It’s difficult to write this column without some mention of the roughing the passer penalties which are occurring with increasing regularity in the NFL this season. Whilst the Packers have been hard done by with the Clay Matthews incidents, more and more of these nonsense flags are being thrown in almost every game – this week’s Monday night game between the Bucs and the Steelers is a great example.
Last week I tweeted that it would only be a matter of time before a player would be seriously injured in attempting to make a physically impossible move when trying to avoid hitting the quarterback – unfortunately it seems that such an injury has now occurred with Miami’s William Hayes suffering a season ending ACL injury. So sad.
Whether the referees are calling the penalties per the “letter of the law” or whether they are being guided by the extra emphasis on the penalty coming from the league office, matters not, the NFL needs to look at this issue immediately – not at the end of the season, not in a few weeks, but right now. It is not too strong to say the game that we love is being ruined by what is going on.
On with The Rankings…
Figure this – Last week’s No.32 Buffalo goes to No.6 Minnesota and blows out the Vikings. No.29 Cleveland records its first win in 635 days. No.8 Green Bay loses easily to No.23 Washington. No.5 New England is never in the game against previously winless No.27 Detroit. Last week’s No.2 Jacksonville can only muster a paltry 6 points. What the hell’s going on out there?!!
By the week, this season is confusing and confounding the pundits seemingly more than any season in recent memory. Many teams appear to be struggling to find an identity – looking good one week and then woeful the next (or vice versa).
The Power Rankings therefore have a volatility that reflects this uncertainty.
1. Los Angeles Rams (3-0) (last week’s ranking: 1)
Beating a good Chargers team on the road means that the Rams remain the team to beat in the NFC. The Rams offense can beat you in the air with Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods or on the ground with the outstanding Todd Gurley. They racked up more than 500 total yards of offense this past week. The defense has been good enough so far but injuries to starting corners Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib raise big questions – the extent of those injuries and how much playing time they may miss is unknown at the time of writing. The Rams have a short week this week, playing the Vikings on Thursday night, so the status of Peters and Talib may be crucial.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) (last week’s ranking: 3)
The Chiefs are challenging the Rams for the title of “The Best Team in Football” right now. Against the 49ers this past week Patrick Mahomes continued his incredible start to the season with 3 more touchdown passes and no interceptions – he now has 13 passing touchdowns and no picks through the first 3 weeks of the season. That mark of 13 is a new NFL record through 3 weeks. The Chiefs offense looks stacked - Kareem Hunt is an all-round threat to score from any point on the field and Travis Kelce is huge presence in the passing game. The defense, as yet, has not needed to be any more than serviceable to place the Chiefs on top of the pile in the AFC.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 4)
Carson Wentz returned this week, but the offensive struggles continued with just 20 points against an inspired Colts defense. Fortunately, the Eagles defense was up to the task, holding the Colts to just 16 points and seeing the Eagles through to victory. The Eagles offensive line couldn’t contain the Indianapolis pass rush and will need to get better if Philadelphia is to repeat. However, they remain favourites in the NFC East and we’ll see them in January.
4. New Orleans Saints (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 10)
The Saints could easily be sitting at the bottom of the pile at 0-3 right now…conversely, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could be 3-0. Whichever way you look at it, to be above .500 at this juncture with a defense that appears to be almost non-existent can only be a positive. It doesn’t seem likely that the Saints defense could get much worse. On the offensive side of the ball Drew Brees looked more like the Drew Brees we have come to know as he moved his team up and down the field against the Falcons. As an aside, Brees broke Brett Favre’s career completions mark during the game. It looks like New Orleans is going to be in a season long battle in the NFC South with both Atlanta and Carolina.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 2)
The Jaguars offense suddenly went pfft this week as they could only muster a paltry 6 points against the Titans. They racked up yardage at will last week against the Patriots, but this week the offense looked like a team of strangers. Very odd goings on. The continued absence of Leonard Fournette through a hamstring injury obviously doesn’t help. Fortunately, the defense is playing well so far this season, so the Jags should continue to be in every game they play and they will be around the playoffs come January…but beyond the Chiefs, the AFC now looks even weaker than it did at the commencement of the season.
6. Carolina Panthers (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 14)
Christian McCaffrey racked up 184 yards on the ground and despite giving up nearly 400 yards against the Bengals, Carolina’s defense came up big this week with 4 interceptions of Andy Dalton. A strong running game and a ball-hawking defense is a great recipe for a playoff contender. Cam Newton remains as good a multiple threat at QB as there is – with 2 touchdowns passing and 2 rushing this past week. Carolina remain good playoff contenders in the NFC.
7. Atlanta Falcons (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 7)
One week after getting past a tough divisional opponent (Panthers), the Falcons found themselves on the wrong end (from their perspective) of this week’s game against another – the New Orleans Saints. All of this means that the NFC South would appear to be like most of the other divisions in the league this season (barring perhaps the AFC West and NFC West) – a dogfight that goes down to the last game. Matt Ryan threw 5 touchdowns including 3 to star rookie Calvin Ridley – but you don’t win many games in which you give up 43 points and a whopping 534 net yards. The Falcons defense is hurting (they lost another starting safety – Ricardo Allen - for the season) and somehow needs to overcome injury and poor play to help Atlanta rise above New Orleans and Carolina come season’s end.
8. New England Patriots (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 5)
Nobody wants to write off the Patriots this early in the season – it wouldn’t be the first time in recent years that they have started slowly but still come through to make it to the big game – but right now they seem to be a few steps behind the Chiefs. Having said that, nobody else in the AFC looks great either, so any team that can keep their head above water to get to 10 (or even 9) wins has a postseason shot. You have to imagine that a Tom Brady led New England Patriots are well capable of doing that. They will be hoping that Josh Gordon will give them a boost. In the meantime, work is needed on the defensive side of the ball where they look like a bottom-third outfit.
9. Minnesota Vikings (1-1-1) (last week’s ranking: 6)
Sometimes words fail me. Who could have imagined that the worst team in football could go into Minnesota and simply blow the Vikings away? Kirk Cousins was under severe pass rush pressure for nearly all the game (being sacked 4 times and losing 2 fumbles). Don’t be fooled by the net yardage (292 for both teams) – most of the Vikings yardage came in garbage time after the game was long gone. I expect Minnesota to bounce back from this shocker, but they take on the high-flying Rams this coming week and they could easily drop below .500 in a division they were favourites to win pre-season.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1-1) (last week’s ranking: 12)
In a game littered with penalties, the Steelers held off a furious 4th quarter rally by the Bucs to notch their first victory of the season and hand Tampa Bay their first defeat. Pittsburgh had 13 penalties for 155 yards but were able to overcome the flags thanks to 353 passing yards from Ben Roethlisberger and 3 interceptions from their defense. The defense needed those 3 picks as they still contrived to give up 455 yards to the Bucs offense. This is a struggling defense despite the talent it undoubtedly has. Regarding the ongoing Le’Veon Bell situation, ESPN are now reporting that the Steelers are listening to offers for their star RB.
11. Tennessee Titans (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 16)
The Titans won another crucial divisional match-up by holding the Jags to just 6 points this past week. Tennessee was only able to muster 9 points of its own, but it was enough. You don’t win many games with 83 net yards passing but the defense was enough to get them home against Jacksonville in a game both teams looked like they tried hard to lose. The Titans have been forced to play revolving door quarterbacks because of injury through the first 3 games which doesn’t help any offensive continuity. We can expect Marcus Mariota to stay as the starting QB from this point on.
12. Miami Dolphins (3-0) (last week’s ranking: 20)
3 touchdown passes by Ryan Tannehill, 2 interceptions by CB Xavien Howard and 15 tackles by LB Kiko Alonso led the Dolphins to a come from behind victory over the Oakland Raiders. WR Albert Wilson also threw a touchdown (a 52 yarder) on a trick play. The surprising Dolphins are now 3-0…they are already 2 wins ahead of the competition in the AFC East. Sadly, the Dolphins lost DE William Hayes for the season with an ACL injury. They are also suffering from injuries at the TE position so expect more opportunities for exciting rookie Mike Gesicki in the coming weeks.
13. Green Bay Packers (1-1-1) (last week’s ranking: 8)
It’s very difficult to work out what we have in the 2018 Green Bay Packers. This is a team that could be anywhere between 2-1 and 0-3 right now, so a .500 record through three games feels like a close reflection of what they have been so far. However, we can’t quickly gloss over how poor the Packers lacked in nearly every aspect of their week 3 performance in Washington. It’s very difficult to even highlight specific areas because so much was lacking against the Redskins from offense to defense, play calling to clock management…Packers fans must hope that this was an aberration never to be seen again. The pressure, both mentally and physically, being put on Aaron Rodgers seems to be increasing – and as this week’s game wore on he looked physically worn down and perhaps picked up a minor hamstring pull to go with his existing knee injury. To make matters worse, Mo Wilkerson suffered what appears to be a season ending ankle injury and the right side of the offensive line (Bulaga and McCray) is also banged up. Troubling times in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
14. Los Angeles Chargers (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 9)
Phillip Rivers continues to lead a good Chargers offense but mistakes (e.g. dropped passes) mean the Chargers offense stops itself as much as defenses do. On the other side of the ball, the defense is creating turnovers but more than 500 yards given up this week against the Rams just won’t cut it. They miss the injured Joey Bosa – he should be back in the next few weeks. The Chargers remain a challenge for anybody they come up against and despite dropping to 1-2 it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them in the playoffs in January.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 13)
The Ryan Fitzpatrick led Bucs fell to their first defeat of the season against the Steelers, despite a 400-yard passing day from their quarterback. Unfortunately for Ryan, he also threw 3 interceptions (including a pick-6) which ultimately proved too much for his team to overcome. Jameis Winston is available to return from suspension in week 4 – what will the Bucs do? How long before they move back to their assumed starter? That may not prove the right decision, as Fitzpatrick has provided them with an offense not seen in Tampa for many years. The defense has been inconsistent thus far for the Bucs, so if the offense drops off any they may struggle.
16. Chicago Bears (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 18)
The Bears did just about enough to scrape past one of the worst teams in football in the Arizona Cardinals. Again, the Bears have their defense to thank as they notched up 3 interceptions and 4 sacks including 2 by Khalil Mack. The impressive Mack has at least 1 sack and 1 forced fumble in every game this season. The Bears offense remains efficient at best – but it has been enough so far this year to get the team to 2-1. But make no mistake, the strength of this team is the defense.
17. Washington Redskins (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 23)
The Washington Redskins go from not being able to beat the Indianapolis Colts last week, to steam-rolling the Green Bay Packers this week. What gives? The Redskins took advantage of the Packers in every facet of the game so much so, that you wonder whether this was Washington being good or Green Bay being especially bad. Certainly, Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson gave their team a boost offensively with fine performances and the defensive line in particular was strong in putting pressure on Aaron Rodgers.
18. Denver Broncos (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 15)
Denver dropped to 2-1 with a tepid offensive performance and poor defensive effort against the Ravens. This is a team that very easily could be 0-3. The Broncos struggled all day to move the ball and Case Keenum had less than 200 yards passing…the day was summed up nicely when RB Phillip Lindsay was ejected for throwing a punch. Defensively, apart from Von Miller, its easy to look and wonder what else the Broncos have.
19. Baltimore Ravens (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 22)
The Ravens played solid football in beating the Broncos. A good all-round effort, led by an efficient day by Joe Flacco was enough to garner Baltimore’s second win of the year. A strong defensive effort was led by LB Kenny Young who had 10 tackles and Terrell Suggs with 1.5 sacks. Thus far, the Ravens look little better than average – but in a wide-open AFC that may be enough to get to the playoffs.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 19)
Coming into this past week unbeaten, the Bengals will be disappointed to have racked up nearly 400 yards of offense but still lose by a 10-point margin to the Panthers. 4 interceptions thrown by Andy Dalton plus an injury to WR A.J. Green were too much to overcome in a match-up which was probably a good litmus test for where the Bengals really are. Cincinnati are hoping to get star RB Joe Mixon back for week 4, which will help take the pressure off Dalton.
21. San Francisco 49ers (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 11)
The 49ers were blown away early by the increasingly impressive Chiefs offense and despite a second half revival, San Francisco dropped to 1-2 after a game in which they were never close. The 49ers offense has had good moments this year, but not enough and pretty much the same can be said of the defense. The big news this week though is the injury to Jimmy Garoppolo – Jimmy G went down with a serious looking knee injury in the 4th quarter against the Chiefs – it appears that the injury will end his season...and probably with it go the 49ers playoff chances. Garoppolo’s back-up is the lightly regarded C.J. Beathard. Just to add extra angst to the 49ers, it looks like CB Richard Sherman will be out for a few weeks with a calf injury.
22. Seattle Seahawks (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 24)
Seattle finally got their first win of the season – beating a poor looking Cowboys team behind 2 touchdown passes from Russell Wilson, 102 yards rushing from Chris Carson and 2 interceptions from safety Earl Thomas. Thomas continues to play whilst looking for a trade away from Seattle – that surely can only be a matter of time. The Seahawks this week welcomed back Bobby Wagner from injury. But Doug Baldwin and K.J. Wright remain on sidelines.
23. Detroit Lions (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 27)
The Lions have been getting better each week and got off the mark with a solid victory over the Patriots – a game in which New England never really challenged. Matthew Stafford has been effective after the opening week’s debacle and the running game is looking re-invigorated through the dual threat of Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount. And anytime you can hold a Tom Brady led offense to just 120 net yards passing you know that you have something going on the defensive side of the ball. It’s possible that the Lions could yet compete in what suddenly looks like a wide-open NFC North.
24. Cleveland Browns (1-1-1) (last week’s ranking: 29)
Finally, the Browns did what we have been expecting from them for a while and won a game. I believe this is the first of a number of wins this year. Last week I proudly proclaimed that “it’s not quite Baker Time” …well, I guess Baker Time really did come on Thursday night. Mayfield replacing the concussed Tyrod Taylor gave the Browns the boost they needed to come from behind to beat the Jets. The question now is does Mayfield stay as the starter or does Tyrod return (assuming he clears the concussion protocol)?
25. Dallas Cowboys (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 17)
Dak Prescott continues to struggle and while Ezekiel Elliott did have a 100-yard rushing day against the Seahawks, this is an offense that is in need of a boost – where that may come from, who knows? The defense continues to keep Dallas in games but they suffered a big loss when the luckless LB Sean Lee went out with another hamstring injury which is likely to keep him out for a few weeks. A big loss for the Cowboys. As we’ve already said this year, Dallas continues to look like a “mid-table” team in the very strong NFC.
26. New York Jets (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 25)
After leading the Jets to victory in their season opener against the Lions, Sam Darnold hasn’t been able to get them over the line the last two weeks against the Dolphins and Browns. Still, Darnold remains impressive in his rookie season and has immediately upgraded this team and added some offensive excitement. The Jets appear to be like many teams early this season – struggling to work out exactly who they are. Right now, that’s in the bottom third of NFL teams.
27. Indianapolis Colts (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 26)
Two weeks ago, we had the Indianapolis Colts pegged as one of the worst teams in the NFL. Then they beat the Redskins (who themselves then go on to dominate the Packers) and follow that up by nearly beating the champion Eagles. The Colts pass rush was awesome against the Eagles with 5 sacks and a forced fumble. This defense is clearly better than advertised. Offensively, they will be hoping Andrew Luck can shake off the cobwebs and return to his pre-injury form.
28. New York Giants (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 30)
Despite the huge pass rushing effort from the Texans J.J. Watt, Eli Manning had his best game for quite some time completing 25 of 29 for 297 yards and 2 touchdowns. Saquon Barkley was good (117 total yards) without quite breaking out. The Giants need to keep their offense balanced. Defensively, the Giants were led by Damon Harrison and held the Texans ground game. We’ll get another view of what the Giants really are when they play the Saints this week.
29. Buffalo Bills (1-2) (last week’s ranking: 32)
Didn’t we say it would be a steep learning curve for rookie QB Josh Allen? Well, his journey on that curve started incredibly well as he led the previously hapless Bills to a shocking victory over the Vikings. Just as surprising as the win, was its nature – Buffalo blowing away Minnesota early and easily cruising to the win. Buffalo’s defense hurried and harrowed Kirk Cousins all day and held the Vikings to a paltry 14 yards rushing. I have no doubt that there are tougher days ahead for Josh Allen, but you can’t take anything away from him and his team over this week’s performance. The Bills move out of the bottom position in our rankings.
30. Houston Texans (0-3) (last week’s ranking: 21)
Despite a 385-yard passing day from Deshaun Watson and a 3-sack day from J.J. Watt, the Texans couldn’t overcome a 14-point halftime deficit and fall to a surprising 0-3 start. Watt seemed to spend most of his day in the Giants in backfield and has come a long way in his comeback from injuries that have ruined his last few seasons. I’ve been a strong supporter of the Texans this year, but the team on paper isn’t performing out on the field and they are plummeting down this Ranking. If you can’t beat the previously winless Giants, where is your first win coming from?
31. Oakland Raiders (0-3) (last week’s ranking: 28)
Jordy Nelson had his Raider break out game with 173 yards receiving but despite this and the 345-yard passing effort from Derek Carr, the Raiders again managed to capitulate and lose a game they probably should have won. Carr’s 2 interceptions didn’t help nor did the defense’s inability to stop the Dolphins Ryan Tannehill. A lack of pass rush doesn’t help this team – get this - Khalil Mack has more sacks this season by himself than the Raiders as a team! We said last week that bad teams find a way to lose and it seems that Oakland are at least consistent in that respect. Welcome back to the NFL, Jon Gruden.
32. Arizona Cardinals (0-3) (last week’s ranking: 31)
Arizona came close to upsetting the Bears, but another poor offensive performance keeps this team winless. Yes, the Bears have a very good defense, but 14 points just doesn’t cut it in the NFL. Rookie QB Josh Rosen replaced Sam Bradford in the 4th quarter of this game and it looks like the starting role is now Rosen’s. Unless Rosen can give this team an immediate boost, there aren’t many signs of a turnaround any time soon. The Cardinals move to the bottom of our Power Rankings.
Find Peter on twitter here: @The_IT_Hedgehog