Another wild week in the NFL was immediately muted by the horrible mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Look, this is a football column. But it's extremely hard to not have part of the mind wondering what is going on in the world. Sunday night's appalling loss of life was senseless and tragic. And given all the other bad news as of late -- hurricanes rocking Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico, culture wars tearing apart our social fabric -- it feels as if we are living though an awful chapter in our country's history, at best.
So, as you read the contents below, please don't mistake any lighthearted banter to be indicative of how your writer feels at the moment these words are being typed. My hope is that we don't become desensitized as the distance from these events grows. I won't. Empathy endures -- and often produces great change.
Going beyond that notion, and for lack of a better way to put it, I am glad you can come here and have some form of diversion. Sports have always been a gift in that way. On to brighter, football thoughts ...
Call it more of an amble.
Lions 3-1 (@DetLionsTweets) October 3, 2017
Do you believe in miracles? See below.
Like last week, the Power Rankings are as jumbled as ever. It's just what happens when you get another early-season week full of confounding results. Massive movement abounds, with some unusual teams in the top 10. Thus, your take is as welcome as ever: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!>
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: For more in-depth analysis on the updated league pecking order, tune in to NFL Network every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET for the "NFL Power Rankings" show. Want to add YOUR voice? Call (888) 553-7436 and leave a message with your opinion, and your comments could be played on the air.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Week 4 Power Rankings.
Top-shelf teams often squeak by in games, win when they probably shouldn't or endure despite partial personnel. Each is applicable to the Chiefs, who -- final score notwithstanding -- narrowly moved past the Redskins to Week 5. It took a final drive from Alex Smith and the offense to set up the go-ahead field goal. Without the benefit of a few Washington penalties in the second half, who knows? Yet, the fact that Kansas City did win -- despite being without three O-line starters, Dee Ford and the kicker -- actually made the performance more impressive. The Chiefs gutted this deal out. Particularly Alex Smith, who showed he can still motor in his 30s.
These aren't the same old Lions. They are 3-1 (with a bit of an asterisk on the 1). They made the playoffs last year. And since owner Martha Firestone Ford addressed the media midway through the 2015 season -- announcing the firings of team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew while sternly advising that the circumstances around her football team would change -- Detroit is 18-10. Also keep in mind that two of those losses came on an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary and the dreaded rulebook monster. If running back Ameer Abdullah can keep this going (109 total yards on Sunday), the Lions will win the NFC North.
High ranking for the Eagles. However, with what we know at this point in the season, how can Philadelphia not be here? Doug Pederson's outfit is tied for the best record in the NFC, leads the East and seems to have fixed the glaring weakness that every fan, blog and LinkedIn piece was fixated on during the preseason: the ground attack. In Week 3, the Eagles ran the football 39 times -- the most in three years. Against the Chargers, Philadelphia eclipsed that total while piling up 214 yards rushing. Glad the coaching staff took my advice and actually started using Leggie Blount.
Matt Ryan was earning that paycheck Sunday. Holy cow, the Bills' defense gave him nothing to work with in the second half. The passing windows closed early. If Ryan held the football, somebody's hand was on the QB's jersey, wrist or forearm, or batting the ball -- somewhere to make him uncomfortable, even though Buffalo finished with just a single sack. Those were some hard yards Devonta Freeman was trying to gain out there, too. So why not drop the Falcons further? Losing both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu in a game that went down to the wire ... Not going to overreact.
Impressive win for the Packers, especially considering that same Bears team upended the Steelers in Week 3. Green Bay's defense, in particular, showed encouraging signs. As did Davante Adams, who is doing well after the vicious hit he took from Danny Trevathan. The player safety rules have been criticized by uninformed people. Hopefully, those who have taken issue with -- or made fun of -- those precautionary measures to protect players saw the hit, so as to appreciate why those rules are in place (even if the refs don't always get calls right). On another note: Green Bay plays at Dallas this Sunday, then at Minnesota. Big games.
Make no mistake: That was a statement game from the Steelers. Blowing out the rival Ravens by three scores -- at their place -- showed something. And given that Antonio Brown gained just 34 yards (and had a 34-gallon tantrum on the sideline), Pittsburgh's offensive showing vs. Baltimore's defense is even more encouraging. No Steeler receiver eclipsed 50 yards, which is odd. Until you see that Le'Veon Bell touched the ball 39 times! The best RB in football racked up 186 total yards -- and had a pair of tugs, to boot. Meanwhile, his team booted the Ravens out of a first-place tie in the AFC North.
Surprised? Don't be. Not when the Bills' defense allows all of 54 points in four games. That's fewer than 14 points per. (Yes, tops in the NFL.) Buffalo did receive a bit of luck, with the Falcons losing both of their starting wide receivers. But to the Bills' credit, they got after Matt Ryan so fiercely that no one on the Atlanta offense could step up and answer the bell. It felt like Ryan's pocket collapsed on nearly every play. (Probably because it collapsed on nearly every play.) Kudos to Tyrod Taylor, too -- despite throwing for just 182 yards, he averaged more than 9 yards per throw. So, when do the Bills play the Chiefs?
The defense kept the Broncos ahead, with the running game pitching in when it mattered. The story continues to be the ferocious pass rush -- and that story includes a chapter on Derek Carr getting knocked out of this game. No one this side of Simon Fletcher and Rulon Jones anticipated EJ Manuel hurling a few throws right through the "No Fly Zone," but the second-stringer flew first class for a chunk of the fourth quarter. Jared Cook's drop in the end zone with under six minutes remaining was the best chance the Raiders would get. In desperation time, Manuel threw a 50-50 ball for Amari Cooper that was more like, uh, 10-90. Pick. That's the point with Joe Woods' defense -- opponents will receive a few chances to make big plays. They'd better make them.
Not much of a drop for the Redskins. The record is worse than a couple of the teams behind them in this league hierarchy, though the .500 mark isn't indicative of the way they're playing. Jay Gruden's guys are competing hard. Literally. The defense, including the smallish defensive backs, are laying wood on every play. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has them running around like a pack of wild dogs making tackles. The issue Monday night was that Manusky ended up a couple cans short of a six-pack. Josh Norman went down. Then two more corners got hurt. Two safeties, too. Three linebackers exited at one time or another. Really, it's amazing the Redskins stayed afloat. They darn-near won, too.
Impressive comeback win over the Cowboys, on the road, with the game teetering on the brink during the first half. As the broadcast team discussed the improved offense under Sean McVay, Wade Phillips' defense was getting destroyed. I was going to tweet about it during the game, but thought I would sit on it until I saw the adjustments Phillips made at halftime. Talk about a 180 in the final 30 minutes of play. After allowing 24 points in the first half, the DC on Medicare delivered his HC in Daycare a win, as his unit gave up a scant six points after the break.
The Cam Newton crowd had a field day with the win in New England on Sunday. Those who feel Newton is unfairly maligned could fairly point out that there is nooooooo waaaaaaay the Panthers take that game without their quarterback's unique skill set. The critics will accurately point to the ebbs and flows of Newton's career. In Week 3, Newton looked hapless against what had been the worst defense in the NFL. This past weekend, he won mano a mano with the best to ever play his position in a contest that featured little defense. In fact, the most important defensive play was the pass deflection by Devin Funchess. And he plays on offense.
Crazy game at Gillette, and a 2-2 start for the defending champs. Of course, 2-2 feels like 2-6 with the Patriots. What is this New England team? A Super Bowl contender off to a slow start, a la the Seahawks in recent years? Or a quarterback-centric outfit masking a lousy defense? Sounds like the Packers of last year, or the Saints of every year. To his immense credit, Tom Brady almost pulled another panther out of his hat, leading the Patriots on two touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter to tie the game. The secondary couldn't get a stop. Minus Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins and every other quality defender this group has lost, the Pats might continue to not get stops.
So we took an informal poll ... It appears the Texans are not turning back to Tom Savage. Deshaun Watson accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) while pushing his offensive unit to 57 points. Wow. His only mistake was an ill-advised red-zone throw near the end of the first half that was intercepted. He'll learn to rein it in -- at the end of the day, that boo-boo meant Houston missed out on winning 64-whatever. By the way, Watson became the first rookie quarterback since Fran Tarkenton in 1961 to pull off the four TD pass + one rush TD concoction. Tarkenton is in the Hall of Fame. The Texans are tied for first in the AFC South.
So, >that got out of hand rather quickly. One second, it's a tie ballgame; the next, Bobby Wagner is rumbling into the end zone like Mack Strong. Wagner's touchdown off the strip job on Jacoby Brissett turned Sunday night's game in a matter of seconds. Seattle destroyed Indy in the second half. So why is Seattle not higher in the rankings? Pete Carroll's group looked sloppy in Nashville, and the Seahawks' lone win (prior to Sunday) was a narrow escape from the still-winless 49ers.
Just like that, the Saints are right back in the thick of things. Sure, New Orleans trails the Falcons and Panthers in the division by a game, but the takeaways were all bright Sunday in gloomy London. Drew Brees continued his efficient play from Charlotte (really, all season), pushing his TD-pass tally to eight -- with no picks, mind you. Rookie RB Alvin Kamara was the sudden fantasy darling of the day, performing most of his duties in the passing game (10 catches). The main story: the emergence of New Orleans' defense, which -- after getting wrecked the first two weeks -- shut out the Dolphins. Could the unit actually be for real? Please?
The Titans drop hard after getting rolled in Houston and losing their starting quarterback in the process. No one should panic about these Titans in terms of the standings, as they're still tied atop the AFC South. What is worth a tablespoon or three of concern? For the third straight season, Marcus Mariota (who was knocked out of Sunday's game with a hamstring injury) may not be able to make it through a full schedule. There is also this team's penchant for wild inconsistency, which is consistently odd, given that Tennessee is a run-first, control-the-clock squad. That style of play doesn't usually allow blowouts. Not so Sunday. That was bad. Real ... comfortable ... bad.
Large move down for the Vikings, with Dalvin Cook's season-ending injury a huge factor. The hard-fought loss to the pesky Lions on Sunday didn't help matters. Case Keenum failed to muster the magic -- The Keenum Magic! -- he'd harnessed the week before versus the Bucs, and that's what ultimately wore his defense out. Those guys were out there all day, as the Vikings' offense only held the ball for 23 minutes and lost three fumbles. This is almost exactly what happened in Keenum's first start this season, when Minnesota's defense was forced to stay on the field against the Steelers far too long. That's three tough, close losses in a row to Detroit.
Before getting pewter-and-red-faced about this ranking, remember that Tampa's two wins are over the Bears and the Giants, who boast one W combined on the season. The lone decent squad the Bucs have faced ran them off in Minnesota. On Sunday, New York nearly pulled off the upset. Granted, three Nick Folk misses (two field-goal attempts and a point-after try) played a rather large role, but you don't have to tell the Tampa faithful that the kicking game matters. Meanwhile, Jameis Winston and the offense treated third down like a punting situation the last two weeks (4-for-17). All of which is to say that Doug Martin returning this week could be huge.
Football games are not won in the first half. And teams don't win if they give up 5, 6, 7 yards every time the other team runs the football. The Cowboys' defensive line was beaten on almost every single play in the second half against the Rams on Sunday. Dallas registered no pressure on Jared Goff and no push on the Rams' running plays. At least the secondary made up for it by missing tackles. Offensively, Dak Prescott still has accuracy issues. That about sums it up.
Huge drop for the Raiders with the news that Derek Carr could be out for 2-6 weeks. We saw how poorly this team fared without Carr last season -- along with Sunday's loss against the Broncos, where the offense stunk again. OK, for his part, EJ Manuel showed poise in his relief stint, completing 11 of 17 passes for 106 yards. One of those incompletions came in the end zone when Jared Cook pulled a Ricky Watters on a perfect delivery from his quarterback. ("For who? For what?") Manuel atoned for his surprisingly good play by throwing a jump-and-go-get-it pass to Amari Cooper that Cooper had no chance of getting. Of course, it'd help if Cooper caught the footballs that hit him in the hands. Next up: Ravens. They're worse.
Maybe it was a trap game. Are the Jaguars good enough to have trap games? Usually, that phrase is reserved for a loss in which a playoff-bound team slips up against a weak opponent whilst looking forward a few weeks. Perhaps the second part holds true. If Jacksonville is a contender, Doug Marrone's group must hold its water after blowout wins. For the record ... the Jags dominated the Texans, then got wiped in Nashville. Look like the '99 Brunell bunch in London one week, then fall to the Jettttttttttttttts the next.
Sure, the Cardinals were facing the 49ers. Maybe this isn't the year for Arizona, either. That remains to be seen. But what we saw Sunday was awesome. Even if you weren't able to take in any of the game, the ending was beautiful. The Cardinals, trying to stay afloat in the NFC West and not wanting to tie, needed a touchdown deep into overtime to beat San Francisco. Carson Palmer called for the football with 38 seconds on the clock, took a glance over the middle, then lofted the ball for Larry Fitzgerald with a corner 1 yard back and a safety closing fast. Fitz leaped to snag the football, secured it, then hit the ground hard. As the future first-ballot Hall of Famer visibly winced in pain, the entire joint erupted ... unbelievable. Watch it again. You're welcome.
Many blamed the Ravens' epic loss in London last week on poor travel preparation. Perhaps jet lag is why this group fell flat for the second week in a row. To be clear, Baltimore has been outscored by 54 points over the last two games after winning the first two by a combined score of 44-10. Joe Flacco's performance will be carved up by everyone from newspapers to MySpace, too. After throwing for 28 yards overseas, Flacco dropped back over 50 times against the Steelers, with only 235 yards, two interceptions and four sacks to show for it. The Ravens averaged 3.9 yards per pass play. Yeesh.
While all of Twitter was calling for Mike Glennon's ouster during last Thursday night's blowout loss in Green Bay, consider John Fox's dilemma. After two subpar seasons, could he really afford another as head coach of the Bears? Does Glennon give Chicago the best chance to win? Not to mention, Fox's boss is the guy who signed Glennon to a lucrative deal. All of which might have led to the Bears dragging their feet in regards to playing Mitchell Trubisky. Right move? Probably. The offense looked dysfunctional for a large portion of Thursday Night's game. For what it's worth, though, Glennon is a better player than he's shown so far. Trubisky's assignment in NFL start No. 1? Taking on a formidable Minnesota defense under the bright lights of "Monday Night Football." Good luck, kid.
Nobody is making fun of these guys anymore. Well, maybe that's an overreaction. But they shouldn't be! Especially when the Jets have more wins than eight teams. Even more shockingly, New York -- tied with the 2-2 Patriots and one game back of the 3-1 Bills -- is in the thick of the AFC East race. On that note, if you didn't catch Bilal Powell's run-stumble-off-to-the-races against the Jags, watch it again. Even if you take Powell's 75-yard burner out of the final total, the Jets still ran for 181 yards. Much credit to the defense, which impacted the game all the way until this deal was five quarters deep. Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles went 15 of 35 passing for 140 yards, and when it mattered in OT, that group forced him out of the pocket to coerce a punt deep in Jags territory. Ballgame.
Nick Vigil, Tyler Kroft and Clayton Fejedelem ... the hallowed names of football lore that ousted the mighty Browns of Cleveland, lifting the Bengals to their first victory of the campaign. That is an early glimpse into NFL Films' 2017 yearbook. Cincinnati dominated, although on the first drive, Bengals fans must've hollered Come on!!! when Andy Dalton was stripped on Cincy's first possession. Everyone and anyone turned the mojo around. Vigil made 12 tackles and had a sack. Kroft caught two touchdown passes. Fejedelem intercepted Deshone Kizer in Bengals territory. Hey, 1-3. #Whodey
Watching Nick Folk's game-winning kick sail through the uprights, the Giants might have felt like the ship was sailing on their season. According to the beat writers who cover Big Blue on the regular, several prominent players wouldn't talk after the game, either. At least Snacks Harrison responded to his critics via Twitter, owning up to his subpar play to this point. So is it over for the 2017 Giants? I've been in this business too long to go that far. Yet, with the Broncos and Seahawks coming up before the Week 8 bye ...
Fans who speculated negatively about Ryan Tannehill's future post-injury and post-Jay Cutler signing caught a glimpse of the Dolphins' hypothetical future sans their former starter on Sunday ... and it wasn't pretty. Can Cutler play better than he did in London? Sure. The box score says he completed 20 of 28 passes. Sounds OK, right? Yes, but ... it was for 164 yards. Miami is hitting nothing downfield. Teams don't win averaging 5.7 yards per attempt, even in this day and age of 3-yard ins and none-yard outs. What an ugly, ugly loss.
Another loss, another lost season for the Chargers. Between not being able to close out games (SEE: Broncos, Dolphins and the Eagles on Sunday) and a tepid response from the L.A. market that apparently would rather watch "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" about eight times before going to a pro football game, it's been a horrid start for everyone's "surprise playoff team." Trouble is, the cause for each loss has been different. The season-opening Monday Night Football debacle was on the offensive line. The loss to the Dolphins came courtesy of two missed kicks. Philip Rivers celebrated Week 3 with three first-half interceptions. Against Philly? No run defense. None.
The progress through the first month of football hasn't translated to a win. The 49ers are getting closer. In Week 2, San Francisco gave the division bully Seahawks all they could handle. In Week 3, the 49ers lost to the Rams in the wildest contest 2017 has yet proffered. On Sunday, it took the Cardinals almost 75 minutes to topple Kyle Shanahan's group. Too many Niner drives stalled in Arizona territory. Field goals = field losses.
The Colts hung in there against Seattle for a half and change, but the mismatch up front caught up to Jacoby Brissett. Despite losing by multiple scores, Brissett still shows promise, even if the numbers in Seattle didn't. Same goes for Jabaal Sheard, too. While we're at it, Malik Hooker looks the part of a future All-Pro safety. The problem is that there aren't enough Brissetts, Sheards or Hookers to go around. That didn't sound right. You know what I mean.
Hue Jackson says DeShone Kizer will remain the starting quarterback. Kevin Hogan relieved Kizer on Sunday. Get excited. The 31-7 turdfest was easily the Browns' worst performance of the season. The turning point, if there is such a thing in a 31-7 game, had to be Gio Bernard taking a screen pass 61 yards to the house right before the half. The CBS broadcast discussed Cincinnati closing the offense down with such little time left ahead of halftime. The Bengals didn't. Nor did Cleveland defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who blitzed. Ovah.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.
Source : http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000855928/article/nfl-power-rankings-week-5-lions-eagles-soar-into-top-three