By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s NFL Power Rankings: Week #5
PHILADELPHIA — We have just passed the quarter marker of the long NFL marathon season. The “Believe In Now” 2008 season has been filled with surprises, high-scoring games, overtime thrillers, injuries, and coaches fighting for their jobs.
But the overall theme I see is that the NFL is the wackiest league on Earth. Just when you think you know, something happens to show you that you really don’t know squat.
Please tell me who thought before last week that the Chiefs would run all over the Broncos and the Redskins, who looked pretty lowly in their season opening loss to the Giants, would go into Dallas and beat the mighty Cowboys…
The answer to this rhetorical question is no one. There is still a long ways to go, but one team that seems to have found the right success formula up to this point is the Tennessee Titans. The AFC South leading Titans (lead by 2.5 games) remind a lot of the 2001 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots squad. When you look at their roster, you have to say to yourself, “Who are these guys?”
But that is the beauty of this “team”, no one person is bigger than the sum of the parts…Sorry Vince. Head Coach Jeff Fisher (longest tenured coach at 15 seasons going back to ’94 when his team was still the Houston Oilers) understands that a blend of key veterans (QB Kerry Collins, LB Keith Bullock, C Kevin Mawae, and P Craig Hentrich), rising young veterans (DT Albert Haynesworth, S Michael Griffin, CB Courtland Finnegan, WR Justin Gage, and Vince Young), and incoming rookies ready to play (RB Chris Johnson) are an unbeatable formula.
The Titans number one way of beating a team is their defense. Fisher’s defense has allowed an NFL best 9.7 pts per game and also leads the league with 12 takeaways. The takeaways have led directly to points or putting an efficient offense in position to score 12 touchdowns (6th in NFL). Sure you have to wonder if 35-year old veteran Kerry Collins can keep the Titans on the winning track while their offense only averages 159 passing yards a game (22nd in the NFL).
But this team is built on a physical running game led by their Thunder and Lightning combination of mercurial rookie Chris Johnson (337 yards w/ 3 total touchdowns) and hefty bulldozing running back LenDale White (5 TDs). The pair has been essential to an offense that averages almost 31 minutes of possession and produces 156 rushing yards per game (7th in NFL).
The power-blue Titans also do a good job with penalties (22 in four games) and in the kicking game (Rob Bironas is 6/6 on field goals). Who knows if the stars will align perfectly so that the Titans can follow in the ’01 Patriots footsteps, but I am sure we will know after tests in week 8 (Colts), week 9 (Packers), week 11 (@Jags), week 16 (Steelers) and week 17 (@Colts), if this team is truly special.
Now on to the rankings for this week
1. Giants (3-0) -Their bye week probably was one big planning session on how to bring troubled receiver Plaxico Burress back into the fold after his two-week suspension. The G-Men continue their cupcake tour with the Seahawks visiting the Meadowlands.
2. Titans (4-0) – Jeff Fisher’s crew out-physicaled the Vikings as they turned more turnovers into points. The Titans travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens and to see who’s defense is the toughest in the NFL. Also watch for the return of Vince Young this week and you have to wonder how will it affect team chemistry.
3. Bills (4-0) – The NFL’s fourth quarter comeback kids did it again this time showig the hapless Rams the door. Dick Jauron will need to keep his team focused as they travel across the country to face an up and down Cardinals team.
4. Redskins (3-1) – The ‘Skins surprised everyone by taking the guns to the Cowboys in their annual rivalry game. Coach Jim Zorn and quarterback Jason Campbell are making believers around the league, but a crucial NFC East slugfest awaits at the Linc in Philly against an Eagles team that maybe desperate.
5. Cowboys (3-1) – The ‘Boys passed the ball entirely too much (47 times) in a surprising loss to the underdog Redskins. Now with T.O griping, Wade Wilson’s team will try to get back on track against the winless but competitive Bengals.
6. Panthers (3-1) – John Fox’s bunch was up to the challenge of the upstart Falcons in a key NFC South battle. Hopefully the Panthers D-line is ready as sledgehammer running back Larry Johnson and the Chiefs come to town.
7. Patriots (2-1) – The Brady-less bunch used their bye trying to forget how they lost to the Dolphins at home so badly. A possible trap game awaits as the Pats travel 3,000 miles to face the tougher than expected Niners.
8. Broncos (3-1) – After weeks of living on the edge due to a defense that hasn’t stopped anyone, the Chiefs ran right past them led by running back Larry Johnson’s 198 yards rushing. A very interesting inter-conference battle is up this week as the tough Tampa Bay Bucs come to town led by rejuvenated former Broncos quarterback Brian Griese.
9. Buccaneers (3-1) – It was all defense as the Bucs beat-up the Packers in the “Battle of the Bays”. Another key contender or pretender match-up is scheduled for this week as the Bucs head to the rockies to face the Broncos.
10. Steelers (3-1) – You have to wonder how many more games of attrition the Steelers can take as they survived their MNF battle with the surprising Ravens. Revenge will be in the air Sunday Night on NBC as the Steelers travel to Jacksonville to face a Jags team that beat them twice in one month last year including a thrilling wildcard playoff game.
11. Chargers (2-2) – Surprising it took the Bolts a little while to warmup against the Raiders, but in the end they did just enough to come home with a win. A key pretender or contender game awaits as the tough Dolphins come to town.
12. Eagles (2-2) – It was not a good homecoming for Donovan McNabb in Chicago as the Birds could not turn the turnovers (4) into enough points in a disappointing Sunday Night Football game. Face a must-win game as the Redskins come to Philly for a key NFC East battle.
13. Packers (2-2) – The Bucs were too physical for the Packers as they lost the game and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (shoulder). It will be interesting if it will be Rodgers or rookie Matt Flynn under center when the young Falcons come to town.
14. Colts (1-2) – After a bye week to heal their multiitude of wounds, Peyton and crew should be ready. The Colts will look to get to .500 as they travel to Houston to face a winless Texans team.
15. Saints (2-2) – It was back to their winning ways as the Drew Brees led the Saints to an easier than expected win over the Niners. It will be a battle of dome teams on ESPN’s Monday Night Football as running back Adrian Peterson leads the desperate Vikings to the South for an important game against the Saints.
16. Jaguars (2-2) – Things in the AFC South got a little more interesting as the Jags won their second divisional game in a row this time in overtime against the Texans. With visions of getting back to a winning record, the Jags host the Steelers on Sunday Night Football in a rematch of last year’s entertaining wildcard thriller.
17. Jets (2-2) – Hopefully 38-year old quarterback Brett “The Jet” Favre’s arm is okay after throwing for 6 TD’s in a shellacking of the Arizona Cardinals. This is the bye week for the J-E-T-S as they try to figure out how to catch the undefeated division leading Bills.
18. Ravens (2-1) – In a Monday Night Football slugfest, the Ravens came out on the wrong end after leading for most of the game. Hopefully young rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has learned more about ball security in the pocket as the Ravens host the defensive-minded Titans.
19. Bears (2-2) – NBC’s Sunday Night Football was alive in Chicago as the Bears did just enough to beat the redzone weary Eagles. An old-time black and blue NFC North battle is on the docket this week as the Bears head to Detroit to face the winless Lions.
20. Cardinals (2-2) – Giants Stadium continued to be a house of horrors for quarterback Kurt Warner as he had too many turnovers and Jets passed all over the Cards’ defense. In a statement game, the Cardinals host a surprisingly undefeated Bills team.
21. Seahawks (1-2) – The ‘Hawks had a much-needed bye week to heal up, especially in their receiving core. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will look to get back on track as he returns to Giants Stadium (Father member of 1985 team) to face the Super Bowl champion G-Men.
22. 49ers (2-2) – The Saints proved to be too fast on the Super Dome’s fast track as they handed the Niners a resounding defeat. In a game that will go a long way in showing where they stand, former Patriots backup JT O’Sullivan leads the home Niners against the Patriots.
23. Falcons (2-2) – The Dirty proved that they were not ready for primetime as the Panthers roughed them up in an NFC South game. It will be a battle of 2-2 teams as the Falcons head up to Green Bay to face an angry Packers team.
24. Vikings (1-3) – In a game that I though would be closer, the Titans used their attacking defense and stellar running game to pound the reeling Vikings. In a must-win game on Monday Night Football, the Vikings face a better than their record host Saints team.
25. Dolphins (1-2) – The ‘Phins had two weeks to pat themselves on the back for their surprise “Wildcat” offense driven win over the Patriots. After their bye, it is time to get back to work as they host a rising Chargers team.
26. Browns (1-3) – Okay, so maybe the Browns are not the worst team in the AFC North. But their squeeker win over the Bengals didn’t show you much. During the bye week, head coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback Derek Anderson will need to think long and hard about how they are going to keep their jobs all season.
27. Chiefs (1-3) – Finally ended their franchise record 12-game losing streak by running all over the Broncos in a huge home win. The Chiefs will try to make it two in a row as they travel South to face an improving Panthers team.
28. Raiders (1-3) – After another loss where they were leading (15-0 at the half) this time to the Chargers, head coach Lane Kiffin was put out of his misery. Combustible Raiders owner Al Davis will have two weeks to insert his hand in the back of new head coach Tom Cable as the NFL’s biggest dysfunctional family is on a bye.
29. Texans (0-3) – It was another tough loss for the Texans as they lost to the Jaguars in overtime. In a key AFC South battle, they host a rested Colts team looking to get back in the playoff race.
30. Bengals (0-4) – The Browns did just enough to win the “Battle of the Defeated”. The road doesn’t get any easier as the Bengals travel to Dallas to face an angry Cowboys squad.
31. Lions (0-3) – Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr had two weeks to wash the stench from former CEO/GM Matt Millen from the Lions lockerroom. Without Millen, the Lions look to regroup as they host the improving Bears.
32. Rams (0-4) – Not even inserting veteran quarterback Trent Green could save head coach Scott Linehan as the upstart Bills came back on the Rams. With Linehan shown the door by Chip Rosenbloom and fiery Jim Haslett taking over as interim head coach, the Rams will try to salvage their season after a bye week.