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Week 5: Ravens rise in shockingly mediocre field; Dolphins slide

I was talking to a club official the other day about the lack of elite teams in the NFL and how most of the league is so evenly matched this season, and he made a very astute observation: "And it's all happening in the uncapped year,'' he said. "That was the great fear for so long, remember? That somehow parity would be lost with no salary cap, because some teams would just spend like crazy and create an imbalance of talent. But now, the reality is, it's the complete opposite. Everybody's bunched together in a clump.''

So true. The uncapped year hasn't exactly turned out to be the death of parity. If anything, there's too much parity in the NFL in 2010. You try doing the SI.com NFL Power Rankings when 13 teams are sitting 2-2, and three more are either one game above .500 or one game below it. That's 16 teams, half the league, with either one or two wins and one or two losses. Makes for quite a muddle of mediocrity in the middle of the rankings.

Maybe it all starts to sort itself out this week, as the season's second quarter begins.

Now on to this week's rankings ...

(As always, send comments to siwriters@simail.com.)

NFL Power Rankings
1Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 1
Usually you lose and you slide in our rankings, but this hasn't been all that usual of a first month to the regular season. Even with their last-minute loss at home to Baltimore, I'm giving the Steelers cumulative credit for getting through Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension with a 3-1 record, despite playing a mishmash collection of quarterbacks. And Pittsburgh's 50 points allowed are the fewest in the league by any team that has played four games.
 
2Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 3
The Falcons could easily be 4-0, having lost in overtime at Pittsburgh in the opener, but they could also be 1-3 if Garrett Hartley makes a chip shot for New Orleans and Nate Clements secures the football for the sloppy 49ers. Learning to win games in which you don't play your best is generally a sign of a team headed for bigger things, but it's not a week-to-week blueprint for survival in this league.
 
3Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 11
I'm on record picking the Ravens to win it all this season and they just collected the victory (at Pittsburgh) that should set them up to win the AFC North, earn one of the top two seeds and put together a lengthy playoff run. But Baltimore certainly hasn't played a complete game yet, and this week at home against Denver would be a fine time to rectify that. The Ravens and their injury-depleted secondary somehow lead the NFL in pass defense (119.0), but now comes their toughest test so far, a game against Kyle Orton and the Broncos top-ranked passing game (339.5).
 
4New York Jets
Last Week: 6
Since halftime of their game at home against New England in Week 2, the Jets have put together 10 quality quarters, sweeping through the AFC East in the process. The impetus has been obvious: Mark Sanchez has thrown for eight touchdowns this season, with nary a turnover. Last season, he threw just 12 touchdown passes, with 20 interceptions and three fumbles lost. That's called making the second-year jump.
 
5New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 4
In their first seven games last season, the Saints scored 273 points (39 ppg), never once totaling fewer than 24 points. In their most recent seven regular-season games, dating from Week 15 of last year on, the Saints have scored only 123 points (17.6 ppg), totaling as many as 25 points just once. I don't know if that's an indication that the rest of the NFL has caught up with the Saints offense to some degree, but I do know that Sean Payton's mood would improve noticeably if New Orleans laid 40-plus points on the porous Cardinals defense this week in Arizona.
 
6Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 5
Kind of surprised me to hear Aaron Rodgers openly question the play-calling of head coach Mike McCarthy after the two-point win over Detroit that felt like a loss. McCarthy knows what he's doing with a headset on, and those two are usually very much on the same page when it comes to the offensive approach. Something's missing so far this season in Green Bay, and the Packers clearly have yet to rediscover the mojo they had during last year's 7-1 second-half run.
 
7New England Patriots
Last Week: 9
Without Randy Moss, the Patriots lose one of their few proven playmakers, and they didn't have a surplus to begin with. Now even more of the offensive load shifts to either rookies like tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, or relatively unproven young talents such as BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon Tate, Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman. Wes Welker can't do it all. There has to be another move coming, right? I'd give way more than a penny for Tom Brady's unfiltered thoughts about now.
 
8Houston Texans
Last Week: 8
Tennessee's Chris Johnson loves to remind everyone -- especially Adrian Peterson -- that he's the NFL's best running back. But at the moment, the numbers say he's not even the best running back in his own division. The Texans' Arian Foster (537 yards) is averaging a ridiculous 6.3 yards per carry, and he has run for 183 yards more than Johnson (354 yards) on nine fewer rushes this season. Johnson's not even in the top five among league rushing leaders. Case closed? No. It's early. But the facts are the facts.
 
9Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 2
I know the sky must be falling in Indy because the Colts have already lost two more division games than they did all of last season. But the Jaguars usually play Indy tough in Jacksonville, with the Colts needing to rally to win 35-31 there late in 2009. So losing on a 59-yard field goal at the gun isn't cause to declare Indy's playoff era over. But a disclaimer like that can only hold for another week. If the Colts struggle at home against the 3-0 Chiefs, full-scale panic will be the order of the day in Indianapolis.
 
10Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 13
I could think of worse game plans than the Chiefs aiming Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones and their third-ranked running game (160.7 average) right at the heart of a Colts defense that has been dented for 149.5 rushing yards per game this season (29th overall). Not only would it shorten the game and help keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands, but it would limit what Kansas City requires in the way of passing-game contributions from Matt Cassel, who has gotten off to a slow start this season.
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