The Cover 4.com presents you with The Week 8 NFL Power Rankings! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour
Well, we are already halfway through the 2013 NFL season. Just like any season in football, it has been filled with pleasant surprises and surprising disappointments. If your favorite team is not playing its best, do not fret because a lot can happen the next eight weeks.
Depending on what you think of commissioner Roger Goodell (probably nothing good), you have to give him credit for keeping this league fair and full of parity through various means. You can basically separate the league into three different tiers based on winning percentage, but even then different teams from different tiers blend together due to strength of schedule and/or good and bad breaks in games (Tampa Bay, as bad it is, should have at least one win). You’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t for parity in professional sports, unless you are me and how it is my job to attempt to rank these teams effectively. Four weeks in, the Denver Broncos seemed to be the clear cut No. 1 team. After the last two weeks, perhaps the gap isn’t as quite as large as we thought. Either way, after I name the team and its rank, in parenthesis will be the amount of spots they climbed or fell from my preseason rankings. This part will be especially funny when we get to TampaBay or the New York Giants. After that, I’ll give a brief explanation on why I put them there, and either me defending why I thought they would be good or me making fun of myself as I pull quotes from my late August column. Let’s get to it.
1. Denver Broncos (+2)
Through four weeks, Peyton Manning and the Broncos were the talk of the town with the most prolific offensive start in the history of the NFL. Armed with so many weapons, Manning looked unstoppable as he was dinking and dunking his way to the record books. The Broncos looked solid on defense even if they were doing it without the second-best defensive player in football, Von Miller, and their best cornerback, Champ Bailey. Well, a loss to the Indianapolis Colts and slow starts against the Washington Racial Slurs (in the first half) and Dallas Cowboys stopped their incredible progress and may have shown a blueprint on how to beat them, by targeting their weak offensive line and playing physical, hard-nosed defense. Using that strategy come December and January, and add in Peyton’s terrible cold temperature record in the playoffs (0-4 in games under 40 degrees), this team will roll through the regular season but might be more exposed than people expect come playoff time.
2. Seattle Seahawks (-1)
This team is probably best fit to beat the Broncos in the postseason (or Super Bowl, considering conference), and not just because it’s ranked second. The Seahawks have the punishing defense whose best asset is their secondary and a coolheaded quarterback who knows the best way to beat Denver is to not let them on the field. This team will always be in the top three, just because they are amazingly well balanced. Great defense, and good distribution of when to throw and when to hand it off to feature back Marshawn Lynch.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (+13)
We have our first double-digit jump! The Chiefs were the sexy pick in preseason to bounce back from a morbid 2-14 season last year, but no one could have predicted an 8-0 start. This team is your best bet to beat Denver in the AFC playoffs, only because it’s a slightly lesser version of the Seahawks. Kansas City’s defense is playing just as well as Seattle’s if not better, but the fall off is on the offensive side of the ball. Say what you want about Andy Reid’s game management (if you give me some time, I can say a lot) but this season he has remained relatively mistake free. Whether that is a fluke, it is nonetheless encouraging. Alex Smith is another great game manager, but just a step below Russell Wilson. He has conference championship experience, and can utilize weapons to overcome his shortcomings. The Chiefs defense, combined with the slow and plodding offense but sudden playmaking ability of Jamaal Charles, presents an underrated challenge to the Broncos.
4. Indianapolis Colts (+14)
The Colts made an even bigger jump than the Chiefs. I wrote about them last week, and how Andrew Luck is a one man regression fighter. In my preseason preview, I said the numbers pointed to the Colts overachieving last season and were bound to come down to earth, but this team is still very good because of who is under center. Well, I was half right. Surely, I didn’t expect them to beat the San Francisco 49ers, Broncos and Seahawks, all of which are incredible wins. One win is a fluke, two you might get lucky, but three wins against three teams in the (spoiler alert) top seven? That demands attention, and respect.
5. New Orleans Saints (+8)
With my initial ranks, the knock against the Saints was never against Drew Brees and his jolly band of bit piece scorers (besides Jimmy Graham) because Marques Colston is taking a fall vacation. I didn’t underestimate the return of Sean Payton either, who now has cemented himself as a top-three coach in the NFL with the dramatic turnaround from last season. Nope, I was dubious of how improved this defense could be under an obese homeless man Rob Ryan. Ryan, compensating for a (still) subpar defense by relentlessly blitzing (without “additional” instructions) has turned the Saints into an overall respectable force for which to be reckoned.
6. San Francisco 49ers (-4)
Through eight weeks, yes, the Saints are better than the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick looks lost without his wingman Michael Crabtree, and Anquan Boldin has not only come back to Earth, but may have tunneled half a mile underground after his hot start in the beginning of the season. Kaepernick is still a good quarterback, although he has been getting a lot of flak for his play, some of it undeserving. The defense has absorbed its fair share of losses, but nothing more significant than any other team. This team can still and will do damage come playoff time, and probably from the wild card spot which presents an interesting dynamic in the NFC playoff picture.
7. Green Bay Packers (-2)
This team moved back two spots just by the detriment of the Chiefs and Colts surprising me. Textbook Aaron Rodgers being Aaron Rodgers, lose your primary tight end (Jermichael Finley) and your main offensive weapon (Randall Cobb), your go to man in offseason (Greg Jennings) and your offense doesn’t miss a beat. The Packers will keep finding random wide receivers to fill in for them until they call me to suit up and I put up a 1,000 yard season. Their defense is average at best, but only needs to do enough to keep it close for Rodgers.
8. Detroit Lions (+14)
Another double-digit jump and we are still in the top 10. I said before the season this team doesn’t jump in my rankings “unless they smarten up on defense” and last time I checked Ndamukong Suh did not try to stomp on anyone’s private parts this season and their head coach hasn’t tried to fight another head coach yet in 2013. Their wins aren’t terribly impressive, but their defense does enough for them to win, which was my primary concern with them (Suh jokes aside).
9. Cincinnati Bengals (+1)
I was particularly high on the Bengals coming in. I still like them, but not as much as I did. They probably would’ve been bumped out of my top 10 (for whatever that’s worth) before Week 8, but then Andy Dalton threw five TD passes and I noticed he has actually strung together a nice set of games recently. If he can sustain his success and build on it, this is probably the fourth-best team coming out of the AFC if you factor in their stingy defense (although losing cornerback Leon Hall hurts).
10. New England Patriots (-4)
The Patriots fall from grace could be easy to blame on the injuries they’ve suffered; namely Jerrod Mayo, Aqib Talib (game to game), Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski. But it started earlier than that, when New England’s calculated risk of letting Wes Welker go ultimately backfired when they surrounded the visibly aging Tom Brady with subpar weapons to work with on offense. Even through eight weeks, this could already be chalked up to a lost season considering their significant losses and Brady’s surprising impotency under center.
11. Baltimore Ravens (-4)
Is it just me, or is this the first Super Bowl champion in the new era of technology to fly under the radar? I feel like I still can’t get a read on this team, nor do I care. Ray Rice got hit with the Shaun Alexander bug, rendering him pretty unthreatening and looking older than his age. His and Flacco’s contracts have hamstrung this team’s cap space, even if they have solid defensive players sprouting up like weeds to plug holes in their defense.
12. Dallas Cowboys (+6)
How ‘bout them Cowboys? I am at the point of feeling bad for them, and in particular Tony Romo. I will not defend Romo here, but the man just can not win. The Cowboys will always be a dangerous team, but I’ve been saying their poor mismanagement of their roster will always drag them down. Luckily, a recent article by Bill Barnwell can explain that much better than I can if you want the real breakdown.
13. Carolina Panthers (+9)
Last year, the Panthers probably lost two or three games due to their incompetent head coach Ron Rivera. Terrible in-game management and failure to pounce on calculated but aggressive decisions, it seemed like this team was already doomed from the start for its 2013 campaign. But Rivera opened his eyes and realized he had the best short yardage back (Cam Newton), despite their very pricey backfield. If the Panthers can add a legit receiving threat and get a worthy starter for their defense, this team has the potential to be dangerous next year.
14. San Diego Chargers (+14)
Boy, what a difference an offensive line does for a quarterback. Philip Rivers is looking good, Ryan Mathews hasn’t exploded into a million little glass pieces and the Chargers might look better than their 4-3 record suggests. They fell apart against Houston, lost to Oakland with that funky 11:30 p.m. Sunday night start time and lost another close game to Tennessee. They are a dark horse to grab a wild card spot.
15. Miami Dolphins (+6)
In the preview, I said both the offense and defense didn’t really improve, but moved more sideways despite them bringing in some well-known names. Although Mike Wallace has yet to answer the call, the Dolphins have been plodding along due to their stingy defense. They have lost four in a row, but wins and losses do not tell the whole story.
16. Tennessee Titans (+10)
I was surprised by the Titans success so far this season. Their last three games before their bye were especially tough; they faced KC, Seattle and San Francisco and managed to keep the first two close contests. That’s pretty much all you can hope for from a middling team.
17. Chicago Bears (-8)
Much like New England, this drop is due more to injuries than anything else. Losing Jay Cutler is obviously huge, but losses to the defensive line and Lance Briggs can not be overlooked, either. If Cutler can return in a timely fashion, this team is poised to make a late season run if the NFC North is still available for the taking, or at worst a wild card spot.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (+6)
I think we know by now that Chip Kelly’s offense is legit. I wrote earlier in the season that the key to their offense is Mike Vick’s health, and right now that situation looks pretty grim. This team is bound to drop in the rankings by the end of the season, just because they are forced to put Matt Barkley and Nick Foles under center. But if Kelly gets a quarterback he wants in this year’s draft that can effectively run his offense, watch out for the Eagles next year.
19. Washington Racial Slurs (-8)
I think it is safe to say that Robert Griffin came back too early. He looks uncomfortable in the pocket, and continually overthrows his receivers. His porous defense lends him no favors, either. Still, we were saying the same thing about the Slurs last season, before they put together a great second-half run to make the playoffs. I am not saying it is out of the realm of possibility, but their remaining games alternate from easy opponents to hard/division opponents. However the NFC East is still somehow open to anyone who wants to take it.
20. New York Jets (+10)
How about Jekyll & Hyde Geno Smith, eh? Some weeks he looks like their new franchise quarterback, and other weeks he looks like a stopgap between trying to find the new franchise quarterback. For the short term however, the Jets are riding or dying with Smith. Luckily, the pressure on him isn’t too intense, Rex Ryan has yet again worked his magic to make the defense a top-five unit in the league. Now only if they can get offensive weapons with which to surround their quarterback.
21. Atlanta Falcons (-17)
Ouch, I definitely did not see this drop coming. Do not let the Julio Jones injury fool you, this team was in rough shape before the devastating injury. Granted, Roddy White and Steven Jackson were hobbled, but given Matt Ryan’s new contract and all the zeroes next to it; you kind of expect him to overcome those types of things. But when Jones went down, their defense giving up 26.3 points per game was just too much for Ryan to overcome. This team is in trouble for years to come.
22. Buffalo (+7)
This team is my darkhorse poised to make a second season run. They have an underrated front seven, and if they don’t end up trading Jarius Byrd, combined with Stephon Gilmore they could possibly make this unit top-five in the league. When EJ Manuel comes back, he will be in the same boat as the aforementioned Geno Smith. He will not be called upon to do much, and even less than Smith because of the weapons around him. Combined with a somewhat soft remaining schedule, consider me in on the Bills to climb to a 7-9 or 8-8 record.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (-4)
Although injuries are nothing to make light of, I remarked after the Steelers lost Maurkice Pouncey that Pittsburgh was ahead of schedule on losing one critical offensive lineman in the beginning of the season. That being said, this line continually lets Ben Roethlisberger get pummeled. Their defense is rapidly aging at all the wrong places, and it looks like the Steel Curtain is starting to draw to a close on an era.
24. Arizona Cardinals (+1)
The Cardinals continue to frustrate me as they fail to get a quarterback to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball in his prime. No, Carson Palmer does not count. However, even if this team had a competent quarterback, two things would stand in their way of success: their miserable offensive line (half by design, half by injuries) and their tough division. Regardless, they have an opportunity to make a significant move in this year’s draft to snag a good quarterback because their defense is top notch and can pay a lot of attention to the other side of the ball.
25. Cleveland Browns (+2)
Oh, Brandon Weeden. Oh, Cleveland. If Cleveland is fully committed to this draft (the trade of Trent Richardson seems to indicate so) then they should us all a favor and just tank in front of our eyes by putting in Weeden. The Browns, like the Cardinals, can focus on their problems under center because of their solid defense and effective offensive weapons (Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon).
26. Houston Texans (-18)
Oh sweet Lord. Matt Schaub is not having a good year, to say the least. Although I stand by this assessment pre-meltdown, this still looks pretty bad: “Matt Schaub is an above average QB. I’m not sure he can win you a Super Bowl, but he can certainly lead this team to 11-12 wins in a weak AFC South.” Well then. I don’t think the worst case for the Texans could have envisioned Schaub combusting this badly, but that is what happened and now the Texans are an astounding 18 points back from where they started in the beginning of the season of my rankings.
27. New York Giants (-13)
I love to pile on Eli Manning as much as the next guy, but his offensive line has resembled turnstiles, and some of his interceptions have been passes that went through his receivers’ hands. Nevertheless, this team is in a bad place on top of the bad quarterback play. David Wilson has taken a, um, step back and their defense is still pretty bad. Luckily, they play in the NFC East and are still in the playoff race.
28. St. Louis Cardinals (-8)
Admittedly hung with the Seahawks in the past iteration of Monday Night Football, but the long term injury impact of Sam Bradford hurts, even if he has supplanted himself in the “disappointment” category of first-round picks. Their defense isn’t half bad, but the lack of impact from Tavon Austin and their trio of wholly ineffective running backs does not bode well for the future.
29. Oakland Raiders (+3)
Hey how about Terrelle Pryor? He and Geno Smith are the new poor versions of Mike Vick. You ride with the highs and deal with the lows. If Darren McFadden can keep producing and their defense plays at a league-average level, if Pryor is on his game this team can sneak games out against lesser opponents. Still showing some spunk this season while GM Reggie McKenzie plans and builds towards the future is always encouraging.
30. Minnesota Vikings (-13)
Christian Ponder? Nah. Matt Cassell? Nope. Josh Freeman? Not a chance. Poor Adrian Peterson. Much like the situation our friend Larry Fitzgerald, AD is wasting away his prime against nine and sometimes 10 in the box but the Vikes still somehow find a way to eke out victories. The signing of Greg Jennings and drafting of Cordarrelle Patterson were nice, but how good do you expect them to be if no one can get them the ball?
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“I love this team. Couple reasons: Josh Freeman is in a contract year, and I think he has some serious potential.” I am here for your entertainment, people. This description should stop and end at “Greg Schiano” but I will just add in that their MRSA outbreak, the fact you have the best cover corner in the league in zone coverage and Doug Martin’s disappointing season before it got cut short by his injury don’t help.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
This team is No. 32 by default, even though it doesn’t even deserve to be ranked. I will spare you all the hilarious stats, like the Denver Broncos two highest scoring games this season have more points than the Jaguars have all season. At this point of the dreadful Blaine Gabbert experiment, even if Jadaveon Clowney is a once in a decade talent, do the Jaguars take Teddy Bridgewater (or ‘best quarterback X’)? Believe it or not, I think they should.
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