By Don Banks
September 28, 2011

Entering Week 4's slate of games, we still have three undefeated teams in the NFL, with the Packers, Lions and Bills all sitting pretty at 3-0. But every team, even the proven winners in this league, have some very well-documented problems on display

The Packers are susceptible on pass defense. The Patriots still can't quite manage a pass rush. The Steelers' offensive line is a mess, the Eagles are getting gouged in the middle of the field on defense, and the Jets' rush defense just got run over by the Raiders. And did we mention a Texans offense that bogs down when the goal-line grows near?

The teams that go the furthest are the teams that hide their weaknesses the best, and win, warts and all. Now onto this week's rankings ...

NFL Power Rankings
1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
I think we've settled things in regards to the state of the Packers-Bears rivalry for the time being. Green Bay has faced Chicago three times in the span of its past eight meaningful games -- all in this calendar year -- and won all three, by seven, seven and 10 points. And none of them really felt as close as the score indicated. The two historic division foes now get to give it a much-needed rest for 13 weeks, before resuming hostilities Christmas night at a chilly Lambeau Field.
2 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 4
I'm fine with it if the current situation atop our rankings holds steady for the next three-plus months or so. After all, I have the Packers beating the Saints in January's NFC title game, so there'd be less reshuffling to do if Green Bay and New Orleans hunker down and keep winning. For the second time in three weeks, the Saints defense gave up a ton of yards, but Gregg Williams' defense made just enough plays when it mattered most against Houston.
3 New England Patriots
Last Week: 2
Poor Wes Welker. The guy had a nice little career for himself Sunday against the Bills -- 16 catches, 217 yards, two touchdowns -- but they don't give out game balls for losses. Usually the Pats make someone pay dearly the week after a defeat, but a trip to Oakland and dealing with the Raiders' playmakers is no picnic these days. The last time New England lost back-to-back games in the regular season came in Weeks 12-13 of 2009, in road games at New Orleans and Miami.
4 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 5
Has any player anywhere ever started in more spectacular fashion than Ravens rookie Torrey Smith, whose first three catches of his NFL career went for touchdowns of 74, 41 and 18 yards in the first quarter of Baltimore's 37-7 domination of the Rams last Sunday? I suppose you can only disappoint after an introduction like that, but it would appear the Ravens have mined the draft for yet another useful talent. And to think Torrey wasn't even the top-ranked Smith on Baltimore's draft board (like first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith).
5 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 8
Eli Manning considers himself an "elite" quarterback and it starts a firestorm. Cris Carter opines about whether or not the Lions' Calvin Johnson is one of the league's top five receivers and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford feels the need to defend his go-to target. So much of what constitutes NFL "coverage" these days feels like irrelevant and inconsequential blather. You know, kind of like power rankings.
6 New York Jets
Last Week: 3
I kind of like it that Jets legend Joe Namath has taken on the role of the crazy uncle at the family holiday gathering, liable to come out and say anything at any time, even if it upsets people and goes against the prevailing wisdom of the day. It takes a lot to out-quote Rex Ryan, but Namath consistently manages it two or three times a year, even if Suzy Kolber is nowhere around.
7 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 13
After the natural high of those two momentous comeback wins in front of their long-suffering fans, let's see if the Bills handle the less emotional challenge of going on the road and throttling a 1-2 Bengals club that appears to have peaked in Week 1. This is a revenge game of sorts for Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who spent the 2007-08 seasons in Cincinnati. But as sub-plots go, it isn't exactly Brett Favre returning to Lambeau.
8 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 7
I can't document this, but there are certain quarterbacks you just know are going to fumble when they get leveled by one of those blindside hits, and it seems like the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is one of them. But you also know Pittsburgh's defense is going to come up with a few of its own strip-sacks, taking plenty of them to the house, so I suppose it more than evens out.
9 Houston Texans
Last Week: 9
The Texans' latest attempt to assert their dominance in the AFC South got sidetracked against the Saints, and it's not difficult to figure out why. Houston had five red-zone possessions and wound up with four Neil Rackers field goals and one touchdown. That won't cut it against one of the NFL's elite teams. It takes touchdowns to step up in weight class in this league. Houston has just three touchdowns in 13 red-zone trips this season, and that's indicative of a team that still doesn't know how to finish.
10 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 12
Philip Rivers has always trusted his right arm implicitly, but it's starting to betray him at times. Rivers has thrown two interceptions in each of his three games this season, and that's the kind of career first the Chargers could live without. Rivers has never topped 15 picks in his six seasons as the starter in San Diego, but he's well on this way to doing so. With six interceptions already, he only needs 10 more in the coming 13 games to go where he's never gone before.
11 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 18
Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour is a very proud man, and I can't wait to see what he might be motivated to do facing his old New England teammates this week in Oakland. Seymour would love nothing more than to pin a loss on Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who unceremoniously traded him to the Raiders on final cutdown day in 2009. Seymour and Belichick never saw eye to eye, even if New England's football czar happened to be standing on a foot stool.
12 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 16
We certainly don't shy away from ripping Tony Romo when he costs the Cowboys a game (see Week 1, vs. Jets), so let's give it up for him when he almost single-handedly wills Dallas to victory, as he did Monday night against Washington. Romo would not let the Cowboys lose that game, and at the key points in the action he was the only guy wearing a star on his helmet who seemed to know what the heck he was doing. In a related thought, who coaches the Dallas receivers and what exactly do they do all week when the rest of the team is preparing for a game?
13 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 14
I had a chat with Daniel Snyder the day I visited Redskins camp and he told me people were going to be surprised by Washington this season. I told Snyder I thought his team would max out at seven or eight wins this year, and third place in the NFC East was as high as it could aspire to. It's still early, and the Redskins let one get away the other night in Dallas, but so far Snyder's read on things looks more accurate than mine. How's that for being magnanimous to one of my favorite punching bags?
14 New York Giants
Last Week: 15
It seems like the same pattern has existed the entire eight-year Tom Coughlin coaching era in New York: When the Giants have great expectations, they usually disappoint. And when they're written off as underachievers, they usually rise up and start surprising people with some pretty good football. If you don't believe me, just ask the Eagles.
15 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 17
The Bucs are going for their first three-game winning streak of the three-year Raheem Morris coaching era on Monday night against the Colts, a milestone they absolutely have to reach if we're to take Tampa Bay seriously in this year's NFC South race. You've got to hit your layups in the NFL, and facing the Manning-less Colts at home might be as close to an automatic win as exists in today's NFL.
16 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 6
What a weak act that was by Michael Vick in the postgame last Sunday. Yes, you were complaining about not getting late-hit penalty flags, Mike, not merely just pointing it out to the unaware. Otherwise Vick wouldn't have felt the need to backtrack the next day and try to make the story go away. I actually saw referee Jeff Triplette bend over and help Vick to his feet after the hit No. 7 took from Giants defensive lineman Chris Canty, and I can't recall that kind of QB treatment from the guys in stripes too often. An air of entitlement might be making a comeback in Philly.
17 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 10
On my camp visit to the Bears, always-confident Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz assured me Roy Williams would be in line to catch 80-85 passes for 1,300 yards or so this year in his offense. With only four receptions for 55 yards in the first three games, all in the Bears' opener, Williams needs to average about six catches and 96 yards per game from here on out to make Martz look prescient. And just imagine if Chicago actually had tried to run the ball the past two weeks instead of throwing it 80 percent of the time.
18 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 11
The Falcons have a real problem at left offensive tackle with Sam Baker. The guy who gets paid to guard quarterback Matt Ryan's backside hasn't done much of it lately. Ryan went down four more times in the loss at Tampa Bay and has now absorbed 13 sacks in three games, putting him on pace for 63 sacks this season. That would be 40 more sacks than Ryan has ever endured in any of his first three NFL seasons, and that would undoubtedly help punch Baker's ticket out of town.
19 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 22
I hear you, Titans fans. I probably don't have your 2-1 club high enough in this week's rankings. They're sitting there behind three losing teams in the Eagles, Bears and Falcons. But after two home wins against Baltimore and Denver, let's see what Tennessee can accomplish on the road the next two weeks at Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The loss of receiver Kenny Britt for the season can't be overstated, but Nate Washington and Matt Hasselbeck seem to have a strong early rapport, and sooner or later well-paid running back Chris Johnson has to start earning some of his new money.
20 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 23
Chris Johnson, of course, isn't the only top-notch running back to have little to do with his team's 2-1 start this season. Anyone seen the real Frank Gore in September? Like Johnson, Gore got a fat new contract in the preseason, but the twist is, he took the money and didn't run. He's averaging a paltry 2.5 yards per carry so far (148 yards on 59 carries), and he lost a fumble and flubbed a catch in Sunday's 13-8 win at Cincinnati.
21 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 26
If it weren't for the resurgent Bills and the Lions being 3-0, we'd all be paying more attention to the hopeful start in Cleveland, where the Browns are above .500 after three games for the first time since their lone playoff year of 2002. Let's give a little love to new Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, whose No. 9-ranked unit has held two of three opponents under 20 points and is getting strong rookie seasons from first- and second-round defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard.
22 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 19
Sorry, Kevin Kolb fans, but that's two weeks in a row that your guy let a very winnable road game slip away. Kolb's three performances as a Cardinal have gone from very good, to decent, to just so-so, and that's trending in the wrong direction. In consecutive games, Kolb has lost head to head against Washington's Rex Grossman and Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson, a couple of quarterbacks who have been mostly backups in recent years.
23 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 27
Not to beat the newly-signed-running-backs-not-producing storyline to death, but the Panthers aren't getting much return on the big-dollar deal they gave DeAngelo Williams early on in free agency. Cam Newton's ascension has consumed most of the oxygen in Charlotte, but Williams has just 61 yards rushing, with a 2.3-yard average carry and a long gain of 8 so far. That can't continue much longer before Newton begins to carry far too much of the offensive burden in Carolina.
24 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 21
The Jaguars need to take a page from Carolina's approach with Cam Newton and turn rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert loose in the weeks ahead. Gabbert's first start in Charlotte last Sunday took place part of the time in a monsoon, so the passing game was largely negated. But the Jaguars are going to need to throw the ball to win this week at home against the Saints, so they best let it rip. It's a passing league, Jags, and you just drafted a QB with a big arm at No. 10. It's no time to play it both safe and sorry.
25 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 24
No surprise really that Broncos head coach John Fox continues to stand behind Kyle Orton as his starting quarterback. Fox is a veteran-loving coach, and he maintains that Orton still gives his team its best shot to win. And there's really only one flaw in that theory: The Broncos don't win with Orton, who is 4-12 in his last 16 starts in Denver. Yes, both losses for the Broncos this season were by three points. But as I've pointed out once already this season, Orton is just good enough to get you beat.
26 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 20
I'm trying to figure out whether I've totally over-sold myself on the Rams, or if they're just in an early season funk against some quality opponents? Even at 0-3, I still think St. Louis wins the weak NFC West this season, but seven or eight wins is probably the ceiling for the Rams. The facts aren't pretty in St. Loo: The Rams have lost six of their past seven games since reaching a hopeful 6-6 early last December, and this year's club has been trounced by a combined score of 96-36 in three games (a 20-point margin of defeat per week).
27 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 31
Wow, what a difference Sidney Rice made in Seattle's passing game on Sunday against Arizona. Rice had eight receptions for 109 yards in his Seattle regular season debut, and the rest of the Seahawks pass-catchers combined for just 10 catches for 62 yards. Even with the questionable health of his shoulder, Rice had more instant impact than even Seattle had the right to expect.
28 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 25
The Bengals couldn't match points at home with the light-hitting 49ers offense last week, so I don't know how they're expecting to stay on the field with the high-powered Bills, who lead the NFL in scoring with 37.7 points per game. It's a shame, because Cincy defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer again has his guys overachieving, with the Bengals defense ranked No. 3 overall and twice having held opponents to 17 points or fewer.
29 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 28
Leslie Frazier said he won't replace Donovan McNabb with rookie Christian Ponder, but the team will look to help the veteran quarterback with "mechanical issues" that might be contributing to McNabb short-hopping the ball on some passes. Really? McNabb has been short-hopping a few passes for about 12 or 13 years now in the NFL, so I don't think a late-career fix is going to be found. Just ask any Eagles fan about McNabb drilling a few worms over the years. They'll tell you.
30 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 29
The season isn't even a quarter over and already Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano seems like a dead man walking. I don't know Sparano personally, but I'm told he's a good coach and a good man, and he'll land quickly on his feet in his next NFL gig. But he looks like he's out of bullets and ideas in Miami. The Dolphins tried to replace him last offseason and didn't get it done. They will the next time firing season rolls around.
31 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 30
The Colts put up a pretty good fight against the Steelers at home Sunday night, but fortunately they didn't do something silly and short-sighted like pull off the upset and ruin their standing in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. As I said in last week's rankings, and Colts owner Jim Irsay tried to be candid about a few days later, no one should expect to see Peyton Manning playing in 2011. There is nothing to come back to in Indianapolis this season.
32 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 32
With a visit from winless Minnesota and a trip to winless Indianapolis coming up before their Week 6 bye, if not now, when will the Chiefs win this season? If we're going to hear anything from Todd Haley's struggling team in 2011, it's time to cobble a mini-streak together.

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