NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Heading into Week 4?
There's always some separation three weeks into a new NFL season, and a clear difference between the rising teams and those already spiraling.
That is true this year too, with a chasm between the 3-0 Denver Broncos, with their quarterback whose career suddenly isn't on its deathbed, and the 0-3 Chicago Bears. Ditto for the canyon between the undefeated Arizona Cardinals and the winless New Orleans Saints.
But what if I told you a team that advanced to the playoffs in 2014 and bounced the Pittsburgh Steelers is winless, too? Meet your 2015 Baltimore Ravens, an 0-3 team for the first time in franchise history.
Then there's another team that won only seven games in 2014 and hasn't lost yet. Go ahead and meet your 2015 Carolina Panthers.
Let's try to make sense of the madness with some ranked power. Remember, these power rankings aren't the standings. Instead, what follows is an analysis of how each team stacks up based on performance, regardless of what its record says. It's subjective, sure, but agreeing on everything (or anything) isn't fun. Right?
Also, I probably hate your favorite team.
32. San Francisco 49ers (1-2)
Last Week: 29
This Week: 32
Remember way back in Week 1 when the San Francisco 49ers supposedly erased an offseason exodus? It turns out that maybe, just maybe, they were taking advantage of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that night, a second-year passer who was having an opening-game stinker.
Since then the 49ers have been exactly what many expected: a team with multiple defensive holes and a quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who needs to halt his regression quickly this season or face an uncertain future.
The unraveling is starting fast for both the 49ers and Kaepernick. The quarterback threw a pick-six on two of his first four pass attempts during San Francisco's latest drubbing, this time losing 47-7 to the division rival Arizona Cardinals. Kaepernick finished with four interceptions, and now his team has lost its last two games by a combined score of 90-25.
There's a really good chance the 49ers will be an awful football team in 2015.
31. Chicago Bears (0-3)
Last Week: 31
This Week: 31
No sane-minded individual expected the Chicago Bears to enter CenturyLink Field—an unpleasant place where the Seattle Seahawks have lost only twice during the regular season since Russell Wilson became their quarterback—and win for the first time in 2015. You have a better chance of scratching a winning lottery ticket while your hole-in-one trickles in on the 18th hole.
But although the Bears make this hard to believe, it's possible to lose while still looking respectable. Though in fairness, doing that is difficult with Jimmy Clausen as your quarterback. He passed for all of 63 yards at 3.7 yards per attempt in Jay Cutler's absence.
The result was pretty predictable then for a team entering flame-out mode. Chicago gained only seven first downs and lost 26-0, getting shutout for the first time since 2002.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)
Last Week: 30
This Week: 30
There are times when finding encouragement in small victories is wise for your mental health as a football fan. That's especially true when your team is starting a rookie quarterback.
So squint a little as you look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loss to the Houston Texans and note the positive signs. Jameis Winston, the rookie quarterback in question, didn't take a single sack even while playing against a team that has defensive end J.J. Watt on its roster. Winston has gone down seven times over his first three games, and beyond that he was also sacked seven times throughout the preseason, despite limited action.
Wide receiver Mike Evans busting out for 101 yards on seven catches after missing time with an injury is swell, too. Now if the Bucs could just do something about scoring zero second-half points while allowing 13, they'd be all set.
29. Washington Redskins (1-2)
Last Week: 27
This Week: 29
Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins is the worst kind of efficient. He's become really, terrifyingly good at optimizing his chances to throw interceptions.
I often give an update on this number and only because it keeps getting worse. With two more interceptions Thursday night during a loss to the New York Giants, Cousins has now thrown two-plus picks in a game 10 times. And through sheer determination, he's done that even while starting only 12 career games.
He has worse ball security than a bear playing tetherball.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)
Last Week: 28
This Week: 28
I'd drop the Jacksonville Jaguars further, but often when we get this low, deciding which team should be considered more atrocious than another is like picking which dirty clothing item smells worse. We've all been there during dark college-dorm times, and there are no good choices.
Similar to the Chicago Bears, no one who's watched a football game expected the Jaguars to beat the New England Patriots. But also similar to the Bears, it shouldn't be a tall task to look competitive while losing.
It was for the Jaguars Sunday, and their defense that was pummeled for 51 points, the highest single-game total in franchise history. Offensively, they averaged 2.8 yards per carry and 5.3 per play. They were abysmal in every aspect of the game.
27. Houston Texans (1-2)
Last Week: 32
This Week: 27
A bad team beat, well, another deeply flawed team when the Houston Texans won 19-9 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not having a zero in the win column is always a victory for pride, though the Texans mostly jumped up in these rankings because other teams were more deserving of a basement burial.
Beyond moral victories, the real encouragement for the Texans was found in their rushing offense. Running back Alfred Blue broke loose for 139 yards on 31 carries, suddenly giving quarterback Ryan Mallett some much-needed support. Even after Blue's outburst the Texans are stilling averaging only 3.8 yards per carry this season.
26. New Orleans Saints (0-3)
Last Week: 25
This Week: 26
Somewhat amazingly, the New Orleans Saints' loss Sunday can't be placed on backup quarterback Luke McCown's arm. He's now followed a perfect script laid out by his brand of choice and has shown that, yes, when given a chance backups can really shine.
McCown attempted 38 passes while filling in for Drew Brees, and only seven didn't hit the mark (81.6 completion percentage). He finished averaging 8.2 yards per throw while spreading the ball around to nine pass-catchers.
The problem for New Orleans during a loss to the Carolina Panthers was familar: a lopsided third-quarter scoreboard.
The Saints have now started the second half having been outscored 23-6 over the past two weeks.
25. Baltimore Ravens (0-3)
Last Week: 22
This Week: 25
The Baltimore Ravens remain at the highest basement step in these rankings because, despite another loss, and despite doing nothing but losing so far, there's still a heartbeat and solid talent core with this team.
It's enough to believe in the nearly impossible and throw a sawbuck down on Baltimore becoming only the sixth team in league history to start the season 0-3 and then make the playoffs.
It's hard to declare them down on the mat to stay after veteran wide receiver Steve Smith erupted for 186 receiving yards during Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The ageless burner has now gone bonkers for 336 yards over his past two games.
But another element of the offense was concerning Sunday and uncharacteristic for Ravens football. They totaled only 36 rushing yards, with the worst thud coming from lead running back Justin Forsett, who averaged 1.3 yards per carry.
24. Tennessee Titans (1-2)
Last Week: 23
This Week: 24
The Tennessee Titans had no business losing a football game Sunday when they scored 27 points between the third and fourth quarters against the Indianapolis Colts. A 27-14 lead heading into the final 15 minutes should have been more than enough for even a mediocre defense to hold.
Of course, 21 fourth-quarter points then followed, and the Titans couldn't connect on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game with 51 seconds left. The result was a potentially shattering loss to an AFC South rival, a division where being only slightly better than .500 could mean playoff football.
23. Cleveland Browns (1-2)
Last Week: 21
This Week: 23
I was bullish on the Cleveland Browns in this space a week ago, assuming and/or hoping Johnny Manziel had done enough to remain their starting quarterback. He still has his flaws, but Manziel's dynamic athleticism alone gives the Browns a far better chance to win each week.
But since he's evidently been poisoned by the factory of sadness, Browns head coach Mike Pettine re-inserted Josh McCown under center after he recovered from his concussion. Pettine then received what he deserved after that decision when McCown was indecisive while taking five sacks, fumbling once and also throwing the game-sealing interception during a loss to the Oakland Raiders.
His poor play came against a Raiders pass defense that's now allowed 969 yards over three games.
22. Oakland Raiders (2-1)
Last Week: 26
This Week: 22
We now live in a world where the Oakland Raiders have won two straight games. That's already strange enough, even if those wins have come against the stumbling Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, two teams that have won a combined one game.
But what really tells us the times are changing is how the Raiders went about winning their latest game on Sunday against the Browns. They had two young offensive players who accounted for 130-plus yards each: rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper (eight receptions for 134 yards, with 54 yards coming on the first drive) and running back Latavius Murray (26 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown).
Cooper's eye-opening output came when he was matched up against Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden for much of the afternoon. The fourth overall pick in 2015 has now posted 100-plus receiving yards in two of his first three NFL games.
21. Miami Dolphins (1-2)
Last Week: 17
This Week: 21
When the Miami Dolphins gave defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh enough money to buy an entire fleet of South Beach yachts, it seemed like a safe assumption their defense would turn opposing quarterbacks into dust. Suh led his position with 57 total pressures in 2014, per Pro Football Focus, and he's been slotted alongside Cameron Wake, who posted 35 sacks over a 47-game span prior to this season.
Yet somehow through a bizarre magic trick that makes an entire unit disappear, the Dolphins have recorded only a single sack after three games. The latest dud came against the Buffalo Bills, during a 41-14 pulverizing loss, when quarterback Tyrod Taylor was allowed the comfort to complete 21 of his 29 pass attempts, and three of those completions went for touchdowns.
20. Detroit Lions (0-3)
Last Week: 15
This Week: 20
The Detroit Lions are confusing.
Much like the Ravens, they have enough talent to become one of the few winless teams after starting 0-3 to still advance into the playoffs. That's why I'm showing a faint belief here by dropping them far, but not too far just yet. The confusion, however, lies in wide receiver Calvin Johnson and why one of the league's most feared pass-catchers has faded from Detroit's offense.
He led all Lions receivers with eight receptions for 77 yards during Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos. That's nice, but it carries little impact when he's averaging 9.95 yards per reception this season.
Johnson is effective as a physically imposing deep threat, and overall throughout his career he's averaged 16.2 yards per catch. Now that element of Detroit's offense has nearly been erased because quarterback Matthew Stafford has little time to look downfield and is taking a weekly beating.
19. New York Giants (1-2)
Last Week: 24
This Week: 19
Avoiding boneheaded mistakes proved to be far too difficult for the New York Giants before Week 3. That wasn't an issue during Thursday night's win over the Washington redskins, when they led by 19 points late, and the fourth quarter essentially became garbage time.
The focus in the days since has largely been on wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and his 30-yard touchdown snatch that cracked the game open. Beckham is the sort of guy who quite rightly attracts attention, but the true encouragement can be found in the Giants' run defense.
In Week 2 a steamrolling Redskins rushing offense posted 182 yards on the St. Louis Rams. The Giants held that same offense to only 88 rushing yards.
18. St. Louis Rams (1-2)
Last Week: 18
This Week: 18
Defensively the St. Louis Rams swing a heavy hammer, and tackle Aaron Donald is the engine driving that unit with his ripping, mauling and swimming through stunned offensive linemen. Incredibly, he's recorded 3.5 sacks and 18 tackles over three games.
But offensively? They Rams just look...sleepy.
They had moments of success during a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday that was closer than it should have been because of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's injury. Overall, though, the Rams offense lacks a game-breaking element, particularly in the backfield. St. Louis running backs combined for 37 yards on 16 carries during Sunday's loss (2.3 YPC).
A savior could be coming, as first-round pick Todd Gurley made his debut after recovering from a torn ACL. He was limited to only six carries but seemed ready for a larger workload.
17. San Diego Chargers (1-2)
Last Week: 16
This Week: 18
San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers discovered that life without both of his top tight ends—Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green—isn't much fun and can be pretty painful.
Gates entered Week 3 having served half of his four-game suspension, while Green sat out with a concussion. That left Rivers without his two primary go-to options amid chaos.
Without them Rivers was often lost, and he faced intense pocket pressure during a 31-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He's now been sacked four times in back-to-back games.
16. Carolina Panthers (3-0)
Last Week: 20
This Week: 16
Without repeating too much of what I wrote about at length, let's acknowledge the Carolina Panthers have benefited from a cushy early schedule featuring the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and the injury-riddled New Orleans Saints.
But then let's also acknowledge how little that matters, because after the Panthers' only wide receiver above replacement-level went down in training camp (Kelvin Benjamin), it was widely assumed they would be among those pushovers.
They're not, and it's largely because of quarterback Cam Newton's continued brilliance during desperate times. His 13-yard touchdown run Sunday against the Saints turned out to be much-needed insurance, and it came a week after Newton connected with Corey Brown for a similarly critical fourth-quarter touchdown to pad a lead.
Newton keeps dragging his team to wins, despite the talent-depraved offense around him.
15. New York Jets (2-1)
Last Week: 13
This Week: 15
The New York Jets are trying to win games with a punishing defense, and an offense that can punish, well, the win column. Too often the great work of one is undone by the other, and we saw that Sunday during a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The defense bent a little, but it provided a chance to win while pitching a second-half shutout. But the Jets offense proved to be the truly resilient opponent when wide receiver Brandon Marshall attempted a lateral in his own territory. Shortly after that a 17-0 deficit became 24-0.
The hole was too deep to climb from, and interceptions by Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on back-to-back fourth-quarter drives didn't exactly help matters.
14. Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
Last Week: 6
This Week: 14
The first game without both quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant went better than expected at first for the Dallas Cowboys. And then the ammunition ran out.
Backup quarterback Brandon Weeden's only job is to look competent while staying out of the way, as whoever is in the backfield churns out yards. He did that, and the Cowboys averaged six yards per carry behind the bulldozing force of the league's best offensive line.
The difficulty, though, was a predictable one: What happens when the rushing offense is suddenly stymied, and a game gets into shootout mode? The answer for Dallas was pure nothingness.
The Cowboys were outscored 22-0 in the second half of a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. They were unable to answer Atlanta's offensive fireworks centered around the dominance of Julio Jones, their stud receiver.
That could become the Cowboys' typical fate until Romo and Bryant return.
13. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)
Last Week: 11
This Week: 13
If you're in a forgiving mood it's possible to look past the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive collapse Monday night. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a way of making pretty much every defense he faces look foolish. He exploited favorable matchups, especially while targeting Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper.
It's still troubling that the Chiefs have faced two top-tier quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks (Rodgers and the Broncos' Petyon Manning), and given up a combined 69 points. But the real concern lies on the other side of the ball.
Kansas City's defense was put in vulnerable situations too often Monday night. The Chiefs trailed 31-14 after three quarters, a deep, dark hole made possible by an offense that gained just 94 yards in the first half. In that same half the Chiefs recorded only four first downs.
This is not a team built to come from behind. And coming from behind will be necessary more often when the offense can't sustain any early drives, leaving the defense gassed.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)
Last Week: 14
This Week: 12
The Philadelphia Eagles hover in the same position this week because they offered equal doses of reasons to feel hopeful and reasons to feel dread.
They didn't plunge too deep yet because I still stubbornly believe there's enough talent on the roster head coach/general manager Chip Kelly assembled to make his offense click. A fine example of that roster depth came Sunday when running back DeMarco Murray sat out due to a hamstring injury and then Ryan Mathews powered his way to 128 yards from scrimmage.
That's nice, but this was less than nice: 50.0.
That was quarterback Sam Bradford's completion percentage. Kelly's offense is supposed to suit his skill set, as in the past Bradford has shown high-level accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws. We're still waiting on Bradford to shed his shakiness, and for now the Eagles are left with a wildly inconsistent offense.
It's an offense that put up 21 points in one quarter Sunday (the second one) and just three throughout the rest of the game.
11. Minnesota Vikings (2-1)
Last Week: 12
This Week: 11
When do we start to worry about Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater? The NFL season's warp speed means the days of shrugging while saying, "It's early," fade fast, and there's reason to be concerned about the sophomore quarterback, despite the Vikings' easy win over San Diego.
It was a vintage Vikings victory that featured a healthy diet of running back Adrian Peterson, who finished with 126 rushing yards. But Bridgewater ended his afternoon with a passer rating of only 50.9, and over three games he's now averaging 168.3 passing yards.
10. Atlanta Falcons (3-0)
Last Week: 19
This Week: 10
I was slowly inching the Atlanta Falcons along in my weekly editions of ranked NFL power. It's wise to tip-toe around overreactions early, and I hesitated to fully embrace the Falcons after wins over a Philadelphia Eagles team only now climbing from its own wreckage, and the New York Giants with their late-game foolishness.
The Falcons took advantage of another challenge made easier Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys were minus quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant. But the opponent is quickly becoming irrelevant, because no one can cover Falcons all-universe receiver Julio Jones.
Jones used Cowboys defensive backs as his personal speed bag, finishing with 164 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions. He's now logged 440 yards over three games, and his 34 catches are the most ever during a three-game span to start a season. The NFL isn't supposed to be this easy.
9. Indianapolis Colts (1-2)
Last Week: 9
This Week: 9
The Indianapolis Colts managed to squeak out a win. But they were one Tennessee Titans two-point conversion away from possibly heading to overtime and flirting with an 0-3 death sentence.
The old Andrew Luck, with his precise ball placement and deep accuracy, returned for the fourth quarter. That's when the Colts quarterback accumulated 141 of his 260 passing yards, rallying his team to 21 points in a comeback win.
However, he also threw two interceptions, giving him a league-leading seven this season.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
Last Week: 7
This Week: 8
An uncertain future leads to a slight fall for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Life without your three-time Pro Bowl quarterback for at least one month could derail a season.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger left Sunday's win over the Rams with what at first looked like a potentially season-ending knee injury. He twisted awkwardly after safety Mark Barron sacked him, and quickly the worst was feared.
Then just as quickly, those nightmares ended, with Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reporting Roethlisberger suffered an MCL sprain, avoiding damage to the ACL. A crippling injury blow was dodged, but the Steelers will still be without their offensive anchor for, at minimum, games against the Ravens, Chargers, Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals.
Roethlisberger was one of only two quarterbacks to average 300-plus passing yards per game in 2014, and he threw 32 touchdown passes. Meanwhile, his replacement, Michael Vick, is now a 35-year-old journeyman who's plenty brittle himself, and has only completed one full 16-game season in his career.
7. Buffalo Bills (2-1)
Last Week: 10
This Week: 7
Maybe workers can resume construction on that Tyrod Taylor statue now? Here's to hoping the blueprint wasn't burned, because after a stumble against the New England Patriots, lowlighted by three interceptions and eight sacks, the Buffalo Bills' answer at quarterback looked at ease again in Week 3.
Taylor is in his natural environment when rolling out and asked to make throws on the run. He did that often during a win over the Miami Dolphins while completing 72.4 percent of his throws.
The 26-year-old also threw three touchdown passes without an interception and without being sacked. Soon enough his Week 2 woes against the Patriots could look like a minor blip and far from the norm for Taylor.
6. Seattle Seahawks (1-2)
Last Week: 8
This Week: 6
The Bears are a steaming hot mess, especially without quarterback Jay Cutler. But don't let that cloud the significance of what the Seattle Seahawks accomplished defensively Sunday.
Anytime a team with professional football players is held to only 63 passing yards and 146 total yards, that's a strong signal the league's ultimate juggernaut defense has returned. And it's not a coincidence that performance came days after safety Kam Chancellor rejoined his team, ending a contract holdout.
In 2014 Chancellor finished with a passer rating allowed in coverage of 75.3, per PFF, and he also recorded 43 defensive stops. He's the linchpin in Seattle's secondary.
5. Arizona Cardinals (3-0)
Last Week: 4
This Week: 5
The Arizona Cardinals' fall only by default. The Denver Broncos leapfrogged them, but they still look like a team that will stick around in the top five for a long, long time.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has factored heavily into the Cardinals' surge and did again during a 47-7 rout of the 49ers. At 32 years old Fitzgerald is supposed to be evaporating before our very eyes. Instead he's already scored five times while amassing 333 receiving yards.
4. Denver Broncos (3-0)
Last Week: 5
This Week: 4
It seems that shifting back to a shotgun-oriented offense suits Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning just fine. Catering to what's made a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback successful just might be a good idea.
Prior to a win over the Detroit Lions Sunday night, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported the Broncos would be shifting back to a primarily shotgun offense (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk). New Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak prefers his quarterbacks to operate from under center. But Manning can more effectively make pre-snap reads and control the game while in shotgun formation.
When Manning can win the mental game, he can win on the scoreboard, too. Both of those things happened Sunday night when he finished with a passer rating of 101.7 and completed key deep throws to wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (45 yards), and Emmanuel Sanders (34 yards).
3. Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)
Last Week: 3
This Week: 3
If the Cincinnati Bengals don't win the AFC North, their season will be a disappointing failure.
They've already reached that point after Week 3 in a slowly crumbling division. The bottom-feeding Ravens are still without a win, the Browns will remain rudderless until Manziel is named their starting quarterback, and the Steelers are suddenly facing a month without Roethlisberger.
Meanwhile, the Bengals are undefeated, and somehow quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown only one interception. This is your team of AFC North destiny in 2015.
2. Green Bay Packers (3-0)
Last Week: 2
This Week: 2
Every week I plunk a placeholder line in this space that doubles as a teaser for the two teams set to tussle Monday night.
Usually it comes in the form of a question, and it read as follows for the Green Bay Packers this week: "Will the Green Bay Packers keep torching defenses while showcasing the fortress of offensive depth and talent they've built?"
About that depth: There's so much of it that during a 38-28 win over the Kansas City Chiefs when quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw five touchdown passes, James Jones led all Packers receivers with 139 yards on seven receptions.
This is when I remind you that Packers general manager Ted Thompson scooped Jones up off the scrap heap following training camp, and an offseason when both the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants deemed him unfit for their wide receiver depth charts.
The explosion from Jones—who averaged only 41.6 receiving yards per game in 2014—came during an evening that started out disastrously, with fellow Packers receiver Davante Adams re-aggravating a high ankle sprain in the first quarter. Later NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported he'll miss some time.
Maybe Adams' absence will hurt eventually, especially when it's combined with Jordy Nelson missing the season due to his torn ACL. But it's becoming impossibly hard to see the Packers offense hitting any sort of injury wall after a night when Randall Cobb scored three times, and Rodgers carved up the Chiefs while averaging 9.5 passing yards per attempt.
1. New England Patriots (3-0)
Last Week: 1
This Week: 1
The New England Patriots were expected to throw a hefty haymaker at the Jacksonville Jaguars. And yeah, that's pretty much what happened as running back LeGarrette Blount went into full Jerome Bettis mode with three one-yard touchdowns, and quarterback Tom Brady had his third straight game with two-plus touchdown passes.
Brady has completed 72.2 percent of his passes while leading an offense averaging 39.7 points per game. The Patriots are scary.