We are now one week into the NFL season and already the we're getting hints as to who may be the contenders and who may be the pretenders. 2010 playoff teams like the Falcons, Chiefs and Steelers looked absolutely terrible while some of the worst teams from last year like Buffalo, Carolina and Cincy looked good to competent. There's no doubt that this abbreviated offseason has served as somewhat of an equalizer and proved that teams with stable organizations and most importantly, quarterbacks, were the ones least affected by the lockout.
There may be some surprises in my first rank here, but I want to make it clear that I did this with no pre-conditions. I never did a preseason rank, so I tried not to let my expectations for these teams color where I placed them. This rank is weighted heavily on how the teams looked this weekend and less so on where I think they may end up come January. With the offseason being what it was and with so much player movement, I honestly think that's the only way you can really do a power ranking this early in the season.
1) Green Bay Packers - We'll ignore for this one week how atrocious their defense looked this week. The Packers came into this year as the kings of the hill and still are after a 42 point performance on opening night against New Orleans.
2) New England Patriots - Did you know that since the merger, QBs who throw for greater than 500 yards in a game are on the losing end more often than not (4-5)? Not Tom Brady, who threw for 517 yards in a win over Miami. The question is whether their defense was taking it easy in a blowout or are they just not very good?
4) Baltimore Ravens - They flat out dominated the Steelers and it was no fluke. Seven forced turnovers? They could run away with that division.
5) Chicago Bears - The Bears are a team that's perennially underrated and forgotten about. This was a team in the NFC championship game and they were an afterthought this year. Not anymore, they flat out worked a popular preseason Super Bowl pick, Atlanta.
7) Buffalo Bills - The most complete and total destruction this week did not come from the Texans, Eagles or Pats... It came from the Buffalo Bills who crushed the reigning AFC West champs in Arrowhead. Everyone thought they'd be in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, but at least for this week they're a deserved top 10 team.
8) Washington Redskins - Things start to get compacted here around #7 and #8. Theses teams could all arguably be interchangeable. However, the Skins were just a bit more impressive overall in their win over the G-Men. I'm still not sure I buy Rex Grossman and that offense as anything to be scared of, but I think their defense is for real.
9) Detroit Lions - They win the "Up And Coming NFC Team Bowl" on the road in Tampa and looked good doing it. Their offense will continue to get better as Matt Stafford improves and stays healthy and their defense only gave up 10 points to the Tampa offense.
10) New York Jets - I probably struggled more about where to put the Jets than any other team. Let's be honest, Tony Romo basically let them back in that game single-handedly with two unforced errors in the fourth quarter. That said, it's still impressive to put up 17 points in the 4th quarter and it doesn't matter if the other team makes boneheaded plays if you don't capitalize on them.
11) San Diego Chargers - We should probably take the fact that San Diego only had one terrible half early in the season as a sign of progress. This is a team with a history of inexplicably bad starts and they looked like they were in for another after falling down 17-7 at the half. Unlike last year however, Phillip Rivers and co rebounded, taking care of business at home against an inferior opponent.
12) New Orleans Saints - Shootouts are always so exciting that you tend to forgot the bad of a team after one. It was great watching Drew Brees nearly lead the Saints back to an improbable win over the Pack, but he didn't... and the New Orleans defense gave up 41 points. That said, the game they played that night was good enough to beat probably 27 teams in this league.
13) Arizona Cardinals - This was really a toss up between the Cards and Niners. Both got wins at home to start the season, but I went with the Cards because I actually think Carolina is a better team than Seattle right now.
14) Oakland Raiders - It was not a pretty win, but it was a good one on the road against their hated rivals in Denver. The Raiders D sacked Kyle Orton five times and the combo of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush just ran it down Denver's throat, but the fact that Jason Campbell simply isn't the answer at QB is going to be their Achilles heel all year. Oh and they dumped Gatorade on their coach after the win. After the opener? Really?
15) San Francisco 49ers - That's not a slight to the 49ers though, who will be happy to start the season over the reigning NFC West champs. However, here's the hidden issue with San Fran. Of the 33 points they scored on Sunday,
none only one came from an offensive touchdown. They got two kick returns for TDs from Ted Ginn and five David Akers FGs. They aren't beating good teams relying on field goals and hoping for special teams to generate points.
16) Dallas Cowboys - They were probably a half quarter away from being a top 7 team this week, but Tony Romo decided to Tony Romo the game away and here they are in the middle of the pack. Still, as much as the ending must sting, it has to be somewhat encouraging for Dallas to know that they outplayed the Jets, who have made two straight AFC title games, at home for the majority of that game. Those won't be the last stupid Tony Romo turnovers this season, but he isn't going to do that every week.
17) Carolina Panthers - If you just went by the reactions of Panther fans this week, you would have thought they won on Sunday. They didn't, but they did see a record breaking performance from Cam Newton in his NFL debut. And smart football fans know that if you get that franchise QB, winning will follow. There's no doubt that Newton will have his struggles this year, but that's about as good a debut as you could ever hope for from the #1 overall pick.
18) Cincinnati Bengals - Although I think there's no chance that they stay this high, you have to credit the Bengals for going on the road and beating Cleveland, who some saw as a possible up and comer in the AFC. It should be interesting to see what they do at QB. If they don't start Bruce Gradkowski over Andy Dalton, that can only be seen as a sign that they're not really trying their hardest to win this year.
19) Atlanta Falcons - Everyone's darling in the NFC for the past two seasons laid an egg on opening weekend without a blowout loss in Chicago. They won't be that bad the rest of this year and will play better at home, but their defense is still just ok and their offense is still too conservative. It's hard to see that changing. This Sunday's game against the Eagles becomes a must win for them now.
20) Pittsburgh Steelers - This is the "benefit of the doubt" section of our rankings. Atlanta, Pittsburgh & NYG all looked terrible in week one, but were much better last year. So you'd think they can turn it around. The thing with Pittsburgh is that their defense is old and their offensive line stinks... but both were true last year and they made the Super Bowl.
21) New York Giants - Of the three "benefit of the doubt" teams, I believe in the Giants the least. They lost good players in free agency while adding very little (and the players they did add like David Bass were awful), plus injuries have just decimated them. It could really be a long season for New York.
22) Jacksonville Jaguars - The Jags are the lowest team to have gotten a win in our countdown and frankly I don't think they did much more than beat another bad team.
23) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs played a paper thin schedule last year that kept them in the playoff hunt and had people talking about them as an up and comer in the NFC. This year their schedule and their division will be tougher.
24) Miami Dolphins - Tom Brady absolutely picked them apart and their defense looks atrocious, but Chad Henne and their offense actually put together a solid outing. Most of the teams lower on this list weren't good on either side of the ball.
25) Denver Broncos - Honestly, I can't say as though I know exactly what I think about the Broncos. Obviously they lost at home to a divisional rival to start there year so that's a big negative for them, but after getting beaten up for most of the game, Kyle Orton and co kept getting back up and answering the bell. There is something to be said for that, but I could just as easily say that they were outplayed more than the score indicates.
26) Tennessee Titans - They played better in the second half, but were blanked in the first. They won't be very good this year, but Matt Hasselbeck may do enough to keep them good enough to miss out on the top QBs in next year's draft...
27) St. Louis Rams - The Rams aren't much different from the team that ended last year. Still a dink and dunk offense where Sam Bradford doesn't appear to have the desire or weapons to challenge teams downfield. Plus, with Danny Amendola probably done for the year, Bradford has lost his safety blanket. Add in the injuries to Bradford, Steven Jackson and Ron Bartell and it was pretty much a nightmare start for a team that had so much optimism coming into this year.
28) Seattle Seahawks - Everyone kind of laughed when the Seahawks let Matt Hasselbeck walk, stayed out of the Kevin Kolb & Kyle Orton sweepstakes and opted to go for Tarvaris Jackson as their QB. While he did manage two TD passes, he also turned the ball over three times... so the decision still makes no sense. Unless they're tanking for a high pick, in which case it's working out great. Their defense was able to limit the 49ers offense to only FGs, but then again... it was the 49ers offense.
29) Kansas City Chiefs - They didn't get included with the benefit of the doubt teams, partly because of how awful they really were and partly because they were kind of overrated last year anyway. What's worse, they lost Eric Berry for the year. They might be settling back in the basement after their one good year.
30) Cleveland Browns - Embarrassing loss at home to the Bengals, who many had pegged as the worst team in the NFL this season. The number of mental mistakes on the part of the Browns in this game was almost comical and certainly doesn't reflect well on rookie head coach Pat Shurmur, who's debut was such a disaster that even he himself was flagged for a penalty (not a joke).
31) Indianapolis Colts - Most pundits are using this game as proof of how valuable Peyton Manning is to the Colts. While admittedly the dropoff from Manning to Kerry Collins just signed off the street is almost impossible to quantify... I'll submit that the Colts wouldn't have been all that great even with Manning this year. Their defense was bad last year and is worse this season. Their offensive line is more suspect than its been in a decade and their offensive weapons are more ordinary than people realize.
32) Minnesota Vikings - Donovan McNabb threw for 39 yards in this game. He did not leave the game due to injury, he was not benched. They literally could just manage only 39 yards through the air. They only gained 187 yards total.