On to the rankings:
1. New Orleans Saints: I thought the Saints would be Super Bowl contenders on the strength of an explosive offense and a defense that added Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd after ranking No. 4 in the NFL last season. Instead, the offense has lacked big plays as Drew Brees has struggled to stretch the field. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell has posited that Byrd was playing as poorly as any safety in the league before he was lost for the season with a torn meniscus. Breakout candidateKenny Vaccaro is ranked dead last among 78 safeties graded by Pro Football Focus.
The Saints are talented enough to remain the favorites in the NFC South, but they need to snap out of their early-season malaise.
2. Cleveland Browns' first-round draft picks:Brian Hoyer has exceeded expectations, but he didn't win the starting job in August as much as Johnny Manziel failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity. Cornerback Justin Gilbert, drafted No. 8 overall, has been benched in favor of undrafted rookie K'Waun Williams. Last year's No. 6 overall pick, Barkevious Mingo, has been limited to a coverage specialist role because he still lacks power as a pass rusher.
If we go back even further, 2010 No. 7 overall pick Joe Haden has been toasted too often, 2011 No. 21 overall pick Phil Taylor hasn't played well in Mike Pettine's scheme and 2012 first-round picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden are long gone. The offense was supposed to among the league's most wretched. Instead, it's been the defense.
3. EJ Manuel, Bills: The Bills told us what they thought of Manuel's progress when they forked over $5.5 million in guarantees for Kyle Orton, who was contemplating retirement. The coaching staff tried to hide Manuel with play-action passes and quick reads, but he still sailed too many passes and failed to read the field. The team's brass can state publicly that Manuel remains in the plans. In reality, it took only 13 months to find out he is not the solution at quarterback.
4. Detroit Lions kickers: Detroit's kickers are one of nine from beyond 30 yards. That is an amazing stat for 1970s NFL -- much less modern times, when kickers get canned for falling under 80 percent in accuracy. With a decent kicker, the Lions would be at least 4-1 and perhaps undefeated. Newly signedMatt Prater was selected to the Pro Bowl with the Denver Broncos in 2013.
5. Geno Smith, Jets: Smith has more going for him than Manuel. His offense cleared 400 yards twice in the first three games. All other Jets quarterbacks had accomplished that "feat" just five times in the past three seasons combined. Since Eric Decker went down with a hamstring injury, though, Smith has gone in the tank -- simulating his mid-season rookie slump when several of his top receivers were out. I thought the Jets would contend for a Wild Card spot. At this point, Rex Ryan needs a miracle to save his job.
6. Oakland Raiders' paycheck veterans: General manager Reggie McKenzie's bizarre blueprint for rebuilding the once-proud Raiders resulted in the NFL's oldest roster. Of McKenzie's dozen veteran free agents, only Justin Tuck, James Jones and Donald Penn have met expectations. Matt Schaub was an all-too-predictable bust after the coaching staff spent the offseason selling him to the fanbase as a savior capable of replicating Arizona's resurrection with Kurt Warner.
7. Nick Foles / LeSean McCoy, Eagles: It's easy to point the finger at an injury-ravaged offensive line for McCoy's paltry per-carry average of 2.9 yards, but Foles has been kept relatively clean in the pocket, with receivers roaming free. It's fair to take the position that Foles has been outplayed by the opposing quarterback in every game this season. The Eagles are winning games thanks to an inordinate number of touchdowns from their defense and special teams.
8. New England Patriots' offense:Tom Brady's unit would be higher on this list if not for the clinic they put on with a run-oriented game plan and a tight end-centric aerial attack versus the Bengals in Week 5. With the blockers struggling to keep Brady clean and the wide receivers incapable of separating from coverage or making plays down the field, the offense was limited to a 15-yard box. Hopefully for their sake they have now found their identity.
9. Josh McCown, Buccaneers: McCown led all NFL quarterbacks in ESPN's Total QBR last season. The game film provided evidence that the light had finally flipped on after more than decade as a journeyman. We weren't alone in predicting a breakout season for McCown. His new coaches and teammatesfully expected it as well. Sidelined by a thumb injury, McCown now seems likely to lose his job to Mike Glennon.
10. Morris Claiborne, Cowboys: The Cowboys traded up to select Claiborne at No. 6 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft after their scouts graded him as the best cornerback prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989. Less than three years later, he was benched, cleaned out his locker, returned to the team and was lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon. It's fair to wonder if Claiborne will ever start another game in Dallas.