The Week #4 Power Rankings are so different than the ones I did in week #1, it's amazing. The difference is vastly increased when you consider that I didn't even make this week's ranking at all. The great and powerful Eric Nagel joins me this week, and the team positions chosen are his. We all know Eric as the great front page writer he is, but many don't know that he and I have lots in common. No Eric, I'm not your father. Yes, we have the same Yugo-shaped birthmark on our butts, yet I'm sure that's waaaay more common than you think. We're bother fabulously handsome and vastly intelligent though, so maybe a DNA test? Hmm... SON! Give us a hug!
This week's Rankings are inspired by the many upsets that happened in week #3. I'm mean, Kansas City won IN New Orleans, and the 49ers lost to the Vikings? Detroit loses to the Titans in a wild game, and the Eagles get spanked in the desert by the resurgent Cardinals. The only thing upsetting about the Green Bay loss to Seattle was the officiating, but that's a story we all hope will fade into the past very soon with the return of the regular referees, right? The most amazing thing about these Rankings is the presence, for however short a time, of two NFC West team in the Top 5 (3 in the top 15). No longer a division NFL teams can take for granted, it will be interesting to see how this season plays out. The emergence of new "weak" divisions is almost as shocking as anything else. The NFC Sout has been dismal so far, though Tampa Bay is playing everyone tough. The AFC West is still the worst division in the nFL by a increasing margin, some of which can be laid a the feet - or lack of arm strength - of Peyton Manning in Denver. In the AFC East, the Patriots are stumbling and McHoody-ing, which has to have many scratching their heads. Wild days ahead I say, so let's take a look at have Junior, er, uh, I mean Eric did this week. Here's teams 1 through 16. We'll post the 17 to 32 teams tomorrow.
#1 - Atlanta Falcons - QB Matt Ryan has been unstoppable throughout the first quarter of the season, and Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones have all had big games as well. They've had some trouble getting the ground game going, but the way Ryan has been playing, it hasn't been that big of a deal. Atlanta lucked out with their division too; the Saints, Bucs and Panthers all seem to have their own problems. It all depends on Ryan's ability to make things happen. So far, he's brought everything - and then some - to the table.
#2 - San Francisco 49ers - Now that the loss-monkey is off their back, they'll return to being the team that handled Green Bay and Detroit with ease. The Minnesota loss showed the limitations of a "game manager' quarterback, so look for the 49ers to return to what they do best - pummel teams with their incredible defense. Vernon Davis will finally get his due as the best tight end in the NFL this season. The team by the Bay will need to find a passing offense at some point that doesn't seem like a spare tire low on air, and used only in an emergency.
#3 - Houston Texans - This is easily one of the best teams in the league. Not only do they feature one of the best defenses in the league (4th overall for Opp. Passing Yards, 5th for Rushing), but they also have Arian Foster, Ben Tate and Andre Johnson on the field for offense. The primary key for the Texans is staying healthy. Last year, both Johnson and QB Matt Schaub dealt with multiple injuries. If they can stay healthy, they are a virtual lock to win their weak division. Only Denver has challenged them so far, but that is only because of a 4th quarter comeback. This is a solid team all around.
#4 - Arizona Cardinals - Stop laughing! We're seeing history being made here, if only for a short time. This team's offense is marginal at best, but what's interesting is their quarterback... They don't have one! This may be a momentary aberration like the 2011 Buffalo Bills, but it also signals to NFL teams they may want to re-think their quasi-vacation game planning when facing an NFC West team this season. To go further, they need to find someone to get the ball to top 2 wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald more than they have this year. The defense for Arizona has been superb, but I worry about depth (a la 2011 Buffalo) when injuries start appearing?
#5 - Baltimore Ravens - This is a team in transition. They've always been known for defense, but the age of the team on that side of the ball is finally catching up with them. Luckily, the offense has responded. Joe Flacco is off to a stellar start, as are his weapons - Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, the surprising Dennis Pitta. It will be interesting to see how the offense fairs against high quality defenses. The middle of the season will be key for them, and they need to put away division rivals. Going into the end of the season with the ability to rest up the veteran core of the team will be key for the Ravens if they hope to succeed in the post season.
#6 - Green Bay Packers - Lats year's potent offense has been missing this season, but their defense (one of the NFL's worst - outside of turn overs - last year) has turned into the 2010 addition that stymied teams. Aaron Rodgers and Co. will need to their passing "ju-ju" soon. They still suffer from a lack of a ground game, but the addition of Cedric Benson could change that as coach Mike McCarthy buys in based on need. It's been fun to watch the Packers try Randle Cobb in assorted positions (running back, wide receiver, punt returner, ect...). Their offense has been the "Discount Anti-Check" so far, and gimmicks aren't going to get this team rolling. Look for them to return to form ina rematch of last year's best ever season opener against a woeful New Orleans Saints squad suffering from a similar malaise so far this season as the Cheesemen.
#7 - New England Patriots - The days of the Patriots owning the AFC East are over. They've got veteran and young talent in key areas, but they lack the superior firepower they once had to demolish opponents. How much of that blame falls on Josh McDaniels has yet to be seen, but this team has at the very least stayed competitive in every game so far this season. In addition to the division games, they play Seattle (away), Houston and San Francisco. This tough schedule could give the team some trouble as they try to keep up with the Ryan's and Gailey's of the AFC East.
#8 - San Diego Chargers - This team is so odd, it makes me gnash my teeth at times. They lose their star running back and starting left offensive tackle after an off season where they lost their best wide receiver to free agency... Prescription for failure you say? Nope! They win games. Ryan Williams returns to the team after a broken collar bone mend in record time - they lose. Philip Rivers performs like the man who displaced Drew Brees one week, and like Babe Laufenberger the next? I have no idea which team will show up in any given week, but their division is so weak, a coin toss team like the Chargers may just find it way into the post season.
#9 - Cincinnati Bengals - The defense needs to settle down, having given up no less than 27 points a game so far. They have problems against the run, so they'll have problems, given that they'll be up against LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Darren McFadden, Trent Richardson and Reggie Bush during the season. However Andy Dalton has discovered his superior ginger powers, and AJ Green has benefited tremendously from them. I think the defense is playing worse than they are, so if they can figure out how to limit teams to a touchdown or 10 points less per game, they are in business.
#10 - New York Giants - A line from a Three Dog Night song comes to mind when I think of Eli Manning. New York fans better "You better hide your heart(s)...You'll never get away from the burnin' heart ache..." While Eli Manning has played superior football so far this year - better than any QB in the NFL - the heart wrenching glitches of season's past are bound to re-emerge, aren't they? Maybe not. This team has more offensive weapons than they had when they won their last two Super Bowls. Ramses Varden is an improvement over Mario Manningham, and Martellus Bennett is the best tight end they had in a decade based on sheer talent (I'm told he's a bit of a head-case though?). The Giants defensive front four is top two or three, but they have injury issues in the secondary similar to the 2011 St. Louis Rams when they lost 11 to injured reserve during the season. If they weren't in a division filled with mercurial teams, the Giants would still win their fair share of games. But since Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington seem to be in wallow mode, they're going to seal the deal in the NFC East by week 12.
#11 - Seattle Seahawks - Fluke win or not, Russell Wilson has been decent enough for them to win games. When that doesn't work, they still can rely on Marshawn Lynch. Having the incredible defense that they have will keep them in many more games than they should be in, so they might be buoyed a bit because of it. However, the NFC West is quickly becoming the "go to" division for top defenses, so expect many brutal defensive struggles in the near future. Seattle (much like our Rams) has the ability to stay in games, so I'd expect them to be in the thick of things fairly late in the season
#12 - Minnesota Vikings - "Test, test... Testing 1, 2, 3,... Can you hear me? OK, now someone fix this Rankings computer and we'll get started..." The Vikings at #12? Really... REALLY? OK, just for the sake of argument, let's pretend the Minnesota Viking belong here. They've gotten Adrian Peterson back from his devastating injury of last season due to some pretty slick Norwegian magic involving moldy Lutefisk and the Curling Gods. Christian Ponder is having a decent sophomore year as their quarterback, and Percy Harvin's migraines have been held in check. The Viking's defense held their ground against the San Francisco 49ers for what has to be the most shocking victory of the 2012 season thus far. Plus, they paid Eric to show them some love. It's either that, or his wife is from Minnesota and you don't want to piss off one of those frisky Norse Godesses, trust me...
#13 - Chicago Bears - Rams fans know how well Chicago's defense looks, but the real problem is keeping Jay Cutler upright. They've long had problems with the offensive line, and it doesn't look like it is going to be any different this year. They have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but Cutler is the key to the team's success. Michael Bush and Matt Forte make an excellent combination, but they can't run the ball 100% of the time. It's imperative they find a way to give Cutler time to throw consistently. If they can do that, they've got the possibility to make waves.
#14 - Philadelphia Eagles - This is quite simple the most talent ladden team - that's failed - in NFL history. Overstatement you say? Well, if you look at the players on defense, this team should be destroying opponets each week by themselves. When they added DeMeco Ryans in the off season, I really thought this unit had the chance to be special, and they are: "Blue Parking Spaces" special... Their secondary has all the talent in the world on paper, but they play like they're made of paper. So sad... Then there's the offense, and Michael Vick is just not getting it done. Vick needs to see the bench, sooner rather than later if this team has any hope of doing better than the two 1 point wins its gathered so far this season. Andy Reid, you need to take the reins of this team fast, or you'll be out the door whether the Eagles end the year with a winning record or not...
#15 - Dallas Cowboys -This team is built on an aging core. The Cowboys have talent, but it's just a matter of time before they implode. Tony Romo is a good QB, no matter what pundits say (BUT HE DOESN'T WIN LIKE TEBOW). He is good enough to help the team win games, but with so much drama of being the Cowboys, there are always going to be blown games, leaving Jerry Jones to blame someone else (again) for his own failures.
#16 - Pittsburgh Steeler - This is a hit or miss team. With the return of Mike Wallace after his futile holdout, this team is trying to get on track. Big Ben has found a top secret tool he's avoided thinking about for years: The Tight End. The Steelers' ground game is sluggish at best, so to the air they will go, early and often, for the rest of 2012. I can see Antonio Brown and even Emmanuel Sanders having decent years as Ben spreads the offensive touches out. The Steelers have offensive line issues, losing promising rookie guard David DeCastro to injury in the preseason. This is a third place team right now in the tough AFC North, so it's time to get creative Mr. Tomlin, or this season is going to be swept away.