Power Rankings: Seattle back in top three, Rams still NFL's hottest team
The top five for SI.com's Week 1 NFL Power Rankings: Seattle, Denver, New Orleans, Green Bay, New England.
Four outta five ain't bad, right?
The Saints flew off the rails a few weeks back, but the other four teams pegged as favorites coming out of the preseason have lived up to their lofty billing. Fourteen weeks into a topsy-turvy season, the quartet sans-New Orleans has sidestepped enough traps to solidify itself as the group to beat in the NFL.
Here's how those four teams -- and the remainder of the NFL -- stack up with three Sundays left in the regular season.
That's how remarkable the Aaron Rodgers-led offense has been of late, especially at home -- good enough to overcome even a miserable defensive effort.
Bill Belichick's group will be a heavy favorite for its final three games, and a 3-0 mark is all that stands between New England and the No. 1 seed. If that isn't worthy of a wild, neck spasm-inducing, expletive-flying fist pump from Tom Brady, then I don't know what is. I mean, other than Brady running for a first down.
Well, obviously. Every team in the league wants to play as Carroll's Seahawks have the past three weeks. And every playoff team will want to avoid the defending champs if they get back to the postseason.
Before Sunday, the last time Peyton Manning didn't throw a touchdown pass in a game was on Nov. 11, 2010, back when Manning was a Colt and before he sang about his love for chicken parm in commercials. He has not gone back-to-back games without a touchdown pass since the Colts started resting for the playoffs at the end of the 2009 season.
Seattle LB Bobby Wagner called the Eagles offense "predictable," the second time an opponent has made a claim of that sort this season. San Francisco's Antoine Bethea after a 26-21 win over Philadelphia, via nj.com: "We kind of knew when they get into certain formations what type of plays they will run."
Can the Lions take care of business the next two weeks, against Minnesota and Chicago? If so, their Week 17 trip to Lambeau Field could be the Lions' most important regular-season game since they clinched the 1993 division title with a Week 17 win over (guess who?) Green Bay. The Packers turned around and beat them the next week, in what was also the Lions' last home playoff game.
When his team needed a game-winning touchdown in the final moments, you didn't think Andrew Luck would come up short, did you? Those drives quickly have become his thing. Ideally, he wouldn't play like 1991 Jeff George before those rallies, but a win's a win.
How dire are things on offense? Well, with RB Andre Ellington now on injured reserve, the Cardinals' leading active rushers are Stepfan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams. Their combined total in 2014: 202 yards rushing, or seven yards more than Geno Smith has by himself. And yet, Arizona's sitting at 10 wins, probably one shy of what it needs for a playoff spot.
Cincinnati's still clinging to the division lead. After a fourth-quarter meltdown vs. Pittsburgh, merely getting to the playoffs will take some doing.
The Ravens have averaged 31.7 points over their past three games and hung 447 yards on a really solid Miami defense Sunday. They need more of that to make the playoffs, because at some point there simply are not going to be any cornerbacks left to sign to their battered secondary.
Over a span of eight minutes and 20 seconds Sunday, the Steelers scored 25 points to swipe a critical win from Cincinnati. A 3-0 finish would give Pittsburgh the division title. Can it happen? No doubt. Will it? Good luck trying to figure that out. With the way this season is going, anything is possible, from a perfect close to Ben Roethlisberger forgetting which day the next game is.
Courtesy of their loss to New England, the Chargers are now a paltry 3-4 in their past seven games. Worse yet, they've failed to rush for 70 yards in any of those four losses. There may not be any fix readily available before the season is out, so San Diego's playoff push has to find a spark from within.
Ever miss a connecting flight? The 2014 Dolphins season is starting to feel like that -- they're close to their playoff destination, but they just cannot quite figure out how to get there. A loss in New England this week would leave them at 7-7 and all but done until 2015.
It may be small potatoes compared to what other teams are playing for right now, but an 8-8 or 9-7 finish would be meaningful in St. Louis -- this franchise hasn't gone .500 since 2006. Next year, perhaps, the goal can be avoiding a fourth straight 3-5 first half of the season.
An idea for the final three weeks, all must-wins in K.C.: Give the ball to Charles until his legs fall off.
Every team Houston has beaten this season sits in either third or fourth place in its respective division. There could not be a better time for the Texans to break that trend than in Week 15 at Indianapolis. They'll need to forget about Week 6, when the Colts raced out to a 24-0 lead before the crowd had settled into its seats.
Blame it on injuries or the offense or the Jim Harbaugh black cloud, but the 49ers suddenly give off the appearance of a team playing out the string and waiting for big offseason changes. Week 15 at Seattle always loomed as important for San Francisco. Now, it could be the difference between staying in the playoff hunt and a really ugly final two weeks.
It's a shame really that Buffalo might not be able to convert its defensive effort this season into a playoff spot. Not only did Jim Schwartz and Co. prevent Peyton Manning from throwing a touchdown pass Sunday, it forced three turnovers and kept the Bills in that game. The defense now ranks fourth in points allowed and second in turnovers produced on the season.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said following a 30-24 overtime win over the Jets that "this is [Teddy Bridgewater's] team now," calling on his rookie quarterback to "take it over" as the unquestioned leader. Bridgewater will get there. Those RGIII-style one-year turnarounds are all well and good for rookie quarterbacks, but the Vikings are building something with long-term viability.
Not sure what it is about Green Bay, but the Falcons' second-half showing Sunday and the Saints' Week 8 win over the Packers are arguably the two best NFC South performances of the season. Can Atlanta carry any of that work over to Weeks 15-17, with the division title on the line?
Talk about a plot twist. This was a Bruce Willis-finding-out-he's-dead swing in the narrative. The Panthers had not won a game in two months, then blew out the Saints by 31 in New Orleans. One more Saints loss and the Panthers -- the 4-8-1 Panthers -- could control their own destiny in the NFC South.
Is Odell Beckham Jr. now the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year? His play in a 36-7 win over Tennessee is the latest evidence in his favor. Beckham caught 11 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown; the Titans posted 147 yards passing, total. Over the course of two months, Beckham has become a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
This is a rapidly sinking ship, really dating back to last season. Counting their final five regular-season contests of 2013, the Saints are 7-11 in their last 18.
Speaking of rapidly sinking ships, we're going to need James Cameron and an underwater excavation crew to find out where the Bears are buried at sea. The latest indignity came last Thursday: a 41-28 loss to Dallas that required a frantic Chicago rally to even be that close.
This (for now) two-win season somehow feels better than the Raiders' four-win seasons of 2012 and '13, even though the franchise still needs a permanent head coach and improvements at about 30 roster spots. Tony Sparano deserves some credit, no doubt, for keeping this team together.
A burgeoning superstar with the maturity to recognize his faults? Tampa Bay should be over the moon with what it has in Evans.
Sunday's 27-13 defeat guaranteed the Jaguars their fourth straight season with at least 11 losses. For the holidays, Power Rankings will be sending every Jacksonville fan a coupon for one free hug.
Geno Smith has "shown flashes of being a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback," according to Geno Smith. That's what Smith told Newsday this week, as he prepared to start again for the 2-11 Jets. So ... hmm. Can you tell us when you saw the flashes, Geno? Has anyone else seen them? Are they in the room right now?
C.S. Lewis wrote in Letters to an American Lady that "nightmares don't last." The Titans should inscribe that over the entrance to their locker room given how this season has gone -- a season that now includes a semi-serious injury to rookie QB Zach Mettenberger.
Washington is the Charlie Brown Christmas tree of franchises, except every time the front office gathers 'round to try to make it look pretty, the thing somehow catches on fire. If Daniel Snyder cans Jay Gruden in favor of Robert Griffin III, it would again be fair to wonder why any coach would take this job.