NFL Week 2 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* I don't think the Texans should let Steve Slaton return kicks any more. He was a disaster against Washington.

* Reggie Bush returned his Heisman Trophy this week. If every player who received prohibited financial assistance or violated eligibility rules by speaking with agents returned his Heisman, how many winners from the last 30 years would still have one? Half?

* Bob Costas did a nice short piece for NBC on the problem of concussions in the NFL. Research continues to link head injury to serious physical and psychological health problems later in life, and we just can't take these seriously enough.

* Did you catch Larry Johnson's run for -10 yards on Sunday? L.J. was great for a few years, but that was a long time ago. He's incredibly slow now. He's slower than molasses. Johnson looked like a cow, ambling around behind the line of scrimmage. A three-legged cow. A slow-motion replay of a three-legged cow, covered in molasses.

* Every time Clinton Portis opens his mouth, my opinion of him drops further. Portis has put together a great career in the NFL, but a thinker the man is not, and his complete lack of empathy is disturbing.

***

Bronco wide receiver Kenny McKinley, 23, was found dead Monday in an apparent suicide. It's strange, and occasionally a little creepy, when people become emotionally involved in the lives and deaths of people they don't know, but I don't see how you can not be affected by this one. McKinley isn't someone we felt like we knew; he wasn't even properly famous. He played in eight regular season games, mostly on special teams, and never caught a pass.

What everyone remembers about McKinley is his smile. Denver HC Josh McDaniels mentioned it. So did Steve Spurrier, McKinley's coach at South Carolina, who remembered the young wideout as one of his favorite players. Here's a guy who's 23, a young man, a gifted man with a lot of things going for him. But evidently he felt hopelessness. I don't want to speculate any further than that, but this is a tragedy that extends beyond the NFL, that should tear at the heartstrings of anyone with a pulse. Best wishes to the Broncos, the Gamecocks, and the friends and family of Mr. McKinley.

On to the Week 2 power rankings. Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. New Orleans Saints [1] — Outplayed by the Niners and lucky to win. When you're +5 in turnovers, you should win by more than a field goal. The Saints were outgained by over 100 yards (actually 130) on Monday night. In 2009, New Orleans led the NFL with 403.8 yards and 31.9 points per game. After two weeks in 2010, they're averaging 297.5 yards and 19.5. That's against two good defenses, but we're talking about more than 100 yards per game, almost two touchdowns per game. In '09, New Orleans was held to 25 points or fewer in Week 4 (24 vs NYJ), and not again until December (17 vs DAL in Week 15). This year, they haven't topped 25 yet, and rank 21st in total offense. It's too early to panic, and I look for New Orleans to bounce back at home next week, but this is not the same team that tore through the league last season.

2. Indianapolis Colts [5] — Run defense is still a potential problem, but there is nothing like watching the Colts' offense in high gear. Peyton Manning leads the NFL in passing yards and TDs, with a 121.0 passer rating. Indianapolis responded perfectly to the Giants' defensive strategy, running at the dime (effectively) and using it to set up play-action. The game was over in the second quarter, as soon as Manning hit Dallas Clark for a 50-yard TD. Tony Dungy remarked that Indy HC Jim Caldwell was actually more concerned, following Week 1, about the offense than the defense. That may sound crazy, but I actually see his point. When the offense is at its best, the Colts can keep up with anyone. No matter what the defense is doing, the worst case scenario is a back-and-forth shootout, and Peyton always seem to find a way to win those games. The Colts have won plenty of games in which the defense couldn't stop anyone. It doesn't hurt, of course, when guys like Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Antoine Bethea play the way they did on Sunday night. Bethea gets a little better every year, and has quietly developed into one of the top safeties in the NFL.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers [4] — No, I'm not happy that a team ranking 31st in passing offense is slotted this high. Against Tennessee, the Steelers had just 21 net passing yards (43 in the air minus 22 from four sacks), picked up only 7 first downs, and didn't score an offensive touchdown. But they have a fantastic defense and a good running game, and they've beaten two good opponents, teams that have won by a combined 59 points in their other two games. They're also getting two key players back from injury this week: NT Casey Hampton and LT Max Starks. Pittsburgh is a league-best +6 in turnover differential.

4. Tennessee Titans [2] — Jeff Fisher's postgame press conference was unequivocal: Vince Young is still the starting QB. That's the right call: he should be. But Fisher was also right to bench VY in the second half and see if Kerry Collins could provide a spark. Benching a guy who isn't playing well didn't used to be a big deal. Now it's a headline-maker, a contrived storyline from people with small brains and too much time on their hands. The Titans had another great game defensively, but you can't win when you commit seven turnovers. That won't happen next week, I swear.

5. Green Bay Packers [7] — Let's keep everything in perspective by remembering that the Bills are terrible, but the Packers showed a lot to be excited about in Week 2. Aaron Rodgers continues to perform at a very high level, and he didn't take any sacks on Sunday. Green Bay's defense was terrific, Clay Matthews III in particular. Matthews leads the NFL with six sacks, three in each of the first two games. He and Washington's Brian Orakpo, both second-year OLBs with good pass-rushing skills, look like they could dominate this league for years to come. Already, both are special players.

6. Miami Dolphins [10] — They run well and play good defense. That's been a recipe for success throughout the history of the sport. The Dolphins have all eight home games remaining; they're already 2-0 on the road. Counterintuitively, it's the Miami defense that will really be tested next Sunday night against the Jets. Expectations will be low for the offense. If they score 20 points, it'll be a miracle. The Dolphins need to contain Mark Sanchez and LaDainian Tomlinson in a way New England wasn't able to, need to make sure that 14 or 15 points is enough to win.

7. Baltimore Ravens [3] — Joe Flacco did not play quite as badly on Sunday as his stat line suggests, but he was pretty bad. Baltimore's offensive line also appears to be an issue; Flacco was under pressure for most of the game against Cincinnati. Pressure or not, his decision-making needs to improve. The Ravens have plenty of playmakers on offense, but they're not scoring points. With Ray Rice, Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap, Willis McGahee, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, this unit has no excuse for failure. The defense has performed beautifully, yet to allow an offensive TD this season. Baltimore is -6 in turnover differential, the worst margin in the league. Part of that is Flacco, but it's also where they miss Ed Reed. The Ravens can still stop people, but you can't replace that kind of playmaker.

8. Houston Texans [11] — Matt Schaub and Donovan McNabb combined for 923 yards this weekend, the second-highest single-game total in NFL history (behind the legendary 1986 duel between Ken O'Brien and Dan Marino). Schaub alone passed for 497 yards, the 12th-highest total ever. As pass-oriented as today's game is, and as many passing records as have fallen, it is incredible that Norm Van Brocklin's 59-year-old single-game record for passing yards (554) still stands. Houston is last in the NFL in pass defense, yielding 411 yards per game and a 113.4 passer rating.

9. San Diego Chargers [13] — Antoine Cason had sort of a big game against Jacksonville: six solo tackles and a forced fumble (recovered by the Chargers), plus two interceptions and another two passes knocked down. Cason, a third-year player, was elevated to a starting role when the team traded Antonio Cromartie. Philip Rivers threw for 334 yards this weekend, and Mike Tolbert rushed for 2 TDs in relief of Ryan Mathews, but the San Diego defense was the truly impressive unit, shutting down Maurice Jones-Drew (31 yds, 2.6 avg, lost fumble) and getting David Garrard benched (4 INTs, 62.7 rating).

10. New York Jets [12] — The Jets played well offensively and defensively against New England, even minus the services of Darrelle Revis for most of the game. Revis is a superb player, a game-changer, and the Jets will miss him if his injury continues to be a problem, but this defense is so good it can lose its two best players (Kris Jenkins and Revis) and still shut down a team like the Patriots. Here's something weird, though: the Jets' defense has the worst third-down percentage in the league this year, giving up 16 conversions in 30 tries, an abysmal 53% rate.

11. New England Patriots [8] — Their pass defense looks like a real issue, doesn't it? The Bengals torched them in the second half of the opener, and Mark Sanchez lit them up in Week 2. The Patriots' lack of running game, a deficiency they've covered up in the past with defense and Tom Brady, seems like a problem they finally need to address. If you can't run, you can't control the ball, so you risk tiring out your defense, and you can't reliably hold leads. That's caused problems for this team in the past, and doesn't look likely to change in 2010.

12. Cincinnati Bengals [17] — The Ravens beat the Jets, who beat the Patriots, who beat the Bengals, who beat the Ravens. It's impossible to rank everyone ahead of who they've beaten. The Cincinnati pass rush, invisible in Week 1, was back for Week 2. One sack is nothing to write home about, but the pressure was there, and it led directly to turnovers and three-and-outs. The Bengals got a huge win this weekend, but here are points of concern: (1) Quarterback/center communication. There were multiple problems this weekend, and those need to be addressed before next Sunday. (2) Jermaine Gresham is already a good NFL receiver, but he can't block. That's important for tight ends, and Gresham got schooled against Baltimore. (3) 3/18 third down conversions won't cut it. The passing game has shown flashes of brilliance, but lots of inconsistency. Carson Palmer's numbers this season (2 TD, 1 INT, 79.1 rating) are not impressive.

13. Minnesota Vikings [6] — Last season, readers thought I was underrating the Vikings, who had a great record but had played a schedule full of cupcakes. This year, I'm sure some fans will think it's outrageous that I'm ranking an 0-2 team higher than the 2-0 Bears and Bucs and Chiefs, higher than some teams that looked great in Week 2. Honestly, though, I think this is too low. The Vikings have lost two close games to good teams. Sure, they miss Sidney Rice, and the passing game is a gigantic question mark right now. They have a good defense and Adrian Peterson. If they lose to the Lions at home, then you can start to panic.

14. Atlanta Falcons [16] — Dominated the Cardinals, obviously. My favorite stat from the game is the first downs. Arizona gained 11, which is low but not crazily so, though the Cards went 0/8 on third downs. The Falcons gained 33 first downs, which is nuts, actually more than 11 teams have picked up all season.

15. Washington Redskins [15] — Blew a 17-point second half lead, but made big plays on both offense and defense and showed that they need to be taken seriously. I said this last season, too, but it's time for the NFL to prevent head coaches from calling timeout a millisecond before a play begins, so that kickers have already sent the ball flying. If the league is going to enforce rules against "excessive celebration" because it's unseemly and unsportsmanlike, this one is a no-brainer. Rookie OT Trent Williams sprained his knee in the fourth quarter, but an MRI showed no structural damage, and Williams is unlikely to miss significant time.

16. Dallas Cowboys [9] — I think there's too much pressure to win, and it's making the team play tight. Also, and I freely admit this is a pretty far-out conspiracy theory, it seems plausible to me that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is intentionally undermining head coach Wade Phillips so he can get Phillips' job. How else do you explain Garrett's loony play-calling?

17. Kansas City Chiefs [19] — Brandon Flowers made all the highlight shows this week for his touchdown on a Seneca Wallace INT return. Flowers ranked 4th in the NFL last season in pass deflections. The year before, he had over 100 interception return yards as a rookie. Flowers is one of the young players who is helping turn Kansas City from a joke into a serious opponent. Matt Cassel's poor performance has to be a concern. I love Ryan Succop, but the Chiefs need to start scoring touchdowns.

18. Chicago Bears [22] — Mike Martz is getting a lot of praise right now, and deservedly so — Jay Cutler leads the NFL in passer rating — but let's not pretend Martz has been a consistently successful offensive guru. He's been wandering in the wilderness for more than half a decade, with very little success since Marshall Faulk's decline. Chicago's defense, buoyed by the return of Brian Urlacher, is also playing better than it did last season. The Bears host Green Bay next Monday, with first place in the NFC North on the line.

19. New York Giants [14] — Got totally dominated and outplayed on Sunday night. David Diehl was painfully outclassed by Freeney. Eli Manning committed three turnovers and Brandon Jacobs threw his helmet into the stands, almost losing it permanently. Joseph Addai and Donald Brown tore apart the Giants' pass-oriented defensive packages, and Peyton Manning moved the ball pretty much at will. The game was a disaster, and this team's weaknesses are becoming apparent pretty quickly. Jacobs, who has had two good seasons in five years, reportedly will seek a trade. I wouldn't want him. There's no team in the NFL Jacobs is good enough to start for, and you can't help your team by adding a backup who thinks he should be a starter.

20. Philadelphia Eagles [20] — Michael Vick obviously has played well for the Eagles, well enough that Kevin Kolb really needs to play impressively in his return, but Vick also leads the NFL in sacks taken, with 9 in just 58 pass attempts, an atrocious 13.4% sack rate. By comparison, last year Ben Roethlisberger had the worst rate of any full-time starter, at 9.0%. Aaron Rodgers, who took an unforgivable number of sacks early in the season, finished at 8.5%. Even JaMarcus Russell came in at just 11.8%. Andy Reid's decision to hand the starting job back to Kolb is questionable to say the least, but a professional QB simply can't get taken down once every 7.5 dropbacks. It kills drives (and quarterbacks). The Eagles have allowed more points this season (59) than any other team in the NFL.

21. San Francisco 49ers [21] — Overcame an awful start to put a scare in the defending champs. Frank Gore had a huge game (112 rush yds, 5.6 avg, 56 rec yds, 2 TD), and Alex Smith looked positively Elway-esque on the game-tying drive. I realize that's sacreligious, but Smith's use of his arm and feet to direct San Francisco downfield reminded me of The Drive. I know people have said this before, but the 49ers need to seriously consider letting Smith work out of the shotgun consistently. He's a different player from that formation: a good one. The 49ers are the best team in the league at pulling guards.

22. Arizona Cardinals [18] — Ugly loss, but there's reason for optimism concerning the continuing development of Tim Hightower. The Cardinals played their first two games on the road, and a 34-point loss counts the same in the standings as any other; they're 1-1, tied for the division lead. Arizona committed 10 penalties for 109 yards, including one that called back a TD return by LaRod Stephens-Howling and 8 for Falcon first downs. The Cardinals have given up 19 third down conversions this season, worst in the NFL. Twelve other teams have given up less than half that many.

23. Denver Broncos [25] — They don't seem to miss Brandon Marshall. Maybe in a Kyle Orton offense, you don't need incredibly gifted wide receivers. It would be nice to see the rushing game pick up a little, though. Knowshon Moreno is averaging 2.8 yards per carry.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [28] — If they beat the Steelers, they'll get plenty of respect. For now, they squeaked by the Browns and Panthers. Josh Freeman threw two touchdown passes on Sunday, but he only completed half his passes, and Cadillac Williams averaged under two yards a carry. The defense played well.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars [24] — Not as bad as they looked in Week 2, when they managed to commit 6 turnovers on the road in San Diego. Maurice Jones-Drew may be healthy, and two weeks is much too early to panic (don't sell low, fantasy owners), but he hasn't been an impact player so far this season, and that needs to change if the Jaguars want to avoid a top-five draft pick next April.

26. Seattle Seahawks [23] — Last week I wrote, "Next week's game at Denver, against a former divisional foe, should help show whether the 'Hawks are for real." Evidently they're not. 36-year-old Lawyer Milloy, who I didn't realize still played in the NFL, led Seattle in tackles on Sunday.

27. Detroit Lions [27] — They look better. They almost came back in Week 2, and they arguably should have won the opener against Chicago. But they still can't close out wins, can't steal the games they have a chance to win or hold onto the ones they should win. Ndamukong Suh had a monster game against the Eagles. He and Kyle Vanden Bosch make this defense legitimate. Jahvid Best had a ridiculous game (in a good way) this weekend.

28. Cleveland Browns [29] — Their offense actually seems better this year. The Browns probably won't have a good record this year — they've just lost a pair of close games against two of the weaker opponents on their schedule — but they seem more competitive, visibly improved from the last two seasons. The defense ranks in the top half of the league in both yards and points allowed.

29. Carolina Panthers [26] — Matt Moore, who boasts the worst passer rating in the league (41.8) apparently has lost the starting QB job to rookie Jimmy Clausen. I don't know what Clausen has done to deserve that kind of punishment.

30. Buffalo Bills [30] — Worst offense in the NFL. After two weeks, Buffalo ranks dead last in points, yards, and yards per play. If your fantasy league includes defense, go with anyone who plays the Bills.

31. Oakland Raiders [31] — When your secret weapon is Bruce Gradkowski, maybe your team isn't so good. When the secret weapon works, maybe you're at home against the Rams. Darren McFadden and Louis Murphy were productive this weekend. There are some promising young players in Oakland this season.

32. St. Louis Rams [32] — There actually are some good players here. Everybody knows about Steven Jackson, but what about second-year LB James Laurinaitis, who had 9 tackles and a sack against Oakland? Last year, Laurinaitis finished with 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, and over 100 solo tackles. It will be difficult to evaluate Sam Bradford until he has someone to throw to. Repeatedly throwing to Jackson is not a realistic formula for success.

Comments and Conversation

September 21, 2010

Jeff:

How the heck do you put the Bills ahead of the Raiders?

September 21, 2010

wayne:

keep dogging the bronco’s now im not saying were a supper bowl contender but we r better then 23rd

September 22, 2010

Kevin Beane:

I know you can’t watch every game and have to go by what you read somewhat, but Josh Freeman’s completion rate is a tad misleading. He threw the ball away several times, which drew praise for “maturity” from the talking heads covering the game. And to be sure, he took no sacks, threw no picks, and really managed the game and the Bucs offense well, I thought.

September 22, 2010

Anthony Brancato:

Brandon Jacobs couldn’t start for any NFL team?

What about the Eagles? If he was with them in Week 1, they would have made that 4th-and-1 at the end of the game - and they way the momentum was going, the game would have gone into overtime.

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