NFL Power Rankings Post-Week 3

     Three weeks have gone by so far in this NFL season, and I think it’s safe to say it hasn’t gone as planned.  Everyone’s sleeper pick, the Buccaneers, have played horrendously, most recently in a 56-14 loss to the Falcons.  Typical playoff teams such as the Saints, Packers, Colts, and 49ers are all struggling at 1-2, and the three remaining undefeated teams – the Bengals, Cardinals, and Eagles, weren’t supposed to be even top 5 teams entering the season.
     So where does that leave us?  Who is the best team in the league from what we’ve seen so far?  The worst?  The two big problems in my opinion with power rankings are that 1) people seem to be slaves to what teams have the best rosters, and should be the best, rather than the best, and 2) people are also slaves to the most recent week, overvaluing a team for a strong performance in one week, when the overall team is actually very poor.  I’m going to attempt to avoid these biases by seeing each team not based on their legacies but performance in only the given season, and by releasing power rankings every other week, in order to have more information to adjust the rankings properly, rather than overvaluing a single performance.
     Now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s get down to business.  Here are my NFL power rankings through three weeks of football.
     32) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) : It’s been a pretty horrible year for the Jags.  They’re 30th in scoring, and dead last 32nd in points allowed.  Last week they lost at home by 27 to the Colts, and trailed 30-0 at halftime.  They have no offensive line, which translates into no running game.  They lack any real big time players, and will need Blake Bortles to come in and really perform at quarterback to pick up a few wins.
     31) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) : Quite simply, the Bucs are a horrible team in a division with three teams that all have playoff potential.  Everyone thought the new coach Lovie Smith and a strong defense would make this team a contender, but let’s just face it: they allowed 56 points last week.  They are only very slightly better than Jacksonville.
     30) Oakland Raiders (0-3) : Come on.  I couldn’t put a team with a win below Oakland.  The Raiders did have a strong performance against the Patriots last week, taking that game to the wire in New England, but the other two games weren’t as pretty.  While Derek Carr’s been decent, he doesn’t have the weapons to help him.  Hopefully something changes soon, or it will be another long season for Oakland.
     29) St. Louis Rams (1-2) : To be perfectly honest, I feel rating the Rams this low might be a little harsh.  They played a good game for the most part against the Cowboys in week 3, and really should’ve won.  But they’ve failed to convert on good drives this season.  The Rams are 26th in points scored, but tenth in offensive yards.  There’s also the fact that they’re starting a 3rd string quarterback and that they got blown out 34-6 by the Vikings.  The Vikings.
     28) Tennessee Titans (1-2) : I would like to introduce to you the cycle of the Titans.  The Titans are projected in the pre-season to be a surprise team.  Then they have a relatively disappointing start, and finish somewhere around .500.  Then the cycle repeats.  As a result, for the last five seasons , the Titans have finished between 6-9 wins every year.  This year looks similar, although I’d bet on the lower end of the scale, and around 6 wins for Tennessee.  I attribute much of it due to a lack of talented offensive skill position players.
      27) Minnesota Vikings (1-2) : Props to the Vikings for taking care of business against the Rams in week 1.  However, since then things have not been pretty.  The loss of Adrian Peterson alone likely sends this team to the cellar of the NFC North.  Their leading rusher is Cordarrelle Patterson, a WIDE  RECEIVER.  No one has 100 yards for the Vikings on the ground.  I also have concerns about the quarterback situation and how Teddy Bridgewater will perform.  They showed some signs of life against the Saints, but for now there isn’t a ton to suggest the Vikings are contenders.
     26) Miami Dolphins (1-2) : See #28, Tennessee Titans.  Seriously.  The ‘Fins are between 6 and 8 wins the last five seasons, and have an incredibly similar cycle, along with very similar issues including struggling young quarterbacks who really need to start performing to keep their jobs.
     25) Washington Redskins (1-2) : The Redskins are a really interesting team, because they’re really the first team on this list that I can confidently say has a good offense.  If you can forget about week 1, the two games with Kirk Cousins at QB have shown a dynamic offense with a variety of weapons that has put up 37.5 points per game.  They nearly beat the Eagles in Philly as well.  However, there are far too many question marks with the defense to warrant them coming up too much higher on the last.  However, I will admit that teams 25-21 are pretty interchangeable.
     24) Houston Texans (2-1) : Wait a second.  A 2-1 team falling in the bottom ten spots?  Stop the presses!  Before you doubt me, let’s look at the Texans schedule, which is the weakest in the league so far.  Their wins have come against the Redskins and Jaguars, two teams I’ve ranked at #32 and #25.  Their defense is pretty good, but the offense is poor at best.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted three times last week by the Giants, and Arian Foster’s injury isn’t helping either.
     23) New York Giants (1-2) : Speaking of the Giants, here they are, my favorite team.  Man was this last week huge for the G-Men.  I could go on a huge tangent on how that game was a near must win, but I’ll save it.  The important part is this: the Giants are confident, Eli is playing better, and an away win against the Redskins this upcoming Thursday would really make things interesting.  However, the biggest point of emphasis for Big Blue is to stop paying a tribute to Plaxico Burress every week by continually shooting themselves in the foot with dumb miscues.
     22) Cleveland Browns (1-2) : Rejoice, Cleveland fans.  You finally managed to escape the bottom ten of an NFL power ranking, and it was well earned.  Knock on wood, Brian Hoyer looks like a solid starting quarterback, and Johnny Football hasn’t done anything stupid in a while.  It’s really a shame that they’re in the best division in the NFL record-wise so far because I could see a team like this contending for the division in the AFC South, per se.  I’m sure that last second loss against Baltimore was demoralizing, and the Browns might have been even higher if that game ended in a win.
     21) New York Jets (1-2) : For me, the Jets are without a doubt the weirdest team in the league.  They haven’t played a really good game yet, but they’ve avoided being blown out against the Packers and Bears, and they did their job defeating the Raiders.  Every game they’ve played has been within one score.  I’m not a fan of Geno Smith at all, and he’s been terribly inconsistent, but he’s been good enough to keep Michael Vick on the bench.  To be perfectly honest, they’ve slightly underperformed on defense for me, but I feel the running game has made up for it.  At the end of the day, I believe spot 21 is fair, and I need to see more from the Jets to evaluate them better.
     20) Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) : It’s been a tale of two halves for KC and Andy Reid.  They were embarrassed in their opening week home loss to the Titans, and looked like an easy win for the Broncos for a while in week 2.  Then something changed.  The Chiefs were one fourth-and-goal touchdown away from sending that game into OT in Denver, which would’ve been very impressive, and handily controlled their game in Miami last week.  If that second version of the Chiefs shows up in the next few weeks, this talented team can make a run at the wild card.  I think it all starts with getting Jamaal Charles back and feeding him the pigskin.
     19) New Orleans Saints (1-2) : It’s been a disappointing start for the Saints.  The real issue here is the struggles on the road which have really hurt the Saints for the past few seasons.  They lost a nailbiter in overtime against the Falcons on the road, which is excusable.  However, they also lost in Cleveland.  Then when it came time to play the home opener, the Saints won, but struggled much more than they should have against a weak Adrian Peterson-less Vikings.  Drew Brees is going to need help rebounding this season.

     18) Dallas Cowboys (2-1) : Just when you thought all hope was lost, the Cowboys managed to field a defense in their first three games, albeit not a great one.  However, since this team lost it’s
best defensive players, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee, and the defense was awful to begin with, the defense has been better than expected.  Turnovers will be the biggest challenge to the Cowboys, and DeMarco Murray has fumbled three times already.  However, of they can start playing consistently, the offense is good enough to compete.
     17) Green Bay Packers (1-2) : It’s been a tough year for the Cheeseheads thus far, and it’s difficult to find one specific reason.  Eddie Lacy has been disappointing, but overall Aaron Rodgers is still putting up strong numbers.  However, this doesn’t always translate to points, and the Packers looked atypically abysmal, putting up only seven points against the Lions.  This is another let’s wait and see situation.  I expect the Packers to move significantly in the next few weeks.
     16) San Francisco 49ers (1-2) : After going deep in the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, the 49ers now appear to be third in the always crowded NFC West.  Colin Kaepernick has had a regression so far, along with Frank Gore, which I predicted before the season started.  The defense has been pulling much of the weight, especially in their sole win against the Cowboys.  Their losses have come against good teams, however, in the Bears and Cardinals, which keeps them from falling further.
     15) Buffalo Bills (2-1) : I could really just call the Bills an even worse version of the Dolphins and Titans’ cycles, since they’ve spent seven of the last eight years at 6 or 7 wins, but this year looks a bit different for the only team that hasn’t reached the playoffs this century.  Fred Jackson is still running strong at age 33, which is remarkable, and EJ Manuel has only one turnover thus far.  The real strength of this team lies in its pass rush, however, which is led by Mario Williams.
 It shouldn’t be long before the Bills start receiving some attention for their effort, and a win against the Texans next week would really do wonders for Buffalo.
     14) Carolina Panthers (2-1) : It was all looking great for Panthers fans during this year’s first two weeks.  All signs pointed to a Super Bowl contender building up from last year.  Then week 3 happened, and in a home game against the Steelers they looked dazed and confused while taking a beating.  They need to forget about that game and move forward strongly next week against the Ravens.  And P.S. Kelvin Benjamin is a monster.
     13) Detroit Lions (2-1) : I’ve seen a lot of people going both ways on the Lions.  Some say they’re going to be great, others that they can’t finish above the Bears and Packers.  Hopefully, their victory over the Packers last week 19-7 proved something to that second group of people.  I think that we can all take something really important from that victory: the Lions offense didn’t play that well, but the defense more than made up for it, which is the difference this year than in years past for me when I look at the Lions.  Over the past few years the points were there, but they consistently lost games while scoring 30 points.  With the offense they have, an average defense will get them in the playoffs.  So far, they’re only allowing 15 per game.
     12) Indianapolis Colts (1-2) : My highest rated team with a losing record is the Colts.  They lost tough games to two teams that rank in my top five, the Broncos and Eagles, by a combined ten points.  I don’t think they should be penalized too much, because when you go past the record, I think the Colts are still the team to beat in the AFC South.  By far.  The next highest team in my power rankings is the Texans at #24.  The division is just really that bad.  Andrew Luck is really looking like a great quarterback this year, already with nine touchdown passes.  Ahmad Bradshaw has also added so much to both the run and passing games, and they tore apart the Jaguars like they should have last week.  With momentum on their side, let’s see what the Colts can do.
       11) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) : If only they were in another division.  That phrase is really applicable to all of the NFC North, since the division will be a messy race come December.  The Steel Curtain came to town (and by town I mean Charlotte, NC) and was able to really take the Panthers out of their comfort zone in what was an enormous victory.  That performance definitely moved the Steelers up a few spots in my book.  Their offense looks improved, Big Ben is performing well, the defense is looking good too (with James Harrison coming back as well, and that means Roger Goodell is already preparing the fines) so it’s looking up for the Steelers.  The only reason they can’t be higher was that they were shut down in a devastating divisional 26-6 game to the Ravens, who must be placed higher.
     10) Chicago Bears (2-1) : It hasn’t been pretty, but the Bears are able to find themselves 2-1 so far, and that’s a success.  They slide into the top 10 this week strongly due to their incredible comeback victory against the 49ers at the new Levi’s Stadium.  Before that they had lost to Buffalo, but now that Buffalo has established themselves as a solid team, that looks a lot better.  One stat that has fallen through the cracks is that the Bears have forced eight turnovers thus far, including six interceptions.  While they’ve been demolished by injuries, the backups in the secondary have stepped up, and Da Bears are looking good.
     9) Baltimore Ravens (2-1) : Well then, it looks some team has been able to rally and move on past the horrible Ray Rice situation.  They don’t have any clear starter at running back, but luckily Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro have all had one strong game.  Hey, whatever works, right?  Joe Flacco looks a lot better than his abysmal 2013 performance, one that left Ravens fans and fantasy owners alike wondering what had gone wrong, as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time in the Joe Flacco era.  They’ve already played everyone in their division once, and 2-1 is  a good start.  They’ve got a better defense this year than last year, and the Ravens have officially played into wild card and division conversations.
     8) New England Patriots (2-1) : Pretty boy Brady has really suffered from a lack of receivers thus far.  Julian Edelman has been really picking up the load, but after him and an often-injured Gronk, where is there to turn?  Their #2 wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins has six catches.  Basically, someone needs to step up.  However, despite these issues, they have found ways to put up points.  After a really shaky opener against the Dolphins, the Pats have shown up, only allowing 16 total points in weeks 2 and 3, and playing turnover free ball.  A Monday night test in Kansas City will be a crucial game in determining just how good the Patriots are.
     7) Atlanta Falcons (2-1) : Wow.  It’s not often you get the opportunity to take your quarterback out of a game in the third quarter up 49-0, but that’s the situation the Falcons were in at one stage of their 56-14 romp of the Bucs.  That’s incredible, no matter who you play.  However, since I’ve already established the Bucs as being awful, they also came behind in the second half to beat the Saints in week 1, and their only loss comes to the undefeated Bengals on the road.  Matt Ryan could make a case for being one of the best NFL quarterbacks so far this season.  At this point it looks like a lot of good from a Falcons team that showed a lot of bad last year.
     6) San Diego Chargers (2-1) : They beat the Seahawks.  I could stop their and this position would be justified, but I’ll continue.  Last week they gave the Bills their first loss.  The only loss the Chargers have is away against the Cardinals by a single point, and the Cardinals are unbeaten.  So essentially, the Chargers opponents are all 2-0 in other games this season.  That’s an insane schedule.  However, a surprisingly strong defense and the comeback of Antonio Gates have worked wonders in making the Chargers look like one of the league’s best teams.  Their next three games are against the Jaguars, Jets, and Raiders, so I’d imagine the Chargers won’t be fallen down this list anytime soon.
     5) Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) : Here’s the first of the three undefeated teams.  What can I say?  I hate the Eagles personally, but I’d be really biased if I didn’t praise Chip Kelly’s offense.  I don’t know all the reasons why it works so well, but with the Eagles’ lineup, it just does.  Now did I think they would be 3-0 after trailing 17-0 to the JAGUARS in week 1?  Heck no.  But they rebounded, winning that game 34-17, then came from behind in weeks 2 and 3 to defeat the Colts and Redskins.  They love playing in high scoring games, and usually they can find a way to outscore the other guys, and that’s a great trait to have.
     4) Arizona Cardinals (3-0) : Another big surprise.  The Cardinals have managed to beat both the Giants and 49ers without starting quarterback Carson Palmer.  Plus, they have sole possession of first place possession of first place in the NFC West, which last season was football’s toughest.  They beat the Chargers as well, and that’s really impressive considering how strong the Chargers have come out the gates this year (get it, Antonio Gates pun).  In addition, I really like how they’ve been able to spread out the passing game.  The defense doesn’t know what to expect, and that works in their favor. They’re on bye this week, but play Denver in a can’t miss week 5 matchup.
     3) Denver Broncos (2-1) : If there are such things as moral victories, the Broncos really picked one up when they took the Seattle Seahawks, who made them look more like the Jaguars in the Super Bowl, to overtime IN SEATTLE where they basically can’t lose.  Peyton Manning is angry this year, and hungry for another championship.  The offense has stayed loaded, and the defense has gotten much better this year.  The Broncos will finish this season as a strong contender.  The question is how far can they go afterwards.  Week 5 against the Cardinals will be a huge preview of what a Denver playoff game might look like come January.
     2) Seattle Seahawks (2-1) : After much debate, I have finally come to the conclusion that the Seahawks aren’t the best team in football based on performance thus far.  I think way too many question marks came up about the Seahawks’ road ability in their loss against the Chargers, and they looked very vulnerable at home against the Broncos, although ending up with the W.  Seriously, they are near unstoppable in Seattle, but if they don’t finish #1 in the conference, I don’t see them winning on the road in the playoffs.  As for the team itself, it is still very strong, although a few defensive pieces have left.  They still have Sherman and most of the Legion of Boom, though.  Look for the Seahawks to come back strong in week 5 after a bye.
     1) Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) : Did someone say the new Seahawks?  The Bengals are the NFL’s best defense.  They’ve only allowed 33 points total through three games, which is best in the league by 12.  They’ve proven themselves at home and on the road, and are a force to be reckoned with.  Next week they’re on bye, along with everyone else in my top 4, but after that face perhaps their toughest test remaining on the schedule, away against the Patriots.  From what I’ve seen so far, they should be favored in that game, something very rarely said about a road team against New England.  I still don’t love Andy Dalton, but he’s been good enough and the rest of the team helps out.  The Bengals are the NFL’s best team right now.

     Do you agree with my rankings?  What did I get wrong?  Feel free to comment and I’ll reply.  Thanks for reading,
     Connor

   

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