The season is up and running and things are starting to sort themselves out. There is a clog in the middle of the league, but I think the top five is sorted out... For now.
01. Green Bay Packers - Another week, another close one for the defending champs, but the important thing is that they're getting the wins. Their road to the franchises first division title since 2007 is doable, but a first round bye is this teams goal. I think they'll get there.
02. New Orleans Saints - The Saints proved this week why you can't read too deep into a week one road loss. New Orleans came back this week and dominated a Bears team that people were starting to get high on. This is a team that will be in contention for a first round bye, and now they have confidence that they can go into Lambeau and win. Drew Brees isn't afraid of the cold, he went to Purdue.
03. New England Patriots - A big win over the Chargers mixed with a loss by the Ravens puts this team in cruise control for a first round bye. This is a team that has tremendous holes, but their holes are similar to those of the Saints and Packers. The worst case scenario for this team is losing the division to the Jets, who quietly look like the second best team in the AFC.
04. New York Jets - Rarely does a sloppy performance turn out to be so dominant. The Jaguars are not as bad as they looked, but the Jets defense is as good as it looked. This is a team that looks focused. They need to win the division if they want to go to the Super Bowl, I can't say that enough.
05. Philadelphia Eagles - The Eagles would have beaten the Falcons had Michael Vick not gotten knocked out of the game. This is a fast team, probably the fastest in the league, and they are as good as advertised. Last night Michael Vick proved that his value is not overrated and he is one of the most important players in the league to his team. If he's there in January the Eagles will have as good of a shot as anybody.
06. Houston Texans - The Texans have done a good job winning the games they need to win to get to the playoffs and potentially earn a first round bye this year. Their schedule plays out where they can lose all four games that they'll likely be underdogs in, and still go on to have a home game in the divisional round. The defense is much better with Wade Philips.
07. San Diego Chargers - It was a loss that hurts, but a loss that the Chargers can learn a lot from come January. San Diego outplayed the Patriots for four quarters but made stupid mistakes that cost them the game. The Chargers couldn't find a way to stop the Patriots tight ends, which will be a theme of the 2011 season. This is a veteran defense with some new additions that will get better as the season goes on. Despite the loss, this team is elite, they can beat anybody.
The Very Good
08. Baltimore Ravens - For some reason under John Harbaugh this team has never been able to build off of emotional wins. I'm not saying that it's Harbaughs fault and it's definitely not Joe Flacco's fault, but it's something that needs to be noted when it comes to this Ravens team. The loss to the Titans hurt this teams pursuit of homefield in the AFC and forced the AFC North race to go back to square one with all four teams sitting at 1-1. It's early in the season but I still expect the Ravens to pull away with this division at some point.
09. Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers rebounded from their awful loss to the Ravens with a nice win over the Seahawks. This was a win that the Steelers needed, and next week only gets easier when they host the Colts. Health will be the thing to watch with this team as the season moves on. Roethlisberger has looked shaky, but he has always been the sort of player who gets better as fall ages.
10. Washington Redskins - Rex Grossman continues to win and has resorted back to looking like good old Rex Grossman of 2006. Rex makes some nice plays, some really bad plays, but when the game is over his team gets the "W." I don't know how long this team can sustain, but for now they're 2-0 in a division where every win counts. The Monday night game at Dallas could decide where this team heads the rest of the season.
11. Chicago Bears - The Bears lost big to an opponent that is better than they are. That being said, the Bears can make a run in the NFC if they can find a way to recpature the division title. Jay Cutler has the least amount of weapons to work with of any top tier NFC teams quarterback, but he's also blessed with the best defense of the bunch. A win at home against Green Bay could send shock-waves around the NFC.
12. Detroit Lions - No defensive player since Lawrence Taylor has had as big of an immediate impact on their team as Ndamukong Suh has as he has single handedly changed the culture and the attitude of the Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford has more talent than Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford and the rest of his contemporaries, and having a weapon like Calvin Johnson helps. I got ripped by friends and peers when I said in the offseason that the Lions can win the Super Bowl. I'm not saying that was a true statement, but so far they don't look like the same old Lions.
13. Atlanta Falcons - Atlanta have another test this week as they trave to Tampa Bay to play a team that is coming off of a nice comeback win. If the Falcons are to win the NFC South for the second year in a row then they're going to need to win this game. The offense showed flashes of brilliance against the Eagles defense on Sunday night, and you can't use Michael Vick not being on the field as an excuse for that.
Hanging In There
14. Buffalo Bills - If the Bills played in any other division in the AFC I would think that they have a shot, but considering they play in a division with the two best teams in their conference every win simply keeps the team afloat for one more week. This weeks game against the Patriots is a real test; If the Bills win then they'll join the ranks of the elite, if they lose then they'll live to die sometime in the month of October.
15. Dallas Cowboys - It was almost doomsday for the Cowboys on Sunday, and if Jim Harbaugh doesn't decline a penalty on a 55 yard kick chances are we're talking about the 49ers here and Dallas are toast. This is the sort of team who when they find their identity will be amidst the best teams in the NFL, it's just a matter of whether that happens sooner or later that will determine whether or not this team is a Super Bowl contender. They'll need a healthy Dez Bryant if they want to beat the Redskins on Monday night.
16. New York Giants - A sloppy win is still a win, but the Giants have a lot of problems. Eli Manning makes the sort of mistakes that could hold any team in the league back, and at some point we need to dismiss 2007 as being far enough in the past that we can't count it today. After all, Mark Rypien, who from 1991 to 1993 looked better than Eli Manning ever looked, wasn't given the benefit of the doubt a few years later when he was backing up Tony Banks. Nonetheless, if Eli can find a way to top the Eagles this week, the Giants will soar up the rankings.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs almost saw disaster strike this past week against the Vikings but rebounded incredibly well and pulled off a great win. They now hold their divisional fate in their hands this week as they prepare to face the Atlanta Falcons at home. It's a winnable game for Morris' young team, and we'll find out a lot about where this team is right now on Sunday.
18. San Francisco 49ers - The 49ers came so close to thier most impressive start to a season since the Mariucci, Garcia, Owens, and Hearst years. First year coach Jim Harbaugh learned the hard way that NFL teams such as the Cowboys aren't the same as UCLA, Cal, or Arizona State, and a ten point cushion in the fourth quarter isn't something you should feel comfortable sitting on. Harbaugh won't make that mistake again and I feel like he's done a good job changing the attitude of the 49ers franchise. This is a team that expects to win for the first time in years.
19. Arizona Cardinals - The NFC South is the sort of division that boasts mediocrity as a fashion, and the Cardinals define that more than any other team. They have one amazing, hall of fame player, who is probably the best wide receiver in the league, and the second most dominant receiver of all time. Other than that, the team is mostly comprised of average to below average players at every single position, yet somehow this team will be alive well into November. They have the opportunity to make the division race a little easier if they can go into Seattle and get a win on Sunday.
20. Oakland Raiders - What a tough road loss to a the Bills that was for the Raiders on Sunday. Despite the loss there is still plenty of hope for the Raiders, but this is not a team that can make a dent in the playoffs. As good of a win as it was for the Bills, this loss proves that the Raiders aren't ready to take that next step into the NFL's competitive elite.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars - An ugly loss dropped this team into dissray. Blaine Gabbert will eventually be under center, thus making this a rebuilding year. That was the plan when they cut David Garrard, right? Jack Del Rio is a savvy coach who has been finding ways to keep his job for years.
22. Tennessee Titans - An incredible win over the Tennessee Titans. If Tennessee can keep this up they may have a shot to win the division. Matt Hasselbeck found success targeting his new best friend Kenny Britt, and with a run game lead by Chris Johnson this team can have a shot. I don't thing they're in the Texans class talent wise, but this is a roster trying to win now.
23. Cincinnati Bengals - A loss to the Broncos on Sunday but the undertone was they fought back. This team won't be very good this year, but the players are playing hard for coach Marvin Lewis and that's a good sign. More than one current Patriot and another current couch potato can say.
24. Cleveland Browns - A win over the Colts is nice but the real story of the game was Colt McCoy. A week after he spent much of the day on his back, McCoy bounced back and showed signs of why Browns fans truly believe in him. Though his upside in merely Matt Hasslebeck with swagger, Colt McCoy could be the franchise quarterback that Cleveland have been looking for since 1999.
25. Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton looks like the real deal. With each passing game that resembles this past weeks games, 2012 looks more and more like a year that Saints, Falcons, and Bucs fans might want to forget. This team could be scary good next year. They're already pretty dangerous.
26. Denver Broncos - Though they beat the Bengals, this may have been a moral loss considering how close it was. The Broncos came into the season with an expecation to win now. You don't go with Kyle Orton over a first round quarterback if you're building for the future. This season should get ugly, the question is will it get ugly next week at Tennessee, the following week at Green Bay, or the week after that at San Diego. Either way Tim Tebow should be starting by October 23 at Miami, a game in which the Dolphins will honor Tim Tebow and the 2008 Florida Gators beforehand.
27. St. Louis Rams - This team looked average against the Eagles and pretty bad against the Giants. Given, those are are two pretty tough games, but things should only get tougher as the Ravens come to town this week. Their division is bad, but an 0-3 start would likely mean this team isn't headed for the playoffs. Not if Arizona beats Seattle and San Francisco beats the Bengals.
28. Minnesota Vikings - Everyone is piling on Donovan McNabb as the Redskins seemingly continue the streak of addition by subtraction of McNabb. I don't think McNabb is the problem in Minnesota, but I do think Leslie Frazier is an overrated head coach. For a few offseasons he was the big name, but maybe there's a reason he never got a job. Teams have started 0-2 and gone on to the playoffs in the past.
29. Seattle Seahawks - The only thing that keeps this team alive is that they plan in such a mediocre division. Pete Carroll has a vision, and part of that vision was to tear apart a roster plagued with mediocrity. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt for the next two years considering Seattle were nowhere close to a championship when he took over.
30. Miami Dolphins - This a talented team with no direction. Admittedly, I didn't get to watch the game this week because I was so preoccupied with the Chargers, Cowboys, and Broncos, but from what I did see, Chad Henne continues to be the on the field problem. He may develop into a solid player one day, but this is a franchise that wants to win now.
31. Indianapolis Colts - With every passing week Peyton Manning's legacy as the most valuable player in NFL history solidifies. That's saying a lot considering he's not on the field. The Colts looked better this week, but if they're not going to beat the Browns at home, who will they beat? Maybe the Chiefs, a division game or two, and there's a slim chance they beat the Bengals and maybe the Panthers.
32. Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs have scored 10 points in two weeks while opponents have up up 89. Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry are out for a while. This is a franchise that needs an identity in the form of a franchise quarterback; I think they'll get one in the 2012 draft.