NFL Week 1 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* The last seven Super Bowl champions all lost in Week 1. That double-counts the Steelers and Giants, but the Colts, Saints, and Packers also dropped their openers. You have to go back to the 2004 New England Patriots to find a Super Bowl winner that prevailed on Sunday.

* Deion Sanders was raving after the Sunday night game about Brandon Stokley. Yeah, Denver pretty much won because of the guy who caught two (2) passes for 26 yards. Sure.

* Congratulations to U.S. Open champions Serena Williams and Andy Murray. Those two have had awfully nice years, especially the last few months.

* What is wrong with kickoff returners this year? If the ball is more than five or six yards deep, don't run it out because: (1) you probably won't get to the 20, (2) you or a teammate could get hurt, (3) one of your teammates could draw a penalty. If I were a special teams coach, I would routinely bench/fine/waive/draw-and-quarter my players.

* ESPN hates sports fans. In the Raiders/Chargers game, the announcers spent two minutes discussing a personal foul that never appeared on camera. Seriously, you have to show that play.

***

Other than maybe Robert Griffin III and Peyton Manning, the biggest story of Week 1 was probably the replacement referees. For the most part, they did a solid job in a tough situation. There were mistakes, but mostly the kind of mistakes you see all the time from the regular officials, and if they were a little more common from the replacement crews, that's to be expected until they're more familiar with the job and with each other.

Two games drew particular attention, however. David White's officiating crew, handling the Packers/49ers game, drew the ire of both teams. The officials were repeatedly late with flags, and failed to call a block in the back on Randall Cobb's punt return TD. Not long afterwards, officials in Arizona granted the Seahawks a fourth timeout. Fortunately, neither miscue was decisive. More significant was an error by the clock operator in Detroit, which effectively gave the Lions a fourth timeout.

Some criticisms I actually thought were unfair. On Monday night, it looked to me like Anquan Boldin dropped his touchdown catch, but after a replay review, the play stood as called. I don't have a problem with that. The NFL's system calls for indisputable visual evidence, and that play was not indisputable. On a related note, I like FOX's use of Mike Pereira — the NFL's former Vice President of Officiating — as a consultant, but I didn't care for Gerry Austin on ESPN this week. Bringing him in was a good idea, but it didn't play out well on Monday night.

Fans can expect to see the replacement refs for at least another month, and I expect we'll see fewer mistakes as they get more experience. In the meantime, I can live with the errors from Week 1. Now on to this week's power rankings. Brackets indicate preseason rank.

1. New England Patriots [3] — No obvious weaknesses in their Week 1 performance. Tom Brady passed for 2 touchdowns and a 117.1 passer rating, looking especially in sync with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronk is just a marvel. Besides being one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL, he's one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. The two-TE set also facilitates New England's running game, which looked very strong in Tennessee. Last season, the Pats thrived on their pass attack, and it still looks sharp, but the defense and ground game appear improved for a team that was already one of the league's best.

2. Atlanta Falcons [2] — We expected big things from the offense, and it didn't disappoint, with Julio Jones in particular justifying the hype. With such an explosive air attack, and a plodding ground game (under 3 yards per attempt by running backs), it's tempting to air it out every play, but the Falcons have strung together four straight winning seasons by leaning on Michael Turner. It makes sense to emphasize the pass, but I hope Atlanta won't abandon the run.

3. Houston Texans [4] — They won by 20, they signed Matt Schaub to a contract extension, and all the stars appear healthy, even Andre Johnson. But why did Arian Foster, who was listed as questionable, carry seven times in the fourth quarter? You're up 30-10 and you're playing the Dolphins, who are not known for their wild comebacks. Your best player is an injury risk and he's already touched the ball 20 times. Show some love to Ben Tate in that situation. Second-year defensive lineman J.J. Watt had a sensational game, including 1.5 sacks and 3 pass deflections, two of which led to interceptions.

4. San Francisco 49ers [5] — David Akers made a 63-yard field goal just before halftime, tying the NFL record. But unlike Jason Elam and Sebastian Janikowski, Akers didn't push his 63-yarder through the uprights in Denver. Akers and Tom Dempsey are the only kickers to connect from 63 yards in a stadium with gravity.

5. Baltimore Ravens [6] — Ed Reed's interception return for a touchdown gave him 1,497 career INT return yards, breaking the record held by Rod Woodson. Reed left the game to get treatment on a hamstring, and at this writing it's not clear whether or not that will limit him in Week 2. The offense was just 3/9 on third downs, but looked noticeably sharper and more explosive than in the past. In close games, they'll need to use Ray Rice more often, especially as a receiver. It's great that Joe Flacco is looking downfield, but he can't ignore the team's best player.

6. Green Bay Packers [1] — Charged with 10 penalties, after leading the league last year in fewest flags drawn. The Packers committed more penalties in the first half against San Francisco (8) than in any game last season (7). The offense looked out of sync, with Aaron Rodgers mostly completing short passes. Even on the Packers' final drive, everything was underneath. That's not how they've been successful in the past. Defensively, they looked sloppy and soft.

7. Chicago Bears [9] — Easily beat the Colts, but fans should be especially pleased by the best-case scenario they got from the offense. Jay Cutler passed for 300 yards and a 98.9 rating. Matt Forte averaged 5 yards a carry and Michael Bush scored two touchdowns. Brandon Marshall caught nine passes, and Alshon Jeffery caught a 42-yard TD. Defensively, the stars were Henry Melton (3 tackles for loss, including 2 sacks) and Tim Jennings (4 passes defensed, including 2 interceptions). If you're looking for bad news, Charles Tillman left the game with a leg injury and they have a tough Week 2 road matchup in Green Bay.

8. Detroit Lions [8] — Matthew Stafford tossed three first-half interceptions, and they escaped the opener with an uncomfortably close, last-minute, 27-23 victory over the lowly Rams. The good news: it was all about the turnovers. St. Louis led 13-10 at halftime, but the Lions had twice as many yards (231-91), three times as many first downs (16-5), and a 6:30 edge in time of possession (18:14 - 11:46). If Stafford can stay out of trouble, this is still an explosive team, with a big-play offense and competent defense.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers [7] — They didn't have James Harrison or Ryan Clark, they were playing in the NFL's weirdest road environment, and no one really knew what to expect from Peyton Manning. So it's too early to panic. Without Rashard Mendenhall, still recovering from last December's knee injury, Jonathan Dwyer clearly looked like the best option at RB. Neither he nor Isaac Redman got great blocking, but Dwyer frequently made something out of nothing, while Redman carried 11 times for just 20 yards.

10. New York Jets [19] — Offense rebounded from a miserable preseason to score four touchdowns in a rout of the Bills. Antonio Cromartie added a defensive TD and Jeremy Kerley scored the team's first punt return TD since Santana Moss in 2002. The Jets' 48 points were their most in the Rex Ryan era. Mark Sanchez finished with 266 yards, 3 TDs, and a 123.4 passer rating. That's right, 1-2-3-4 passer rating. Darrelle Revis left the game with a head injury, now described as a mild concussion, and his status for Week 2 is unclear.

11. Philadelphia Eagles [11] — I like Andy Reid's new, bushier moustache. He looks very walrus-y. This link is definitely NSFW, but basically captures my feelings on Philly's Week 1 showing.

12. Dallas Cowboys [17] — In the first quarter, they looked like the 2010-11 Cowboys, giving away a big division game. The team seemed jittery, rusty, and underprepared, committing five pre-snap penalties in the first half. Then something clicked. Maybe it was just Tony Romo settling in, but I credit the coaching staff for realizing that New York didn't have enough healthy defensive backs to cover three wide receivers. DeMarco Murray and Romo both played well, but Kevin Ogletree was the breakout star, and the Giants' defensive short-comings had a lot to do with that. Tyron Smith's personal foul to save a touchdown was the best penalty of Week 1, a four-point swing.

13. San Diego Chargers [14] — You hear it all the time: "Team X didn't win that game, Team Y lost." Following an injury to Oakland long snapper Jon Condo, three blown punts led to Chargers field goals, and San Diego's only TD drive was abetted by three Raider penalties that resulted in first downs. The offense looked impotent without Ryan Mathews, and Antonio Gates may not be 100% after an apparent rib injury. The defense, however, played well. Shaun Phillips got two sacks, and it's about time the media finally noticed him. San Diego went 0-4 without Phillips last season, compared to 8-4 when he was in the lineup. The player who caught my attention, though, was #91, second-round draft choice Kendall Reyes. He gave Mike Brisiel a lot of trouble, routinely getting into the backfield. Reyes subbed out a lot, though, and the Chargers need to keep him on the field. That kid can be a game-changer.

14. Denver Broncos [23] — Six-hundred and 10 days after his last NFL game, Peyton Manning remains the league's premier play-caller, and it turns out he can still throw. More impressive than Manning's arm, though, was his intelligence. One of Denver's most impressive series began with five straight runs, all called by Manning at the line. Other than Tom Brady on his best days, no other QB in the game can read defenses like that.

15. Arizona Cardinals [18] — Going back to the end of last season, they have won eight of their last 10 games. The Cardinals couldn't run at all (20 att, 43 yds), but the defense played well and Kevin Kolb directed a game-winning drive after John Skelton injured his ankle. Kolb hasn't had an impressive pro career, but his ceiling is higher than Skelton's, and I think the Cardinals have a better chance to be a great team with Kolb handling the offense. Arizona overcame an officiating error — the Seahawks were granted four timeouts in the second half — with an impressive goal-to-go fourth quarter stand.

16. New York Giants [10] — Looked okay for about a quarter and a half, holding their own in a low-scoring battle with a Dallas team that often can't get out of its own way. With everything working against Dallas, the Giants should have won big. The Cowboys committed a ton of penalties, Jay Ratliff didn't play, Jason Witten was a non-factor, starting center Phil Costa got hurt on the first series, and the game was in New York (Jersey). But the Giants looked worse and worse as the game went on. The second half was ugly, with New York just going through the paces. Injuries are already a problem.

17. Seattle Seahawks [13] — Much-hyped rookie QB Russell Wilson left Arizona with 153 passing yards, a 62.5 rating, and a lost fumble. I don't blame him, though, or at least not exclusively. Wilson has no one to throw to, and the offensive line isn't exactly the league's best, either. The defense mostly played well, though, and Leon Washington had a big day on special teams. Seattle has tough home games against the Cowboys and Packers the next two weeks.

18. Cincinnati Bengals [12] — Baltimore is a tough matchup, especially at home, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis played well at running back. If Bengal fans are in search of a silver lining after a nationally-televised blowout loss to a division rival, I think Andrew Whitworth is probably the best offensive tackle in the NFL right now.

19. Washington Redskins [26] — Brilliant offensive gameplan, protecting Robert Griffin III without babying him or being too conservative. In fact, Washington's offense was wildly diverse, keeping the Saints off-balance and controlling the clock. The team scored 10 points in each quarter, and improved offensive line play could make Washington a legitimate threat in the sad NFC East. New kicker Billy Cundiff played a really nice game, going 4/4 on field goals and pinning the Saints deep with long kickoffs.

20. New Orleans Saints [15] — Scored 32 points without looking good on offense. The line lost two of its three best players in the offseason, and it showed. One of the NFL's best home teams, the Saints didn't lose in New Orleans all of last season. On Sunday, playing at home, they committed 12 penalties (including three false starts) and allowed the most points in a home game since 2003 (40), to a team that didn't top 30 all of last season. Washington nearly doubled the Saints' time of possession.

21. Kansas City Chiefs [20] — They had a tough matchup and a lot of injuries, so it's too early to panic. Kansas City went 11/16 on third downs and won time of possession; most of the game was close. Peyton Hillis started the game, but the Chiefs have to be pleased with what they saw from Jamaal Charles. Tamba Hali returns from suspension for Week 2, and that's a significant boost.

22. Buffalo Bills [16] — C.J. Spiller rushed for 169 yards, with a 12.1 average and a touchdown. His strong performance is good news, since it appears that Fred Jackson will be out for at least three weeks with a sprained LCL. But Spiller lost a fumble and Ryan Fitzpatrick gave away three INTs, while the new-look defense sputtered against the mighty Jets. Big-shot free agent Mario Williams finished with 1 tackle, and Mark Anderson with none.

23. Tennessee Titans [22] — Held their own against the Patriots for a quarter, then fell apart. Chris Johnson caught 6 passes, but rushed for a career-low 4 yards, averaging just over 1/3 yard per attempt. Jake Locker separated his shoulder making a tackle, but he reportedly will be fine for Week 2, and backup Matt Hasselbeck might be an improvement anyway. Kenny Britt returns from suspension and injury next week, so look for Tennessee's offense to get a boost.

24. St. Louis Rams [29] — Got immediate impact from free agent Cortland Finnegan, who scored on a 31-yard interception return. The defense is the strength of this team, and it showed that by intercepting Matt Stafford three times and putting a scare into the Lions in Detroit. It will be interesting to see what they do against RGIII at home in Week 2.

25. Oakland Raiders [25] — I feel bad for Travis Goethel, the backup long snapper who blew two plays and will probably be blamed for a third, which was actually a blocking breakdown. Injuries at WR limited the offense, but it looked pretty one-dimensional on Monday, Darren McFadden and a prayer. The defense looked good, though, and Sebastian Janikowski already has a 51-yard field goal. For all the fuss Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer made about penalties, San Diego was charged with more (9) than Oakland (6), for more than twice as much yardage (78-35). Misleading, yes, but Charger penalties don't fit the storyline. At least ESPN has its priorities straight: entertainment > truth.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [27] — Doug Martin rushed for 95 yards and Josh Freeman posted a 95.5 passer rating, but in a defense-dominated 16-10 win, the real star may have been Ronde Barber, who made two tackles for a loss (including a sack) and two pass deflections (including an INT). Gerald McCoy and the defensive line also deserve credit, for shutting down Carolina's run game.

27. Carolina Panthers [21] — Tied an all-time franchise low, with just 10 rushing yards. They went just 2/10 on third downs, and Cam Newton threw 2 second-half interceptions. Perhaps most surprising was Newton's ineffectiveness as a runner. Here's the breakdown:

Chart

Newton's previous career-low in rushing was 18 yards with a 2.3 average, the only time he'd been below 27 and 3.9. Williams became a popular fantasy starter when fellow RB Jonathan Stewart was ruled out of the game, and he rewarded PPR owners with 1 catch. Pilares is a wide receiver. Look for better offensive numbers when Carolina hosts the Saints in Week 2.

28. Cleveland Browns [28] — Starting QB Brandon Weeden got trapped under a giant flag during pre-game ceremonies, and his day got worse from there. Weeden's performance was so bad (12-of-35, 4 INTs, 5.1 rating) that the Eagles overcame their own 4-INT showing from Michael Vick and pulled out a late 17-16 victory. The Browns converted only 2/13 third downs and gained less than half as many yards (210) as the Eagles (456), losing time of possession by almost 12 minutes. They stayed in the game based on mistakes by Philadelphia: 4 Vick INTs, a LeSean McCoy fumble, and 12 Eagle penalties.

Standout CB Joe Haden will miss the next four games, serving his suspension after a positive test for Adderall.

29. Miami Dolphins [24] — The first 20 minutes were close. Their second-quarter drives ended via: punt, turnover, turnover, turnover, turnover, kneel-down at end of half. At one point, the Dolphins committed turnovers on three consecutive offensive snaps. In the fourth quarter, Miami turned the ball over on downs in all three possessions, which I suspect is unprecedented.

30. Minnesota Vikings [32] — Against all odds, Adrian Peterson looked close to 100%. He carried 17 times for 84 yards and 2 TDs. Christian Ponder (270 yards, 105.5 rating) and Percy Harvin (20 yards rushing, 84 receiving) also played well, but the real hero may have been rookie kicker Blair Walsh, who made four field goals, all in the fourth quarter or overtime. Walsh connected from 55 yards to tie the score at the end of regulation — easily the most clutch kick of the season so far — then hit one from 38 to put the Vikings ahead in OT. Jared Allen posted a statistical zero, with an early sack negated by penalty and no other tackles or assists.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars [30] — Offense looked okay, with Maurice Jones-Drew playing most of the game and Blaine Gabbert doing an effective impression of an NFL quarterback. But the defense never troubled Ponder and didn't seem prepared for a healthy Peterson.

32. Indianapolis Colts [31] — On Sunday, Peyton Manning looked like he can play another five years, and Andrew Luck committed four turnovers. It's way too early to suggest that the Colts should be kicking themselves, but inside, they have to be very anxious about whether they made the right choice. They may have waived an MVP candidate.

Comments and Conversation

September 11, 2012

chris:

First thing, I am a Colts fan. But do you really think the Colts are a worse team than the Browns or Dolphins?

And don’t you think it’s a little premature to be criticizing them for letting Manning go? Let’s see where we are week 17, but the Colts made the right decision. Unlike most sports writers, these teams have to look 5 to 10 years down the line, not just react to 1 week.

It’s pretty much the same situation with Green Bay and Favre. They released him feeling they had a capable replacement, which they were obviously correct about. And while Favre had success after GB, he’s now out of the league while the Pack have another Super Bowl and still have a franchise QB for the next 6 to 8 years at least.

As much as I hate to say it, Manning will likely be out of the league in 5 years. And barring injury, Luck will still be going strong with several pro bowls, at the least.

September 12, 2012

Brad Oremland:

Thanks for commenting, Chris. The Browns almost beat the Eagles, and Miami hung with the Texans until halftime. The Colts just got trounced.

I absolutely think it’s premature to criticize the Colts for choosing Luck over Manning. I specifically wrote, “It’s way too early to suggest that the Colts should be kicking themselves,” but I also believe that the Colts front office can’t be feeling confident in the decision after watching Week 1.

Brett Favre, when he left Green Bay, was nowhere near the quarterback Peyton Manning is. I really, really doubt Andrew Luck will make “several Pro Bowls” in his first five seasons. At least, I’m sure you’d agree that for 2012, the Colts would be better with Manning. After that, we’ll see.

September 13, 2012

RSH:

Broncos at 14? Give me a break.

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