The Hot Corner
Rankings shift after surprises

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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 Oakland Raiders (Previous: 31, Movement: -1)

Bizarre occurrences are no stranger to the NFL, especially with the Oakland Raiders on the field. James Jones now joins the not-so-illustrious club of players to fumble twice on one play. That was one of many highlights on Oakland’s blooper reel in a game that even saw J.J. Watt catching his first career touchdown pass. Giving up that kind of touchdown to a defensive end is one issue, but a -4 turnover differential is the biggest red flag here.

31 St. Louis Rams (Previous: 32, Movement: +1)

Considering the likes of New England, Atlanta, Green Bay, Seattle, San Diego, Detroit, and Baltimore are 1-1, one would assume St. Louis would be among good company. It’ll be difficult for the Rams to beat any of those teams however with their current offensive marks. In their first 20 drives of the season, only one has resulted in trip to the end zone, courtesy of a Zac Stacy run in the first quarter on Sunday.

30 Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous: 27, Movement: -3)

Everyone was calling for the upset when Jacksonville went into halftime last week up 17-0 on the Eagles. This performance was stunning, but the crash afterwards has been hard to watch. Since the second half of that game, the Jags have been outscored 75-10. All three of Chad Henne’s touchdown passes have come from outside the red zone too, showing an inability to score. Blake Bortles may get his starting opportunity sooner than expected.

29 Minnesota Vikings (Previous: 21, Movement: -8)

This past weekend may have been one of the darkest in the history of the Minnesota Vikings. In the wake of another legal case involving violence, Adrian Peterson was deactivated with his future in the NFL still unclear. To add insult to injury, Matt Cassel tossed four interceptions against his former team in a New England rout of the Vikes to spoil their home opener. Several starting jobs are up for grabs heading into practice this week.

28 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous: 22, Movement: -6)

Josh McCown’s Tampa Bay career is off to one of the worst starts imaginable. A few mental mistakes cost Tampa a win over the Carolina Panthers, who were already without Cam Newton. In week two, the Rams, also without their starting quarterback in Sam Bradford, made two blocks on special teams along with one interception of McCown to squeeze out a win. Two home losses in a row is the quickest way to get fans demanding Mike Glennon.

27 New York Giants (Previous: 19, Movement: -8)

As mentioned above with the Raiders, having a -4 turnover differential deserves a huge wag of the finger. The Giants had the lead heading into the fourth quarter. The result of their final five drives? A punt, an interception, two fumbles, and one turnover on downs. Disaster struck in all three aspects of the game, signalling this team has finally hit rock bottom.

26 Washington Redskins (Previous: 30, Movement: +4)

Starting jobs are won and lost in any sport, but the unwritten rule in place is that no player should be replaced thanks to injury. Washington has an interesting decision to make after Kirk Cousins led the offense to a 41 point fireworks show following Robert Griffin III suffering an ankle injury. Sure, Jacksonville’s defense isn’t the best, but this is a situation to keep an eye on while Cousins takes the reigns…for now.

25 Tennessee Titans (Previous: 24, Movement: -1)

Four sacks against Tony Romo was a great follow up for Tennessee’s underrated front four. The real issue was tackling, with over 60% of DeMarco Murray’s 167 rushing yards coming after contact. Creating pressure to disturb the passing game is great, except when duties plugging up holes against opposing halfbacks is neglected. There’s still some loose ends to tie up on both sides of the ball for the Titans.

24 Houston Texans (Previous: 28, Movement: +4)

Who had J.J. Watt making the game’s first touchdown reception? Even though that trick play will be the headliner coming out of Oakland, the Texans have quietly jumped into first place in the AFC South at 2-0. With a struggling New York Giants team on tap for next week, Houston must capitalize on these easier matchups early in the season to build a division lead on the Colts.

23 Cleveland Browns (Previous: 29, Movement: +6)

For the first time in a decade, the Cleveland Browns won their home opener. No, not against a bottom five defense or in an ugly win. Cleveland beat the Super Bowl contender New Orleans Saints in a complete game of football. Brian Hoyer’s record as starting quarterback is now 4-1, and while his sample size is small, there’s reason for optimism up north. It’s critical Hoyer’s Browns beat the Ravens at home next week in order to separate themselves from a tightly packed AFC North where all four teams have at least one win.

22 New York Jets (Previous: 23, Movement: +1)

Sunday’s loss to Green Bay can be pinned on Rex Ryan for calling what was the most inappropriately timed timeout in recent memory. Ryan allowed Aaron Rodgers and company extra time to march down the field, eating up the clock along with any chance for the Jets to redeem their blown lead with a late comeback. This game does prove though Geno Smith can hang with the best, even on the road in confines like Lambeau Field.

21 Kansas City Chiefs (Previous: 20, Movement: -1)

Andy Reid’s second year as Chiefs head coach has already brought upon a roller coaster ride for his new team. Since Kansas City’s 9-0 start last season, the team is a sluggish 2-8 including their playoff loss to the Colts. Alex Smith was better with the presence of Dwayne Bowe, but running the ball across the plane for six remains KC’s objective. That’ll be difficult to do however with Jamaal Charles hurt.

20 Dallas Cowboys (Previous: 25, Movement: +5)

Yes, DeMarco Murray is on pace to shatter the single season rushing record. Don’t be so quick to hand the title over though, Murray has failed to stay healthy for all 16 games in any of his first three seasons. Dallas doesn’t have nearly the same run blocking ability to create gaps like we saw in Tennessee and Minnesota when Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson, respectively, ran for 2,000 yards. Taking the pressure off Tony Romo is the biggest contribution from Murray.

19 Miami Dolphins (Previous: 17, Movement: -2)

Miami wasted a huge opportunity a Sunday. Beating Buffalo on the road would have put them at 2-0 within the division with a game lead over all three division rivals. Instead, Ryan Tannehill has shown he’s still growing, not quite at the level of a playoff quarterback. The defense was awfully quiet against the Bills too, registering no hits on E.J. Manuel and no tackles for losses. A front seven that can’t create pressure is a sure fire way to get burned on short pass and run plays.

18 Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous: 14, Movement: -4)

Even with two games against teams in the midst of drama, Pittsburgh enters week three with a zero in the wins column. The struggles in the Steel City are quite enigmatic considering Ben Roethlisberger is protected by the best lineman corp since Big Ben’s arrival. Mike Tomlin won’t be pleased with an 0-3 start, but with a trip to Carolina on tap, it’s hard to see the Steelers making an steps forward for the moment.

17 Arizona Cardinals (Previous: 18, Movement: +1)

There’s no such thing as “style points” in the NFL, wins and losses are equivalent no matter what the score. Looking at the Cardinals though, there hasn’t been an uglier 0-2 start out there. In the first three quarters, Arizona has been outscored 31-16. With 15 minutes or less, Bruce Arians’ squad has pitched a 27-0 shutout. These comeback wins won’t last for the duration of a season, Carson Palmer and company must learn to get ahead early.

16 Detroit Lions (Previous: 15, Movement: -1)

Detroit’s new offense is modeled after the success down in the Big Easy with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi using Matt Stafford’s strengths to elevate the skills of receivers. The spread offense won’t succeed if Calvin Johnson becomes the lone target. Megatron was thrown to more than the Lions’ next three wide receivers combined. There’s no longer a reason to force the ball to Johnson with Golden Tate and Eric Ebron in the fold.

15 Buffalo Bills (Previous: 26, Movement: +11)

If anyone wanted to know what the Buffalo Bills’ offense was supposed to accomplish on paper, Sunday’s victory over Miami was the perfect example come to life. Sammy Watkins hauled in 12-yard pass from E.J. Manuel to record his first NFL touchdown and first career game with 100 receiving yards. C.J. Spiller’s 200 all purpose yards were only icing on the cake. The Bills are contenders and sit alone atop the AFC East with two weeks in the books.

14 New Orleans Saints (Previous: 4, Movement: -10)

In a matter of two weeks, Sean Payton’s team has gone from Super Bowl favorite to a team with the odds greatly stacked against them. Only four times in the Super Bowl Era has a team reached the big game with an 0-2 start. Granted, the Saints have only lost by a combined total of five points, the defense hasn’t lived up to expectations after several additions over the offseason. A convincing home win over the Vikings this Sunday will be crucial to get this team back on the right track.

13 Atlanta Falcons (Previous: 11, Movement: -2)

Matt Ryan’s opening week performance against the Saints was the highlight of his career if ranked by quarterback ranking. One week later, his three interception performance in Cincinnati was his worst. A garbage time touchdown to Julio Jones was the only salvation in what was an otherwise ugly and lopsided game. Cincy’s defense has proven to be one of the best in the league, but when Julio Jones and Roddy White are fully healthy, this offense has no excuse to stay out of the end zone.

12 Indianapolis Colts (Previous: 9, Movement: -3)

A team that’s in the same boat as New Orleans, defensive struggles will be the factor that keeps Indy from reaching the Super Bowl, much less the playoffs. Darren Sproles’ performance was worthy of more than just a “Gruden Grinder” award, it was a full on embarrassment of the Colts’ defense. Short passes and drives that feature plenty of yards after the catch are becoming more prominent in these new offenses. If you can’t stop the pass in today’s NFL, good luck keeping up.

11 Baltimore Ravens (Previous: 13, Movement: +2)

Ray Rice remains the hot topic when discussing the Ravens despite his ties with the organization being severed over a week ago. Ravens fans will be relieved to know that Joe Flacco’s connection with Steve Smith is the one click the offense needed in order to play football in January. Flacco’s 25 targets to Smith over the first two weeks are the most to one receiver within a two week span by the Delaware product since he arrived in league back in 2008.

10 Carolina Panthers (Previous: 16, Movement: +6)

With a week one upset over the Bucs under their belt, many Panthers fans wondered how Cam Newton would look returning from a bruised ribs injury that left him out of the action on opening weekend. After a shaky start, Carolina’s defense capitalized on several Lions’ mistakes and Newton found his top targets in Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin. Now 2-0, Carolina sits alone atop the NFC South looking to become the first team to repeat as division champs down South since the expansion back in 2002.

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

What’s wrong in Mr. Rodgers neighborhood? A week one blowout in Seattle saw limited activity from Jordy Nelson with Richard Sherman lurking nearby on every snap. Without the fear of an elite coverage guy in the secondary, Nelson’s performance was one you’d see in a game of Madden. In turn though, the Packers looked rather one dimensional and exploited a major hole in the Jets defense for a comeback. With a little better coverage during the fourth quarter, Green Bay could easily be looking at an 0-2 start.

8 San Diego Chargers (Previous: 12, Movement: +4)

Forget “Throwback Thursday”, the Chargers revisited the past in a fond way for San Diego fans. Three touchdown passes from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates headlined a rout of the defending Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. Considering the firepower Russell Wilson and company have shown off dating back to the postseason in 2013, Rivers’ ability to not only keep up but overcome what appeared as a complete team puts him back in the elite category and his team as a dark horse to reach Phoenix this February.

7 San Francisco 49ers (Previous: 3, Movement: -4)

With pretty much every advantage possible on their side, a collapse late on Sunday night spoiled the inaugural game at Levi’s Stadium for Jim Harbaugh’s club. Single handedly, Colin Kaepernick coughed up the ball four times. Letting his frustrations consume his game sense, a few bits of profanity cost his team critical field position that ended up in six points for the Bears. There are discipline issues in the Bay Area on and off the field that need to be addressed right away.

6 Chicago Bears (Previous: 6, Movement: None)

Winning on the road in the NFL is difficult enough, but with both Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall ailing, it appeared the Bears were in prime position to drop to 0-2. Instead, two interceptions late from rookie corner Kyle Fuller put Jay Cutler in a prime position to find his targets in stride and lead the Bears to a comebacks. Fuller’s awareness was outstanding, making the reads of a ten year veteran. His contributions were the boost needed to a defense that ranked towards the bottom in the NFL against the pass a season ago.

5 Philadelphia Eagles (Previous: 10, Movement: +5)

There were still some Philly fans heading into Monday shaken up from their team trailing Jacksonville 17-0 at the half a week ago. The Eagles are flying high once again though as a road win over the Colts ends puts the green team at 2-0 and in first place in the NFC East. Darren Sproles should see a more prominent role in Chip Kelly’s offense considering his quickness and ability to catch short passes. In fact, Sproles leads all active NFL running backs in catches from behind the line of scrimmage.

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

Two weeks of evidence have now been submitted in the case of Tom Brady’s regression. If his below average play continues, it’ll be extremely important for the new defensive additions from free agency to emerge into the Pro Bowl status player’s they have to the potential to be. Four interceptions of Matt Cassel is a great start, the most turnovers through the air produced by any team in this young season.

3 Cincinnati Bengals (Previous: 7, Movement: +4)

Of Matt Ryan’s 44 pass attempts, three were intercepted. While that statistic alone is impressive for any defense, 12 more attempts were deflected by Bengals players. Keeping the ball out of the hands of elite receivers has forced opposing offenses in power runs that have been quickly swallowed up by the front seven. It’s the perfect storm, and even with AJ Green’s toe injury, the Bengals are a huge postseason threat.

2 Seattle Seahawks (Previous: 1, Movement: -1)

Philip Rivers outmatched the “Legion of Boom” with several key passed to tight end Antonio Gates, exposing a huge hole in what looked like a seamless defense. Any tight end with the size of Gates is a clear mismatch for Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas, forcing Richard Sherman to expand his role and thus open up more downfield options. San Diego’s film will be studied heavily by future Seahawks opponents, it’s up to the defending champs to make adjustments.

1 Denver Broncos (Previous: 2, Movement: -1)

Yes, the Broncos aren’t averaging over 40 points a game anymore, but Peyton Manning is still on top of his game. A 6:0 touchdown to interception ratio is best in the league. More importantly, this team is winning with defense. The additions of DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aqib Talib are already paying huge dividends by returning to their Pro Bowl level play. The true test comes next week in a rematch with Seattle and a shot to redeem their 43-8 blowout loss from the Super Bowl a year ago.

Week 2 MVP: Philip Rivers, QB, SD

Week 2 LVP: Colin Kaepernick, QB, SF

Week 2 Team of the Week: Cleveland Browns

Fantasy Sleeper: Davante Adams, WR, GB (@ Detroit)

Game to Watch: Seattle Seahawks (1-1) @ Denver Broncos (2-0)

photo credit: EPSN.com

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