NFL Week 1 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Congratulations to U.S. Open champions Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer.

* Is Gerry Austin a Cowboys fan? Every close call in Alltel Stadium went Dallas' way, and after Austin overturned Brian Williams' game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter, I was surprised he didn't try to take away Mike Peterson's pick two plays later.

* I like Peyton Manning, but how many different commercials can one man be in? I counted five.

* ESPN's pre-game show is useless. I'm sleeping in an extra hour next Sunday, and I'll just flip between CBS and FOX.

* Why did the Eagles risk Brian Westbrook's health on punt returns against a team like Houston? Returning is dangerous, and someone as valuable as Westbrook shouldn't be doing that except against division opponents and elite competition. The Texans are neither.


This week's most overblown story was Nick Saban's wimpy challenge flag toss. Charlie Batch's goal-line fumble notwithstanding, I don't think Miami was going to keep the Steelers out of the end zone even if Saban had thrown his flag into an official's eyeshot rather than letting it softly flutter to the ground. Pittsburgh was the better team on Thursday night, and the better team won.

Let's get right on to the power rankings, but I want to remind readers that all rankings are for right now, so a team's rank this week does not necessarily indicate how good I think they'll be for the 2006 season as a whole, just Week 2. Brackets show last week's rank.

1. Indianapolis Colts [2] — The Colts played well on Sunday night, but they didn't really play like the number one team. A club that can't run the ball or stop the run — which the Colts apparently can't — won't hold on to the top position for long. And with Edgerrin James gone, Indianapolis had to settle for way too many field goals against the Giants, though Adam Vinatieri was a decided bright spot.

2. Cincinnati Bengals [13] — The big-play defense is still there. Going up against one of the NFL's best offensive lines, Cincinnati came away with seven sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. The offense, missing T.J. Houshmandzadeh, was unspectacular, but effective, led by RB Rudi Johnson. The Bengals play Cleveland in Week 2, but the really intriguing matchups are Week 3 at Pittsburgh and Week 4 against New England.

3. Seattle Seahawks [3] — Based on this weekend's results, it seems like the Seahawks miss Steve Hutchinson. Seattle's running game never got going against the Lions, while Hutchinson helped lead his new team, the Vikings, to victory on Monday night in Washington. The big news here is the team's acquisition of Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch in exchange for a first-round draft pick, but the reason Seattle holds its lofty ranking after Sunday's 9-6 escape in Detroit is the defense.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars [9] — After an atrocious first quarter in which they looked totally unprepared to play in a meaningful game, the Jaguars pulled themselves together for an impressive victory against Dallas. Second-year receiver Matt Jones had a nice game, but Jacksonville ultimately won with defense, coming up with key interceptions at the right times.

5. New England Patriots [4] — Trading Branch may be good for New England in the long term, but in the short-term, a team that should be a Super Bowl contender has a decidedly subpar receiving corps. The running tandem of Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon was effective against Buffalo, but Tom Brady completed fewer than half of his passes, and if he continues to struggle, New England's running backs are going to see a lot of eight-man fronts.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers [14] — The guys who had to play well came up big. Troy Polamalu was all over the field, looking like an early DPOY candidate. Joey Porter made the game-clinching interception. Willie Parker rolled up over 100 yards. Hines Ward led the team in receptions. If the Steelers keep doing everything they're supposed to, I'll like their chances of having another great season. They have a huge matchup at Jacksonville on Monday night.

7. Chicago Bears [17] — There's not much to say after a 26-0 beatdown of your biggest rival, on the road in the season opener. Rex Grossman played well and the defense picked up where it left off last season. If there's a worry, it's that not every team on the schedule is as bad as Green Bay. Wait, actually it's that the running game wasn't terribly effective on Sunday, though it would be helpful if every opponent were as bad as the Packers.

8. Carolina Panthers [1] — The biggest problem last season was over-reliance on a single player, Steve Smith. Sunday, with Smith out of action because of an injury, the Panthers averaged under four yards per play and generated only six points of offense, all from long field goals. Jake Delhomme has trouble spreading the ball out, the running game hasn't taken hold the way they hoped, and Atlanta embarrassed their superb defense. It's not time to panic yet, but John Fox needs to make some changes.

9. Philadelphia Eagles [11] — The statistics say that Donovan McNabb had a great game against Houston, but he didn't look to be at the top of his game, especially in the first half. Maybe it was just the initial adjustment of being back in action, but McNabb seemed rattled when the Texans brought pressure, and his accuracy and decision-making suffered noticeably when Houston blitzed. That could be a problem when the Giants come to town in Week 2.

10. New York Giants [10] — Last week, I said that I like Tiki Barber, the offensive line, and the defensive front seven, but I'm not sold on anyone else. After Week 1, that remains true. Eli Manning put up decent numbers, but only with help from two spectacular catches by Plaxico Burress. Quarterback play will be a concern for this team all season, and the offense needs to cut down on penalties.

11. Atlanta Falcons [18] — With Carolina out of the way, their early-season schedule is very forgiving. Four of the next five games are at home, and two of the next three are against teams that had losing records in 2005, the exception being Tampa Bay, which looked feeble in Week 1. Atlanta dominated its opener, but if you're looking for potential trouble, Michael Vick completed under 50% of his passes, and he'll need to improve his accuracy if the Falcons are going to be an elite team this season.

12. Denver Broncos [5] — They basically lost on turnovers, and probably aren't as bad as Sunday's loss made them seem. The running attack was as effective as ever, and the defense did a nice job, containing the Rams' passing game and holding St. Louis without a touchdown. It's rare that a loss can be blamed on one player, but Jake Plummer threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, and if he has another game or two like that, his coaches are going to start thinking about fans' calls for Jay Cutler.

13. Minnesota Vikings [16] — Neither Minnesota nor Washington looked particularly sharp on Monday night, but if there was a unit that looked strong, it was the Vikings' defense. Minnesota needs to establish its offensive identity and find a go-to guy, but the pieces are in place for this team to go far in Brad Childress' first season as head coach.

14. Baltimore Ravens [21] — Steve McNair played well in his first game as a Raven, but it would be hard to overstate the job done by Baltimore's defense on Sunday. It held the Bucs to under 150 total yards, tallying three sacks and three interceptions along the way. Ray Lewis had his best game in years, looking fast and fresh. CB Chris McAlister and DT Haloti Ngata are tied for the NFL lead in interception return yardage.

15. San Diego Chargers [22] — It's usually hard to complain after a 27-0 victory, but the Chargers looked like a very incomplete football team on Tuesday morning. They overused LaDainian Tomlinson, who can't keep up that kind of workload all season, and the coaches clearly don't have much confidence in Philip Rivers, who played a solid game but looked shaky at times. On the bright side, the front seven looked great, especially OLB Shawne Merriman. Mike Scifres is the best punter in the league.

16. Washington Redskins [7] — Sean Taylor is one of the most gifted players in the NFL, but his lack of discipline — a long-standing problem — hurt Washington more than once on Monday night. Taylor's mistakes, though, should trouble fans far less than the team's offense, which looked just as impotent in its first game under new coordinator Al Saunders as it did last season.

17. Dallas Cowboys [12] — I have no idea where all the Super Bowl hype came from, but I imagine it will recede a bit after Drew Bledsoe's dismal performance against the Jaguars. The NFC East is full of unreliable quarterbacks holding back their talented teammates, and Donovan McNabb's Eagles may roll to a division title by virtue of their superiority at that key position.

18. Buffalo Bills [19] — They should probably be higher than this, and if they win at Miami on Sunday, they will be. The Bills' defense created opportunities against the Patriots, but the team beat itself with penalties and ineffective offense, especially in the second half. It would be easier to evaluate J.P. Losman if his receivers would step up.

19. Kansas City Chiefs [6] — Trent Green suffered a major concussion on Sunday, and this isn't the same team with Damon Huard under center. Huard will start in next week's game against another disappointing AFC West team, the Denver Broncos. The loser will find itself in a major hole to begin the race for the division crown.

20. St. Louis Rams [25] — Huge opening-day win for new coach Scott Linehan, but there's a lot of room for improvement. The run defense, which allowed over 160 yards and a 6.4 average, needs some work. Marc Bulger got sacked three times and only completed about half of his passes. The team had to settle for six field goals, most of them close-range, because the offense couldn't find the end zone. Finally, starting center Andy McCollum, a long-time standout, will miss the rest of the season on injured reserve.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [8] — Shut out at home for the first time in 10 years. The Bucs didn't just lose on Sunday, they lost ugly. Chris Simms was atrocious, Cadillac Williams only rushed for 22 yards, Michael Clayton was the only wide receiver to catch a pass (three for 34 yards), Simeon Rice was completely shut down by Jonathan Ogden, and the defense managed only one sack and no turnovers. The good news is that things can only get better from here. The bad news is Week 2 at Atlanta. Vick has struggled against Tampa Bay in the past, but if the Buccaneers are going to give games away, it won't matter.

22. Miami Dolphins [15] — The bright spot Thursday night was Wes Welker, who led the team in receiving yards and scared the Steelers more than once with big returns on special teams. Whenever your bright spot is Wes Welker, though, your team is in the bottom half of the power rankings. The offense looked terrible against Pittsburgh, with Ronnie Brown averaging two yards a carry and Daunte Culpepper completing less than half his passes, including a pair of crucial interceptions. The Dolphins won't always face that kind of defense, but it's not a promising start for new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

23. New Orleans Saints [26] — The defense was terrific, shutting down Reuben Droughns and generating three turnovers, but the story here is Reggie Bush. The second pick in April's draft has been compared to Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, and Marshall Faulk. On Sunday, he rushed for 61 yards, caught eight passes, and returned three punts. The scary part is that Bush is probably only going to get better.

24. New York Jets [24] — Chad Pennington and Laveranues Coles were in fine form, but the Jets still needed a late touchdown to secure a victory over the lowly Titans. New York's running game was nowhere to be found, the team lost three fumbles, and kicker Mike Nugent missed two short field goals and an extra point. The Jets are going to have serious problems when they play more competitive teams this season.

25. Arizona Cardinals [23] — Kurt Warner put up great numbers, but if the offensive line can't give him more protection, Cardinals fans are going to see Matt Leinart in action a lot sooner than they had hoped to. Edgerrin James averaged under three yards per carry against San Francisco's wretched defense, and Arizona's own defense did little to reign in the 49ers' normally toothless offense. Maybe it was just opening-day rust, but a team with serious playoff aspirations needs to tighten things up.

26. Cleveland Browns [20] — One of the basic rules of offense is that your quarterback should not be your leading rusher (unless he is Michael Vick, though usually not even then). Charlie Frye's running helped salvage a miserable afternoon for the Browns, but he also committed three turnovers. Offseason acquisition Joe Jurevicius was injured against New Orleans and will miss at least the next few games.

27. Detroit Lions [29] — The defense played well against Seattle, holding the reigning conference champs to a trio of field goals and shutting down 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander. The problem is offense. Detroit simply doesn't have any playmakers, and the scoreboard's going to look ugly when they travel to Chicago next week.

28. Oakland Raiders [27] — To begin the game, their defense allowed Tomlinson a career high in first-quarter rushing yards. In the second quarter, Aaron Brooks was sacked four times, not including one called back because of a penalty. In the third quarter, Randy Moss was called for taunting, after which the Raiders managed four consecutive three-and-outs. And to end the game, San Diego outscored Oakland 14-0 in the final quarter and Brooks was benched with more sacks than completions.

29. Green Bay Packers [28] — Last season, when Brett Favre had the worst season of his career, he didn't have any games as bad as the one he played against Chicago on Sunday. It's true that his passer rating was lower in the 48-3 loss at Baltimore, but Favre didn't take any sacks in that game, and he had three against the Bears. Sunday also marked the first time in his career as a starter that Favre was shut out. It's going to be a long season.

30. Tennessee Titans [30] — A week ago today, Billy Volek was still the starting quarterback. On Sunday, he watched Kerry Collins and Vince Young from the sideline, despite being healthy. The coaching staff in Tennessee needs to put its personnel in order, and the veterans on this team need to step up and take leadership roles.

31. Houston Texans [31] — Picked up where they left off last season, getting their quarterback killed. It would be nice to see what David Carr could do with a better supporting cast, but you can't evaluate a guy who gets planted on the ground five times a game. Houston had a nice first quarter against the Eagles, but was ultimately outgained by 200 yards and lost by two touchdowns. Their next game is at Indianapolis, so things probably aren't going to get any better.

32. San Francisco 49ers [32] — Exceeded expectations in their opener, keeping things close and making strides in important areas like run defense and the development of their young quarterback. For only the second time in his pro career, Alex Smith started a game and didn't have an interception. He connected with newly acquired wideout Antonio Bryant for 114 yards, and promising second-year RB Frank Gore added 170 yards from scrimmage. It should be interesting to see how the Niners fare at home against St. Louis in Week 2.

Comments and Conversation

September 12, 2006

Marc James:

If you’re really going to rank teams on how good they are *now*, I don’t see how the 49ers deserve to be last when they came off a respectable 34-27 loss on the road to the Cardinals, a team with playoff buzz and aspirations. Meanwhile, the Packers lost 26-0 *at home*, surely deserving of last-place based on Week 1. I also think the Panthers are too high … not deserving of a top-10 ranking when losing like that.

September 12, 2006

james higgins:

Thanks for the fair rankings, its nice to see a ranking where last years team record and play does not have much to do with where the team is at now. A little heads up buffalo will move up fast!

September 13, 2006

fantasy king:

I would drop Oakland to number 32 after their performance on Monday night. San Francisco was able to hang with a tough Arizona team on the road, but Oakland got their ass kicked at home. Art Shell will be fired before the season is over.

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