By Don Banks
October 05, 2011

Status quo obviously isn't the norm in the league that goes by the mantra of N(ot) F(or) L(ong), but when the first five teams in our NFL power rankings all win on any given Sunday, a little stability up top is kind of refreshing. And there's really not much to debate right now, because the Packers, Saints, Patriots, Lions and Ravens are clearly the five best teams in the league, in some order.

Just to refresh your memory, I have the Packers and Ravens meeting in the Super Bowl, and the Saints and Patriots losing in their respective conference title games -- with the added bonus of Detroit winning an NFC wild card berth. So far, so good on my predictions. But why do I suspect my luck will never last? Now onto this week's rankings ...

Week 4 NFL Power Rankings
1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
I'm not trying to declare Aaron Rodgers the best quarterback in the NFL hands down, but who wouldn't trade their starting QB straight up for him, given the chance? Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers are all older than Rodgers, so it only makes sense that the Patriots, Saints, Chargers and Colts would take that deal in a heartbeat. Yep, it's a big, fat hypothetical, meaning I can't possibly be proven wrong on this one.
2 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 2
With back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, and three touchdown catches in the season's first month, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has Saints fans wondering what they ever saw in the departed Jeremy Shockey. Graham had a career day in the win at Jacksonville, with 10 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. The guy knows how to find the end zone. His 55 career receptions include eight touchdowns, better than one score for every seven catches.
3 New England Patriots
Last Week: 3
Can't help but think the Chargers and Dolphins must wince every time they see Wes Welker piling up another game's worth of ridiculous receiving numbers. Both clubs had Welker once upon a time, but obviously didn't know what they had. Welker is on pace to lead the league in receptions for the third time in five years, and his 40-catch, 616-yard start to 2011 is simply the best getaway by any receiver in NFL history.
4 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 5
Every week seems to bring another new high for Jim Schwartz and his unbeaten Lions, and now comes the franchise's long-awaited return to Monday Night Football, with the Bears providing the opposition. The Lions are staring at their first 5-0 start since 1956, and to give you a clue as to how long ago that was, consider that 20 of the NFL's current 32 franchises didn't even exist back then.
5 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 4
It might not seem fair to have the Lions leap-frog the Ravens after Baltimore dispatched the Jets Sunday night by 17 points, but that was quite the quirky win over the big-talkers from New York. Baltimore's passing game was pretty brutal for most of the game -- Joe Flacco went more than 25 minutes without a completion -- and you can't count on scoring three defensive touchdowns every week. We need to see more consistency from Cam Cameron's guys before we fully trust our AFC Super Bowl pick.
6 Houston Texans
Last Week: 9
The Texans managed to wipe both a special teams and a defensive touchdown off the board with needless penalties, maybe so they could torture their fans a little longer with the prospect of blowing that potential statement game against Pittsburgh. Houston came through with the win, but let's not assume the Texans have arrived just yet. I want to see how they persevere without injured receiver Andre Johnson in the tough three-game stretch to come: Oakland, at Baltimore, at Tennessee.
7 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 7
OK, so we found out the Bills can't just throw their red, white and blue helmets on the field and win, even against the likes of the Bengals. A little more maturity is needed if Buffalo is to successfully navigate the kind of trap game that Cincinnati presented. And maybe the law of averages caught up with the Bills, who have given up more than 450 yards of offense three games in a row, but still managed to win the first two of those.
8 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 10
We've killed the slow-starting Chargers for years now over their tendency to sleep-walk through September and early October, but now that they're off to a solid 3-1 beginning, I'm not hearing a whole lot of credit directed Norv Turner's way. That's a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of scenario, but I suppose it's to be expected. San Diego is 3-0 at home, but this week the Chargers embark on a three-game road trip that is interrupted only by their Week 6 bye.
9 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 19
I'm making a market correction of sorts, bumping the Titans way up in our rankings on the heels of their three-game winning streak. I'm not yet convinced Tennessee can play with the big boys in the AFC, but this week's trip to Pittsburgh would go a way's toward that end if the Titans can escape with the W. This much is clear: Matt Hasselbeck is the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year so far.
10 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 13
The Redskins struggled to put away the anemic Rams, but you can't really quibble with them being 3-1 and two games ahead of division favorite Philadelphia as they enter their Week 5 bye. The more I see of Washington's defense this season, the more I like what Jim Haslett is building on that side of the ball. Bryan Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are becoming quite the play-making tandem at outside linebacker, and they're consistently finding the football at key points in the game.
11 New York Giants
Last Week: 14
Here's reason No. 722 why the NFL routinely makes the experts look like idiots: While everyone was trying to get Giants GM Jerry Reese fired for letting receiver Steve Smith get away to Philadelphia in free agency, a funny thing happened to that argument. Smith has caught all of four passes for 56 yards for the 1-3 Eagles. New York's Victor Cruz has emerged to catch 11 passes for 225 yards, with two touchdowns for the 3-1, first-place Giants. Never mind.
12 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 8
Death, taxes and the Steelers run defense could always be counted on in the past, but now we're down to just two out of three on that front. Pittsburgh got gashed for 180 yards on the ground at Houston, after Baltimore hit the Steelers for 170 rushing yards in Week 1. Ranked first against the run last season, Pittsburgh is currently 22nd in that department. And I find it quite ironic that James Harrison broke his orbital bone on a helmet-to-helmet hit with Texans tackle Duane Brown. Player safety anyone?
13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 15
The win over the Colts was nothing to hang over the mantle, but the Bucs have won three in a row for the first time in the Raheem Morris era, and that young Tampa Bay defensive line flashed some skills. Rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn buried Indy's Curtis Painter on a sack, and added a tackle for loss and two QB hurries. Second-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy made the stat sheet, too, turning in a sack, two hurries, three tackles for loss and a team-best six tackles. That's what the Bucs had in mind for their first-rounders.
14 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 11
The Raiders have gone win, loss, win, loss, and that puts them on track to equal last year's 8-8 Oakland team, which followed a victory with a defeat five times. The Raiders hung up 504 yards of offense last week against the Patriots, but still only scored a season-low 19 points. With that inexplicable end zone interception he threw, Jason Campbell remains an enigma at quarterback.
15 New York Jets
Last Week: 6
I'm dropping the Jets like a Mark Sanchez fumble (he had four of them against the Ravens). New York's offense did nothing against the Ravens defense, totaling seven first downs, 150 yards of offense, and all of 11 pass completions on 35 attempts. That won't cut it against the point-a-minute Patriots on Sunday in Foxboro. The Jets locker room had a what-me-worry air to it after the debacle in Baltimore, but I'm guessing a three-game losing streak would set off the panic alarms in Rex-land.
16 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 20
Watching the NFL Network Tuesday night, I came across the replay of the 49ers' win at Philadelphia from Sunday, and it was right at the point where San Francisco defensive end Justin Smith made that tremendous hustle play to force a game-clinching fumble from Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin. That's the kind of play the 49ers never made for Mike Singletary, and it should give San Francisco fans hope that Jim Harbaugh's impact is being felt in any number of positive ways.
17 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 17
The Bears at least woke up and conceded that playing Roy Williams ahead of Johnny Knox made no sense to anyone outside of the Martz family. Chicago also got wise and decided to exhaust Matt Forte in the pursuit of victory, rather than, say, Jay Cutler. It's ironic, but that's forward thinking for the Bears, to forego so much forward passing.
18 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 18
Other than the fourth-quarter rally against Philadelphia in Week 2, the Falcons don't have a lot to feel good about yet in 2011. But a win at home against Green Bay on Sunday night would change all that. The Packers are the team that first made Atlanta start to doubt itself, with that NFC Divisional-round playoff beatdown last January. The Falcons love to talk about "protecting their house." Let's see if they can do that against a Green Bay team that scored almost at will last week against Denver.
19 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 12
While Tony Romo catches all the flak his turnover-prone play deserves, how about Cowboys running back Felix Jones, who catches a short pass on 4th and 20 at the end of the loss to the Lions, then chooses to run out of bounds unprompted after gaining just eight yards? Game awareness skills seem to rank very low on the list of Dallas' scouting priorities come draft time. And Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was standing right there on the sideline when Jones lost track of the downs, later calling the brain cramp a "learning experience." Somehow I don't think that's how Lombardi would have phrased it.
20 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 16
Seems to me the Eagles have kind of forgotten who they are in going all-in for that elusive Super Bowl title. Andy Reid has always believed in building a team from the lines out, but this Philly roster is a bit hollow, with plenty of star power in the skill positions and not enough guys to do the dirty work up front. I concur with what Cullen Jenkins said after the loss to the 49ers: "If we don't win, we're just a bunch of talented people who haven't done anything, and there's a lot of teams like that."
21 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 21
The Browns have beaten only the winless Colts and Dolphins, losing at home to the Bengals and Titans, so there's little cause for real optimism as Cleveland heads to its bye week at 2-2. And upon further review, that was the easy quarter of the schedule. A rough stretch awaits just ahead, with the Browns traveling to the Bay Area twice in a three-week span (at Oakland in Week 6, at San Francisco in Week 8), and a trip to Houston at midseason (Week 9).
22 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 28
Good for Bengals fans. Quite a few of them have apparently had enough of the Mike Brown experience, and those 20,000-plus empty seats at Cincinnati's first two home games of the season underline the point. I wonder if Carson Palmer owned any season tickets, and if he's staying away, too? Yeah, probably so.
23 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 23
I'm as impressed as anyone with how well Cam Newton has acclimated to an NFL-level passing game, but has anyone noticed Carolina is 0-3 when the draft's top pick throws for at least 370 yards, and 1-0 when he doesn't? Maybe it's time to get DeAngelo Williams' and Jonathan Stewart's uniforms a little dirtier.
24 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 22
It's taken into his third NFL season, but the Cardinals in Beanie Wells have the lead running back they thought they were drafting in 2009's first round. Arizona blew one against the Giants last Sunday, but it was through no fault of Wells. He ran for a career-high 138 yards on 27 carries, with three touchdowns and a 5.1 yard average rush. Wells has an NFL-best five rushing touchdowns this season, and his 107 yards per game trails only Oakland's Darren McFadden among starting backs.
25 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 24
The Jaguars simply have no spark on offense, ranking last in scoring (39 points in four games) and 31st in passing. And it has been even worse in the second half of their games, where they've been outscored 51-6. If Jacksonville can't stop its three-game losing streak this week at home against inconsistent Cincinnati and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, the Jack Del Rio firing watch will begin in earnest.
26 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 25
We were all a little chagrined at when it came time for NFL preseason predictions and our entire panel of experts projected Broncos linebacker Von Miller as the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year. I mean, group-think is lazy, right? Maybe, but it doesn't mean it has to be wrong. Miller has four sacks in four games, and he's on pace to set the NFL rookie sack record that Jevon Kearse established in 1999 (14.5). Vindication is ours.
27 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 27
After catching 65 passes for 751 yards in his surprising comeback season of 2010, Seattle receiver Mike Williams has virtually disappeared again. He's on pace for a 32-catch, 316-yard season, and the Seahawks are on pace to go 4-12. I'm sure there's some correlation there, but just how much remains to be seen.
28 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 32
Looks like all that Andrew Luck Sweepstakes talk lit a fire of sorts under Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who played his best game of the season last week in the win over visiting Minnesota. Cassel had 260 yards passing with no interceptions, and a 52-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to Dwayne Bowe. There's nothing like the fear of replacement that motivates in the NFL.
29 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 29
Not trying to take the Tony Dungy-Leslie Frazier comparisons too far, but Vikings fans might be interested to know that Dungy's first Tampa Bay team started 0-5 and 1-8 in 1996, rallying to a 6-10 finish that year and a playoff berth in 1997. True, those bad old Bucs weren't two years removed from an NFC title game appearance. But I figure the folks in Minnesota could use a little hope about now.
30 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 26
I can't get over how different Sam Bradford looks this season compared to his stellar rookie year of 2010, but I understand it. He's getting hammered almost every time he drops back to pass. He's been sacked 18 times in four games (on pace for a staggering 72), but that doesn't even really tell the whole story in regards to the pounding he's taken. Careful, Rams. You don't want this to go the way of the David Carr saga. On top of everything else, I've seen about a dozen drops from Rams pass-catchers so far this season.
31 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 30
Uh, oh. Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano just got the dreaded "vote of confidence" from team owner Stephen Ross the other day. You know, the one an owner almost always issues right before lowering the boom. Kind of like a last meal being granted by the warden. Sparano thanked Ross for his support, but just once I'd like to see an embattled head coach decline it and see what happens.
32 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 31
For years Colts players have probably chafed privately at the notion that Peyton Manning was so good he could lead a collection of tackling dummies to the playoffs. But given the chance to disprove that theory and showcase their own abilities, the 2011 Colts aren't exactly making the strongest of cases.

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