The Washington Times - September 25, 2008, 07:38PM

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 Thursday.

For Week 4, the top team remains the same: The Dallas Cowboys, who have a certain local team coming to the stadium with the hole in the top on Sunday. (Last week’s rankings are in parentheses)



(Jason Witten photo by the AP)

1. Cowboys (1) — So much for that never having won in Lambeau Field jinx. Dallas rolled over the previously unbeaten Packers despite having travel after a short week. Terrell Owens, Marion Barber, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware are in midseason form and are primed to stay perfect against the Redskins.

2. Giants (2) — Sure, they were fortunate to beat the Bungles at home. But they’re still the champs and they’ll remain undefeated into October thanks to this week’s bye. Eli Manning raised his game to another level during the stunning playoff run and apparently plans to stay there. And the Strahan and Umeniyora-less defense already has 13 sacks.

3. Titans (5) — Can this team with retread Kerry Collins at QB and no WRs or RBs of note really be the AFC’s best? That could be thanks to a defense which has 11 sacks and forced 8 turnovers. Tennessee has beaten winless Cincinnati and Houston after upsetting Jacksonville. Stopping Adrian Peterson this week would be a big step towards being a serious contender.

4. Packers (3) — There’s no disgrace in losing to the Cowboys, even at home, but the previously dynamic Green Bay offense managed just three field goals before the game was out of hand. Still, Aaron Rodgers is doing fine as Brett Favre’s replacement and the Packers look clearly like the class of the NFC North for a second straight season.

5. Eagles (9) — As I wrote last week, if Donovan McNabb hadn’t muffed the handoff to Brian Westbrook in the fourth quarter of that wild Monday night game in Dallas, Philly could be atop the rankings. However, if Westbrook’s ankle and McNabb’s chest sideline them, the Eagles will have trouble trying to stay close to the Cowboys and Giants in the NFC East.

6. Steelers (4) — The O-line collapsed against the Eagles, surrendering nine sacks and making battered QB Ben Roethlisberger wonder why his front office let perennial Pro Bowl G Alan Faneca leave. And now ace RB Willie Parker is hurt. Hardly good preparation for a Monday date with the Ravens, who had five sacks against the Browns.

7. Bills (8) — QB Trent Edwards is king in Buffalo after leading the Bills back from a late 9-point deficit to edge Oakland on a last-second Rian Lindell FG. The last time the Bills were 3-0, they were in the midst of their 4-year Super Bowl run. St. Louis won’t be much of challenge for the NFL‘s most surprising unbeaten team.

8. Broncos (10) — After crushing Oakland, Mike “It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good” Shanahan has won on a blown call followed by a 2-point conversion and on a missed 43-yard FG by New Orleans‘ Martin Gramatica. But 3-0 is 3-0. Denver can score in bunches and will keep that up Sunday at Kansas City. At some point, though, the Broncos need to stop someone, too.

9. Chargers (16) — Yes, they’re 1-2, but they’d be 2-1 if not for Ed Hochuli and 3-0 if not for a last-play TD by Carolina. Philip Rivers has picked up where he left off last year and LT fought through the pain in his toe to score twice against the Jets. The worrisome thing is that the defense is givng up an un-championship-like 29 points a game.

10. Ravens (18) — Speaking of defense, Baltimore is up to its usual tricks, allowing just 10 points and 162 yards a game. If the Ravens can win Monday in Pittsbugh for just the second time in eight years, they’ll have a big early edge in the AFC North having beaten all three of their division rivals. No wonder rookie QB Joe Flacco is smiling.

11. Redskins (13) — They outplayed fellow NFC contenders New Orleans and Arizona in the fourth quarter. They’re forcing turnovers and not committing them. Trouble is, they’re about to face the Cowboys and Eagles on the road consecutively and without DE Jason Taylor. Jim Zorn picked a bad, or should I say too good, division in which to make his coaching debut.

12. Buccaneers (15) — If retread Brian Griese can pass for 400 yards every week (admittedly on a franchise-record 67 attempts and with three INTs), the Bucs can hang with their next three foes: Green Bay, Denver and Carolina. Jon Gruden needs to worry about a defense which is surrendering 359 yards a game after years of excellence.

13. Patriots (7) — A 38-13 pounding by the visiting Dolphins, winners of just one of their previous 21 games? Bill Belichick has to be shocked that his D came within two yards of allowing 100-yard days by two Miami RBs. And the Pats managed just 216 yards against a Miami D that Kurt Warner shredded. Surely it’s a fun bye week in New England.

14. Cardinals (6) — The 24-17 loss in Washington that prevented Arizona from its first 3-0 start in 34 years was just so Cardinals. A slighly underthrown deflected bomb turns into a diving INT and a 42-yard return that sets up the Redskins’ winning TD. Still, if Kurt Warner can outduel Brett Favre in New York, the Cards will be atop the NFC West come October.

15. Saints (14) — Drew Breese passed for 421 yards. Reggie Bush scored a third different way (catch, run, punt return) in two weeks. They won the turnover battle. But the Saints still lost to the Broncos because their defense simply isn’t very good. But with the Niners, Vikes and Raiders coming to the Big Easy the next three weeks, life can still be good.

16. Bears (12) — Two NFC foes, two double-digit leads blown. The lost 10-point lead at home to Tampa Bay and former Bears QB Brian Griese was worse. How does a defense with as much talent as Chicago’s give up 454 yards to the Bucs? By not sacking Griese in 67 dropbacks. Or maybe new WR Brandon Lloyd is just fated to never play for a winning team.

17. Vikings (21) — Gus my man! Ol’ pal Frerotte, the 7th-rounder who has persisted to be the last survivor of the ‘94 draft, did enough to rally the previously winless Vikes from a 10-0 deficit and beat the Panthers with help from a gimpy Adrian Peterson and a potent pass rush that sacked Jake Delhomme five times. A repeat Sunday at Tennessee would be huge.

18. Panthers (17) — So they won at San Diego and rallied from way back to beat Chicago, but they couldn’t hold off Minnesota despite the return of Steve Smith? This is a hard team to figure. So while the next two home games against the Falcons and Chiefs look like gimmes, who knows which version of the Panthers will show up?

19. Jaguars (20) — There’s something about the Colts that brings out the best in Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor and their 228 rushing yards and Josh Scobee’s last-second 51-yard FG were just enough to prevent an 0-3 start. The beleaguered O-line also didn’t allow a sack so the outlook’s much rosier with the winless Texans coming to Jacksonville.

20. Colts (19) — The perennial AFC powerhouse is oh so close to an 0-3 start and is springing leaks. RB Joseph Addai finally got going against the Jags, but the run defense continued its meltdown. Peyton Manning has more INTs (4) than TDs (3). Tony Dungy and Co. have some work to do during this bye week even with lowly Houston on tap next.

21. Jets (17) — The defense that was playing so well was overwhelmed by the Chargers and now has to deal with the passing attacks of the Cardinals and Chargers. However, Brett Favre is playing well as he nears his 39th birthday and with the Pats looking mortal, he and the Jets have a chance win the AFC East for the first time since 2002.

22. 49ers (22) — OK, they’ve won two in a row, scoring 64 points in the process, but your truly isn’t ready to concede that Mike Nolan has saved his job or that QB J.T. O’Sullivan is the real deal just yet. Beating the Lions at home is one thing, but now come the Saints, Pats, Eagles and Giants the next four weeks. Let’s see where the Niners are after that.

23. Seahawks (23) — Decimated by injuries, the passing game is still a mess, but wily Mike Holmgren has turned Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett (!) into a 1-2 punch at RB. If the Hawks can steal a W this week at the Giants or next week against the visiting Packers, they can remain very much in the hunt for a fifth straight NFC West title.

24. Dolphins (30) — Last week’s thumping of the Pats has to give Miami hope for the first time in three years. And the bye week gives the fans extra time to enjoy it. Ronnie Brown ran like a man possessed and Chad Pennington was the embodiment of a poised, veteran QB. The defense sacked Matt Cassel four times and forced two turnovers.

25. Falcons (25) — Yes, I know they’re 2-1, but pounding the Lions and Chiefs doesn’t make Atlanta a good football team. However, averaging 6.2 yards a carry and scoring five TDs in three games makes Michael Turner the No. 1 RB he could never be behind LT in San Diego. For the first time since 2004, the Falcons are heading in the right direction.

26. Raiders (26) — Lane Kiffin was seconds from a two-game winning streak before Rian Lindell ruined with a last-second FG in Buffalo. San Diego’s coming to Oakland on a short week, but if the Bills rung up 378 yards and 24 points on ther Raiders, imagine what the Chargers will do. Kiffin might be better off getting fired and taking the money and running.

27. Bengals (31) — Strange as it may seem to move up four spots with a loss, but Cincy wwnt toe to toe with the champs before losing in OT. Carson Palmer and T.J. Houshmandazeh got back in gear and the D was respectable in the red zone. Now if Ocho Stinko can become Chad Johnson again, they might be able to beat the Browns before visiting the Cowboys.

28. Browns (24) — Yes, they opened with the Cowboys and then had that blustery night against the Steelers, but there were no excuses for the ugly day in Baltimore. QB Derek Anderson was apparently a 1-year wonder. Coach Romeo Crennel should bench him for Brady Quinn now so the 2007 first-rounder can face the Bungles before dealing with the Giants.

29. Texans (28) — Guess the Hurricane Ike-caused bye week didn’t do much for Houston, which was outscored 24-0 by Tennessee over the final three quarters. Stud WR Andre Johnson has just 12 catches, 141 yards and no TDs. If the Texans can’t get it together the next two weeks against the Jags and/or Colts, all of last year’s progress will be for naught.

30. Lions (29) — His dad still owns the team, but VP William Clay Ford Jr. obviously has serious sway. A day after he ripped GM Matt Millen, the longtime failure was canned. That won’t change anything about this year’s 0-3 mess, but it should give the franchise hope for a turnaround after seven straight losing seasons. Coach Rod Marinelli should be on notice, too, after the 31-13 drubbing by the Niners and O.C. Mike Martz, whom he fired after last year.

31. Chiefs (27) — How does any NFL team lose by 15 point to the Raiders and then by 24 to the Falcons? Oh, right, the Chiefs aren’t really an NFL team anymore. Replacing raw QB Tyler Thigpen with veteran Damon Huard should help, but future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez has to be wondering why he’s part of this nightmare.

32. Rams (32) — Yours truly genuinely likes and respects Al Saunders, but the new O.C. simply ain’t getting it done. How can an offense with Steven Jackson, Torry Holt, Orlando Pace and Marc Bulger average just 200 yards and 10 points per game? Meanwhile, what passes for the Rams’ defense allows 457 yards and 36 points per game. Simply unspeakable. Maybe benching Bulger for Trent Green will make a difference.