The Power Rankings return way too early. All the caveats about one week of games apply. I will be accused of overreacting and underreacting, sometimes in regard to the same team. This year, though, I’m going to do it a little differently. Rather than just putting teams in a straight order, I am going to group them into 7 different tiers each week, in groups of 2, 4, 6, 8, 6, 4 and 2.
TIER ONE (Super Bowl Favorites)
Green Bay Packers: Sure, that defense gave up some yards and points to the Saints, but that was two heavyweights going at it. This offense is scary with Finley back.
New England Patriots: Ruthless opening performance by Brady and that Patriots offense. The defense gave up yards in the air, but controlled the running game (insert Reggie Bush jokes here).
TIER TWO (Super Bowl Contenders)
Baltimore Ravens: As impressive an opening day win as anyone. I was wrong to have this team on the edge of the playoffs, and they ran the ball and passed the ball well on offense, while Ngata is a beast.
New Orleans Saints: The offense is far more versatile this year with healthy backs and the emergence of Jimmy Graham. Defense will improve to be good enough when Will Smith returns.
Philadelphia Eagles: Despite the preseason angst over Vick’s interceptions and the line, this team went out and did what it needed to do in week 1 on the road.
San Diego Chargers: Last year’s team would have lost that opener. Kickoff return TD, torn ACL for the placekicker, and turnovers (on downs, because of no placekicker, and interception) near the red zone in the first half. A team that can completely throttle an opponent when trailing like that is a pretty good sign. Once it got close, there was little doubt who would win.
TIER THREE (Playoff Contenders)
New York Jets: The Defense will still be a Rex Ryan Special. The offense benefitted from playing against backup corners most of game, and still not believing in a Burress/Mason combo. Rumors of LT’s demise at the hands of Shonne Greene overstated . . . again.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Yes, they looked bad and had turnovers against Baltimore. I’ll not be really worried about the defense unless they give up an actual long touchdown drive by Tarvaris Jackson this week.
Detroit Lions: Far more impressive performance on the road at Tampa than the final score indicates. Pettigrew dropped TD on third down in red zone and a tipped interception return for Tampa Bay kept it closer, but Lions dominated most of this game. Nick Fairley hasn’t even lined up next to Suh yet. Legitimate playoff contender.
Houston Texans: Look like the clear class of the AFC South after Jacksonville and Tennessee played patty cake and they dominated Indianapolis.
Dallas Cowboys: Yes, they melted down at the end. Let’s not forget that they also had a lead at New York in the fourth quarter, and the secondary was depleted. That offense will be explosive.
Chicago Bears: The final margin was impressive thanks to some long screen plays where Atlanta missed tackles, plus the Bears recovering every fumble, both theirs and the Falcons. Still not sold, but they get into this group because of the defense, just like last year.
TIER FOUR (Average Teams)
Atlanta Falcons: Pass defense a major concern. If it doesn’t show improvement against Eagles, they aren’t getting higher than this in 2011, even with a decent offense.
Oakland Raiders: Excellent pressure from the defensive line in the opener, and the defense was very aggressive. Throw in some playmakers, and this team is lurking.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: That opening performance didn’t resolve fears this team could regress with a little tougher schedule. The offense never got going against Detroit. I think they bounce back but are still closer to 8-8.
Buffalo Bills: Hey, unlike last year, the Bills didn’t embarrass me when I said they would be close to average! The schedule still gets a lot tougher than what KC offers.
Miami Dolphins: Yes, they got torched on defense. The offense was better, even though I wasn’t impressed with Bush. How many QB’s and teams can spread out the Dolphins like that and basically never challenge Vontae Davis? The ones in the top tiers here, but not many below them. The red zone performance was horrible and they need to figure things, but I’m sticking with my views on Miami, competitive and can challenge for a playoff spot with a few breaks.
Washington Redskins: Grossman was not an embarrassment though he drew a decimated Giants team, to be fair. The rest of the team, as I thought, looks better. I said they were an enigma, and it’s only one week, but I’m leaning “solid” rather than “really bad.”
New York Giants: The defensive problems keep this team from going higher, but the offense will be too good to drop down to some of those teams I have below.
Minnesota Vikings: This team is probably closer to that tier below. The defense looks good, and I’m loving DE Brian Robison after week 1. The offense? offensive. It will keep them from going much higher, and that schedule looks tough if Detroit is legit.
TIER FIVE (Below Average But Competitive, Playoff Contender in NFC West)
Denver Broncos: The line struggled in the opener, so of course the fans booed for the third string QB all game. (Orton didn’t play his best, and had a couple of notable bad plays, but a lot was on the line play). The defense had its flaws, but looks to be much improved. Closer to 7-9 than the disaster that was last season, once the new staff gets more time in.
Arizona Cardinals: The pass defense was pretty bad. Kolb leading the offense can at least be solid. Arizona fans better hope the defensive lapses were due to a bad gameplan where they underestimated Newton and blitzed him too much and too obviously.
St. Louis Rams: They still need playmakers to emerge on offense, and Jackson’s absence could slow them out of the gate.
Jacksonville Jaguars: McCown wasn’t horrible. A 16-14 win over Tennessee at home also doesn’t fill me with confidence this team is greatly improved.
Cleveland Browns: I thought the Browns were a sleeper. They slept in week 1 in a classic overconfidence game in a favorite’s role they haven’t earned. Came out flat and found themselves down 13-0 right away, fought back, then lost on a blown coverage. Colt McCoy had a bad final quarter. They’ll improve as the season goes on.
Cincinnati Bengals: Still not sold here, especially if Bruce Gradkowski is QB. Haden shut down Green until the play where he was uncovered at the snap, and Benson’s numbers boosted by a late TD run.
TIER SIX (Bad Teams)
Carolina Panthers: Carolina is close to being a tier up, but that Beason injury will hurt. Newton will have up and down days, but is clearly a huge upgrade over Jimmy Clausen.
Tennessee Titans: Dreadful offense performance disguised by one big play to Kenny Britt. Chris Johnson was limited because of his holdout, so they better hope it improves when he works back to full-time.
Indianapolis Colts: Bad special teams, bad defensive play, and the difference between Manning and Collins. Still don’t think they are as bad as they looked in week 1.
San Francisco 49ers: When you need two returns by Ted Ginn to put away the Seahawks, you are not good.
TIER SEVEN (Really Bad Teams)
Kansas City Chiefs: Maybe I’m being harsh on the Chiefs here, but then you didn’t see just how dreadful this team played. Horrible offense in the preseason carried over, and I’ve never been a huge Matt Cassel fan. The defense lost Eric Berry on the back end, who played every defensive snap last year. They lost AT HOME by 34 to the Bills. At least the Colts can say they lost on the road at Houston.
Going back to 1978, 8 teams lost the opener at home to a non-playoff team (sorry, Bills fans, I think you are decent but not jumping on a post season bandwagon yet) by at least 24 points. They averaged 4.8 wins, and that is bolstered by a perennial playoff Steelers team in 1997 that lost to the perennial playoff Cowboys and went on to win 11 games. The median was 3.5 wins.
Seattle Seahawks: Nothing in week one changes my opinion that this is the worst team. They lost 9 games by 14 or more last year, and open with another double digit loss against an unimpressive San Francisco. The only reason they won’t finish with the worst record is because they play the NFC West and could eke out 4 wins.
[photo via Getty]