It’s time once again for the power rankings, also known as my weekly guess as to how good the Rams and Bills actually are. These are two of the most puzzling teams at the quarter-mark of the NFL season. The Rams were dead last in my rankings after week 1, following a 28-0 thrashing by the 49ers, who have yet to win a game since. However, they followed up their disappointing performance with a 9-3 victory against the Seahawks in their first game back in LA and continued their winning streak in close games against the Buccaneers and Cardinals. Who do we believe are the real Rams?
Similarly, Buffalo started off slow in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century with a loss to the Ravens in which their offense looked nonexistent. They also gave the Jets their only victory during a Thursday night game in week 2, looking dominated despite a few big plays making the game appear close on the scoreboard. However, their defense shined in weeks 3 and 4, intercepting Carson Palmer four times and then holding the Patriots scoreless for the first time ever at Gillette Stadium. Is this a team who can threaten to make the playoffs, or will they disappoint fans and pundits who have been calling them dark horses for years and years?
The common thread between the schedules of the Rams and Bills is a win against the reeling Cardinals, whose record currently sits at 1-3. Alongside them at 1-3 are the Carolina Panthers, the other team who reached the NFC Championship Game a year ago. These teams, who went a combined 28-4 last season, have already lost 50% more games just four weeks into their 2016 campaigns. With 2015’s MVP Cam Newton and MVP runner-up Carson Palmer struggling heavily so far, is it time for these franchises to panic?
After week 1, there wasn’t cause for concern. Yes, both teams were 0-1, but they had played the Broncos and Patriots, clearly two of the league’s best teams. Each achieved redemption with decisive week 2 wins against the Bucs and 49ers. However, with back-to-back losses in weeks 3 and 4, poor performances are turning into a trend for these teams, which is alarming considering neither team underwent significant changes over the offseason. Now each team finds themselves 1-3 and in serious danger of falling far behind in the playoff race. These concerns are heightened with both starting quarterbacks currently in the NFL’s concussion protocol. If either Derek Anderson or Drew Stanton had to start in week 5, these teams could risk a 1-4 start, a record only 6% of teams have been able to reach the playoffs from.
As the NFL season enters its second quarter, here’s where I rank all 32 teams.
32: Browns (0-4, LW: 32) It’s a third straight week for the Browns at the bottom spot in my power rankings. Terrelle Pryor looks like a star, and played an important role in keeping the Browns in their game against the Redskins. Cody Kessler is a decent quarterback, but the defense has yet to hold a team to under 25 points.
31: Dolphins (1-3, LW: 31) Time might be running out on Ryan Tannehill in Miami. The offense lacks a spark besides Jarvis Landry, and every year can’t be the year you take a step forward. They need a win this week home against the Titans.
30: Buccaneers (1-3, LW: 27) The reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos put on a dominant defensive performance in the second straight Bucs game featuring a lightning delay. Ultimately, the Bucs still allow 32 points per game and have a -9 turnover differential killing them.
29: 49ers (1-3, LW: 28) I wonder what happened to that Niners defense that looked so unstoppable against the Rams in week 1. It certainly has proved to be an outlier, as they’ve allowed 107 points since. However, the Cardinals are going downhill fast, and a potential matchup against Drew Stanton should put them back on track.
28: Bears (1-3, LW: 31) Hey! The Bears won a game! Hey! Brian Hoyer looked good! Hey! The Bears defense didn’t allow Matthew Stafford’s offense to reach the end zone! They can make it two in a row against the struggling Colts, but have are unlikely to become competitive with either the Vikings or Packers in the NFC North.
27: Saints (1-3, LW: 30) At this point, I’m convinced the Chargers hate winning. Props to the Saints, though, for forcing two fumbles late in the 4th quarter to pull off an improbable comeback in San Diego for their first W. Who would’ve thought the defense would land this team a tally in the win column?
26: Lions (1-3, LW: 26) I don’t understand the Lions. With the pieces they have on offense, they should be better than this. I still don’t think Matthew Stafford is the problem, but I’m not sure what the problem is anymore. I mean, they lost to the Bears. So much for “Jim Bob Cooter for President.”
25: Titans (1-3, LW: 25) No movement for the Titans this week following a close road loss to the Texans. This was a huge game that could’ve given the Titans the division lead, a shocking proposition at the beginning of the year. This division is flat-out horrible, so if the Titans can manage to seize upcoming opportunities (their next five opponents have a combined four wins), who knows what might happen?
24: Chargers (1-3, LW: 20) It’s a third blown fourth-quarter lead for the Chargers, and just when you thought nothing could top week 1 against the Chiefs, San Diego flat out imploded against the Saints, including a Travis Benjamin fumbled where he wasn’t even touched. FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine wrote an article detailing just how historically bad they’ve been in the last 15 minutes of games here. Could Mike McCoy be in danger of losing his job?
23: Colts (1-3, LW: 18) The Colts were the Jaguars’ opponents in their annual London game, and played as much of a Colts game as possible, trailing by three scores in the fourth quarter before attempting an improbable comeback that came up just short. If they played every quarter like they do the fourth, they’d easily be the league’s best team. Instead, they’re a disappointment these days.
22: Jaguars (1-3, LW: 29) Jacksonville gets a nice boost this week following their London victory over the Colts. In reality, this could be the Jags’ third win of the season, but close losses to the Packers and Ravens have sent them below .500. This team still has a decent chance at the AFC South, and get a bye week to regroup and plan for their upcoming games.
21: Jets (1-3, LW: 19) No “Fitz-magic” these days. Ryan Fitzpatrick has now thrown an astonishing nine interceptions in his last two games, leaving more and more people to wonder if we’ll see Geno Smith soon. However, the locker room seems to have Fitz’s back, and I believe he can turn around the ship too. Unfortunately, I don’t like their chances in starting the turnaround in Pittsburgh this week. Just ask the Chiefs.
20: Cardinals (1-3, LW: 13) It took just two weeks for the Cardinals to plummet from #5 to #20 in the rankings, and they have their lackluster offense to blame. Now trailing both the Seahawks and Rams by two games, it’s crucial they beat the 49ers on Thursday night. Unfortunately, they likely won’t have Carson Palmer, so the Cards will need to get creative.
19: Giants (2-2, LW: 17) Three important statistics define the Giants’ season thus far. First is their turnover differential of -8, including only one takeaway. Next is the Giants’ offense, which ranks sixth in yards per game. This is a great number. However, in terms of scoring the Giants are just 27th. This should be a top-10 scoring offense, plain and simple, and the team must be more efficient and take better care of the ball.
18: Redskins (2-2, LW: 21) Congratulations, you beat the Browns. Good for you. There might’ve been a controversial fumble recovery in there, and it might not have been the best game the Skins have ever played, but a win is a win, and they’ll be happy with two straight.
17: Bills (2-2, LW: 24) So what’s the secret, Rex? How’d you blank the Patriots, something I didn’t even think was possible? I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore since Tom Brady’s back, but all props go to the Bills for the best performance of the week.
16: Chiefs (2-2, LW: 9) So how do you force eight turnovers one week and then find yourself trailing 36-0 after three quarters the next week? This is the question the Chiefs have to ask themselves. And while the Steelers are definitely better than the Jets, these are the kinds of games the Chiefs need to be competitive in to have a chance at a wildcard spot.
15: Rams (3-1, LW: 22) I don’t know how they’re here, and I don’t know if they’re real. What I do know, however, is that the Rams lead the NFC West, and have to be taken seriously. Their matchup against the Bills next week is one of my most intriguing of the week, as a might finally get to figure out how good these two teams are. Now they’ll probably tie just to spite me.
14: Panthers (1-3, LW: 8) Matt Ryan threw for 503 yards against the Panthers defense that looked completely different from last year’s team. You’d better believe they missed Josh Norman, who couldn’t have possibly done worse against Julio Jones than the 300 yards Carolina allowed this time around. Luckily, the Bucs offense has been turnover-prone thus far, giving them opportunities to find their footing at home in week 5.
13: Ravens (3-1, LW: 10) Ravens-Raiders was one heck of a football game. While they couldn’t come up with the win, allowing Derek Carr to string together a game-winning drive, the Ravens played well. However, they kicked four field goals in the game and lost by a single point. You do the math.
12: Texans (3-1, LW: 14) The Texans will be relieved to see the team put points on the board in their victory over the Titans, but that doesn’t mean questions about the offense are over. Brock Osweiler ranks 28th in the league in passer rating and has thrown at least one interception in every game this season. While Houston are strong favorites to win the division, they still need to improve offensive efficiency.
11: Raiders (3-1, LW: 11) Derek Carr just doesn’t get rattled, does he? The young Raiders quarterback once again proved his ability to stay composed and lead his team on a game-winning drive on the road against the then-undefeated Ravens. Look out, everyone. The Raiders mean business this season.
10: Bengals (2-2, LW: 12) The Bengals did as they were supposed to, taking care of business against the Dolphins. Now the Red Rifle gets to take on the Cowboys in his home state of Texas and near his college, TCU. Honestly, I’m the most torn on this game right now. Similar to what I said about the Chiefs, these are the kinds of games Cincy needs for the playoffs.
9: Falcons (3-1, LW: 16) Wow. What more is there to say after the offensive explosion the Falcons dropped on the Panthers. If the season ended today, Matt Ryan would be almost guaranteed the MVP. However, the Falcons started 5-1 before falling to 8-8 last season, so it’s a bit too early to say if the Falcons are real contenders. However, everything looks great thus far.
8: Cowboys (3-1, LW: 11) It was another strong performance from Dak Prescott, who remained calm facing a 14-0 deficit and led the Cowboys to their third straight victory without throwing an interception. He now holds the record for most completions without a pick by a rookie, and Ezekiel Elliott ran all over the Niners D, and now leads the league in rushing yards. The Cowboys rookies have come to play.
7: Packers (2-1, LW: 5) The Packers had a bye last week, and dropped spots only due to the impressive performanes of the Seahawks and Steelers. They’ll jump back up with a strong win over the Giants Sunday night. However, it’s easier said than done. The Giants have won their last three games against Green Bay, all by at least 14 points.
6: Steelers (3-1, LW: 8) Either week 3 was a fluke, or the Eagles are the best team we’ve ever seen. While the #2 overall pick in the draft has captivated Wentzylvania and the US as a whole, I’m going to go more with the former than the latter. The Steelers offense is still scary, and capable of dropping 30 of 40 on anyone.
5: Eagles (3-0, LW: 4) Like the Packers, the Eagles are also coming off their bye week. I’m not sure the Eagles wanted it this early, but they get what should be an easy game against the Lions in week 5. However, they can’t afford to slip up, as the Cowboys are on their heals in the NFC East.
4: Seahawks (3-1, LW: 6) It was a complete team performance by the Seahawks in their 27-17 road win against the Jets. Heading into their bye week, the Seahawks look equally strong on both sides of the ball, with Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham finding their connection on offense and the secondary once again wreaking havoc, led by Richard Sherman. Look out, NFL.
3: Patriots (3-1, LW: 1) I guess at some point the lack of Tom Brady had to catch up with the Patriots. Jacoby Brissett simply couldn’t get anything going against Rex Ryan’s angry defense. Without communication with the Patriots for a month, how will Tom Brady look in week 5? Probably very good, but in reality, it shouldn’t matter- they play the Browns. If Cleveland wins, I’ll be speechless.
2: Vikings (4-0, LW: 3) All the credit in the world goes to Sam Bradford for being able to immediately step into the offense and play smart, game-managing football with precise passing. However, the Vikings defense is so good that the offense doesn’t need to look overly impressive. In consecutive games against the Packers, Panthers, and Giants, the Vikings shut down high-powered offenses all led by quarterbacks with Super Bowl experience. The Vikings are the best team in the NFC.
1: Broncos (4-0, LW: 2) Well, it didn’t long for the Broncos to reclaim their spot on top of the power rankings. The Broncos played great defense as usually, stifling Jameis Winston’s Bucs and allowing just seven points. On the flip side, Trevor Siemian continued to improve, and even Paxton Lynch got in on the action when Siemian went down with an injury. Siemian will be back next week, and the Broncos should be favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champs.