Out of the dead tree and on to the Internet, David Elfin’s weekly NFL Power Rankings have a new home here on Redskins 360, where they’ll appear each week.
Not much change at the top this week, as only the Arizona Cardinals dropped out of the top five after their loss to the new No. 5, the Carolina Panthers. Buffalo also slipped a bit after its loss to the plucky Dolphins. Also, keep an eye on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who jumped to 18th this week.
As always, last week’s rankings are (in parentheses).
(AP photo of Titans coach Jeff Fisher and safety Chris Hope celebrating their win over the Colts)
1. Titans (1). It was a little dicey for a while against longtime AFC kingpin Indianapolis, but the NFL’s only unbeaten team got it done with an aggressive defense and a surprisingly effective short passing game with the Colts focusing on stopping the run. The Titans will win the AFC South. The question is how far can they go beyond that?
2. Giants (2). The champs looked like themselves for the first time in three week, tormenting Ben Roethlisberger with five sacks and four interceptions. And now New York gets a banged-up Dallas team with serious quarterback issues. The concern is Eli Manning and the faltering offense could be hamstrung by the Cowboy’ defense.
3. Steelers (3). Yes, the leaky offensive line let down Big Ben against the Giants. Yes, ace running back Willie Parker is still hurting. Yes, Santonio Holmes was stupid to be caught with pot. But Pittsburgh is still 5-2 overall, 5-0 in the AFC and 3-0 in the AFC North heading to Washington, a strong team with a weak pass rush.
4. Redskins (4). Given that the Redskins play better against the better teams, they should play well against the Steelers despite injuries to seven starters. And given that all of Washington’s games have been decided by fewer than 10 points, this one should be close, too. If the offensive line can handle Pittsburgh’s potent pass rush, Jim Zorn could be 7-2.
5. Panthers (11). Down 17-3 in the third quarter at home, Jake Delhomme rallied the Panthers past the Cards with a vintage performance. At 6-2 overall and 4-2 in the NFC, Carolina is quietly and currently the No. 2 seed behind the Giants. The next two gimmes against Oakland and Detroit should keep the Panthers on top into late November at least.
6. Cardinals (5). Arizona can never quite get over the hump. The blown 17-3 lead at Carolina marked the second time this year that the Cards have been unable to win three in a row. Victories the next three weeks over its limp division rivals would put the Cards in total command of the NFC Worst and have them playoff-bound for the first time in a decade.
7. Buccaneers (7). Yes, Tampa Bay lost in Dallas without scoring a touchdown, but Jeff Garcia had another good day at quarterback and the defense shut down Marion Barber, Terrell Owens and Roy Williams. The Bucs should get back in the win column Sunday at Kansas City and they still have the big victory over the Panthers in hand in the NFC South race.
8. Bills (6). Buffalo’s Cinderella march to the playoffs for the first time in nine years was waylaid when the glass slipper fell off during the second half in Miami. They led 16-7 with 22 minutes left, but were outscored 18-0 the rest of the way. Three lost fumbles didn’t help heading into two more AFC East tests against the Jets and at the Patriots.
9. Bears (9). Chicago comes out of its week off with a second straight bye. OK, playing the Lions at home technically isn’t a bye since the Bears do have to show up, but … Lovie Smith just has to make sure that his NFC North-leading team isn’t looking ahead to unbeaten Tennessee the following week or the division showdown at Green Bay the week after that.
10. Eagles (10). Brian Westbrook cleared up any doubts about his health after two weeks off with his 209 yards on 28 touches in the victory over Atlanta. The good vibes. no losses since Oct. 5. should carry over to Sunday’s game at Seattle. By then, maybe the Phillies will have taken the pressure off the Eagles trying to end the city’s title drought.
11. Falcons (8). Receiver Roddy White, one of the NFL’s top unknown players, put Atlanta on top in Philly with a 55-yard TD and made it a 20-14 game with another late score. Too bad for White that his teammates managed just a field goal in between. Still, the Falcons should complete a stunning 5-3 first half with a victory at Oakland on Sunday.
12. Cowboys (12). The defense shut down Tampa Bay’s ground game and held the Bucs to three field goals, but the Tony Romo-less offense managed just 172 yards and has Wade Phillips considering benching Brad Johnson for Brooks Bollinger. Let’s just say that the Boys aren’t exactly primed to avenge their shocking home playoff loss to the Giants.
13. Ravens (13). Quarterback Joe Flacco should quit while he’s ahead. No one expected the rookie starter to have a 4-3 record, two rushing TDs and a 43-yard catch in his first seven games. OK, Flacco does have a 3-7 TD/INT ratio and he hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record, but … If the Ravens are to sweep the hot Browns, it will be up the defense.
14. Patriots (14). They were down to their fourth running back to go with their raw backup quarterback and their secondary was equally injury-riddled, but the Pats still had enough to douse the Rams’ upset hopes. At 5-2, New England heads to Indy atop the AFC East for the least-anticipated Pats-Colts game since the Clinton Administration.
15. Browns (15). The Steelers and Ravens should hate the Bengals for letting the Browns off the carpet. Cleveland’s 3-1 dating to its strong finish at Cincinnati. If quarterback Derek Anderson plays against the Ravens the way he did against the Jags, the Browns could supplant Baltimore as Pittsburgh’s top challenger in the AFC North.
16. Dolphins (18). Down 16-7 against Buffalo, Miami seemed destined for a third straight defeat that would surely end any lingering good feeling from the upsets of New England and San Diego, but the defense controlled the Bills’ passing attack and second-year receiver Ted Ginn Jr.’s first huge day enabled the Dolphins to rally to win heading to Denver.
17. Packers (16). Green Bay is 0-3 against winning teams and 4-0 against losing teams heading to Tennessee to take on the unbeaten Titans. Given the Pack’s struggles to run the ball and stop the run, the odds of an upset are long, but the visitors will have had two weeks to prepare compared to just six days for the hosts. Maybe that will be decisive.
18. Saints (25). Drew Brees has fully bloomed in New Orleans, but don’t think he forgot that San Diego dumped him in 2006 in favor of the raw Philip Rivers. Brees paid back Bolts GM A.J. Smith last Sunday in London and New Orleans, still minus Reggie Bush, returned home very much alive in the wacky NFC South heading into bye week.
19. Chargers (17). Norv Turner was infamous in Washington for losing close games. He just lost in Oakland. But Turner took San Diego to the AFC title game in his 2007 debut. However, Norv is now back to being Norv. The Chargers are 0-4 in games decided by fewer than 10 points and they just fired Ted Cottrell, the defensive coordinator. It’s always someone else’s fauilt.
20. Jets (19). Eric Mangenius was feeling pretty smart at 3-2 after whipping the Cards and Cincy, but after losing in overtime at Oakland and squeaking past the Chiefs (combined record 3-11) in front of an unhappy home crowd, the coach and his Jets should be on their knees in thanks for being just a game out of the AFC East lead at 4-3.
21. Colts (20). They say that all good things must come to an end and that’s finally the case in Indy where it will take a 9-0 finish to keep the string of 12-win seasons alive. The Colts did lead the unbeaten Titans on the road in the econd half, but two failed fourth downs left Peyton Manning and Co. in serious trouble heading into the visit by the Pats.
22. Rams (22). If not for a 10-point fourth quarter rally by the proud Pats, the Rams (who were minus injured star back Steven Jackson) would be riding a 3-game tear with victories over Washington, Dallas and New England. Jim Haslett is just the interim coach but he has St. Louis back on track heading into Sunday’s visit by NFC West leader Arizona.
23. Jaguars (21). How did Maurice Jones-Drew run wild in Denver two games ago and gain just 29 yards against a Browns defense that Clinton Portis had just finished kniving through for 175 yards? How does Jacksonville rank 23rd on defense with so much talent and coaching genius? Sunday’s game against the Bungles should make the Jags a lot happier.
24. Vikings (23). How can a team with Adrian Peterson at running back, Kevin and Pat Williams and Jared Allen in the front four, Steve Hutchinson, Matt Birk and Bryant McKinnie on the offensive line and Bernard Berrian at receiver be 3-4? When it has Brad Childress as its coach and either Gus Frerotte or Tarvaris Jackson as its quarterback.
25. Broncos (24). Mike Shanahan is the luckiest coach of 2008. His Broncos get crushed by New England two weeks ago to fall to 4-3 but are leading the AFC Worst since their division rivals all lost during Denver’s bye week. Denver could win the Worst, but with a defense that’s clearly the worst of any winning team, that’s as far as the Broncos will get.
26. Texans (26). Break up the Texans! The first three-game winning streak in the franchise’s seven seasons! And now all Houston has to do to make it four straight and reach .500 is win at struggling Minnesota. The Texans are still four games behind the Titans in the AFC South, but they’re tied with the Jags and Colts for second. And third. And last.
27. Seahawks (29). It was just one victory over the bad 49ers, but the 34-14 romp had to have felt great for Seattle, which had been winless since Week 3. Somehow fullback Leonard Weaver, who came in with just eight catches, had TD grabs of 43 and 62 yards. But the Hawks won’t soar against the Eagles without No. 1 quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
28. Raiders (27). Any good feelings that interim coach Tom Cable had generated with the upset of the Jets in overtime the previous week evaporated with the 19-0 halftime deficit at Baltimore. Oakland’s previously strong running attack managed just 47 yards without Darren McFadden and quarterback JaMarcus Russell can’t yet win a game by himself.
29. 49ers (28). Mike Singletary’s first game as a head coach featured a tirade at 2006 first-rounder Vernon Davis, an apology to the fans and a 21-point drubbing at home by a Seattle team which had lost three in a row and was 1-5. So there’s nowhere to go but up for Singletary as San Francisco takes a 5-game losing streak to NFC West leader Arizona.
30. Bengals (30). They’ve lost consecutive games by a combined 73-16. Their linchpin quarterback, Carson Palmer, remains injured. They can’t pass or run. They can’t stop the run. Their pass defense is OK, mostly because foes get way ahead and stop throwing. Too bad that owner Mike Brown is too cheap to throw coach Marvin Lewis overboard and start over.
31. Chiefs (31). Give third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen credit for hanging in there at the Jets. Give Tony Gonzalez credit for not pouting about not getting dealt out of this disaster at the deadline and excelling against New York. Give Herm Edwards for not letting his reeling team quit. But the Chiefs are still 1-6, 1-15 since midseason 2007.
32. Lions (32). They were outgained 250-95 by the Redskins in the first half at home, but still led 10-6. Two long Santana Moss TDs later, Detroit was still winless. This Sunday’s game at Chicago should drop the Lions to 0-8 this year and 1-15 since midseason 2007. Calvin Johnson and Ernie Sims have to wonder what they did wrong to get drafted by the Lions.