By Don Banks
October 19, 2011

Well that didn't take long. Less than six months after the NFL draft unfolded, we've already got four rookie quarterbacks starting for their teams: Cam Newton in Carolina, Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville, Christian Ponder in Minnesota and Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. C'mon Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick, what's taking you so long to get the hang of things?

That's one eighth of the league turned over to rookies at the game's most pivotal position, and don't forget about second-year man Tim Tebow getting promoted to starter in Denver, the inexperienced Curtis Painter steering the sinking ship in Indy, John Beck shaking off four years of rust in Washington, and 2010 draft picks Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy going through some sophomore-year difficulties in St. Louis and Cleveland, respectively.

It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately gig, playing quarterback in the NFL, and this week's schedule offers another dose of fresh QB storylines to follow. The quarterback carousel never really stops any more, it just slows down long enough for teams to put a new face in place. Now onto this week's rankings ...

Week 6 NFL Power Rankings
1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
So this is the way life goes when you're 6-0 and looking down at the other 31 teams in the NFL: The Packers last Sunday beat the Rams by 21 points, holding St. Louis to just a field goal, and yet head coach Mike McCarthy got peppered with questions about why his undefeated team didn't score in the second half and surrendered 424 yards on defense. In the absence of losses, fans and the media have a tendency to fixate on a team's weak spots and treat them like losses. So even in a perfect season, you can never be perfect. Dealing with that part of the job -- where the bottom line isn't always the bottom line -- must drive the NFL's coaching set absolutely bonkers.
2 New England Patriots
Last Week: 3
In a six-game stretch that began in Week 5, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense will face defenses coordinated or built by Rex Ryan (twice), Rob Ryan, Dick LeBeau, Perry Fewell and Romeo Crennel, all of whom know him and what New England tries to accomplish pretty darn well. All that familiarity has a tendency to make for very close, hard-fought games, and the Patriots' squeaker at home over the Cowboys last Sunday was just the latest example of that.
3 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 5
The losses by the Saints and Lions in Week 6 move the Ravens a couple spots higher in our top five, and I kind of like the way Baltimore has stealthily gone about its business this season after the big opening game against the rival Steelers. Ray Rice continues to outclass every running back he comes up against in a head-to-head matchup, and that list now includes Houston's Arian Foster, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, the Rams' Steven Jackson and Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall.
4 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 9
So the hot and heated postgame coaches handshake gets all the spotlight and then it later comes out that the officials somehow gave the 49ers a gift five yards on San Francisco's game-winning touchdown drive, spotting the ball incorrectly at the Lions' 35 rather than the 40 after a Ted Ginn punt return. The 49ers might have still scored a touchdown and pulled the upset, but in retrospect, which story should have really sparked the bigger controversy? One had no effect on the game's outcome, and the other might have had plenty to do with it.
5 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 2
I suppose if there's an "opportune" time to have your head coach break his leg and require a few post-surgery days of missed work, it'd be about now for New Orleans, what with a three-game road trip out of the way and games against the winless Colts and Rams just ahead. But I would understand it if Sean Payton's thinking that's probably easy for me to say. It's not my leg that tight end Jimmy Graham slammed into on the sideline in Tampa Bay. I'd be a candidate for the PUP list.
6 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 4
It was not the best of weeks in Motown. The Tigers go down in flames in the ALCS, the Lions snap their winning streak as their head coach comes a bit unglued, and lost in all the headlines is the fact that Detroit running back Jahvid Best is again dealing with concussion issues. Best suffered a concussion this preseason, and of course his college career at Cal was ended by a head injury in 2009. That pattern can't look too promising for either Best or the Lions.
7 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 7
The Chargers have won the games they were expected to win so far, and that passes as progress in San Diego. But now the degree of difficulty spikes a bit. In their coming four games, the Chargers travel to the Jets and Chiefs, then draw glamor matchups with the Packers and Raiders at home. We'll know where this season is headed in San Diego after that month-long stretch.
8 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 8
The Steelers haven't been able to get all facets of their game working in unison much this season, but there are hopeful signs that the Pittsburgh pass rush is back. Even without the injured James Harrison, the Steelers recorded eight sacks in their home wins against Tennessee and Jacksonville, compared to their seven sacks in the season's first four games. That's more like what we've come to expect from the LeBeau-men.
9 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 6
I know it's probably "Here we go again" time amongst Bills fans, because Buffalo has lost two of three and failed to produce a takeaway for the first time all season in the road loss to the Giants. But take a breath, Bills Nation. Buffalo should be able to gather itself during its bye, and then come winnable home games against the Redskins (in Toronto) and Jets in Weeks 8-9. Learning how to win on the road is typically one of the last pieces of the puzzle to come together for a team trying to turn it around, and the Bills still have some maturing to do on that front.
10 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 11
Anybody get Jason Campbell's reaction to the big Carson Palmer trade? Thanks for your contributions, J.C., now make way for your replacement. Campbell will probably never know the feeling of job security in the NFL. Washington traded for Donovan McNabb and then traded him. The Raiders drafted Terrelle Pryor, and then traded for Palmer, and Campbell is now almost certainly bound for a third NFL team in 2012. That was one tough collarbone break.
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 15
If only the Bucs could play the Saints six times a season. Tampa Bay has its flaws, but Raheem Morris' club knows how to beat 'dem Saints. The Bucs have been responsible for three of New Orleans' most recent nine regular-season defeats, dating to late 2009. And after this week's trip to London and next week's bye, guess who Tampa Bay faces in Week 9? The Saints, in the Superdome, where the Bucs have won in each of the past two seasons, and three times in the past four years.
12 New York Giants
Last Week: 14
You can't say it hasn't been an interesting ride to 4-2 and the bye week for the Giants. They do keep things from getting stale in Gotham, with all those week-to-week twists and turns. Tom Coughlin has his team in first place as it takes its break, but it's a tenuous grasp on the NFC East the Giants hold. The defining stretch is still ahead, when New York plays at New England, at San Francisco, home against Philly and at New Orleans in November.
13 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 18
Talk about your perfect storm of circumstances for the Bengals. How do you milk someone for a first- and second-round pick in exchange for the declining Carson Palmer? Well, it takes a quarterback on a contending team breaking his collarbone two days before the trading deadline, a power vacuum of sorts in that team's front office due to the death of the longtime owner, and the team's head coach (Hue Jackson) having a long-standing relationship and belief in Palmer dating from their days together at USC. That's all.
14 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 13
I saw where Titans coach Mike Munchak said Tennessee might "take a look" at Terrell Owens once he's healthy enough to pass a physical, which is expected by the end of October. The Titans have been looking for help at receiving since losing Kenny Britt to a knee injury, but if you're Tennessee, don't you have to wonder if a half season of Owens would be an echo of the failed Randy Moss signing last season?
15 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 10
Thanks to Rex Grossman's spectacular crash and burn, John Beck doesn't have the bar of expectation set too highly as he prepares to take over at quarterback for the Redskins this week at Carolina. We know Beck is rested, given that he hasn't started a regular-season game in the NFL since Week 14 of 2007. I actually think Beck is ready for this opportunity, and he's going to play pretty well. The real question might wind up being why Mike Shanahan let Grossman start in the first place this season?
16 Houston Texans
Last Week: 12
The Texans' season has arrived at its crossroads moment with this week's game at Tennessee. One of those two is going to win the AFC South this year, and a victory in Nashville probably establishes the Texans as the team to beat. Especially with Houston having home games against Jacksonville and Cleveland just ahead. But a loss to the Titans and you can brace for the Gary Kubiak hot-seat watch to crank fully to life. As well it should in that case.
17 New York Jets
Last Week: 17
The Jets stopped the bleeding Monday night at home against Miami, but I didn't see a Super Bowl team take the field at the Met, did you? The Dolphins are punchless and lifeless, and New York still looked woeful on offense early in the game, needing Darrelle Revis' 100-yard interception return to get on the scoreboard. The Jets will need more than they showed against Miami to beat visiting San Diego this week and climb back over .500 and into the AFC East race.
18 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 19
Speaking of coaches who might be in trouble, I get the feeling things aren't going to end well for Mike Martz in Chicago. The Bears' accomplished offensive coordinator and quarterback Jay Cutler just may not be a fit, and they seem to have different ideas of what will and won't work in Chicago's offense when it comes to play-calling and pass protection schemes. It is, as they say, a developing story.
19 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 20
The Falcons still don't seem to know who they are when it comes to their offensive identity. They want to be more explosive this season, but they seem to play their best and win when they stick to their old blueprint of a Michael Turner-led running game and 20-25 passes a game from Matt Ryan. They can't win in the playoffs without being more explosive, but they can't win much in the regular season without sticking to their tried and true offensive formula. It's what you would call a real conundrum.
20 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 16
Do the Cowboys ever lose a game without having a big hand in their own demise? Of course head coach Jason Garrett got too conservative with his late-game play-calling, and he did it because he's seen what can happen when you ask Tony Romo to make something happen in crunch time. The loss at New England was the third time this season the Cowboys have walked away knowing they helped beat themselves.
21 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 21
Talk about your gut punches, did you see Eagles running back LeSean McCoy get all fired up and land a jab in Andy Reid's solar plexis on Sunday in Washington? I suppose Reid has endured worse. I mean, he has coached in Philadelphia for 13 seasons now.
22 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 23
Does anyone else find it curious that ex-USC quarterbacks Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel and Matt Leinart are all in the NFL, and Pete Carroll doesn't have any of them on his roster in Seattle? What does he know that the rest of us don't know?
23 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 22
Pretty quiet year two so far for Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, who's been so-so in coach Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense. Cleveland is throwing the daylights out of the ball so far, but without great results: McCoy has had 45, 61 and 40 attempts in the Browns' three losses, and is on pace to throw 694 times this season, which would break Drew Bledsoe's 1994 league mark of 691.
24 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 24
The Chiefs have to prepare to face both Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer in Oakland this week, and maybe the best way to do that is to load up on some old Ravens-Bengals game tapes from 2004-2007. I find it hard to believe that Palmer could play this week, almost 10 months away from his last game action, but I suppose Brett Favre recently proved that training camp is entirely overrated.
25 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 25
The Panthers have lost five games by a combined 32 points, so their record doesn't indicate how competitive they've been. But losing, and even losing close, is a habit that's easy to get into and hard to get out of. With winnable home games against Washington and Minnesota coming up before Carolina's Week 9 bye, this is no time for the Panthers to let down now.
26 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 28
So Mike Sims-Walker is back in Jacksonville, and he has to be wondering what hit him. When I went through Rams camp this summer, Sims-Walker was thrilled to be in St. Louis and the Rams seemed thrilled to have him. But then the games started and Sims-Walker underachieved, to put it mildly. It barely registers, but Sims-Walker actually improved in the standings when he went from the 0-5 Rams to the 1-5 Jaguars.
27 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 27
For starters, Tim Tebow could do worse than playing a game back in his home state of Florida against a Dolphins defense that can't seem to rush the passer at all. But it is a bit interesting that Denver tossed Tebow the keys to the offense and then traded away its No. 1 receiver. Coincidence? Maybe not. After all, what does the run-happy Tebow need with receivers?
28 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 26
Unless an injury or something unforeseen develops, two of Christian Ponder's first three NFL starts will come against the defending Super Bowl champion Packers. That's not exactly easing the rookie into the lineup, but perhaps the Vikings hope he learns from the best. I can't help but wonder if Donovan McNabb will play the good soldier and help out Ponder every chance he gets, or just mentally check out on the season in his new role as Minnesota's backup?
29 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 29
After the Carson Palmer trade went down, the Cardinals look like they pulled a heist in getting the 27-year-old Kevin Kolb away from Philadelphia for only a second-round pick in 2012 and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I still wouldn't have rewarded Kolb with a five-year, $63 million contract until I knew he was more a proven commodity, but compared to what the Raiders gave up for Palmer, everyhing else looks like a steal.
30 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 31
So Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is consulting regularly with Eric Mangini? Shouldn't he perhaps be consulting with someone who isn't a two-time fired head coach in the NFL? What's the problem, Rich Kotite was busy?
31 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 30
I like the Brandon Lloyd trade, because Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels certainly knows how to use him. But it's probably a case of too little, too late in St. Louis. I didn't think the Rams' slow start would kill them, because I couldn't see anyone running away with things in the NFC West. But alas, the 49ers are running away with things in the NFC West.
32 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 32
I'd cough up way more than a penny for Peyton Manning's thoughts while he watches (endures?) his Colts teammates as they play out this disaster of a season. It must be like a bad dream that refuses to end in Indy. And it's got 10 more games to go.

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