NFL Power Rankings Week 4: Bengals maintain top spot after dominant win
Nearly half the 2013 playoff field -- five of the 12 teams who made it -- sit under .500 through three weeks of the 2014 season. Some or all of those struggling teams may wind up in the postseason come January, but so far the results have served as a reminder that the NFL can be utterly unpredictable.
What do all the early surprises mean for our latest Power Rankings?
Cincinnati's win over Tennessee on Sunday sort of drifted into the background of the other games, like the Florida State-Citadel or Oregon-Wyoming matchups did earlier this month in college football. Wyoming might have had as much chance of knocking off the Ducks as Tennessee did of upsetting the Bengals on Sunday. The 33-7 Bengals victory was practically sealed midway through the second quarter.
It was rocking again a few minutes later, when Marshawn Lynch scored in overtime to end it. Good teams keep games close. Great teams find a way to win.
Two conclusions among many that could be drawn from the Broncos' overtime loss: First, if nothing else, Denver's game-tying drive gave the offense some confidence, knowing it can move the ball on Seattle -- an important mental hurdle to clear should these teams see each other again in the Super Bowl. Second, the overtime rules are still stupid. Outside of maybe the Seahawks' own fans, did anyone feel satisfied not seeing one Peyton Manning possession in overtime?
And, yes, Arizona is capable of not just keeping up its current level or winning the West, but competing for the Super Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles should be patrolling another team's sideline as a rookie head coach next season.
RB LeSean McCoy wondered aloud back in July if he could reach the 2,000-yard mark this season. To get there he'll need to average a touch more than 140 yards per game after a really sluggish start (175 yards, one touchdown). The overwhelming issue right now is that Philadelphia's O-line continues to grow more depleted by the week. The Eagles are still 3-0 and second in points scored, but will those issues up front spark a slide beyond McCoy soon?
Woodhead then suffered a season-ending injury on his first carry Sunday. With Ryan Mathews already sidelined, the offseason pickup of Donald Brown suddenly looks genius.
One can only assume that when the Bears bring in cornerbacks for pre-draft workouts they eschew the typical drills in favor of an hour-long game of "Hey, try to knock this football out of my hands." Rookie CB Kyle Fuller went all Charles Tillman on the Jets Monday night, forcing two fumbles using Tillman's patented punch. Chicago is now plus-six in turnover margin over the past two weeks, both road wins.
No kidding. It barely got the job done this week. There is not a whole lot of time to get better, either -- starting Monday, the Patriots play four games in 18 days, capped by a Thursday nighter versus the Jets.
Steve Smith to the rescue again. The veteran receiver nearly pulled a win out of the fire for Baltimore in Week 1 on a long touchdown catch, and he hauled in the critical 32-yard reception to set up Justin Tucker's game-winner Sunday. All things considered, the Ravens should be thrilled with a 2-1 start.
Maybe this is the year ...
Chuck Noll was head coach the last time the Steelers produced two 100-yard rushers in the same game: Walter Abercrombie and Earnest Jackson, on Oct. 26, 1986. That is, the last time until Sunday night, when Le'Veon Bell (147 yards) and LeGarrette Blount (118 yards) pulled off the feat -- against a Carolina defense that finished No. 2 versus the run last season, no less.
The Colts lost Andrew Luck's first-ever meeting with Jacksonville 22-17. They've won the four meetings since by a combined score of 138-40. You know what they say: Never get on the bad side of a quarterback who can grow a full beard in less than an hour.
I'd suggest the Panthers do this with their film from Week 3 versus Pittsburgh. They were bad enough that tossing the jerseys they wore that night onto the fire might not be a terrible idea either.
You know how, when William Wallace is being tortured to death at the end of Braveheart, the Englishmen and women watching eventually start to cry for mercy? Pretty much how we all felt last Thursday night when the Falcons kicked the living daylights out of what was supposed to be an improved Tampa Bay team.
Anyway ... Harbaugh's bunch entered the season amid some turmoil, including questions about his future in San Francisco. After a disappointing 1-2 start, the 49ers might be at a crossroads between galvanizing around their issues or imploding entirely.
There is no easing into anything. It's full throttle all the time. So it is confusing to see the Saints coast through three weeks of the season. Even Sunday's win over Minnesota was unfulfilling -- the outcome was in doubt until late in the fourth quarter.
Whether you're a fan of Tony Romo miscues, high-scoring games or exciting finishes, the Cowboys are must-see TV this season. This is a flawed team showing the capability to win behind a loaded offense. Five of their next six games are at home -- a very early make-or-break stretch.
Perhaps no stat illustrates the limitations of an EJ Manuel-led offense as well as this one: In 13 career starts Manuel has just 14 touchdown passes. The Bills want to minimize any risk for Manuel, so they continue to play it rather conservatively with him. But as Sunday's 22-10 loss showed, at some point they'll have to turn Manuel loose a bit. Is he capable of raising his game?
The natural lean is to believe him -- the Packers have made the playoffs each of the past five seasons, with a Super Bowl win mixed in there. On the other hand, the offense managed all of seven points in Detroit on Sunday and the O-line right now is ... what's the worst thing in the world for Wisconsin natives? Light beer? Vegetarianism? Whatever the answer is, the offensive line is playing like that right now.
All three of Cleveland's games have been decided by three points or less. When the margin of error is that small, a team cannot afford to, oh, miss a field goal and have another attempt blocked in the fourth quarter. Cleveland probably should be 3-0 right now; it's 1-2 instead.
We are now three Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions closer to the Ryan Mallett era beginning in Houston. Fitzpatrick was solid in Weeks 1 and 2, but he's still a turnover-prone veteran with limited upside. Probably sooner rather than later, this quarterback switch is going to happen.
The Jets were inside the Chicago 25 four different times in the second half Monday and came away with all of six points. There is plenty of blame to go around here: Geno Smith, for a boneheaded interception plus a few more errant passes; the Jets' depth chart for not boasting enough weapons with Eric Decker banged up; and, of course, Marty Mornhinweg for some play calls that I assume he picked randomly using a Ouija board.
"I didn’t really think I was even going to be back [after] how things went in New York," McKnight, a former Jet, told the Kansas City Star. "I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to have coaches that believe in me. I’m happy to have a team that’s going to back me up, no matter what."
DeAngelo Hall's Achilles' injury is about one-hundred-and-RGIII times worse for Washington's 2014 chances than the Robert Griffin ankle injury. Kirk Cousins has shown quickly that he fits well in Jay Gruden's offense. There is not anyone near as competent a replacement for Hall in the secondary.
Interceptions for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Antrel Rolle and Prince Amukamara, a 176-yard day for Rashad Jennings and Eli Manning at a 75-percent completion rate. When Tom Coughlin had dreams about how the 2014 season would go, they probably looked a lot like Sunday.
If head coach Joe Philbin plans to survive this season, winning at Oakland on Sunday is probably essential.
One thing that might help Bridgewater: If the Vikings also committed to making it Cordarrelle O'Clock. Even with Adrian Peterson deactivated and Kyle Rudolph hobbling, the Vikings have not increased Cordarrelle Patterson's usage at all. They need to rethink that approach.
Awaiting St. Louis after its Week 4 bye is this: at Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, at Kansas City, at San Francisco, at Arizona, Denver, at San Diego. The Rams might feel like a kid dreading the end of summer vacation when it's time to get back to work.
He may be the last person with any patience left when it comes to Locker.
Just once in their franchise history have the Raiders finished with the league's lowest-scoring offense: 2006, on a team featuring a disgruntled Randy Moss and quarterbacked by a combo of Andrew Walter and Aaron Brooks. Through three weeks, this Raiders team is on track to match the '06 squad's dubious achievement. This season's Raiders (12.3 points per game) at least have a little hope, thanks to Derek Carr's presence.
Interesting choice by the Buccaneers to have a "Play like the 1976 expansion team" promotion in Atlanta last Thursday. Heck, the quarterback of that first Tampa Bay team, one Steve Spurrier, might have fared as well against the Falcons as either Josh McCown or Mike Glennon did. And I mean present-day, 69-year-old Steve Spurrier.
This is the point on one of those HGTV or DIY network shows where the contractor comes back and tells the home owner he needs to gut the whole property. The silver lining here (/ends renovation metaphor): Blake Bortles has supplanted Chad Henne in the starting lineup, a move that was an obvious one from almost the get-go.