Welcome to some new musings called “Mike’s NFL Power Rankings.” This is my first installment of the season. I didn’t think it was necessary to do such a segment before Week 1 because quite frankly, after the preseason, virtually everyone looks like a playoff contender. No, not you, Miami and wipe that grin off your face, Cleveland Browns!
Anyway, rather than going through all 32 teams -an exercise in boredom for everyone, especially when you reach the bottom of the proverbial league barrel- I figured I’d go with my Fabulous Fifteen. Let the debate begin…
1. Patriots (1-0)
Stevan Ridley rushed for 100-plus yards, and only once did a single player do that for the Pats last season. They haven’t had an impact player in the running game like that since Corey Dillon. On defence, their two first-round picks, Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones, made immediate impacts at positions of need for a team that was awful on D last year, but looked pretty darn good on Sunday. If their revitalized defence can maintain the pace set this past Sunday, the Patriots will be nearly impossible to beat.
For the 49ers to go on the road, and particularly to Green Bay, one of the toughest places to play in, was impressive as any win on Sunday. I think they’re the most complete team in the NFL with a scary good defence, but now also an offence that can hang big points as well. A couple more games like this and the 49ers get my vote as the NFL’s best team.
3. Ravens (1-0)
OK, granted. The Bengals were completely outmatched last Monday but this may very well be the best team the Ravens have ever fielded. Even without the injured Terrell Suggs, the defence applied consistent pressure and made Andy Dalton uncomfortable all day. Ray Lewis looks like he’s 27 and he continues to fly around the field.
4. Texans (1-0)
Three words – J.J. Watt. There wasn’t a player that made more of an impact on a game than he did on Sunday. He tallied 1.5 sacks and he also tipped two passes at the line that resulted in interceptions. Add to that QB Matt Schaub and his new contract, RB Arian Foster and WR Andre Johnson and you have all the ingredients for success.
5. Falcons (1-0)
Of all the stellar QB-WR combinations in the NFL, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones may end up being the most explosive this season. Trading for Asante Samuel just became a whole lot more important with the season-ending injury to Brent Grimes, but not having three solid CBs may haunt them in the NFC South.
6. Cowboys (1-0)
I’ve always been mistrustful of the Cowboys and this year is no different. Right now, they may look like the clear frontrunner in the NFC East — quite possibly the best division in football. Tony Romo was consistent on offence and DeMarcus Ware’s two sacks kicked off his Defensive Player Of The Year campaign. If they repeat last year’s performance, with a bunch of blown fourth-quarter leads, folks will be jumping off the bandwagon in a New York minute.
OK, bad pun!
7. Packers (0-1)
The Packers were up against the best defence in the NFL, but more was expected of them, especially at home. What the hell happened to this team? Why did they refuse to cover anyone on the 49ers on Sunday? I know the defence was missing Desmond Bishop, but one man wouldn’t have made the difference. Seriously, how could they have so many blown coverages in one afternoon?
The most puzzling thing is what Mike McCarthy said in the post-game press conference: “Our defence did some good things today.”
What? When? I must have fallen asleep when the Packers made all of those great plays that McCarthy referred to. It’s amazing that they didn’t beat the 49ers with all of those great plays.
8. Broncos (1-0)
Peyton Manning is the same Peyton Manning and he’s back in a big way. He was accurate. He threw with zip. He executed the no-huddle to perfection in the second half. He will need to play that well, or better, next week against the Falcons to keep up with their high-octane offence. But there is no reason to believe that he can’t. This is a good team. Now comes a tough test: at Atlanta.
9. Bears (1-0)
After a rocky start, QB Jay Cutler calmed down and showed how he can be pretty good under Mike Tice and his new offensive scheme. He is now able to throw what he sees, rather than throwing to a predetermined spot in Mike Martz’s system. And what did he see on Sunday? A lot of Brandon Marshall. It looks like Da Bears might have an offence to go with their defence this season.
10. Lions (1-0)
It didn’t get off to a great start, or even a great middle, but Matthew Stafford puts together his seventh career fourth-quarter comeback in the win on Sunday. I don’t anticipate Stafford will struggle this badly for the rest of the season, but his ability to put all of that behind him to complete two scoring drives to lead the comeback was impressive. Stafford’s poor decision-making led to three interceptions, but when it counted most, the Lions’ big-armed QB was there. Careful, though… you can’t get away with that stuff against the NFL elite.
11. Steelers (0-1)
Ben Roethlisberger lost his duel with Peyton Manning, getting a taste of what Manning felt in his Super Bowl loss to the Saints by having Tracy Porter come up with a pick six to seal the verdict. Even though they lost, the Steelers look promising, even without their starting running back and starting safety.
12. Jets (1-0)
After the Jets had just 31 points and no touchdowns by the first-team offence in the preseason, Mark Sanchez throws three TDs, the Jets put up 48 against the Bills, and some guy named Tebow plays only a bit part in the romp. OK, so the Jets put up more points in one game than they did all four preseason games combined, but the Bills -in spite of their offseason additions- have problems on defence. Let’s see how the Jets do against the Steelers before we jump back on the bandwagon
13. Redskins (1-0)
I’ve followed football for 35 years – yes, I’m that old! – and I’ve never seen a rookie debut performance like RG3 put up on Sunday. Yes, that includes Cam Newton’s 422-yard performance of a year ago. Griffin III exploded onto the scene by hanging 40 on the road against a Saints team some folks think are Super Bowl good. Defence got it done, too, keeping Drew Brees out of rhythm most of the way.
14. Saints (0-1)
They got good news off the field when bounty-related suspensions were vacated for the time being. On the field? Not so much. Saints are stunned by RG3′s Redskins as Brees can’t get untracked and Steve Spagnuolo’s defence comes up empty. I thought Drew Brees was pressing a little too much. After all the turmoil in the offseason, Brees, like the leader he is, tried to shoulder the load for this team and came up a little short. It’s way too early to panic, because this team will get back to form next week against Carolina.
15. Eagles (1-0)
Winning ugly is still winning, and Michael Vick will take it. But if you’re an Eagles fan, how do you not worry about those four picks and all those poor decisions against the hapless Browns? Juan Castillo’s defense held Trent Richardson to just 2.1 yards per carry on 19 attempts, a huge improvement over last year’s squad which struggled against the run.