NFL Week 5 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Since the start of the '06 season, players who average at least 1 interception per game, minimum 50 starts: Eli Manning (70 INT), Brett Favre (69), Jay Cutler (66), Ben Roethlisberger (61), Matt Hasselbeck (60), Tony Romo (60), Carson Palmer (56). Four of those seven were first-round draft picks, two of them (Manning and Palmer) the top choice overall. This might be coincidence, but about half of them are really despicable people, too.

* The Jets are +11 in turnover differential. No one else is better than +7. The 49ers are -10; no one else is worse than -6.

* I don't have anything new to say about Enrique Iglesias this week, except that I still think he sucks.

* The Broncos can obviously throw, but they've had three straight games under 50 rushing yards.

* I guess it's appropriate that Braves manager Bobby Cox goes into retirement with a playoff loss. He had a heck of a career, though.

***

ESPN's Monday Night Football booth doesn't make any sense. The booth is just too small for three people, and even with good announcers, it's a bit like watching a train wreck sometimes. This is actually the finest booth ESPN has put together in years. Mike Tirico is the best play-by-play man in the NFL, while Ron Jaworksi and Jon Gruden are both genuinely enthusiastic about football and generally know what they're talking about. The current booth is a massive upgrade over the intolerable Tony Kornheiser. So what's the problem?

1) Jaws has got to be the most risk-averse man in football. In Jaworski's book, you should never go for two, never take points off the board, never go for it on fourth down, never go for it on third down, never kick onside or fake a punt. Follow the Jaws recipe, and you'll never make a mistake, nor will you ever score.

2) Gruden says things that, frankly, don't make any sense. He's one of those "if it ain't true, it oughtta be" guys, who will make things up because they seem right, who may even ignore evidence that he's wrong. This bothers me much more than Jaworski's thing.

3) I'm going to start counting how many times per broadcast Gruden says "this guy". I'm not joking. I haven't decided whether or not to keep an additional tally for "this [player's name]..."

4) Gruden and Jaworski hate each other. Well, maybe not hate. They don't like each other, Gruden toward Jaws especially. I'm beginning to suspect Tirico and Gruden don't like each other, either, but that's less obvious. It makes for an awkward broadcast at times, though. Maybe it's just me, but I don't tune into MNF thinking, "I hope it's really awkward!"

5) The three-man booth is a terrible idea. For starters, ESPN presumably pays all three broadcasters, and I imagine the pay is pretty good. Why the hell are you paying three people to screw up a job two can do better? It's like they're constantly trying to recreate the original MNF, or the conflict between Howard Cosell and Don Meredith, which is a thing of the past, and should stay that way. I would love to see a booth of just Tirico and Jaworksi, but Tirico and Gruden would also be an upgrade. The three-man format just doesn't bring anything extra, except awkwardness.

Why does ESPN employ so many people to talk about football at the same time? In the booth, on the sideline, and in the studio, they should fire about half of those people. Well, all of them on the sideline, really. Especially Stuart Scott.

It's only Week 5, and there are no undefeated teams. Brackets show last week's rank.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers [1] — Rank 32nd — dead last — in passing yards per game. That's a little misleading. It's true that the Steelers haven't passed particularly well this season, but the much larger reason is that the Steelers have not passed particularly often in 2010. They're last in the league in pass attempts, by an enormous margin of 25 (Chiefs). That's 40 yards per game right there, just to bring them into a tie with the team ranked 31st. Compared to a team that's played five games, the Steelers have 40 fewer pass attempts than the closest competitor (Titans). Pittsburgh's starting quarterback was suspended for the beginning of the season (you may have heard about that), and the team controlled games with its defense and ground game, so there was simply no need to pass. Rest assured, this team can air it out if necessary.

2. Baltimore Ravens [2] — Won easily, and I think everyone understands at this point that they're a great team, so I hope no one will take it amiss if I point out a problem. The Steelers, I'm convinced, can win a game passing, especially with Big Ben coming back from suspension. I'm not as confident that the Ravens can win through the air. They had a big passing day against Cleveland, but not any of their other four opponents. Their leader in receiving yards this weekend, tight end Ed Dickson, had one catch. Joe Flacco has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season, and his passer rating (72.1) is lower than Jason Campbell's, about the same as Alex Smith's. The Ravens don't have to pass much, but when they do, they might be in trouble.

3. New York Jets [3] — Lead the NFL in rushing yards, with LaDainian Tomlinson fifth in the league. It's true that many RBs are washed up by age 31, but 11 have rushed for over 1,000 yards, including three (Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber, and Walter Payton) who ran for over 1,500, and another, Thomas Jones, who topped 1,400 for the Jets last year. Tomlinson is the sixth 31-year-old to rush for over 400 yards in the first five games of a season. He also has 17 receptions, tied for 2nd on the team. New York's clock management on Monday night was atrocious, completely unacceptable for a professional football team.

4. Atlanta Falcons [6] — Four wins in a row following their Week 1 loss in Pittsburgh, which was nothing to be ashamed of. Michael Turner had his best game of the season in Week 5, and Roddy White is finally getting the credit he deserves, but the true key to Atlanta's success has been its defense, which ranks second in the NFL in points allowed. A number of young players have stepped up to contribute, but John Abraham, who some fans thought was through after a down year in 2009 (his 10th season in the NFL), leads the team with 4 sacks and remains a premier playmaker.

5. New England Patriots [4] — Terrific offense, terrible defense. The Patriots lead the NFL in points per game, and are tied with San Diego for most touchdowns (despite having played only four games). Their defense, however, ranks near the bottom of the league in pretty much everything. The Patriots have been successful with unorthodox personnel moves for much of the past decade, but there's just no way you get better in the short term by trading Randy Moss. He wasn't very productive in the first four weeks, but he remains a unique talent, and — perhaps most importantly — defenses had to gameplan around him, opening up opportunities for everyone else on the offense. This ranking is almost certainly too high, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt until next week's home game against the Ravens.

6. Indianapolis Colts [7] — Last in the AFC South. Actually, all four teams are 3-2, but the Colts are technically at the bottom, because of their division record. The Indianapolis defense saved the game this week, given an uncharacteristically poor performance from the offense. The defense has been very up and down — great against the Giants, Broncos, and Chiefs, but awful against Houston and Jacksonville. None of the Colts' five opponents this season have scored between 15 and 30 points. Seriously, they've all been under 15 or over 30.

7. Tennessee Titans [8] — Similar to Pittsburgh, a team with good defense and running game, capable but limited air attack. Even when Steve McNair was an elite QB, Jeff Fisher never featured a pass-happy offense. Vince Young has played well this season, and the Titans can throw if they need to, but they'll keep the ball on the ground more than most teams, and it doesn't indicate anything wrong with Young or his receivers. Rob Bironas kicked a 52-yard field goal against Dallas, his 7th straight success from at least 50 yards out.

8. New York Giants [20] — This may be unbelievable to those of you who watched their Week 2 game against Indianapolis, but the Giants lead the NFL in pass defense. They're one of five teams who have held opponents to a collective passer rating under 70, and they're third in the NFL in sacks. This weekend, Osi Umenyiora picked up two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles, while Houston RB Arian Foster was held to the worst rushing performance (25 yards, 2.3 average) of his young career. Ahmad Bradshaw is fourth in the NFL in rushing, and Hakeem Nicks is in the top 10 for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.

9. Kansas City Chiefs [10] — This must drive Todd Haley a little nuts, but their passing game is really weak. KC ranks 27th in passing, and the team went 1-for-10 on third downs this weekend. The defense, however, has been very good, allowing just 14.2 points per game. Worthy of particular praise are Tamba Hali (4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and Brandon Flowers (6 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, INT return TD). The gameplan against Indianapolis, a balance of run and pass, probably didn't make sense given where both teams' strengths lie.

10. Washington Redskins [18] — Watching them, they don't seem like a top-10 team, and all of their wins could have gone the other way. Their margins of victory are 6, 5, and 3. They've actually been outscored this season. But they've beaten three good teams, and if a few things come together, they could contend for a postseason spot. Washington's defense has given up more yards than any other team in the league, but somehow ranks in the top 10 in points per game allowed. The blocking needs to shore up; McNabb was running for his life in the first half against Green Bay, and there's positively no running game. It's not that the blockers lack skill so much as that they miss assignments. Indianapolis is a terrible matchup for them, and I'll be surprised if Washington doesn't lose by double-digits.

11. Dallas Cowboys [9] — Okay, they're 1-3 and there are some obvious problems, particularly on the offensive line. They've played a tough schedule — all of their opponents are over .500 — and the games have been close, with no losses by more than 7. The Cowboys rank second in yards per game, but 16th in points per game. They need to start turning field position into points. Also, they still need to run more often. It amazes me that Jason Garrett is still calling plays for a professional football team.

12. Miami Dolphins [14] — Scored 14 or 15 points in three of their four games, recording a season-high 23 against ... the Jets? The Dolphins have already played everyone in the AFC East, and are so far 1-2 in the division. Nothing against Chad Henne, but they really should be playing backup QB Chad Pennington, who is always great in even-numbered years. Pennington in 2002, '04, '06, and '08: 12,798 yards, 74 TD, 38 INT, 93.5 passer rating. Pennington in 2003, '05, '07, and '09: 4,847 yards, 26 TD, 26 INT, 82.0 passer rating, broken hand, torn rotator cuff, high ankle sprain, torn throwing shoulder. Let's hope Pennington retires before '13.

13. Green Bay Packers [5] — Injuries are a huge issue. Aaron Rodgers' concussion is the chief concern in the short term, but for the season, injuries to the defense might be the larger problem. Clay Matthews III's hamstring issue reportedly is not serious, but the defense looked totally different (and far less effective) with him on the sideline. The Packers are second in the NFC in point differential (+30), trailing only Atlanta. Last season, they were second, as well (+164), trailing only New Orleans, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. In 2008, they were the only sub-.500 team with a positive point differential (+39), but finished 6-10. Blowing out bad teams is great, but they need to start winning some close games against good ones. Upcoming home games against Miami and Minnesota would be a good place to start. It looks like Rodgers probably won't play in Week 6, so the Packers should probably rank lower than this.

14. Philadelphia Eagles [19] — Another team with significant injury issues, most notably at quarterback (duh), left tackle (Jason Peters), and cornerback (Asante Samuel). The injury to Peters is probably the most worrisome, since his replacement, the improbably-named King Dunlap, got repeatedly schooled on Sunday night. Against San Francisco, Quintin Mikell led the team in tackles and recovered 2 fumbles, returning one for a touchdown. The Eagles are 0-2 at home, 3-0 on the road.

15. San Diego Chargers [13] — Tons of talent, losing record. Special teams are killing them. They lead the NFL in yards gained, and they're second-best in yards allowed, but San Diego's special teams have probably cost the team three games now. In the Week 1 loss to Kansas City, Dexter McCluster returned a punt for a touchdown, Javier Arenas took another 36 yards, and three others went for touchbacks, translating to 60 yards of key field position. In Week 3, Seattle's Leon Washington returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns. And this week, the Raiders blocked two punts, for a touchdown and a safety. Those were all close games, all contests in which the Chargers outplayed their opponents on offense and defense. I think they should start going for it on fourth down and kicking off onside. Every time.

16. Minnesota Vikings [15] — Brett Favre already holds a number of NFL records, and on Monday night, he added the dubious distinction of fumbling more times (163) than anyone else in history. He also added to existing leads in career passing TDs and INTs. Peyton Manning (who holds the record for TD/INT differential, +194) has a shot at the former, but no one will ever break Favre's record for career interceptions (324 and counting). Guaranteed. I don't care if the league goes to 20-game seasons, it's not happening. Favre already has as many INTs (7) as he did all of last season, and his 67.0 passer rating is 30th among qualifiers. He has thrown at least as many picks as touchdowns in three of the last five seasons, and is on pace for four out of six. He has also picked up a disturbing tendency to take sacks, which he used to be great about avoiding.

17. Houston Texans [12] — Last year, Matt Schaub seemed to establish himself as an elite quarterback, one of the seven true standouts at the position (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo). Schaub led the NFL in passing yards, placing fifth in TD passes and seventh in passer rating, with a terrific sack percentage of 4.1%. Through five weeks this season, Schaub doesn't look like a great QB. In only one game — Week 2 at Washington — has Schaub topped 300 yards or a 100 passer rating. He needs to return to form if Houston is serious about a playoff run.

18. Chicago Bears [21] — Yardage for the Bears' leading rusher each week: 50, 29, 37, 26, 166. On a day when Todd Collins somehow threw almost as many interceptions (4) as pass completions (6), Matt Forte came out of nowhere with a great rushing performance, and Chicago's defense bottled up the hapless Panthers en route to a comfortable 23-6 victory. Apart from Forte, the player who deserves particular recognition is defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who had three sacks and forced a fumble. The Bears' offense ranks in the bottom 10 in every major category right now, including dead last in third down percentage (21%). A forgiving schedule makes it perfectly realistic that the Bears might win 11 or 12 games this season. It probably won't be that many, but don't be surprised if this team is 8-3 or 9-2 going into Thanksgiving. The Bears travel to Green Bay in Week 17, for a game that could decide the NFC North. They should rank higher than this if Jay Cutler is back next week.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [25] — Opened 3-1, but all of their wins are against teams with losing records (combined 3-12, .167) and they've been outscored this season (74-80). Most worrisome might be their run defense, which got gashed for the second game in a row, giving up 143 yards to Rashard Mendenhall and 144 to Cedric Benson. I think they'll beat the Saints in Tampa next Sunday.

20. Denver Broncos [17] — Kyle Orton can be a divisive topic among NFL enthusiasts. For a long time, he was derided as a weak-armed, backup-quality understudy, a game manager who wouldn't mess things up too badly as long as you had a good defense and running game. More recently, a number of people came around to the idea that Orton might have evolved into a half-decent low-risk, low-reward starter. With his big numbers in 2010 (347 yds/gm, 97.8 rating), it may be time to go further. I'm one of the converted: I believe Orton is a top-10 QB right now. I'd take him ahead of Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, and several other perfectly good starting quarterbacks, including Jay Cutler. Forget the draft picks Chicago sent to the Broncos; Orton for Cutler, alone, may have been a rip-off. Not only does Orton look like the better player, his contract is $12 million cheaper.

21. Cincinnati Bengals [16] — While Terrell Owens posts numbers in line with his reputation (31 rec, 476 yds, 2 TD), Sideshow Chad is clearly number two (26 rec, 316 yds, 1 TD). Chad, who is four years younger, appears to have slowed down more than Owens. T.O.'s conditioning is legendary, but it seems more plausible that where Owens is a genuinely outstanding player, a likely Hall of Famer, Chad was simply a good receiver in a system that played to his talents, never a truly exceptional receiver the way Owens was. It's not that he's fallen farther, it's that he was never as high in the first place. I am in favor of forced sterilization for anyone who watches their new tv show.

22. Cleveland Browns [22] — Ranked one spot below a team they beat a week ago, which I don't like to do. But (a) the Bengals have more wins, and (b) Seneca Wallace is hurt. I've long argued that Wallace is underrated, a quality backup who could start for a below-average offense. Wallace's 88.5 passer rating is nearly twice as high as Jake Delhomme's (48.2) with the same blockers and receivers. The Browns are 1-4, but all of their losses are to teams with winning records (combined 14-4, .778), and all by 10 points or less.

23. New Orleans Saints [11] — I don't like changing a team's ranking so drastically in one week, but I've been giving them the benefit of the doubt until now. Forget for a moment that they're the defending champs. You have a team that has been outscored against opponents with a combined winning percentage of .333 (8-16). Playing a pair of teams that are now both 0-5, they won by a combined 5 points. They can't run, can't protect the ball, and aren't forcing turnovers. They lost to the Cardinals, and they look worse every week. If the Raiders or Lions were off to that kind of start, most people rank them about 28th. Now look at the injury list; it's a mile long. Most of the listings are "Probable," but this doesn't even include players like Darren Sharper and Clint Ingram (on the Physically Unable to Perform list), and it does include the team's best pass rusher, top two running backs, and three DBs, all "Questionable" or "Out." This is where Super Bowl hangovers and that absurd Super Bowl loser's "curse" come from: playing 19 or 20 games and trying to keep everyone healthy the next year. There are still plenty of talented players on the roster, but half of them aren't playing. This isn't the team that won a championship in February: a lot of its best players aren't on the field.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars [27] — David Garrard is all-or-nothing. In all three wins this season, his passer rating was over 120. In the losses, both by 25 points, his ratings were 62.7 and 38.9. Jacksonville's defense was shockingly ineffective against the punchless Bills, but the offense came alive to deliver the win. The Jaguars are fourth in the NFL in rushing.

25. Seattle Seahawks [23] — Acquired Marshawn Lynch for a song. Well, fourth- and sixth-round draft choices, really, but Chris Mortensen and Jay Glazer report that Seahawks GM John Schneider did sing a song to Bills GM Marv Levy and owner Ralph Wilson to help seal the deal.

26. Detroit Lions [28] — Lead the NFC in scoring. No joke, they actually have twice as many points as the Vikings (who have only played four games) and Panthers (who have played all five). Credit obviously goes to rookie RB Jahvid Best and a high-flying pass attack, but don't forget about 40-year-old kicker Jason Hanson, who scored 14 points this weekend, including 47- and 48-yard field goals. Hanson, who led the NFL in field goals of 50+ yards over the last decade, is seventh all-time in scoring and shows little sign of slowing down.

27. Arizona Cardinals [30] — Carolina's offense is uniquely ineffective right now, but the Cardinals — an offensive juggernaut with Kurt Warner — are next in line, 31st in yards per game. LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the opening kickoff 60 yards this weekend; his other return went for 48 yards. This guy does good things with the ball in his hands. He's listed at 5'7", 185 lbs, which is tiny in the NFL, but I don't see why the Cardinals can't use him as a Reggie Bush-style RB/WR/KR. Why not give this guy a chance to make some plays, and see if he can't open things up for the rest of the team while he's at it? With the offense sputtering and the NFC West up for grabs, I don't see how they can afford not to put the ball in his hands on offense. You can't let a player this dynamic be limited to three or four touches a game.

28. Oakland Raiders [29] — I swear this is true: Oakland's offense is statistically above average. The team ranks 14th in yardage, 11th in scoring. Last year, the Raiders were 31st in both categories, actually one of the worst offensive teams in history. Only 14 teams have ever scored less than 200 points in a 16-game season: the 1985 Bills, '90 Pats, '91 Colts, Cards, and Bucs, '92 Seahawks, '93 Bengals and Colts, '98 Eagles, 2000 Browns and Bengals, '06 Raiders, '09 Rams and Raiders. Five games removed from being one of the worst offenses in modern history, they're actually above average so far. It's amazing what not playing JaMarcus Russell will do for you. Imagine if the Raiders had drafted Calvin Johnson or Joe Thomas instead.

29. San Francisco 49ers [24] — No 0-5 team has ever made the playoffs. On the NBC pregame show, Rodney Harrison sneakily compared Alex Smith to Ryan Leaf, his teammate on the Chargers from 1998-2000. Harrison didn't mention Leaf by name, but he obviously wasn't talking about Stan Humphries or Doug Flutie. Smith hasn't been that kind of disaster — coaches still use Leaf's name to scare young players — but he's closer to Leaf than to Peyton Manning. It's not at all obvious that Smith is better than Shaun Hill, whom the Niners traded to Detroit for a seventh-round draft pick. Smith simply isn't consistent except out of the shotgun. The team needs to either adapt its offense to Smith's style of play, or find a new quarterback. It won't be successful with Alex Smith taking snaps under center.

30. St. Louis Rams [26] — Sam Bradford, the legend, the greatest quarterback in the game today, probably the greatest in history, threw two interceptions and averaged under 5 yards per attempt against the laughable Detroit defense. What is with the recent trend of declaring young QBs stars, even speculating on their eventual place in history, after a good game? Even JaMarcus Russell had a couple of good games. Bradford might become a great quarterback, but it's just as likely that he'll be the next Alex Smith. Right now, only Smith has more interceptions than Bradford, who ranks 31st in passer rating (66.5).

31. Carolina Panthers [31] — As a defensive player, it must be really dispiriting to be part of a unit that holds the opponent to 13 first downs and 247 yards, intercepts four passes, and still loses. Maybe during the bye week they can talk Kurt Warner, Kevin Mawae, and Marvin Harrison out of retirement. Charles Godfrey leads the NFL in interceptions (4).

32. Buffalo Bills [32] — The pass defense, terrific a year ago, is awful this season. In 2009, Buffalo boasted the second-ranked pass defense in the NFL and allowed opponents just a 61.1 passer rating. Now, they're still a respectable 11th in yards, but only because their pathetic offense and last-ranked run defense are so bad that opponents don't bother to throw against them. Buffalo's opponents have posted a collective passer rating of 114.8, nearly double last year's and easily the worst in the league.

Check out the BetFirms NFL odds this week to see who is favored over who and then cash-in over the lines by signing up for their NFL picks.

Comments and Conversation

October 12, 2010

Joe W.:

Baltimore won the Pittsburgh game through the air. That’s how they moved the ball in the drive that failed on fourth and goal and how they moved it on the eventual winning drive. If they can do it against that defense they should be able to do it against most others. I put Baltimore 1, Pittsburgh 2 and the Jets 3. Balt. winning in Pittsburgh has to count for something even with Big Ben out. Baltimore is boosting their team pretty soon themselves when they get a first ballot Hall of Famer back in their secondary next week.

My other argument is with the Titans. I watched them get beaten by a mediocre Denver team on their own field two weeks ago. I can’t see how a win over a Dallas team in disarray gets them the #8 spot.

October 13, 2010

Anthony Brancato:

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never liked Alex Smith since the day the 49ers drafted him - but come on, no hate in your write-up for a San Fran defense that is sixth from the bottom in giving up points and just allowed a QB with a lifetime passer rating of 31.7 on the road to come into their building and hang up a 103.3 on them?

And so far as Ron Jaworski not wanting to go for it on 3rd and 1: I’m chalking that up to a hangover from his own playing days with the Eagles, throughout most of which his FULLBACK (a term that had a drastically different meaning when Jaws played) was Leroy Harris - all 5 feet, 8 inches of him.

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