Now that every team has played at least four games, it’s time for an NFL Ladder. It should be noted that this ladder is very preliminary and, hence the six categories, there are many teams I still don’t have a good feel for.
Keep in mind that team records don’t factor into the rankings.
Elite: Denver, New Orleans
Of course Denver’s here. Their offense has been off the charts, while their defense was playing well before last week. But the fact that they’ve been without linebacker Von Miller makes me think the best is yet to come.
The Saints offense is always dangerous, but the biggest difference this season has been the defense. To be fair, any degree of competence on that side of the ball is an upgrade from LAST SEASON, but Rob Ryan has completely transformed them. Easily the favorites in the NFC right now.
Good: Seattle, New England, Kansas City, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Detroit
Seattle’s defense is still great, but through five games it’s their offense that’s held them back. Perhaps inserting Percy Harvin later in the season will yield better results. Same for both New England and San Francisco. Indianapolis has won some pretty big games early on, but Andrew Luck is still playing well in spite of his protection.
I thought about putting Kansas City in the elite category, but they are second tier until something improves on offense (Alex Smith utilizes Dwayne Bowe or the run game gets going). Detroit’s defensive line is one of the best in the league right now, but last week confirmed how vital Calvin Johnson is to what they do on offense (Reggie Bush or no Reggie Bush).
Solid: Dallas, Chicago, New York Jets, Green Bay, Baltimore, Miami
Dallas is still running hot and cold, especially after giving up 51 points against Denver. Chicago’s defense is still forcing turnovers, but they’re in a similar boat with Dallas with a much tougher division.
Yes, the Jets are solid. For the hundredth time: play good defense and take care of the ball and you can win games. The Packers are a good team on offense, but the defense is lacking. Losing Clay Matthews for at least a month won’t help matters there.
The Ravens are always a solid team — have been for years. It’s been enough for them to get into the postseason, but they never look unbeatable while doing it. This season, the run game has taken a huge step back (Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice are each averaging 2.9 yards per carry). Miami’s hot start has fizzled with losses to New Orleans and Baltimore, but I’m not quite ready to give up on them.
Undecided: Oakland, Tennessee, Philadelphia, San Diego, Cleveland
I originally had an “entertaining” category for Oakland and Philadelphia, but I scrapped it. The Raiders really didn’t fit into the “solid” or “panicking” category, so I had to put them here. They’re still not a great team, but Terrelle Pryor has been fun to watch and the team’s main focus is on his development at this point.
Philadelphia’s offense simply became less exciting to watch. Michael Vick was bound to get hurt eventually and the offense has looked less impressive by the week. The defense is still terrible, but the state of the division keeps them in the mix still.
Tennessee and Cleveland have suffered injuries at quarterback, which could disrupt their strong starts. With Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Weeden now starting, I’m on the fence. San Diego played well Week 4 against Dallas and then laid an egg against Oakland last week. Too sporadic.
Panicking: Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, Houston, Minnesota, Washington
After Atlanta’s loss last week, I had them in the “undecided” category, but the Julio Jones injury is definitely cause for concern with Roddy White still not 100 percent. Cincinnati needs much better quarterback play from Andy Dalton, since they aren’t going to get it from the running game. Same with Houston and Matt Schaub‘s RECORD-SETTING SEASON.
The rest of the teams here are self-explanatory.
The Bottom: Jacksonville, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, Pittsburgh
Not a ton of debate as to who the five worst teams in the league are right now. No matter who they have on the team, they simply aren’t doing anything right.
With Washington once again off the daytime schedule, we get much better slate of games this week. Fox gets the doubleheader with Green Bay-Baltimore early and New England-New Orleans late. On CBS, it’s clear that we’ll be watching Pittsburgh until they’re 0-10. They host the Jets this week. Oakland-Kansas City would have been a fun alternative there.
Now let’s pick. After going 8-6 last week, the honeymoon is officially over. My record is now 53-25 overall.
Chicago over New York Giants
I’m sure the Giants will win one eventually, but Eli’s turning the ball over at a historic rate.
Cincinnati over Buffalo
Andy Dalton has come UNDER HARSH SCRUTINY this season, but this Bengals team has really relied on their defense since he came into the league anyways. Last week’s win over New England helped advance that belief and all they’ll need to beat Buffalo is an average Dalton performance.
Detroit over Cleveland
Who could’ve guessed coming into the season that losing Brian Hoyer for the season would change things for Cleveland? Nonetheless, the team is back in Brandon Weedon’s hands whether they like it or not. And they probably won’t like it against Detroit’s pass rush.
Kansas City over Oakland
This may be the craziest stat of the week: Oakland has won six straight games at Kansas City. Terrelle Pryor is playing better than expected at quarterback, but the Raiders offense is in desperate need of another player to step up and take the load off Pryor. I doubt it makes much of a difference this week against KC’s phenomenal defense anyways.
New York Jets over Pittsburgh
For the second straight year, the media seems to have overestimated how bad this Jets team really is. But the rule remains: as long as you play good defense and take care of the ball, you can win games.
Tampa Bay over Philadelphia
I know that I put Tampa Bay at the bottom of the NFL Ladder, but here’s a little perspective: three of the four Bucs losses have been by three points or less. The key factor in this one will be Mike Glennon and whether he can move the ball against a poor Philly defense. If he can, I think they earn their first win.
Green Bay over Baltimore
My original plan was to be at this game, but my family backed out. I’m still too angry to break it down, but I think Green Bay wins.
Houston over St. Louis
Make no mistake, this Rams team is mediocre. But this game isn’t nearly a guarantee for Houston. The battle to watch will be the struggling Texans offensive line against the Rams defensive line. If they can get to Matt Schaub, chances are HE’LL MAKE SOME MISTAKES. But in the end, I see Houston winning and the second T.J. Yates era delayed at least one more week.
Minnesota over Carolina
I briefly discussed Carolina’s manageable four-game stretch last week, but I was fully aware that they would make it seem much harder than it really was. All bets are off now.
Denver over Jacksonville
Seattle over Tennessee
As if Jake Locker going down wasn’t bad enough, it came on the heels of a three-game stretch against Kansas City last week, Seattle this week, and San Francisco next week. The Titans defense has played well so far, but they won’t be enough this week.
San Francisco over Arizona
Arizona’s defense came to play last week against Carolina, but that was against Carolina. Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been great through five games, but the Niners will find a way to take this one at home.
New England over New Orleans
On paper, New England is outmatched on both sides of the ball by the Saints. But something tells me that they pull it off.
Dallas over Washington
I’m fully aware that anything is possible in this rivalry, but this is one that Dallas simply has to win. And that’s not even taking the Broncos game into account: the Redskins pass defense has been pretty horrid this season.
Indianapolis over San Diego
Analysts have been raving about Andrew Luck’s second season and we all get a chance to see why on Monday night. This is already our third time seeing San Diego in primetime this season. Ironically, they’re 0-2 in those games coming into this week, which is reason enough to switch this pick.
Don’t ask why I originally had San Diego winning.
Record (Week): 10-5
Record (Overall): 63-30