The Hot Corner
Rivers, Chargers ones to stop


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.

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)

Last week, I complained that Blake Bortles has underutilized his veteran receivers while favoring fellow rookies Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Sunday’s loss to the Titans provided the other end of the spectrum with Cecil Shorts III targeted 16 times, one of which was a forced deep ball that resulted in an interception. Bortles isn’t ready to see 40 attempts a game at this stage in his career, especially with his recently displayed narrowed vision.

31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Previous: 27, Movement: -4)

Where has the Tampa 2 defense gone? Five passing touchdowns from Joe Flacco within the first 20 minutes in week six gave Mike Glennon and company a deficit very few offenses could overcome. This loss places the Bucs near the bottom of the league in total defense with one of the worst turnover differentials in the league. If this game would have remained somewhat competitive before halftime, Joe Flacco very well could have broken several single game records.

30 Tennessee Titans (Previous: 30, Movement: None)

Charlie Whitehurst has found a way to win, but only 16 points coming from the Titans offense against perhaps the worst team in the league is a little concerning. Typically AFC South divisional games are very competitive, even when there is a huge spread in the teams’ ability. This one was a little too close for comfort, and with little optimism that Jake Locker will return soon, this offense must adapt to their season veteran backup quarterback calling the shots.

29 Minnesota Vikings (Previous: 29, Movement: None)

Awards won’t be handed out to rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for his arm, the dual threat capabilities of the Louisville product is what made him successful. However, there comes a point where an NFL quarterback must make certain throws. Bridgewater found himself under pressure for more than half of dropbacks against Detroit, but often lobbed the ball up in order to avoid a sack. Three interceptions resulted from these poor decision, and against a more established secondary, this number could have been elevated.

28 Oakland Raiders (Previous: 31, Movement: +3)

Expect Andre Holmes to be the popular waiver wire pickup in your fantasy league this week. After racking up 120 yards and two scores, Holmes has presented himself as Derek Carr’s top target through the air, a distinction the rookie quarterback failed to find in free agent acquisition James Jones. Depending on Carson Palmer’s availability, the Raiders could upset the 4-1 Cardinals next week and spoil their former quarterback’s homecoming.

27 St. Louis Rams (Previous: 28, Movement: +1)

After taking a 14-0 lead to end the first quarter on Monday, the Rams offense was relatively quiet for the rest of the night, only producing one field goal to bring the team within a touchdown of the 49ers. Defensively, rushing quarterbacks continue to burn St. Louis. An emphasis on the pass rush shown in the previous few years of the Draft hasn’t played out as well as the Rams have hoped for. Until the front seven can control their aggressive play and move away from blitz packages, the running game will continue to haunt this team.

26 New York Jets (Previous: 26, Movement: None)

Another Jets loss has passed and again all fingers are pointing to Geno Smith. Staying within seven points of the high powered Broncos offense in the waning moments of regulation is an impressive feat. When Smith was asked to force overtime for his team with a miracle last second drive, a pick six sealed New York’s fate. Scouting Marcus Mariota may be all the Jets front office can do at this point.

25 Washington (Previous: 25, Movement: None)

Going deep to DeSean Jackson has been the bread and butter for Kirk Cousins this season. All three of Jackson’s touchdowns have come on passes over 50 yards, redefining the NFL standard of a “deep threat”. On the other hand, Cousins has become too trigger happy when it comes to flinging up the deep ball, evidenced by his three interceptions in Washington’s loss to Arizona.

24 Atlanta Falcons (Previous: 23, Movement: -1)

Not many teams can contend with the wide receiver duos of Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery and Julio Jones/Roddy White, yet how the Bears and Falcons have managed to stay around the .500 mark with their pair of star receivers is enigmatic. Matt Ryan only connected with Jones and White a combined seven time in 18 passing attempts, resulting in a season low 13 point output for Atlanta.

23 Houston Texans (Previous: 24, Movement: +1)

JJ Watt has officially surpassed Richard Sherman as the best defensive player to emerge out of the 2011 Draft. Another fumble recovery for six points has resulted in another near Texans win. How can this squad go from worst to first in their division? A loss to Indy will put Bill O’Brien’s team in a bind, but moving forward, Ryan Fitzpatrick must continue to target Andre Johnson double digit times as he did last Thursday.

22 Kansas City Chiefs (Previous: 22, Movement: None)

Next Game: @ San Diego Chargers (5-1)

Prediction: Chargers 28, Chiefs 19

Chronic injuries that haunted Kansas City back in 2012 during their worst season in franchise history have returned to plague the team in 2014, meaning a bye week was just what the doctor ordered. Eric Berry returning to practice on Monday gives the Chiefs a potentially huge boost should he suit up for their game against San Diego. Asking Alex Smith to top a red hot Philip Rivers though is a lofty demand.

21 Buffalo Bills (Previous: 21, Movement: None)

Following the Patriots’ blowout loss to Kansas City two weeks ago, any team matched against Tom Brady has paid the price for his national embarrassment. For Buffalo, the timing on this matchup couldn’t have been any worse. Kyle Orton has managed to keep his team within striking distance against Detroit and New England, but the credit has to be given to the defense. Even without a quarterback that has the playbook mastered, the Bills find a way to stay close.

20 Pittsburgh Steelers (Previous: 18, Movement: -2)

Typically a rout between Pittsburgh and Cleveland would consist of the Steelers squashing their division rivals as a palate cleanser. Times have changed and this time the Steel City found themselves taking the bus home from Cleveland with a sour taste in their mouth. Ben Roethlisberger was in his final season at Miami University the last time Cleveland beat their rival to the east by 20 points or more. The guard is changing in the AFC North and the aging Steelers have struggled to adapt to changes.

19 New York Giants (Previous: 16, Movement: -3)

Sunday night’s shutout at the hands of divisional rival Philadelphia wasn’t the only ‘giant’ loss for New York. A knee injury to Pro Bowl receiver Victor Cruz will keep their salsa-dancing superstar sidelined for the remainder of 2014. Despite increased production from Rueben Randle and rookie Odell Beckham Jr., asking this duo, or any player on the team, to replace Cruz is a huge stretch.

18 Miami Dolphins (Previous: 20, Movement: +2)

A fake spike during the final seconds of the fourth quarter was the play popularized by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. However, Miami fans couldn’t have been pleased to see Aaron Rodgers channel his inner Marino and put together a miracle drive to pull off the comeback win in South Beach. Still, Ryan Tannehill and company managed to keep pace with a Packers offense that seems to become more complete with every passing game, a testament to Miami’s contention status.

17 New Orleans Saints (Previous: 17, Movement: None)

Next Game: @ Detroit Lions (4-2)

Prediction: Lions 27, Saints 24

Having a week for Jimmy Graham to recover off a critical injury that changes the complexity of the Saints offense won’t be enough for New Orleans to have their star tight end back on the field for Sunday’s showdown with Detroit. Thankfully for Drew Brees, his duel with Matthew Stafford will likely be contested without Calvin Johnson on the field. The top ranked Lions defense combined with the Saints’ struggles on the road will result in a drop to 2-4.

16 Cleveland Browns (Previous: 19, Movement: +3)

Outside of Jordan Cameron, Cleveland players didn’t score owners many fantasy points, despite putting up 31 points on Pittsburgh. What the box score won’t show is the domination of field position. Cleveland drives had an average starting position 15 yards ahead of the Steelers, creating short fields and easy scores. Commanding the game through clock management and field position are the marks of a playoff team.

15 Chicago Bears (Previous: 15, Movement: None)

For the first time this season, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall individually racked up 100 yards in the same game. On paper, this is how the Bears offense is supposed to be executed, but everyone knows one game out of six isn’t exactly a promising sign. Atlanta’s pass defense is also one of the worst in the league, which ultimately leaves many question marks surrounding whether or not Cutler has figured out his gameplan or if week six was a fluke.

14 Carolina Panthers (Previous: 12, Movement: -2)

Surprisingly, the top five Panthers’ defense from a season ago has surrendered the most points in the NFL over the past three weeks. Allowing 37 points to a Bengals offense without AJ Green was a performance expected from the Panthers before Luke Kuechly was drafted in 2012. Even worse, Carolina must face four of the other five NFC playoff teams from 2013 over the next four weeks.

13 Arizona Cardinals (Previous: 14, Movement: +1)

Who would have thought that Carson Palmer’s return would have such a huge impact on Arizona? Larry Fitzgerald was rediscovered in the Cardinals’ showdown in the desert with Washington as the man they call “Fitz” hauled in seven passes for nearly 100 yards. Palmer was able to hook up with his former Pro Bowl receiver and Michael Floyd. A veteran quarterback with a talented receiver duo headlines this offense, eerily similar to the 2008 Arizona Cardinals.

12 Detroit Lions (Previous: 13, Movement: +1)

Amid a secondary reduced to limited starters and a few practice squad players, along with Ndamukong Suh’s free agency drama, Detroit’s defense is number one overall through six weeks. Eight sacks on Teddy Bridgewater is the clear reason why. Ezekiel Ansah is quickly emerging as a Pro Bowl level pass rusher, growing upon his raw ability displayed during his time at BYU. Even without Ndamukong Suh next season, Detroit appears to be content with their elite pass rush.

11 San Francisco 49ers (Previous: 10, Movement: -1)

All week long, the talk has been about how Colin Kaepernick’s “magic” salvaged his team from an upset loss to a Rams team that has been a thorn in the side of the Niners since Jim Harbaugh’s arrival. Kaepernick’s 300 yard performances are far too rare to count on his arm to win games, San Francisco scores their points on the ground. With Carlos Hyde and Frank Gore combining to average under two yards per carry on Monday night, there is plenty concern in the Bay Area.

10 Cincinnati Bengals (Previous: 4, Movement: -6)

Since overtime was added in 1974, no two teams had scored more than 34 points each in a tie game, until Sunday. A shanked field goal to end overtime off the foot of Mike Nugent cost Cincy a shot at 4-1. Without AJ Green, Andy Dalton has looked lost over the past two weeks. Considering the Bengals have also allowed a combined 80 points against Carolina and New England, the once undefeated defensive juggernaut is shriveling back to a team with three straight Wildcard Weekend playoff exits.

9 New England Patriots (Previous: 11, Movement: +2)

In the course of two weeks, Tom Brady has gone from a defeated veteran on the brink of retirement to the form of the man who led the Patriots to a 16-0 record in the 2007 regular season. Three receivers (Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell) exceeded 90 yards on the day as Brady’s dominance over the Bills continued. New England isn’t ready to relinquish their grip on the AFC East.

8 Baltimore Ravens (Previous: 9, Movement: +1)

Joe Flacco would have forced the Buccaneers to “rage quit” on Sunday if the Ravens’ meeting with Tampa was a game of Madden. Five touchdown passes after only 20 minutes was more than enough to secure a Ravens victory over the lowly Bucs. Flacco will need to repeat this level of play in two weeks when Baltimore meets up with the leaders of the AFC North in a critical battle for first place.

7 Green Bay Packers (Previous: 7, Movement: None)

On a last second throw to Andrew Quarless for six, Aaron Rodgers helped his team avoid the trap game in Miami. For the moment, Green Bay seems to have emerged from their road slump. Against Seattle and Detroit, the Packers only managed a measly 23 points. In victories over Chicago and Miami, that total jumped to 65 points.

6 Philadelphia Eagles (Previous: 6, Movement: None)

Among all quarterbacks to have started at least five games this season, Nick Foles leads the league in turnovers committed, despite finishing dead last a season ago. Sure, Shady McCoy returning to full strength will alleviate some of Foles’ responsibility, two trap games at Arizona and Houston await the Eagles coming off their bye this week where two potent secondaries could expose the chronic giveaway problem.

5 Indianapolis Colts (Previous: 5, Movement: None)

In dark times for the quarterbacks of the 2012 Draft, Andrew Luck continues to shine as rightfully the number one pick. Indy leads the NFL in passing yards per game, meaning despite Luck’s growing pains and numerous interceptions, the Colts have provided enough offense to stay ahead. The remainder of the year features seven opponents that have reached the postseason since 2011, a great indicator of how prepared Luck is to take the next step.

4 Seattle Seahawks (Previous: 1, Movement: -3)

Russell Wilson couldn’t receive enough praise for the leadership he showed in the nation’s capital last week. After Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, Seattle has been smacked by reality in a harsh manner. Wilson’s 22.5 QBR is his lowest since 2012, as are Marshawn Lynch’s 61 rushing yards. As with any Super Bowl Champion, high expectations lead to easy disappoint the following season. Seattle is still a contender to return to the big stage in February.

3 Dallas Cowboys (Previous: 8, Movement: +5)

DeMarco Murray is only the second player in NFL history to start the season with six games of at least 100 yards rushing, the first since Jim Brown back in 1958. Even more impressive, Dallas is on their first five game winning streak in 2007, the last and only year the Cowboys have made the playoffs with Tony Romo at quarterback. Two games in the winter against the other 5-1 team, Philadelphia, will determine if the Cowboys can take back the NFC East.

2 Denver Broncos (Previous: 3, Movement: +1)

Ticket prices for this Monday’s game have been elevated over the past week. Not because the first place in the NFC West 49ers are coming to town or due to the national television audience, but for a chance at history. Only three passing touchdowns separate Peyton Manning from sliding past Brett Favre for the most all time. While Manning will add to a sure-fire Hall of Fame resume, leading his team to the Super Bowl remains the priority.

1 San Diego Chargers (Previous: 2, Movement: +1)

Similar to the comeback story in Dallas, Philip Rivers’ return to elite status remains underrated. For the first time since 2002, San Diego has won five straight games. Rivers has revamped the connection he once had with Antonio Gates before the top flite tight end suffered numerous foot injuries. There may not be a halfback at the level of LaDainian Tomlinson to recreate that early 2000’s vibe, but the pieces are in place for a deep playoff run for this team.

Week 6 MVP: JJ Watt, DE, HOU

Week 6 LVP: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, MIN

Week 6 Team of the Week: Dallas Cowboys

Fantasy Sleeper: Owen Daniels, TE, BAL (@ Falcons)

Game to Watch: San Francisco 49ers (4-2) @ Denver Broncos (4-1) (Monday Night Football)

photo credit: USA Today

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