It's shaping up to be a pretty interesting football season, that's for sure. A few teams are starting to look downright invincible, and a few teams look like they could go 0-16.
Coming into the season, there were enough storylines to interest even the most casual fans, and we've picked up a few new ones on the way.
I don't really plan to make this a weekly thing, but every once and a while, I'll break one of these out and give my takes on the state of the NFL.
I'm going to put them in groups, a la Bill Simmons, because I believe there are tiers in the NFL landscape this season. Also a la Bill Simmons, I've used theme to name the tiers. See if you can guess.
Without further ado:
I Look Good: Hey Everyone! Come See How Good I Look!
These guys are the cream of the NFL crop so far. These teams could be facing off two weeks before the Super Bowl if all goes well.
The Ravens have looked absolutely phenomenal so far. Joe Flacco is making plays, Ray Rice is making plays, they just look unbeatable right now. The defense is giving up a lot of points, sometimes to bad teams, but they look like they're able to outscore people when that happens, which is a dangerous combination.
Take away the run? Eli will find Smith, Manningham, or even Sinorice Moss. Take away the pass, Brandon Jacobs will run down your throat, while Ahmad Bradshaw breaks your ankles. Are you the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Then you don't stand a chance in hell. Giants look to be pulling a good team together right on schedule, which is key, since they've got a tough late season.
This team has been a quarterback away from amazing ever since they drafted Adrian Peterson. While Favre hasn't been a world-beater, he hasn't needed to be. And when they needed him, he came through. Looking pretty good through three weeks, if Favre can hold up in the cold weather, this is a team that nobody wants to play in January.
Great defense, good running backs and a hilarious coach. Add a potentially special rookie season from Mark Sanchez, and things are looking pretty good on Broadway. With the talent surrounding Sanchez, they should be okay, even if Sanchez has a shaky outing or two.
I Have Many Leather-Bound Books, and My Apartment Smells of Rich Mahogany
These teams have plenty to be proud of, but aren't quite at the top of the league. They could go deep in the playoffs, but they're not perfect.
Peyton Manning is still terrifying to defenses, and unlike Brady, he hasn't really slowed down. If he's down by four and driving with a minute left, you're pretty nervous if you're not a fan of the Colts. Losing a good slot receiver like Anthony Gonzalez hasn't slowed them too much, with Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne doing plenty of damage. A strong couple of weeks from Donald Brown, and the Colts could be looking down on most of the league.
Sure, they haven't looked as explosive as 2007. But it's still Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It's still Randy Moss. They're off to a bit of a slow start, but as Brady gets more comfortable and Welker gets healthy, they're still as dangerous as ever.
Drew Brees is playing like his Madden 2010 counterpart on 'rookie' right now, throwing out gaudy stats week after week. The Saints have the weapons, and while the defense is a little suspect, as long as they hold the other team under 30, they should be good.
The health of their offensive line is so bad it's almost tragic right now, which means they won't be sending Darren Sproles up the middle too much. They still have a solid defense and an offense capable of making big plays, but they struggle making the small plays. With big receivers like Chambers and Jackson, no corner on the field is off limits for Rivers.
Let's face it. Michael Vick is a luxury, one the Eagles could be ill-fitted to afford. With four quarterbacks on their roster, they're getting pretty thin, especially with one out and one that plays intermittently. Kevin Kolb is picking up the slack, and when McNabb comes back they should be good, but they need to rack up some wins early to stay in the mix.
Patrick Willis haunts my nightmares. Their defense is looking very solid, and for some reason Shaun Hill doesn't completely suck. A gutsy performance against the Vikings showed that they might be for realsies, and if Frank Gore can be healthy, they'll be loaded.
On paper, they look great. But as we all know, that doesn't mean squat on the field. I think they'll straighten it out, after all, the Bengals might be good. If they can keep it respectable against the Vikings, they will move up for sure.
You're Crazy Man—I Like You...but You're Crazy
These are decent teams. They're just not playing great. Maybe they don't have the talent, maybe they're a little too unproven, but they aren't looking like real Super Bowl contenders just yet. Could they be? Absolutely. But not yet.
12. Atlanta Falcons
They certainly aren't dropping off from last year, but they haven't made any huge leaps. Unless they get stiffer on defense and Michael Turner starts taking over some games, they'll be lucky to be another first-round exit.
Big Ben has trouble getting his offense going sometimes, but he's not someone who you want to bet against in a two-minute drill. A hard-hitting defense keeps them competitive. If they can't get a running game going, then it's all going to fall on Roethlisberger's broad shoulders.
14. Chicago Bears
Hard to tell with these guys. Without Urlacher, they have a less fearsome defense, but Cutler-to-Hester is always a wild card. They're in a tough division though, and it looks like they could be on the outside looking in during the playoffs.
Their offense stops and starts a little too much for my comfort, but you could have said that last year. I don't think two teams from the NFC West will go to the playoffs though, and the Niners have jumped out to a good lead.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Seem to be running hot and cold. They were hot against the woeful Buccaneers, cold against the G-Men and in the first half of the Panthers game. With Barber out and now Felix Jones, they could suffer, because they have been secretly relying on the running game for the last two weeks. I'm sure Romo will shred the way overrated Broncos this week though, and everyone will be back in love with him.
What's That You Said? I'm Sorry, I Don't Speak Spanish
I'm not too sure about these teams. They're like the base of a house of cards, my rankings above rely a lot on how these teams have done.
17. Cincinnati Bengals
Were they just due to beat Big Ben in Ohio? How good are the Packers really? Both of these questions are tough ones, and this from a guy who pencilled the Bengals into Super Bowl XLII (before you laugh, I also had the Giants in it, and winning).
18. Houston Texans - They're up, they're down, they're getting shut out, they're tearing up the field. If we presume the Jets are good (which I have), then they could be a fearsome offense. Bearing in mind the struggles of the Titans, the Texans might be able to do some damage in the AFC South.
19. Denver Broncos
The Broncos have played two awful teams and benefited from a miracle finish. They sit at 3-0, and you've got to think they'll come crashing down to Earth. A win over the Cowboys, and they will be legit.
20. Tennessee Titans
Could the Kerry Collins era be rapidly coming to a close? Another loss or two and the Titans are going to get really desperate.
21. Buffalo Bills
They've got some talent on offense, but I don't think Trent Edwards is ever going to be the franchise guy that some think he will be. With Marshawn Lynch coming back, the running attack might get a lot stronger though, opening up some space to throw.
You Need To Get Control, because I'm Barely Hanging on Here!
Three short weeks ago, these teams looked like the season was theirs to piss away. And that's exactly what's happening.
22. Seattle Seahawks
Last year they just had so much bad luck with the injury bug, you figured they were due. Well, the injury bug is back, and it's still hungry.
On paper, this team made some significant upgrades to a team that started off strong this year. A loss to the Lions will take the wind out of anyone's sails. If the offense can't get going, then Jim Zorn and Jason Campbell might be looking for other gigs.
24. Miami Dolphins
The wildcat looked pretty good against the Colts on Monday Night Football, but I think teams and coordinators are starting to catch on. It's fun to watch, but with no Chad Pennington, the Dolphins could be old news real fast.
25. Carolina Panthers
It's to the point that Jake Delhomme can't be trusted with any lead. Now, how that translates to three times as many passing plays as running plays against the Cowboys is anyone's guess.
One of the most generic teams in the league. They're not explosive, and they don't do anything particularly well. David Garrard's ceiling seems to have been hit.
They're Winners—That's How Winners Talk!
These teams have gotten that elusive win, but that's probably the high point of their seasons.
27. Detroit Lions
They had to win one sometime, right? If allowed to grow, the Matt Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson connection could be very entertaining, but they've got a long way to go to be considered anything else but doormats.
28. Oakland Raiders
I Got a Belly Full of White Dog Crap and You're Going To Lay This S@$t on Me?
These teams already have had some dismal years, and things aren't getting better for a variety of reasons. Look for them to be bottom-dwelling for the next few years. It's going to be like Paper, Scissor, Rock for Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford.
29. St. Louis Rams
...Uhhhh...At least the Cardinals are good?
30. Kansas City Chiefs
With Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe, they could have a young nucleus, but Larry Johnson is on his last legs, and they just can't do much right. Sucks for them, since they won't be going after any of the good QBs coming out.
31. Cleveland Browns
Nothing good happening here. They can't even decide which crappy quarterback is sufficiently non-crappy enough to not suck for a few games in a row.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Flashback to 2006, when the Tampa Bay was one of the worst teams ever. They had no defense, they couldn't run, they couldn't pass. This is looking to be one of those years.