By Don Banks
September 21, 2011

If you had to pick the franchises that have tormented their fan bases the most in recent NFL seasons, your top five in some order would be Detroit, Buffalo, Houston, Cleveland and Washington. Lo and behold, four of those five are 2-0 through two weeks of the season, and the other one, the Browns, are 1-1 and coming off just their second double-digit win in the past 62 road games.

So it's good times all around for the stragglers of the NFL world, but who knows how long it'll last? The upstart Bills get a visit from vaunted New England this week, the Redskins have to play at their archrival Dallas on Monday night, and the Texans get to test themselves by visiting the high-scoring Saints.

But for now, it's shaping up as a worst-to-first type of season in the NFL, and who can resist those kind of refreshing storylines? Reality will no doubt come back to bite some underdogs in due time, but it hasn't happened yet. The league's losers are winners, and that's made it a September to remember.

Now onto this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
With that comeback from an early 13-0 deficit at Carolina, the Packers proved they won't panic this season when an underdog throws its best shot at them. That's exactly the mentality a defending champ has to have, and it will serve the Packers well as they play all season with the big bull's-eye on their backs. But the loss of safety Nick Collins to a season-ending neck injury is a gut punch, with Green Bay hoping his quick exit doesn't portend yet another season-long affair with the IR list.
2 New England Patriots
Last Week: 2
Maybe I'm in the distinct minority on this, but I'm not sure I really want to see behind the green curtain in the case of that Bill Belichick all-access documentary by NFL Films. Know what I'm saying? There are times when revealing looks can be too revealing. I know there's more to the man in the hoodie than what we get on game day, but let's just leave a little mystery intact until it's really time for the career retrospective. What's the rush?
3 New York Jets
Last Week: 3
It's three road games in a row coming up for the Rex-men, and not an easy touch among them: at Oakland, at Baltimore, at New England. We'll know a lot more about New York's standing among the AFC elite after it runs that gauntlet. And speaking of three, if the Jets make the playoffs, it'll be the first time in franchise history they've gone to the postseason three years in a row. Are you as surprised as I was to learn that telling statistic?
4 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 5
Be it John Carney or John Kasay, the Saints do love their old kickers every year, don't they? Kasay, who I think made his NFL debut with the Canton Bulldogs, nailed a 53-yard field goal in the big win over the Bears on Sunday at the Superdome. If anything should happen to Kasay, never fear. New Orleans has Morten Andersen and Tom Dempsey waiting in the wings and ready to go.
5 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 4
It's not like we haven't seen this act from the Ravens before. Last year Baltimore opened the season with a huge road win against the Jets, and then fell flat in Week 2 at Cincinnati. This time around, it was the momentous home win against Pittsburgh in the opener, then the head-scratching loss at Tennessee, a game the Ravens just didn't seem to want. That lack of motivation should bring the pendulum swinging back in the right direction this week at St. Louis, but it's worth noting that Baltimore is facing a desperate 0-2 Rams in their dome.
6 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 6
I'm not going to overreact to the loss in Atlanta and drop the Eagles like a hot potato. Road teams generally lose in the Georgia Dome, and everyone wearing Philly colors seemed to lose some focus and intensity after Michael Vick left the game late in the third quarter. For what it's worth, I put my buck on Vick finding a way to get back on the field this Sunday against the Giants, but Andy Reid will probably have a quick hook if he senses Vick is less than 100 percent early on.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 7
The defense and Ben Roethlisberger returned to form Sunday against Seattle, but third-year receiver Mike Wallace has been a constant thus far for Pittsburgh. Wallace has made eight catches in each game, with a pair of 100-yard performances and one scoring reception. If he's not the best receiver in the AFC North, I'd like to hear who is.
8 Detroit Lions
Last Week: 11
Speaking of pass-catchers who don't get enough credit, it's tough to beat the pace being set by Lions sixth-year tight end Tony Scheffler. He has two receptions this season, one in each game, and both have produced touchdowns. It's not likely that ol' "Six Points" Scheffler will keep it up all season, but he does a pretty entertaining touchdown celebration when he scores, so keep an eye on him all the same.
9 Houston Texans
Last Week: 12
Few things are more fleeting in the NFL these days than the top of a team's running back depth chart. Arian Foster led the league in rushing last season with 1,600-plus yards, but he and his ailing hamstring are about to get Wally Pipped if present trends continue. Second-year man Ben Tate has come off the bench to put together back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the undefeated Texans, and he looks likely to make his first career start this week at New Orleans.
10 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 8
I intended to drop the Bears out of the top 10 after their ugly showing against the Saints, but I can't in good conscience push them below the Falcons, who they just blew out at home in Week 1. Don't bother asking me which Bears team is the real one -- the Week 1 or Week 2 version -- because we all know they both are. You get the full rollercoaster effect of the ride in Chicago.
11 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 10
The Falcons beat the Eagles Sunday night and yet I've somehow managed to drop them one spot to 11th this week, with Philly five spots ahead of them. That's tough to explain, I know, but here goes: They can't be higher than the Bears, who routed them in Week 1, and I can't logically rank Chicago higher than 10th. With 2-0 Houston and Detroit both moving into the top 10 this week, somebody had to take a bullet and fall. The Falcons and Chargers were those teams, albeit with Atlanta slipping after a victory. So that's my story. Let the Falcons win at Tampa Bay this week and they'll be right back in the top 10 range. And you can hold me to that.
12 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 9
The Chargers were done in at New England by their four turnovers and Mike Tolbert's inexplicable decision-making in the backfield. But in reality, San Diego played the Patriots very tough and amassed a whopping 29 first downs and 470 yards of offense. This is as low as the Chargers should sink this season in our power rankings, and this week's visit from the reeling Chiefs should start San Diego's climb back into the upper echelon.
13 Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 18
The Bills haven't beaten the Patriots since the 31-0 "Lawyer Milloy" game in Week 1 of 2003, and they'll never have more momentum than they do coming off last week's comeback win over Oakland. Buffalo will score its share of points against New England, but it won't be enough to offset the edge the Patriots offense has against a Bills defense that's improved, but far from dominant.
14 Washington Redskins
Last Week: 13
Redskins fans just aren't used to me being positive about their Daniel Snyder-owned team, but I'll do my best to detail how these things tend to work: When you win, good things usually ensue and people have nice things to say. When you lose, like Washington has done for most of the past 11 seasons, not so much. Hope that helps.
15 New York Giants
Last Week: 14
The G-Men needed that win in the worst way Monday night against St. Louis, but it was really a case of the Rams self-destructing more than anything New York did. And now the injury bug has reached the offensive side of the ball just in time for the Giants' revenge match against the play-making Eagles. Receivers Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon both left the Rams game with health issues, with Hixon out for the year with a torn ACL. That's not going to help New York solve its early season third-down problems.
16 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 15
Tony Romo experienced the whole NFL quarterbacking ride in a single week's time, from turnover-plagued goat in the loss at New York to the heroic and pain-addled Captain Comeback in the win at San Francisco. The whole silly and transparent saga just proves why no quarterback should ever get comfortable with either cliched label.
17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 20
Having the resourceful Josh Freeman at quarterback (now there's your Captain Comeback) means the Bucs are never completely out of a game, but Tampa Bay best get its defense tightened up -- and quick -- with the Falcons heading to town. That's six pretty pitiful quarters out of eight for the Bucs defense, which is allowing a sieve-like 6.2 yards per snap.
18 Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 17
Playing without pass-catchers Jacoby Ford, Kevin Boss, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Raiders found themselves a new receiving star in Denarius Moore in the loss to Buffalo. Moore had a five-catch, 146-yard afternoon, including the 50-yard scoring bomb that would have won it for Oakland were it not for the Bills' last-minute comeback. Moore, a fifth-round pick from Tennessee, looks like the deep threat the Raiders thought they had when they drafted Heyward-Bey.
19 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 21
The Cardinals' offense has been better than anticipated, with both quarterback Kevin Kolb and running back Beanie Wells off to strong starts. But Arizona won't be able to score enough to offset its defense if the Cardinals keep allowing an average of 466 yards per game. This week, defensive improvement should surface, however, when Arizona travels to Seattle. The Seahawks look lost on offense, and only Kansas City has scored fewer than Seattle's 17 points.
20 St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 16
Really, Cadillac Williams? You've been an NFL running back for seven years now and you don't know what a lateral looks like? I'm always astounded when the guys who play football for a living don't seem to know the rules as well as your average kid playing the game in your average backyard.
21 Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 19
Well, that was predictable. Blaine Gabbert is the new starting quarterback in Jacksonville and Luke McCown is going to have to sit back down. It means we get our wish and have that Gabbert vs. Cam Newton matchup of rookie first-round QBs to look forward to Sunday in Charlotte. Will Gabbert be the latest rookie to thrive at the game's most difficult position, joining Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton from this year's QB class? Given the track record of highly drafted quarterbacks from 2008 on, how can you bet against him?
22 Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 28
The Titans looked like a contender in the AFC South with their thorough dismantling of Baltimore, but this is a Tennessee team that lost at Jacksonville in Week 1, so we're not quite ready to have Mike Munchak's guys ranked ahead of the Jaguars. Even without Chris Johnson looking like Chris Johnson, the Titans can move the ball when Matt Hasselbeck is locked in and on target to Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Jared Cook.
23 San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 25
In a return to the familiar, all four NFC West teams lost in Week 2, but only the 49ers managed to do it in style, failing at home while the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks fell on the road. San Francisco blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead and lost in overtime against Dallas, largely because the 49ers secondary decided to take the day off and surrender three Miles Austin touchdown catches and a 77-yard game-deciding overtime catch to the heretofore unknown Jesse Holley.
24 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 32
You know I don't do the fantasy football thing, but if I did, I'd be trying to land Broncos receiver Eric Decker for my team this week. I liked him when he was the only thing the University of Minnesota had on offense a few years back, and now, after a low-profile rookie season, the kid is showing up on game days. Decker had five receptions for 113 yards and two big-play touchdown grabs in the win over Cincinnati, and he returned a punt for another score in Week 1 against the Raiders.
25 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 26
Who needs Carson Palmer? The Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green connection is already paying dividends, and that promising glimpse of the future should ease the sting of Cincinnati letting a winnable game slip away in Denver. After splitting a pair on the road, the Bengals get to open their home schedule against a 1-1 49ers team that played it both safe and sorry last week versus Dallas.
26 Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 29
Here's another case of where I couldn't find good reason to vault a 1-1 club coming off a win ahead of a 1-1 club (the Bengals) that just beat it decisively in Week 1. So for now, it's Cincinnati followed by Cleveland in our rankings, but I don't necessarily expect that order to last for long. If the Browns are to be taken seriously, they should rough up the visiting Dolphins this week and send them staggering back to South Florida at 0-3.
27 Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 30
It is one of the great ponderables of our time, at least in terms of NFL power rankings: How much should moral victories count? The Panthers made the defending Super Bowl champion Packers work for a win last Sunday, and both of Carolina's losses so far have had obvious silver linings. But you can only take these things so far, and by that I mean, roughly 27th or so. Wins are still the currency that count the most.
28 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 27
It has already come to this low point for the Vikings: The undefeated Lions are quite naturally favored to win in Minnesota this week, even though Detroit has lost 13 in a row in the Metrodome and last walked out of that building a winner in mid-December 1997. I'm no betting man, but the Lions being favored by only four points seems optimistic from a Vikings standpoint.
29 Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 24
At least the Dolphins are getting out of Miami, where nothing much good has happened for them since Dan Marino called it a career. Maybe the trip to Cleveland will be galvanizing in that us-against-the-world way that pro athletes love to cling to. On a side note, it didn't take long for the Dolphins to figure out Reggie Bush isn't an every-down back, now did it?
30 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 22
Nobody's saying it just yet, but I think it's pretty obvious there's no reason for Peyton Manning to even try to come back this season. There will be no season for him to come back to in Indy. What's the point of risking anything to play for a team that could be 2-10 and hopelessly buried by the time Manning is ready to give it a go? But if this whole saga winds up earning the Colts the rights to Andrew Luck, and Luck gives them a decade-plus run like the one Manning just put together, will all of Indianapolis some day look back on Manning's injury as fortuitous?
31 Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 31
They're just two games into it, but I suspect the Seahawks now know why no other team was competing with them for Tarvaris Jackson's services in free agency. As a starter, Jackson makes a pretty strong case for being a career backup. With Matt Hasselbeck leading the Titans to an impressive win at home against Baltimore, Seattle is officially nowhere at the quarterback position.
32 Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 23
There certainly seems to be a lot of folks lining up to exact some revenge on the Chiefs these days. Chan Gailey got even with Todd Haley in Week 1, and Gunther Cunningham and the Lions had massive payback waiting for K.C. and general manager Scott Pioli in Week 2. The old what-goes-around-comes-around is coming around in regular intervals this season for the Chiefs, and now here comes a trip to San Diego, where the Chargers owe Kansas City a little something for last year's division-champ dethroning.

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