NFL Power Rankings for Week 3 (Sept. 18, 2014)

Denver Broncos v Buffalo BillsAre the Buffalo Bills the NFL’s surprise team this year? Few would have guessed this coming into the season since the Bills haven’t made the playoffs in 14 seasons, and haven’t had a winning record in 9 years. But they are certainly looking the part of a changed team after beating Chicago on the road, and walloping Miami 29-10 last week.

Buffalo faces yet another good opponent in San Diego, and this matchup will reveal more about just how much they’ve improved. The Bills have already improved quite a bit in our power rankings as they represent the biggest jump.

1. Denver Broncos (2-0); beat Kansas City 24-17, moves up one spot – Few expected the Broncos to be challenged at home after the way that Kansas City played in Week 1. This was especially the case since the team was missing Jamaal Charles. Nevertheless, give Denver credit for beating a division rival and maintaining their unblemished mark.

2. Seattle Seahawks (1-1); lost to San Diego 30-21, drops one spot – A bit of a disappointment here as Seattle couldn’t seem to cover Antonio Gates as he caught three touchdown passes. Of course, Percy Harvin’s second-quarter fumble didn’t help matters – this was a huge momentum-shifter. But while the defending Super Bowl champs’ bid for perfection may have ended early, a road loss to San Diego is no reason to get alarmed.

3. New England Patriots (1-1); beat Minnesota 30-7, moves up two spots – With the NFC’s elites looking rather mediocre last weekend, we see another AFC team near the top. New England was great on both sides of the ball – intercepting Matt Cassel four times – en route to a blowout. Stevan Ridley showed that he’s not in Bill Belichick’s doghouse by rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown.

darren-sproles-eagles4. Philadelphia Eagles (2-0); beat Indianapolis 30-27, moves up two spots – Nick Foles had yet another poor first-half performance, only to help the team come roaring back in the second half. The Eagles deserve praise for fighting back in what looked like a Colts victory. Darren Sproles was more than impressive out of the backfield, racking up 152 receiving yards on just seven catches.

5. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0); beat Atlanta Falcons 24-10, moves up two spots – The Falcons are a much-improved team, which is why this is a very good victory for Cincinnati – especially without A.J. Green on the field. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have quickly made their case for being the league’s top young backfield. And let us not forget how dominant the defense was against Atlanta.

6. San Francisco 49ers (1-1); lost to Chicago Bears 28-20, drops three spots – How San Francisco lost this one is beyond us. They jumped out to a 17-0 lead and were ahead 20-7 going into the fourth quarter. However, five turnovers, 16 penalties and a big drop near the end doomed San Francisco. Oh yeah…and they also let Jay Cutler throw three touchdowns in the last quarter. We pity the Niners at practice this week with Jim Harbaugh.

7. Green Bay Packers (1-1); beat New York Jets 31-24, moves up one spot – The Packers offense couldn’t have started off any slower, and the defense couldn’t have started any worse. Green Bay finally put two and a half quarters of good football together, capped off by Jordy Nelson’s 80-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. His 209 receiving yards were the third most in a game in Packers’ history.

8. Carolina Panthers (2-0); beat Detroit 24-7, moves up two spots – Against the Giants in Week 1, Detroit’s offense looked unstoppable. Against the Panthers, they looked lost, which is only a testament to how dominant Carolina’s front seven is. Greg Hardy going on the exempt list until at least mid-November really hurts. However, this defense isn’t all about Hardy, as just 21 points allowed and 6 forced turnovers through two games indicate.

9. New Orleans Saints (0-2); lost to Cleveland Browns 26-24, drops five spots – The Saints, who as always came into this season with Super Bowl aspirations, couldn’t have envisioned a worse start to the season. The offense was sluggish in the beginning, and the defense failed to make plays when it mattered. Case in point: the Saints’ pass defense on Andrew Hawkins’ big reception at the end that set up a game-winning field goal.

jay-cutler-bears10. Chicago Bears (1-1); beat San Francisco 28-20, moves up two spots – The Bears played one great quarter of football and took advantage of a San Francisco team that was hellbent on beating itself. So we’re not ready to predict a Super Bowl parade in Chicago just yet. Nevertheless, this was a very good victory for this team, especially stepping up when so many of their defenders went down with injuries.

11. Arizona Cardinals (2-0); beat New York Giants 25-14, moves up two spots – Playing a terrible Giants team allowed Arizona to survive both their first game without Carson Palmer and a road contest. This team will be relying much more on Andre Ellington now that Jonathan Dwyer has become the latest NFL player embroiled in a domestic abuse case.

12. Indianapolis Colts (0-2); lost to Philadelphia Eagles 30-27, drops three spots – Bad officiating and poor play-calling cost the Colts what should have been a victory. The decision to run the first two downs on Indianapolis’ last drive was baffling. They should get a victory this week in Jacksonville, however, the Colts are still starting off in an 0-2 hole.

13. San Diego Chargers (1-1); beat Seattle Seahawks, moves up two spots – There weren’t may people who called the win over Seattle. As mentioned in the introduction, Gates had an amazing day, helping Philip Rivers to also finish well with 287 yards and three touchdowns. They’ll now head out to Buffalo with plenty of confidence after beating the defending champs.

14. Buffalo Bills (2-0); beat Miami Dolphins 29-10, moves up 12 spots – Like everybody else, we underrated Buffalo coming into the season and thought that their win in Chicago was a fluke. But then they came out and dismantled our darkhorse favorite for the AFC East crown. C.J. Spiller showed just why he’s so dangerous on a 102-yard kickoff return while Sammy Watkins caught 8 passes for 117 yards and a TD.

bernard-pierce-ravens-201415. Baltimore Ravens (1-1); beat Pittsburgh Steelers 26-16, moves up two spots – So much for Bernard Pierce being benched for ineffectiveness as he rushed 22 times for 96 yards. Justin Forsett added eight carries for 56 yards, completing a backfield that could make fans forget Ray Rice.

16. Miami Dolphins (1-1); lost to Buffalo Bills 29-10, drops two spots – After a huge win over New England, Miami followed this up with a dud against the Bills. Their coverage on Spiller’s kickoff return was poor at best. And now they have to contend with Knowshon Moreno’s elbow injury. Hopefully this doesn’t turn into last year’s situation, where the team can’t string together consistent performances.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1); lost to Baltimore Ravens 26-6, drops six spots – A highly disappointing performance on both sides of the ball for Pittsburgh – especially from their lineman. The three turnovers added to the dismal offensive output while the linebackers and safeties got burned several times in coverage. Is this just another 8-8 Steelers team?

18. Atlanta Falcons (1-1); lost to Cincinnati Bengals 24-10, drops two spots – We expect the Falcons to be a player in the NFC South race. But after putting up little fight against Cincinnati, they haven’t shown too much so far. Matt Ryan was under pressure from a strong Bengals front seven all game, leading to 24-for-44 passing, three interceptions and being sacked three times. With no real running threat, Atlanta is a team that will live and die by the pass.

19. Detroit Lions (1-1); lost to Carolina Panthers 24-7, drops one spot – It seemed that nothing was really working for Detroit last Sunday. Their run game was stuffed and Matt Stafford didn’t get many good looks downfield. Give the nasty Carolina defense some credit here, but also consider the Lions’ three turnovers.

alex-smith-kansas-city20. Kansas City Chiefs (0-2); lost to Denver 24-17, drops two spots – We weren’t expecting big things from the Chiefs this season. But their performance against Denver without Jamaal Charles was commendable. After a disastrous three-interception outing in Week 1, Alex Smith turned in a strong, scrappy effort with 255 passing yards and 42 rushing yards. He’ll have to do far more of this with Charles out.

21. New York Jets (1-1); lost to Green Bay 31-24, drops one spot – Even when Geno Smith led the Jets to an early 21-3 lead over Green Bay, many fans probably had a feeling that the Packers would have the last laugh. And that’s exactly what happened as the Packers stormed back from an 18-point deficit to beat the hapless Jets. To add insult to injury, Jeremy Kerley’s game-tying, 37-yard touchdown catch was wiped out because New York called a timeout from the sidelines.

22. Dallas Cowboys (0-1); beat Tennessee 26-10, moves up six spots – Maybe Dallas isn’t going to be so bad this year. DeMarco Murray powered his way to 167 yards and a TD on just 29 carries. With such a balanced offense, Tony Romo was better able to manage the game and, most importantly, avoid throwing any interceptions.

23. St. Louis (1-1); beat Tampa Bay 19-17, moves up one spot – All bets were off on Austin Davis leading the Rams to a victory on the road. However, in his first-ever start, Davis turned in a decent game by completing 22-of-29 passes for 235 yards. Most importantly, he didn’t throw any interceptions and got the team in position for a TD and four field goals.

24. Houston Texans (2-0); beat Oakland 30-14, moves up one spot – If you’ll remember, the Texas started 2-0 last year, only to lose the next 14 games. Somehow, though, we feel that this year is different. This is especially the case if Arian Foster stays healthy, as he rushed for 138 yards and a score on 28 carries. But there needs to be some victories over teams besides the Skins and Raiders before they move up.

25. Tennessee Titans (1-1); lost to Dallas Cowboys 26-10, drops four spots – Tennessee’s run defense, which held up so well against the Chiefs, was absolutely obliterated by Dallas. The Boys rushed for over 200 yards, with Murray leading the way during his 167-yard effort. Meanwhile, the Titans rushed just 13 times total, which pretty much tells you everything about why Tennessee was dominated at home.

26. Minnesota Vikings (1-1); lost to New England 30-7, drops three spots – Losing Adrian Peterson to a child abuse case comes at a very bad time for the Vikings. Now opposing defenses can virtually ignore the run game, or force Matt Cassel to beat them…it doesn’t really matter.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2); lost to St. Louis 19-17, drops five spots – In most cases, having a rusher like Bobby Rainey go for 144 yards on just 22 carries is a recipe for victory. But that wasn’t the case for Tampa Bay as they found a way to lose this one. It seems like they’re going to find a lot of ways to lose in 2014.

28. Cleveland Browns (1-1); beat New Orleans 26-24, moves up one spot – The defense played very well against the Saints’ dynamic offense, not allowing Drew Brees many opportunities. Plus the rookie backfield of Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell continues to carry the load, as evidenced by their combined 30 carries and 122 yards. We don’t foresee the playoffs this year, however, Cleveland has refused to roll over for superior opponents.

29. Washington Redskins (1-1); beat Jacksonville Jaguars 41-10, moves up two spots – Maybe it’s that they played the Jacksonville Jaguars, maybe it’s Kirk Cousins finally taking over the quarterback reigns (or a lot of both), but Washington looked pretty good in this blowout. Cousins threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns while Alfred Morris rushed for 85 yards and another pair of scores.

30. New York Giants (0-2); lost to Arizona 25-14, drops three spots – It seems like a really long time ago when Eli Manning won those two Super Bowls. The Giants blew a golden opportunity to get their first win at home against Drew Stanton and the Cardinals. Is a Tom Coughlin-led revival in the cards this season, or just another non-playoff year?

31. Oakland Raiders (0-2); lost to Houston Texans 30-14, moves up one spot – More than anything, this year just seems like an opportunity to season Derek Carr, who passed for 263 yards and a TD, and rushed for another 58 yards. Of course, as his two interceptions indicate, the rookie will make plenty of mistakes.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2); lost to Washington Redskins 41-10, drops one spot – This isn’t all Chad Henne’s fault because the O-line is playing terribly (also see Toby Gerhart’s 2.0 YPC). But Jacksonville might as well give the superior Blake Bortles an opportunity soon because this season is already getting out of hand.

Don’t expect Raiders to pass on a Good Quarterback

teddy-bridgewater-louisvilleOnce again, the Oakland Raiders are coming off a very disappointing season where they finished 4-12 and were nowhere near the playoff picture. And once again, they have the opportunity to land a high draft pick who could make a huge impact on the struggling franchise.

The Raiders pick fifth in the 2014 NFL Draft and their immediate focus appears to be on a quarterback. Head coach Dennis Allen indicated this by saying that QB is “a position we’ve obviously got to look at.”

The word “obviously” definitely fits here because Oakland’s returning quarterbacks, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin, don’t yet seem capable of leading a team to success. Pryor initially caused a spark after beating out Matt Flynn for the starting job in training camp. He rushed for 162 yards in the first two games of the 2013 season and led Oakland to a 1-1 record. Pryor was knocked out of the third game with a concussion and never developed any passing rhythm after coming back.

Pryor’s Week 9 MCL sprain gave undrafted rookie Matt McGloin an opportunity to start. Although he proved to be a better pure pocket passer with 1,547 yards, 8 TD’s and 8 INT’s, McGloin only led the Raiders to one win in his seven appearances.

Given their options, Oakland could definitely grab a more heralded signal caller. And the 2014 Draft class has a number of strong QB prospects, with Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles leading the way.

The only problem is that there are three other teams with pressing quarterback needs themselves. The Houston Texans, Jacksvonille Jaguars and Cleveland Browns all pick ahead of Oakland and could take a QB. Houston might go quarterback or defense, while experts definitely expect Jacksonville and Cleveland to go QB.

But this certainly hasn’t stopped Oakland from spending countless hours looking at game footage of passers. After watching the tape, Manziel is one prospect who really sticks out in Allen’s mind as he said:

He’s accomplished a lot at the collegiate level he’s been a very good football player being the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy speaks for itself. I think he’s a very talented football player, he’s a multidimensional football player. He’s able to throw the ball from the pocket and do things with his feet. As we get more into the evaluation process he’ll be a fun one to look at.

Once again, though, Oakland needs to prepare for a scenario in which they don’t get Manziel or the other two top signal callers. There are plenty of other potential stars in the draft, including South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Auburn left tackle terrelle-pryor-raidersGreg Robinson. Plus, the team doesn’t sound like they’re entirely down on the returning quarterbacks. “One of those things we have to determine,” said Allen with regard to who’ll start next year. “We’re going to look at that position very closely. In my opinion we’ve got two young quarterbacks with potential.”

However, Allen played devil’s advocate by saying, “I don’t know the answer to that yet. The quarterback position is the backbone of your football team. We’ve got to make sure that when we go out there this year, we put ourselves in the best position to have success with the quarterback position.”

Assuming Oakland really feels some urgency in this draft, they might consider trading up into one of the top three positions. But is it worth sacrificing other draft picks to move up for one player when you’re a team that needs so much? Maybe so, when you consider the large amount of quarterback failures that Oakland has experienced over the past several years.

Blake Bortles: Top Pick in 2014 NFL Draft?

blake-bortles-top-draft-pickSeveral months ago, it was thought that either Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were going to be the top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. However, other players like Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews and his teammate, QB Johnny Manziel, have also been discussed as the potential top overall pick. Now, you can add Central Florida QB Blake Bortles to the list of potential number one’s as well.

Bortles has always been considered a high pick in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. But it wasn’t until new Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien talked highly of him that Bortles has suddenly leapt up the mock draft charts. “Blake is a good-sized guy. He’s an athletic guy for his size. He’s an accurate passer,” O’Brien said. “The guys who coached him at Central Florida think highly of him as a young man who really studies the game. He works hard at the game.”

If it seems like O’Brien is especially high on Bortles, he’s because he got to see the young signal caller up close and personal. The 6’4″ QB led Central Florida over O’Brien’s Penn State team by a score of 34-31. Bortles had 288 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in that contest.

blake-bortles-top-draft-pick-1Aside from seeing him play, O’Brien also had a connection to Bortles through UCF coach George O’Leary. The former Penn State coach worked under O’Leary for eight seasons at Georgia Tech. So he should get a very accurate and favorable scouting report from O’Leary.

Another factor that goes in Bortles’ favor is the fact that he’s a prototypical pocket passer, something which neither Bridgewater nor Manziel are. Given that O’Brien’s college offense centered around a pocket passer, he’s likely to look for the same when he’s running the Texans next season.

Of course, we can’t quite rule out Jadeveon Clowney, despite him not living up to the sky-high expectations placed on him this past college football season. However, there’s no denying Clowney’s talent, which was easily evident in a sophomore year where he racked up 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses. Add in the fact that Houston owner Bob McNair said his team is open to taking a defensive player first, and this is a likely possibility.

Provided the Texans take Clowney, the Rams would likely take another position other than quarterback, seeing as how they have Sam Bradford already. This would leave the Jacksonville Jaguars (third), Cleveland Browns (fourth) and Oakland Raiders (fifth) left to scoop Bortles, Bridgewater and Manziel. All three of these teams desperately want a QB of the future, and they could find it this year.

With so much uncertainty at the top of the 2014 NFL Draft, it’ll definitely be exciting to see who goes where. Whatever happens, though, hopefully none of the top picks end up on the list of biggest NFL Draft busts.

Should the Texans really trade the Number One Pick?

teddy-bridgewater-louisvilleNothing in the NFL news will overshadow the Wild Card games this weekend. Nevertheless, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair did manage to steal a headline or two when he declared that Houston is open to trading the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. “Maybe we’ll trade down and still get a quarterback that can do the job and get an outstanding defensive player,” McNair said. “It’s an exciting time. Everything’s a moving target. Lot of different pieces.”

When you lose 14 games in a row like the Texans did, you should be open to anything. But is this a draft where Houston really wants to trade the top selection away for more picks? After all, many consider this draft to be pretty rich in quarterbacks, and if anybody needs an outstanding signal caller, it is the Texans. But on the other hand, maybe McNair is saying this because they haven’t fallen in love with any players.

With Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater officially declaring for the draft, many see him as the best quarterback prospect available. Several months ago, it was considered a two-man battle between Bridgewater and South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney for who’d be the number one overall pick in 2014. However, Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews has since shot up the board and is also in contention for the top selection. This being said, is it worth holding on to the number one overall pick for Houston?

johnny-manzielThis is an especially pertinent question when you consider that other worthy quarterbacks like A&M’s Johnny Manziel, UCF’s Blake Bortles, and Fresno State’s Derek Carr all warrant high first-round consideration. Okay, so you can probably thrown Derek Carr out of the mix because his older brother, David, didn’t exactly pan out as Houston’s inaugural draft pick.

Chances are, though, the Texans are taking a quarterback at some point in the first round, whether they trade down for a lower pick or keep the number one selection. They’ve got Matt Schaub and Case Keenum on the roster right now. Schaub is looked at as an aging has-been who contributed to Houston’s downfall with all of his pick-sixes. Keenum showed some flashes of brilliance, but he never clearly locked down the starting QB role when given a chance.

Of course, there’s always the potential curveball, where Houston could take a defensive player or offensive tackle like Matthews. Texans general manager Rick Smith alluded to this with the following statement:

I don’t think you take a particular position just because you need a particular position at any point in the draft, especially the first pick. So we’ll rank it, we’ll value it, and we’ll make good choices if the opportunity presents itself to move back because it is a very valuable pick, and we’ll entertain those as well.

Looking at Houston’s history, it may not be so crazy to go defense with the top overall choice. In 2007, they made the controversial decision to select DE Mario Williams over the more-electrifying and popular pick, Reggie Bush. And while Bush has had his share of NFL success, it is Williams whom many think boasts the better career. Taking this into consideration, Clowney, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack can’t be left out of the number-one-overall discussion either.

Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that McNair has already created some NFL Draft excitement months in advance of the big day.