(NOTE: Rankings are considered by wins and losses, margins of victory and defeat, quality of opposition, and recent record trends)
1. Houston (5-0) (Last week: 1)
Despite improving to 5-0 after a closer-than-imagined win over the Jets, Houston will now have to brave the trail of their best start in franchise history without Brian Cushing, who is lost to a torn ACL for the season. Cushing has never missed a game due to injury, and was on pace for 70-80 tackles in 2012.
2. Atlanta (5-0) (Last week: 2)
Matt Ryan’s on pace to have over 40 touchdowns this season (13 after 5 games), which would obliterate his previous season high of 29 set last year. Michael Turner’s also getting back to form; he had just 74 yards rushing in his first 2 games, but has added 250 since then over the last 3.
3. San Francisco (4-1) (Last week: 3)
Did you know that the 49ers are 13-0 lifetime when they run for 300+ yards in a single game? The 311 yards hung on Buffalo Sunday was the 49ers’ first time clearing three bills since December 1998. Amazingly, Alex Smith’s 303 passing yards was the third highest of his 8+ year career.
4. Baltimore (4-1) (Last week: 4)
The Ravens become the second team, after Houston, to have won 4 games in their own conference this season. With six interceptions and six fumble recoveries on defense, Baltimore welcomes Dallas coming off a bye. You know, the same Cowboys who threw 5 interceptions one week ago.
5. Chicago (4-1) (Last week: 6)
Jay Cutler and the gang roll into their bye week a full 2 games ahead of the team that embarrassed them in Week 2. Take away that Packers debacle, and Chicago’s winning their 4 games by an average margin of 22.8 points. After taking 7 sacks in the Green Bay game, Cutler’s been dropped only 5 times since.
6. New England (3-2) (Last week: 7)
Sunday’s win over Denver was New England’s fifty-sixth straight game scoring 10 or more points, so hooray for consistency, to say the least. Their points-per-game is up from where it was last year, 32.1 to 33.0, but then again, their points allowed average has also inflated from 21.4 to 22.6.
7. Arizona (4-1) (Last week: 5)
Kevin Kolb’s sack numbers over the last 4 games, starting with the oldest: 2, 3, 8, 9. Among Arizona’s next 4 opponents before their bye week, 2 of their opponents are in the league’s top 10 in sacks (Green Bay third with 18, Minnesota tenth with 14). Russ Grimm’s got some work to do.
8. Minnesota (4-1) (Last week: 15)
Only 2 men have rushed for more than 50 yards against Minnesota’s defense this season: Maurice Jones-Drew (77) and Frank Gore (63). The struggling Chris Johnson was the latest victim of The Great Wall of Mankato, getting crushed for just 24 yards. Is Alfred Morris the next to get stuffed?
9. Philadelphia (3-2) (Last week: 8)
Andy Reid’s epitaph in Philly may make mention of Michael Vick’s butterfingers if something isn’t done to help his QB secure the ball. Even more disturbing of a trend: the defense that racked up 50 sacks a year ago hasn’t dropped the QB over the last 2 games, and only has 7 sacks on the year.
10. San Diego (3-2) (Last week: 9)
Well, somebody had to be the designated victim of Drew Brees’ first win of the year, so why not his old team on his record-breaking night? Philip Rivers’ unfortunate fumble, facilitated by a hobbled Jared Gaither, underscores a bigger problem if Rivers’ blindside tackle continues to play in pain.
11. New York Giants (3-2) (Last week: 12)
The Giants are on pace for 486 points this season, which would be a franchise record, and the first time they’ve averaged more than 30 PPG in a season since 1963, where they scored 448 points in 14 games (32 PPG). And to think, unlike their title year last year, they have a running game going now.
12. Pittsburgh (2-2) (Last week: 16)
Ben Roethlisberger’s thrown 157 passes after 4 games, which at this rate would give him a career-high 628 for the season. The injuries on defense have left Pittsburgh with just 5 turnovers thus far, but a pair of games against Tennessee and Cincinnati could build on their lone interception.
13. St. Louis (3-2) (Last week: 21)
We’ve replaced the St. Louis Rams 2011 defense with this revamped wrecking machine. Let’s see if anyone notices, shall we? 15 sacks (9 last Thursday), 8 picks, and a fumble recovery are the fruits of this makeover. Only problem: both of St. Louis’ losses have come on the road.
14. Green Bay (2-3) (Last week: 10)
Could the Packers actually be better with Cedric Benson out for two months? He was only contributing 3.49 YPA per game, with an average of 14 carries per game. No Benson could mean less rhythm disruption for Aaron Rodgers, who still needs better protection from the 4 sacks he takes per game.
15. Denver (2-3) (Last week: 11)
For only the third time in his 11 seasons of being a head coach, a John Fox defense gave up over 250 yards rushing. In 2006, it was a Michael Vick-led Falcons team, and in 2008, the run-heavy Giants. But the Patriots on Sunday? Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead alone had 198 yards on 35 carries.
16. Seattle (3-2) (Last week: 19)
Despite 2 divisional losses, the Seahawks can claim victory over star QBs like Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers*, and Cam Newton by holding opposing QBs to 5.03 yards per pass attempt, the best average in the NFL. Those 16 sacks that they’ve tallied aren’t giving those passers much time.
17. Dallas (2-2) (Last week: 13)
Dropped only because of big wins by teams once ranked beneath them. The offense is suffering greatly, particularly in the running game, where they ran for over 100 yards in Week 1, and then never over 50 yards as a team since. Also, with Dallas a ‘media get’, those Romo/Orton headlines are sprouting.
18. Cincinnati (3-2) (Last week: 14)
Turnovers and general futility doomed the Bengals against the Dolphins on Sunday, their first loss after beating 3 teams currently with losing records. The 0-5 Browns are next on their slate, and Cleveland gave them a battle in Week 2. Cleveland’s first win would make Cincy 1-2 in the North.
19. New York Jets (2-3) (Last week: 17)
Hey, don’t blame Mark Sanchez for the loss to Houston on Monday. The Jets offensive line couldn’t stop a Power Wheels, let alone JJ Watt as he deflected pass after pass. New York hung in there too, and Sanchez was far crisper on longer strikes. A loss to Indy, though, and those Tebow chants get louder.
20. Washington (2-3) (Last week: 18)
They’ve still yet to hold an opponent below 22 points this season, and I somehow doubt Minnesota will be the first to be iced to that extent. Lucky for the Redskins that Robert Griffin III’s concussion wasn’t more serious. By passing or running, he’s accounted for 70 percent of the team’s offense.
21. Miami (2-3) (Last week: 25)
The Dolphins now lead the NFL in only allowing 2.67 YPA rushing. Arian Foster (79) is the only player to have run for more than 50 yards against them over 5 games. The downside is their passing offense. Forget Brian Hartline’s yards; Ryan Tannehill has thrown only 2 TD passes and 6 picks.
22. Indianapolis (2-2) (Last week: 30)
When you get past Peter King’s gushing of Chuck Pagano’s not-dead ghost guiding the Colts to victory over the Packers (seriously), Andrew Luck and company were still impressive in their comeback. Colts are the first time in 4 years (New Orleans) to score 27+ second half points on Green Bay.
23. Buffalo (2-3) (Last week: 20)
Man, where to even begin? They’ve given up 97 points over the last 2 games, have 8 giveaways in that stretch, and have given up a combined 1201 yards of offense in those 2 games. To top it off, the struggling Mario Williams has sparked a league inquiry into a possible injury of his.
24. Detroit (1-3) (Last week: 22)
They’ve had a week off to work the kinks out of their dreadful special teams play, and will get to test it in Philadelphia on Sunday. The Lions that cleared 30 points in 7 regular season games last season have only done so once this year. The defense is still looking for their first interception.
25. Tampa Bay (1-3) (Last week: 23)
Hey, another team that started 1-0, lost 3 straight, and then had a bye week to wonder what the hell was going on. One issue: that Greg Schiano-disciplined defense that held Carolina to 10 rushing yards on opening day gave up 153 to Washington in Week 4, and now gets Jamaal Charles on Sunday.
26. Carolina (1-4) (Last week: 24)
Ahhh, was just talking Carolina. With a week off for he and his team to sort things out, especially after their offensively-lacking performance against Seattle, Cam Newton’s attitude and self-promotion are still clouding the young star’s image. And to think, Carolina was thought to contend this year.
27. New Orleans (1-4) (Last week: 31)
If the Saints win next week, and Tampa Bay and Carolina continue their losing ways, the Saints pull into second place in the South. Drew Brees took Johnny Unitas’ TD-streak record for himself on national TV, and pulled his way into 14 TD passes on the season. Now the defense needs to do their part.
28. Kansas City (1-4) (Last week: 26)
Eric Winston took the Chiefs fans to task for their elation over Matt Cassel’s head injury; one that’ll likely sideline Cassel. This leads to an interesting predicament: the first start in KC for Brady Quinn. Quinn struggled with some hideous Browns teams (3-9 as a starter), but gets a fresh start.
29. Tennessee (1-4) (Last week: 27)
Hey, Chris Johnson finally got 200 yards…..for the season. CJ2K’s averaging 42 YPG, down from his also-disappointing 65.4 YPG a year ago. The defense has given up over 30 points in all 5 of their games, and only have a win because Detroit’s special teams are embarrassingly awful.
30. Oakland (1-3) (Last week: 28)
Teams coming off a bye were 15-17 last season, so don’t expect the Raiders to cobble together a miracle against the 5-0 Falcons in Atlanta. Matt Ryan is going up against a defense that has only 3 sacks and 0 interceptions in 4 games, and conceded over 300 yards in the air in each of their last 2 games.
31. Jacksonville (1-3) (Last week: 29)
They were tied with defensive stalwart Chicago 3-3 at the half, and then lost 41-3. The Bears, 38 second half points, tied Minnesota’s 1998 effort for most second half points ever scored on the Jaguars in their 18 seasons. The lowest total yards Jacksonville’s D has given up this year: 382 to Cincinnati.
32. Cleveland (0-5) (Last week: 32)
They can’t leave the basement until they win, and even then it’s not guaranteed. Josh Gordon’s flashes of brilliance against the Giants on Sunday were offset by Brandon Weeden’s continued struggles. 9 INTs on the year matches how many Colt McCoy had in 8 games in his rookie season.