What ever happened to 2014’s cellar-dwellers?

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Many times, it takes a breakout performer to complete the turnaround every team dreams of. (Photo credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Back in August before the season kicked off, I took a look at one of the most interesting recent trends in the NFL. It’s a trend that certainly plays a part in making the NFL the most engaging sport year after year and it’s repetitive as hell:

In eight of the past nine seasons, at least one team with four wins or less made it to the playoffs the very next season.

In short, it’s the epic turnaround. A terrible team turned great in the span of one offseason. We love these comeback stories whenever they occur and the best part is, it happens all the time. Only one time in nine seasons did this remarkable trend fail to repeat itself and that happened to be last year (2014-15 season). That made this past season all the more interesting: will the trend get back on track?

You bet it did.

The “terrible” teams from 2014 were the Jets, Jaguars, Raiders, Titans, Buccaneers, and Redskins. In the preseason, it was seriously hard to imagine any of these teams playing past December. The Titans and Bucs were just starting to rebuild with rookie QBs, the Jets and Redskins seemed to lack legitimate “playoff talent,” and the Jags and Raiders were just so bad for so long that we were getting used to it. As you know by now, the team that extended the trend to nine out of ten years was the Washington Redskins.

Washington took advantage of an awful division to clinch a playoff spot as NFC East champs. They only went 9-7, but that’s a 5-win improvement from their 2014 campaign. Kirk Cousins will be the person most people credit for this jump and rightfully so. Cousins had a breakout year, throwing a touchdown in every single game this season (playoffs included) and ending the year with a top-5 passer rating (101.6). The defense should get a little credit, too, for allowing about 3.7 less points per game this season. That may not seem like much, but it can make the difference in a division where everyone is racing to finish 8-8.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Raiders, Bucs, or Jets coming pretty close to joining the Redskins. The Raiders and Bucs were in the thick of their conference’s respective wildcard races with about four weeks to go, but fell apart in the end. The Jets, on the other hand, were just a single win away. The cutthroat nature of the wildcard race didn’t let them get away with a loss in Week 17 and we saw the Steelers squeak in instead.

So, the trend lives! The Redskins were the chosen team. This, of course, now raises the question, “Who are our cellar dwellers in 2015?” Knowing how strong this trend is, can we pick a bad team to tab early and look smart when they miraculously make the playoffs? If we do, it’ll be one of only four teams that finished 4-12 or worse: Browns, Titans, Chargers, and Cowboys. Dallas is the obvious choice here, as they were playoff-hopefuls last year before Tony Romo was sidelined for the season with an injury. Unfortunately, this isn’t too exciting of a choice. The trend almost seems destined to repeat itself now. However, if you want to take a more ballsy approach, the Browns are a team nobody will be looking at. Could Cleveland be the team that shocks us all? According to the trend, they have a 25% shot right off the bat. For a city that hasn’t seen its football team make the playoffs since 2002, that’s hope.

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Did the 0-2 rule hold up?

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Andrew Luck look poised to take the Colts to the playoffs in 2015. Instead, they fell into an 0-2 hole and couldn’t find their way back. (Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Waayyyy back in late September I took a look at a trend involving 0-2 teams and the playoffs. It’s probably the most repeated stat after two weeks of football, but in case you forgot, the rule is basically this: historically, around only 12% of teams that start 0-2 end up making the playoffs.

This year, we had a staggering nine teams drop their first two games. According to the rule, only one of these teams (1/9 = 11%) would end up making the playoffs. This was hard to believe at the time given some of the heavy-hitters in the group (Ravens, Colts, Seahawks, etc.). Now that the season has come to an end, we can take a look back and answer the golden question:

Did the rule hold up?

I’ll make this simple. Below are the teams that started 0-2 and then whether or not they later clinched a playoff spot:

Detroit Lions? No

New York Giants? No

Philadelphia Eagles? No

Indianapolis Colts? No

Chicago Bears? No

Baltimore Ravens? No

New Orleans Saints? No

Seattle Seahawks? Yes

Houston Texans? Yes

So did the rule hold up? No! Not exactly, anyways.

It held up in the sense that at least one of these teams would still make the playoffs, but if going to be strict with that 12% figure, then no, the rule did not hold up. Two teams (22%) managed to find their way into the postseason, showing us that an 0-2 start is not quite as deep a hole as we thought. Or maybe it tells us that the more 0-2 teams there are, the better chance there is of multiple teams making it out alive (duh). We hardly ever see nine teams start this poorly and it’ll be interesting to see how many of these teams we’re left with next season. If it’s around the number we’re used to seeing (5-7), then I don’t expect more than one team to get so lucky.

It’s worth noting that six of the remaining seven teams on that list finished with losing records, the lone exception being the Colts at 8-8. The dreaded 0-2 start may not be a death sentence, but it still remains an ominous indication of where your season is headed. Super Bowl hopefuls Baltimore and Indianapolis learned that the hard way this season. Who will fall victim to the 12% rule next? See you in eight months.

A lot can change in seven weeks: A quick look back, then ahead

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Green Bay used to be the team to beat. Now they’re being beat and will have to fight for a division that looked locked up. Photo credit: ESPN.com

One of my favorite things about every NFL season is how we form a framework of the league in our heads, using what we watch and our own preconceptions to position teams. Power rankings are a perfect example of this. The standings reflect wins and losses, but power rankings try to explain who these teams really are based on what we’ve seen. Nobody in the history of the league has ever agreed on one Power Ranking list. Our frameworks are all different and they change all the time.

My absolute favorite part about all this is how soon these beliefs become deeply entrenched. After just five weeks, we think we know who these teams are. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. I wish we had the ability to show our Week 5 selves what we’re saying now. Take, for example, the conversation I overheard today between a couple of guys about the Green Bay Packers:

“How about the Packers? Wow.”

“Yeah they’re awful now. No chance against Minnesota.”

Imagine telling that to somebody after Week 5! Green Bay was arguably the best team in the league at that point and looked poised to meet the Patriots in the Super Bowl after cruising to a 13-3 regular season. Now they’re “awful.” Now, that’s obviously a bit of an overreaction but it still illustrates how quick things can change. That may sound obvious, but just think about how confident you are in some teams right now. What if I told you the division-leading Vikings would miss the playoffs completely? Last year, the 7-2 NFC East leading Eagles were in the same position and ended up falling short of the postseason.

The season moves so fast and we’re unable to appreciate some of the trends and changes that form the league. Here at the start of Week 11, I think this is a good place to take a quick look back at where we were in Week 5 and then see where we might be in Week 17.

Seven weeks ago…

Real Clear Sports does a good job of gathering all the different Power Rankings from major sports sites and creating an aggregate list. This smooths out some outliers and gives us a good idea of what the public generally thinks of the league. Click here if you want to view the full Week 5 rankings yourself. Some things I noticed:

To me, the Patriots and Packers were clearly the two top dogs. They were hardly the only undefeated teams–there were six–but they were dominating opponents consistently, had two of the best QBs in the league, and performed as elite teams consistently throughout the decade. We were used to these guys being on top and they were on top again.

With Green Bay dropping three straight and relinquishing their division lead to the Vikings, who are the top dogs now? New England sure seems to have a stranglehold on the league’s top spot. While I’d agree that Carolina owns that second spot, I don’t think they’ve quite yet reached the caliber that Green Bay and New England appeared to have in those opening weeks. Green Bay is still a solid team, but their recent tumble has left the Patriots all alone.

On the other side of things, you may remember a few teams getting off to rocky starts. Chicago dropped three straight to begin the season on the way to 2-3. They were getting blown out in their losses and Cutler even got knocked out in the second week to make things look really grim. But pay attention to who some teams lose to because it could tell us something. Chicago lost to the Packers (6-3), Cards (7-2), and Seahawks (4-5), a pretty tough opening slate if you ask me. Against some easier competition, the Bears have figured some things out and have an outside shot at the playoffs at 4-5.

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All looked lost when Jamaal Charles went down for the year. Instead, Kansas City has won three straight and put themselves in contention for a playoff spot. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Minnesota and Kansas City are a couple teams in a similar position. They started slow (Vikings 2-2, Chiefs 1-4), but have strung together some wins to put themselves in contention. Minnesota is obviously in much better shape, now atop the NFC North at 7-2. But the Chiefs are quietly competing in that large pack of AFC teams gunning for a wildcard spot. They looked dreadful to start the season, but now sit at 4-5, a game out of that sixth spot.

It’s important to note that despite all these changes, most things have remained the same. Carolina, Cincy, and Arizona are still flying high while Seattle and Indy are surprisingly struggling. The NFC East was thrown into chaos with early injuries to Romo and Dez and somehow it seems like we’re dealing with even more questions today. We can expect a lot to stay the same in the next seven weeks of the season, but what has the potential to flip the script?

Seven weeks from now…

It’s all about playoffs. Seven weeks from now will be Week 17, right on the brink of deciding the final playoff spots.

Are five of the six NFC spots pretty much decided? Arizona (1) and Carolina (2) look to be well on their way to division titles, while Minnesota (3) and Green Bay (4) look to have the NFC North and first wildcard spot locked up. Atlanta (5) is two games ahead of any other NFC team for that final wildcard spot. They’ve struggled lately, but still look far more promising than the other NFC wildcard contenders. That leaves the last spot to be decided by how the NFC East shakes out. The teams in that division are so dysfunctional, there’s plenty of people suggesting that the return of Romo can propel the Cowboys to run the table and steal the division. They’re 2-7 right now and would be the first of their kind to ever clinch a playoff spot. Could we see a major change in that division? Will two teams emerge in a couple weeks or will it remain the jumble it is now by Week 17? Also, don’t count Atlanta in quite yet. I’m interested to see how Seattle competes down the stretch. They had a great second half in 2014 and another good run could launch them right back into the playoffs despite their 4-5 start. They are certainly capable of stringing together some wins.

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I’m personally most interested in the Arizona-Seattle dynamic. Has Arizona officially replaced Seattle or are we just being tricked? Photo credit: ESPN.com

In the AFC, there’s a major win equality crisis. Three teams (Cincy, Denver, New England), own 90% of the conference’s wins while the rest share the remaining 10%. Ok so it’s not quite that bad, but those teams look to have their division just about wrapped up. The fourth division, the AFC South, is in flux much like the NFCE is. The Colts, Texans, and Jags are all right there at four wins. The last two wildcard spots are where things get messy. The Steelers and Bills own them for now, but expect that to change with every passing week. There’s a pack of six other teams just one game out of that sixth spot. I’m really interested to see how this race shakes out. I expect three or four teams will remain afloat long enough to have a shot in their final game. The question is, who will it be? Keep an eye on Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Kansas City.

Every week we see a little bit more and adjust our image of the league. The playoffs are great, but try and appreciate these next few weeks of football. The race is heating up and we’re in for the best part of the NFL. Anything can change.

The 12% rule: Seahawks, Ravens, and Giants headline a diverse 0-2 field

We all know how tough it can be to bounce back after an 0-2 start, so which teams have a chance to pull off the improbable?
Although Seattle may be wondering what went wrong, an 0-2 start shouldn't worry the Super Bowl runner-ups.

Although Seattle may be wondering what went wrong, an 0-2 start shouldn’t worry the Super Bowl runner-ups. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Throughout the current week, everyone from ESPN to your fun-fact-tweeting friend will remind you of the sobering correlation between 0-2 teams and the playoffs. On the off-chance that you’ve dodged the oft-repeated stat in all your time watching football, let me be the first to clue you in: historically, around only 12% of teams that start 0-2 make it to the playoffs. The reason this trend is so attractive to repeat on television and in casual conversation is because losing the first two games is so easy. It can happen to any team, really. Whether it’s last year’s Super Bowl runner-ups or a team with an injured QB, letting those two games slip by–no matter how slim the margin–drastically reduces that team’s chances of reaching the postseason. Historically, that is.

Unfortunately for the 0-2 hopefuls, we’ve seen this trend hold true over and over. Last year, only one slow-starter (Colts) out of seven clinched the playoffs. The year prior, again only one (Panthers) out of the eight clinched. In 2012, not one of the six could reach the postseason. If we’re keeping count, that’s two 0-2 teams out of 21 (9.5%) that managed to extend their season. Chances are only one of the nine teams below will do the same, if the trend holds.

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The trend makes sense. Most teams that start 0-2 lost those games because they aren’t good teams. But, as noted before, it can strike great teams as well. The Seahawks are perhaps the most notable of these supposedly “great” teams that have dropped their first two. Seattle is considered one of the NFC elite, having won the last two NFC championships and having been a yard away from winning a second straight Super Bowl. Hopes were high again this season for Seattle (I predicted a third-straight NFCN appearance), but the first two weeks have brought two losses.

My gut says they’ll be fine, as most of their wins will come at home. They’ve lost to some pretty tough competition, having to deal with a vicious Rams defense and then Aaron Rodgers, both on the road. Although there are definitely some areas to improve (offensive line, running game), I haven’t seen much that tells me this Seattle team is significantly worse than last year’s. In all likelihood, the Seahawks are the one team–or one of–out of the nine that will make the playoffs.

If there is only one team to make it, that should worry Ravens fans. Baltimore had sky-high expectations coming into this year, hoping an elite defense and great offensive line would propel them to the Super Bowl. The offense had major difficulty moving the ball against Denver in their opening loss, scoring only 13 points on 173 total yards. And yes, I know how good Denver’s defense is but I’m sorry, those are the type of defenses they’ll have to face in a playoff run. They did not look prepared to handle that task at all. The offense looked much better against the Raiders, nearly eclipsing 500 total yards. This time it was the defense that let them down, allowing Derek Carr to pass for over 350 yards and 3 TDs in a 37-33 loss. The bright side in all this is that, like Seattle, both these games were on the road and hopefully not indicative of how this team can perform overall. It wouldn’t surprise me if Baltimore still clinched a playoff spot, but they will have to do so in what looks to be a very competitive AFC North.

The Giants have put themselves in positions to win in two straight games. One of these days they might actually close the deal. Photo credit: ESPN.com

The Giants have put themselves in positions to win in two straight games. One of these days they might actually close the deal. Photo credit: ESPN.com

The polar opposite of a division like that would be the NFC East, where all four teams look to have dire issues of all kinds. This is good news for the Giants and Eagles who’ve both caught the 0-2 bug in their own special ways. If you follow the Giants this week, you’re bound to hear the phrase, “they should be 2-0.” No, they shouldn’t. They’re not 0-2 because of some freak misfortune that caused the ball to bounce one way and not the other. They’re 0-2 because of poor clock management decisions and porous 4th quarter defense. In other words, they lost because they were the New York Giants. Did they have a chance to win both games? Definitely. But to say they should be 2-0 is just plain inaccurate.

What New York can hope for is that they manage these flaws well enough to win some games. Luckily, they’re in a division where every team has problems. If they can just find a way to be the least problematic of those four, their 0-2 start doesn’t have to be a death sentence. They face the Redskins on Thursday night in a game that just became a lot more important after Week 2.

The Eagles are in the same boat division-wise, but they look to be much worse off than the Giants. In two games, they’ve managed to gather a whopping 70 rushing yards. That is disgraceful. I can’t even come up with a comparison that will do justice to how pitiful that number is. And this is the team that nabbed last year’s top running back in the offseason in DeMarco Murray. Their total of 34 points over two games actually seems high after having watched them. Like the Giants, they are blessed to be in a division that may forgive these shortcomings if remedied soon.

Speaking of underperforming offenses, how about the Indianapolis Colts? A popular Super Bowl pick that boasted the 6th-highest scoring offense last season, the Colts rank dead last in scoring after two weeks. How does that happen? Indy added veteran receiver Andre Johnson to complement T.Y. Hilton and also nabbed Frank Gore to improve the running game. Somehow, they only muster up 21 points in their first two games. Although Indy still sits in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL, I feel a lot more confident about the Seahawks’ or Ravens’ chances to rebound in the coming weeks. I have to believe the Colts will figure it out eventually, but they’ve looked downright dysfunctional to start the season.

New Orleans is another team that could benefit from a poor division, but I am honestly just about done with them. I keep holding out hope that a great QB-coach combo can carry the half-decent remains, but I’m let down every time. Last year I took a major chance and penciled them into the Super Bowl only to see them stumble to a 7-9 record. This year I tabbed them as the NFC South division winners, thinking this had to be the year they got back. Even this week I picked them to snap their despicable 5-game home losing streak against a Bucs team that looked abysmal in Week 1. Every time, let down. When will I stop falling for it?

With more than a few surprising 0-2 teams out there this season, our playoff outlook may need some adjusting. Only time will tell which of these teams can buck the trend and which ones drown in the pressure of a bad start.

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Other notes from Week 2:

–What’s going on with the top running backs from last year? I already mentioned the woes of Murray and he’s hardly the only one. LeSean McCoy is averaging around 65 yards per game, 17 less than last year. Marshawn Lynch’s average is down 24 yards and Jeremy Hill’s is down 19 yards. Lamar Miller, a back who gained over 1000 yards last year, is barely getting the ball (23 attempts) and has gained a measly 67 yards in two games. Eddie Lacy, even before getting injured on Sunday night, has been struggling as well. Justin Forsett, along with McCoy, Lynch, and Miller, has yet to reach the end zone. I realize it’s only been two weeks and I expect things to balance out, but it sure is a weird start for the NFL’s elite rushers.

–The Patriots and Packers look to be easily the two best teams in the NFL so far. New England’s offense is getting everything it can out of Gronk and Brady looks to be aging backwards. Rodgers continues to amaze without key players like Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy. And I’m definitely not just saying this because I picked these teams to meet in the Super Bowl………..definitely not.

–A cool catch from this week:

–My pick for this Thursday: Giants over Redskins. Despite the 4th quarter issues, New York has been playing decently well and will hopefully not need late-game smarts to win this one.

Power Rankings: Weeks 7-8 (2013-14)

It never ceases to surprise me how much change in just two weeks of the NFL. Weeks 7 and 8 showed us just how competitive this league can be, with “good” teams falling and “bad” teams rising. Time to revaulate what we originally thought of some teams. You’ll see a whole lot of movement in this week’s Power Rankings.

The ELITE

1. Kansas City Chiefs 8-0 (↑1) Kansas City remains the last undefeated team in the league and with it the undeniable right to the top spot.

2. Denver Broncos 7-1 (↓1)- The great Denver Broncos were finally toppled by Peyton’s former team in a game that was as good as advertised. They surely have some defensive issues to sort out and once they do, they’ll be even better than they were at 6-0.

3. Seattle Seahawks 7-1 (0)- We all know the Hawks can play at home. It now looks like they can play on the road as well, winning three of their last four away from Seattle. 

 4. New Orleans Saints 6-1 (↑1)– New Orleans came out of the bye looking as good as we thought after handling Buffalo. They’ll complete their competition with the AFC East next week in New York.

5. Indianapolis Colts 5-2 (↑1)Wins over Denver, Seattle, and San Francisco makes up the most impressive résumé in the NFL. They can beat any team if they bring their A game.

The GOOD

6. San Francisco 49ers 6-2 (↑1)San Francisco continues to roll against teams with losing records. We’ll finally see them against tougher competition (Carolina, New Orleans) after their Week 9 bye.

7. Cincinnati Bengals 6-2 (↑1)– After a ruthless pounding of New York, Cincy is now 3-0 against the AFC East. Miami awaits as the last chance to break that streak, but expect this impressive Bengals team to complete the sweep.

8. New England Patriots 6-2 (↓4)– Just as New England was ready to join KC and Denver as one of the top teams, they drop one to division rival New York. In both their losses (other to Cincy), stopping the run has been a huge problem.

9. Green Bay Packers 5-2 (0)– Green Bay extended their post-bye winning streak to four with crushing wins over Cleveland and Minnesota. Aaron Rodgers’ offense looks as good as we expected.

10. Detroit Lions 5-3 (0) Calvin Johnson showed us the arguably greatest four-quarter receiving performance the NFL has ever seen. Though only by one, the win over Dallas has Detroit feeling good heading into the bye. They are in a great position to compete for a playoff spot.

11. San Diego Chargers 4-3 (↑1)- A win over Jacksonville and a bye in Week 8 doesn’t tell us any more about San Diego than we already knew. They are on the cusp of success but their inconsistency is what is holding them back.

12. Dallas Cowboys 4-4 (↑1) I won’t hold the loss to Detroit against the Cowboys too much. While they gave up a great chance to extend their division lead, they still look like they should win the NFC East.

13. Arizona Cardinals 4-4 (↑6) It’s a shame Arizona is in such a tough division because they play better than most four-loss teams. They have a real shot to surprise us in the coming weeks.

14. Carolina Panthers 4-3 (↑10) Such a large jump may look like an overreaction but with the NFL as competitive as it is, most teams would be lucky to win three in a row like Carolina has.

 15. New York Jets 4-4 (↑7) It’s time I finally give New York some credit. They beat New England for their fourth win, which is more than I thought they’d have at this point. They aren’t great, but they can play.

16. Baltimore Ravens 3-4 (↓5) I fully expect the Ravens to rebound but their sloppy loss to Pittsburgh drops them where they deserve to be.

 17. Chicago Bears 4-3 (↓2) The injury to Jay Cutler couldn’t have come at a worse time with two key division games looming.

18. St. Louis Rams 3-5 (0) Not unlike Arizona, St. Louis is one of the best three-win teams out there and have faced some brutal competition. With their close game with Seattle, the Rams showed us they will fight in each and every game.

19. Tennessee Titans 3-4 (↑1) Tennessee showed us they are not ready to compete with the big boys after three straight losses to the NFL’s elite. Still, they could get away with a wildcard spot in the AFC if they string together some key wins.

20. Buffalo Bills 3-5 (↑3)- At 3-5, Buffalo is on the brink of success or failure. Their next three games will be the deciding weeks for their season. Losing EJ Manuel for that time is not encouraging. 

miami-dolphins-logo-hi-res-201321. Miami Dolphins 3-4 (↓7) They came out of the gate fantastic, but all of sudden Miami cannot win a game. They are quickly plummeting to the bottom of the AFC East. They need a spark.

The AVERAGE

22. Cleveland Browns 3-5 (↓6)– Just like Miami, Cleveland has dropped multiple games in a row. The QB change to Jason Campbell was a necessary one but I’m not sure if he can turn this season back around.

23.Philadelphia Eagles 3-5 (↓6) If the loss the Giants showed Philly anything, it’s that Nick Foles needs to be starting at QB. He’ll be back from his injury to face the Raiders in Week 9.

24. Oakland Raiders 3-4 (↑3) Oakland picked up yet another win and it looks like Terrelle Pryor is their best option at QB for the foreseeable future. 

25. Atlanta Falcons 2-5 (0) The win over Tampa put the Falcons in a position to make a comeback this season but they failed to capitalize with a loss the next week. With New Orleans running away with the division, Atlanta is running out of time.

26. Houston Texans 2-5 (↓5) Houston looked better against KC but still couldn’t end their drought. A key matchup with Indy in Week 9 could be a defining week in the Texans’ season.

The BAD

27. Washington Redskins 2-5 (↓1) Though allowing 45 points looks bad, Washington’s defense looked stronger than they have in previous weeks, against Peyton Manning no less. In a weak NFC East, the season will live or die with the success of the D.

The UGLY

28. New York Giants 0-6 (↑2) Two straight wins going into the bye week is something to cheer about for Giants fans, but against better teams than Minnesota and Philly, a 4:1 FG-TD ratio isn’t going to cut it (8 FGs to 2 TDs in last two games).

29. Pittsburgh Steelers 2-5 (0)- After looking good and allowing less than 90 rushing yards in two straight weeks, the Pittsburgh D couldn’t handle Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden, allowing nearly 200 yards to the Oakland rush.

30. Minnesota Vikings 1-6 (↓2) Minnesota hoped Josh Freeman was the temporary answer to their struggles. His debut fell flat and the ball was handed back to Ponder after an injury. Neither QB could produce a win.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-7 (0)- They may not be the worst team in the league, but Tampa doesn’t look like they can win any time soon, especially after allowing 31 points in three straight.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars 0-8 (0)- With an offense that simply fails to produce points (worst in NFL) and a defense that refuses to stop anybody (worst in NFL), Jacksonville is playing like one of the worst teams in history.

Biggest jump: Carolina Panthers (↑10)

Biggest fall: Miami Dolphins (↓7)

Power Rankings: Weeks 5-6 (2013-14)

Teams are starting to form an identity after six weeks of play. There is still a lot of football to play and I expect even more shifting in the future. Here are the Power Rankings after six weeks:

The ELITE

1. Denver Broncos 6-0 (0)- Denver was finally placed under some pressure in a game where their defensive flaws were exposed. Peyton Manning responded with heroics and the defense finally made a key stop, but this team no longer looks unbeatable.

2. Kansas City Chiefs 6-0 (↑4) Six weeks in and Kansas City remains unbeaten. They may have not faced the toughest opponents, but until they lose they will remain a top team.

3. Seattle Seahawks 5-1 (↓1)- Seattle’s road struggles finally caught up to them in Indianapolis. Even with that loss, Seattle remains one of the scariest teams in football.

4. New England Patriots 5-1 (0)– More teams than Cincinnati better find a way to end this team effectively or else New England will keep finding ways to win. Injuries are a growing concern as more Pats go down.

5. New Orleans Saints 5-1 (↓2)– Everyone was poised and ready to see this team sail into the bye 6-0. Their inability to stop New England late turned that bye into a bitter welcome, but expect the Saints to bounce back.

 

The GOOD

6. Indianapolis Colts 4-2 (↓1)– The big win over Seattle had me tabbing this team as one of the NFL’s best. The loss to San Diego now leaves me unsure.

7. San Francisco 49ers 4-2 (0)– After losses to two good teams (Seattle, Indy), the Niners pounded inferior teams relentlessly, hanging 30 on the scoreboard in the last three games. Expect the pounding to continue against Tennessee and Jacksonville.

8. Cincinnati Bengals 4-2 (↑4)– Holding Tom Brady to six points is never easy, I don’t care what weapons he has. Along with the close win on the road in Buffalo, Cincy is sitting pretty on top of the AFC North.

9. Green Bay Packers 3-2 (↑4)– Green Bay couldn’t have asked for better results out of the bye, crushing division rival Detroit and grinding out a road win in Baltimore.

10. Detroit Lions 4-2 (↑4) Detroit did a nice job handling Cleveland on the road after a poor showing in Green Bay. Six weeks through and they share the lead of the NFC North.

11. Baltimore Ravens 3-3 (↓2) Don’t call this team streaky. Alternating wins and losses in the past four weeks show inconsistency. A win in Pittsburgh next week should continue the trend.

12. San Diego Chargers 3-3 (↓2)- Speaking of inconsistency, we have San Diego. The Bolts haven’t won or lost two games in a row this season. To add to the confusion, the followed a bad loss to Oakland with an impressive win against Indy. Which San Diego is the real San Diego?

13. Dallas Cowboys 3-3 (↑6) Dallas finally looks like they have found a groove. They gave Denver their biggest challenge by far and handled division rival Washington. Dallas fans are hoping this isn’t just a home trend, especially with three of the next four on the road.

miami-dolphins-logo-hi-res-201314. Miami Dolphins 3-2 (↓6) Miami wasn’t able to handle their two tests on the road against Baltimore and New Orleans. Another test awaits them in Week 8 when they travel to New England.

 

The AVERAGE

 15. Chicago Bears 4-2 (0) Chicago owns the other share of the NFC North lead with Detroit at 4-2, but their body of work isn’t as impressive. Three of their wins have come against teams with a combined 2-14 record.

16. Cleveland Browns 3-3 (↑4) Cleveland’s impressive three game winning streak finally came to an end against Detroit. The road doesn’t get any easier with Green Bay and KC coming up.

17. Philadelphia Eagles 3-3 (↑7) It’s hard to get too excited over Philly’s two straight wins over winless Tampa and New York, but in the end they are worth as much as any other win.

18. St. Louis Rams 3-3 (10) The Rams have officially thrown me for a loop. Ranked 18th in my first power rankings, then 28th in weeks 3-4, now back up to 18th. Crushing wins over Houston and Jacksonville look good on the field but I am cautious to put them any higher in a tough division.

19. Arizona Cardinals 3-3 (↑3) I labeled Arizona pretenders last week and I was surprised to see them hang tough with the Niners. Arizona may surprise some unsuspecting teams down the stretch.

20. Tennessee Titans 3-3 (↓3) After KC and Seattle, the tough road continues for Tennessee with San Fran coming to town.

21. Houston Texans 2-4 (↓10) The Texans have dropped four in a row, three of them in ugly fashion. They need to figure out what is going on before they are left out of the division race altogether. With Indy and Tennessee at 4-2 and 3-3, Houston is still in it.

 22. New York Jets 3-3 (↑1) After a big win in Atlanta where Geno Smith excelled, New York resorted back to their old ways and turned over the ball, allowing Pittsburgh to get their first win.

 

The BAD

23. Buffalo Bills 2-4 (↓5)- Buffalo just missed a big victory over Cincy and now find themselves last in the AFC East. A game in Miami has early playoff implications.

24. Carolina Panthers 2-3 (↓3) Second in the NFC South and top 10 in rushing yards, passing defense, and rushing defense, Carolina has the makings of a good team on paper. They need to beat a quality team before that becomes a reality.

25. Atlanta Falcons 1-4 (↓9) In the last Power Rankings I said Atlanta needs to be 5-3 by Week 9 or there is problem. Having already lost to the Jets, there is a real problem. It’s inexplicable that they have only mustered one win with all the talent they possess.

26. Washington Redskins 1-4 (0) Sure, Washington has lost to quality teams but last year’s Redskins would have beaten at least one of them. Robert Griffin is not the same but it is the entire team that needs to improve.

27. Oakland Raiders 2-4 (↑3) Oakland surprised the Chargers bringing their win total to two. A potential spoiler team in the making?

 

The UGLY

28. Minnesota Vikings 1-4 (↓3) At 1-4, it was clear a change was needed. With Josh Freeman starting at QB the next game, we’ll see if that was the right change to make.

29. Pittsburgh Steelers 1-4 (0)- Pittsburgh finally ended the drought with a win over the Jets. It’s not too late to salvage a respectable record but they still have issues to sort out.

30. New York Giants 0-6 (↓3) Blame Eli for the picks, the O-line for lack of protection, the defense for too many points, or the coaching staff for poor decisions. If you ask me, the crippling struggles in New York are a team effort.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-5 (0)- Tampa Bay is full of problems from the inside. The tension surrounding coach Schiano is not doing them any favors.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars 0-6 (0)- Jacksonville actually earned some recognition with their tough play against Denver. I have respect for any team that continues to fight despite what their record is.

Biggest jump: St. Louis Rams (↑10)

Biggest fall: Houston Texans (↓10)

Power Rankings: Weeks 3-4 (2013-14)

In case you’re not caught up, I’m posting Power Rankings every two weeks this season. Substantial jumps and falls in the ranks should be expected. Weeks 3 and 4 didn’t clear up everything, but it certainly gave us a better indication as to where these teams stand. I’m especially excited at the prospect of unexpected success, like the kind we’re seeing in Tennessee, San Diego, Detroit, and Kansas City. Which of these teams are showing us their true colors? Weeks 5 and 6 may answer even more questions. After four weeks in the books, here’s where each team stands:

The ELITE

1. Denver Broncos (0)-A couple more offensive explosions–giving them 179 points scored on the year–should leave no doubt in anybody’s mind as to who’s playing the best football right now.

2. Seattle Seahawks (0)-Another road scare at Houston doesn’t exactly convince me that Seattle can excel on the road. Nevertheless, I have to give them credit for hanging in the game and winning their fourth straight.

3. New Orleans Saints (↑2)With Sean Payton back at the helm and Drew Brees playing at his consistently elite level, it’s safe to say the Saints are back.

4. New England Patriots (↑6)Last week I said the Pats need to figure it out on offense to stay undefeated. Racking up 30 on the road in Atlanta is exactly the kind of performance I needed to see from a resourceful New England team. 

 

The GOOD

5. Indianapolis Colts (↑12)After struggling against Oakland and losing to Miami, Indianapolis made a statement on the road in San Francisco. This team looks scary when they are on.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (↑7)It’s an all-around effort in KC, where Alex Smith is making smart throws (only two picks) and the defense is keeping every team under 17 points thus far. That’s a formula for success. With the Titans and Raiders on the slate, a 6-0 start for these new-look Chiefs is a real possibility.

7. San Francisco 49ers (↓4)-Two bad losses to Seattle and Indy can’t be ignored, but I trust Jim Harbaugh to have this team on track following the dominating win in St. Louis.

miami-dolphins-logo-hi-res-20138. Miami Dolphins (↑4)One bad loss to the Saints is the only blemish on Miami’s otherwise great start. Picking up a win against the Ravens the following week will go a long way for the team’s psyche.

9. Baltimore Ravens (↑2)-I loved what the Ravens showed me against the Texans, but I hated what I saw against the Bills just as much. That’s a game Baltimore probably feels they could have won. Their response in Miami next week will show me if they have what it takes to go the distance this season.

10. San Diego Chargers (↑4)With 1,199 passing yards, 11 TDs, only 2 picks, and a 118.8 passer rating, Philip Rivers is one of the top three QBs in the league right now. San Diego needs to pick up wins while Philip is hot.

11. Houston Texans (↓3)Houston’s issues finally caught up with them. After escaping with wins against San Diego and Tennessee, the Texans paid dearly against Baltimore and got bit late by Seattle. A tough contest at San Francisco might mean a third-straight loss for the underachieving Texans.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (↓3)At 2-2, you might say Cincinnati’s division champ bid isn’t going well so far. Lucky for them, the rest of the AFC North is struggling at 2-2 or worse. Still, I have to believe that Cincy’s play will need to improve if they want the AFC North crown.

13. Green Bay Packers (↓9)-Green Bay’s two losses have come in shootouts. A timely bye week should patch up some problems on defense. If not, it could be more of the same against a Detroit team who put up 40 on the Bears in Week 4.

14. Detroit Lions (↑6)-The one loss to Arizona is the only thing standing in the way of a 4-0 start. Hard to believe, but sure enough Detroit has come out of the gates playing tough and winning games.

 15. Chicago Bears (↓8)What looked to be a dream start for the Bears came to a screeching halt against the Lions. The 40-32 final score is a lot closer than the game really was and it might get ugly against an even better offensive Saints team next week. Can Chicago hold their own?

 

The AVERAGE

16. Atlanta Falcons (↓10)-Atlanta is without a doubt the best 1-3 team out there right now. They’ve lost to quality opponents, which is cause for concern come playoff time. Up next for Atlanta is the Jets, Bucs, Cards, and Panthers. If they aren’t 5-3 by Week 9, there is a real problem.

17. Tennessee Titans (↑10)He may not have been the most accurate QB, but Jake Locker was having a strong year. His hip injury will now sideline him for 4-8 weeks. Not the best time for your QB to go down with KC, Seattle, and San Francisco coming up.

18. Buffalo Bills (↑7)Don’t mess with the Bills at home. Unfortunately, half of Buffalo’s games are on the road and they might run into trouble. EJ Manuel’s work is cut out for him.

19. Dallas Cowboys (↓3)The Cowboys are certainly not playing like division leaders, but that’s where they find themselves. They need to take advantage of the good standing and pick up key wins against Washington and Philly in weeks 6 and 7.

20. Cleveland Browns (↑10)-Cleveland is putting itself in a position to win most games and have come away with two straight. Brandon Weeden’s injury may have been the break Cleveland needed, as Brian Hoyer has filled in nicely. With a rugged defense behind him, Hoyer won’t have to put up spectacular numbers for Cleveland to win.

21. Carolina Panthers (↑5)-The bye week (obviously) didn’t help me figure out Carolina. The big win over the Giants could be a mirage of success. With some easy teams coming up, the Panthers have a real chance to show me that they belong in the conversation with some of the better teams in the league.

 

The BAD

22. Arizona Cardinals (↓3)-I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t believe this team can compete until the very end. We’ll see where they are by week 10, after facing San Fran, Seattle, Atlanta, and Houston. It’s up to them to prove me wrong.

 23. New York Jets (↑5)New York’s poor performance in Tennessee was a bit of a reality check. Geno Smith is turning the ball over too much, putting immense pressure on the D to deal with tough field position.

24. Philadelphia Eagles (↓9)-It didn’t take long for Philly’s new offense to be figured out. Being efficient on offense, as Denver, KC, and San Diego were, keeps Vick and McCoy on the sidelines. This works against most teams, but Philly has yet to find a way get past it after three-straight losses.

25. Minnesota Vikings (↓4)-Minnesota finally broke out of the 0-fer club, but against the woeful Steelers. The bye week will need to be utilized well because Minnesota still has plenty of issues, starting with their worst-ranked pass defense.

26. Washington Redskins (↓2)All of Washington let out a sigh of temporary relief as they scraped past the Raiders. Can they possibly turn this into something to work off of?

27. New York Giants (↓5)-It’s a dark time for New York after being crushed late in their last three games. The team is still hopeful, but I can’t help but wonder when there first win will come. It may sound crazy, but thanks to an awful start for the NFC East, New York isn’t completely out of it yet.

28. St. Louis Rams (↓10)St. Louis was such a tough team to beat last year and things were sure looking up. They’ve been exposed early this season.

 

The UGLY

29. Pittsburgh Steelers (↓6)Big Ben says Pittsburgh may be the worst team in the league. I don’t think it’s quite that bad, but he’s not far off. What is this team doing?

30. Oakland Raiders (↑1)-Oakland may not be as bad as we first thought, but then again, their one win is against Jacksonville. Oakland just needs to focus on what they can do right and build on it each game.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (↓2)-Mike Glennon didn’t impress in his first start, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. How prepared will he be after a bye?

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0)-You know it’s bad when Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Oakland are finding comfort in saying, “Well at least we’re not as bad as Jacksonville.”

Biggest jump: Indianapolis Colts (↑12)

Biggest fall: St. Louis Rams, Atlanta Falcons (↓10)