Heading into week three, I was convinced that there wouldn’t be much movement in the NFL; there appeared to be several lopsided matchups up ahead. Yet, there’s a reason why they play the games; there were several surprising upsets this week, as many quarterbacks making their first starts of the season played better than expected. As a result, we have a lot to dissect in this week’s edition of our power rankings, where we’re really starting to see the cream of the crop separate themselves from the rest. So, who’s moving up and down the list? Let’s discuss.
#32: Miami Dolphins (Previous Rank: 32)
Result: Lost 31-6 at DAL
Top Performer: CB Eric Rowe
There may have been a change under center this week for the Dolphins, but as expected, it was more of the same for a team that is clearly aiming towards having the top pick in next year’s draft. Josh Rosen wasn’t horrible, and clearly was let down by his poor supporting cast, but he didn’t show anything to indicate he has a chance to be a future asset for this team, and I’m sure if he ever will be able to considering his situation. Meanwhile, although there were some solid individual performances on defense, arguably the two cornerstones of Miami’s defense, linebacker Jerome Baker and cornerback Xavien Howard, were awful, which further cements the case that there may not be a single player on this team that can be counted to be apart of the next winning Dolphins team. At this point, it’s difficult to even discuss the current status of the Dolphins at all; they clearly aren’t worried about their 2019 performance and are focusing on the draft. That’ll continue next week, as they host a Chargers team in desperate need of a win.
#31: New York Giants (Previous Rank: 31)
Result: Won 32-31 at TB
Top Performer: WR Sterling Shepard
In the first game of the Daniel Jones era, the Giants, as expected, suddenly were entertaining. What wasn’t expected, however, was for New York to come back by 18 points to come away with a huge road upset victory. Although star running back Saquon Barkley went down with a high ankle sprain that’ll sideline him for 4-8 weeks, Jones had an instant connection with receiver Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram, which is encouraging since each is seen as a building block for the future on offense. The pass protection was awful, and Jones did fumble twice, but without a doubt, the offensive play-calling and execution was much better with the rookie quarterback than Eli Manning, and it’s not even close. At some point, the Giants need to figure out what’s wrong with a secondary that was supposedly revamped this offseason; putting a slot corner in Janoris Jenkins one-on-one with Mike Evans probably isn’t an ideal strategy. However, rookie defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence continues to be a pleasant surprise as a pass rusher, and rookie corner Deandre Baker had his best NFL game yet. Obviously, Giants fans shouldn’t overreact to this win; if they made a chip-shot 34 yard field goal, the Bucs would’ve won this game due to New York’s defensive issues, and losing Barkley for an extended period of time is a potential issue, even with running back value being at an all-time low. Still, they do have a chance to move to 2-2 next game; they’ll be favorites when they host the 0-3 division rival Redskins.
#30: Oakland Raiders (Previous Rank: 30)
Result: Lost 34-14 at MIN
Top Performer: TE Darren Waller
In reality, the Raiders never stood a chance of being competitive in Minnesota this past weekend. However, the reason for that is simple: Oakland is not a good football team in any way whatsoever. Yes, the Vikings have a lot of talent, but the lack of athleticism on defense was exposed constantly by playmakers Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen; this looks like the worst defense in the NFL, and it may not even be close. Offensively, Derek Carr did play well, and is forming a connection with tight end Darren Waller, a clear diamond in the rough, but the offensive line and receivers continue to disappoint; this is turning into a conservative, run-heavy offense; Carr is meant to be a game manager, but he doesn’t have the supporting cast necessary to be that. It gets worse from here for the Raiders, who don’t play a home game until November and now have to travel to Indianapolis to take on the surging Colts.
#29: Cincinnati Bengals (Previous Rank: 29)
Result: Lost 21-17 at BUF
Top Performer: CB Darius Phillips
The Bengals may be talent-deficient, but they’ve been competitive, and a lot of credit has to be given to head coach Zac Taylor. They could’ve conceded when they were down 14-0 in the second half, but instead, they scored 17 points unanswered and nearly pulled off a major comeback. Taylor’s offense has struggled, but that’s not his fault; without first-round rookie Jonah Williams, the offensive line was been amongst the league’s worst, and as a result, quarterback Andy Dalton’s performance has regressed significantly. At the very least, running back Joe Mixon has some success, and even without AJ Green, the team is getting reasonable production from the receivers. It’s more of the same on defense; the Bengals didn’t get much from their supposedly strong pass rush, but defensive backs William Jackson III and Jessie Bates III both played much better; there’s some encouragement, even if the linebackers continue to be a weak link. At this point, it’s obvious the Bengals won’t come close to making the playoffs, but they’re not a horrible team, and they definitely have some pieces to build around for the future. They do have a chance at winning their first game next week; they plays the 0-3 Steelers on Monday Night Football.
#28: New York Jets (Previous Rank: 28)
Result: Lost 30-14 at NE
Top Performer: SS Jamal Adams
Until they get Sam Darnold, who is recovering from mono, back under center, the Jets are going to be an awful team. That was apparent once again this past week in New England; New York never stood a chance. Third-string quarterback Luke Falk clearly lacks the talent necessary to be a competent option for the Jets, and without Darnold, playmakers Le’Veon Bell, Robby Anderson, and Jamison Crowder won’t be utilized properly. Meanwhile, the defense continues to suffer from a lack of a pass rush, and although they’re suffering from injuries, it’s very likely defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is only making matters worse. At the very least, safety Jamal Adams bounced back from a rough Week two, and nickel corner Brian Poole has been one of the most underrated acquisitions from this past offseason. The only hope for this team is getting healthy, and lucky for them, they have an early week four bye up ahead.
#27: Washington Redskins (Previous Rank: 26)
Result: Lost 31-15 vs CHI
Top Performer: DL Matt Ioannidis
What are the Redskins good at? It’s a very fair question; for the third straight week, this team struggled in every facet; this may be the most plain team in the NFL. Case Keenum is having trouble even being a placeholder to first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins, posting a grade of just 36.1 from Pro Football Focus and throwing several horrible interceptions. It’s not as though it’s for a complete lack of talent; the interior offensive line was been fine, and rookie receiver Terry McLaurin has become one of the best young receivers in the NFL. It’s obvious that the team’s best chance to win and have any sort of excitement is with Haskins, and we should see him take the field in short time. Meanwhile, Washington’s secondary continues to be awful, the pass rush is inconsistent, and there isn’t enough athleticism present with the defense. Add it all up, and you have a three-to-four win team at best, though they have a winnable game up ahead in New York against Daniel Jones and the Giants.
#26: Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 24-20 at SF
Top Performer: DL Stephon Tuitt
Last week, the Steelers traded their first-round pick for versatile defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, signaling that they believed in second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph would keep them in playoff contention. Unfortunately for them, those hopes were always foolish. Rudolph was awful against the 49ers, in part because there was no change in the offensive scheme to accommodate him. It was the same, boring isolation routes, and outside of two big plays, the offense was non-existent and should continue to struggle. That’s an issue, because the defense is also not inspiring whatsoever. Fitzpatrick did have an interception and a forced fumble, but he also missed a lot of tackles, while the secondary as a whole struggled. Furthermore, rookie linebacker Devin Bush is a complete liability in coverage, and the same goes for Mark Barron. There’s not much optimism regarding this team at the moment, who may have just given up a top-five pick in what could go down as one of the worst trades in recent history. At the very least, they have a great chance of winning their first game next year; they host the also 0-3 Bengals.
#25: Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous Rank: 27)
Result: Won 20-7 vs TEN
Top Performer: DL Calais Campbell
With all the drama regarding cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s trade request, it could’ve been easy for the Jaguars to come out flat against the Titans on Thursday Night Football. Instead, they played with a lot of energy, and as a result, picked up their first win of the season. Jacksonville’s defense, which has allowed just 20 points over the past two weeks, looked like it did in 2017; the pass rush, led by Calais Campbell (ten pressures) was incredible, and Ramsey played well. They’re also finally getting competent quarterback play for once; sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew was tremendous, he was protected well by the offensive line, and second-year receiver DJ Chark is in the middle of a bounce-back season. Obviously, the Jaguars need to win more before they an actual contender to win the AFC South, but if Minshew keeps playing like this and the defense continues to do its job, they certainly have a chance; they could go to 2-2 next week if they can get a road victory at Denver.
#24: Arizona Cardinals (Previous Rank: 22)
Result: Lost 38-20 vs CAR
Top Performer: EDGE Chandler Jones
With the Panthers turning to former undrafted free agent Kyle Allen, the Cardinals had a chance to secure their first win of the season. They were extremely competitive early in the game, and were even within one point in the third quarter. Then, the wheels turned; Arizona’s secondary fell apart and the offense stalled. It was another so-so performance for first overall pick Kyler Murray, who clearly doesn’t have much help on offense and averaged just 5.77 yards per completion. He’ll improve over time – it’s hard to be a one-man wrecking crew as a rookie – but for now, this will be a very inconsistent offense. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have a solid edge rush duo in Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs, but without Patrick Peterson, their secondary is a mess, and they allowed a countless amount of big plays in this game. In a way, this team is actually regressing as the season goes on; until head coach Kliff Kingsbury becomes less conservative and Murray receives any sort of help, the growing pains will continue to hurt, and that’ll likely continue to be the case in a divisional matchup against the Seahawks.
#23: Tampa Bay Buccanneers (Previous Rank: 25)
Result: Lost 32-31 vs NYG
Top Performer: EDGE Shaquill Barrett
With a 28-10 lead at halftime against a depleted Giants team, the Bucs appeared on their way to being 2-1 and a legitimate contender to win the NFC South. However, being the inconsistent team that they always are, they completely faded in the second half, only to set themselves up for an easy field goal, lose seven yards on purpose to make the kick longer, and then miss the kick. It’ll be difficult for head coach Bruce Arians to explain the blunder that essentially cost them the game, but even then, it’s hard to excuse this team for their undisciplined performance. The secondary took a major step back this week, looking like the inexperienced, weak group that they were expected to be. Furthermore, although Mike Evans was unstoppable and tight end OJ Howard had a bounce-back game, Jameis Winston has his traditional up-and-down game, which really hampered the offense’s ability to sustain drives. If there’s one major bright spot besides their abundance of offensive weapons, edge rusher Shaquill Barrett has been amazing to start the season, adding another four sacks and nine pressures to a season in which he’s putting himself in position to earning a lucrative contract in free agency. Back to the concerns; the Bucs have to travel to Los Angeles to play the 3-0 Rams this weekend; they’re a lock to be 1-3.
#22: Indianapolis Colts (Previous Rank: 24)
Result: Won 27-24 vs ATL
Top Performer: WR TY Hilton
In the post-Andrew Luck era, the Colts are certainly not a flashy team. Yet, they’re disciplined, and their toughness cannot be matched. It’s hard to find an aspect in which Indianapolis excelled at; quarterback Jacoby Brissett was mediocre, the rushing attack wasn’t great, and the pass defense didn’t play well. However, they still were able to control the flow of the game by building an early lead, which allowed them to spend the rest of the game holding on for dear life to keep it. It’s not exactly a sustainable way to win, and that’ll get exposed against quality opponents soon, but it’s working for now, and it’ll continue to work when they host the helpless Raiders this week.
#21: Baltimore Ravens (Previous Rank: 21)
Result: Lost 33-28 at KC
Top Performer: RB Mark Ingram II
After back-to-back wins against the tanking Dolphins and struggling Cardinals, the Ravens bandwagon was at an all-time high. However, after being put back in their place in a game that isn’t reflected by the final score at all, there’s still time to jump off the bandwagon before it’s too late. After two amazing performances, Lamar Jackson reverted back to the flawed quarterback that many expected heading into the season, struggling with his pocket presence and accuracy. As a result, young weapons Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews were almost non-existent in this game, and had it not been for running back Mark Ingram’s dominance and a few extremely lucky heaves by Jackson, this offense could’ve gotten shut out. That’s a huge issue; without cornerback Jimmy Smith, the depth in the secondary is getting exposed in three-receiver formations, and the defense lacks a pass rush as well. It’s hard to find a clear strength with the Ravens at the moment, besides their coaching, and because of that, I can’t have them as a top-20 game; their upcoming divisional matchup against the Browns will be much, much tougher than expected.
#20: Denver Broncos (Previous Rank: 19)
Result: Lost 27-16 at GB
Top Performer: WR Courtland Sutton
Heading into the season, the Broncos looked like a sleeper to make the playoffs in the AFC. After all, with new head coach Vic Fangio calling the shots, this was expected to be a top-five defense with an elite pass rush, and if the offense could even be average, they had a good chance to win at least 7-8 games. However, for the third straight game, the offense actually outplayed the defense. Some credit has to be given to Joe Flacco, who’s actually playing fine and distributing the ball well to Courtland Sutton, who was the team’s best player this week, and Emmanuel Sanders. He’s doing so despite a putrid offensive line, which has really hampered the offense and has led to several turnovers. That may not be a problem if the defense was playing up to their capabilities, but they don’t even have a sack through three weeks, as Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have done absolutely nothing. At some point, the defense will improve due to their elite talent, and when they do, this team could string some wins together. For now though, they’re in major trouble; their week four home affair versus the Jaguars is a must-win.
#19: Buffalo Bills (Previous Rank: 17)
Result: Won 21-17 vs CIN
Top Performer: S Micah Hyde
They may have won, but in a way, the Bills’ 21-17 win over the Bengals raised more questions regarding their true abilities than answers. With a 14-0 lead heading into the 3rd quarter, it looked like Buffalo was on their way to an easy victory, but that was before Josh Allen went back to his old ways, throwing a horrible interception across the field that completely shifted the momentum of the game. Allen’s inconsistency is a major concern regarding the Bills at the moment, and until he utilizes his new weapons (John Brown and Cole Beasley) more effectively, the offense at a whole may struggle. On the bright side though, rookie tight end Dawson Knox flashed his receiving abilities, particularly after the catch, and the offensive line fared well in pass protection. Furthermore, the defense remained terrific, especially in coverage; they’ll be what the Bills will rely on if they want to be a playoff team, and if Allen improves, this team’s upside is huge. Week four will be a great test for them; they’ll host the seemingly unbeatable Patriots.
#18: Houston Texans (Previous Rank: 20)
Result: Won 27-20 at LAC
Top Performer: DL JJ Watt
It’s extremely difficult to get a read on the Texans, who in a way are a glorified version of the Buccanneers. Yes, they have three star players at quarterback (Deshaun Watson), receiver (Deandre Hopkins), and pass rusher (JJ Watt), but besides that, this is a thin roster that is extremely volatile in their performances. Well, after back-to-back mediocre performances, Houston played much better than expected, though they weren’t without flaws. Watson had an up-and-down game with a mix of big-time throws and complete gaffes, but the offensive line was significantly better, and when that’s the case, the offense as a whole will be very successful. Furthermore, the Texans continue to form a talented pass rush with Watt, rookie Charles Omenihu, Whitney Mercillus, and DJ Reader on the interior, but there are clear issues in the secondary, and when facing better offensive lines, that could be a problem. Overall though, the good outweighed the bad in this game, and as a result, their upcoming home contest versus the Panthers will be very exciting to watch; can they duplicate this performance?
#17: Seattle Seahawks (Previous Rank: 16)
Result: Lost 33-27 vs NO
Top Performer: WR Tyler Lockett
Facing a depleted Saints team without Drew Brees at home and with the rebuilding Cardinals up ahead in week four, the Seahawks had an opportunity to start the season with a 4-0 record before their big Thursday Night divisional matchup against the Rams. Instead, they blew that opportunity by losing by a much larger margin than the final score would indicate (two garbage-time touchdowns). In reality, Seattle was outcoached and didn’t play like a team deserving of remaining undefeated. Their dedication to the inside running game against a team that is known for stopping those plays was confusing, especially since Tyler Lockett was constantly open down the field; the Seahawks are way too conservative, and that destroys their upside. On defense, they struggled to tackle anyone, particularly Alvin Kamara, and as a result, weren’t able to take advantage of Teddy Bridgewater’s inability to throw the ball down the field. Yes, they received some back luck with New Orleans scoring on a punt return touchdown and a fumble recovery touchdown, but this was nonetheless an unusually sloppy performance for a team that has yet to prove themselves as anything more than a mediocre team relying on quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner; I have a tough time seeing them compete with the top of the NFC.
#16: Tennesee Titans (Previous Rank: 13)
Result: Lost 20-7 at JAX
Top Performer: IDL Jurrell Casey
After a week one win against the Browns that provided some optimism over their outlook for the season, the Titans have now lost back-to-back winnable divisional games, and in their rough loss to the Jaguars, their problem became apparent: it’s time to move on from quarterback Marcus Mariota. The former second overall pick holds onto to ball too long, doesn’t use his athleticism, and is often looking for a checkdown; there’s not much he brings to table, and as a result, he’s best served as a backup quarterback. Unless Ryan Tannehill is an actual better option though, Mariota will continue to be the starter, and as a result, the Titans’ talent at receiver won’t be utilized properly and the offensive line will continue to look worse than it is. These offensive issues are a shame, because the Titans defense has actually been a top-ten unit this season. They’ve always been strong in the defensive trenches, but they’re also getting a lot from their linebackers, and their secondary is very opportunistic. They’ll continue to be a mediocre, yet pesky team that wins just enough games to remain in the hunt, but not enough to generate any excitement; it wouldn’t be a surprise if they won at Atlanta this week, or they were absolutely blown out.
#15: New Orleans Saints (Previous Rank: 15)
Result: Won 33-27 at SEA
Top Performer: RB Alvin Kamara
In their first full game without Drew Brees, it would have been reasonable to expect the Saints to struggle. In some aspects, they did; Teddy Bridgewater’s limitations were demonstarted; this offense was completely centered around screens. However, when you have a talent like Alvin Kamara, there are times where that type of offense will flourish. With over 150 yards from scrimmage, Kamara ws excellent, and in a way, really carried the offense. Two special teams/defensive touchdowns, and a short field position did essentially account for 21 points though; this offense remains a work in progress. Defensively, though, New Orleans played very well; they completely shut down’s Seattle’s rushing attack, generated pressure when needed, and got a surprising performance from corner Eli Apple. At some point, top corner Marshon Lattimore and the linebackers need to play better; this wasn’t a very sustainable approach to winning. Still, it worked in this game, and with every win they can get while Brees is sidelined from injury, the closer they are to successfully surviving and remaining in playoff contention for when he comes back. They’ll head home now, though they’ll be underdogs against the undefeated Cowboys.
#14: Detroit Lions (Previous Rank: 18)
Result: Won 27-24 at PHI
Top Performer: WR Marvin Jones Jr
Ever since blowing an 18-point fourth quarter lead in their week one tie to the Cardinals, the Lions have been discounted; they’ve been underdogs in back-to-back games versus the Chargers and Eagles. Yet, they still remain technically undefeated at 2-0-1, and have the makings of a sneaky playoff contender. Heading into the season, Detroit’s conservative offensive approach was a concern, and although they’re still a little too run-heavy, the passing game has been excellent. Matthew Stafford is having a bounce-back season under center, connecting with the receiver duo of Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay often. Furthermore, the offensive line was terrific, especially in pass protection, against a strong Eagles defensive line; this offense should continue to surprise people. Defensively, Detroit isn’t flashy, but head coach Matt Patricia has them playing disciplined and as a result, they’re executing his scheme/approach very well. Notably, they’re finally found options at corner opposite of Darius Slay in Rashaan Melvin and nickel corner Justin Coleman, and they’re also one of the best tackling teams. Once their defensive line, especially Trey Flowers, starts playing better, they’ll be an even better defense; this Lions team hasn’t even maxed out its potential yet. They may face a very tough test versus the explosive Chiefs this weekend, but even if they’re 2-1-1, their playoff chances will be much higher than anticipated.
#13: Chicago Bears (Previous Rank: 10)
Result: Won 31-15 at WSH
Top Performer: EDGE Khalil Mack
The Bears knew coming into the season that they’d be a defense-first team, which was fine considering they had a historically dominant defense. Their defense has remained incredible this year; they forced five turnovers and had 26 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus. At some point, linebacker Roquan Smith needs to play better, but besides that, there are zero concerns regarding this defense. The offense, on the other hand, doesn’t have any answers. Mitch Trubisky turned in another incosistent, poor performance, and is clearly limiting this offense. The skill position players and offensive line have played fine, but he’s still struggling; in his third season, there’s a chance that he simply is the problem; even though he was the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, the Bears may need to think about a change at the quarterback position. Trubisky will have a chance to change that narrative on a short week at home; the Bears have an important divisional matchup against the also 2-1 Vikings.
#12: Atlanta Falcons (Previous Rank: 14)
Result: Lost 27-24 at IND
Top Performer: WR Julio Jones
The Falcons are a very strange team to get a read on. After two mediocre games, Matt Ryan had by far his best game with an 85.5 grade from Pro Football Focus, yet the team had just three points at halftime. The offense as a whole actually played well, but naturally, their defense couldn’t return the favor. Their pass rush was solid, but their coverage was awful, and they lost a solid player with safety Keanu Neal tearing his Achilles. This is a pretty weak team in the trenches that can’t put together a complete performance; there is too much talent present on the roster to dismiss them, but at some point, they need to play better, and that starts this week in a home contest with the Titans.
#11: Cleveland Browns (Previous Rank: 11)
Result: Lost 20-13 vs LAR
Top Performer: EDGE Myles Garrett
As with most overhyped teams, the Browns have certainly not met their outlandish expectations, and at 1-2, have seen many start to write them off. They’re not a Super Bowl team, but rather than overblow their poor start, it’s important to meet somewhere in the middle; this remains a playoff contender, especially in the weak AFC North. Though it’ll scrutinized heavily since it was in primetime, Cleveland’s loss to the Rams was not as bad as it seemed. They remained competitive against one of the top teams in the NFL despite having their two top cornerbacks, their starting free safety, and one of their top linebackers; the defense was fantastic. Edge rusher Myles Garrett looked like the player that many picked to win defensive player of the year, they were stout up front, and got excellent play from their linebackers. Hopefully, they can build upon this game; their new pieces all seemed to finally mesh together. Yes, there are play-calling issues with the offense – head coach Freddie Kitchens is off to a rough start – but this remains a talented offense. Both Baker Mayfield and the offensive line are being criticized way too heavily, and over time, Kitchens will find a way to get the ball in the hands of the Browns’ top playmakers, especially Odell Beckham Jr. It’s too early to give up on a team with this much talent, and they’ll look to make that clear in an important divisional game in Baltimore.
#10: Carolina Panthers (Previous Rank: 12)
Result: Won 38-20 at ARI
Top Performer: QB Kyle Allen
The Panthers were done they said, they didn’t stand a chance without Cam Newton, they said. As I tried to make clear last week, Newton’s poor play what was holding this exciting roster back, and judging by their performance on Sunday, that statement appears to be extremely valid. Filling in for Newton, Kyle Allen was terrific, distributing the ball well to Carolina’s playmakers, and allowing them to create extra yards after the catch. The improvement in accuracy, compared to Newton, was notable, and it’s also worth mentioning that the offensive line suddenly played much better with Allen getting the ball out quicker than Newton. Obviously, a healthy Newton is the better option, but he currently isn’t; Allen will get more starts to prove that this wasn’t a fluke. Meanwhile, first-round pick Brian Burns was a menace off the edge, and second-year conrer Donte Jackson had two beautiful interceptions; Carolina’s young players are playing well; combine that with their veterans, and this is clearly the best team in the NFC South currently. They do have a tough road matchup versus the Texans this week, but I still like the outlook of this team moving forward.
#9: Minnesota Vikings (Previous Rank: 9)
Result: Won 34-14 vs OAK
Top Performer: TE Irv Smith Jr.
In a perfect world, the Vikings want to run the ball, minimize the number of times Kirk Cousins uses the ball, and force turnovers. That may not work against quality teams, but it should continue to work against inferior teams, such as the Raiders. Despite constantly receiving poor run blocking, running back Dalvin Cook continued his emergence into stardom; he is the center of the offense and one of the few running backs that can truly impact the outcome of a game. Plus, if second-round rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr. can serve as the needed third option in the passing game, perhaps Cousins can play like this against winning teams; opportunities will open up for receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings seem to be back to their dominant ways from 2017; their pass rush has been exceptional, Trae Waynes are stepping up at cornerback, and linebacker Eric Kendricks is playing solid all-around. I still have questions about this team’s ability to win against better teams; their offensive line is weak and Cousins is mediocre. Still, they’re certainly a playoff contender, and if Smith Jr. is the missing piece to their offense, maybe their upside is greater than that.
#8: San Francisco 49ers (Previous Rank: 8)
Result: Won 24-20 vs PIT
Top Performer: CB K’Waun Williams
It may have not been pretty, but despite five turnovers, the 49ers were able to overcome adversity to beat the Steelers, and in doing so, have advanced to 3-0 and remain an underrated threat in the NFC. After a poor first game, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has continued to get better, and was excellent on Sunday. Furthermore, they’re making up for not having great depth at receiver by using heavy formations and utilizing fullback Kyle Jusczcyk and tight end George Kittle effectively; the job head coach Kyle Shanahan has done cannot be overstated. As long as he’s calling plays and Garoppolo is under center, this will be a top-ten offense; they won’t be so unlucky with these gimmick turnovers, and they were in the red zone six times. Furthermore, the secondary, which was supposed to be the weak link, has transformed into a strength; K’Waun Williams is defending slot receivers terrifically and Akhello Witherspoon is having a breakout year. Alongside a pass-rush trio of Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, and DeForest Buckner, a linebacker duo of Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner, the secondary’s progress could turn this defense into an above-average unit as well. With both sides of the ball playing this well, the 49ers may be a Super Bowl contender, though they’ll of this week; they have an early week four bye week.
#7: Philadelphia Eagles (Previous Rank: 4)
Result: Lost 27-24 vs DET
Top Performer: QB Carson Wentz
The Eagles have been decimated from injuries, and based off of their sloppy performance against a very beatable Lions team, it’s clearly affecting him. Carson Wentz was tremendous, but his best passes resulted in drops; they clearly are missing Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey. Furthermore, without interior defensive linemen Malik Jackson and Timmy Jernigan, as well as cornerback Ronald Darby, the team is struggling to defend the pass; their entire defense is currently a liability. It’s not over for the Eagles; once they get healthier and make adjustments, their depth and overall talent is too significant to ignore, and Wentz’s play is encouraging. Still, there’s a great chance they’ll be 1-3 with a tough Thursday Night Football game on the road against the Packers, and with the way the Cowboys are playing, they may have to settle for the wildcard.
#6: Green Bay Packers (Previous Rank: 7)
Result: Won 27-16 vs DEN
Top Performer: CB Jaire Alexander
For years, the Packers relied on Aaron Rodgers to carry a poor defense to the playoffs, which was ultimately unsustainable. However, after an unbelievable offseason in which they overhauled the defense, the tides have changed. Rodgers has still been effective, but he’s been more of a “game manager-plus” than a “hero”, and as he adjusts to the new offensive scheme, he’ll likely be less conservative over time. It helps that he’s getting incredible protection from his offensive line; when he needs to, he’ll make the big plays necessary. When he’ll actually need to is a very valid question; this defense is dominant. Jaire Alexander is not only one of the best young corners in football, but one of the best corners in general, and the pass rush duo of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith has been amazing, and that’s without even noting the impact Kenny Clark has on the interior. Add in the safety duo of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, who complement each other well, and this defense is simply fantastic; the Packers aren’t just a Super Bowl contender, but possibly a Super Bowl favorite. Their quest for 4-0 seems likely; they’ll host a worn down Eagles team before a huge matchup in Dallas.
#5: Los Angeles Chargers (Previous Rank: 3)
Result: Lost 27-20 vs HOU
Top Performer: WR Keenan Allen
The Chargers are in a very similar position as the Eagles; they’re so broken down with injuries that they have no choice but to try to survive until they get their key players (tight end Hunter Henry, safety Derwin James, left tackle Russell Okung) back. So far, they’re struggling to do so. After finding a way to lose a game against the Lions that they easily should’ve won, Los Angeles blew a 17-7 halftime lead, losing to a Texans team that they definitely should’ve beaten. The connection of Phillip Rivers and Keenan Allen remains strong, but outside of those two and running back Austin Ekeler, this offense is depleted. Rivers doesn’t stand a chance behind what may be the worst offensive line in the NFL, and as a result, he wasn’t able to expose Houston’s secondary. Furthermore, the Chargers’ pass rush has been a disappointment, and outside of top corner Casey Hayward Jr., their secondary is also struggling. Once Henry, Okung, and James return, this is a Super Bowl contender. The problem is staying afloat until that happens, and luckily for them, they’ll start an easy three-game stretch that includes a trip to Miami to face the tanking Dolphins this weekend.
#4: Los Angeles Rams (Previous Rank: 5)
Result: Won 20-13 at CLE
Top Performer: DT Aaron Donald
The Rams clearly aren’t as flashy and exciting as last year, but they’re still a very strong team, as evidenced by their 3-0 record. It was never going to be easy going into a crazy environment in Cleveland, but although they won, it was an expected mediocre performance from the offense. Quarterback Jared Goff has always been poor on the road, and although Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks abused Cleveland’s decimated secondary, his struggles combined with poor offensive line play led to just 20 points and two turnovers; this was far from a flawless victory. The defense, on the other hand, has been better than advertised. Aaron Donald continues to be a dominant interior rusher, and the edge rush is better than in year’s past. Furthermore, cornerback Marcus Peters is having a bounce-back year, as is the secondary as a whole. At some point, Goff needs to prove he can be effective on the road, and the offensive line needs to improve, but for now, the wins keep coming for this team, and they’re practically a shoo-in for 4-0 with the Bucs up next.
#3: Dallas Cowboys (Previous Rank: 6)
Result: Won 31-6 vs MIA
Top Performer: LT Tyron Smith
At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t convinced that the Cowboys would even make the playoffs. Now, they look like the best team in the NFC. So, what has changed? They’ve had a very easy schedule, but they’ve been absolutely dominant, and the way they’re winning is different. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has opened up the offense by implementing more play-action passes, using both Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard out of the backfield, and by getting the most out of quarterback Dak Prescott. Therefore, this offense has been flawless over the first three weeks, which is really shocking considering they were the weak link last year. Yet, they were a playoff team; their defense was and remains fabulous. The edge rush duo of Demarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn has massive potential, and they remain deep at linebacker and in the secondary. At the moment, this is really a flawless team; how can they not be the front-runner to earn the #1 seed in the NFC and represent them in the Super Bowl? It gets better; they’ll have a chance to dominate against a Saints team that still really needs Drew Brees back.
#2: Kansas City Chiefs (Previous Rank: 2)
Result: Won 33-28 vs BAL
Top Performer: LG Andrew Wylie
The Chiefs were far from perfect in their home opener against the Ravens, especially on defense. However, the fact they still managed to mostly dominate this game has to be the scary thing. Patrick Mahomes is on pace for over 6,000 passing yards, and he’s still struggling with accuracy and fumbles; the potential of this offense is insane. Head coach Andy Reid is an absolute mastermind, and his ability to create plays for receivers Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson, as well as tight end Travis Kelce and their running backs is insane. Heck, they don’t even have Tyreek Hill right now, which make this even more frightening. Defensively, though, Kansas City’s supposedly excellent pass rush was putrid, as well their thin secondary; where has versatile defensive back and big free-agent signing Tyrann Mathieu been? Damien Wilson has been the cover linebacker they’ve needed, but this defense keeps them in a different tier from the Patriots, and against better offenses, they could be exposed. Technically, they face an undefeated team next week when they travel to Detroit, though I love their chances to beat the Lions by multiple scores.
#1: New England Patriots (Previous Rank: 1)
Result: Won 30-14 vs NYJ
Top Performer: LB Jamie Collins Sr.
At some point, the Patriots will be properly challenged, and we’ll be able to see how marvelous they truly are. For now though, they appear to have a legitimate chance to go 16-0. After all, their defense has yet to allow a touchdown, which is incredible. Yes, they were facing third-string quarterback Luke Falk, but their elite secondary, combined with a pass rush that gets the job, makes for an elite defense. Plus, linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. is the chess piece he was in New England before being traded to the Browns, and if that remains the case, other teams may have to wave the white flag. Oh, and they have arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, are able to patch together a formidable offensive line despite injuries, and did this without receiving back James White. This team is the definition of flawless, though the loss of fullback James Develin is worse than one may think; they’ll have to move around some pieces if they want to keep their power running game, which they centered their offense around last year. Still, this is the Patriots; they’ll figure out a way to replace him, and as a result, they should continue to dominate, even though their week four divisional matchup in Buffalo could be a potential trap game.