13

What a strange first week in the NFL; there were more blowouts than a used tire pile at an airport. That’s the impact of the lockout, I guess; some teams were ready, others just weren’t. It makes it doubly tough when coming up with these power rankings, though; is a team “good,” or just more prepared for week 1 than their opponent? Is a team “bad,” or still shaking off the rust from the lockout? I guess that’s why I get paid the…well…”bucks” to come up with these things. Onto the rankings:

32. Indianapolis Colts

I know that everyone was kind of half-joking that Peyton Manning was a one-man team, and that he was the one actually coaching this team and running the offense, but in the back of everyone’s minds, they thought that the Colts could go out and at least put on a decent effort against the Texans. My God, were we wrong. They absolutely looked like the worst team in the league without Manning. They’re probably in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes if Manning is out for the year (President Bill Polian reportedly taking in the Stanford-Duke game last Saturday may be one sign of that, though Polian’s son has ties to the Stanford Athletic Department), and Coach Jim Caldwell may be on the hot seat a bit, as he’d be a convenient fall guy if nothing else. It’s going to be a long year for Indianapolis…

31. Seattle Seahawks

Not a good game between the “dregs” of the NFC West this week, including a 2.5 YPC average for Marshawn Lynch. QB Tarvaris Jackson did “allright,” but I don’t think he can carry a team to a divisional title, even in a division as piss-poor as the NFC West is shaping up to be with all of the injuries the Rams have to endure. Pete Carroll better find some creative ways to motivate his troops; there’s not a single playmaker on the roster when WR Sidney Rice is out. Maybe Caroll could give his team a magic show; start with the never-ending rainbow-colored scarf, and move on to the metal rings that magically connect, then disconnect. His players would think that he’s a powerful wizard, and play doubly hard lest they incur his magical wrath…right Pete? At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how it plays out in Carroll’s head…

30. Cleveland Browns
The Browns killed a lot of peoples’ suicide pools this week, I suppose turning them into murder-suicide…pools. If you’re a Rams fan and you picked the Browns to win in a suicide pool, I have to ask: WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!? You knew what Pat Shurmer’s offense was capable of! He led the Rams to the second lowest yards per play average in the league last year (4.6). Yet somehow, impossibly, Shurmer undercut even that low score with an anemic 4.19 YPP, which would’ve ranked dead last in the league in 2010, in his first game as head coach of the Browns. Against the Bengals. At some point, the state of Ohio is going to have to step in and rule Shurmer incompetent to implement the Browns’ offense—I know these are usually organizational issues, but with the track record this guy has, it’s like letting a firebug back out on the street with a gas can and a lighter, only the opposite of that in terms of pure excitement.

29. Kansas City Chiefs
I speculated last week that this team was in for a rude awakening to start their season because of the lack of reps their starters got during the preseason. For once, I was exactly right (mark it in your calendars). The Chiefs let Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills walk into their stadium and do everything but take a leak on the field. They’re such gracious and accommodating hosts! “Need another touchdown, Ryan? Oh, you want to get the ball to that nice young man, Scott Chandler? Why didn’t you say so!? Here, go ahead, hit him twice! No, no--please, we insist!” Things aren’t going to get any easier for banged up QB Matt Cassel when Kansas City goes into Detroit to face Ndam Suh and the fearsome Lions defensive line; something tells me the Lions aren’t going to worry about if the Chiefs have fresh linens and chocolates on their pillows.

28. Cincinnati Bengals

Good for you, Bengals! Some people would say that you still don’t have a chance in one of the toughest divisions in football, but I say the hell with those people. RB Cedric Benson had a nice game on work-release, piling up 121 yards on 25 carries. Rookie QB Andy Dalton left the game with a wrist injury, but will likely play in week 2. In his stead, perpetual QB controvery-generator Bruce Gradkowski performed ably, leading the team to victory down the stretch. Can’t Gradkowski just leave well enough alone? Come on, man, give Dalton a break; he’s a rookie!

27. Denver Broncos

I picked Kyle Orton as a backup QB in a couple of my fantasy leagues, including the ITD Morning After league. Needless to say, I’m scrambling to determine if Andy Dalton or Alex Smith might have a better chance of playing when I need a backup in week 8. It’s not that Orton’s game was especially bad, but he looked bad enough where the fans were calling for Tim Tebow. It’s an interesting dynamic up in Denver; the fans clamor for a certain guy to play, but that guy isn’t in good graces with team management for whatever reason, and never sees the field. There’s nothing like that on the current Rams roster, is there (looking at you, number 84)?

26. San Francisco 49ers

Congratulations Niners; Ted Ginn saved you from an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Seahawks. QB Alex Smith played pretty well in a game-manager role, but what’s worrisome is RB Frank Gore’s 2.7 YPC average on the ground in his first game since signing a three year contract extension. Gore looks to be aging slightly less gracefully than Meg Ryan or Rene Russo. Unfortunately for Gore, you can’t just smear vasoline on the camera lens in the NFL, no matter how much the viewers forced to endure that SEA-ARI atrocity against the sport wish they would have.

25. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton was impressive in his first NFL start, tying the rookie debut passing record, and leading his team to within striking distance of an improved Arizona Cardinals squad. That’s just what the maturing Newton needs; instant confidence that will go right to his head. This guy is going to be so built up in his own mind that when he finally does experience some adversity (and it’s coming), it will be interesting to see how he deals with it. His mechanics still “aren’t great,” but you can’t argue with the result; he may give Carolina fans a little more hope this season.

24. Minnesota Vikings

Maybe Mike Shanahan was on to something about QB Donovan McNabb, after all. 37 yards? Oops, I forgot I should write two-digit numbers out: THIRTY SEVEN PASSING YARDS!?! Are you serious? Really? Really? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!? Poor Adrian Peterson averaged 6.1 yards per carry, but it’s going to be tough for this team to beat the other teams in an apparently very tough NFC North with that kind of impotent passing attack.

23. St. Louis Rams
I don’t know if you’ve been paying any attention to sports talk radio, print media, or websites that deal somewhat with sports around this fine city, but apparently the Rams laid a bit of an egg on Sunday against the Eagles. As troubling as the game was, that’s not the reason for the sharp drop in the power rankings; the injuries to RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola, and especially CB Ron Bartell are. It’s not panic time in St. Louis yet; history has shown that Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will probably install a lot of new stuff this week, and the Giants certainly have less team speed than the Eagles, and are probably the only team in the league to sport an injury list as extensive as the Rams. But with the upcoming schedule the Rams have to take on (BAL, WAS, Bye, @GB, @Dal, NO), this is about as close to a “must-win” that a team can face in week 2. Hopefully, the team will be equal to the task.

22. Tennessee Titans
Good to see that RB Chris Johnson wasn’t rusty at all after his lengthy holdout: that 2.7 rushing average is pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty good. All kidding aside, these guys were my surprise pick to win the AFC South, and they went out and lost to the Jaguars, who canned their starting QB a week before the start of the season. It’s way too early to say I whiffed entirely on that pick, but let’s just say that I’m Colby Rasmus hitting against a lefty with an 0-2 count right now.

21. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins looked more capable than I thought they’d be last night, especially QB Chad Henne. Unfortunately, the elite teams in the league just play a different game on offense than “the other teams.” With eight minutes left in the game, the Pats were still passing, trying to increase their 14-point lead. Their thought was, “hey, we’re up by 14. Even if we don’t get the first down, and the Dolphins come back and score, we’ll just go out there and score again.” It’s tough for a team struggling to figure out their identity (like the Dolphins) to walk right into that kind of a buzz saw team right now. Henne’s quarterbacking in the fourth quarter was good, but not great; he had to keep the ball in bounds on that fourth and inches call on the goal line.

20. Arizona Cardinals
Talk about winning by the skin of your teeth; the Cardinals barely squeaked by the Panthers on an amazing punt return by rookie CB Patrick Peterson. If not for that return, who knows what would’ve happened? Beanie Wells ran the ball well, and QB Kevin Kolb played just fine in his first start as a Cardinal, aside from putting the ball on the ground twice, one of which was recovered by the Panthers. With the devastating injuries the Rams have suffered, the Cards are probably the favorites in the NFC West right now.

19. New York Giants
These guys looked awful in losing to the Redskins; just terrible. Eli Manning was way off, and the team may have lost WR Hakeem Nicks for this week’s game against the Rams. Maybe these guys wouldn’t be getting injured so much if Tom Coughlin didn’t run such cruel practices; since a lot of the players don’t buy into self-punishment, Coughlin figures that he’ll “toughen them up” by making practice miserable for these guys. You know what else makes this game miserable, Tom? Losing a lot because your best players were injured in practice.

18. Jacksonville Jaguars
Much like with Cam Newton, all this week 1 win will do for Jack Del Rio is feed his ever-growing ego. “See? I was right! We don’t need David Garrard to win!” Uh…okay, Jack. Before you know it, he’ll be putting an axe in the locker room so that his punter can swing it around wildly and knock himself out for the year. Wait, he already did that in 2003? Oh, okay. It amazes me that this guy has been able to keep his job for that long.

17. Oakland Raiders
What a big win for rookie Head Coach Hue Jackson. I like that Jackson had the balls to try a 63-yard field goal with Sebastian Janikowski at the end of the first half, which Janikowski made, and proved to be the difference in the game. Most coaches would’ve been afraid that the other team would’ve had a chance to return the ball if it was short and pissed their pants. I like seeing a coach that plays boldly and without fear; it’s like the guy in an office environment that tries to stand out and get noticed who ends up getting a promotion over the guy who tries to blend in and “not-rock-the-boat.” Jackson’s getting noticed alright; if he can challenge the Chargers to win the division with this squad, he should be coach of the year.

16. Washington Redskins

Was that Rex Grossman leading the Redskins’ attack down the field? His animal magnetism must have hypnotized that Giants’ defense into letting him throw for 305 yards and 2 TDs; I don’t blame Mike Shanahan for succumbing to Sexy Rexy’s charms. Meanwhile, I think poor John Beck missed most of the game because he stopped to help an old lady change a flat on the freeway, but it turned out that she wrestled the tire iron from him, bashed him over the head, and robbed him blind. That poor guy can’t catch a break!

15. Buffalo Bills

It was an impressive win, Bills…damned impressive stuff. Ryan Fitzpatrick has really made something of himself. So why don’t they climb any further? They played the team that’s currently 29th in the league. I’ll let Lt. Sam Weinberg handle the rest: “They beat up on a weakling; that's all they did. The rest is just smoke-filled coffee-house crap. They tortured and tormented a weaker team. They didn't like them, so they killed them. And WHY? Because they couldn't run very fast!” Thanks, Sam!

14. Pittsburgh Steelers

What a rough day for Big Ben; apparently married life isn’t agreeing with him very well. I’m not married myself, but I know enough married guys to see that “caged in” feeling they can get at times, and Ben has all of the telltale signs of being there right now. He just wants to hop on the motorcycle and head on out to a nice dive bar, maybe a hotel afterwards, maybe one where the TV doesn’t work. Just blow off some steam, you know? But he can’t because he has to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond this weekend, then he has to fix the shower head, then he has to go out to dinner with her STUPID couple friends, and the other guy doesn’t even like football, and then “No I can’t mow the lawn on Sunday BECAUSE I HAVE TO GO PLAY THE GODDAMNED RAVENS!!!” So if you’re looking for a reason for Ben’s bad game, look no further. Hopefully he can adjust to married life a little better next game when the Seahawks come to town; walk before you run, Ben…

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It would be nice if the Bucs could EVER get LaGarrette Blount some solid yards! He’s already bithcing about not getting enough carries; thanks for sticking up for your fantasy owners, LaGarrette! I guess that’s what happens when you go up against the increasing legend of Ndam Suh; you just can’t run the ball. Give Josh Freeman some credit for hanging in there and giving his team a chance to win in the fourth quarter, like he always does, but the Bucs are going to have to play a lot better than they did last week to have a chance in a very good NFC South.

12. Detroit Lions
Matt Stafford stays healthy, the offense looks good, the Lions win: big surprise. Credit Jim Schwartz for really turning around that run defense against a power-running team like the Bucs. Having said that, I’d like to see if they’re as stout against the run when playing a team like Philadelphia, that has the speed to take the ball outside of the tackles. They get Kansas City at home next, which actually may pose some matchup problems with speedster Jamaal Charles toting the rock. Then the Lions play at Minnesota and try to stop Adrian Peterson, so we’ll see how legit these guys are against the run in a couple of weeks from now.

11. Dallas Cowboys
Poor Tony Romo—somebody needs to teach this guy to chew so that he stops choking so badly. It’s getting to be ridiculous with this guy; will he ever win any kind of a game with anything on the line? If I was the mayor of the city of the Cowboys’ opponent for the week, I’d make one of those idiotic bets with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings over some ridiculous food product unique to the two cities, then send Romo a message on twitter like, “@tromo16 Made a bet w @mikerawlings re game against you; pressure’s on, bud ;)”, or something equally non-threatening, and sit back and watch as Romo yakked up another one just because a couple of mayors made a bet about 15 slabs of ribs or two dozen cheesecakes. This week, the Cowboys play San Francisco, so I’m guessing it’ll be something to do with crabs…or seafood…

10. Atlanta Falcons
I don’t understand how the Falcons dropped a game to the Bears by 18 points, aside from the fumble-six by Brian Urlacher and a few more field goals. It seems like the offense “moved the ball well,” outgaining the Bears 386 to 377 yards. So what explains it? Maybe the yards per pass numbers. The Falcons took to the air 47 times for 247 yards, for an average of 5.9 yards per pass. Meanwhile…

9. Chicago Bears
…The Bears gained a much more efficient 289 yards on 32 passes, for an average of 9.0 yards per pass. Like I said yesterday, if you only go for first downs, then there’s a lot less margin for error. If you go for chunks of yardage on pass plays, you can almost average a first down per pass. Are the Bears legit this year? Maybe. Maybe not. But they looked like they can move the ball a hell of a lot more efficiently than the Falcons could in week 1.

8. San Diego Chargers

Unbelievably, the Chargers were down in this game 17-7 at one point, despite holding Donovan McNabb to under 40 passing yards for the entire game. Phillip Rivers had just an “okay” game by his standards, but to his credit he kept his team under control until the end. The real problem San Diego had was running the ball; Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert combined for a 2.9 YPC average; that’s June Henley territory, folks. Still, their passing attack is certainly good enough to win the AFC West, provided the team can somehow avoid the early season letdowns that have plagued them in the past.

7. New York Jets

The Jets move down because they needed a gift from Tony Romo to pull out their game in week one. Also, (surprise, surprise), it’s another team that’s having trouble running the ball, as Shonn Greene and LaDanian Tomlinson combined to get 45 yards on 16 carries for a 2.8 average. If they have to turn to the air and put the game in the hands of Mark Sanchez…well…let’s just say that they aren’t exactly my Super Bowl favorites in the AFC.

6. Houston Texans

“I thought you said that teams don’t get credit for beating up on weaklings a while back.” True, but they do get credit for showing them mercy after roughing them up a bit, like the Texans did to the Colts after opening up a 34 point lead in the first half. Besides, when you have three backs that can all easily carry the water, a receiver like Andre Johnson, and “good enough” QB like Matt Schaub in a Manning-less AFC South, I don’t think even Gary Kubiak can screw things up. Then again…

5. New Orleans Saints
What a hell of a game that opener was, right? Two of the best teams in the league going at it, with the game coming down to the final play on the one yard line. I was impressed that both these guys and the Packers employ the “chunks of yardage” philosophy, and don’t care about methodically marching down the field. Let’s face it, their third (or fourth) wideout, Deverey Henderson, would probably be the number one wideout on the Rams, and would give the Rams a shot at moving the ball downfield a bit more easily. Two things that I don’t like about this team: (1) trying to force the ball in on the ground on the final play of the game with Mark Ingram; you should always put the ball in the hands of your best player in those situations, and for the Saints, that’s Drew Brees, and (2) the Rams have to play both the Saints and the Packers this season. Those games could get ugly…

4. Baltimore Ravens

Oh boy, I’m so sorry, Joe Flacco. Please don’t murder me! I swear—it was nothing personal! It’s clear that Flacco is the stone-cold serial killer that I postulated last week; how else can you explain that methodical, yet vicious, Patrick Bateman-like vivisection of the Steelers in week one? It was like somebody just flipped that switch in Flacco’s head, turning him into a Highlander-esque killing machine, intent on decapitating others to gain their power. That, or he got sick of the Steelers making fun of him in the off-season. I’ll let you decide which scenario is more realistic…

3. Philadelphia Eagles

No, this isn’t just because they beat the Rams; it’s because they’re so damned fast. They’re the ultimate “big chunks of yardage” offense. QB Mike Vick doesn’t feel like running it? He’ll hit a wide open DeSean Jackson downfield for 25 yards on third-and-eight. Or, give it to RB Lesean McCoy and watch him cut his way to a 49-yard touchdown. The defense was certainly “good enough,” though a team like Green Bay might be able to find mismatches among their stable of fast-and-physical wideouts and the “fast, but a bit soft” Philly corners. They might not be the “Dream Team,” but they’re a lot better than advertised.

2. Green Bay Packers

They eked out that game against the Saints, but as Rams fans surely know from Super Bowl XXIV, a win by a yard is still a win. I’m amazed by QB Aaron Rodgers’ command of this offense, and his ability to keep hitting targets downfield even when the Packers can’t run the ball and the defense knows that it’s coming. This is a team that’s firing on all cylinders this season, and was allowed to operate in the offseason without all of the Super Bowl Champion “we have targets on our backs” BS, letting the owners take a lot of the players’ re-directed anger in their stead. They look like the clear favorite in the NFC right now, and could only be taken down by…

1. New England Patriots

…These guys. I mean, man, Tom Brady had this offense absolutely humming on Monday night. He’s in full alpha male, “asshole” mode right now; the play where Aaron Hernandez’s long touchdown was spotted on the one and Brady made it a point to get Hernandez the touchdown anyway on the next play immediately springs to mind. This team is playing with confidence bordering on hubris right now; they were still passing the ball downfield with eight or nine minutes left in the game and a two touchdown lead. And you know what? I love it! Not the Pats themselves, mind you; I’ll never forgive them for Super Bowl XXXVI and SpyGate, but the swagger and attitude that these guys bring to the offensive side of the ball. Let’s hope Josh McDaniels can rediscover that swagger before this Monday night game against the Giants; the injury-depleted Rams sure could use it right about now.

Quick Notes

-The Rams were off Tuesday, and return to practice on Wednesday, when I hope to get a few more injury updates.

-For now, the only updates to report are that CB Ron Bartell thinks that he’s out for the year, and DE C.J. Ah You had to have a pin inserted in his injured wrist, and will miss the game against the Giants. You would think that this would clear the way for first round pick Robert Quinn to get some playing time against the G-Men, but you never know until those inactives are released…

-I’m putting together my piece on the Giants for Wednesday night/Thursday morning

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL. Follow him on twitter for the latest Rams updates (@djgelner). Be sure to follow his live blogs and tweets on game days.

 

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