NFL Week 5 Power Rankings 2015

     Believe it or not, one quarter of the NFL season has passed.  Time flies.  Usually by this stage of the season, we’ve had a chance to see each team enough times to have at least a decent judgment on just how good they are.  For me, trying to pinpoint a team’s potential before this mark is kind of useless, because of the small sample size of games that can be completely turned on its head with one shocking result.  However, with four games in the books, we’ve gained enough information to really start piecing the puzzle together.  The Packers look incredible.  Sure the loss of Jordy Nelson hurt the team, but they haven’t shown it.  On the other hand, Jameis Winston is having far from the ideal start to his NFL career.  The Bucs are clearly not a playoff team, and look like almost surefire cellar-dwellers.  Then there are the teams that I still have no clue about.  Just look at the Rams.  They’ve beaten the Cardinals and Seahawks, who on paper should both be playoff teams, and I would be surprised if either one wasn’t.  But on the other hand, they looked ugly against Kirk Cousins and the Redskins, and could only manage six points against the Steelers.  What about the Cowboys?  What does one think of a team who started 2-0, but blew a huge lead to the Falcons and lost to the 0-3 Saints?  Not to mention, the Cowboys are down Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, each top-5 in their position on good days.

     It’s been an odd season.  There are six undefeated teams, but just one winless squad.  Only eight teams are above .500 in total, while 12 teams sit at 1-2 or 1-3.  The Colts have sole possession of 1st place in the AFC South  at 2-2.

     The picture might not be crystal clear, but I’ll give it a shot by ranking all 32 teams in the league.  These power rankings will come out every other week so I don’t place too much emphasis on every individual game.
     Lastly, here’s a few quick notes about how I come up with my rankings.  A team’s record is not the deciding factor in where a team will fall.  I don’t group all the 4-0 teams together and rank them, followed by the 3-1 teams and so on.  The Lions are the only winless team, but they aren’t even close to the bottom of the list.  Also, as I said earlier, I don’t like to judge by one game.  Teams have good and bad performances.  It’s as simple as that.  I’m not going to send which ever team gives the Lions their first win to the bottom of the list.  On the flip side, if the Lions beat the Packers, it doesn’t mean the Lions instantly hit the top 10.  Sure, they’ll move up, but only as much as I feel they deserve to.  I prefer to judge teams with the eye test.  An overtime loss is far better than getting thrashed 42-7.  In the same regard, don’t be surprised if a team who loses to the best team in the league moves up, while a great team who beats a bottom-feeder 10-7 moves down.  I rank based simply off who I think has over the course of the season played the best football, period.  I don’t care about your record or roster, although obviously the more talented teams typically win more games and end up higher on the list.  So, here’s my rankings of how each team has performed so far.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3): It would be easy to place most of the blame for the Bucs’ struggles on Jameis Winston.  While he definitely has to become more accurate and cut down on turnovers, Winston is far from the only problem.  Kyle Brindza missed six field goals and two extra points, and the defense is one of the league’s worst.  The Panthers put up 37 on this team, and their lead receiver is Ted Ginn.  Enough said.
31. Houston Texans (1-3): Who should the Texans start at quarterback: Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer?  Does it even matter?  It’s almost painful to watch this offense in action, and Arian Foster will need to have one of the best rushing seasons of all time in order to right the ship.  The Texans trailed 42-0 to the Falcons in just the third quarter last week.

30. San Francisco 49ers (1-3): I’ve been saying for awhile how I feel the 49ers offseason might have been the worst in football history.  To put it simply, the team went from one of the league’s best to one of the league’s worst in a matter of a couple months, and everyone on the team seemed to retire or get suspended.  However, the team looked like a defensive juggernaut in their opening week win against the Vikings.  Since that game, Colin Kaepernick has looked like the worst quarterback in the league, and the team has scored just 13 points excluding garbage time against Pittsburgh.

29. Chicago Bears (1-3): The Bears finally posted their first entry in the win column against the Raiders last week.  However, they needed a last-second field goal to do so, and didn’t look very impressive.  Coupled with the fact they entered that game on a two-game 25+ point losing streak, things are far from looking up for the Bears.

28. Miami Dolphins (1-3): And the NFL’s hot mess  award of the first quarter goes to…the Dolphins!  Remember when everyone and their mother picked the Dolphins to be the breakout team of 2015?  It was only a month or two ago!  Look at them now- they’ve fired the head coach and defensive coordinator, and are sitting firmly last in the division with a struggling offense.

27. New Orleans Saints (1-3): The Drew Brees era is ending, Saints fans.  Just face the facts.  It’s been a couple years since these guys looked like actual contenders, and while they haven’t been blown out in a game yet, they have looked very good against anyone, and could easily be 0-4 if not for C.J. Spiller.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3): Wait.  We STILL haven’t reached the Lions in the list?  They haven’t won a game yet!  Don’t worry, their time will come.  The Jags have been funny this year.  Sure, they got demolished by the Patriots, but that was expected.  They’ve actually looked kinda decent with the Blake Bortles offense, and are just a missed field goal away from having beat the Colts and leading the AFC South at 2-2.  Not so bad when you look at it that way.

25. Detroit Lions (0-4): Hey, there’s the Lions!  Yes, they are 0-4, I get it.  However, the Lions have suffered a bunch of close losses, and as much as I usually refrain from blaming referees, were really a missed call away from having a great chance at a win at Seattle, something nearly impossible to accomplish.  This team probably doesn’t deserve to be 0-4, and while still far from great, I do believe they are better than every team ranked worse than them on this list.

24. Cleveland Browns (1-3): The Browns are in a similar boat to the Jaguars.  The offense has somewhat come alive, but they just aren’t quite there yet.  Critics will claim that Johnny Manziel has a 1-0 record as starter and Josh McCown 0-3, but McCown hasn’t performed poorly.  The switch to Manziel is coming, but the concern for the team should be plugging a few defensive holes while the offense continues to develop.

23. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3): I already gave the Dolphins the hot mess award, but the Eagles are just as good candidates thus far.  The genius that is Chip Kelly managed to pull in the NFL’s best running back over the offseason in DeMarco Murray, and through four games (three of which he played) he has a grand total of 47 rushing yards on just 29 carries.  Yes, that’s an abysmal average yards per carry, but they have to get him more involved.  He currently sits 80th in rushing in the NFL, behind the likes of wide receivers Tavon Austin and Jarvis Landry, and quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Great company.

22. Tennessee Titans (1-2): Marcus Mariota looked like the next great quarterback in his stellar showing against fellow rookie Jameis Winston in week 1.  And then the Titans dropped two straight- one against the Browns they probably should have won, and one against the Colts which they deserved to win.  But hey, you have to finish the job, and Mariota’s turnovers played important roles in both games.

21. Washington Redskins (2-2): It’s funny how one of the biggest surprise stories of the season is only 2-2.  No one expected the Redskins to be any good, and while Kirk Cousins has been far from a good quarterback, he’s managed to get the job done twice, including leading a huge fourth-quarter drive against the Eagles last week.  The defense has looked solid, and with a Jarvis Landry punt return touchdown being the only difference in week 1’s game against the Dolphins, the Redskins are close to 3-1.  But hey, Skins fans will take a tie for first in the division.

20. Baltimore Ravens (1-3): Words cannot describe two things: first, how important the Ravens win was against the Steelers last week which effectively saved their season, and also how lucky they were to get that win.  The Steelers have since cut Josh Scobee and are moving on to a fourth kicker this year already.  But regardless, the Ravens will have the opportunities over the next several weeks to throw themselves back into the mix, and I like their chances of doing so after starting the year off with arguably their toughest stretch of schedule.

19. Indianapolis Colts (2-2): Oh, I went there.  I see other power rankings listing the Colts in that 10-13 range, and I have one thing to say the people who wrote those rankings: get over yourselves.  Yes, Andrew Luck is supposed to become the league’s best quarterback at some point, and the offense looked nearly unstoppable entering the season.  But look at how they’ve played this year.  They escaped with wins against the Titans and Jags, two teams they should’ve easily taken care of.  The defense looks shaky, and Luck threw seven picks in his first three games.  I expect them to right the ship, but I judge based off past performance, not how a team should be.

18. Oakland Raiders (2-2): Give yourself a pat on the back if you thought the Raiders would look better than the Colts this year, because you might be the only one on Earth.  Granted, the comparison is close, but Derek Carr is emerging as the future of this franchise and the AC/DC connection with Amari Cooper looks to be a nightmare for years to come.  Both sides of the ball still need a little time, but the Raiders are no longer a joke.

17. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3): In my opinion, the Chiefs have easily looked like the best 1-3 team in the league this season.  The only problem is that for such a great defense led by Justin Houston, they haven’t been able to stop anyone, and are tied with the Bears for most points allowed thus far.  However, the potential that offense has with Jamaal Charles is scary if they can get a few stops.

16. San Diego Chargers (2-2): Philip Rivers has been a top-5 quarterback this season, no questions asked.  However, he’s been just about the only consistent player on the Chargers this year.  They look good one week, and horrible the next.  Their best performance on the year was actually in a 24-19 win against the undefeated Bengals.  But they also lost 31-14 to the Vikings, and neither one of their wins was too impressive.  Mediocrity it is.

15. Buffalo Bills (2-2): Look!  It’s the Chargers in disguise!  Seriously though, the Bills have looked like two distinct football teams.  There’s the incredible defense that shut down that led to huge wins over the Colts and Dolphins, and the team that allowed 40 to the Patriots and never got anything going against the Giants.  Is Tyrod Taylor a future great, or just an athletic guy who threw a couple good games together?  I don’t know, although I’d tend to say he’ll be starting there for a while.

14. St. Louis Rams (2-2): Don’t look at me for insight here.  They’ve beat the Cardinals and Seahawks, and are still this far down on the list.  Why?  Well, they lost to the Redskins and looked pathetic in doing so, and could only manage six points in an all field-goal game loss to the Steelers 12-6.  The win against the Cardinals was huge, but I need more proof that the good Rams are more prevalent than the bad Rams.

13. New York Giants (2-2): Look who’s actually a good team this year!  If the Giants could close games properly, they’d be 4-0 and running away with the NFC East.  Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, because as a Giants fan, I know they never make it easy on the fans.  But it’s been exciting watching this team look competitive in all four games.  The Giants have very winnable games for the next five weeks, and if Eli can limit the turnovers like he has so far this season, I can see a playoff berth in Big Blue’s future.

12. Dallas Cowboys (2-2): But of course, the Cowboys aren’t about to make it easy on the Giants.  They still hold the division tiebreaker, and Brandon Weeden’s looked pretty solid in two games of work filling in for Tony Romo.  The same can be said for the Cowboys as the Giants.  They blew a couple leads and should have a better record.  It might come back to haunt them with the injuries to Romo and Dez Bryant, but the Cowboys still appear strong.

11. Minnesota Vikings (2-2): Inconsistency is kind of a theme with these 2-2 teams.  They lost 20-3 in week 1 to the 49ers, and looked just about as bad as an offense can.  Since, Adrian Peterson has done Adrian Peterson things and now leads the league in rushing.  The 23-20 loss to the Broncos last week was painful, but hanging with the Broncos proved that this team is worth keeping an eye on.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2): So many things went wrong in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Steelers’ 23-20 loss to the Ravens last week.  Two blown fourth downs inside the Ravens’ 40, two missed field goals, and a controversial decision to not kick a field goal in overtime.  It was a tough loss, but LeVeon Bell is still a beast, and Michael Vick looks just good enough to keep the team competitive until Big Ben returns.

9. Seattle Seahawks (2-2): The defense is back.  Over the last two games, the Seahawks have forced 18 punts and allowed just 3 offensive points.  They caught a huge break against the Lions and will face huge tests at the Bengals and home against the Panthers the next two weeks.  It’s time to see what this team is made of.

8. Carolina Panthers (4-0): The Panthers are the first of six undefeated squads to appear on the countdown.  They’ve looked pretty good so far, and the defense is easily one of the league’s best.  However, they haven’t really played anyone yet.  All four teams they beat are currently 1-3, and the highest in the power rankings is the Jaguars at #26.  It’s easy to beat up on bad teams.  I want to see them beat Seattle in week 6 following their bye.  Then I’ll be a believer.

7. New York Jets (3-1): Who would’ve thought?  Todd Bowles must be one hell of a coach to make these same Jets look one of the best teams in the AFC.  They’ve been good.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has been better than expected.  But the real story here is the defense, one that looks just as good as any Rex Ryan put together, and he reached the AFC Championship twice.  I can’t wait to see them play the Patriots week 6.  That’s a real test.

6. Denver Broncos (4-0): Peyton Manning looks a lot like Drew Brees- still better than half the starters in the league, but nothing near like what he used to be, even just last season.  That’s okay, though, because the defense has led the team this undefeated record, and Peyton can still turn it on, as he showed on a crucial game-winning drive against the Vikings last week.

5. Arizona Cardinals (3-1): What’s gotten into Carson Palmer?  All of a sudden this guy starts looking like one of the best QBs in the league!  In truth, he’s been underrated ever since he joined the Cardinals, but man has that offense looked dynamite.  They’ve put up at least 14 points in six separate quarters this season.  Think about that.  And how about Larry Fitzgerald?  He’s just as good now as he’s ever been, and he had been sliding for a couple years.

4. Atlanta Falcons (4-0): I drafted Devonta Freeman in the 11th round of my fantasy draft, and man am I reaping the benefits.  To say this guy took the league by storm would be an understatement.  Over the last two games, he’s racked up 342 total yards and six touchdowns.  Six!  The Falcons look like the team from a couple years ago which raced to the #1 seed in the NFC.  I’m not saying they’ll do it again, but they definitely have a shot- especially with the league’s easiest schedule.

3. New England Patriots (3-0): I don’t believe for a second that deflate-gate has led Tom Brady to act any more “mad” than in previous years, but he’s certainly looked near-perfect in each of his team’s first three games this season.  I’m not sure how anyone is going to stop them.  However, people who claim this team will go undefeated should take a step back.  They’ve won two of their three games this season by just one score, and play in a pretty tough division.  But Tom Brady’s quest for a fifth Super Bowl is definitely on.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (4-0): This is a new Andy Dalton.  Everyone’s favorite ginger quarterback is back and better than ever, finally ready to take the next step and lead the Bengals on a playoff run.  This also appears to be the strongest offense he’s ever had behind him.  I know the Bengals are a team that is never taken seriously as a contender, but this year will change that.

1. Green Bay Packers (4-0): Time for an extremely bold statement: by the time Aaron Rodgers retires, he will be the greatest quarterback of all-time.  There, I said it.  This guy is on a different planet from everyone else.  Sorry Brady, you’re close, but this guy is something else- an inhuman combination of skill, athleticism, and intellect.  Across the board, this team is to be feared.  They are the team to beat this season.

     There are my power rankings.  Who would you put higher or lower?  The next edition will come out in two weeks.

     Thanks for reading,
     Connor

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