The Power Rankings are in, with one theme that keeps popping up: Nobody knows anything. That's what I keep hearing, but I will simply say everybody is beating everybody. Consider:
The Lions beat the Patriots, but were beaten by the 49ers, who lost to the Vikings, who lost to the Bills, who were blown out by the Ravens, who fell to the Bengals, who got handled by the Panthers, who lost to the Falcons, who lost to the Saints, who dropped one to the Bucs AND should've dropped another to the Browns, who just Baker-d the Jets, who absolutely blasted the Lions. Huh?
This model of parity was the vision of former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in the 1990s, as free agency and, more significantly, the salary cap bunched all the league's member clubs even closer together. On the surface, it seemed like a wonderful idea for the NFL, as now any franchise's fan base had hope in training camp, no matter how dire the previous year's record. Essentially, "any given Sunday" was truer than ever.
Speaking of the '90s and what truly evens out the playing field, look no further than 49ers at Chiefs. Jimmy Garoppolo's ACL tear changes everything for San Francisco's future, as well as removing a potential wild-card contender from the heap. It also robbed us of seeing a full 60 minutes of a quarterback duel between Garoppolo and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes. It was in the first year of the aforementioned salary cap that a QB match of epic proportions between these two franchises also took place at Arrowhead Stadium:
Montana's former teams are in symmetrical spots this week: second from the bottom, and ...
There you go, Chief.
Let the dissension commence!
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Clearly the top team in pro football. Which means all those analysts and colleagues of mine who told me I was putting too much stock in Jared Goff's performance last year ... Well, I don't know what to tell you. His accuracy continues to impress. On Sunday, he darn near averaged 10 yards per throw -- an incredible rate. Meanwhile, the defense took Philip Rivers' best shots, ultimately producing stops when absolutely imperative. That was the difference in the game. There was also better red-zone efficiency and goal-to-goal performance from Los Angeles. Well, the home Los Angeles team. You know, the one that plays on the non-soccer pitch. Gosh, this L.A. football thing gets confusing.
They say records were made to be broken, but this Patrick Mahomes pace reminds me of only one person and year: Dan Marino, 1984. Mahomes is already well ahead of Dan The Man's touchdown stride (Marino's then-record-setting 48 scoring tosses remain the most ever by a second-year player) at this point, although Marino's torrid pace down the back stretch will be tough to equal once opponents acquire more tape on the K.C. phenom. At issue for the surging Chiefs is the defense, which allowed another four bills on Sunday. Go get Earl.
The world champs are back up, but this time with more staying power. Carson Wentz wasn't flawless in the Eagles' 20-16 win over the Colts. His presence was more than felt, however, and the rest of the league should take notice. My colleague Judy Battista certainly did, embarking on a deep dive of Wentz's first action -- and first drive -- post-knee surgery. Also remember that the almost-2017 MVP was leading an offense sans Alshon Jeffery, Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles. Look out next week, everybody.
**Power Rankings side note:** The passing of Tommy McDonald this week is important. While there are so many fans and media covering the game who don't acknowledge anything pre- Super Bowl era, football was indeed played before the late 1960s. As the passing side of the NFL grew in the late 1950s and early '60s (especially with the advent of the AFL), no player was as prolific at getting in the end zone as McDonald. The Hall of Famer scored 66 touchdowns in his first seven seasons (all of which were spent with the Eagles), despite the first four of those years featuring 12 games per season. That's incredible. The next-closest guy over that same span didn't even produce 50. Think about that. You know, they used to say about another Eagles receiver that "all he does is catch touchdowns." Consider McDonald an early-day Cris Carter, but more of a vertical threat. He owned a wicked sense of humor, too. One last note here: McDonald was a bona fide star on the Philadelphia squad that won the NFL title in 1960. Yes, the Eagles were once champs *before* Nick Foles. </content:power-ranking>
*Bortlesmania* died a quick death in Jacksonville on Sunday. The Jags' quarterback (as well as his team) stunk in two outings versus the Titans last year. They weren't much better this time around, although you can't put the loss on the Jacksonville defense. How often does a team give up nine points and 233 yards -- at home, mind you -- and *lose*? With no Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville broke from its identity, logging more dropbacks than rushing attempts. Bortles posted 4.6 yards per attempt. Ugh. </content:power-ranking>
This might seem high for the Panthers. OK, fair. Consider, though, how the rest of the league is playing at the moment. Carolina controlled the Cowboys all game, went to the wire in Atlanta, then ran all over the Bengals' defense. All those who thought Christian McCaffrey couldn't be a lead back: How does 28 carries for 184 yards sound?
Heckuva bounce-back for the Saints on the road following a sloppy loss to the Bucs and a sloppy win over the Browns. Against the Falcons, the offense simply couldn't be stopped. As a sub-conversation, Michael Thomas might be the most underrated superstar in the NFL. In three games, he's posted 38 catches for 398 yards and three scores. That's redonkulous. Consider also that Mark Ingram will be returning from suspension in two weeks, and that this defense has been playing far under its potential. Ingram's return should allow New Orleans to play more ball control while giving the *other* side of the ball a blow. </content:power-ranking>
Clutch Steelers football in prime time, that's what that performance was on Monday night. Vintage. Vintage Ben Roethlisberger, too -- looked a lot more like the 2008 postseason run than the knuckleball showing on the muddy pitch in Cleveland Week 1. The defense was resilient, though obvious problems exist in the secondary. The pass rush made its presence known in Tampa, personal fouls and all. Methinks all those personal foul calls are a personal foul.
Might seem a bit unfair that the Bucs linger below two teams they already beat. The difference now is that the Eagles got their franchise quarterback back and could have WR1 Alshon Jeffery this weekend. Meanwhile, the Saints just logged a huge division win at Atlanta and will have Mark Ingram in the backfield in two weeks, which should help their ailing defense (SEE: ball control). The real question is what Tampa's front office does at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a few bad balls on Monday night, but he started unloading on-time throws in the second half and almost pulled out an epic comeback. The offense has moved the football with him under center, more so than at any time in Jameis Winston's three seasons. Easy decision.
From time immemorial, the mighty have fallen when losing the turnover battle, no matter the foe. The 1968 Colts -- one of the greatest regular-season teams of all time -- infamously fell to Joe Namath's guarantee partially because of turnovers. Dan Marino torched the NFL in his second year for the 14-2 Dolphins (as mentioned in the Chiefs blurb above) but fell in the Super Bowl because of two picks. (Not that we especially want to talk Super Bowls when it comes to the Vikings and Bills.) Anyway, Buffalo entered the Great Birdkiller in Minnesota with an 0-2 record, ranked 32nd in the Power Rankings and totally inept on offense -- but walked out with a convincing win. That'll happen when a team commits a personal foul to provide a stuttered offense with a free early set of downs ... then fumbles ... then fumbles again. Before the Vikes knew it, the score was 24-zip.
The Dolphins have earned this spot, whether you believe in them or not. Ryan Tannehill has played excellent football for three weeks running, highlighted by a 17-of-23 effort with 289 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders. No picks, either. Don't forget Albert Wilson's turn at quarterback. The defense was as shaky as it's been thus far, but the unit made up for it by creating two turnovers, one of which sealed the win. Concern? Inconsistency in the run game. Miami must be effective on the ground to be more than a wild-card one-and-done.
Before folks start complaining about the 1-2 Chargers being ranked above certain 2-1 teams (ahem, Redskins fans!), consider for a moment who the Bolts have lost to so far this season. That's right: the top team in the NFC and the top team in the AFC. The Chargers hung with the Rams at their place all afternoon. Wait until stud pass rusher Joey Bosa rehabs his way back into the lineup. Mark it down: Anthony Lynn's group will reach the postseason.
We are not going to write about a call that doesn't deserve any more characters than it received on Twitter on Sunday. As for the "football" game that was conducted (you know, that sport that involves things like "tackling"), the Packers didn't play their best. The front seven was beaten at the point of attack. Good news: seeing Aaron Jones get back in the mix at running back. Geronimo Allison continues to step forward with massively important plays, too.
Watching the Patriots on Sunday night, you got the feeling that Lions coach (and former New England defensive coordinator) Matt Patricia provided his team with a Power Point tutorial and a BMI assessment on every last player on New England's roster. Meanwhile, the Patriots could not make life uncomfortable for Matthew Stafford. Anytime they dedicated more personnel to the back end to play coverage, the Lions ran the rock -- effectively, too. With recently acquired receiver Josh Gordon in the mix, defensive end Trey Flowers presumably coming back and receiver Julian Edelman set to return from suspension in two weeks, this is not time to panic. (Well, not too much, anyway.)
In a league where the salary cap bears as much weight as scouting and personnel decisions, the most overlooked trait of a successful team is depth. No team in the NFL has been hit harder by injury than the Falcons, who, without Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Takk McKinley and Derrick Shelby, couldn't have stopped Archie Manning and Bobby Hebert on Sunday, much less Drew Brees. Try winning at chess when you're down a queen, two rooks, a bishop and maybe a knight. Even so, Dan Quinn's guys fought until the bitter end. To score 37 points at home with no turnovers and still lose ... very Steelers-esque.
The Bengals are not on the decline per se, but this is not the same team without injured RB Joe Mixon to balance the offense and provide a gassed defense with time to refuel. Sans Mixon, Cincy folded its tent on the ground game against Carolina, becoming one-dimensional and, ultimately, four-interceptional. Yes, I know that is not a word. Neither is Gio-Bernard-is-not-a-lead-back-ional (although he made some nice plays). Tyler Boyd enjoyed a nice day (six catches for 132 yards and a score), especially with A.J. Green departing early thanks to a groin injury. Of course, the second part of that sentence was the truly relevant part.
Difficult group to rank. While Ravens fans won't be pleased that they moved down a slot, I can't put Baltimore over Cincy at this point. And the main reason they dropped a smidge: The Steelers and Dolphins leapfrogged them -- deservedly. The defensive unit is still the strength of this group, yet that's the same side of the ball that the Bengals manhandled in Week 2. The passing game is still amazingly, stunningly, fascinatingly mediocre. The free-agent WRs -- John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead -- are producing, but there is little oomph. Joe Flacco's yards-per-attempt mark was under 7.0 for the third straight game. Decent quarterbacks should average a little higher than 7.0 in that category. But Flacco hasn't hit that plateau for a season since 2014. It's a problem, a huge problem. And it certainly makes matters more challenging for the run game (which was so-so on Sunday) and makes it harder for the defense to hold the fort. Thank goodness the Ravens are still viable there.
Like Baltimore, Chicago drops despite prevailing in Week 3. And like those Ravens, the Bears have an air game that is mostly stuck at the gate -- actually, it's worse than that. The similarly offensively-challenged Cardinals did everything they possibly could to let the Bears hang around and win Sunday, which is precisely what happened. The new NFC North terror, Khalil Mack, was at it again. Mitch Trubisky was more like north of terrible. He isn't losing games, but he isn't exactly helping this otherwise-ready-for-prime-time team win, either. Put another way: 21-on-21, the Bears are legit. It's that 22nd guy. Matt Nagy must create more opportunities to play to his young quarterback's strengths.
The most up-and-down, wonky team in this here league pecking order is yoooooooour Washington Redskins. Their fans are feeling half confident about Jay Gruden's 2-1 group. Washington faithful are knowledgeable about their Redskins. The fugly loss to the Colts can't be ignored. Nor can the highly controversial call on Clay Matthews. On the other hand, Washington didn't win because of that free set of downs. The ground game carried its weight with Adrian Peterson, too -- that was key in a contest that carried elements. How about Daron Payne and fellow 'Bama alum Jonathan Allen, with 10 tackles and three sacks between them? Gives me hope to not have to drop the Redskins into the 20s again. (Gulp.)
The pesky Titans -- who refuse to stop grinding, despite an injury-riddled start to the season -- are getting healthier. Sure, it was another nail-biter. But that was also a top-shelf team Tennessee bested Sunday. At 2-0 in the AFC South, with a road win against the division favorite, the Titans are positioned nicely in the wake of Sunday's defensive slugfest. That said, beating the Jags hasn't been the issue for this group; beating the rest of the AFC elite has. Throwing for 100 yards per week might also be considered problematic.
The quarterback job in Cleveland is Baker Mayfield's for now. And it should be for the rest of the season -- win, lose or draw. If Hue Jackson goes back to the Tyrod well, we might see a Michael Myers reaction in the streets from Browns fans. Don't do it, Hue. Please. Granted, Mayfield's relief performance for the Cleveland ages did come against the Jets, but don't rain on the Baker hype train. I was so happy for Browns fans last Thursday that I started looking at Brian Sipe and Herman Fontenot football cards. And while we're celebrating a genuine W as a family here, let's reminisce about another glorious comeback triumph over the Jets from yore.
The Lions turned on the power boosters in the fourth quarter of their Week 2 loss in San Francisco, and it spilled over into Sunday night. Over the past five quarters, Detroit has outscored the opposition 40-13, moving the ball with ease -- this after looking completely dysfunctional for the first seven quarters of the season. As of late, the Lions are getting the ball into Golden Tate's hands, so as to set up easy second or third downs. OC Jim Bob Cooter is also firing up the running game in the Motor City, as the Lions enjoyed their first individual 100-yard rushing performance in years (a factoid the broadcast mentioned 85 times, but not 86). Kerryon Johnson carried on past the 100-yard mark, making him the first Lion to do so since Billy Sims in 1982. OK, it hadn't been that long.
After eking out wins the first two weeks, the Broncos fell into the loss column on Sunday. The offense? Problematic. The defense? Er, needed more help from the offense. After a strong start, Case Keenum and friends stalled, with penalties being the familiar culprit. Familiar because every phase of the game contributed to a whopping 120 yards from yellow flags. Six huge points were taken off the board when Denver was called for an illegal block during the touchdown return off a blocked field goal. A score there could've changed the entire complexion of the game. Oy.
Nice win for the Seahawks in front of the home folk, who were fired up pregame by their former enforcer, Kam Chancellor, raising the 12 Flag. It was easy to stay in that mode after kickoff, as the Seattle defense played like the 2012 version of itself. Or maybe the Cowboys' offensive ineptitude made such matters trivial. Earl Thomas is making his situation *anything but* trivial -- i.e., organizations need to pony up for premier players. Thomas' two interceptions continuously made the rounds on Twitter, as did the bow in front of the Cowboys' bench. Of course, Twitter didn't seem to notice that his second pick was a bit overblown, the equivalent of somebody catching an errant beachball at a Mariners game. On that note, I bet even Jay Buhner thinks the Seahawks should pay Thomas. Let's just hope Thomas doesn't get a headache. </content:power-ranking>
Do you know what my favorite thing about the Cowboys' offense is? Absolutely nothing. "Hey, if you like offensive formations with two wing backs and one wide receiver, straight out of 1935, do we have the team for you! Come down and see us at David McDavid ..." If you want to see Cowboys scoring in Dallas, your best bet is to go to Country 2000. Actually, that place has been closed since the early 2000s. Like back when Chad Hutchinson was quarterback. In fact, I think Cowboy fans are wistful for the Chad Hutchinson days right now. Dak Prescott hasn't thrown for 185 yards in any of his last five regular-season games. ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY-FIVE = the new gold standard in Dallas. Even Clint Stoerner must've had regrets about retiring after watching that debacle in Seattle.
One week after engaging in the ol' chuck-and-duck offense, Eli Manning received just enough protection to remind folks that he used to be a decent quarterback. Manning picked the Texans apart early, helping the Giants jump out to a 20-3 lead on the way to a 25-for-29, 297-yard day. That included two scoring tosses and zero interceptions. All that, and he still got sacked four times. Not moving the Giants up much until we see more. Only trust them to beat teams like the Colts, Bills, Texans, Jets, Raiders, 49ers and Cardinals. Which is why they are ahead of the Colts, Bills, Texans, Jets, Raiders, 49ers and Cardinals.
The plucky Colts hung tough in Philly, two weeks after doing the same against the Bengals and a week after delivering an unexpected win in Washington. The movie logline of the 20-16 loss in Philadelphia: A frisky football team enters a hostile stadium with high hopes, only to see its dreams derailed by red-zone futility. Or something like that. Indy kept finding its way inside the Eagles' 20, yet three times, the Colts came away without a touchdown -- and on another, no points at all. By the way, "finding its way" might not carry the kind of action you would expect in sports writing, especially about offense. Although considering the Colts couldn't generate any Sunday (209 yards total), how they stumbled that deep into Philadelphia's side of the field almost defies logic.
Call it the most stunning result in the NFL regular season in years -- maybe since the Chiefs routed the Patriots on "Monday Night Football" back in 2014. Actually, not sure even that outcome was as eye-opening as the Bills stampeding the hapless Vikings. While your friendly hack writer was among the many who predicted a Minnesota win, that same article mentioned (multiple times) that turnovers could be the single factor to even out the tremendous disadvantage Buffalo faced coming into Sunday's game. Josh Allen faced the usual fire drill up front on several plays, but he still managed to perform efficiently as a passer whilst running for two scores. The Edwin Moses act was spectacular, man. Somewhere, Joe Ferguson must be proud. #BILLS
Have you ever seen a team performance graded at F-minus? Here ya go. Seems John McClain was in one of his moods, the kind brought about by an 0-3 start and shoddy play all around. OK, there were a couple of bright spots. J.J. Watt was disruptive, tallying three sacks and a forced fumble. The Texans mostly kept the much-ballyhooed Saquon Barkley in check. Their own running backs made up for it by averaging about 1 yard per carry. At least no one is blaming coaching for the awful start ...
The blowout win in Detroit is receding further and further into the rearview. While the defense might have been riddled by the Browns' head-banded Boy Wonder, the Jets' offense more resembled a biplane in the second half last Thursday night. Six drives resulted in a punt, fumble, punt, field goal, interception, interception. Whereas Sam Darnold was looking like Maverick after Week 1, he's morphed into Slider the last two weeks. That was the guy in "Top Gun" who had perfect hair but added little to the winning scenes. He was in "Roxanne," though. Tell me one of you out there saw that movie. </content:power-ranking>
Jon Gruden looked disgusted postgame, lamenting penalties that cost the Raiders field position, as well as other assorted mistakes. Sounded like the coach felt his Raiders played just well enough to lose at the end of the game. Oakland marched right down the field on the opening drive, thanks to Jordy Nelson's 61-yard catch-and-run and ensuing touchdown grab. (The guy produced a throwback day straight out of 2014.) The next Raider foray -- 95 yards in nine plays -- was an absolute beaut. Well, save for the last play, when fullback Keith Smith was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Ultimately, two Derek Carr interceptions were costly. Hey, at least the Raiders got a sack. Yay.
The news couldn't have been any worse for the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo's knee injury, as well as the 1-2 start, probably makes it a wrap for the Niners' season. The defense has already endured its struggles through three weeks, letting the Lions move right down the field two Sundays ago, then failing to silence the Patrick Mahomes Experience in Kansas City. Now the reins will be handed back over to C.J. Beathard, who went 1-4 with a 68.7 passer rating in his five starts last season. He's a young player, so you never know how much upside is lurking under those pads. Next up: at Chargers. Oh, boy.
The Josh Rosen era began in earnest on Sunday in Arizona. The rotten play-calling continued in earnest. Did you watch the game? Probably not. Story time, kids: The Cards handed Rosen the keys, down 16-14 to the Bears late in the fourth quarter. On third-and-2, and within striking distance of field-goal range, Arizona called a running play with David Johnson's backup. Negative-3 yards later, it's fourth-and-5. So, now we have a rookie QB in his first NFL action ever, game in the balance, versus a top-five defense. Despite having all three timeouts remaining, Steve Wilks and staff eschew stopping the clock to fully prep their 21-year-old signal-caller and just go with the play as called. Pick. Two hugely important plays, no timeout called, and their top offensive player doesn't touch the ball. Alrighty.