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Power Rankings

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Volatile opening week of play has Bears rising, Steelers falling

What an opening weekend in the NFL. Holy cow.

Think You Can Do Better?

Disagree with Elliot Harrison's power rankings? Head to to make your own, Nos. 1-32, in whatever order you choose.

Detroit looked great. Buffalo won by 34 points against a 2010 playoff team, on the road no less. Pittsburgh looked old and slow on defense, but at least made up for it by turning the ball over.

Seven days ago, I whined that the  Week 1 Power Rankings were the most difficult. May I change my tune, and say this second go around was a bit more challenging? What are we to do with the Redskins, who played well and beat a division opponent? They were 29th in my last rankings. The Bills played like a top 10 team, but isn't it an overreaction to place them that high?

Yes. There are some movers and shakers this week, like Chicago, who earned a giant jump due to Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and the biggest reason they were good last season (see below.) Otherwise, women have always told me I need to be more vulnerable, so I tried to accomplish that here, especially with teams like the Lions.

Onward and upward ...


 Green Bay looked awfully good -- offensively -- Thursday night. The defense is a mild concern, considering that Dom Capers' unit (second in points allowed in 2010) is the reason this club made the playoffs last season. That group didn't look as hot opening night. By the way, all those who thought Donald Driver was washed up were a little off. The vet was targeted seven times, just one shy of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Aaron Rodgers is going to spread it around.

 Monday night's win looked more like a seminar on interchangeable parts than pro football. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez in ... Chad Ochocinco, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead out, and so on and so forth. Every down a different grouping was running in and out, and the Dolphins responded with brain and leg cramps. I checked Jon Gruden's Wikipedia page after the game to see if he was married. The man cannot hide his love for Tom Brady.

 Who looked the best opening weekend? With apologies to Green Bay, Buffalo and Chicago, Baltimore dominated Pittsburgh by beating the Steelers at their own game with good old-fashioned defense. Here's the Ravens' line from Sunday: Seven points allowed, four sacks, three interceptions, and four forced fumbles ... all recovered by somebody in purple.

There are only two stats you need to know from the Eagles- Rams game: Philly put up a 239-spot on the ground and went eight of 11 on third downs. Here is hardcore, serious NFL analysis: You'll win a lot of games with over two bills on the ground and converting 72.7 percent of the time on third down.

Despite a small fourth-quarter letdown, and one good camera shot of the Wade face, the Houston defense looked pretty lockout-proof. Players didn't appear to be out of place due to a new scheme or lack of minicamps. Big win for this franchise, especially without its ace in the hole, Arian Foster. That's why the Texans get the high ranking.

Everyone owes an apology to the Bears. Except for me. Despite ranking them 16th last week, I've maintained as long as the defense can play like last season -- Cutler or no Cutler -- this team will be right there. The aforementioned Chicago defense allowed only 17.9 points per game in 2010. Sunday, it gave Atlanta nothing downfield. So impressive, and that's why the Bears are a big mover this week.

I wonder if the Saints give Pierre Thomas more opportunities in goal-line situations as the season progresses, although I'm not sure Marcus Allen could have scored on Thursday night's final play. Meanwhile, losing the NFL's kickoff game could be a bad omen for Sean Payton.

 For much of Sunday night, the most effective player on offense for the Jets was LaDainian Tomlinson. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? The 11-year vet had 89 yards from scrimmage on only 11 touches. While New York rang up 360 yards of offense, much of that came with Dallas' top three corners out of the game. The Jets retain a high ranking due to their uncanny ability to win so many games in the manner they did Sunday night, but dropped a few notches because of sloppy play.

San Diego withstood losing Luis Castillo, Mike Tolbert and Nate Kaeding to win its home opener in a nice comeback. That said, the Chargers dropped slightly in this week's ranking because the long-term loss of Kaeding and Castillo really hurts. At least they finally fixed the special teams. Not. (Great googly-moogly, Norv Turner has to get that fixed!)

The Detroit offense posted 431 yards on what is supposed to be a very good defense. One thing you might not have seen in the highlights: Jahvid Best's 114 yards from scrimmage. He has to stay healthy and productive, otherwise Matthew Stafford will be dropping back 50 times per game, which will put the QB's health in jeopardy. Is the 10-hole too high for this team?

Pittsburgh got destroyed, and looked much worse than some of the clubs ranked below. But until the Steelers put together two or three onions in a row, I trust Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau way too much to completely dump on the black and gold.

Dallas controlled Sunday night's game in New York -- a tough road opener considering what this weekend represented -- in every way but the win column. As long as this group falters in the clutch, they won't hit the top 10 no matter who they outplay. Defensively, Terence Newman was out. His replacement, nickel Orlando Scandrick, left in the first half. The other starter, Mike Jenkins, got hurt in the third quarter. After watching Mark Sanchez play Nerf football with the Cowboys' fourth, fifth, and sixth corners, the coaching staff could be seen talking to Jenkins on the sideline. "Can you breathe? If you can, please go replace Alan Ball."

Some cracks are starting to appear in Matt Ryan's game. This is no overreaction. The Atlanta offense continues to struggle getting the ball downfield when it counts. Overall, Ryan averages 6.9 yards per attempt in his career, 17th among active passers. That's just not going to get it done for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. On the other side of the ball, the secondary struggled Sunday. Then there were the penalties. Like Pittsburgh, Atlanta remains in the top 15 because of potential.

Darren McFadden looks great. The offense is improved. But the strength of this club lies in its formidable front four. If the Raiders get better play from the linebackers, this defense will be special. Oakland is San Diego's competition in the AFC West, especially with the Chiefs suffering from injuries and Matt Cassel generally sucking.

Yes, the loss hurt. Yes, the Bucs' all-whites don't look good. But don't panic. The latter can be fixed, and the former can be remedied by a very manageable schedule over the next month: at Minnesota, vs. Atlanta, vs. Indianapolis, at San Francisco. Who can't see the Bucs winning three of those four?

Man, Joe Ferguson played damn good Sunday. At least that's what it felt like. The Bills looked awesome in their early '80s uniforms. Those Ground Chuck teams, named after former coach Chuck Knox, surprised everyone with a division title 31 years ago. Could the current edition shock us all with a playoff run in 2011? Yes, if Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to play like he did at Arrowhead Sunday. By the way, don't laugh ... winning 41-7 on the road merits being ranked this high, although my personal sounding board, colleague Steve Wyche, wouldn't let me place them any higher.

Sexy Rexy's 110.5 passer rating was his highest since 2006. As a whole, Mike Shanahan's offense must do a better job running the ball. The 'Skins averaged only 2.8 yards per rush behind Tim Hightower, who carried the ball 25 out of 26 team attempts. Keep in mind, that was against a front seven without three of its starters.

Arizona won, yes, but did so allowing Tecmo Super Bowl numbers to everyone's favorite fantasy waiver-wire pickup (this week), Cam Newton. A 28-21 home victory over Carolina works in the win column, but only gets the Cards so far in the rankings.

The defense is depleted, and the G-Men's ranking will be low until they get healthy. Eli Manning had his struggles, and the Tom Coughlin constipated glare was back in full effect Sunday. One elixir for all three would be a more productive running game. The ground game wasn't awful, but only gained 75 yards on 20 carries. Better numbers would provide a defense that's ailing at all three levels some rest, while keeping Manning's turnovers down.

Nice win, Luke McCown. Can you pull if off two weeks in a row? MJD had a good day running the ball (97 yards), despite facing a defense geared to stop him. The Jags go to New York to face the Jets, and we'll find out just how good Jack Del Rio's team is. Then again, they beat NY up there in 2009, and finished 7-9 that season. Nevermind. Who knows where to rank these guys?

Thank you, Ted Ginn. Now that he won the game for you 49ers fans, what do you think of Alex Smith and the offense? While Smith went 15 of 20, he and rookie coach Jim Harbaugh aren't going to win many more games generating just over the Mendoza line in total offense (209 yards).

A victory. Now, the bad news. Andy Dalton is your future, Bengals fans, and his status is up in the air. Cedric Benson still doesn't know to go down inbounds when leading by three points with 3 minutes to go (before his late touchdown). Bruce Gradkowski wasn't overly impressive in relief. That said, this team could put together a string of wins. Check out this creampuff schedule: at Broncos, vs. 49ers, vs. Bills, at Jaguars, vs. Colts, at Seahawks.

 If you're a Rams fan right now, you are soooo holding your breath. How serious is Sam Bradford's injury, and how effective will he be? How long is Steven Jackson hobbled? Danny Amendola is out with a dislocated elbow. The Rams suffered a Packersesque bout of injuries, which should propel them to a Super Bowl berth. Except it won't.

 Disappointing loss, no doubt. Joe Haden was making an All-Pro case for himself, until A.J. Green caught him snoozing prior to catching a deep ball. Still, if Sheldon Brown ups his game, and Haden shuts it down on the left side, Dick Jauron's defense might be able to get off the field on third down, a huge problem for this club in 2010.

Twenty-fifth? Seems harsh, considering Minnesota almost stole one on the road in deep SoCal. But issue numero uno is the awful performance of Donovan McNabb and the passing game. Yes, the Vikes only attempted 15 passes. But the fact that they averaged 2.6 yards per attempt looms larger than the interception or two sacks McNabb took. Getting 2.6 yards per throw offers less bang-for-the-buck than the director's cut of "The Notebook." Vikings fans can't sit through McNabb playing less than mediocre all season long.

Miami fandom desperately wanted to take one from the best team in the division -- and conference -- Monday night. Unfortunately, Tony Sparano just doesn't have the horses. Still, the Dolphins' defense should be a top 10 or 12 unit by year's end. In the meantime, expect more opponents to go no-huddle or hurry-up until defensive coordinator Mike Nolan proves his unit can stop it.

Was Sunday awful? Yes. Does that mean the Colts are going 1-15? No. Sunday's debacle in Houston represented a failure in all three phases of the game, including the all-important special teams. Laying this egg at Kerry Collins' feet is ridiculously irresponsible.

How do you let the Jags put up 163 yards rushing on you? With Luke McCown at quarterback, there's no excuse for that performance ... not to mention allowing him to go 17 of 24. Tennessee had a big opportunity to steal a division game on the road against a team in transition, and let it slip away.

Where the hell did that come from? Anyone who expected Cam Newton to throw for 280, much less 422 yards, raise your hand. I must be getting sentimental in my old age, because it was nice to see Steve Smith expose single coverage in HIS old age. Still, the Panthers are ranked low because, a) they lost, and b) linebacker Jon Beason -- one of the better players in the NFL -- is out for the season.

Matt Cassel's last three games (Week 17, 2010 vs. Raiders: 11 of 33, 115 yards, no touchdowns and two picks; wild-card game vs. Ravens: 9 of 18, 70 yards, no touchdowns and three picks; Sunday: 22 of 36, 119 yards, one touchdown and another interception) were all at home. Enjoy, season ticket holders.

It's difficult to place any team at the bottom of the rankings, if only because parity is so rampant that any team can seemingly win on any day. Denver had its opportunities with No. 14 Oakland Monday night, but couldn't capitalize. Brandon Lloyd's big 2010 will be no fluke. While his 89 yards might have been unspectacular, he drew some PIs, and Kyle Orton is looking to go vertical to him often. Forget John Fox's "conservative" approach, Denver will still throw the ball.

Be honest. Was there a moment Sunday when you wondered if the Seahawks would score on offense ... all season? Maybe Tarvaris Jackson needs to pose in an ice tub like that fantasy machine Mark Sanchez. Or not.

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