The Hot Corner
Week 4: Bengals jump to top
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 Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous: 30, Movement: -2)
If you thought that being outscored 75-10 in their last six quarters of football was an eye sore, wait until this next sentence. Following a blowout loss to the Colts at home, the Jags have been decimated 119-27 since the first half of week one. Blake Bortles’ performance did spark a 14 point comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, but the damage had been done. Until Jacksonville becomes consistent enough to score regularly, this team will remain winless.
31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous: 26, Movement: -5)
Luckily for the Bucs, Thursday night’s loss was only one blemish on their record. Bright spots were far and few between for Tampa though. Four turnovers produced against the playoff caliber Falcons was the probably the biggest pro coming out the Georgia Dome, but all four takeaways came in garbage time after Atlanta had sealed their victory. There’s no excuse to surrender 56 unanswered points in the NFL.
30 Oakland Raiders (Previous: 32, Movement: +2)
What if Derek Carr’s first career win were to come against Tom Brady? In what will likely be the only meeting between these two quarterbacks, Carr’s Raiders came within six yards of sending their battle with New England into overtime. Darren McFadden’s touchdown was nullified on a holding call and Carr’s interception on the next play stalled out the possibility of an upset right on the goal line, but Oakland still kept pace with one of the NFL’s best on the road.
29 Minnesota Vikings (Previous: 29, Movement: None)
This was the week of returns and debuts, with stars such as Wes Welker and Orlando Scandrick coming off suspensions and several high profile rookies entering games. Amid the Adrian Peterson case circling this organization, Teddy Bridgewater quietly made his NFL debut following an injury to Matt Cassel. Bridgewater converted several first downs, but ultimately failed to lead his team to more than a field goal. Hopefully, we can get a closer look at the Louisville product soon.
28 St. Louis Rams (Previous: 31, Movement: +3)
Last week’s power rankings mentioned that the Rams had only converted five percent of all drives into touchdowns in two games. Sunday’s home loss to Dallas was a major improvement as an Austin Davis led squad broke the plane four times. A banged up Cowboys’ defense isn’t the most formidable opponent, but either way a 31 point effort is a sign of progress.
27 Tennessee Titans (Previous: 25, Movement: -2)
Time is about to expire on the Jake Locker project in his fourth NFL season. With one great and one questionable performance under his belt through two weeks, Sunday’s loss to the Bengals was his worst to date. With Locker facing pressure more than 60% of the time, his poor decision making skills on the run led to a 33-0 shutout for the majority of the game. Since the departure of Chris Johnson, Tennessee has yet to identify a franchise player as Locker disappoints again.
26 Washington Redskins (Previous: 26, Movement: None)
DeSean Jackson’s return to Philadelphia was the headline coming into this game. Fans of both Washington and Philly circled week three on their calendars for the star receiver’s homecoming. Even with over 100 yards receiving from Jackson and a 400+ yard day by Kirk Cousins, Washington fell short due to their league worst pass defense. With little defensive emphasis placed on the secondary over the past few draft’s, this team now must get by with what they have. “Getting by” usually doesn’t result in many wins in the NFL.
25 New York Giants (Previous: 27, Movement: +2)
Where has this Eli Manning been? Completing over 75% of his passes and committing no turnovers in week three, Manning has silenced his critics for the moment. The new Giants offense can be credited for their QB’s success, calling for the run 60 of the time. Rashad Jennings’ 176 yards on the ground brought a new dimension to a typically pass heavy team. If this is a sign of things to come in the Big Apple, watch out for the Giants.
24 Houston Texans (Previous: 24, Movement: None)
Without their bread and butter formula for winning, Houston has looked lost on the gridiron. Arian Foster’s injury disabled him from pounding the rock. Ryan Fitzpatrick was given the duty of carrying the offense and the result were three interceptions, all of which were on passes where Andre Johnson was the intended receiver. Johnson still has a big play factor, but when he’s only found four times in eleven tries, drives will stall out quickly.
23 Cleveland Browns (Previous: 23, Movement: None)
On what was a brilliant trick play, Brian Hoyer found Johnny Manziel for a huge gain on Sunday, only for the highly touted rookie’s first NFL reception to be called back thanks to a penalty. What was missing from Cleveland’s game plan though was learning how to win. Without Ben Tate in the backfield, the Browns failed to drain clock time during the waning moments, causing Cleveland to lose their second game of the season from a last second field goal.
22 New York Jets (Previous: 22, Movement: None)
Four fumbles (only one lost) and two interceptions by Geno Smith headlined the Jets sloppy loss on Monday Night Football. Jay Cutler still managed to weave through New York’s secondary without Brandon Marshall, a big indicator the defensive backs in the Big Apple have plenty of work to do. With Matthew Stafford and the Lions high powered offense coming into town next week, pass defense is a huge priority heading into practice this week.
21 Miami Dolphins (Previous: 19, Movement: -2)
All the hype from Miami’s week one upset of New England is all but lost at this point. Ryan Tannehill failed to connect with his top four receivers (Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Jarvis Landry, and Brandon Gibson) on more than half of his throws against the Chiefs. Fans are calling for change under center, but it’s hard to bench Tannehill after his glimpses of greatness in 2013. If Miami should fall to Oakland this sudden, the winds of change could be blowing in South Beach.
20 Dallas Cowboys (Previous: 20, Movement: None)
It was expected for Tony Romo to lead the Cowboys to a 34 point effort in their win versus St. Louis. What was disappointing was the fact that all 34 of those points were needed as Austin Davis’ output on the other side of the ball was good enough for 31 points. Dallas’ D has been lucky to play mobile quarterbacks over the first three weeks, but with Drew Brees on tap for week four, some changes will need to be made.
19 Kansas City Chiefs (Previous: 21, Movement: +2)
The script for KC has been all too similar to their 2012 season to start 2014, injuries to Pro Bowl talent have left several positions on the depth chart hurting for starters. The Chiefs have made do without Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, and several offensive lineman, putting their first W on the board this weekend at Miami. With Donald Stephenson returning next week for Monday Night Football, Alex Smith should be getting a little better protection.
18 San Francisco 49ers (Previous: 7, Movement: -11)
Taking away Colin Kaepernick’s scrambles and read option runs, a typically forceful 49ers running game was nowhere to be found on Sunday. Carlos Hyde and Frank Gore combined for just 23 yards on only an alarmingly low eight carries. Relying on Kaepernick’s arm to extend drives hasn’t been effective in the past, and with only 14 points to show, the Nevada product is certainly not playing up to his new contract. The true question is, who is to blame for the 49ers 1-2 start?
17 Buffalo Bills (Previous: 15, Movement: -2)
A win against San Diego would have cemented the Bills’ status as a playoff contender, but a 22-10 home defeat has proven Buffalo has improvements to make if they expect to bring January football back to Upstate New York for the first time since 1999. San Diego’s bracket defense effectively limited rookie sensation Sammy Watkins to 19 yards, a coverage scheme that has shut down the likes of Calvin Johnson and AJ Green in the past. EJ Manuel will need to find other targets more consistently or else Watkins could be eliminated from more plays down the line.
16 Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous: 18, Movement: +2)
Scoring 37 points on the Carolina Panther’s defense? That’s an impressive feat, but don’t credit the Steelers offense too much. Two of Pittsburgh’s fourth quarter touchdowns came in garbage time off of silly mistakes from the Carolina offense. Realistically, the Steelers could have blown their lead similar to their second half collapse in week one against Cleveland. With three defensive starters lost to injury as well on Sunday night, the holes in the depth chart could be exposed rather quickly.
15 Detroit Lions (Previous: 16, Movement: +1)
Sorry to those with Matthew Stafford on their fantasy team, too bad “good enough to win” isn’t a method to score fantasy points. Both of Stafford’s interceptions against Green Bay were tipped balls fused with a little luck on the positioning of Packer defenders. If the Lions had stuck with their game plan, this win could have been a rout of the Packers rather than a game too close for comfort. Regardless, Detroit remains in first place in the NFC North, for now.
14 New Orleans Saints (Previous: 14, Movement: None)
Despite no coaching changes during the offseason, New Orleans’ offense has come out of the tunnel with a new strategy every week. Rather than the short passes with an occasion long ball when opportunity knocked, Drew Brees has attempted to force the ball downfield. All eight receivers he found on Sunday had at least one catch for more than 10 yards, an indicator that the Saints are forcing scores rather than sticking with what has worked in the past. This could explain their 1-2 record, along with mediocre defense.
13 Green Bay Packers (Previous: 9, Movement: -4)
In addition to those who had Matthew Stafford, apologies go out to those with Aaron Rodgers as their starting fantasy quarterback. His 162 yards passing are the least Rodgers has put up against Detroit in all games he’s completed. Also, when Rodgers finishes games, the Packers are undefeated against the Lions, until Sunday. With two more defensive starters out of the Lions starting lineup, the lack of yardage racked up by Rodgers has to be a huge concern.
12 Carolina Panthers (Previous: 10, Movement: -2)
Alright, so Carolina lost all of their receivers from 2013 except Greg Olsen, big deal right? Well, with injuries to their top three running backs (Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, and DeAngelo Williams) as well as Cam Newton’s bruised ribs acting up again, the patented run game has stalled out, forcing Carolina to become a passing team. Look for Kelvin Benjamin to start seeing more targets.
11 Arizona Cardinals (Previous: 17, Movement: +6)
Only three teams remain in the unbeaten ranks heading into week four, including one NFC West surprisingly not named Seattle or San Francisco. With Drew Stanton under center, Arizona hasn’t looked pretty, but regardless at 3-0 they sit atop the NFC West with Andre Ellington and Carson Palmer still working towards becoming 100 percent. Part of their success can be found from third year receiver Michael Floyd, emerging as a clear number one target during the decline of Larry Fitzgerald.
10 Atlanta Falcons (Previous: 13, Movement: +3)
It doesn’t matter if their 56 points were against the 0-3 Bucs, Atlanta’s statement in the first 45 minutes of their Thursday Night Football dominating win was a great way to rebound from an ugly loss to Cincy a week prior. One promising note: the last five NFC South teams to start 2-0 in the division have gone on to win the division title later that season.
9 Indianapolis Colts (Previous: 12, Movement: +3)
Anytime a team starts 0-2, the top priority in game three is to simply win as teams that lose their first three games make the playoffs less than seven percent of the time. Sunday’s rout of the Jaguars was more than just a bounce back, it was a confidence booster. Andrew Luck’s pass rating flirted with a near perfect score. More importantly, Ahmad Bradshaw is pressuring Trent Richardson with a chance to take his starting job after two strong performances. This healthy competition may inspire more productivity for the Colts on the ground.
8 Baltimore Ravens (Previous: 11, Movement: +3)
Behind only Jordy Nelson, Steve Smith Sr. currently sits in second place in the receiving yards category at the moment. The Ravens’ big offseason pickup has average over 90 yards a game and compliments Torrey Smith nicely. More importantly, without Ray Rice in the running game anymore, Joe Flacco can feel more confident to throw the ball more often. It’ll be interesting to see Smith matched up against his former team on Sunday.
7 New England Patriots (Previous: 4, Movement: -3)
One untimely penalty kept Oakland from forcing overtime with New England. Considering the Pats were favored by almost two touchdowns, one has to believe Tom Brady is not what he use to be. Three strikes in three weeks have resulted in a strikeout from Brady, dropping him the ranks of elite quarterbacks. Unless New England’s defensive additions from the offense start contributing with huge dividends, this could be the first time the Patriots miss the playoffs since 2008.
6 San Diego Chargers (Previous: 8, Movement: -2)
A comeback win at the last second on Monday Night Football back in week one resulted in a one point loss for the Chargers. That point is what separates them from 2-1 and 3-0, but Philip Rivers’ team will take their record considering a victory over the defending champion Seahawks is already on the 2014 resume. Rivers is the early favorite for the MVP award, but it’s been a group effort that has put the Chargers in this position. By the way, the three teams San Diego has played this season have otherwise combined for a 6-0 record.
5 Chicago Bears (Previous: 6, Movement: +1)
Give credit to Chicago for being tied with Detroit for first place in the NFC North. All teams have dealt with injuries, but Jay Cutler has had to work with his two top targets bandaged up. Even without Brandon Marshall for a large portion of their victory on Monday, Chicago jumped out to an early lead. The only issue was a Jets comeback remained an entertained possibility until the clock hit zero. Playoff teams finish football games and play 60 minutes, the Bears have yet to put it all together in 2014.
4 Philadelphia Eagles (Previous: 5, Movement: +1)
In the offensive battle of the week, Nick Foles won his quarterback duel with Kirk Cousins to spoil DeSean Jackson’s homecoming. The emotion behind this victory was powerful with the general feeling being a brawl could break out after any play. Keeping their emotions in check ended up being the difference maker for the Eagles, who played smart football rather than winning with brute force.
3 Denver Broncos (Previous: 1, Movement: -2)
With the dust from a Super Bowl rematch that might have been better than it’s predecessor, Peyton Manning came up short against the Legion of Boom, the biggest roadblock that has kept Denver from hoisting the Lombardi trophy. Manning has defeated all 32 teams in his NFL career, but after Sunday’s loss, his record against Seattle falls to 2-4, the worst among all teams.
2 Seattle Seahawks (Previous: 2, Movement: None)
The potential for another blowout win was in the works if Denver didn’t have Emmanuel Sanders. Richard Sherman on Demaryius Thomas, Byron Maxwell on Wes Welker, and bracket coverage on Julius Thomas by Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner took away Manning’s three top targets in Super Bowl XLVIII. Sanders added another element that created a mismatch between him and Earl Thomas. At this point, the only team that could conquer Seattle is another top five defense. Leading into this week’s number one…
1 Cincinnati Bengals (Previous: 3, Movement: +2)
Who saw the day that Andy Dalton’s Bengals would take the top spot in the power rankings and become one of the most feared NFL teams in 2011? With only 32 points surrendered on the season even without Vontaze Burfict in for half of the defensive snaps, nobody can doubt Cincy’s defense can contend with even the highest powered offenses. A trip to New England will be the ultimate test for Dalton. With a win over Tom Brady in week five coming out of their bye week, we could be seeing a change in the guard regarding the AFC playoffs.
Week 3 MVP: Julio Jones, WR, ATL
Week 3 LVP: Jake Locker, QB, TEN
Week 3 Team of the Week: Atlanta Falcons
Fantasy Sleeper: Ladarius Green, TE, SD (vs. JAC)
Game to Watch: Carolina Panthers (2-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (2-1)