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NFL Power Rankings, Week 3: Red-hot Steelers claim No. 1 spot

Good, bad, then (sort of) good news for a Power Rankings ascender this week ...

Minnesota bested its chief competitor in the NFC North, putting the Vikings a game up in the division -- and also making them one of only three undefeated teams in the NFC. The bad news came in the third quarter of the win over the Packers, when it became apparent that Adrian Peterson injured his knee. Scary stuff. But the blow was greatly softened Monday morning with the news of a torn meniscus -- which means Peterson will be back at some point this season, likely sooner than later. All of which amounts to a relatively modest jump for Minnesota.

In other news ...

Yep, talk Power Rankings on NFL Network every Monday night. Why not the Houston Texans?

For fresh thoughts on each of the NFL's 32 member clubs, see below. And, oh, yeah: There is a new No. 1.

"Why didn't you lead with that??"

Because I like Matt Asiata conjecture.

Asiata, Jerick McKinnon and the Vikes are parked at No. 7, right behind the resurgent Texans. Any thoughts with either -- or your team -- you know the place: @HarrisonNFL.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Sept. 13 Power Rankings.

The top team in pro football right now. The Steelers downed two division winners from 2015 in their first two games. They did so without Le'Veon Bell and, perhaps more importantly, with consecutive stout performances from the defense. Cincinnati did manage to rack up over 400 yards of offense on Sunday. However, the key here is that Keith Butler's defense kept managing to get off the field on third down. Not to mention (but we'll mention), Andy Dalton only pieced together 16 points. How about the impending return of Bell in Week 4? Two entities don't want to see that: the rest of the AFC, and peeps (like me) who drafted (the great) DeAngelo Williams in fantasy.

Small drop based on the current quarterback situation. Is it time to panic in New England? Probably not. Most Patriots fans would've told you back in July that they'd be fine going 2-2 in the four games without Tom Brady under center. Now that's the worst they can do. So with Jimmy G out of the starting role for the time being, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, who is out there as an insurance policy to back up rookie Jacoby Brissett? Michael Vick? Tim Tebow? Dare I say Johnny Football? If Bill Belichick can revive that guy's career, then he's the best head coach in football history. Well, he might be regardless.

Another win for the Broncos on the back of the top defense in the league. Ignore the move down, which is more a commentary on what the Steelers are doing than what Denver isn't. On that note, received several tweets from Broncos fans that last week's No. 2 ranking was too high -- this coming after months of hate mail that they weren't given enough respect. Make up your mind already! Another solid enough start from Trevor Siemian, who hit 22 of 33 passes for 266 yards with a pick.

Carolina is back in the win column again with a convincing, if not completely dominating, win over the 49ers. Play caller Mike Shula is up to his old tricks, apparently, as the Panthers ran up 529 yards of offense -- even with Jonathan Stewart leaving the game early due to injury. No problem: Fozzy Whittaker hit the 100-yard mark on just 16 carries, against a D that had just stymied Todd Gurley. Cam Newton threw for 353 and four tugs, with a clutch 16-yard scamper on the ground to set up an end-o'-half field goal. Even old, reliable Greg Olsen went off on a 78-yard jaunt -- a career-long TD catch for the 31-year-old tight end. Look out.

Impressive response from the Cardinals, who took it to the upstart Buccaneers in the first half, then pumped the brakes in the second. Drew Stanton was running mop-up duty with a ton of game clock to burn. At the heart of Big Red's win: Forcing five turnovers from a Bucs attack that put it on Atlanta's D in Week 1. Offensively, Arizona kept running the same plays on the ground, while Carson Palmer was busy averaging 10 yards per throw. Tampa had no answers. You get the feeling the Cardinals had no smiles last week at practice following the disconcerting home loss to Jimmy G and the Patriots.

Not to be all hot dogs and apple pie here, but the start of the 2016 campaign has gone about as well as a random Saturday night at Gilley's in 1980. Sorry -- dated reference there. Google it, kids. Quality defense and rookies contributing from Day 1 will never go out of style. Through two games, the Texans have allowed all of 26 points, while rookie Will Fuller has notched a pair of 100-yard outings. Oh, almost forgot: Houston has twice the amount of wins as the rest of the AFC South combined.

Boy, that Sam Bradford sure made Vikings fans (and Cris Collinsworth) light up like it was 1998 and Randall Cunningham was firing moon shots to Randy Moss. The former Oklahoma standout wowed everybody. The man who deserves more credit: Norv Turner, Minnesota's grizzled veteran of offensive coordinating. Old Norval has pulled this off before -- once getting newly acquired Bernie Kosar ready to play in two days of practice with the Cowboys after the Browns had let the quarterback go. Turner won that game back in 1993, too, with Kosar posting a 109.0 passer rating on his 21 throws after relieving Jason Garrett (who was starting in place of an injured Troy Aikman). Actually, Dallas went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Of course, Aikman only missed two games. Can the Vikings pull off the feat with Bradford starting the rest of the season?

 **Trivia:** Which head coach released Kosar in Cleveland? Hit me up: 

You are now officially allowed to be worried sick about the Packers' offense. If an air attack ever needed coffee -- if such a thing were possible -- it's this one. Here's a Taster's Choice of what's wrong with GB's O:

 Aaron Rodgers is looking for 
 Jordy Nelson with that knowing glance, and Jordy doesn't remember the knowing glance after a year off. 
 **B)** The pass protection ain't what it used to be. Or maybe it is -- ask the 2009 
 **C)** Rodgers looks off on the usual Rodgerian throws. 
 Eddie Lacy is moving with as much agility as some of the passing-game targets. That's saying something. 
 **E)** Play calling. 

Basically, you could fill it to the rim with Brim. (Oh, wait: Brim was decaffeinated. We saw that punchless offense all last year.) Here's the fun part: The defense is better -- well, other than Stefon Diggs running through the secondary like a kid at a public swimming pool. Next up: Lions, in Lambeau.

Missed opportunity for the Bengals on Sunday at Heinz Field, with A.J. Green not able to single-handedly carry the team this time around. The franchise star caught just two passes for 38 yards -- after embarrassing one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history last week. At issue for Cincy on Sunday, beyond the two fumbles: shoddy play on third down. Converting just four of 16 attempts on pro football's most imperative down won't cut the mustard against a team like the Steelers at their place. (The cheese, maybe, but not the mustard.)

So, if you started Matt Forte in fantasy, you pretty much won your matchup this week. A hundred rushing yards and three touchdowns? Yeah, that'll do the trick. In fact, the Jets were a fantasy gold mine on Thursday, with two wide receivers eclipsing the 100-yard mark and a third falling just 8 yards short. Back to Forte, though: Ask most people if he's a Hall of Fame back and you'll probably get a pensive look with a lot of "Meh." But wait a second ... Forte already has compiled 12,982 yards from scrimmage. Jerome Bettis made it a few years ago with 15,111 from scrimmage. Two below-average seasons from the Jets' new tailback and he'll easily surpass that total. Then what?

One touchdown in two weeks. What happened to the dynamic version of Russell Wilson, the one who went on an absolute tear down the back stretch of 2015? That was last year; this is now. And don't gimme any of the "We forced it to Jimmy Graham" nonsense. Although it is worth noting that, since the beginning of last season, Seattle averages 21.7 points per game with Graham -- and 31.2 without. Just saying. So much for the Christine Michael preseason Hall of Fame campaign. Not a terrible day, but it's acceptable for you the fan to characterize that fumble as "not clutch." Trusting the Seahawks to bounce back. With the only defense that can hang with the Broncos' fearsome unit, and Pete Carroll's track record, it's hard not to.

So it's 1-1 for the Chiefs, with a mixture of positive and negative after two weeks. The defense looked far better in Houston than in front of the home folks in Week 1. Marcus Peters snagged a pair of picks, and the defense as a whole made the Texans look thoroughly inept on third down. Unfortunately, the offense took a big step back from Week 1, failing to score a touchdown in a mostly putrid effort. In a healthy 37 attempts, Alex Smith threw for all of 186 yards. Yuck. If not for Cairo Santos, Kansas City wouldn't have scored at all. Next up: Jets, at Arrowhead.

What happened to Barnburner 2.0? Less than a year after the Giants and Saints tallied 13 offensive touchdowns in New Orleans, they combined for *one* Sunday at the Meadowlands. The key score came on special teams, courtesy of the Giants' most important free agency acquisition. On the subject of Janoris Jenkins, he and his secondary mates did a heckuva job on Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead, helping to hold the Saints' powerful offense to a paltry 3 for 13 on third down. Hey, Big Blue is 2-0.

Massive jump for the Eagles, based on superb play from rookie quarterback Carson Wentz -- as well as the much-improved defense. Cool graphic from Monday night: Wentz is the first rookie QB since 1970 to start and win his team's first two games without throwing a single interception. Of course, having a defense that has allowed only 17 points over two games is kind of huge (we're not counting the Bears' punt-return touchdown). Yep, with a performance like that, the only drop associated with these Eagles comes courtesy of Jordan Matthews' hands. Now, the Browns' scouting department, on the other hand ...

It was gut-check time in Cleveland, with the Ravens falling behind 20-zip early. (Seriously, how in a frog's fat @#$ did Baltimore get in a 20-nuthin' hole to the Browns in the first quarter?) At the center of the comeback was the burgeoning relationship between Joe Flacco and Mike Wallace. The two have linked up for three scoring strikes already. That said, the most impressive component of this offense might be the play of Dennis Pitta, who has returned from serious hip injuries to be productive again. Remember, this guy was essentially projected to be Ben Watson's caddy. Yet, there was Pitta, catching nine balls for 102 crucial yards Sunday.

What to make of the Cowboys? Dak Prescott showed much composure for the second straight week -- and he threw the football a bit more accurately Sunday in Landover. Dez Bryant posted only his second 100-yard game since 2014. The defense? No bueno. The unit tightened up late, but with much assistance from an off-the-mark Kirk Cousins. The lack of a pass rush (sans DeMarcus Lawrence, sans Randy Gregory) is palpable. Ezekiel Elliott can't be fumbling, especially considering the previous sentence. Protecting the football, given the shape of Rod Marinelli's unit, is a must-do for the rookie. Meanwhile, anyone else noticing how involved Cole Beasley has been? I miss the blonde Rambo look.

The defense looks -- or is? -- absolutely awful. Oakland allowed more than 500 yards in Week 1. Then the Falcons rang up another five bills Sunday. Sure, there were a couple of unlucky tipped balls that didn't flutter Oakland's way. Maybe the new additions need to get used to playing together. Covering someone would be a wonderful improvisation. Until then, it doesn't really matter how much Derek Carr produces -- or whether Amari Cooper knows that you can't run to the bench, drink a warm cup of Gatorade, then be the first guy to touch the ball inbounds. If defensive coordinator Ken Norton's unit doesn't play faster, the Raiders will be on the fast track to 7-9. Again.

Devastating defeat for the Lions, who often invent heartbreaking ways to lose games. Saw where fans were complaining about officiating on social media. They should really grow up. Now that we got that out of the way ... What the heck was with that push-off call on Eric Ebron on an apparent touchdown catch in the second quarter?!?!?!?!?! In that sequence late in the first half, Detroit went from first-and-goal from the 1 to first-and-goal from the 26, thanks to three straight penalties ... with two touchdowns (the toss to Ebron and another to Anquan Boldin) called back along the way. And that was after a holding penalty on Ebron nullified a run to pay dirt by Ameer Abdullah in the first quarter. Don't even get me started on letting a 50-year-old wideout catch the game-winner with two defenders draped all over him.

Jameis Winston received much love from the Bucs- Cardinals broadcast crew Sunday in spite of his four giveaways in the blowout loss. The point was the leadership Winston was showing on the field, especially when the chips are down. The sophomore QB remains an up-and-comer; it's just too bad he can't play the Falcons every week. Against Atlanta: 3-0, 100.6 passer rating. Against the rest of the NFL: 4-11, 79.5 passer rating. Odd.

Sunday's win puts Dan Quinn squarely at .500 (9-9) in his tenure as the Falcons' front man. The victory in Oakland displayed character for his group as a whole -- and it slowed the roll of the Matt Ryan haters. Ryan, who has fared less viably on the road than at home in recent vintage, looked superb for the better part of the afternoon. Things were going so well that two batted balls landed right in the hands of his unintended targets ... one of them procuring a huge first down. Solid, lucky and back in the win column. #riseup #stevebartkowski

The only reason the Chargers -- who made a huge jump up -- aren't higher is because of the loss of Danny Woodhead to a torn ACL. That aside, we must show respect to a team that pushed the Chiefs to overtime -- on the road, in one of the loudest houses in sports -- in a Week 1 loss before steamrolling its second opponent as if the Jaguars were the Bucs' defense in Tecmo Super Bowl. Not sure where that came from, but hand it to coach Mike McCoy and his staff for creating a game plan that served as a blueprint for how to take apart a pro football team piece by piece.

 **Power Rankings side note:** Why is it that 
 Chargers cornerback 
 Jason Verrett doesn't get more pub? 

Wondering how many people saw Andre Johnson's game-winning catch and said to themselves, That guy is still playing? The Titans survived as much as won in Detroit, riding a productive run game, repeated Lions penalties and one seriously clutch fourth-quarter toss from Marcus Mariota to put them ahead with a minute and change to go. Then Titans coordinator Dick LeBeau's defense shut the door on what had been the hottest offense in the league dating back to last season.

 **Not-fun fact:** Tennessee started five drives inside its own 10-yard line. 

Those weren't the Rams Carlos Hyde was running against Sunday, huh? After racking up 88 yards and two scores in Week 1, Hyde was held to 34 rushing yards in Carolina. Minus one very large play to Vance McDonald, Blaine Gabbert was wholly ineffective against the Panthers' defense. Give Chip Kelly's San Francisco outfit respect, however, as the Niners fought back from a 31-10 deficit in the fourth quarter, in Charlotte, where the pride of several clubs went to die last season. Now San Francisco goes on the road against what should be a supremely ticked-off Seattle team, albeit one that also can't find the end zone to save its life.

How beautiful did those Rams unis look Sunday? Wow. Oh, yeah ... the win, too. Los Angeles' front seven was outstanding, although neither ground attack could move the ball all day. The key moment of the game was not the face-mask penalty to extend the Rams' second-to-last drive. Rather, it was Troy Hill's ankle tackle of Tyler Lockett on the ensuing Seattle drive. The Seahawks' speedy wideout made a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch on Hill, but the Rams corner recovered enough to wrap up Lockett a split-second before the latter would attempt to rocket toward the end zone. All in all, it was a hot, crowded debut for the first L.A. football that mattered in 22 years. A victorious debut, that is.

This can't be an almost Dolphins blurb. Fine effort, though, to climb back into the football game at Gillette, scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half of the loss to the Patriots. Well, until you consider the fact the Fins looked completely inept while Jimmy Garoppolo was in the game. The bottom line for Miami -- other than the fact this team is 0-2 -- is that this is not a high-enough quality outfit to afford four giveaways, especially on the road. This maddening trend of coming out flaaaaaaaaaaat in Foxborough continues. Arian Foster getting injured doesn't help matters. I'm sure you're shocked by that development.

Is it just me (and, oh, maybe 500,000 other football fans), or does there seem to be much freaking out going on in Washington? Jay Gruden is already having to give Kirk Cousins a vote of confidence. Josh Norman is already having to explain that he is merely a player who does his coaches' bidding. The fretted-over running game was moderately effective, when given the chance. Fifteen run plays compared to 50 pass plays (pass attempts, sacks and QB scrambles combined) is as balanced as, well, Fox News or "Real Time with Bill Maher."

Not the best performance from the Bills' defense Thursday night. The unit suffered from the effects of which of the following?

 **A)** The short week. 
 **B)** The curse of letting 
 Ryan Fitzpatrick go. 
 **C)** Tired legs from being on the field while the offense punted versus the 
 in Week 1. 
 **D)** Not knowing 
 Quincy Enunwa is indeed an NFL wide receiver. 
 **E)** A and C only. 

Ever feel like the Colts have Andrew Luck and no one else? The offensive line is sub-mediocre, at best. The ground game is a non-factor -- Frank Gore's lunging, one-arm-reach touchdown in Sunday's loss to Denver notwithstanding. Defensively, Indy's oft-pushed-around front seven could use a sack every now and again. Nowhere are there impact players who can turn a contest on its ear, Γ  la Von Miller. And all too often, defenses earhole Luck. How many hits can the highest-paid quarterback in the league take? Hey, the Colts hung tough against the reigning champs, no doubt, but -- and forgive the expression -- they just don't have the horses to compete with teams like the Broncos.

Another stressful, late-game collapse for the suddenly-sad-sack Saints. It seems like it wasn't so long ago that New Orleans gave the Seahawks all they could handle in the playoffs. In fact, it's been nearly three years. In that time, the defense devolved from something like a Rubik's Cube for coach Sean Payton to the football equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru, while the offense thrived. Inexplicably on Sunday, Payton's staff reprogrammed the system. The defense was unbelievable (by Saints standards), keeping the loaded Giants offense out of the end zone. So of course, the special teams let New Orleans' fans down. #0-2

Have the Jags' players gotten off the plane in San Diego yet? Jacksonville came out slow, was outhustled and, perhaps worst of all, seemed to be outcoached on Sunday. The debacle in San Diego was far and away the worst contest in the NFL this weekend, even more disgusting than the Cardinals blowing out the Buccaneers. The Chargers were without Keenan Allen and lost Danny Woodhead -- THE two key cogs in their passing attack -- and still did whatever they wanted. The score was 35-zip heading into the fourth quarter. Philip Rivers threw four touchdown passes against just seven incompletions. Yes, Blake Bortles put up some box-score numbers for the Jags, but the preponderance of his production was of the Carson-Palmer-with-the- Raiders garbage variety.

Listened to Eric Davis on "Total Access" talk about the challenge of focusing on your own tasks when you know a quarterback -- in theory, a bad quarterback -- is going to be under contract for a while. Davis said you just "have to do your job." How frustrated are Bears players -- and front-office folks -- with Jay Cutler's lack of progression? Feel like we will be hearing speculation on said topic for much of this season. Fine. But what about John Fox's defense?

Not sure what's worse: losing by three scores or blowing a 20-0 first-half lead at home. Gonna double down on the latter. OK, so Browns fans -- who will watch yet another QB, untested rookie Cody Kessler, take the field next Sunday after Josh McCown played through a serious injury to his non-throwing shoulder against the Ravens -- have a season ticket to heartache. But we already knew that. The denizens of the Dawg Pound could glean a few positives from the defeat. Start with rookie receiver Corey Coleman's two touchdown receptions. Then there's the running game, which, through two contests, is averaging over 6 yards per carry, a 2-yard-per-carry improvement over last season. The defense looked much better than it did in Week 1 versus Carson Wentz. (I'm trying to avoid the blown second half and harsh penalties on Sunday here -- work with me.) Lastly, how can anyone not respect McCown? Maybe he won't end up immortalized in Canton, but the product of the Lone Star State is as tough as nine acres of Texas onions.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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