NFL Power Rankings Week 5: It may be Bengals' year as they jump into top 3
There are six remaining undefeated teams in the NFL through four weeks. There are 23 teams with either two or three losses, including the entirety of the AFC South and NFC East.
The line between parity and mediocrity is rather thin around the league these days, but it would appear that the NFL has plenty of both right now. How does that play out in our latest Power Rankings?
Week 4 was a bye week for the Patriots, so I'm taking the scenic route here: Bill Belichick is a member on Bill Parcells' coaching tree, but Belichick's own branch is rather interesting in itself, if only because it's still waiting on a really good NFL head coach to emerge. Nick Saban (Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland) has had the most success, though almost all of it has come in college—his two-year stint with the Dolphins was a mess. Kirk Ferentz has sustained a lengthy NCAA career, too. Then there’s Jim Schwartz, Bill O'Brien, Josh McDaniels and Romeo Crennel: all respected coordinators with a trail of head-coaching disappointments between them; O'Brien is the only one of the four currently in that role now. Since the firing of the Dolphins' Joe Philbin turned this week into a look at potential future coaches, one name to remember is Matt Patricia. McDaniels will get another shot soon, but current Patriots defensive coordinator Patricia could be the breakthrough hire for a team digging into the Belichick roots.
At some point we should discuss the Packers' defense. How 'bout now? Thanks to Sunday's 17–3 shutdown of the reeling 49ers, Green Bay now holds the league's No. 3 overall defense and a top-10 scoring defense. Clay Matthews has been brilliant, as usual, but the real story is up front where a resurgent B.J. Raji has provided Mike Daniels with some long-awaited help.
The 103 yards Ronnie Hillman rushed for on Sunday marked the second-highest total of his NFL career. The Broncos also are now 3–0 all-time whenever Hillman tops the century mark. Not impressed? Then try this one on for size: Denver is 16–0 when Hillman finishes a game with 30 yards or more rushing.
Chalk up Sunday's loss to St. Louis as a blip on the radar, at least for now—Arizona was minus-three in the turnover battle and settled for five field goals in a game it lost by two. On the other hand, if you've been itching to point out that the Cardinals' three wins have come over teams with a combined three wins themselves, now would be the time.
The 2014 Minnesota Vikings started the season 2–2 and then lost their next three games, ending any hopes of a surprise playoff push. This year's team is better, deeper and more experienced ... but sits at 2–2 with a tough home game (Kansas City) and two NFC North road games (Detroit, Chicago) coming out of a Week 5 bye. The time to put up or shut up comes early for the Vikings.
I sort of feel the same way about the Chargers' performance so far as I do about the first couple episodes of the new Muppets show—pretty underwhelming but, I mean, it has to get better, right? Also, Philip Rivers and Kermit both have been around forever, are kind of awkward and make hilarious faces.
On paper, the Giants are a flawed team just about everywhere. But suddenly guys like Uani Unga and Kerry Wynn are stepping up on defense and ... well ... is this the team to beat in the NFC East? It's looked that way over the past two weeks, as New York knocked off Washington and routed Buffalo after an 0–2 start to the season.
Big win, crummy loss. It's already a theme for Rex Ryan and not just because of his Buffalo start. Remember the 2013 Jets' stretch where they beat the Patriots, lost to Cincinnati by 40, beat the Saints and lost to Buffalo by 23? Ryan has to find a way to keep his team from getting too high after those strong showings.
Okay, so if you're not buying the Giants as the new NFC East favorites, how about the Fightin' Jay Grudens? Washington has the league's top-ranked rushing attack and its second-ranked rush defense. The game plan in Sunday's win over Philadelphia also played perfectly to Kirk Cousins's limited but very workable abilities.
A decade or two from now, Colts fans probably will not reminisce about the 2015 team's back-to-back wins over Tennessee and Jacksonville—two games taken by a combined five points, only after the Titans ran the Titanic of two-point conversions and Jacksonville missed two field-goal attempts. And yet, in 2015, those results re-establish the Colts as the clear frontrunner in the AFC South.
Brandon Weeden now has thrown for the exact same number of yards this season as Tony Romo (551). He has a better yards per attempt (9.3 to Romo's 7.7), a longer completion (67 yards to Romo's 39) and higher QB rating (108.8 to 98.8). Sadly, it still feels like the Cowboys are doomed until Romo returns.
Trying to give the Chiefs some benefit of the doubt because of what their schedule has been through the first four games—at Houston, Denver, at Green Bay, at Cincinnati (on a short week). The Texans are a mess, but otherwise that's the football version of stacking all the hurdles together two steps from the start of a 110-meter race. If Kansas City can't pull it together vs. Chicago in Week 5, we'll talk.
When Steve Martin received the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award this past June, he borrowed a line from famed comedian Jack Benny: “I don't deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either.” Which brings us to the Ravens' Thursday night win in Pittsburgh—one that should have been a loss, yet might make up for one of the three nail-biting losses Baltimore endured to start the season.
A lot is being made of DeMarco Murray saying that he doesn't think he is getting enough touches. Go ahead and put this one in the “What is he supposed to say?” file. Of course he wants more touches. Of course he's frustrated with how this season has started. Just imagine the reaction if he had responded to the question by saying, “Nah, eight carries is fine with me. I'm good.”
Long-suffering Oakland fans can take solace in the fact that losses like Sunday's 22–20 heartbreaker vs. Chicago only really hurt when the outcome actually matters. This probably isn't a playoff team yet, but it will be competitive all year—there may not be quite as many throwaway results in November and December.
Hey, 116 yards from scrimmage for Duke Johnson in Week 4! And three hundred and fifty-six yards passing by Josh McCown! Plus, the Browns held the Chargers to 91 yards on 21 carries! What's not to like? Oh, they lost? Well, some things never change.
Ken Whisenhunt entered the 2015 season on shaky ground, at least on the fringe of potential candidates to be fired. That view might be changing. A 1–2 start is not ideal in the standings, but QB Marcus Mariota has made rapid progress and Tennessee had Indianapolis on the ropes in Week 3. A few wins here and there, and Whisenhunt can start planning for 2016.
Ten points combined over the past two weeks and 28 in their past three outings. This offense is officially an issue. QB Colin Kaepernick is playing with the effectiveness of a fantasy-camp attendee, and everything around him has been just as miserable.
The final play of Houston's blowout Week 4 loss in Atlanta has to rank among the most regrettable in recent memory. Not only did the Texans fumble their way into an Atlanta touchdown, but also Cecil Shorts dislocated his left shoulder in the process. A loss to Indianapolis on Thursday and this season could turn real ugly.
Chicago is in year one of what could be a three- or four-year restructuring of the roster. Kudos to GM Ryan Pace for recognizing his team's reality and getting a move on the future by trading away pieces that don't fit. A handful of wins, like Sunday's over Oakland, will come. More will be there for the taking in 2016 and beyond.
Kind of amazing that Jameis Winston's first pass in each of his first two home games has resulted in a pick-six. The fans who stuck it out Sunday in horrid conditions as Tampa Bay lost to the Panthers deserve some sort of medal ... and/or a sobriety test.
Imagine watching one of the great sports underdog movies—“Hoosiers” or “Bad News Bears” or “Mighty Ducks” or whatever. Only instead of those teams rising up through teamwork to win the day, they just remained mediocre the entire time. Tough sell for a premise. Tough life for the Jaguars. If they couldn't drop the Colts down a peg with Matt Hasselbeck starting, when is it going to happen?
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