NFL Week 7 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* All month, this column has joined the NFL in promoting Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For this final week, we're highlighting Olympic champion Dorothy Hamill, a breast cancer survivor who created a PSA for this year's Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

* The Saints are averaging 39.7 points per game, putting them on pace for 635. The record for a 16-game season is 589 (2007 Patriots) and per game is 38.8 (1950 Rams).

* Michael Crabtree, who was picked 10th in this year's draft and held out until this week, got 5 catches on Sunday. Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was chosen seventh and has played all season, has 4 catches this year.

* You know what I love about the MLB playoffs? Joe Buck doesn't call football games.

* The last thing Washington's moribund offense needed: losing its best player. Chris Cooley has a broken ankle.

***

I know, I know. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Jon Gruden is a substantial upgrade over Tony Kornheiser on MNF, and don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the change. But Gruden's over-enthusiasm, his tendency to live in the moment instead of living in reality, is sometimes a little annoying. DeSean Jackson has been more explosive through the first six weeks of the season than anyone in NFL history? He's 21st in receiving yards and tied for 23rd in touchdowns. To be fair, he also has a rushing touchdown, and one as a returner, making him one of 21 players with at least 5 total TDs this season. He's had two 100-yard receiving games. I'm skeptical that he's the most explosive player this season, to say nothing of NFL history.

This Monday, Gruden also opined that Donovan McNabb throws the deep ball "as often and as well" as anyone in the league. This is so obviously false as not to be worth debunking. Look, compared to Kornheiser's sins, this is kid stuff. I'll take Gruden's hyperbole over Kornheiser's evident lack of interest and total lack of knowledge, without hesitation. But it would be nice if he could tone it down just a little, think before he speaks. Honestly, I'm hoping someone hires him to coach next year and ESPN goes to a two-man booth with just Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski. A guy can dream, right?

Anyway, time for power rankings. Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. New Orleans Saints [1] — Overcame four Drew Brees turnovers to hang 46 points on the Dolphins, outscoring Miami 46-10 after being down 24-3 near the end of the second quarter. The Saints have beaten good teams, blown out bad teams, and overcome adversity. They have won all their games by double-digits and outscored their opponents by a league-best 111 points.

2. Indianapolis Colts [2] — Something that's new in the NFL this season, a possible trend to keep an eye on, is the existence of several good teams with really bad running games. The Colts are 27th, the Cardinals are dead last, and even the Steelers are below average. The collective record of the bottom six in rushing offense is 22-15. The collective record of the top six is 21-17. The passing game has never been more important, and the ground game never less.

3. Denver Broncos [3] — Three teams have scored more than twice as much as their opponents this season: the Colts (179-77), the Patriots (198-98), and the Broncos (133-66). This team must be taken very seriously. Bronco MVPs so far: Elvis Dumervil (on the field) and Brian Dawkins (off the field). Dumervil (NFL-best 10 sacks) is an early candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, and Dawkins has played a huge role in changing the attitude of the team.

4. New England Patriots [6] — Rank fourth in points per game, third in points allowed. I think losing to the Broncos really made them mad. Since that game, the Pats have dominated their opponents, 94-7. Brandon Meriweather, who intercepted two passes this weekend, is an emerging star in the secondary.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers [9] — Four wins in a row after their bumpy 1-2 start. During the win streak, the Steelers have 16 sacks, compared to only 5 in the three games before that, and they are now tied for second in the NFL in sacks. In particular, reigning DPOY James Harrison has come alive, with 7 sacks in the last month. They Steelers are 4-0 at home.

6. Arizona Cardinals [10] — Last season, they went 3-5 on the road. So far this year, they're 3-0. They've also won three straight since the bye week. I'd like to see them stop playing musical chairs with the running backs. Beanie Wells is the guy. I don't like fumbles, either, but he needs to be the primary ball-carrier.

7. Minnesota Vikings [4] — Who came up with the gameplan that called for a 40-year-old quarterback to drop back 55 times, and the best running back in the league to carry 18? And why is Chester Taylor only getting 5 carries a game? There are good, young receivers here, but this is still a ball-control, run-first team, and that's how the Vikings need to play if they're going to be successful.

8. New York Giants [5] — Lost two in a row, but they're still sixth in yards gained and first in yards allowed. Eli Manning did not play well on Sunday night, and the defense needs to get more pressure on opposing QBs. When they won the Super Bowl in 2007 and compiled the NFC's best record in 2008, they did so with a consistent pass rush coming primarily from the defensive line. It hasn't been there the past two weeks.

9. Atlanta Falcons [7] — How can you not be concerned about their 1-2 record on the road? Last season, they were much better at home (7-1) than away (4-4), and it looks like the same thing this year. Next week's game, at New Orleans, could be ugly. Matt Ryan, after a sensational start to the season, has played poorly the last two weeks.

10. Green Bay Packers [14] — Three of their last four games have been against teams with a combined record of 2-18 (Browns, Lions, Rams). How do you evaluate a professional team playing jayvee opponents? This is just my best guess for where to rank them.

11. Miami Dolphins [12] — Third straight game with Chad Henne starting at quarterback, third straight game with 30 points. Henne actually did not play well this week, but the defense provided good field position, and Ricky Williams rushed for 3 touchdowns. One week after long-in-the-tooth veterans Thomas Jones and Clinton Portis recorded the longest runs of their respective careers, 32-year-old Williams did so on Sunday, going 68 yards.

12. Houston Texans [18] — Matt Schaub leads the NFL in passing yards and passing TDs, but the Texans are 10th in total offense. Steve Slaton has a huge upside, but he's not moving the chains and he is fumbling far too often. Houston needs a complement to Slaton, a between-the-tackles runner for 1st-and-10 or 3rd-and-short. Chris Brown, who didn't play for anyone last year, is not the solution. That's Chris Brown the former Titan, not Chris Brown the girlfriend-beating felon.

13. Cincinnati Bengals [17] — Cedric Benson leads the NFL in rushing. I understand that Benson wanted revenge against his old team this weekend, and he certainly got it, to the tune of 37 carries for 189 yards and a touchdown, in a 45-10 victory. But giving your lead running back 37 carries in a 5-touchdown blowout is stupid. Research suggests that 25 or more carries in a game can lead to injuries, and that the risk grows exponentially as the number of attempts increases. Giving Benson 37 touches in one game was a bad idea for the player and the team. You heard it here first.

14. Philadelphia Eagles [11] — They're 4-2, but who is the best team they've beaten? Is it 2-5 Washington, 2-4 Carolina, 1-6 Kansas City, or 0-7 Tampa Bay? The Eagles' defense has played well the last two weeks, but everyone's defense looks good against Oakland and Washington. Where is the offense?

15. Dallas Cowboys [16] — Effective pass rush against Ryan and the Falcons helped lead to three turnovers. I would still like to see them use the running game more, but it's starting to look like Miles Austin could be the big-play threat they had been missing in the passing game.

16. Baltimore Ravens [15] — A classic middle-of-the-road team, winning their first three games against opponents with a combined record of 5-15 before dropping three in a row against opponents with a collective mark of 16-5. They've allowed two straight 100-yard rushers after going two years without.

17. San Diego Chargers [19] — Dominated Kansas City on both offense and defense, even special teams, but they continue to struggle running the ball. A 36-yard burst made LaDainian Tomlinson's numbers respectable, but apart from that, he carried 22 times for 35 yards (1.6/att).

18. Chicago Bears [8] — Since the beginning of last season, Jay Cutler has the most interceptions in the NFL. This was his third multi-interception game this season, all of them Chicago losses. In the three wins, he had Orton-like statistics: 208 yds/gm, only 1 INT. This team needs to get back to running the ball (only 6 carries for Matt Forte?) and limiting turnovers. Having Cutler air it out 40 times a game is not the way this team is going to be successful.

19. San Francisco 49ers [13] — Alex Smith, who played well in the second half against Houston, will start against the Colts next week. What kind of reward is that? Frank Gore was unremarkable in his return to the field, but having him back should give a boost to a team struggled to run the ball with Glen Coffee (2.5 yds/att).

20. New York Jets [20] — Nothing gets a struggling team (the Jets had lost three straight) back on track like a game against the Raiders, and not letting your quarterback throw the ball. Mark Sanchez passed just 15 times for 143 yards in the 38-0 win, while Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene both rushed for over 100 yards. Greene played in place of Leon Washington, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg. Sanchez is 31st in the NFL in passer rating (61.5), between Kerry Collins and Jake Delhomme.

21. Seattle Seahawks [21] — Had a lot of problems with injuries last season, and there was speculation that they could return to the top of the NFC West this season. The injury problems are back, they're a game behind the Niners and two behind the Cardinals, and they have head-to-head losses against both of their primary rivals. Maybe in 2010.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars [23] — Pass defense is a problem, mostly because pass rush is a problem. The Jags have only 5 sacks this year, easily the least in the NFL. John Henderson hasn't been the same since Marcus Stroud left, Derrick Harvey hasn't developed into a threat, and the whole operation still has yet to recover from the departure of current Falcons coach Mike Smith.

23. Buffalo Bills [25] — Last in the NFL in rushing defense, but they're tied for the league lead in interceptions and have held opposing passers to a 58.0 rating. Rookie Jairus Byrd, who picked Jake Delhomme twice in Week 7, leads the team with 5 interceptions. The Bills scored 57 points in their first two games, but have added only 56 in the five games since.

24. Carolina Panthers [22] — Was there a worse personnel decision last summer than signing Delhomme to a long-term extension? He has more than three times as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns (4) and has thrown a pick in every game this year. Delhomme passed for 325 yards this weekend, but his 3 turnovers may have been the difference in a winnable game.

25. Washington Redskins [29] — They're not getting blown out. Washington has only been outscored by 27 points this season and has yet to lose a game by more than 10. That separates them from the Browns (-107), Raiders (-115), Chiefs (-76), Lions (-85), Titans (-114), Rams (-151), and Bucs (-107). But Washington has actually lost to two of those teams, as well as to 2-4 Carolina (-51). In a way, aren't they as bad as anyone? They move up in the rankings this week simply because they're not getting rocked the way these other teams are, and because these bottom eight teams are basically interchangeable. Does their order really matter?

26. Cleveland Browns [24] — Incredibly, their defense is actually ranked lower (32nd) than their offense (31st). For perspective, the Browns have scored less than a touchdown in more than half of their games.

27. Oakland Raiders [26] — Of the seven games JaMarcus Russell has started this season, five have been unmitigated disasters and two have been merely bad. Something has to change. This team has a lot of problems, but Russell's play is the biggest one right now.

28. Kansas City Chiefs [27] — Larry Johnson, never the most stable of individuals, has apparently lost it entirely, publicly dissing his coach and repeatedly using gay slurs. I know it's probably hard to accept that your career is over (Johnson is averaging 2.7 yards per carry), but most people handle it like grown-ups.

29. Detroit Lions [28] — On a weekend when all the other bottom-feeders got embarrassed, a merciful bye saved Detroit from the same fate.

30. Tennessee Titans [30] — I was asked recently how Tennessee, which had the best record in the NFL last season, got so bad. I don't have an answer adequate to fully explain the turnaround, but here's a start. The Titans have faced a big jump in strength of schedule, so far facing opponents with a combined record of 27-13. Furthermore, teams spent their offseasons figuring out how to beat Tennessee; that happens when you're the best. They lost defensive centerpiece Albert Haynesworth and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in the offseason, and several key players have been injured, notably all-pro CB Cortland Finnegan. With the defense struggling, the offensive formula that was effective last season hasn't been usable. Last season, the Titans ran more than they passed, but this year, they're passing quite a bit more than they run. Does all that explain how a 13-3 team has started 0-6? No, but this is not a total mystery.

31. St. Louis Rams [31] — Steven Jackson: a very good player on a remarkably terrible team. Jackson is third in the NFL in rushing yards, an incredible accomplishment considering the circumstances.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [32] — We often exaggerate the quarterback's importance to his team's success. But you simply cannot succeed in this league without a competent quarterback. I think the minimum standard is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2005 Kyle Orton. You don't need a great QB, or even an average one, if the rest of your team is strong enough. But you do need one that is competent: a guy who can keep opposing run defenses honest, pick up a few first downs, and hold onto the ball. The Bucs do not have a competent quarterback. Actually, they might, but he's third-string. Josh Johnson may be promising, but he's not ready to play.

Comments and Conversation

October 28, 2009

Some Guy:

Love the comment about Joe Buck! I totally agree!

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