easy to find Bengals fans in the crowd that day. Or at all for that matter. Still, the Bengals showed they can play a little offense.
24. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 22
Two things happened on Monday: The Miami Dolphins played the best ball control offense in NFL history. Secondly? The Dolphins played the worst 30-second defense in NFL history. I guess you can throw “Chad Pennington throws a pass of 10+ yards” in the achievement pile too.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 23
Looking at the stat lines, the Bucs have given up almost 1,000 yards in total offense already this season. Somewhere, Monte Kiffin and Derrick Brooks are laughing about this. And John Gruden is grimacing at a potted plant.
26. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 25
The Redskins have a relatively easy schedule coming up, but I’m pretty leery about calling their next two games gimmies. They’re playing so poorly right now, that I actually believe that Washington might be the team that breaks Detroit’s streak.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 27
The Jaguars lost starting wide receiver Troy Williamson for the rest of the year on Sunday. I don’t really have a whole lot more to say to that. I just wanted to give Vikings fans a chance to gasp at the words “starting wide receiver Troy Williamson.”
28. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 28
Even when Jake Delhomme doesn’t look bad, he looks bad. The rest of the Panthers didn’t really help him, but the loss falls on Jake for not coming through at the end of the game. There isn’t a team in the league that looks like it needs the bye week more. And it’s only Week Three.
29. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 29
Todd Haley is quickly becoming my favorite head coach. Not because I think he’s a great coach, or because I’m a huge Chiefs fan, but because every time the camera rolls anywhere near him, he launches into a swearing tirade that would make Bobby Knight cry. No wonder Matt Leinart never learned anything.
30. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 30
Well, whatever the Browns thought they learned from their game against the Vikings, it’s pretty clear that they forgot it in a hurry. Eventually, Eric Mangini will probably get on the same page with his team, but right now, I don’t know that they’re in the same library.
31. Detroit Lions
Last Week: 32
The Lions having a successful first half against an opponent, who then dominates them in the second? Say it ain’t so! Yeah, pretty much the same old Lions this week, but you can almost see the pieces falling into place there. In two or three years, they might be dangerous. Or they might still be the Detroit Lions. Who knows?
32. St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 31
Maybe it’s a bit controversial, but I haven’t seen a single thing I like about the Rams this year, which is even less than I can say about a team that’s lost 19 straight games. There honestly isn’t a single game I think the Rams can win this year. Except maybe for the most epic showdown in NFL History. Week Eight. Nov. 1st. Rams/Lions. I hope I get that game in my market.