Analysis

Patriots, Packers, Cardinals boast top triplets at 2015 midseason

Last October, inspired by the explosive production of the 2014 Cowboys, Steelers and Packers, we issued our first rankings of the NFL's "Triplets" (a term first used to describe the early-'90s Dallas Cowboys' unstoppable trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin). We updated those rankings over the summer, but there wasn't a ton of change despite DeMarco Murray's move to the Northeast or Jimmy Graham's departure to the Pacific Northwest.

What a difference a few months makes.

Here's our 2015 midseason rankings (after an injury-infested Week 8), with this as our simple-if-imperfect standard: We're using each team's current triplets headed into Week 9 (give or take a few injury question marks).

(NOTE: Preseason rankings were drawn from this June hierarchy.)

Preseason rank: No. 5

Brady's empirically better than he's ever been, Lewis is another scrapheap revelation for Bill Belichick, and Gronk is the best to ever play his position.

Preseason rank: No. 2

Rodgers had barely skipped a beat without Jordy Nelson 'til last Sunday night, but that was rough. As our guy Ike Taylor says, "Cobb scares nobody." Lacy needs to skip a meal or 12.

Preseason rank: No. 24

This mature trio might look like the casting call for a Cialis ad, but the vets are functioning at the highest level on NFL gridirons so far this season. (Did anybody see the Chris Johnson resurgence coming?)

Preseason rank: No. 16

Doubts about Dalton will rightly remain until the "Red Rifle" does it in January, but in the meantime, it's hard to poke holes in how he's playing this year in Hue Jackson's offense. (P.S. Give Cincy's O-line a heap of credit: From what my relatively untrained eye sees, it's as good as the one in Big D.)

Preseason rank: No. 11

Julio's been as good as any wideout this year, which has opened things up for Freeman, who's been as good as any runner this year, which has opened things up for Julio.

Preseason rank: No. 9

Remember when everyone buried Carolina after the Kelvin Benjamin injury? No slight to Stewart or Olsen, who've picked up the slack, but Cam's got this team at 7-0 with Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown as his starting WRs. Numbers be damned: He's only behind Brady in the MVP race.

Preseason rank: No. 5

We anticipated some early-season growing pains for an offense in transition -- and we've gotten 'em.

Preseason rank: No. 1

Too soon. Not ready to talk about it yet.

Preseason rank: No. 11

When Eli is kept clean, he remains one of the better options in our QB-starved world. Beckham (who made a one-handed catch last year) has been alternately invincible and invisible.

* I'm sure Giants fans will complain about placing behind the Bell-depleted Steelers' trio, but assuming DW and RJ are close to a wash, yes, I'll take BR/AB over EM/OB any day.

Preseason rank: No. 19

Peterson looked a wee bit sluggish in those first couple games, but he appears to be back at full speed of late. Bridgewater and fifth-round rookie Diggs fit like a glove.

Preseason rank: No. 4

Colts fans -- people who are rooting for the Colts to win games -- are calling for pro football's "The Natural" to be replaced under center by a bald 40-year-old guy. Enough said.

Preseason rank: No. 12

Individually and collectively, this trio has been showing signs of life. Going forward, Ingram has to be the lead man -- while Brees has to let Ingram be the lead man.

Preseason rank: No. 15

Don't tell anybody, but Rivers is on pace to break the single-season record for passing yards. Almost every week, No. 17 reminds us he's a Hall of Fame talent ... but almost every week, the Chargers come up short on the scoreboard (because of an awful O-line and worse defense). Sad news on Keenan Allen -- but from a strictly football perspective, future HOFer Gates is a good fallback. Regardless, season's over for these Bolts.

Preseason rank: No. 26

Carr-to-Cooper is the stuff of dreams for Raiders fans (and a duo for which Al Davis would swoon). Next test for the ahead-of-schedule trio: The Steelers (whom the mostly crummy 21st-century Raiders surprisingly have beaten in four of the last five).

Preseason rank: No. 27

Sorry, Geno: Fitz is gutting it out in Week 9. Ivory is a punishing runner some fans still don't know and some DBs would like to forget. Marshall has reminded the world this season that he's still one of the best in the biz (at least when he's not screwing up).

Preseason rank: No. 21

Don't wanna judge these guys too harshly coming off a disappointing performance in Foxborough. Come to think of it, it's tough to judge these guys too harshly when they're playing behind that awful O-line.

Preseason rank: No. 7

It's been beaten into the ground, so no need to pile on here: 7-0 is owed to the league's best D. Peyton and Co. have mostly just been along for the ride. Then again, last Sunday night's performance was awfully encouraging.

Preseason rank: No. 28

Hope you listened two years ago when I told you Gurley was a generational talent who'd dominate in the NFL. In spite of the mediocre Foles, the Rams have a very good shot at riding the Georgia star (and that D) all the way to a game or two in January 2016. (P.S. I also hope you were listening when I told you in August that Austin would finally start contributing in the passing game this season.)

Preseason rank: No. 18

Sounds like Forte (who's a souped-up version of should-be HOFer Roger Craig) dodged a more significant injury, so we're including him here, even though his status for Week 9 doesn't look great. Jeffery is showing he's a legit No. 1 in the absence of Marshall. Cutler's been good over the last few games, which is weird to type.

Preseason rank: No. 23

If you think this group should be higher, don't blame me: The real culprit here is the injury bug, who's kept the trio of Tyrod, Shady & Sammy on the sidelines for way too much time in 2015. Half a season remains for them to prove they should be higher.

Preseason rank: No. 8

The inexplicable lack of production from this collection of high-end talent is, well, inexplicable. Jim Bob Cooter, it's time to prove you're more than a punch-line name.

Preseason rank: No. 14

Do not count me among those who think Mark Sanchez would be any better, but Bradford is just not getting it done for Chip Kelly. Do count me among those who think Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles are at least as effective as Murray.

Preseason rank: No. 17

Steve Smith Sr. is one of our favorite personalities -- and was one of the few bright spots for the Ravens this year. (Shame the devil if he doesn't get a gold jacket the first year his name comes up.) We know Flacco is nails in Heinz and/or January, but that latter part appears moot at the moment.

Preseason rank: No. 25

Winston's getting better each week, thanks in large part to the large Evans. The lighter Martin is proving to be a bigger handful for defenses this year.

Preseason rank: No. 29

Laugh all you want, but the 2-5 Jags have a legitimate shot at winning the apocalyptically-bad AFC South this year. Yeldon and Robinson are for real, and while it might be damning with faint praise, Bortles played the best ball of his career in October.

Preseason rank: No. 13

The season should've realistically ended when the spectacular Jamaal Charles went down, but thanks to ever-steady Smith, the Chiefs still have a shot at a wild card in the top-heavy AFC. (Whatever became of the guy who replaced Smith in SF?)

Preseason rank: No. 6

Silver lining to a season scuttled by injuries to the Cowboys' two remaining members of 2014's electric triplets? Romo's value can never be questioned again. (Joe Randle's got a rough top line on the résumé: "Too wacky for the Cowboys.")

Preseason rank: No. 30

You like that? OK, but count me out. Sorry, but Cousins just isn't talented enough to consistently overcome his propensity to throw bad picks. Morris is as steady as it gets, and Garcon deserves more credit for delivering no matter who's throwing him the ball.

Preseason rank: No. 22

Like the late, great Jerry Orbach says at the end of "Dirty Dancing," "When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong." I was wrong about Ryan Mallett, who I thought had the credentials (big arm, SEC track record of success, learning from Tom Brady for several years) to succeed in 2015. Hopkins is among the best wideouts in the league, even if people don't realize it yet. Bummed about Arian Foster suffering another injury.

Preseason rank: No. 32

Other than job security, what motive is there for Pettine to start a 36-year-old QB in a lost season instead of finding out about a first-round pick? I know Crowell's not the primary concern right now, but where has the RB been this season? He looked like a potential star in stretches last year.

Preseason rank: No. 20

I remember watching Colin Kaepernickrun away from the Packers' D in Candlestick and thinking the game would never be the same. Now, Kap's been replaced by Gabbert. Yikes. Boldin, however, is timeless, and Hyde is the future (even if his status for Week 9's uncertain).

Preseason rank: No. 31

Mariota and Sankey looked spectacular in Week 1 ... but Week 1 was a long time ago. Yes, I'm giving the Titans a break by including Wright, even though he's gonna miss a week with a knee injury. This team needs a break. Good luck, Mularkey.

Follow Dave Dameshek on Twitter @Dameshek.

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