The Hot Corner
Patriots fall hard this week
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.
NOTE: Teams on bye will see no change in their ranking for the week. Instead, a preview for their next game will be provided.
32 Jacksonville Jaguars (Previous: 32, Movement: None)
Giving credit to Jacksonville, a 19 point less is an improvement upon recent weeks, also taking into consideration a trip across the US to play San Diego. Blake Bortles is moving the ball more efficiently than Chad Henne, but turnovers remain the game changer. Without those two interceptions and a Toby Gerhart fumbles, Bortles would’ve had the opportunity to oust Philip Rivers on the road. The defense did not help their rookie QB’s cause after surrendering 400+ yards.
31 Oakland Raiders (Previous: 30, Movement: -1)
Blame the schedule makers for part of this blowout loss. Oakland has a winning record against Eastern division teams at home over the past decade, but drawing the short stick in 2014, this game against the Dolphins was contested across the pond in Wembley Stadium. Three Miami turnovers that could have kept the Raiders in the game were spoiled by three combined interceptions via Matt McGloin and Derek Carr. Oakland couldn’t be more thankful to have a bye next week after a rough 0-4 start.
30 Tennessee Titans (Previous: 27, Movement: -3)
The Colts may have had their starters out for Sunday’s game, but for the Titans, their 41-17 loss had the look of a preseason game. Seasoned veteran Charlie Whitehurst relieved Jake Locker of his starting duties this week, competing with rookie Zach Mettenberger for the role of quarterback. Of Tennessee’s four rushers, none had more than six carries. On defense and special teams, 23 players recorded at least one tackle. Without their starting personal figured out, the Titans are in deep trouble heading into a tough stretch in their schedule.
29 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous: 31, Movement: +2)
In the preseason rankings, I mentioned Tampa’s new receiver duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans would be a mighty force for Mike Glennon, who would assume the starting job at some point in the season. That was the script against Pittsburgh, where Glennon’s day started with a pass to Evans for his first career touchdown and a last second throw to Jackson to upset the Steelers, earning the Bucs their first win on the season.
28 St. Louis Rams (Previous: 28, Movement: None)
Next Game: @ Philadelphia Eagles
Prediction: Eagles 31, Rams 21
Austin Davis’ performance against Dallas in week three has solidified his starting job for the Rams, barring any potential trades made before the deadline in a few weeks. It’s hard to figure out where St. Louis stands without Sam Bradford, but a trip to Philly in week five won’t be any reward for nearly upsetting the Cowboys. A coast-to-coast trip will tire the Eagles, don’t look for a shocker on Sunday though.
27 Washington Redskins (Previous: 26, Movement: -1)
Just when Robert Griffin III’s ankle sprain wasn’t viewed as a huge loss, Kirk Cousins proved otherwise. The Giants stunned Washington with 45 points. Five of their drives started following a turnover by Cousins. Washington’s lack of depth at the safety position was exposed with three Larry Donnell touchdowns, which opened up more opportunities for Victor Cruz. Giving up points is fine, but it’s hard to stay competitive with six team giveaways.
26 Minnesota Vikings (Previous: 29, Movement: +3)
Adrian who? For those who didn’t know Jerick McKinnon, his 135 yards rushing has acquainted the rookie back with Vikings fans. Add in Matt Asiata’s three scores and Teddy Bridgewater’s dual threat capabilities to make Minnesota’s rushing game one of the most dynamic in the NFL. The next step is to have Bridgewater start finding his receivers in the endzone and scoring through the air.
25 New York Jets (Previous: 22, Movement: -3)
In a year where the Patriots have a loose grip on the AFC East division crown, Rex Ryan’s team has not seized their opportunities. Four sacks from the defensive line led by Muhammad Wilkerson was enough to rattle Matthew Stafford. A suspect secondary is what made the difference, highlighted by 59-yard score on a connection between Stafford and Jeremy Ross. New York is now dead last in the league in defending passes 15 yards or more downfield.
24 Houston Texans (Previous: 24, Movement: None)
Over the last four seasons, having the first overall pick in the NFL Draft has been more of a good luck charm rather than a chance to rebuild. Two of those teams (2012 Colts, 2013 Chiefs) reached the playoffs while the other two (2010 Rams, 2011 Panthers) finished at a respectable 7-9. Even without top pick Jadeveon Clowney patrolling the line, Houston has stood tall in both aspects of the game, currently hosting a top ten total defense. With a 3-1 record thus far, don’t rule out a trip to the playoffs for the Texans.
23 Cleveland Browns (Previous: 23, Movement: None)
Next Game: @ Tennessee Titans
Prediction: Browns 28, Titans 12
It’s been a long time since Cleveland has gone on the road as the hands down favorite this late into a season, but in reality coming out of Nashville without a win would be a huge step back for the Browns. This will be a great chance for Brian Hoyer to display his full skill set while the defense should feast on the quarterback juggling going on in Tennessee. The Browns will be on the other side of the rout this time and get back to .500 on the year.
22 New York Giants (Previous: 25, Movement: +3)
Chances are Larry Donnell was a popular waiver wire pickup in your fantasy league after a promising first few weeks, despite abysmal performances by the G-Men. Week four exposed New York’s best kept secret when a 45 point outburst from Eli Manning and company was led by Donnell’s three touchdowns. With all four of his touchdowns coming from inside the redzone, Donnell has become the goal line targets this organization had previously hoped for in Jake Ballard. Combined with Victor Cruz’s speed, this Giants receiving corp is more dangerous than ever.
21 Buffalo Bills (Previous: 17, Movement: -4)
A national television audience was given bonus coverage of a tardy Bills-Texans game following the Ravens blowout victory over the Panthers. Right on cue, EJ Manuel threw his second interception of the afternoon that sealed his team’s fate. This play summarized a sloppy day for the Bills with their punter racking up more yards on sending the ball away than the offense was able to produce. Kyle Orton assuming the starting job at quarterback is an interesting experiment, but change is necessary at this point to restore Buffalo’s playoff hopes.
20 Miami Dolphins (Previous: 21, Movement: +1)
Rarely does a team score 38 points without a 100 yard rusher or receiver, but Miami found a way to break statistic barriers overseas. Three long interceptions return brought the Dolphins within or on the perimeter of field goal range to start several drives. Pressure in the faces of Derek Carr and Matt McGloin all day forced a few bad throws that led to takeaways. Sure, this was against the now 0-4 Raiders. A confidence booster never hurts though.
19 Kansas City Chiefs (Previous: 19, Movement: None)
A healthy Jamaal Charles will do wonders for the Chiefs as the next few weeks progress. His first quarter carries demonstrated even injury won’t keep the star KC back from running over a physical front seven as found with New England. Alex Smith gets his first crack at his former team next Sunday in a trip to Levi’s Stadium. The defense that once backed up Smith’s drives will now be the physical force working against him, a potential red flag considering numerous injuries to the Chiefs’ offensive line.
18 Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous: 16, Movement: -2)
One last second victory to salvage a blown lead against the Browns, a loss to the controversy-stricken Ravens, domination of one of the league’s best defenses in Carolina, and a shocking defeat at the hands of the then winless Bucs. Would the real Pittsburgh Steelers please stand up? While Mike Tomlin will take 2-2 over 0-4, this has to be one of the most enigmatic .500 teams in quite some time. Unless the Steelers can find another offensive strategy other than Big Ben to Antonio Brown, it’s all downhill for the Steel City.
17 New Orleans Saints (Previous: 14, Movement: -3)
Since the current playoff format came into effect back in 1990, only one team has ever started 1-3 and made the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Saints had a similar start to their 1990 season: a popular Super Bowl pick turned cellar dweller. Perhaps a stretch of games back at the Superdome will be the trick down in the Big Easy, but out of the remaining 12 games on tap for New Orleans, only two are against teams under .500.
16 Carolina Panthers (Previous: 10, Movement: -6)
One of the league’s best defenses in 2013 picked up where it left off last year when Carolina held Tampa Bay and Detroit to a combined 21 points in the first two weeks. Against the Steelers and Ravens, there was a much different story told. Only the Jaguars and Redskins have surrendered more scores over the past two weeks, a testament that Carolina’s current play is resemblance of an 0-4 or 1-3 team. One could blame injuries for the recent Panthers struggles, but Ron Rivera’s team must find a way to adapt.
15 New England Patriots (Previous: 7, Movement: -8)
Monday’s loss was the waving of the white flag for the Patriots dynasty we’ve all become accustomed to. The defense’s 41 point collapse is the worst under Bill Belichick. Tom Brady’s three turnovers capped one of the worst nights in his career, one that saw Brady holding the clipboard for rookie Jimmy Garoppolo. Tied for first place in the AFC East, the Patriots’ quarterback situation is now more puzzling than the rest of their division.
14 Dallas Cowboys (Previous: 20, Movement: +6)
DeMarco Murray is leaps and bounds ahead of all other running backs this season. On pace to break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing yards record comfortably. The last Dallas player to lead the league in rushing? Emmitt Smith, nearly two decades ago in 1995 with nearly 1800 yards on the ground. Ironically, the Cowboys also won the Super Bowl that year. If the ground and pound system persists in Big D, there’s potentially for more than just a playoff berth in store for the Cowboys.
13 San Francisco 49ers (Previous: 18, Movement: +5)
Let’s not count out Frank Gore yet, Sunday’s win over the Eagles proved why the former Pro Bowl running back hasn’t lost his step. With 174 all purpose yards, Gore was a factor in both aspects of the offense. Carlos Hyde isn’t quite ready to replace the Miami product, but substituting in the rookie back out of Ohio State has given Gore the rest he needs to make his reps more effective. Several years after drafting backups that have floundered, Hyde has been the right fix for the 49ers offense.
12 Atlanta Falcons (Previous: 10, Movement: -2)
Matt Ryan’s two fourth quarter interceptions on Sunday revealed the ugly truth about Atlanta’s offense: forced throws are becoming a habit. Three of the Falcons’ four scores occurred from outside the red zone, a testament to Ryan flinging up a deep ball when his team is behind in hopes either Roddy White or Julio Jones will haul it in. Shorter, more precise throws is the key to fix Atlanta’s turnover epidemic.
11 Arizona Cardinals (Previous: 11, Movement: None)
Next Game: @ Denver Broncos
Prediction: Broncos 20, Cardinals 16
Only two unbeaten teams remain, both of which square off with the two teams that met in the AFC Championship a season ago. A trip to Sports Authority Field will be a challenge considering the thin air is a huge difference compared to playing in a dome most of the season. Arizona’s secondary must continue their stellar play and live up to the standard set by Seattle in week three. Peyton Manning will get a scare, but the Bengals will be the only team without a loss entering week six.
10 Chicago Bears (Previous: 5, Movement: -5)
There’s a reason why Green Bay has won the NFC North with little competition over the past few seasons: no quarterback within the division can match him in a passing duel. Jay Cutler not only has the talent, but now the tools, to overtake Rodgers’ throne atop the North. Two interceptions from Cutler on Sunday are enough to pin those loss on the recently extended Bears quarterback who has refused to use Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall in critical moments.
9 Green Bay Packers (Previous: 13, Movement: +4)
Finally, Aaron Rodgers was able to hook up with a receiver other than Jordy Nelson, hitting Randall Cobb seven times for 113 yards and two scores. The issue remains that other than Cobb and Nelson, Green Bay’s receiving options was practically a wasteland. Rodgers has the talent to turn mediocre passing targets in Pro Bowlers, we’ve seen it with Nelson and Cobb. It’s up to their veteran QB to start finding the lesser known faces such as Davante Adams should the Packers want to return to 2011 form.
8 Detroit Lions (Previous: 15, Movement: +7)
Similar to Dallas, it’s difficult to place any trust in the Detroit Lions. Now at 3-1 with a win over the Jets, however, this squad has proven they can win without Calvin Johnson at full strength. Matthew Stafford relied on new additions Golden Tate and Eric Ebron rather than throwing long balls to the man they call Megatron. This is the same system Drew Brees used when he set the single season passing yards record. So far, the operation has been a success up north.
7 Indianapolis Colts (Previous: 9, Movement: +2)
It’s the comparison that will be made a million times, but Andrew Luck has looked like the spawn of Peyton Manning over the past two weeks. Rather using veterans such as Reggie Wayne as a crutch, Luck has targeted his younger receivers such as TY Hilton, Coby Fleener, Donte Moncrief, and Dwayne Allen, finding the end zone with nearly everyone on the roster. This success has come against two of the worst teams in the league though. When Baltimore comes to town in week five, we’ll get a better indicator of Indy’s talent.
6 Philadelphia Eagles (Previous: 4, Movement: -2)
Only four times did Nick Foles turn the ball over in 2013. Four games into 2014, the Eagles quarterback already has six giveaways under his belt. The five point loss against San Francisco likely would have been a win without one of Foles’ two interceptions, but fixing the now future of the franchise is going to be an important task. It’ll be up to Foles to take the reigns of the offense with LeSean McCoy ailing, which has drastically impacted the Eagles rushing game.
5 Baltimore Ravens (Previous: Previous 8, Movement: +3)
Without Ray Rice on the roster, Baltimore is 3-0 with wins over three teams that sit at 2-2. The three connections of 40+ yards for touchdowns between Joe Flacco and Smith Steve are as many as the former Carolina speedster had in his tenure with Cam Newton. While production from Torrey Smith has dramatically decreased, Flacco could more effectively use him as yardage receiver ideally targeted on thirds down. Baltimore had one of the lowest third down conversion rates in the league last year, making this a favorable idea.
4 San Diego Chargers (Previous: 6, Movement: +2)
The season schedule is starting to shape together perfectly in the favor of Philip Rivers and company. With three games left against the AFC East, two meetings with Kansas City and Oakland, and a trip to St. Louis all on tap, more than half of the Chargers’ remaining games are against teams sitting at .500 or less. Capitalizing on this weak stretch moving forward could result in a division title victory, playing spoiler to the heavily favorited Broncos.
3 Denver Broncos (Previous: 3, Movement: None)
Next Game: vs. Arizona Cardinals
Prediction: Broncos 20, Cardinals 16
After a meeting with Richard Sherman last week, Peyton Manning must deal with another elite corner on Demaryius Thomas next Sunday with Patrick Peterson coming to town. The offensive output for Denver should be roughly the same as the Seattle game, the difference will be either Drew Stanton or Carson Palmer at quarterback rather than Russell Wilson. Unless Larry Fitzgerald can return to his old form and compliment Michael Floyd’s outstanding play, Aqib Talib should handle the Cardinals’ top target with ease in a tight victory.
2 Seattle Seahawks (Previous: 2, Movement: None)
Next Game: @ Washington Redskins
Prediction: Seahawks 35, Redskins 10
It’s a battle of quarterbacks from the 2012 Draft in week five, but it won’t be Robert Griffin III under center for Washington. Last time these two teams met was during Wildcard Weekend during Russell Wilson’s rookie season. The Legion of Boom was relatively quiet in their previous meeting, however, a four interception performance from Kirk Cousins last Thursday could mean a long day for Washington with Sherman and company well rested.
1 Cincinnati Bengals (Previous: 1, Movement: None)
Next Game: @ New England Patriots
Prediction: Bengals 27, Patriots 7
When the Bengals defense befuddled Tom Brady and company last year, it was considered an upset, perhaps even a sign that Cincinnati was bound for a deep playoff run. Next Sunday, the Patriots enter this game as a heavy underdog considering Brady’s recent struggles. AJ Green’s toe injury will limit him during his tenure on Revis Island, but expect the run game led by Giovani Bernard to carry Cincy to rout of the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.
Week 3 MVP: DeMarco Murray, RB, DAL
Week 3 LVP: Tom Brady, QB, NE
Week 3 Team of the Week: Dallas Cowboys
Fantasy Sleeper: Andre Williams, RB, NYG (vs. ATL)
Game to Watch: Arizona Cardinals (3-0) @ Denver Broncos (2-1)
photo credit: football nation.com