The Hot Corner
NFL Power Rankings: Week 2

Hot Corner 6.2

J.T. Grugen

J.T. Grugen

Every week, Knight Times sports analyst J.T. Grugen ranks all 32 NFL teams based on several criteria in order to keep all football fans in the loop. All rankings are based on the past, present, and future rather than solely a week-to-week basis. Leave your comments below to keep the conversation going.

32. St Louis Rams (Previous: 28, Movement: -4)

A blowout at the hands of Matt Cassel at home to start the season is no way to get fans excited about the new season. The Rams didn’t get that memo, and suddenly, Shaun Hill is already on the bench. This offense is in danger of being one dimensional and a poor defensive showing isn’t easing the situation. With a trip to Tampa Bay on tap, St. Louis is already close to a dreaded 0-2 start.

31. Oakland Raiders (Previous: 32, Movement: +1)

With only 85 yards coming from their first 43 offensive plays in the opening game against New York, the Raiders are clearly far from having a synchronized offense. Derek Carr kept his team close in what was an early morning start time locally for Oakland. Coast-to-coast travel early in the season can be difficult, therefore no conclusions can be drawn about this team yet. Next week’s game with Houston should give us a better look at what Carr and company can do.

30. Washington Redskins (Previous: 27, Movement: -3)

Scoring six points in today’s NFL won’t be enough to win a game 99 out of 100 times, especially with an incomplete Houston defense that was without Jadeveon Clowney for half of the game. The 267 yards through the air turned in by Robert Griffin III was adequate, but Washington drives fell short of field goal range seemingly every time the offense took the field. First rule of football: if you don’t score points, you don’t win games.

29. Cleveland Browns (Previous: 30, Movement: +1)

Cleveland’s 24-point comeback after halftime will be credited to Brian Hoyer, however, this was a team effort. With no turnovers committed by the Browns and a shutdown of Ben Roethlisberger in the second half, this effort would’ve resulted in a win if Cleveland had played 60 minutes of football rather than 30. No matter who is at quarterback for the Browns, this team has proven they have what it takes to win.

28. Houston Texans (Previous: 29, Movement: +1)

Even without top pick Jadeveon Clowney on the field for the second half of the game, Houston’s defense was in midseason form against Washington on Sunday. J.J. Watt has continued to live up to his huge contract extension from a few weeks ago, leading a pass rush that hit “RG3” a whooping 14 times. If this pressure becomes a consistent threat for opposing quarterbacks, this team could be on track to return to the postseason.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous: 27, Movement: None)

If games in the NFL lasted 30 minutes, Jacksonville would’ve had an impressive 17-0 shutout victory on the road against the NFC East Champion Eagles. However, when the final 30 minutes were played, the Jags failed to score on nine second half drives and gave up 34 unanswered points to Chip Kelly’s Eagles. Chad Henne made the most of a game without Cecil Shorts III in the fold, but his horrendous second half must be frustrating for Jaguars fans and the rest of the organization.

26. Buffalo Bills (Previous: 31, Movement: +5)

On paper, playing the Bears to start the season at Soldier Field, with Jay Cutler putting up 349 passing yards, sounds like a recipe for disaster. The Bills still managed to pull off a win though with carefully timed takeaways that turned a relatively ugly performance by EJ Manuel into a makeshift victory. Corey Graham’s three pass deflections and 45-yard interception return is a prime example of the defensive performances Buffalo needs in order to return to the postseason for the first time since 1999.

25. Dallas Cowboys (Previous: 21, Movement: -4)

“Back to football” for Dallas often means “back to drama” as was the case against the 49ers. Tony Romo’s interceptions will be the headline, but the franchise QB isn’t the biggest problem down in Big D right now. Injuries to Barry Church and Justin Durant have thinned out an already shallow defensive group. Considering Dallas will face the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, and Zac Stacy over the next weeks, the run defense is a huge point of emphasis going forward.

24. Tennessee Titans (Previous: 25, Movement: +1)

The 2011 rookie class will be in their make or break stage as the window for potential closes. After Jake Locker was injured for the majority of 2013, his bright glimpses from the past were again present in week one against the Chiefs. Sure, Alex Smith was off his game with a depleted offensive line, but Locker looked like a true leader without Chris Johnson by his side in the backfield. This win won’t turn many heads, however the Titans have made progress this offseason as evident by their victory.

23. New York Jets (Previous: 23, Movement: None)

Geno Smith’s expectations in his sophomore campaign aren’t too high, but the organization still hopes their latest quarterback projects experiences a surge rather than a slump. Smith’s Jets made their money on the ground vs. Oakland with over 200 yards rushing coming off the legs of Smith as well as Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson. However, Smith’s two turnovers and self-recovered fumble will be a mistake to correct. These turnovers could be the difference between a win and a loss against a more experienced team.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous: 22, Movement: None)

No Cam Newton for the Panthers and a group of all new receivers was the perfect storm for a loss to start the season for Carolina, but the new look Bucs failed to capitalize. Two picks by McCown and a late fumble from Bobby Rainey were the difference makers that ultimately cost Tampa what should have been a convincing victory. Clearly there’s still work to be done for Lovie Smith’s squad.

21. Minnesota Vikings (Previous: 24, Movement: +3)

Minnesota scored 34 points in a game where Christian Ponder nor Teddy Bridgewater were the leader passers and Adrian Peterson wasn’t the leading rusher. This time, it was the veterans that carried the Vikings with strong performances from Matt Cassel, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph. The next five weeks will be difficult with New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Detroit all on tap, but today’s performance should give everyone a more optimistic outlook heading into a very difficult stretch.

20. Kansas City Chiefs (Previous: 16, Movement: -4)

Reality has finally returned to Kansas City. The worst team in the league back in 2012 was the undefeated team in 2013, starting 9-0 before being dissected by Peyton Manning and the Broncos. A fresh season is doing no favors for the Chiefs as Alex Smith’s three interceptions were cringe worthy. Dwayne Bowe may return from suspension next week, but with the loss of Derrick Johnson on defense, the foundations of this team are collapsing already.

19. New York Giants (Previous: 15, Movement: -4)

The new look offense in New York still looked abismal on Monday against Detroit. One of Eli Manning’s interceptions was an unfortunate outcome for the Giants, but putting up less yards of total offense than Calvin Johnson is a disappointing. Speaking of which, the secondary blew coverage on Megatron and Golden Tate several times. Quite a few adjustments must be made before anyone can expect the Giants to contend.

18. Arizona Cardinals (Previous: 18, Movement: None)

Carson Palmer’s two fourth quarter touchdowns saved the offense late in what was an otherwise slow night. Six points in three quarters won’t be enough to contend with Denver, Seattle, Detroit, and other high powered offenses later down the road. Stellar defensive play though after losing two former Pro Bowl linebackers is a relieving sight, giving the NFC West the title of toughest defensive division in football right now.

17. Miami Dolphins (Previous: 20, Movement: +3)

It’s rare to see New England alone in last place in the AFC East, but Miami’s 33-20 victory over the Brady Bunch could be signaling a change in script out east. Ryan Tannehill has to make better decisions, which should be easier if Knowshon Moreno becomes more involved in the running game. The Incognito saga appears to be completely out of sight, meaning we could be seeing all of the stars align in South Beach.

16. Carolina Panthers (Previous: 19, Movement: +3)

Too many question marks come out of week one to give the Panthers a complete grade. Derek Anderson has good chemistry with the new receivers, but how will Cam Newton fare in his return from a rib injury. Whether or not the defense’s performance was exaggerated by Josh McCown’s blunders remains to be seen. Carolina must now win with a healthy core of starters, but Sunday’s win proves this squad has great depth on both sides of the ball.

15. Detroit Lions (Previous: 17, Movement: +2)

Sure, the Lions offense looked fresh with a dominant look we’ve seen from New Orleans and Green Bay in previous years. Discipline remains an issue though as Detroit was penalized more than any other team this week. A more complete offense would have turned these penalty yards in points, an issue to keep an eye on when the Lions take on some of the best offenses later in the year. As long as Matt Stafford has Calvin Johnson though, it’ll be a challenge to keep the Lions out of the end zone.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous: 14, Movement: None)

The standings will read “Pittsburgh Steelers 1-0” but that hardly tells the tale of Sunday’s escape of a late Browns rally. Blowing a 24 point lead in the second half, the Steelers kicked a last second field goal in order to shake off an ambitious Cleveland defense fueled by Paul Kruger’s two sacks and Karlos Dansby’s interception. This team needs to rebound with a strong victory over the shaken up Ravens, still dealing with the fallout from the Ray Rice situation.

13. Baltimore Ravens (Previous: 8, Movement: -5)

It was off-field distractions that resulted in the Ravens’ biggest loss this week. On Monday, the team cut ties with former Pro Bowler Ray Rice following additional footage regarding the star’s domestic violence case being released by TMZ. The politics behind the Rice situation will be handled delicately, from a football standpoint though, emotions could interfere with the performance of several Ravens that were close to Rice. With only 72 hours to prepare for the Steelers amid a sea of controversy, an 0-2 start seems destined for John Harbaugh’s team.

12. San Diego Chargers (Previous: 11, Movement: -1)

Losses won’t contribute in a positive manner towards any team’s Super Bowl aspirations, but nearly everything went right for San Diego for the first 55 minutes of Monday’s game. On the final drive though, with Carson Palmer’s back against the wall, three and a half quarters of shutdown defense folded. Larry Fitzgerald’s only catch came with four minutes to go for 22 yards, even stopping the clock long enough for the Cardinals offense to regroup. Concentration during critical moments is crucial for the Chargers. Without a doubt though this team has the talent to return to the playoffs in 2014.

11. Atlanta Falcons (Previous: 13, Movement: +2)

No NFC South team has repeated as division champions. Following the fireworks show in the Georgia Dome capped off with a Falcons overtime victory over the Saints, Carolina has their work cut out for them. Matt Ryan looked sharp with Julio Jones returning from injury, even without rookie tackle Jake Matthews protecting his blind side. A non-existent pass rush lingers as a talking point stemming from the preseason. No quarterback hits were registered on Drew Brees, and without any pressure, the Saints offense roasted the dirty birds’ D early and often.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (Previous: 12, Movement: +2)

Nick Foles found his groove following three first half turnovers against a below average Jacksonville defense. Luckily, both the Jags and Eagles returned to their projected forms in the second half with Philly putting up 34 unanswered points. A more experienced offense would have been able to put the Eagles away in the first half without any window of opportunity for a comeback. It’ll be important for Foles and company to start strong and smart when taking on the Colts this Monday.

9. Indianapolis Colts (Previous: 9, Movement: None)

Fans will always jump on the bandwagon of hazing when Tony Romo or Eli Manning throw an interception, however, Andrew Luck is slowly heading into the class of passers that are one step away from the elite level. Two picks in Sunday’s loss to Denver were the difference maker considering only seven points stood between the Colts and victory. If Trent Richardson is doomed to never return to rookie form, emphasis on the passing game could lead to Luck seeing 60 attempts a game, all of which will need to utilize better decision making.

8. Green Bay Packers (Previous: 7, Movement: -1)

When was the last time Aaron Rodgers threw for less than 200 yards? Thursday’s game marked the third occasion since 2010 where Rodgers finished with a below average yardage total. Not throwing the way of Richard Sherman was a wise decision, but eventually a confrontation between the two could happen as the NFC Playoffs appear to go through Seattle again this season.

7. Cincinnati Bengals (Previous: 10, Movement: +3)

Stellar defensive play brings to mind the Seattle Seahawks these days. Many fans don’t know though that two teams ranked in the top five in all defensive categories this year: Seattle and the Cincinnati Bengals. Joe Flacco’s 62 attempted pass attempts only resulted in one completion for a touchdown, an 80 yard deep ball to Steve Smith Sr. as the Bengals shut down the new Ravens offense. Good defense results in postseason success, although Andy Dalton will still need to improve his play in order to make the Bengals a Super Bowl contender.

6. Chicago Bears (Previous: 5, Movement: -1)

With 350 yards from Jay Cutler, 150+ all purposes yards from Matt Forte, and four different receivers with 70 or more receiving yards, a 20 point output from Chicago’s offense is extremely disappointing. The two interceptions by Cutler is the most polarizing statistic from the game as these turnovers kept Buffalo ahead of the Bears for the majority of the game. This loss lies on the shoulders of their newly extended franchise quarterback.

5. New England Patriots (Previous: 4, Movement: -1)

“I’ll play until I suck” were the words used by Tom Brady when asked when he would retire. With a decline for Brady widely expected throughout the media, two fumbles from New England’s franchise quarterback during the critical moments of the team’s loss against Miami only helped the case of critics. Is this a fluke or a sign of the future? Time will tell, however, the defense allowing 23 unanswered points certainly can be attributed to this loss.

4. New Orleans Saints (Previous: 3, Movement: -1)

Drew Brees remains the staple of the Saints offense, but Sunday marked a change in the guard for his support crew. Brandin Cooks lived up to the hype, displaying great chemistry with Brees thanks to several private workouts between the two during the offseason. After a costly overtime fumble by Marques Colston, there’s a strong chance Cooks receives more looks moving forward.

3. San Francisco 49ers (Previous: 6, Movement: +3)

A defense with a reputation for hard hits enters 2014 without NaVarro Bowman or Aldon Smith, meaning Colin Kaepernick has even more pressure in addition to having to live up to his huge contract extension from the offseason. Sunday’s win over Dallas was dominance on both sides of the ball. The new tandem of Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde in the 49ers backfield is an exciting twist to an already run heavy offense.

2. Denver Broncos (Previous: 2, Movement: None)

Perhaps the toughest defensive force against the Broncos was the mental block created from their Super Bowl XLVIII blowout loss. Despite an offseason to dwell on what might have been the darkest hour in the career’s of all Broncos players, the team looked sharper than ever. New defensive additions T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib all made immediate impacts, giving their already potent offense a relief of pressure.

1. Seattle Seahawks (Previous: 1, Movement: None)

Naturally, the Super Bowl Champions start the next season with a favorable chance to repeat and hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February again. However, with a rout of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the clear cut favorite to win the NFC North heading into 2014, this Seattle team looks nearly unstoppable. There’s a long road ahead to Super Bowl XLIX, but even the critics can’t find a reason to doubt Seattle…for now.

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