Wow, what a busy couple months. I can’t believe I used to write twoposts a week during football season! ‘Twas a different time. Well, now that I have a little respite, I guess the quarter-pole of theNFL season is a good time to take stock of where we are. And after my recent trip to Denver tointrospect and seek serenity in the mountains (read: watch the Eagles bend overand take it from the Broncos), I think I’m in the mental state to take a stepback and review the landscape of the league. Usually I do somae kind of division-by-division thing, but Ithink I’ll go for a little power ranking thing. My blog, my show. Good stuff, let’s do this.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4) – Nothing really to say here. Either quarterback is terrible, MJD wasalready struggling behind a now-shallower offensive line, and they keep losingme bets when I take them as massive underdogs! I’m losing more and more confidence in my investments inJustin Blackmon and MJD fantasy-wise.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) – They’ve had a terrible offensiveline for a few years now, but this is awful. The defense has fallen to average, which they can’t recoverfrom given the offensive inconsistency. Le’Veon Bell should help give a little life at RB, but I don’t thinkhe’s some kind of miracle cure. Istill believe that they’ll finish closer to 20th than 30th, because theiroffense will be good enough.
30. New York Giants (0-4) – Similar to the Steelers, the offensiveline is offensive, and they have less than no running game (which Eli has dealtwith before, but not thrived in). They just dropped another running back, which gives David Wilson moreopportunities to fumble. Good forthem that they get a chance to get healthy against the god-awful Eagles D.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4) – I definitely invested far too muchin this passing game in fantasy, owning both Mike Williams and VincentJackson. The quarterback situationis not very good, but the talent surrounding that position and the soliddefense should allow them to bounce back over some teams with better records.
28. Oakland Raiders (1-3)—Terrelle Pryor at least makes themrelevant because of the threat of offense, but there’s a lot of inconsistencythat comes with that. But, as aDarren McFadden owner, I have to hope they both stay on the field. The defense is its usual sieve, and theimproved division could make this a 3-13 team easily.
27. Arizona Cardinals (2-2)—A team I thought would be more potent offensively because they focusedon the O-line in the offseason, they’ve already had injuries and horr-terri-badbackfield production that make the passing game lose its effectiveness. The defense is decent, but I don’t seethe situation getting better regardless of the Andre Ellington hype.
26. Washington Redskins (1-3) – RGIII is coming back into formslowly, and the running game and Pierre Garcon are solid, but the defense ispretty bad (the Eagles offense has lost a lot of its credibility since theyplayed Week 1), and there isn’t much explosiveness in the offense to competewith top-level offenses.
25. Buffalo Bills (2-2) – EJ Manuel hasn’t been as effectivethrowing or running as I thought he’d be (as a multiple fantasy team owner),and neither has CJ Spiller, who I expected to disappoint but not thismuch. The defense has improvedsubstantially (although the reference point was terrible), so they’ve been ableto stay in games.
24. Minnesota Vikings (1-3) – Sure, AP is a beast, but the QBsituation is still terrible and the defense is mediocre. However, they do have one elite aspectof their team, which can win them any game if the QB doesn’t lose it. I should probably have them lower,however.
23. St. Louis Rams (1-3) -- Sam Bradford hasn't taken advantage of the added weaponry like we thought, but the lack of a running game and some less-than-creative use of speedster Tavon Austin has put a lower ceiling on his season. The defense is still pretty good, at least up front, but the offense hasn't improved enough to make any noise.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) -- The offense has not been as-advertised, really only clicking in a lopsided affair against the Redskins. The defense looks just as bad as last year (playing Peyton in Denver doesn't help), so there needs to be more consistent production out of the passing game than we've seen. I still think that Nick Foles might be the best shot this offense has at solid production all year long.
21. New York Jets (2-2) -- I can't imagine the Jets doing any better had Mark Sanchez stayed healthy, so it's nice to see them get a look at Geno Smith. The defense seems to be close to its form from a couple seasons ago, and if they could just keep their skill position players healthy, maybe they could challenge an above-.500 record.
20. Cleveland Browns (2-2) -- Sure, trade your best player and sit your first-round quarterback, and win two straight games! The defense is legit, and if Brian Hoyer can keep up this pace without a running game (or at least one with an off-the-couch Willis McGahee), they could actually compete in a surprisingly-down AFC North.
19. Carolina Panthers (1-2) -- Cam is still a bit up-and-down, but DeAngelo Williams has done a decent job by himself this year, and it looks like Greg Olsen might be consistent enough to keep the offense more balanced than in the past. They've shown some pretty good competitiveness against the Seahawks and the apparently-terrible Giants, and that's partially due to their improved defense. I bet they outperform expectations over the rest of the year.
18. Baltimore Ravens (2-2) -- So I thought that when they fired Cam Cameron they were done with the wild swings in run-pass ratio and general offensive output? Joe Flacco remains massively overpaid and Ray Rice criminally underutilized, and if they had some better output from that side of the ball people might notice that the defense is actually better than last year.
17. Tennessee Titans (3-1) -- It's a shame that Jake Locker got hurt, because this was a surprisingly good team on both sides of the ball, even with Chris Johnson having another underwhelming campaign. The defense has done remarkably well considering how much of a doormat they were last year, and with two games remaining against the Jags, they could be one of the most-improved teams of '13.
16. San Diego Chargers (2-2) -- Philip Rivers has had a major renaissance this season, making Antonio Gates look surprisingly not-dead-yet. I'm not sure anyone has a good explanation for why he has tanked the past couple years, but it looks like he's at least temporarily back to the future. We'll see how it goes when he goes up against the cream of the AFC West.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) -- Andy Dalton is really holding this offense back with his erratic play, considering the bevy of young skill players (and BenJarvus Green-Ellis) he has at his disposal. The defense is legit up front, and with the rest of the division being mediocre they should really be better. Dalton has to show some more improvement to keep from being a future pariah a la Matt Schaub.
14. Dallas Cowboys (2-2) -- The offensive inconsistency is still there, but an average defense with an above-average quarterback can't be that much of a dud. The rest of the division is so awful that they could get in with a 2 game lead at 8-8, but they might be able to squeak in an above .500 record simply by virtue of beating on the other NFC-Leasters.
13. Atlanta Falcons (1-3) -- I actually had no idea they were 1-3. These guys might be overrated here, but they've had some major offensive injury problems and have been half-decent on defense. If they get both Jackson and White back after the Week 6 bye, look out.
12. Miami Dolphins (3-1) -- One of the two biggest positive surprises this year, Miami has a top-10 defense to go with an average offense with room to improve. They've played a decent schedule too, so if the Patriots falter after squeaking by a bit in the early going I could see them at least making Brady sweat.
11. Indianapolis Colts (3-1) -- Andrew Luck was the forgotten man after the breakouts of the read-option quarterbacks, but with decent weapons, a new running back toy to take the pressure off, and an apparently substantially improved defense, it's hard to see them winning fewer than 10 games this year.
10. Houston Texans (3-1) -- People are apparently burning Matt Schaub jerseys, and while I expected it to be the defense that regressed to bring the Texans down, the fact that there are more chinks in the offense's armor makes me hesitant.
9. Green Bay Packers (1-2) -- This is mostly about the fact that they have Aaron Rodgers and should have won their last game against the Bengals, which would have made their record look good enough to justify me ranking them here.
8. Chicago Bears (3-1) -- The offense has been a bit more productive under the new head coach, but there's still glimmers of Jay Cutler failing per usual. The defense isn't as dominant as it has been, but they still somehow manage to stay ahead of the game in the turnover department. Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett may have contributed to the offensive improvement, and it's not like Urlacher was at the top of his game last year.
7. Detroit Lions (3-1) -- The offense has been particularly explosive because of the pass-run balance that Reggie Bush has provided, but his injury history and the inherent volatility of a Matthew-Stafford-run offense allows for a lot of late-game comebacks and blowups. The defensive front appears to be at least somewhat living up to its promise even with the lame drama surrounding Ndamukong Suh.
6. San Francisco 49ers (2-2) -- I don't feel great about this one, but their two losses are against two teams that are playoff-bound, and they blew up the Packers in their first game. Kaepernick hasn't shown consistency with a lacking receiving corps and the defense isn't as good as it has been, but if they focus on the running game like they did last year, they're a shoo-in for a Wild Card spot behind the best team in the NFC.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) -- As an Eagles fan, you have to feel pretty sad watching Andy Reid turn a 2-win team into what appears to be a surefire playoff team, but at the same time, you can't be that surprised. A very similar roster with Matt Cassel at the controls had a surprise playoff season a couple years ago, and whatever you think of him, Alex Smith is better. That being said, the schedule has been pretty friendly so far (three NFC East teams, conveniently enough for Reid), so don't expect them to be going 12-4 or anything.
4. New England Patriots (4-0) -- I don't feel that comfortable having them this high considering how close they've come to losing a few of these games, but it looks like Brady is getting more comfortable with his targets just in time for his big guns to start coming back. The loss of Vince Wilfork should prove to be a heavy burden (independent of his size) for a defense that finally looked to be turning itself around after a few years of mediocrity.
3. Seattle Seahawks (4-0) -- The offense has been inconsistent at times, especially on the road, but they're a mortal lock for 7-1 at home, and if they split the road games, that's an 11-5 season in the bag. Russell Wilson hasn't regressed like RGIII and Kaepernick have, and the defense is as advertised. It also doesn't hurt to already have a road win at San Fran in the bag.
2. New Orleans Saints (4-0) -- Drew Brees is doing his thing with Jimmy Graham having another monster year, but the defense is really the story here. They were quite possibly the worst defense in NFL history last season, and while even a below average defense might have guaranteed 10 wins with that offense, they appear to have an above-average unit that could portend a top-seed in the NFC.
1. Denver Broncos (4-0) -- I've seen it with my own two eyes, and it's kind of silly. Yes, they've played some bad defenses and average-at-best offenses, but the ease with which they've covered pretty hefty spreads is impressive. It seems like the obvious favorites this early in the season never actually win, so I can't say that I'd take them to win it all against the field, but I'd be pretty surprised to see them get anything but the top seed in the AFC heading into the playoffs. However, we all know that that's not what people are concerned about.