Written by: Matthew Blunk
There has been plenty of movement in these NFL Power Rankings after four weeks, including two new Top 5 teams that jumped fifteen spots to get there. I bet you can't guess who #1 is.
Ranking) Team (Record, Previous Ranking/Difference from Previous Ranking)
32) Indianapolis Colts (0-8, #31/-1)
It seems Curtis Painter has learned very little in the three years he's played with Peyton Manning. Joseph Addai has had trouble staying healthy, and the offensive line is still a work in progress. Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Pat Angerer might be the only defenders worth keeping around beyond this season. The Colts have checked out and have nothing to play for, pride be damned. Jim Caldwell should have to answer for that. Bill Polian, too.
31) Miami Dolphins (0-7, #32/+1)
The Dolphins have yet to give up on their season. They've been a reasonably competitive team, with close losses to the Jets and Giants in recent weeks. Chad Henne is gone for the season (and perhaps for good), and ex-Panther Matt Moore has filled in without much drop-off. But the Miami offense still has no identity or direction, and the defense has mightily underachieved. Tony Sparano has overcome Jim Harbaugh, and now he may have to contend with Bill Cowher. But he has the Dolphins putting forth effort, and that cannot be ignored.
30) Arizona Cardinals (1-6, #26/-4)
Who gets the axe first: Ken Whisenhunt or Kevin Kolb? Smart money has to be on Whisenhunt, as the Cardinals went so far over the top to acquire Kolb that they're kind of stuck with him. Admittedly, it's still too early to determine whether or not Kolb will pan out in Arizona. But the Cardinals are not winning, and no. 4 is not playing well. And that secondary sure could use a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie-type playmaker right now...
29) St. Louis Rams (1-6, #30/+1)
The Cardinals had just won the World Series, and Steven Jackson was dominating a football game. At the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Sunday, it felt like 2006 again. Without Sam Bradford, the Rams notched their first win of the season against the New Orleans Saints. The St. Louis defensive line got consistent pressure on Drew Brees, something they need to keep up. The Rams also need Bradford to get back into action, so that he can continue his development at the quarterback position. They'll want to know if Bradford can be the guy, because the 2012 Draft could feature several solid QB prospects.
28) Denver Broncos (2-5, #27/-1)
The Tim Tebow Saga continues. The Broncos have partially committed to
Tebow as their starting QB, and now they must endure the ramifications.
Tebow is a work in progress. He needs time to develop and he needs
patient teaching. He might've gotten that with Josh McDaniels, but Pat
Bowlen nipped that in the bud. Tebow is in a young quarterback's no
man's land, stuck in limbo between coaching staffs. He won't get a fair
shot in Denver, since the new John Elway/John Fox regime did not draft
him. But it's not all despair in the Mile High City. Rookie Von Miller
has been terrific, and oldies-but-goodies Champ Bailey and D. J.
Williams are difference-makers again. Willis McGahee was enjoying
somewhat of a career resurgence before his injury as well. Denver would
be a great spot for Andrew Luck.
27) Seattle Seahawks (2-5, #28/+1)
And since we're projecting 2012 QB prospects to NFL teams, who doesn't want to see Pete Carroll reunite with Matt Barkley? It didn't happen with Matt Leinart, which was a colossal bummer, but it just has to happen with Barkley. The Seahawks don't have an actual NFL passer on their roster. Barkley would be an excellent fit in Seattle. You know your season is in the dumps when your spot in the post-Week Eight NFL Power Rankings is used up discussing potential draft prospects.
26) Cleveland Browns (3-4, #24/-2)
With Montario Hardesty and potentially Peyton Hillis out at running back, rumor has it that Cleveland is trying to lure Jim Brown out of retirement. Seriously though, the Browns are heading for a downward spiral. They can't effectively move the ball and struggle stopping the run. The Hillis factor and a good defense kept them in games last season, but they seem to have lost both in 2011.
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6, #29/+4)
The greatest upsets of all time: Broadway Joe and his Jets winning Super Bowl III over the Baltimore Colts; the Giants topping the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII; Forrest Gump somehow winning Best Picture over both The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction in 1994; and Jack Del Rio still serving as head coach of the Jaguars in 2011. Rookie Blaine Gabbert might be regressing, but ups and downs are to be expected. The Jaguars defense has been stout, with Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton and Tyson Alualu holding strong up front. But with just two playmakers on offense and an ineffective rookie QB, Jacksonville is destined for a top ten draft pick.
24) Washington Redskins (3-4, #20/-4)
It doesn't really seem to matter who the quarterback is in Washington - the Redskins aren't very good. Granted, they have had some unfortunate injuries. But injuries happen to every team in the league, every year (see Packers, 2010 Green Bay). John Beck is not an NFL-caliber passer, and neither is Rex Grossman. Mike Shanahan's tenure with the Redskins has been dismal thus far. Not only is hiring your son to be your offensive coordinator tacky, Mike, but it's also way too complicated. What happens when the offense becomes anemic and completely ineffective (check)? What happens when a change is necessary (check)? Shanahan won't fire his son, but will he accept it if Dan Snyder does? We may find out sooner than you think.
23) Carolina Panthers (2-6, #21/-2)
Cam Newton is one of the most exciting players in the league at the moment, making Panthers football watchable again. Not only that, but he's revived Steve Smith's career. Carolina only needs a couple of pieces on offense and to continue retooling the defense, and they'll be a winning team again. This has to be the most upbeat 2-6 team in history.
22) Minnesota Vikings (2-6, #25/+3)
No more retread quarterbacks in Minnesota! For the Vikings have a young signal caller, Christian Ponder, who has shown great promise in his first two starts. After the nightmarish 2010 season (and subsequent start to 2011), it is refreshing to see the Vikings play with a newfound vigor. If Ponder continues to develop at this rate, Minnesota should be right back in the thick of things next year with Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Kevin Williams, and Antoine Winfield.
21) Oakland Raiders (4-3, #12/-9)
How is T. J. Houshmandzadeh going to help? The Raiders have an impeccably high-ceiling group of receivers in Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, and Jacoby Ford. Where does the notorious malcontent Houshmandzadeh fit in? Carson Palmer couldn't envision the Raiders signing Terrell Owens, but he openly vouches for Houshmandzadeh? It's a questionable move for a team at somewhat of a crossroads, tied with the Chargers and Chiefs atop the AFC West.
20) Tennessee Titans (4-3, #19/-1)
The Titans are 4-3, including a Week Two win over Baltimore. But they also have a 41-7 loss to the Texans on their resumè. Chris Johnson has been a shell of a shell of his former self, and has deflected any blame away from himself. Tennessee is alive and well in the AFC South race, but Houston has more talent. For the Titans to win the division, they'll need Johnson to wake up and be a factor.
19) Kansas City Chiefs (4-3, #23/+4)
Monday night was a monumental fourth consecutive victory for the Chiefs, but there is plenty of work ahead. The Chargers and Raiders will not go down quietly. Down two of their best players in Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, the Chiefs have persevered and now have plenty of hope for the rest of the season. I, for one, hope they win the rest of their games, so that I may see Todd Haley's resulting rally beard.
18) Cincinnati Bengals (5-2, #22/+4)
If Cam Newton wasn't lighting up defenses and juking out fools in the open field, we'd be talking much more about Andy Dalton. The rookie quarterback out of TCU has been steady, completing over 62% of his passes for 1,479 yards, nine touchdowns, and seven interceptions. A. J. Green is also developing quickly. Even more under the radar is the Bengals offensive line. It is a strong veteran group that has done a terrific job supporting the young guns around them. Marvin Lewis has done an admirable job keeping this team together.
17) San Diego Chargers (4-3, #8/-9)
There was no early season slump for the Chargers this year. Instead, it seems, the slump will come at midseason. Philip Rivers has been the opposite of clutch, doing his finest Tony Romo impression with untimely interceptions and fumbles. People will be quick to blame Norv Turner for the Chargers' struggles, and that's fine. But he didn't fumble the game away. Turner has become an easy target over the years, and perhaps rightfully so. But the accountability must be spread further. Ryan Mathews has shown very little lead back potential, and even less durability. Vincent Jackson hasn't been the vertical threat he needs to be. Antonio Gates may never be the same after his foot injuries. And Marcus McNeill has struggled at left tackle. Indeed, Rivers and the Chargers need to break out of this funk before the "worst day ever" evolves into the "worst season ever."
16) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3, #16)
The Bucs have gotten a chance to rest after their rather unpleasant trip to London. But will Josh Freeman correct his tendency to press and force throws? LeGarrette Blount has been hurt, replaced by the capable Earnest Graham. But then Graham got hurt. Now Blount is ready to return, perhaps slated for every-down duty. Mike Williams' picture can be found on milk cartons across America right now. The guy is just not getting it done this season, which could explain at least part of Freeman's struggles. Tampa Bay is a middle-of-the-road team here at the midway point of the season, but they can still get better and compete for the NFC South crown.
15) Chicago Bears (4-3, #11/-4)
GM Jerry Angelo has to be carefully studying the Chris Johnson situation in Tennessee right about now. His own star running back, Matt Forté, is publicly conveying his feelings on his contract. Forté feels the Bears are happy to just use him up while they can, at an affordable price. Forté is one of the league's most underappreciated players, and quite possibly Chicago's best player. He isn't the kind of guy that would start dogging it after getting paid. And the Bears have to realize that this is a distraction that must be addressed sooner rather than later.
14) Atlanta Falcons (4-3, #15/-1)
The defending NFC South champs are chugging along. The Falcons have a great chance to repeat in their division, with New Orleans messing around with teams like the Rams and Tampa Bay experiencing growing pains. If Matt Ryan can guide this team back to the top, he'll be on his way to elite status. Winning a playoff game is a whole 'nother matter.
13) New York Jets (4-3, #13)
Plaxico Burress is finding himself in the Jets offense. But Santonio Holmes might be losing his way. Whatever the case, Rex Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer need to find harmony on offense, and that includes Shonn Greene. The Jets have counted on Greene to emerge as their lead back, a punishing power back they can rely on. That just hasn't happened yet. Greene might just be another LaMont Jordan. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
12) Dallas Cowboys (3-4, #9/-3)
America's Team is having another one of those seasons. After seeing the Romo-less Cowboys play with such heart and fire last year under then-interim coach Jason Garrett, you'd figure they would be a top-line team this year with Romo and full time Garrett. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are awesome, Jason Witten is one of the best, and DeMarco Murray could be another star-in-the-making. What's stopping Dallas from having an unstoppable offense? It could be Romo. Or the offensive line. Or Garrett. Or maybe the Cowboys are just inconsistent all over.
11) Buffalo Bills (5-2, #14/+3)
Canada's Team is having one of those seasons, a season ripe with hope and wonder. Buffalo has a terrific offense, but if the defense can continue to be opportunistic in forcing turnovers and set Marcell Dareus loose on quarterbacks, the Bills will have a very realistic shot at getting back to the playoffs for the first time since the Music City Miracle in 2000.
10) Houston Texans (5-3, #5/-5)
Houston has been without Andre Johnson for weeks, but that hasn't stopped them from scoring. Matt Schaub is making do with Kevin Walter, Owen Daniels, and Jacoby Jones. Having Arian Foster in your backfield probably helps. Foster is proving that last season was no fluke, running with the same burst and showing same versatility and ability. Wade Phillips may be an iffy (at best) head coach, but as a defensive coordinator, he's one of the best. Phillips has transformed the Texans defense from MST3K bad to respectable in eight games.
9) Philadelphia Eagles (3-4, #10/+1)
Andy Reid has to commit to using LeSean McCoy more often. McCoy is a dangerous weapon at running back, perfectly complementing the big-play passing game. The Eagles have so many ways to attack opposing defenses it's ridiculous. And the improvement they've made defensively has to make the rest of the league nervous. The Eagles are not dead yet.
8) Detroit Lions (6-2, #6/-2)
The Lions avoided any kind of Tebow Trap and took care of business in Denver after dropping two in a row. Matthew Stafford may actually finish an NFL season. Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in football. And the defense, anchored by Ndamukong Suh, is the best it has been in years. But the Lions can't run the ball. Jahvid Best is out indefinitely after suffering his second concussion of the year. Detroit wants to be particularly careful with Best, as he has a rough history with concussions. They will need him by Thanksgiving, when they host the best team in football.
7) Baltimore Ravens (5-2, #3/-4)
Cam Cameron has one of the most talented tailbacks in the game in Ray Rice. So why does it seem like the Ravens hardly ever center their offensive strategy around him? Just one of the many things that makes Baltimore the NFL's most frustrating team. The defense is still playing great, but the Ravens need to utilize Rice to the fullest if they want to get anywhere.
6) New York Giants (5-2, #7/+1)
Eli Manning is having an excellent season, and the Giants are finally getting healthy. But an enigmatic inconsistency lingers. The Giants aren't putting bad teams away. They lost to the Redskins in Week One, they lost to Seattle at home in Week Four, and they just had to come from behind to beat the winless Dolphins. Ahmad Bradshaw has a broken bone in his foot, but there's a chance he won't miss any time at all. The G-Men have an impossibly tough schedule ahead, so we will learn all we need to know about them very soon.
5) New Orleans Saints (5-3, #4/-1)
Drew Brees and the Saints are as explosive as ever, with Jimmy Graham emerging as an elite tight end and Darren Sproles making huge plays as the scatback. But there are major issues with their defense. Gregg Williams' squad is not causing turnovers and wreaking havoc like we're used to seeing. Adjustments will be made, and the Saints will be playing well into January.
4) New England Patriots (5-2, #2/-2)
The Patriots, a franchise once known for dominant defense led by guys like Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, and Rodney Harrison, can't seem to stop anybody anymore. Bill Belichick's defensive unit has been painfully average for what seems like years now. I thought Albert Haynesworth would make a significant impact in New England this season, but he's hardly even seen the field (at least he passed the conditioning test). Jerod Mayo is nearing full strength now, and that will help. But for the Patriots to win in the playoffs, they'll need their defense to shape up. Maybe they could move Chad Ochocinco to safety.
3) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2, #18/+15)
The biggest jump in the NFL Power Rankings is a tie between the Steelers and 49ers at +15. Pittsburgh is coming off a potential season-defining victory over the Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger is playing as well as he ever has, in spite of a poor offensive line and inconsistent running game. He's used to these shortcomings, though, as he's had an average OL for years now (and been to two Super Bowls playing behind them, winning one). The "Steel Curtain" defense may not be elite anymore, but Dick LeBeau and co. still get the job done when they need to.
2) San Francisco 49ers (6-1, #17/+15)
The Niners keep rolling on, winning games without any hiccups. Braylon Edwards returning to the lineup is a great help, especially after the Josh Morgan injury. Michael Crabtree is finally becoming a dependable target for Alex Smith. But San Francisco is a running team, and Frank Gore is not slowing down. And rookie Kendall Hunter is a nice change of pace. Defensively, San Francisco has guys like Carlos Rogers and rookie Aldon Smith stepping up. Take notice, NFL: Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers are for real.
1) Green Bay Packers (7-0, #1)
The champs are still undefeated, and I'm not sure there's a team out there that can beat them. The Packers might have to beat themselves to lose this season. Under the watch of Aaron Rodgers, that could be hard to do.
That's all for now. Everything will be a lot clearer in the next chapter of NFL Power Rankings, after Week 12. The pretenders will be exposed, and the contenders will be crowned. See you then!
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