|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 8: Patriots hold on to No. 1, Cowboys up to 2||10.26.16 at 12:41 pm ET|
The Patriots keep the top spot, and a quick look at their schedule shows they’ll likely remain here for the rest of the season. Dallas took the week off but still moved up to No. 2 because the Vikings were on the losing end of a sloppy game in Philly. Denver creeps back into the top five because the defense is so good and the Broncos play so well at home.
The game of the week was the Seahawks-Cardinals 6-6 tie on Sunday night. If you had the fortune of staying awake through the whole game, you got to experience TWO spectacular shanks with the game on the line. The look on Pete Carroll’s face was worth the 75-minute wait and reminded Patriots fans of another Seahawks collapse in the waning moments of a big game. In the five years since the NFL modified it’s overtime rules, this is the fourth time we’ve seen a tie game.
The most interesting division in the AFC is the West, with the Raiders and Broncos tied at 5-2. They have yet to play each other, so there’s a lot of time for things to shuffle around. Kansas City and San Diego are within striking distance, so the winner of the division likely won’t be decided until Week 17. In the NFC, the storylines are coming out of the East with a pair of rookie QBs leading the way. Dak Prescott can rely on an incredible running game in Dallas, and Carson Wentz can lean on a great defense in Philadelphia.
1. (1 last week) Patriots (6-1) — Third down defense is about the only issue this team has. Despite some struggles on the defensive side of the ball, New England still ranks fourth in the league in allowing only 15.3 points per game. LeGarrette Blount is having the best year of his career. Rob Gronkowski finally is healthy and now is reeling in 100 yards per game. Most importantly, Tom Brady has eight TDs and no picks.
2. (3) Cowboys (5-1) — The Cowboys lead the league in rushing with 161 yards per game behind the efforts of Ezekiel Elliot. The rookie RB is on target to bring home a slew of postseason awards, including Offensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and quite possibly MVP. Dez Bryant is set to return from a knee injury this week. Like Minnesota, Dallas hit the bye on a five-game winning streak and returns with a game against the Eagles. The Cowboys hope they’ll have a better results than the Vikings did.
3. (2) Vikings (5-1) — Sam Bradford was exposed in a loss to the Eagles. The Vikings defense is good, but it will have to maintain greatness week in and week out to mask the utter mediocrity that comes with Bradford under center. Mike Zimmer called out the O-line after Bradford was sacked six times and hit 12 times.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 6: Vikings vault into top spot, Patriots hold at No. 2||10.11.16 at 10:24 pm ET|
Not a lot of dramatic changes in this week’s edition of the NFL Power Rankings. The undefeated Vikings take the top spot, with wins over quality teams. The Vikings are one of three teams that have not thrown an interception this season. (The Patriots and Cowboys are the other two.) New England played well in Tom Brady’s return from his suspension, but then again, a win over the Browns can only count for so much.
Aside from Minnesota and Philadelphia, the other big surprise is the emergence of Atlanta as the best offense in the league. Dan Quinn came from Seattle with a defensive pedigree, but he’s got Matt Ryan playing like the QB who led the Falcons to a 14-2 record just a few years ago. Denver takes a big hit with the uncertainty at the QB position. Paxton Lynch may be a first-rounder, but he’ll need some time to develop.
The Cowboys are off to a fast start under Dak Prescott, and if he steals the job away from Tony Romo the NFC East could see Prescott and Carson Wentz battling for the division title for the next 10 years.
1. (2 last week) Vikings (5-0) — After five wins to open the season, get ready for a reality check. Sam Bradford will turn into a pumpkin soon, but the Vikings only have a handful of “tough” games left on the schedule. They lead the league in turnover differential at plus-11.
2. (5) Patriots (4-1) — The return of the G.O.A.T. is only slightly overshadowed by the emergence of Martellus Bennett. If Bennett and Rob Gronkowski stay healthy (tall order, I know) then this is by far the toughest Patriots offense to defend since the ’07 team. There’s also a possibility that Dion Lewis will return next month.
3. (6) Falcons (4-1) — In back-to-back weeks, Atlanta beat the two teams that were in Super Bowl 50. Matt Ryan leads the league in passing with over 333 yards per game, and the team leads the league in points with 35 per game.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 5: Broncos hold at No. 1, Patriots drop to 5||10.04.16 at 3:50 pm ET|
The Pats were poised to take over the top spot in this week’s edition of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings, but a poor showing by the defense and a shutout loss to the Bills derailed those plans. The Broncos continue to play defense reminiscent of the Seahawks from the early part of this decade and the mid-2000s Ravens. The Vikings and Eagles are, by far, the biggest surprises of the season’s first quarter. The Raiders are playing well, but a lot of people predicted that this could be the year Derek Carr shows enough composure to win games on the road, and in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals and Panthers faced off in last year’s NFC championship game, and now both are tied for last place in their divisions. One of these two teams won’t make the playoffs, and with injuries to their QBs, it could be both. The biggest shock in the NFC is the emergence of the first-place L.A. Rams. They currently hold the tiebreaker over the Seahawks, but it’s nearly impossible to fathom a Case Keenum and Jeff Fisher-led team making the playoffs, let alone winning the NFC West.
1. (1) Broncos (4-0) — The best team in football through the first three weeks experienced its first chink in the armor on Sunday when Trevor Siemian went down with a shoulder injury. Fortunately for the Broncos, it was a non-throwing AC joint sprain, and Gary Kubiak is confident his QB will be ready to go against the Bucs this Sunday. But, just like last year, it’s guys like Von Miller, Aqib Talib (2 more picks) and T.J. Ward who have pushed this team to an undefeated record.
2. (4) Vikings (4-0) — We all laughed at the Vikings when they traded a first and fourth for Sam Bradford. Now, at 4-0, Minnesota is on top of the NFC. Bradford hasn’t been lights-out, but he’s done enough to get the team down the field and hasn’t turned the ball over. The Vikings lead the league with a plus-10 turnover ratio. Only Philadelphia is allowing less points per game.
3. (3) Eagles (3-0) — The other half of the Sam Bradford trade is doing just as well. Carson Wentz is playing better than any rookie QB (and most veterans) with five TDs, no picks and a 103.8 passer rating. A bye in Week 4 probably is the worst thing that could happen to this team, since it is rolling. Jim Schwartz is another guy, like Wade Phillips and Rex Ryan, who should realize that his career is best suited in the coordinator role. Schwartz’s defense is leading the NFL, allowing only nine points per game.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 4: Broncos retain top spot, with Patriots close behind||09.27.16 at 5:33 pm ET|
Interceptions came in bunches and told the story of a lot of the Week 3 games. Leading the pick parade was Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with six. Shortly before training camp Fitzpatrick signed a one-year, $12 million deal, which seems awfully high for his services. Arizona’s Carson Palmer is struggling to regain his 2015 form. He threw four INTs against a desperate Bills defense. Cam Newton threw three in the Panthers’ loss to the Vikings, but that was overshadowed by the eight sacks he took. Lastly, Blake Bortles added three more to his resume in a loss to Ravens. Bortles now has 41 career INTs to go with his 51 TDs. It’s time for Jacksonville to draft another quarterback.
Patriots fans won’t like seeing their team in the No. 2 spot after Thursday’s shutout of the Texans, but the uncertainty of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett’s health is cause for concern. Coach Bill Belichick did a great job getting his team ready on a short week, but if both backups are dealing with injuries, and Rob Gronkowski is only being used a decoy, they’ll have to wait one more week to jump to the top of the pile. The Denver defense just keeps doing its thing. John Elway clearly made the right decision when he allowed Brock Osweiler to walk. The biggest surprise of the season is how well Carson Wentz and the Eagles are playing. I originally thought that Eli Manning and the Giants were the only contenders in the NFC East, but both the Eagles and the Cowboys have shown they can play with rookies under center.
The Ravens are a fraudulent 3-0 based on the teams they’ve played, but Joe Flacco has a championship pedigree and looked good on Sunday, completing 21 passes in a row at one point. The Ravens are on top of the AFC North, with the Bengals and Steelers at 2-1, which means this division, per usual, will come down to the wire.
1. (1 last week) Broncos (3-0) — Trevor Siemian continues to play better than Peyton Manning did last year, and Brock Osweiler this year. The losses of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan haven’t slowed down the defense one bit. After a failed head coaching stint in Dallas, Wade Phillips realized that he’s better suited as a defensive coordinator. A dominant win on the road keeps the Broncos on top for another week.
2. (2) Patriots (3-0) — Bill Belichick rarely gets considered for the NFL Coach of the Year award because his teams are expected roll out of bed and go 12-4. Thursday night’s win should change that. Belichick had three days to prepare Jacoby Brissett, and the most exciting moment must have been when Belichick got to run the option in an NFL game.
3. (12) Eagles (3-0) — Doug Pederson and the Eagles front office are getting a lot of praise for nailing the decision to trade Sam Bradford and go with rookie Carson Wentz, who’s been simply amazing in his first three games. Wentz has yet to throw a pick in his first 102 passes. But the real shocker was holding the Steelers offense to just three points. Philly leads the league allowing only nine points per game. This team is recovering from the Chip Kelly era a lot faster than we all thought it would.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 9: Broncos vault to 2 after rout of Packers||11.05.15 at 11:40 pm ET|
We’re down to four unbeaten teams with the Patriots, Broncos, Bengals and Panthers all winning in Week 8. The Broncos‘ beatdown of the Packers in prime time vaulted them into the No. 2 slot. Their defense looks like the best unit since the 2001 Ravens. DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are terrorizing opposing offensive lines and making things easier on the secondary, which is loaded with talent in Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Chris Harris. Gary Kubiak‘s revamped offense took a while to take hold, but C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are running over teams, which is the only way to mask the deficiencies of their over-the-hill quarterback.
Cam Newton generated a lot of conversation this week after with a win over Indianapolis. He made a few mistakes but did what he had to do to get the win. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Newton is built like a linebacker, which is convenient, since so many Panthers plays put him right in the thick of the defense. Typically, the narrative with “running” quarterbacks includes some sort of caveat about them eventually getting hurt if they don’t avoid contact (see RG III, Michael Vick, Andrew Luck, Ryan Fitzpatrick). But Newton often is the one left standing after a collision with defenders. He can throw from the pocket and is athletic enough to get big yards with his legs. For these reasons, Newton has surpassed all other “next generation” QBs.
The Raiders jump into the top 10 with an impressive 14-point victory over the Jets. Derek Carr has been playing well all season, and his chemistry with rookie wideout Amari Cooper has been noticeable as well. Although the AFC West belongs to Denver, the Raiders could make a push for the playoffs a lot sooner than people imagined. Carr’s name soon will be mentioned alongside Newton, Russell Wilson and Luck if he keeps up this pace.
1. (1 last week) Patriots (7-0) — Another rout of an AFC opponent keeps the Pats on top with no end in sight. Tom Brady keeps rolling and now has 20 TDs with only one interception. The defensive backfield hasn’t really been tested since opening night, and likely won’t be until the playoffs.
2. (5) Broncos (7-0) — The best defense in the NFL put the clamps on Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night. Gary Kubiak is doing an outstanding job of masking his QB’s inefficiencies with an excellent run game.
3. (2) Bengals (7-0) — The Bengals are 8-0 for the first time in their history, following Thursday night’s win over the Browns. A tough schedule lies ahead (unlike NE and Denver), so a first-round bye will be tough to get.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 8: Broncos-Packers showdown looms||10.29.15 at 10:06 pm ET|
Heading into Week 8, there are five teams remaining with a perfect 6-0 record. All five teams have had a bye week. Statistically, the Patriots have had the most difficult schedule, including two teams with winning records. Of 18 combined wins among the Bengals, Packers and Panthers, all of them have been against teams with losing records. Denver played one opponent that has a winning record, beating Minnesota (4-2). Green Bay travels to Denver on Sunday night for what will be the game of year up this point. Expect some more movement at the top next week.
The NFC East is the tightest race in football, with last-place Dallas only 1 1/2 games out of first. The Cowboys need Tony Romo and Dez Bryant back on the field ASAP, or Greg Hardy will kill the team from within. Hardy’s postgame back and forth with the media was not the same as Marshawn Lynch‘s shenanigans. Jerry Jones has enabled the worst person in the NFL to be the worst person he can be.
Cam Newton continues to impress me every week. He’s faster than both Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, and has all the pocket presence that’s expected from the first overall pick. The Panthers should be shopping for another receiving threat to go along with Greg Olsen, and as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk pointed out, it should be Anquan Boldin. Boldin still is productive in the twilight of his career and would bring a lot of playoff experience to a young Panthers locker room.
1. (1 last week) Patriots (6-0) — Thirty more points from the offense (despite 11 drops) against a great defense keeps the Pats in the top spot. Brandon LaFell let six balls hit the ground but was able to create separation all day. He’ll be fine, and Tom Brady will have five legitimate scoring threats on the field at all times.
2. (2) Bengals (6-0) — The schedule isn’t grueling down the stretch, but road games in Pittsburgh, Arizona and Denver will put this offense to the test.
3. (3) Packers (6-0) — Mike McCarthy has an even harder schedule ahead, with back-to-back road games in Denver and Carolina, then trips to Minnesota and Arizona later in the year.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 7: Undefeated Panthers continue climb||10.23.15 at 8:39 am ET|
Five teams remain undefeated through six NFL weeks. The most impressive win in Week 6 was in Seattle, where the Panthers improved to 5-0 with a 27-23 win over the Seahawks. Nine QBs who started this past Sunday were drafted with the No. 1 overall pick. Of that bunch, Cam Newton has the most upside and has made the most improvement on a year-to-year basis. Andrew Luck was supposed to be a sure thing, but recently Newton has surpassed him (as well as Russell Wilson).
The Jets continue to exceed expectations, despite Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s penchant for turnovers. A 4-1 record, a strong running game and an outstanding defense has Jets fans in a controlled frenzy. The team has taken on the personality of the its coach, Todd Bowles, and it’s working. It’ll be interesting to see how Bowles deploys Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie against Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
Staying in the AFC East, the Bills are sinking fast, and Rex Ryan heads to London trying to a quell a mini-mutiny. Ryan has given his defense a lot of freedom this year, and the Bills have responded by being the most penalized team in football, and now they’re popping off about Rex’s decisions on defense. Meanwhile, interim Dolphins coach Dan Campbell won his first game (albeit against the Titans coming off a bye week) so he’ll make things interesting as fans in Miami will get a chance to see what they have with their former tight ends coach.
1. (1 last week) Patriots (5-0) — The offense continues to roll with another 30-plus-point performance in Indy. Tom Brady has the team leading the league with 36.6 points per game. With the team at 5-0, fans and media in New England are looking ahead, trying to find a game the Pats could lose. If this team stays relatively healthy, the road the Super Bowl will go through Foxboro, again.
2. (3) Bengals (6-0) — Andy Dalton is 0-4 in playoff games, but it might be easier to get his first win if that game comes at home, after a bye. Is Marvin Lewis the second-best coach in the AFC? Apparently.
3. (2) Packers (6-0) — A great character win Sunday, with rookie CB Damarious Randall coming up huge with a game-saving pass deflection in the final seconds. The Packers head into the bye at a perfect 6-0, but they will have tough tests when they return, with back-to-back away games against the Broncos and Panthers.
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