NFL Power Rankings Week 3: Major Shifts Among League's Elite Teams

Matt BirchFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2011

NFL Power Rankings Week 3: Major Shifts Among League's Elite Teams

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    Week 2 of the 2011 NFL season featured some entertaining action.

    Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Cam Newton combined for 855 passing yards. Two teams blew leads of 17 points or greater. Three teams won by a margin of 24 points or more.

    With another game on record, we have received more clarity, and some of our questions about pretenders and contenders have been answered.

    We wondered if the Bills were merely a benefactor of playing the abysmal Chiefs last week. Well, lo and behold, Buffalo won again; and improved to 2-0 on the season.

    And the Texans, is this the year they finally sack up, take advantage of the Colts’ misfortunes and clinch their first AFC South title in franchise history? They too, won, and are now 2-0.

    Let’s recap what we do know.

    Both the Colts and Chiefs are very bad teams, and each has major issues at the quarterback position. Will one or both teams tank the rest of the season in an effort to draft quarterbacks Andrew Luck or Landry Jones and begin the rebuilding process? Only time will tell.

    Last week, after just one game on record, we didn’t want to give in to the dreaded Week 1 overreactions that were circulating throughout our heads. A small sample size hinders us from properly rating teams.

    With more statistics to go on, we we will now take a look at all 32 teams with two weeks in the books; and where each one stacks up against the rest of the league. Each slide features one major weakness for each team. 

No. 32: Kansas City Chiefs (0-2)

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    Last season, the Chiefs won the AFC West, yet former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis chose to depart for the University of Florida. It was an odd move, considering he was there for less than one year.

    Weis must have known what he was doing, because Kansas City opened the season by being trounced at home by the Bills and also lost stud FS Eric Berry for the year.

    But that wasn't the worst news Chiefs fans would have to endure. On Sunday, they lost in Detroit by 45 points, with their lone playmaker on offense, RB Jamaal Charles, being declared out for the season with an ACL injury. 

    And the worst news, is they have Matt Cassel as starting quarterback and head coach Todd Haley calling the shots. It's going to be a long season for Chiefs fans until he's fired.

    I just can't find a single thing the Chiefs excel in with Charles out. I did try, but failed.

    Major concern: Inability to score points; the Chiefs have scored just 10 points in two games combined this season. With Charles out, the lack of a running game will put even more pressure on Matt Cassel to move the football through the air—something he can't do. Oh, and they have issues at every level of their defense.

No. 31: Indianapolis Colts (0-2)

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    When teams build their franchise around one or two key players, bad luck tends to catch up to them, and eventually hits them hard.

    After it was announced that QB Peyton Manning would likely miss the entire 2011 season, that very thing happened. The Colts are now 0-2 for the first time since 1998.

    The entire offense is built around Manning and precise timing routes, and the Colts run game was, historically, sub-par and struggled to run in between the tackles since the departure of RB Edgerrin James. Even when they won Super Bowl XLI.  Now they must rely on  a weak backfield running behind a suspect offensive line, and a 38-year-old journeyman quarterback to boot.

    I would be shocked if head coach Jim Caldwell is allowed to return next season, and the Colts would be best off tanking this year, and drafting Andrew Luck in April.  

    Glaring weakness: Issues at all levels of the defense; in both defending the run and coverage in the secondary. And Collins at quarterback is as big of a downgrade at the position (from Manning) as possible. 

No. 30: Seattle Seahawks (0-2)

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    Was Marshawn Lynch's bulldozing over the Saints back in January the last time the Seattle Seahawks actually punched a team in the mouth by running the football?

     In the second half of their match-up with Pittsburgh, the Seahawks gained just six yards.

    And maybe, that secondary we thought was good looked a lot better in Week 1 because they had the benefit of facing "gunslinger" QB Alex Smith?

    Seattle does have a few bright spots in key positions, and a solid defense, but Tarvaris Jackson behind center isn't going to win many games for them this season—even in the lackluster NFC West. The running game is not a force to be reckoned with and teams can sit in coverage and force Jackson to throw. Yeah, that won't work out well for him.

    With Sidney Rice sidelined with labrum damage, the Seahawks lack a vertical threat to stretch defenses or a safety valve for Jackson when under duress. 

    And the fact that he operates behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL doesn't help matters, worsened by the loss of OG Robert Gallery for the next four-to-six weeks.

    Glaring weakness: This team just doesn't has any game-changing playmakers on offense and this makes it pretty easy to scheme against the Seahawks, leading to predictability and a non-existent run game. In short, they will not score enough points to win games this season. And will struggle trading field goals with touchdowns with their opposition.

No. 29: Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)

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    QB Luke McCown was not abysmal in Sunday's game against the Jets—he was morbid.

    McCown set a Jaguars franchise record by posting a quarterback rating of 1.8. It's hard to actually be that bad. We will likely see the start of the Blaine Gabbert era in Jacksonville and the official start of rebuilding. 

    The Jaguars should be thanking their lucky stars, as they are a big play or two away (in Week 1) from being winless right now.

    How much longer until their sole playmaker—Maurice Jones-Drew—starts asking for a trade? Will he even wait until the offseason? This team will be a mess all season; expect a bumpy ride on the Gabbert train in his first season behind center in the NFL.

    And this new-look secondary is pretty awful in pass coverage.

    Glaring weakness: Predictability on offense due to a non-existent passing game. Starting at the quarterback position, whether it be McCown or Gabbert behind center. Coupled with a lack of receiving targets to throw to. This team will not be fun to watch on offense.   

No. 28: Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)

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    The Bengals defense is not half bad, but with a rookie quarterback and Marvin Lewis calling the shots, it will be an uphill battle for this team.

    Dalton has shown flashes of brilliance and his future appears bright. He is definitely an upgrade over the immobile Carson Palmer, but he and the young receiving corps still have some kinks to work out. Cincinnati is moving in the right direction, but there will be some growing pains along the way as they rebuild the team.

    The secondary is good, but the defensive front struggles against the run and to get stops when they need to.

    Motivation may be an issue this season, too—the result of a head coach in Lewis who should have been fired last season.

    Glaring weakness: In-game coaching from Lewis, as well as struggles in the red zone. The Bengals can rack up yards, but the young team struggles to convert when in deep as well as finish off drives. Teams can't trade three points for seven in the NFL and expect to win games.

No. 27: Denver Broncos (1-1)

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    Kyle Orton was on the trading block this offseason, yet no team would give up a second-round draft pick to acquire him. We're starting to see why.

    Orton continues to struggle with accuracy, and operating behind a bad offensive line certainly doesn't help matters.

    There are already issues in the locker room with head coach John Fox being critical about starting QB Tim Tebow under center. So what does Fox do? He lines Tebow up as a receiver on Sunday against the Bengals.

    Whether it's Orton, Quinn or Tebow, the Broncos will struggle with consistency in the passing game.

    This team does have some young stars on both sides of the ball, but they are still a long way away from putting all of the pieces together and performing week in, week out. They have some playmakers on offense but the defense will be the reason they fail to win more than six games this season.

    And I still question Fox's head coaching ability. He was a great defensive coordinator, but nothing more than that. 

    Glaring weakness: Turnovers and consistency on offense. Also, Broncos have issues in all levels of the defense, and will be outmatched when facing potent offenses that can move the football at will.   

No. 26: Miami Dolphins (0-2)

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    From the front office down to the players, the Dolphins are a struggling franchise.

    Stephen Ross and his illustrious cast of celebrity minority owners can’t sell tickets, Chad Henne can’t complete passes to his own team and the Dolphins' pass defense is dreadful.

    And the defensive front: Yeah, this is not the unit that some analysts said was top five in the league. Where is the pressure on opposing quarterbacks?

    With a lame-duck head coach in Tony Sparano, fans should not be shocked when the Bills finish ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC East this season. Maybe being the bottom-feeder will be the change Ross needs to commit to rebuilding, but this current team isn’t going to cut it.

    Glaring weakness: They can't win at home! Miami is 1-9 in their last 10 games at Sun Life Stadium dating back to the beginning of last season. Dolphins lack consistent playmakers on offense (sans Marshall) and the defense can’t get stops when it matters most. 

No. 25: Cleveland Browns (1-1)

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    When the Browns lost at home to the Bengals in Week 1, it was time for the analysts who predicted them to be a sleeper this season, to tuck their tails between their legs and run.

    The Browns held on to win against the lackluster Colts this weekend, but they still won't be a contender in the AFC North this season.

    QB Colt McCoy has a bright future and having RB Peyton Hillis in the backfield will certainly make his job easier. But the lack of quality receiving targets for him to pass to is an issue.

    The Browns have some young, athletic players in their secondary, but we will see a lot of blown coverage for big plays as they struggle in that regard. I also don't trust the interior of their defensive front against the run.

    Glaring weakness: Lack of receiving targets in the passing game to consistently move the football. Also, coverage issues in the secondary.  

No. 24: Minnesota Vikings (0-2)

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    The Vikings were up 17-0 in the first half against the Bucs on Sunday and looked like they were well on their way to victory.

    And then the Bucs made adjustments; stacking the box and forcing Donovan McNabb to throw but taking away everything underneath. This is a strategy we will likely see a lot this season, as McNabb prefers throwing the football into the ground rather than to his receivers. He may have thrown for 228 yards—but don't let the numbers fool you—a good chunk of it came from screen passes and low difficulty throws. 

    The Bucs came back to win, taking the lead for the first time with under a minute to play en route to victory. A crushing loss that will likely remain in the Vikings players' heads for a long time. That, and the fact that they know they will not win many games this season and are a shoo-in for last place in the NFC North.

    And this defense looks old and slow. What will the unit look like come December?

    I feel bad for Adrian Peterson, who now has 53 career rushing touchdowns, the most in Vikings franchise history. Always nice to have him in your backfield, and the duo of him and Toby Gerhart is obviously an explosive tandem, but the Vikings are a predictable team on offense.

    Glaring weakness: McNabb at quarterback and a veteran defensive unit which is slow and lacks athleticism. Young, speedy teams will kill them with big plays and yards after catch.

No. 23: St. Louis Rams (0-2)

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    The Rams were unlucky to have been bitten by the injury bug this season and that will really stack the odds against them in the first half of the year.

    If you watched Monday Night Football, you saw the Giants offensive line open running lanes that you and I could run through. The defensive front is capable of being out-muscled and run on.

    In the passing game, the loss of WR Danny Amendola is evident, as the Rams really struggle consistently moving the football without their main possession receiver. They do have some vertical threats, but I worry about them converting on third downs without a safety valve for Bradford to throw to. This will also have an effect on the red zone offense.

    The Rams still look like a young team, committing errors such as penalties and dropped passes.

    Glaring weakness: Inconsistency on offense without a possession receiver to throw to and red zone struggles. Also, the injury to CB Ronald Bartell was a big loss for the defense, as we saw on Monday Night Football.

No. 22: Carolina Panthers (0-2)

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    The Panthers are the best 0-2 team in football. Don't let the record fool you.

    Cam Newton's feat of passing for 854 yards in his first two career games is nothing short of amazing. His delivery looks much more fluid and the accuracy he didn't show in college is also improved. It definitely helps operating behind one of the best offensive lines in football.

    Unfortunately, there is issues in the defensive unit. While the defensive front is solid, the secondary is awful, and can't come up with stops when it needs to.

    Carolina is on their way to rebuilding, with a lot of young weapons in the offense as well as veterans Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams (who has started off the season slow). They are changing their identity on offense, though, and have become more pass-oriented rather than the former run-heavy mantra of 2010. There will be some growing pains along the way.

    Glaring weakness: Coverage issues in the secondary; as well as the inability (of the defense) to finish out games in the second half when needed to come up big. 

No. 21: Oakland Raiders (1-1)

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    Don't look now, but the Raiders were a-stop-on-fourth-down away from being 2-0 this season. But it just wasn't to be, as the Bills came back from a 21-3 deficit and proved the Raiders are still capable of blowing any lead.

    The offense is much improved this season, and Oakland has young playmakers in both the running game and passing game. And for the first time in years, they look balanced on offense. They have a couple of different vertical receiving threats to stretch opposing defenses and open things up for the explosive running back duo of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.

    But the defense just can't come up with stops when called upon.

    While the defensive front has talent and gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the interior still struggles against the run. RB Fred Jackson rushed for nearly eight yards per carry on Sunday (117 yards on 15 carries). And the secondary just can't cover.

    Glaring weakness: Blown coverage in the secondary as opposing receivers get a lot of separation against their defensive backs. Also, inability to be consistent in stopping the run.  

No. 20: San Francisco 49ers (1-1)

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    The Niners may have a new coaching staff and are on the way to developing a new identity, but they still can't finish games.

    The good news is they are improved on offense this season, and head coach Jim Harbaugh already has improved the play of QB Alex Smith who looks more poised and accurate than he did in 2010.

    The bad news is the defense still can't cover in the secondary, and is capable of giving up the big play at any given point in time. They really needed to sign a quality safety in the offseason to provide some consistency back there.

    San Francisco will compete in the division, and will be in the race to win the NFC West, because of how bad the division is. But I worry about the defense getting stops when they need to, and the occasional kinks that come with a new coaching staff. Harbaugh's in-game coaching decisions lost the game Sunday, as his choice to decline a 15-yard penalty and attempt a 55-yard field goal was awful.

    Glaring weakness: Coverage issues in the new-look secondary, especially at the safety position. When you give up three passing touchdowns to the same receiver—Miles Austin—you have issues.

No. 19: Arizona Cardinals (1-1)

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    The Cardinals' move to acquire QB Kevin Kolb in the offseason addressed their biggest need, and is the reason they are currently are currently the best team in the awful NFC West. (But for how long?)

    Another team that is very close to being 2-0 right now, but could not come up with a stop late in the game when QB Rex Grossman picked their secondary apart during the game-winning drive.

    Arizona employed a variety of different looks on defense—and attempted to switch up coverages—but it still couldn't mask how bad the coverage in their secondary was. They've now given up over 700 passing yards in two games. The Rhodes/Wilson tandem looks very slow to the ball at safety.

    They do field a balanced offense that can rack up yards and a quarterback that can move them down the field quickly. And I do question the ability of RB Beanie Wells to perform for an entire season. They lack depth at running back with RB Ryan Williams likely out for the season.

    Can the Cardinals keep playing well and reach the postseason this year?

    Glaring weakness: Red zone struggles on offense and miscommunications in the new-look, young secondary. This will likely improve as the season rolls on, though. Offensive line is also an issue, as the Redskins got a lot of pressure on Kolb on Sunday.  

No. 18: Tennessee Titans (1-1)

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    After the Tennessee Titans upset the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday -- holding them to just 229 total yards -- it's clear I have some crow to eat.

    I previously thought the Titans were one of the bottom seven teams in the NFL, but that's not the case. 

    The offense is balanced; with the running back duo of CJ2K/Ringer, and the Hasselbeck-to-Britt connection in the passing game. Hasselbeck looked comfortable in the offense, I was surprised. Although his durability will be something to watch for this season, being one of the oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL. But he should continue to play well in the first half of the season.

    The defensive front is good, but I'm still not sold on their secondary. This team has had the benefit of facing quarterbacks Luke McCown and Joe Flacco. Neither has a powerful arms or a plethora of receiving targets to throw to. And this week they get the benefit of hosting Denver with (probably) Kyle Orton behind center. Let’s wait to judge them until they face a better pass offense. 

    Glaring weakness: Pass defense as well as Hasselbeck's durability as the season progresses. New coaching staff and coordinators is something to keep an eye on, too. 

No. 17: New York Giants (1-1)

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    It's the same old story with the Giants: A stout defensive front that wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks, but a secondary that can't cover. And the bad luck with losing LB Jonathan Goff and CB Terrell Thomas were huge setbacks in that regard, too. 

    Big Blue is also banged-up at the wide receiver position, with Nicks overcoming injury, Manningham hurt, and Hixon out for the season. At this point in time, it is unclear what their receiving corps will look like next week, and we will wait for updated statuses from last night's game.

    Coverage in the Giants' secondary was absymal, as Sam Bradford, even throwing into double coverage a few times, managed to beat them on a number of plays for big gains. They looked bad against the Redskins, too; this will be an issue all season. CB Aaron Ross is awful, and has been throughout his career.. 

    Also evident in the win: Eli Manning is still an inconsistent, loose cannon and still has issues throwing balls into coverage when he shouldn't.

    Glaring weakness: Inability to cover in the secondary resulting in big gains for opposing quarterbacks. Also, Manning killing drives with turnovers and bad decisions. 

No. 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)

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    The Bucs and QB Josh Freeman showed a ton of heart on Sunday, coming back from 17 points down in Minnesota to wright the ship and get in the win column.

    For the most part, this is a young team and the comeback they exhibited is a positive sign for this team going forward. Other teams would have mailed it in at halftime. But not the Bucs.

    Josh Freeman sometimes has issues with slow starts but has a cannon-arm and can also move around in the pocket. The receivers are young and athletic as well, and they complement a bruising backfield duo of Blount/Graham well.

    I'm a big Raheem Morris fan, as he is a great motivator and his players really believe in his system. And the secondary is athletic and is solid in coverage.

    But the defensive front must show the ability to stop the run. They were one of the bottom five rush defenses last year and have not improved much since then.

    Glaring weakness: Run defense has been an issue over the last few seasons, and will continue to be this year. The Vikings rushed for 186 yards and the Lions rushed for 126 as well in Week 1. 

No. 15: Washington Redskins (2-0)

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    The Redskins appear to be heading in the right direction after a lackluster 2010, but let's wait until they play a road game to jump on the bandwagon.

    Still, don't blink now, as the Hogs are currently in first place in the NFC East.

    Mike Shanahan's system is the perfect fit for this team. The defensive front gets a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and is pretty good against the run. On offense, the duo of Hightower/Helu keeps defenses honest and allows Rex Grossman to take shots down the field in man coverage.

    I question the pass defense, as we still see a lot of blown coverage with high-risk, high-reward cornerbacks such as CB DeAngelo Hall that take a lot of chances. And the safeties will struggle in this area until SS LaRon Landry returns from injury, with FS Oshiomogho Atogwe still getting acclimated in the new environment.

    As we said last week, the Redskins found themselves in many close games last season and could have easily finished 8-8. Could this be the year the bounces go their way and they attain a postseason berth?

    Glaring weakness: Pass defense, especially at the nickel back and safety positions. And I question their kicking game, as K Graham Gano is shaky and inconsistent. Normally, this isn't a concern, but with the Redskins' style of football, they do find themselves in a lot of close games.

No. 14: Buffalo Bills (2-0)

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    Who predicted the Bills to start the year 2-0 in the offseason? Not I.

    But the fact is, this team suffered a lot of injuries last season and were a much better team than their record showed. Head coach Chan Gailey, in his second season, is moving this franchise in the right direction and the Bills are competitive again.

    The passing game has big-play potential, as QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is surrounded by young, athletic receivers with vertical speed that can get separation from opposing defensive backs. The offense is balanced; RB Fred Jackson is one of the most underrated backs in the league and does a great job running in between the tackles.

    The defensive front is much improved this season, and the interior run defense is no longer abysmal. However, I do have concerns about the secondary. Jason Campbell passed for 323 yards and gave them fits. They've also struggled with missed tackles in the second and third levels of the defense, which was an issue dating back to the preseason.

    The real gut-check will be this weekend against the class of the divisionthe New England Patriots. I think the Bills play them close in a high-scoring affair and keep it within a touchdown. We'll see, but we know the die-hards at Ralph Wilson Stadium will have the place rocking.

    Glaring weakness: Coverage issues in secondary as well as tackling issues by the defensive unit. Tom Brady will look to exploit this on Sunday.

No. 13: Dallas Cowboys (1-1)

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    The Cowboys will live and die with QB Tony Romo.

    One week he's the goat, the next week he shows amazing heart after suffering a rib injury, yet leading the Cowboys to a comeback victory and saving them from entering Week 3 without a win.

    And let me say it is amazing that their secondary is holding its own. Dallas is dealing with injuries to starting cornerbacks Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. 

    The defensive front is stout against the run and also gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They will continue to be a force all season. 

    Dallas' offensive line, with a lot of young players on it, struggles in run-blocking and is clearly hindering RB Felix Jones' production (as well as a shoulder injury) but they will likely improve as the season progresses.

    And the Cowboys' receivers are suffering from injury woes, too. Dez Bryant has been banged-up, and now Miles Austin is out with a hamstring injury after a three-touchdown performance and may not return until Week 6.

    It's not how you start the season, it's how you finish. As the offensive line comes together, and the secondary gets healthy, watch out for the Cowboys in the second half of the season. But beyond that, QB Tony Romo will have to prove he can win a game in the postseason if they get there. 

    Glaring weakness: All of the starting cornerbacks being hurt, which will make the next few games an uphill battle. And the young offensive line has major issues at the moment, but will likely improve as the season rolls on.

No. 12: Chicago Bears (1-1)

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    After I was eviscerated by Bears' fans last week for ranking Chicago at No. 10, the real Jay Cutler and offensive line showed up. The Saints were in his face all day, and they used it to propel themselves to victory.

    New Orleans sacked Cutler six times on Sunday, and the constant pressure resulted in him completing only 19-of-45 passes.

    And on offense, when your running back leads the team in receptions by a large amount (Matt Forte had 10), you have an issue and need to re-evaluate your game plan

    The Bears are not a team built to play on turf against speedy, athletic teams, and the Saints exposed that.

    However, their defensive front is still stout, and does a great job of generating pressure on quarterbacks and is usually pretty good bottling up the run (even though the Saints rushed for just over 100 yards).

    The Bears' Cover-2 defense normally is built to defend the big play, but Brees managed to find seams to thread the ball into. Chicago's big test will be this weekend against the defending Super Bowl champions. I expect a great game on Sunday in the divisional match-up.

    Glaring weakness: Offensive line woes which continue to be an issue. Also, man coverage in the secondary. Even with safety help, the Bears' cornerbacks are suspect in coverage against younger, athletic receivers.    

No. 11: San Diego Chargers (1-1)

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    It's September, which means the Chargers aren't ready to play football yet. Maybe we should check back with them in November when they're playing well.

    And on Sunday, the Patriots exposed how bad the Chargers linebackers and safeties are in coverage.

    The Chargers were a live underdog in New England, and competed for three-and-a-half quarters, but could not convert in the red zone in the first half or get stops when they needed to on defense. And TE Antonio Gates was targeted just one time on Sunday, and caught no balls in the game. That blame falls on the coaching staff.

    Tom Brady is a Hall Of Fame quarterback. But I don't care who's behind center, allowing him to complete 31-of-40 passes for 423 yards, and not turning him over once, is unacceptable.

    I do love the Chargers on offense, as they are balanced and have a lot of explosive weapons. And with stud QB Philip Rivers behind center they can move the football at will. They are loaded there. 

    But Norv Turner is on the hot seat this season, and he is lucky that the entire AFC West is awful and the division title is gift-wrapped for the Chargers this year.

    Glaring weakness: Coverage in the secondary, especially covering running backs and tight ends. Teams will look to spread the Chargers out and throw on them out of the shotgun. I still don't trust them against the run, either. Also, Norv Turner is their head coach, and until he proves otherwise, he is not the guy to lead this team through the postseason. 

No. 10: Baltimore Ravens (1-1)

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    The Baltimore Ravens demolished the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1. Analysts were already plugging them into the AFC Championship game.

    But the team still has issues. They are currently very thin at cornerback and have four players in the secondary injured. They are suspect against the pass.

    And they managed just 229 yards in the loss in Tennessee.

    QB Joe Flacco still continues to struggle with accuracy, and being surrounded by a weak receiving corps doesn't help issues. With TE Todd Heap and WR Derrick Mason both gone, Flacco lost his safety valves, and it shows.

    And let's face it: WR Anquan Boldin is not a WR1. He's older and does not have the speed and athleticism to get separation from defensive backs.

    The Baltimore defensive front is stout, so I won't get into that. But the new-look secondary, as we discussed last week, has serious issues in coverage. There were a lot of miscommunications on Sunday.

    Glaring weakness: Lacking a big-play vertical receiving threat on offense and a weak passing game. And on other side of the ball, the Ravens will have issues all season defending the pass with their new-look secondary.  

No. 9: Detroit Lions (2-0)

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    The Lions are 2-0 and are showing the league that they mean business.

    The defensive front is aggressive and relentless; mirroring the stout '90s fronts that the Raiders used to field. They get pressure on quarterbacks and are quick off the ball to stop the run. The Lions are tenacious in the trenches.

    On offense, the Detroit has many targets for QB Matt Stafford to throw to. The Stafford-to-Johnson hookup is still one of the top 3 in the NFL, and even drawing double coverage, is very tough to stop. The Lions now have a solid running game to complement that, too.

    And the defense looks very fast, quick to the ball and covers a lot of ground.

    The issue lies in the young secondary which is athletic but struggles in coverage. 

    Glaring weakness: Stafford's health throughout the season and blown coverage in the secondary resulting in big plays. The Lions are a big-play, opportunistic defense and they take a lot of chances. Teams will be looking to make them pay when they do.

No. 8: Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)

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    The Steelers rebounded from an awful Week 1 showing and completely shut down the Seahawks on Sunday.

    Receivers were getting open and the Steelers moved the football at will. Combined with a strong running game, it was clear the Seahawks were outclassed.

    Although they weren't challenged on Sunday, I still worry about the Steelers' pass defense and their coverage issues.

    Offensive line continues to be an issue with the injury to OT Willie Colon and QB Ben Roethlisberger's durability will be something to watch all season, as he lives off extending the play.

    The Steelers' defensive front is still one of the top three in the NFL, and they are a force to be reckoned with, but with a lot of veterans on defense, it will be interesting to see how healthy they are come December.

    Still, I love the Steelers' receiving corps, with a talented group of young, speedy receivers running vertical routes and Hines Ward and Jerricho Cotchery (currently injured) as possession receivers to move the chains. They have good balance with Mendenhall and Redman in the backfield running in between the tackles.

    Glaring weakness: Coverage issues in the secondary, as FS Troy Polamalu does not have the range he used to and the Steelers will struggle in coverage outside of CB Ike Taylor. Pittsburgh just looks old on defense at times, and I worry about them when facing younger, athletic teams. 

No. 7: Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)

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    The "Dream Team" didn't look dreamy in their loss on Sunday Night Football.

    Turning the football over three times and allowing the opposing quarterback to throw for four touchdowns does not win championships. The Eagles could not get a single stop when the Falcons were in the red zone.

    No one is debating the fact that this team is loaded on offense and has one of the top secondaries in the NFL. And with McCoy running the football they keep defenses honest, along with fielding a plethora of vertical threats to make secondaries pay if in man coverage. And Vick presents match-up issues for any team. 

    However, the offensive line and Vick's durability will be an issue all season. His propensity to extend the play will be something to watch.

    Also, given Andy Reid's track record, I won't be one to anoint them as Super Bowl champions yet. He missed a key challenge on an interception which could have changed the outcome of the game.

    Glaring weakness: Offensive line struggles and Vick's health throughout the season. Also, red zone defense has been an issue for the Birds thus far but should improve as the season goes on. 

No. 6: Atlanta Falcons (1-1)

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    The Falcons showed they are a much better team on turf than on grass on Sunday Night Football.

    With their recent victory over the "Dream Team", they re-asserted that they are a force to be reckoned with in the NFC. The offense was efficient in the red zone, as they were 5-for-5 when in deep. They did not settle for field goals.

    Still, they have issues. While they are loaded with vertical receiving threats, Matt Ryan is inconsistent and struggles reading defenses. He does seem to come through in the clutch, though, as he has recorded 14 game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime in his career.

    The defensive front does a good job of generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and they will need to be good in that regard, because there are issues in Atlanta's secondary. But they are mediocre-at-best against the run and struggle in tackling at times.

    And if Michael Vick doesn't leave the game injured, the Falcons are probably 0-2. They still have issues.

    Glaring weakness: Inconsistency on offense: The Falcons are too dependent on the big play and lack the consistency to be a possession offense. And on defense, they still have coverage issues in the secondary and linebackers struggle against the run.  

No. 5: Houston Texans (2-0)

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    The Texans are off to a great start and appear to finally be on track to their first AFC South title in franchise history.

    However, they still haven’t had a gut-check yet. They're faced two bottom-tier teams in the Colts and Dolphins, and the real test will be this week in New Orleans, against a big play offense.

    Their offense is explosive: WR Andre Johnson is arguably the best receiver in the NFL and even double coverage does not phase him. RB Arian Foster may be ailing from a nagging hamstring injury, but Ben Tate has fared just fine in his place.

    The Texans' secondary is definitely improved from that of last season. We will know the extent of the improvement this week, as they are facing Drew Brees and the prolific Saints' passing attack. I will wait until that game to pass judgment.

    Houston is loaded on offense and will score a lot of points, but can the interior of their defensive front stop the run and can they get pressure on opposing quarterbacks?

    Glaring weakness: Defending the run due to weak play from the interior of their defensive front. Also, pass defense could be an issue (it was last season but they are improved), and we will find out this weekend.   

No. 4: New York Jets (2-0)

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    The Jets' defense clamped down on Sunday and Luke McCown posted an unreal quarterback rating of 1.8

    QB Mark Sanchez has historically struggled early in games, but for whatever reason, seems to play his best football in clutch moments and in the fourth quarter of key games.

    The Jets running game was improved from what we saw in Week 1, but is still not where it was last season. Gang Green's new-look offensive line could be the issue for this -- and now their lack of depth will be tested -- as C Nick Mangold has suffered a high ankle sprain and will be out 2-3 weeks.

    Still, with plenty of receivers in their passing game for Sanchez to target, this offense is capable of moving the chains at will.

    On defense, New York has one of the top 3 secondaries in the NFL. CB Darrelle Revis is a quarterback's worst nightmare and team's will likely target their safeties (opposing tight ends have historically hurt the Jets) or CB Antonio Cromartie. The defensive front is stout against the run but struggles rushing the passer. However, they should improve in that regard as the season progresses, as they have installed some young players up front in rebuilding up there (veterans Sean Ellis and Kris Jenkins departed in the offseason).

    The Jets will go as far as Mark Sanchez takes them. And with Rex Ryan and a smart, crafty coaching staff along with him, they could return to their third straight AFC Championship.

    Glaring weakness: Sanchez's struggles in the first half and the defense's inability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

No. 3: New Orleans Saints (1-1)

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    The Saints have already played two of the NFC's toughest teams, but that hasn't stopped them from performing.

    The speed they have on offense can give any defense fits, and if RB Mark Ingram can develop into a solid short-yardage back they will rectify an issue that plagued them last season and in Week 1.

    New Orleans is obviously loaded on offense, with a plethora of running backs as well as vertical receiving threats for QB Drew Brees to attack opposing defenses with. 

    And TE Jimmy Graham and RB Darren Sproles' athleticism cannot be overlooked with the yards after catch potential they present in the open field.

    Let's not overlook that head coach Sean Payton is still one of the best coaches in the NFL.

    The issues for the Saints lie in their defense. While the defensive front struggled generating pressure against Aaron Rodgers in Week 1, they looked  better against a weak Bears' offensive line. Still, DT Shaun Rogers must step up and play better, though. He could turn out to be an offseason acquisition bust.

    Also, the secondary takes a lot of chances and will struggle against strong passing offenses.

    Still, the Saints are the team to beat in the NFC South right now. Few teams can consistently score with them.

    Glaring weakness: Pass defense and also pass-rushing from the interior of their defensive front.   

No. 2: New England Patriots (2-0)

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    With the Patriots' decisive victory against the San Diego Chargers, it's clear they are still the class of the AFC and the team to beat in the conference.

    This statistic is mind-boggling: QB Tom Brady has passed for 940 yards in his first two games this season. He shattered the record for passing yards in the first two games of a regular season.

    No, I'm not kidding. The Patriots offense is loaded and we could go on about them for days. The speedy receivers accumulate yards after the catch and the TE duo of Gronkowski-Hernandez is easily the best in the NFL (although Hernandez is hurt now).

    The Patriots new-look defensive front is holding its own but still struggles getting pressure on quarterbacks. But they do a good job of plugging gaps and defending against the run.

    And we can't stress enough how smart the guy wearing the hoodie calling the shots is. The Patriots scheme as well as any team.

    The one kink in their armor lies in the secondary. Belichick was unhappy with how they've looked in coverage and cut various defensive backs, and it's showed. New England has allowed an average of 381 yards through the air in their two games this season. This will be an issue to keep an eye on this season.

    Glaring weakness: Pass defense, as defensive backs play too far off receivers (soft coverage) and give up a lot of yards as a result. They will be dependent on turnovers or other ways to halt opposing teams' drives.

No. 1: Green Bay Packers (2-0)

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    The defending Super Bowl champions are still the class of the league.

    Even finding themselves down 13-0 after a rough start in Carolina, the Packers dominated the second half and showed they can clamp down and take over a game at any moment.

    We talk about New Englands' receiving corps and their yards after the catch, and the Packers are no different. The athletic, speedy targets stretch out defenses and present mismatches for the rest of the league, no matter how stout the secondary. Combined with the trio of Starks/Grant/Kuhn on the ground, they are dangerous on offense and very tough to scheme against.

    Like New England, their main issues lie in the secondary. Cam Newton threw for over 400 yards against them and now FS Nick Collins is now out of the season with a neck injury. He is the glue in the secondary and a locker room leader so this is will be something to watch going forward.

    The Packers are explosive on offense, and Dom Capers' exotic blitz looks create turnovers and generate sacks. But is that enough to counteract the issues in their secondary?

    Major concern: Packers have given up 400 passing yards per game on average, and actually rank last in the NFL is passing yards given up. They will likely scale back the blitzing and drop into coverage more to rectify this.

    But really, Aaron Rodgers and that offense: They are a treat to watch. No defense is equipped to slow them down.