Week 2 NFL Power Rankings
by Robert Ferringo - 09/10/2008
A wild and wacky Week 1 of the National Football League is in the books and no one can say that it wasn't an interesting and informative weekend. From key injuries to underperforming coaches to exceptional achievements the week was full of everything beautiful and violent that we've come to know and expect from our National Pastime. Everything seemed to click into place last week, as if a strange feeling of calm has settled over our national sports gambling consciousness as the warmth, comfort, and predictable unpredictability on the gridiron returned.
The NFL season is underway. And a new season calls for a new installment of Doc's Sports Power Rankings:
1. Dallas Cowboys (1-0) - By default the Cowboys slide up to the top spot in our Power Rankings. That was a moderately impressive performance in Cleveland on Sunday, but they were basically playing against a team that did not care. Dallas's defense held a pretty good Browns offense to six (of eight) drives of five plays or less. Marion Barber's ribs are fine. Well, that's easy for me to say. He has bruised cartilage, which does hurt like hell, but he will definitely be playing Monday Night against the Eagles. The Cowboys are just 3-9 ATS at home against the Eagles.
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2. Pittsburgh Steelers -The Steelers have now won six straight openers and were physically dominant against Houston. They pulled their starters after the third quarter with a 35-3 lead. I can't remember the last time I saw an NFL team do that. The offensive line played fantastic against a pretty solid Houston front four, but the real story was the energy that Pittsburgh had on the defensive side of the ball. Two youngsters - Lamar Woodley and Lawrence Timmons - have energized the linebacking corps and the return of a healthy Troy Polamalu has Pittsburgh ready to rumble. The Steelers also own the Browns and have not lost to Cleveland since the franchise was reinstated in 1999. They are 8-1 ATS against Cleveland and are 5-0 ATS in the Dawg Pound. The road team is 7-3-1 ATS in this series and the favorite is 6-1-1 ATS.
3. New York Giants - There is really no way that I believe that the Giants - even if they are the defending champions - are the third-best team in the league. However, they have quarterback stability, are physical across the offensive and defensive line, they can run the ball and have some playmakers on offense, and they have experience. That's a pretty solid mixture and they are now one of the more reliable squads in the NFL, which is harrowing considering the Giants' shaky past when they are a favorite. Eli and Co. are a solid 19-7 ATS in road games and have covered seven straight games. New York is 4-0 ATS in the Rams series.
4. New Orleans Saints -That was an important and impressive win at home for New Orleans last week. But they can ill afford a letdown on the road this week at Washington, considering how strong the Falcons and Panthers looked over the weekend. The Saints suffered a tough loss though, as run-stuffer Hollis Thomas is out of the year. The good news is that several new starters - Jeremy Shockey with his emotion, Jon Vilma with his team-leading nine tackles, and Tracy Porter with his steady play on the outside - paid big dividends for New Orleans. The road team is 4-0 ATS in their series with Washington. New Orleans is 3-8 ATS after a SU and ATS win.
5. San Diego Chargers (0-1) - Just before the final play of the game, the Fox cameras cut to Norv Turner on the San Diego sideline. He was just standing there with a stupid half-smile on his face as if he had absolutely no idea where he was or what he was doing. I knew right then this game was over, and was not going San Diego's way. And yes, I think that San Diego's poor tackling in the opening game had to do with the fact that Turner nursed his boys a little too much in the preseason. Also, Shawne Merriman finally came to his senses and will be shut down for the year. San Diego has turned to journeyman tackle L.J. Shelton to fill in for injured starter Marcus McNeil. San Diego is 19-7-3 ATS in divisional games and 44-21-3 ATS overall. They have covered four straight against Denver.
6. Indianapolis Colts - Kind of a bad omen for the Colts was the fact that defensive players admitted that they knew that running plays were coming from Chicago but they couldn't stop them anyway. They have similar problems on the offensive line, as the losses of starters Jeff Saturday and Ryan Lilja were crippling on Sunday against a fierce Bears blitz. They didn't run the ball or stop the run. That is a problem. And facing a vicious Minnesota team, with potentially dominating offensive and defensive lines, this could be trouble for Indy.
7. Tennessee Titans - On one hand, Vince Young's sprained MCL might be the best thing that could have happened to the Titans. This is a potential Super Bowl team, but Young is an absolutely awful quarterback and was only going to hold them back. The problem is that the backup plan is Kookie Collins, who is completely unreliable - even when he's sober. The thought of backing him on the road is horrifying, even if the Titans are 11-5 ATS away from home. This team is as physical as any in the league. I mean, they just WRECK people on both sides of the ball. Chris Johnson is lightning in a bottle and Pac Man Jones was expendable because Courtney Finnegan is a stud at corner. Oh yeah: and the Titans have a 35-6 loss to Cincy to avenge from last season.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars -The Jaguars offensive line was pretty poor against the Titans, and now may be even weaker heading into Sunday's action. They lost both starting guards (Vince Manuwai and Mo Williams) for the year, after already being without their starting center (Brad Meester) and backup right tackle (Richard Collier). But even with that instability up front, I can't believe this team ran for just 33 yards on 1.9 yards per carry last week. They also allowed seven sacks. Oh yeah, and now they will be facing a motivated Marcus Stroud, who the Jags released in the offseason before he signed with Buffalo. The 'over' is 16-5-2 in Jacksonville's last 23 games and they are 21-8-2 ATS after scoring 15 or less points.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -Not only did the Bucs lose a divisional game on Sunday, but they also lost the quarterback of their offense and defense. Derrick Brooks (hamstring) and Jeff Garcia (ankle) are both questionable for this week's Atlanta game. Look for more of a dedication to the running game on Sunday no matter who is under center. The Bucs rushed for 7.6 yards per carry against New Orleans but ran the ball just 19 times (to 43 passes). Jon Gruden knows he screwed up, and I look for him to overcompensate by pounding the ball on the ground this weekend. The favorite is 4-0 ATS in the Atlanta series and the Bucs are 5-2 ATS in divisional games.
10. Philadelphia Eagles -If the Eagles are somehow 5-5 after 10 games this year I guarantee you that Philly fans are going to be calling for Donovan McNabb's head - again. Yet they always seem to forget about performances like Nibbles had on Sunday, where he was the best player on the field and completely dominated the game. I swear that Dr. Z's seemingly outlandish proclamation about the Eagles has energized and reaffirmed this team's place. They certainly played like it last week. But all that good will could be washed way if they washout in Big D. The good news for Philly backers is that the underdog is 6-1 ATS in the last seven in this series and the road team has covered four of five.
11. New England Patriots (1-0) - New England is 9-0 ATS on the road against the Jets and 8-2-1 ATS in the last 11 meetings. I don't have much to say about the Patriots because, well, everyone else is covering them. The bottom line is that we have no idea what Bill Belichick is going to do. But if I had to guess, I will say that it will be the opposite of conventional wisdom. I expect to see bombs to Randy Moss and quick, no-huddle-style attacks with the passing game. They will run the ball, for sure, but I don't expect the Pats offense to be conservative at all. We will see. But if Tom Brady means 10 points on the spread he also means 10 spots on the Power Rankings!
12. New York Jets -Last week was the Favre Magic in full effect. Besides a strong effort by the front seven of their defense, the Jets did not play particularly well in any facet of the game. But Favre made some moves, pulled a couple throws out of his ass, and was good enough to work the offense, control the tempo, and earn the win. That's the bottom line. Now comes the Patriots, and Favre has to be careful. Belichick will surely stack the box and bring plenty of full blitzes, daring Favre to put the ball up for grabs. I love the speed of the Jets wideouts, and I think they have the chance to score A LOT of points this season. The favorite is 7-2-1 ATS in the New England series and the home team is just 7-19-1 ATS. Also, N.Y. signed Jay Feely to replace the injured Mike Nugent.
14. Arizona Cardinals -Wow. It was amazing to see the Cardinals on Sunday, as it looked like a trip to Bizarro World. Usually it's Arizona that is turning the ball over five times but still hanging around in a game. Usually it's Arizona that is unprepared on special teams and caught off guard by a trick play. Usually it's Arizona that allows teams to run drives of 15 and 18 plays, milking the clock while the Cardinals allow third-down conversion after third-down conversion. But no. On Sunday the Cardinals looked like a real football team, and that is a total credit to Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhut. Arizona now has to sustain that momentum and take care of business at home. Too bad they are 0-3 ATS at home against Miami and 1-8 ATS in their first home game of the year. But the are 7-2 ATS against the AFC.
15. Buffalo Bills -OC Turk Schonert and STC Bobby April may have had the two best opening games for any coordinators in the league. Schonert called a great game for the Bills. He worked a lot of draws and traps on the inside, allowing a thick Bills line to simply plow ahead in the running game in front of bruising Marshawn Lynch. He also called almost nothing but three- and five-step, quick-route passes for Trent Edwards, who found a rhythm by simply dropping back and getting rid of the ball. April is a genius and wins at least two games a season for Buffalo simply because of their incredible special teams play. After playing nearly a perfect game against the Seahawks the Bills are now on the road against a brutal Jags club. Buffalo is 8-1 ATS on the road in September against a team off a loss. They lost 36-14 in Jacksonville last year and are 10-3 ATS in Week 2.
13. Seattle Seahawks -The Seahawks offensive roster is an absolute mess right now. They lost Nate Burleson for the year, Matt Hasselbeck admitted that he's getting injections so he can play through a bulging disk in his back, and they will be without Mo Morris this weekend to backup Julius Jones. This team was completely overwhelmed in Buffalo last week and their head was spinning for all four quarters. Mike Holmgren has gone into red alert, releasing his punter and two rookie projects (Forsett and Kent). Seattle will be all business this week and I expect the defense to come out and dominate. But the problem is that they just do not have enough healthy bodies on offense to blow the Niners out. The Seahawks are 6-0 ATS at home and 7-1 ATS after a loss of 14 or more points.
16. Denver Broncos -I, like so many other prognosticators, said that I think Jay Cutler is going to have a monster year. He didn't disappoint in the season opener. The Broncos offense looked unstoppable and again showed why this team is 20-6-1 against the total in its last 27 games. Also, I will say that I am still unimpressed with Denver's defense. Yeah, they made a few plays against a pretty pathetic Oakland attack. But in general, they cannot stop elite offenses and this D will have at least a couple games in which they get absolutely shredded. At the moment, that's the only thing keeping this team out of the Top 10. Denver is 3-10 ATS in divisional games and 5-13 ATS in conference games. The underdog is just 2-6-2 ATS in the San Diego series and the 'over' is 11-1-1 in their last 13 home games.
17. Carolina Panthers - Fantastic win by the Panthers. And it was no come-from-behind fluke. They actually owned this game from start to finish and really shouldn't have been in a position to need a late TD pass. They did lose linemen Travelle Wharton and Jeff Otah to minor knee injuries, but other than that the o-line had a sensational day. Carolina actually outgained LT 139-89 and the Panthers really controlled the tempo from start to finish. That's a good sign considering that each of the NFC South defenses they will face twice this year are vastly improved against the run. Carolina has to avoid a letdown against another club off an upset win. But more importantly, Carolina needs to get back on track at home. They are just 5-12-1 ATS in Charlotte dating back to 2005.
18. Minnesota Vikings -Clearly, the idea of a "game manager" is out the window in regards to Tarv Jackson. That was a very winnable game in Lambeau, and if the Vikings had gotten absolutely anything out of the quarterback position they would have had a key divisional road win. They controlled both lines of scrimmage, and outside of two big plays (a 56-yard pass to Greg Jennings and a 57-yard rush by Ryan Grant) the Vikings shut down the Packers offense. Also, the play calling by the Vikes was questionable, at best. They are down to their third-string LT, and with Dwight Freeney on the horizon they better get that sorted out quickly. A 46-percent night by T-Jack against the Colts won't get it done. Oh, and the $60 million that the Vikings spent this offseason on Jared Allen, Bernard Berrian, and Madieu Williams earned them one tackle and three catches for 38 yards.
19. Houston Texans -Houston is now 1-7 in its last eight road games and there are troubling signs that this team might not be as good as I thought they could be. They have very few players in the prime of their careers, with most of their starters either over-the-hill or still a little wet behind the ear. Defensive coordinator Rich Smith's first game was not a good one, and I am still a little stunned by Houston not addressing their lack of playmakers in the back seven. They were completely overmatched by the more physical, more talented Steelers, and it's rare that you see an NFL team get manhandled like that.
20. Chicago Bears -Lovie must be listening. I had said all last year that the Bears defense fell apart once they decided to try to turn their defensive tackles into smaller, quicker, "disrupters" and pass rushers. When Chicago's defense has been dominant this decade it has boasted two fat, mountainous tackles. Whether it was Mt. Washington and Tractor Traylor or the underrated Alfonso Boone-Ian Scott combo, the DTs have been the real key to the Bears defense. Clearly, Kyle Orton is an NFL-caliber quarterback. It will just be interesting to see if everyone - from Matt Forte to the surprising offensive line - will keep up. Also, I don't have time to list the plays, but the Bears were very aggressive with their play calling on Sunday, going for big plays to the TEs when they could have tried to run the ball and settle for FGs. I would love to see them keep that up.
21. Green Bay Packers (1-0) - For the life of me I still can't really figure out how the Packers won that game on Monday. They were perhaps the second-least impressive of the winning teams from the weekend (Baltimore takes the cake) and other than a few of areas they did not look sharp at all. Wideouts Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are unreal, and almost uncoverable. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher were solid, allowing zero sacks on the night. And the other area in which they had guys play out of their mind was at linebacker, where A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett (18 combined tackles) were exceptional. Green Bay is 9-2-1 ATS in road games and 15-5-2 ATS in divisional games. The Packers are 4-0 ATS against Detroit.
22. Atlanta Falcons -Wow. Can't say enough about how well Atlanta played, and let me be the first to say that I will not be surprised if they are a player in the NFC South this year. No, that's not overreaction. I have commented before about how much I like their offensive line and the nasty streak that they bring to the field. They showed it on Sunday. They physically dominated the Lions, and I can see the Falcons being able to run the ball on anyone this year. That will keep the pressure off Matt Ryan, who is proving that maybe Mike Vick did have some decent wideouts all those years. The key is for the defense to continue to scrap and claw and force turnovers. This is really a critical game for Atlanta's season this Sunday in Tampa. They are 8-3 ATS on the road but 2-5 ATS in divisional games. Atlanta has played eight straight 'over' games.
23. Washington Redskins (0-1) -I'm going to make it simple for Jim Zorn: the West Coast offense and Jason Campbell go together about as well as crab cakes and heroin. Expect to see Campbell throwing out of the shotgun more this week against New Orleans. However, that basically eliminates the play-action passing game that I thought was a real strength for Jason last year. Washington is also pretty banged up in the secondary, as both corners Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs are still questionable. Also, Carlos Rogers is still playing on a surgically repaired knee.
24. Kansas City Chiefs -I will admit it: the Chiefs impressed me this weekend. Their defense - which was the best in the league on third down last year - may be the most underrated in the league. Yes, the secondary is a little suspect. But their front four does work and will keep them in games. As I mentioned in my breakdown of the New England game, the Chiefs need to get a little creative on offense. They did a good job of putting the ball in their playmakers' hands, but they need to try to get them in some mismatch situations. Very interested to see how Kansas City plays as a favorite this weekend. The home team is 0-4 ATS in the Oakland series and the Chiefs are just 1-4 ATS against the Raiders in Arrowhead.
25. Cleveland Browns -All offseason I had said it: the Browns suck. They are the most overrated team in the league and they did not even attempt to show up on Sunday. The Browns defense had absolutely no shot at stopping Dallas' offense. I know the Cowboys are good, but that looked like a 7-on-7 non-contact drill for Dallas. Cleveland wants to play it off like they were looking ahead to the Steelers. But it's not that. They just aren't a very good team. They aren't physical, they make mental mistakes, and they did not compete on Sunday. If they had been playing Pittsburgh last week they would have lost by 50. We will see if they can bounce back against a team that owns them. Cleveland is 12-3 ATS after a loss of 14 or more.
26. Detroit Lions -Once again, I can't believe that I believed. It wasn't the hype that I bought into. You know, the "this is Detroit's year as a sleeper" hype that's been around for about 20 years. I believe my eyes. This team looked sharp in the preseason - in all areas - but then they were completely overwhelmed by Atlanta. Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams are the most overrated skill position tandem in the league, and Jon Kitna's actions on Sunday - calling two timeouts to go scream at coaches - just sets a terrible tone for what should be a terrible season. Also, the Lions' home opener is close to being blacked out due to 4,500 unsold tickets. There will likely be a corporate buyout of the seats and the team will tout its 49th-straight sellout. But the reality is that the fan base is tired of this pathetic organization. The Lions are 8-3 ATS at home against the Packers, but 4-12-1 ATS in divisional games. The home team is 16-5-1 ATS in the last 22 meetings.
27. Miami Dolphins - After all the smack I talked about Chad Pennington last week he was absolutely awful against the Jets. He was erratic, had happy feet in the pocket, and basically reminded any Jets fan that was having second thoughts about why he drove them crazy. I understand that the Fins rushed for just 2.9 yards per carry in the game, but they gave up on the run way, way too early. This led to way too many third-and-long situations, and that's not Pennington's forte. The Miami defensive front was impressive, and in a game in which they were totally outplayed the Dolphins still put themselves within 20 yards of a win. This is a rapidly improving bunch.
28. Oakland Raiders -It's almost refreshing that the more things change the more they stay the same in Oakland: questionable play calls, turnovers, and bonehead penalties - it never changes. Oakland is 10-21 ATS in divisional games, 19-41-1 ATS in conference games, and 26-55-1 ATS overall. Basically, you should be betting against them every single week until they make it to another Super Bowl. Which should be somewhere around 2024. DeAngelo Hall got absolutely abused on Monday night. And if he isn't performing at a Pro Bowl level then the defense, which I thought would be the strength of the team, becomes shaky. Oakland can run the ball. But if they continue to fall behind early they can't expect JaMarcus Russell to throw them back into it.
29. Baltimore Ravens - For the life of me, I have no idea how the Ravens beat the Bungles on Sunday. They didn't take care of the ball, they had nine penalties, and they didn't make big plays. Actually, I do know how they won: they ran the ball and they played good defense. The Ravens posted 229 rushing yards and allowed less than 160 total yards of offense. This is not a very good team, and they won't win many games, but they play hard and earned that 'W'. Baltimore is 6-21 ATS on the road and 4-14 ATS overall.
30. St. Louis Rams -Yuk. I will say that the Rams aren't nearly as bad as they looked on Sunday. They simply ran into a buzz saw in Philly. Marc Bulger still looks completely shell-shocked, but this offensive unit can only get better. Also, completely random that Torry Holt was essentially benched for the second and third quarters of that game. The Rams are 18-37-1 ATS after a loss and 1-10 ATS against a team with a winning record.
31. San Francisco 49ers - Would you believe that San Fran actually OUTGAINED Arizona on Sunday? That was despite having the ball for 14 less minutes for the game! I was impressed by the way they ran the ball. If they can do that all year they can be competitive. That is, as long as they don't post too many more -5's in the turnover department. Justin Smith has to be shaking his head though, having left a similarly poor team in Cincinnati to come out West and lose his first game in a very Bengal-like way. Maybe it's his fault! The Niners are 3-9 ATS overall and 2-9 ATS in the NFC.
32. Cincinnati Bengals -Here's how prepared Marvin Lewis had his Bengals facing a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback: they had 154 yards of offense, were 2-for-13 on third down, they had five penalties for 40 yards, allowed 56 yards on four punt returns, and had two turnovers. This is the worst team in the league, by far, and if Marvin Lewis was a white coach I think there'd be a lot more of an outcry for him to be fired. It was as if he had no clue that they would be without Rudi Johnson and Willie Anderson and they had absolutely zero offensive adjustments. They lacked a coherent game plan, they still don't hit anyone on defense, and they were sloppy in the special teams. Again, this is the worst team in the league, and there were a few others that lost by four touchdowns.