First Quarter Power Rankings (2014-2015)

As it was, so it is again. Each quarter of each season will bring with it my own personal Power Rankings. What readers need to remember is what these rankings reflect and, more importantly, what they don’t. Namely:

-They DO reflect how each team has performed since the beginning of the current season
-They do NOT reflect future projection, last year’s results, or anything else. At all.

That being said, here’s where I rank ’em so far:

1 – Cincinnati Bengals

There are currently two undefeated teams in the NFL. Each has only played three games due to early bye weeks. The Bengals, and the Cardinals. Since I grade these teams based on what they have done, their body of work up until this very point, the record is only one piece of the puzzle. Winning is just about everything, sure, but how convincing those wins are means just as much in my book. When it comes to winning convincingly, playing top notch football in all phases and dominating the opposition, the Cincinnati Bengals are the best team in the NFL right now.

2 – Arizona Cardinals

I know, I know. “But what about their competition?” “What about the fact they’ve only played three games?” “What about…uh…they’re the Cardinals for crying out loud!”. Well, the Cardinals, right now, are playing like the NFC version of the Bengals. While not as potent offensively, they’ve been managing games with a backup QB, a banged up running back and a retooled offensive line. What really shines is the defense, a unit that has given up only 45 points in three contests. Almost as impressive as Cincinnati’s D, only giving up 33 points in the same span of games. As the Seahawks proved last year, a dominating defense can still win championships in today’s offensively-biased NFL. Not losing a game so far is a great start to proving it all over again.

3 – San Diego Chargers

I must admit, this is not how I envisioned these rankings to go when the season started. I’d have laughed at the thought of the Chargers being the best team in their division, let alone the 2nd best team in their conference and, in my estimation, one of the three best in the league. But look at what they’ve done so far. They opened the season with a narrow defeat at the hands of the Cardinals, and have only gotten better. They hosted and exposed specific weaknesses in the Seahawks’ game, and followed that up with giving the then-undefeated Bills their first taste of defeat. Add in an expected blowout of the lowly Jaguars, and you see a team that is prepared to win the tough ones and, unlike some other squads, shows up in the same fashion against lesser opponents as well. The hallmarks of a great team.

4 – Dallas Cowboys

I spent a lot of time with all of my rankings, but I have to admit, this one gave me the most pause. I had to remind myself (more than once) of what I’m basing this on, and what I’m not. If we’re being honest, we’re looking at a team who at the very least is the best running team in football, with a defense that is either overachieving or has finally found a solid foundation without any of the playmakers we thought they needed after last year’s fiasco. At the most, they’re capable of beating anyone when they hit their stride…something I don’t think many of us expected them capable of before the season started, or after their opening embarrassment against the 49ers. But they’re undefeated since, and have done so with a well-rounded attack in all three phases.

5 – Baltimore Ravens

No team in the NFL has had a tougher schedule over their first four weeks. Three straight divisional games followed by hosting a tough (yet struggling) Panthers team. The Ravens couldn’t best the Bengals, but showed their dominance against Pittsburgh and Carolina and resilience against Cleveland. I have concerns about Baltimore when they’re on the road, but what they’ve done is what they’ve done, and it speaks for itself. So far, Steve Smith appears to be the most significant offseason acquisition that any team made this year.

6 – Seattle Seahawks

For the most part, they’re 6th and not 7th because of their victory over #7. They’re still ranked this high because, despite one loss, they’ve looked excellent and more threatening with a healthy Percy Harvin and a seemingly more capable Russell Wilson taking more pressure off of a great defense.

7 – Denver Broncos

Tough call between last year’s Superbowl contestants. I think the Broncos have played better overall football than the Seahawks so far this year, but I can’t justify ranking them ahead of Seattle simply because they (Denver) lost the rematch in week 3.   It’s easy to overlook Denver because they’re not the same dominating force they were for almost the entire 2013 season, but they’re still beating solid competition and doing it in somewhat unfamiliar ways.

8 – Detroit Lions

Now these rankings get difficult. Honestly, 8-12 could easily be argued as backwards, just right, off slightly, etc. But, since this is my judgement, I think the Lions are the 8th best team in football as of today. They’ve played better football than anyone ranked below them, even though the competition hasn’t been that great. Their win over the Packers is the deciding factor in ranking them here, as it showed the world a defense that is truly coming into its own. Their offense has been surprisingly low-key in comparison, but winning is winning and Detroit is (mostly) doing just that.

9 – Philadelphia Eagles

Oh, they’ve looked flat-out bad at times this year. Like, bottom of the barrel-bad, especially with their performance against the 49ers in week 4 and their inability to fire on all cylinders until the 2nd half of their first three games. Buuuut, they’re 3-1, came within a touchdown of beating the 49ers without actually scoring an offensive touchdown, and have, for the most part, played the type of football required to match up against anyone. It’s anyone’s guess regarding the future…but again, we’re not considering that here. So far, they’ve been as good as their ranking indicates.

10 – Houston Texans

Shocking. Their competition hasn’t exactly been…competitive…and their offense has some serious question marks, but the Texans are playing great defense, overcoming their mistakes and have that tough, underdog mentality that usually a terrible season can give to a club. Beating the Redskins, Raiders and Bills aren’t exactly huge accomplishments, but being 3-1 certainly is.

11 – Buffalo Bills

God, this is getting harder and harder. The wheels look like they may be ready to come off of the Bills’ solid start to their season, due to injuries and bizarre coaching choices, but I can’t say any other 2-2 team has looked better this year. Their defense has added steel with new DC Jim Schwartz at the helm, and the combination of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller along with the steady emergence of rookie wideout Sammy Watkins has given their offense some needed punch. Their two wins were big, and their two losses I believe are more of a hiccup than a truly damning sign of a team that doesn’t have what it takes to compete.

12 – Atlanta Falcons

Has any time been more up-and-down after four games this year? A heartstopper win against the rival Saints? Great start. A back-to-earth loss against the Bengals? In retrospect, not necessarily a shocker. A huge rebound against the lesser Buccaneers? Not overly impressive, but very much needed. But losing to the Vikings? That’s where the Falcons drop a bit in my estimation. That game, more than any other, exposed glaring defensive holes that more teams than most people realize are prepared to exploit; namely, playing bend-but-don’t-break and still breaking when enough pressure is applied. They’ve been great, they’ve been terrible, but overall, they’ve got the look of a competitive squad. They just have to cover up their flaws a little better.

13 – Kansas City Chiefs

I had to reassess my early thoughts on this team after their last two victories. In fact, it appears to me that, while not being the same squad that pushed the Broncos for the division in 2013, they’re still a very well balanced team that can dissect many of their opponents with extreme efficiency. That begins with Alex Smith, but it goes much deeper. Their running game is obviously upper-end, with backup Knile Davis seemingly not missing a beat in replacing Jamaal Charles over a couple of games. Their defense is playing better than most people realize and, if you ignore their opening week baffler of a loss to the Titans, they have been playing solid football all around this year.

14 – Green Bay Packers

I’m ignoring their Thursday Night romp of the Vikings simply because these rankings are in judging the first four weeks of the season. That being said, the Pack have been obviously inconsistent but, recently, have started to show the qualities of a team that many people seemed enamored with before the year began. I wasn’t one of them, but I’m observant and decent enough to know where I was wrong. I saw a major slide in store for Green Bay this year: so far, they’ve slid only so much. As Aaron Rodgers told us, we need to R.E.L.A.X. And I suppose we should.

15 – Pittsburgh Steelers

I can almost forgive them losing to the Buccaneers. Almost. What the Steelers have shown after four weeks is an offense that has the capacity to do serious damage, and a defense that has the capacity to lose games. I’m not quite sure how the equation balances out, but four weeks into the season, I feel more confident about what they’ve done than the handful of teams who are seemingly as good as them.

16 – Chicago Bears

I don’t give passes to teams, but the injuries are depriving Chicago of a big part of their ability to succeed. Losing to the Bills was a shock, and losing to the Packers, although I expected it, was too convincing a defeat for me to hold Chicago in high confidence. But their victories showed me a team that can pop up and surprise just about anyone given the right conditions. One of those conditions has to be health, though, and until they get a handle on that side of things, they’ll linger in the middle of the pack.

17 – San Fransisco 49ers

This team is rubbing me in all the wrong ways this year and I can’t fully figure out why. Unfortunate holes in the defense are definitely part of the problem, but for the most part, their offense has looked stagnant and only capable of the occasional spell of high-level play. I don’t know whether it’s a mirage or the actual truth, but that’s forward thinking; as of right now, the 49ers are playing so far below their capabilities that they belong where they are in the grand scheme of things.

18 – Indianapolis Colts

They’ve lost to two good teams and beaten up on two bad teams. I’m not the type who looks at the latter and forgives the former. It all matters. I won’t start believing in the Colts until they prove they can defeat someone other than the Titans or Jaguars, the current whipping posts of a weak AFC South.

19 – New York Giants

Now, 19 and 20 may be the easiest positions to argue against in these rankings, so let me make this clear: the Giants have shown steady improvement over four weeks. The Panthers have shown the opposite. I’d rank New York a little higher, but the improvement has mostly come against teams that, considering the Giants’ potential on paper, they should be beating. That’s not to take too much from them, however. I just want to know, before taking them seriously, whether the offense is starting to click or their recent opposition is as bad as New York made them appear to be.

20 – Carolina Panthers

Two weeks into the season: So far, so good. Four weeks in: What’s going on here? Truly, I’m starting to believe the Panthers are taking a slide backwards for reasons nobody would have predicted at the start of the season: startlingly poor defensive play and a lack of healthy talent in their backfield. I think they can correct the slide, but the problems are mounting up very fast.

21 – Miami Dolphins

21 and 22 are where they are, and not reversed, because 21 beat 22. And that is, truly, how far either ranking goes.

22 – New England Patriots

See above. Also, I’m not nearly ready to jump on the “This is the end” bandwagon that’s circling the Patriots after one month. But that has nothing to do with how they’ve played so far. They’ve played like one of the lesser teams in the NFL.

23 – Cleveland Browns

As tough as I expected, but the results aren’t showing up in the win column. So far. The NFC North is, without a doubt, the toughest division in football once again, and the Browns are as capable of making opponents pay as the Bengals are…they’re just nowhere near as consistent about it.

24 – Minnesota Vikings

They’re 2-3. If we don’t count Thursday Night (which, again, we’re not), they’re 2-2. Beyond their record, I have a hard time putting them this high because they’ve been exposed in so many ways. What does give me optimism is Teddy Bridgewater and Mike Zimmer; one brings hope to a stagnant passing game and the other to a lukewarm defense. But, so far, the results are inconclusive.

25 – New Orleans Saints

Below the Vikings, you say? Below the Browns? Yes. This team is living up to their reputation as road-incapable, and they’re also playing abysmal defense. Two things we all thought they had cleared up in 2013. So far, it looks like we were all seeing ghosts last year.

26 – Washington Redskins

The way both teams look right now, do you think the Redskins and Rams might consider reversing the RG3 trade? When you think about it, wouldn’t it make a whole lot of sense for both clubs?

27 – St. Louis Rams

See above.

28 – New York Jets

The biased fanboy in me loves this. The subjective critic in me cringes every time I see Geno Smith with the ball in his hands. Can he improve? Maybe. But will the Jets wait around as long as they did with Mark Sanchez before they make a decision? The biased fanboy hopes so…

29 – Tennessee Titans

They managed to win a game, and they’ve been slightly more competitive in their losses than the…

30 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

…who have also managed to win a game, which is more than I can say about the…

31 – Jacksonville Jaguars

…who are really no better than the…

32 – Oakland Raiders

…who will lose to the bye week by at least 21 this week.

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