NFL Power Rankings Week 4: Which Surprising Teams are on the Rise?
If you need to sit back and take a breath after this past weekend of crazy NFL football, that's OK, we do too.
Week 3 of the 2011 season was downright crazy. Did anyone have the Buffalo Bills picked to upset the New England Patriots (I didn't), or the Oakland Raiders to knock off the New York Jets—well, maybe I called that one.
Fact is, the landscape in the NFL is changing drastically each week. Hold on as our Week 4 power rankings see a huge shake up.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were again horrible this week, even if they managed to put points on the board in a close loss to the San Diego Chargers.
The loss was at least encouraging for Kansas City. This is a team decimated by injury, but they managed to hang with the Chargers the entire game. I don't believe in moral victories, but this team needs a confidence builder and keeping up with San Diego for four quarters might be the burst they need to kick it into overdrive.
31. Indianapolis Colts
You have to feel for the Indianapolis Colts after they drop a close game to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. This is a game where a healthy Peyton Manning would have made a huge difference. Alas, Manning was in the owner's suite instead of on the field.
Much like Kansas City, the Colts are horrible—but this game provided some relief in a big home game for the team. They'll face a tough one next week on Monday Night Football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but don't rule out the Colts as at least a contender in that game.
Indianapolis has to worry this week about the health of Kerry Collins. The veteran quarterback left the game with a concussion. Maybe now is the time to call Pittsburgh about one of those backup quarterbacks they have available?
30. Miami Dolphins
Good teams learn how to win close games. The Miami Dolphins gave one away to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Miami dominated the first half of this game, looking more like the team we saw in Week 1 against the Patriots. The second half was more of the Week 2 Dolphins. A team that is supposedly built on a strong defense cannot allow a subpar offense to comeback on you, but that's what the Dolphins did Sunday in making Colt McCoy look like Joe Montana in the fourth quarter.
Wholesale changes are needed in Miami, but fans have to be happy with the strong play of rookie running back Daniel Thomas. He's a player to build around.
29. Minnesota Vikings
Another week, another come-from-behind loss for the Minnesota Vikings.
Week 1: Up 10 at half, the Vikings lose to the San Diego Chargers.
Week 2: Up 17 at half, the Vikings lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Week 3: Up 20 at half, the Vikings lose to the Detroit Lions.
Notice a trend?
At some point this becomes about an offense that is afraid to press the ball when they have a lead. Safe playcalling in the second half is part of the problem, but the defense looks like a different unit in the third and fourth quarter for the Vikings.
I'll take this time to call out defensive end Jared Allen. Announcers were all over Allen for his hard play in the closing minutes of regulation when he caused two false start penalties, made a big sack and then a nice open-field tackle. Where was that play in the other 29 minutes of the second half? Allen, and the rest of this defense, need to play with that fire the entire game.
28. St. Louis Rams
Maybe we should hold off on all that "Sam Bradford is the next great quarterback" talk? Bradford has looked incompetent at times, frightened at others as the St. Louis Rams drop a third straight game. This was supposed to be a playoff contender, folks. Instead they are contending for the No. 1 overall draft choice.
Bradford will get a pass because his receivers are less than amazing, but what were they last year? A sophomore slump is something that should be scaring Ram fans right now.
You can also keep yourself awake tonight wondering why your first-round draft choice has been a non-factor on a team that desperately needs a pass rush.
27. Arizona Cardinals
Can anyone figure out the Arizona Cardinals?
My honest opinion is that this is a talented team that could win the NFC West, but their issues at cornerback and the offensive line will keep that from happening, at least this year.
Arizona fans can take solace in the fact that the nucleus (Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells) is there offensively for this to be a very good team. And you can be encouraged by the play of Wells so far this year. That offensive line, on the other hand, needs blown up and rebuilt.
26. Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks grabbed their first win on Sunday, and an important division win at that.
Don't get too excited, Seahawk fans. Tarvaris Jackson still has my vote as the worst starting quarterback in the NFL (by far) and your offensive line is still a mess of young and overrated players.
As an NFL draft guru first and foremost, I can tell you that Seattle fans should be actively pining for losses each week and a shot at Andrew Luck.
25. Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton looked like a rookie on Sunday, as the Cincinnati Bengals lost the ugliest game of the week against the San Francisco 49ers.
This game was sloppy on both sides of the field, which is to be expected of the team with a rookie quarterback. Don't fret, Bengal lovers, this roster has the makings of a very good team in the near future. Getting through this season will be the toughest part.
You may wonder why the Bengals move up this week? As mentioned earlier, the power rankings are undergoing a major shift, and with one win this season the Bengals are getting a higher ranking than teams who had higher expectations in the preseason, but are now winless.
24. Denver Broncos
How bad are the Denver Broncos?
My job is to write about the NFL, and I almost forget the Broncos exist. And that's the truth.
The 2011 season in Denver has been unspectacular. The team loses each week in boring fashion. There are no interesting storylines or plays worth noting. The only thing to love in Denver right now is Von Miller—and I have a serious man-crush on the rookie linebacker.
The outlook is grim in Denver for the remainder of the season. At some point John Fox has to consider playing Brady Quinn, just to see if he can give the offense a spark that Kyle Orton hasn't so far. There's always the option of letting Tim Tebow play at running back, too, as the run game has been horrible.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars
I know, that's a pretty big jump for a team coming off a loss. Again, we're re-shuffling this week and moving down teams who had big preseason expectations that haven't realized them (that's you, St. Louis Rams).
Jacksonville did absolutely nothing this week to deserve a move up, and it's likely they'll shift back down next week, but this is an exciting team that could realistically finish second in their division. The Jaguars are 1-0 in the AFC South right now.
With three games remaining versus the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts should give the Jags a minimum of two more divisional wins. It could be more if rookie Blaine Gabbert gets on fire.
22. Carolina Panthers
An apology to my daughter Hayley as I move her favorite NFL team down three spots this week. It's not personal, I promise. And she only likes them because of their uniforms, anyway.
The Panthers picked up a much-needed first win for rookie Cam Newton today, and I'm willing to bet it won't be the last. Newton has had the Panthers in contention for all three games this season, and his talent alone will keep them in games late this year.
It's hard to not be transfixed by the play of Newton right now. If the Panthers can get production on defense from young players forced into action, they could provide big upsets the rest of the way.
21. Tennessee Titans
Don't look now, but the Tennessee Titans have won two straight games on the strength of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
I owe Mr. Hasselbeck a quick apology for my comments about his hairline, and his ability to pick up the Tennessee offense in such short time this offseason. Clearly Hasselbeck is smarter than I was giving him credit for. He's still bald though.
Tennessee is winning with a formula we haven't seen from them since...well...I can't remember this team ever winning with quarterback-first play. Steve McNair had Eddie George, and Kerry Collins/Vince Young had Chris Johnson.
Should the team lose wide receiver Kenny Britt (knee) for any extended time, they are in big trouble.
20. Cleveland Browns
Good teams win close games. You will see that a lot in my articles, and it's something I believe in wholeheartedly. The Cleveland Browns are 2-1, with both wins coming in close games.
Colt McCoy may be showing growing pains, but he has his team winning games late, and that's the best you can ask from a second-year quarterback who lacks a true No. 1 wide receiver.
Forget the 2010 season and look at McCoy versus Sam Bradford this season. You could argue the talent around them is very similar, but McCoy's Browns are 2-1 while the Rams are 0-3. That's the difference between a quarterback who can make plays late and one who hasn't yet.
19. San Francisco 49ers
I don't know how they're doing it, but the San Francisco 49ers are 2-1 right now—and that would be 3-0 if not for a heartbreaker loss in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys.
Jim Harbaugh's boys are not winning pretty football games, they're just winning. San Francisco's recipe for success has been creating opportunities on offense and special teams, and then shutting down the opposition's run game. And it's working.
We'll know a lot more about San Francisco after they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles in a game where the 49ers may actually be favored to win.
18. San Diego Chargers
It's easy now to look at the San Diego Chargers loss to the New England Patriots and forget it ever happened. Since last week the Chargers have won a close game against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Patriots lost to the Buffalo Bills.
Here's the caveat though (isn't there always one)—the Chargers have two wins over win-less teams. That's right, they've beat the Chiefs and the Vikings, teams with a combined six losses.
And that's why San Diego is so low on the power rankings despite having two wins.
17. Chicago Bears
Which Chicago Bears team are the real one?
Is the Bears team that beat a preseason Super Bowl favorite Atlanta Falcon team the real deal, or are we looking at the team who dropped two straight against elite teams (Saints and Packers)?
What we can say for sure is that the Bears have faced a very tough schedule—their first three games were against 2010 playoff teams. Chicago has looked very good at times, and very bad at others.
For Chicago to emerge as a playoff team they'll have to find better play at wide receiver and on the offensive line.
16. Philadelphia Eagles
Preseason rankings obviously are still being taken into consideration here, otherwise the Philadelphia Eagles would be in the bottom 12. Instead they are holding on slightly to a ranking in the top half.
The reason is that Philadelphia has more talent than most any team in the NFL, and with an experienced (if not overrated) head coach in place they should get better. Emphasis on should.
Philadelphia will have a put-up or shut-up game at home against the 49ers this weekend. A loss by Philadelphia will put them at 1-3 and suffering a huge move down in the power rankings.
15. Atlanta Falcons
No team in the NFL pisses me off more than the Atlanta Falcons. Seriously, this team needs checked for scizophrenia.
Week 1 and 3 losses against Chicago and Tampa Bay exposed Atlanta as a weak team against the run, and also a team with an offensive line hell-bent on getting Matt Ryan killed. Even in their Week 2 comeback win over the Eagles, this team looks dangerously bad upfront.
What was a strength in 2010 is a weakness for my preseason darlings. Atlanta needs to fix their issue on the line, and fast.
14. New York Giants
Well...how about those New York Giants? The G-Men did what many thought was impossible by beating the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night in a game that saw them come from behind and then build an impressive late lead.
New York struggled at times offensively, and they will going forward, but this defense proved on Sunday that they can stand up against elite offensive skill players. The pass rush, as always, is dominant.
The Giants won 10 games in 2010—that's about where they should be again this year.
13. Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins may have lost a close game to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football, but this is still a team good enough to contend in a very close NFC East.
Washington has the pieces in place to remain competitive all season, and they have the head coach to get them to the playoffs.
Rex Grossman needs to grow up on the job a bit, and the team has to learn to eliminate mistakes like botched field goal attempts. Once this team grows, they'll be tough to beat.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
I really wanted to move the Pittsburgh Steelers down a lot more after they almost lost to the Indianapolis Colts, but in good faith I couldn't.
Pittsburgh may have won on Sunday night, but there are still issues on the offensive line and secondary that will get this team killed against better competition.
Robert Mathis proved my point well with a strip-sack of Ben Roethlisberger that resulted in points for the Colts. The secondary allowed 153 yards passing from Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter. Imagine what Drew Brees would do?
11. New York Jets
There are the New York Jets I had expected all summer.
In their Week 3 loss to the Oakland Raiders, New York's defense looked very average, and even slow. The team couldn't stop the run and was unable to find an answer for the NFL's most underrated player, Darren McFadden.
The Jets continue to be overrated by their fans and the national media. I'm out to start a movement that will show the Jets for what they really are—slightly above average.
10. Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys proved they can play with the big boys in a huge win over division rival (and leader) Washington Redskins on Monday night.
The Cowboys have holes, for sure, but this is a talented team that will only get better as they get healthy and more experienced in Jason Garrett's philosophy.
I had high hopes for Dallas before the season, and they are playing like the team I expected to see.
9. Oakland Raiders
In my weekly NFL Picks column last week, I predicted the Oakland Raiders would run all over the New York Jet defense. And they did, but they may have lost their best player in the process.
Darren McFadden pulled up lame late in the game with a groin injury and could be questionable for this weekend's game. If so, Oakland's streak of wins will end.
The Raiders will have to find a way to develop a passing game at some point this year—defenses have to begin keying on McFadden on every play. The pressure is on Jason Campbell and co. to produce, or the Raiders' record will start going in the wrong direction.
I should note that I'm thisclose to moving the Raiders up into the top 8. I can't get their loss to the Bills out of my head, and I can't overlook their inability to throw the football. I hear you, Raider fans, but I need to see a little more before I can make the huge jump.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have beat a 2010 playoff team (Atlanta) while dropping a Week 1 game to the now 3-0 Detroit Lions. It's hard to say if the Buccaneers either beat up two really bad teams (Vikings and Falcons), while losing to one of the best teams in the league.
For the money I would take Tampa right now as a playoff contender. Tampa has too much talent at quarterback and on the defensive line to not be considered a threat through three weeks.
7. Houston Texans
Well, we have to move the Houston Texans down this week after an epic game against the New Orleans Saints that resulted in a loss.
Truth be told, no one deserved to lose that game. Both Houston and New Orleans put on a clinic in offensive football. It will go down as one of the best games of 2011, guaranteed.
Houston (and New Orleans) was exposed on defense, though. The secondary that had been so good through the first two weeks was beaten to a bloody pulp by Drew Brees. Don't feel bad, Houston, it's happened to many before you and will happen again to many after.
Houston needs a big rebound win this week against Pittsburgh at home to regain some lost confidence.
6. New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints made a statement with their win over the Houston Texans on Sunday—and for that they move up to the No. 6 spot in this week's power rankings.
I love what Drew Brees and the passing game have done here, but is anyone else concerned about the lack of defense and the complete neglect of a run game?
I keep hearing that "this is the week" the Saints give Mark Ingram the load at running back, but the Saints are running the ball just 24 times per game—tied for ninth fewest in the NFL right now. To win football games late the Saints have to be able to rely on a running back who can control the clock with power carries. I haven't seen that yet.
The defense is also questionable, which may be too nice of a ranking. New Orleans has allowed the third most points per game, only ahead of the win-less Chiefs and Vikings.
Sunday's win was a big one, but there are legitimate issues the Saints must address.
5. Baltimore Ravens
There was a rush to move the Baltimore Ravens too high after a Week 1 win over Pittsburgh, and then a snap judgement to drop them too low after their Week 2 loss to the Titans. Where should the Ravens be, realistically?
Right here at No. 5 seems the most logical. The Ravens beat a good team, lost to a surprising team and then won in impressive fashion over a horrible team (St. Louis) on Sunday. The Ravens are what we thought they were in the preseason—a very good, very talented team that should win 12 games.
Baltimore has a big test this week against the New York Jets. A win might prove them to be one of the few elite teams in the 2011 season.
4. Buffalo Bills
I don't know how to give more respect to the Buffalo Bills this week. The team did the impossible by beating the 2-0 New England Patriots in Buffalo. A huge congratulations is in order.
In three weeks of play I've picked Buffalo to win zero times. They're 3-0. Clearly, I've underestimated the power of the Bills.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was a favorite of mine last year, and there are tweets out there to prove it. He's in line for a huge payday and the title of "Franchise QB" in Buffalo.
Don't celebrate for too long, though, as Buffalo will travel to Cincinnati for what will be labeled as a trap game.
3. New England Patriots
For all those complaining last week about my ranking the New England Patriots No. 2 instead of first overall—this is why.
New England was playing great offensive football, but the defense was a clusterf*ck and the Buffalo Bills took advantage of that. Couple bad defense with an off day from Tom Brady and you have the recipe for disaster.
New England fans shouldn't be put on suicide watch just yet. This is still a damn good football team that should win many, many games over the next 13 weeks.
2. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions are for real, folks.
This team has won in comeback fashion, in a blowout and in impressive four quarter dog fights. What's not to love about this team?
The Detroit Lions of old would have rolled over after facing a 20-point halftime deficit. The 2011 Lions fought back and won in overtime against a tough division rival. That's the difference players like Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford make.
1. Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers have now won nine straight games, dating back to their Week 15 loss to the New England Patriots last season.
Needless to say, as long as Green Bay keeps winning, they'll stay here at No. 1. When you return 20 of 22 starters from a dominant Super Bowl-winning team, I think that's deserved.