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Macho NFL Power Rankings, 2012: Week 5

The Houston Texans have rode a stellar pass defense and the passing attack of QB Matt Schaub to the number 1 spot in this week’s NFL Power Rankings.

The first quarter of the NFL season has passed, and, while there are still 12 games to play, we have learned a lot about many of the NFL’s best, worst, and in-between. So, where do all the teams stand at the quarter-way point?

1. Houston Texans (4-0) Last Week: 2

And the AFC South juggernaut just seems to keep rolling along – this time with a 38-14 drubbing against the Titans. While their offense wasn’t off-the-charts impressive (QB Matt Schaub: 202 pass yds, 2 TDs; RB Arian Foster: 86 rush yds, 1 TD), it was their defense that set up the blowout, with two interception return TDs by S Danieal Manning and CB Kareem Jackson. Now 4-0 for the first time in franchise history, they take their undefeated record to the Meadowlands against Rex Ryan’s reeling Jets squad.

2. Atlanta Falcons (4-0)Last Week: 1

Another week, another high-flying performance by QB Matt Ryan. His day against a struggling Carolina pass defense (currently ranked 22nd) marks the third time this season he has thrown for 3 touchdowns. 169 of his yards went to WR Roddy White, quickly becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL. With the roll their passing game is on, no reason Ryan and Co. can’t keep going against the Redskin’s 31st-ranked pass D.

3. San Francisco 49ers (3-1)Last Week: 7

What a way to respond to a seemingly embarrassing loss – giving the Jets one of their most humiliating shutout losses in franchise history. It was said that backup QB Colin Kaepernick “out-Tebowed” the Jets with their own version of a wildcat run, converted for a TD. Their superiority on the ground (245 total rushing yards on the day) got back to the strength of their offense. They return home to welcome a reeling Bills team with a hobbled running game, hoping to keep up with the Cardinals in the division.

4. Arizona Cardinals (4-0)Last Week: 3

The Cards have surprised with a quarter-season in the books, with their first 4-0 start in franchise history. While their OT win over the Dolphins wasn’t necessarily dominating, it was definitely a statement – with QB Kevin Kolb at the helm, they will definitely make things interesting for the NFC West title race. Watch out for unheralded WR Andre Roberts, whose 2 receiving TDs contributed heavily to their win in Miami, and currently has 4 TDs on the season.

5. Baltimore Ravens (3-1)Last Week: 4

While they somewhat stalled on offense against the struggling Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, a rare and unexpected Anquan Boldin sighthing (9 receptions, 131 yards) helped the Ravens hold them off. That, plus 356 yards from QB Joe Flacco, another impressive performance from WR Torrey Smith (97 yards, 1 TD) and an INT return for a TD from CB Cary Williams. With an unexpectedly great pass offense (currently 4th in pass yds/gm), can they keep it rolling against a top-12 passing D in KC?

6. Chicago Bears (3-1)Last Week: 9

Da Bears have continued to impress since their Week 2 loss to the Packers, this time with a 34-18 win over the Cowboys. While QB Jay Cutler (275 pass yds,2 TDs) and WR Brandon Marshall (7 rec, 138 yds, 1 TD) have continued to gel in the passing offense, the defense stepped up, as well, picking off Cowboys QB Tony Romo 5 times. LB Lance Briggs (74 yds) and CB Charles Tillman (25 yds) each ran INTs back for TDs, while S Major Wright followed up last week’s efforts with two picks of his own. Don’t be surprised if you see more of the same when they meet Jacksonville in Week 5.

7. Green Bay Packers (2-2) Last Week: 8

Putting the referee debacle vs. Seattle last week in the rearview mirror (despite the fact that they should have won, but didn’t), the Packers still needed a strong performance from their passing offense, led by QB Aaron Rodgers (319 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT) and WR James Jones (56 yds, 2 receiving TDs) to get past the reeling Saints. While they are back at .500, the Packers now have to pack their bags for a three-game road trip, starting with the Colts next week. Fabulous.

8. New England Patriots (2-2)Last Week: 11

While it was strange to see the Brady/Belichick Patriots at 1-2, it was even weirder to see them down 21-7 against the Bills, early in the third quarter. Luckily for them, Tom Brady remembered he was, Tom Brady and led his offense to 35 straight points en route to a 52-28 blowout. Brady threw TD passes to RB Danny Woodhead and TE Rob Gronkowski, while running in for a score, himself. They should hope to have that momentum when they welcome old rival Peyton Manning and the Broncos to town.

9. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)Last Week: 12

The Eagles almost shot themselves in the foot, with two pass interference penalties and a called timeout on a last-second missed FG by the Giants. Luckily for them, they got out by the skin of their teeth – a common thread for Philadelphia victories this season. In fact, since 1966, only four teams have started with the same record, and a worse point differential (-17). In any case, they will need another strong running attack, led by RB LeSean McCoy (123 yds vs. NYG) against the Steelers in Week 5.

10. New York Giants (2-2)Last Week: 5

While the Eagles almost shot themselves in the foot, the Giants let them off the hook. Despite another fourth-quarter TD by QB Eli Manning, K Lawrence Tynes simply could not make the 54-yard game winner (after two attempts), in a mistake-filled final drive. Despite their potent passing attack (321.5 yds/gm, 2nd overall), the G-Men are now at .500, with both losses coming against division foes. Now they face a Browns team that hasn’t been able to buy a win, despite an effective passing attack of their own.

11. San Diego Chargers (3-1)Last Week: 14

The Chargers bounced back from a humiliating loss to the Falcons a week ago, and used five first-half turnovers to clobber the Chiefs by halftime. Despite a pedestrian offensive attack after four games (23rd in passing, 17th in rushing), and rumors that they might trade RB Ryan Mathews, Philip Rivers and Co. still have sole possession of the AFC West lead. Now, they will face their old franchise QB in Drew Brees when they visit the Saints in N’awlins.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)Last Week: 13

Here they are, keeping pace with the Ravens in the AFC North, after a convincing victory over the Jaguars. In fact, they rattled off three straight wins after Baltimore sucker-punched them, 44-13, in Week 1. While they continue to impress on offense, WR A.J. Green is quietly becoming one of the best pass-catchers in the league, already with 428 yards and 3 scores. He is currently on a torrid pace to reach 108 receptions, 1,712 yards and 12 TDs for the season – not bad for a sophomore wideout.

13. Dallas Cowboys (2-2)Last Week: 6

Five interceptions from QB Tony Romo doomed the Cowboys on Monday night, and the doubts about the seven-year starter have grown louder and louder. While Romo may not deserve all the criticism, leading the 5th-ranked passing attack (296.3 yds/gm), while dragging the third-worst rushing attack with him (67.8 yds/gm), the responsibility has fallen primarily on him – just ask Joe Theismann. At least they now have their bye week to recover from their ailments – both physically and psychologically.

14. Seattle Seahawks (2-2)Last Week: 10

A week after they stole (through no fault of their own) a win vs. Green Bay, the Seahawks, hoping to keep pace in the competitive NFC West, suffered a letdown vs. division rival St. Louis. Despite 118 yards from workhorse RB Marshawn Lynch, the offense was done in by 3 Russell Wilson INTs. With an increasingly healthier Matt Flynn waiting in the wings, head coach Pete Carroll is sticking with Wilson, despite his offensive struggles. Will he be able to keep up with offensive-minded Cam Newton and the Panthers on Sunday?

15. Minnesota Vikings (3-1)Last Week: 21

The Vikings continue to be somewhat of a conundrum in the NFL – at 3-1, they don’t have a potent offense or defense to speak of. Perhaps it’s the way they are winning games – against the Lions on Sunday, the majority of scoring came from the foot of K Jason Hanson, and two TDs by WR Percy Harvin (105-yard kickoff return) and CB Marcus Sherels (77-yard punt return). In any case, RB Adrian Peterson had his first 100-yard performance this season. A visit from the Titans next Sunday should keep Minnesota’s winning ways going.

16. Denver Broncos (2-2) Last Week: 18

QB Peyton Manning looked like his old self for the third time in four games, throwing for 338 yards and 3 TDs against the Raiders on Sunday, in a blowout victory. At the quarter-season mark, Manning has not thrown for under 240 yards in a single game this season, and is on pace to throw for 4,648 yards and 32 TDs – again, much like his days in Indy. RB Willis McGahee continues to see the benefits of Manning under center, with another 100-yard rushing day. With Brady and the Pats on the horizon, Manning should most certainly be ready for a reunion, and a shootout.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)Last Week: 16

While their loss to Oakland in Week 3 was a bit demoralizing, the bye week came at the right time for a number of reasons. Not only do they get to rest up, they got the downtime needed to get back LB James Harrison, who had not played this season with a bum knee, and S Troy Polamalu, who was out since Week 2 with an injured calf. Both expect to hit the field in time to chase Michael Vick and the Eagles all over the field. It should be a welcome boost for a unit ranked fifth in yards allowed per game (291.3) but 21st in points per game (25.0).

18. Washington Redskins (2-2)Last Week: 20

In a back-and-forth effort against the Bucs, the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III showed the kind of mettle a wily ol’ veteran QB would have – not a rookie playing in his fourth game. He ended the game with a 56-yard last-minute drive to set up the game-winning field goal, ending on 323 yards passing. However, RGIII is not the one-man show he’s portrayed to be – Washington’s top-ranked rushing attack (175.5 yds/gm) has mainly to do with unheralded RB Alfred Morris, who is averaging 96.0 yards and 1 TD per game.

19. New York Jets (2-2)Last Week: 15

It wasn’t a good day for the Jets, who were basically outclassed by a team in the 49ers that head coach Rex Ryan could only hope his team could look like (strong run game/defense). Literally adding injury to insult, WR Santonio Holmes followed CB Darrelle Revis to the IR, with a season-ending Lisfranc injury. Having to face another daunting challenge in the Texans next week, the Jets will have to deal with the elephant in the room: will they insert QB Tim Tebow to replace incumbent Mark Sanchez? And, if so, when?

20. Buffalo Bills (2-2)Last Week: 17

Things seemed to be going well against their division nemesis on Sunday, up 21-7 – only then to be outscored 45-7 the rest of the way. At least their offense – with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing for 4 TDs – shows promise, moving forward. Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick also threw 4 interceptions, and their running game is still recovering from injuries sustained earlier this season (C.J. Spiller: shoulder; Fred Jackson: knee). Even more unfortunate, they go on the road in four of their next five games, starting in San Francisco against the 49ers.

21. Detroit Lions (1-3)Last Week: 19

Detroit’s 1-3 start isn’t for lack of effort – after all, the Lions own the No. 1 passing offense in the league at the moment (322.0 yds/gm), and their three losses were all by one possesion (8 pts vs. SF; 3 pts vs. TEN; 7 points vs. MIN). In any case, they enter their bye week looking for answers. Perhaps they should start with this ESPN Insider article, chronicling the revolving door that is their patchwork secondary. At least with S Louis Delmas eyeing a Week 6 return, they can start fixing what ails them.

22. Miami Dolphins (1-3)Last Week: 22

Their overtime loss to the NFC West-leading Cardinals aside, the Dolphins still dominated in a number of categories including time of possession (35:00 to 31:31) and rushing yards (86 to 28). Additionally, QB Ryan Tannehill broke a franchise rookie record set by Dan Marino with 431 passing yards in a single game, and their rushing defense is currently tops in the league (56.8 yards allowed/gm). Perhaps these facts can help them against the Bengals next week, in Cincinnati.

23. St. Louis Rams (2-2) Last Week: 29

For a team ranked 28th in passing offense (196.5 yds/gm), you gotta hand it to the Rams – they found a way to beat a division rival in the Seahawks. More specifically, they rode the kicking foot of one Greg Zuerlein, who set the franchise record – twice – by kicking 58- and 60-yard field goals, on the way to a four-FG day. The rookie K from Missouri Western was even pivotal in a fake FG attempt that led to the club’s only TD. What kind of trickeration will they have – or need – for their meeting against undefeated Arizona?

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3)Last Week: 24

After an opening weekend win, the Bucs are now 0-3 since then – this time, victimized by RGIII and the Redskins on a final drive that ended with a last-second field goal. It obviously doesn’t help that the pass defense is ranked dead last (343.5 yds allowed/gm), and total defense is ranked 30th (419.0 total yds/gm). They will have to regroup during their bye week, and come back in Week 6 to face a pedestrian Chiefs passing offense (currently 17th in the league).

25. Carolina Panthers (1-3)Last Week: 25

There is a good chance that QB Cam Newton will be taking the heat for their last-second loss to the Falcons on Sunday – it was his fumble on a potential game-killing first-down play that set up the Falcons’ game-winning FG. But, again, he can’t do it alone, leading his team in rushing for the second time in three games. Perhaps they can take the momentum of the “almost-win” and use it against a Seahawks team coming off a divisional loss.

26. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3)Last Week: 23

Despite the second-best running attack in the league (currently at 173.5 yds/gm), the Chiefs have only experienced one win at the quarter-way point. Even with RB Jamaal Charles’ impressive day (115 total yards, 2 total TDs), their blowout loss at the hands of the Chargers is indicative of their problems – namely, their six turnovers attributed to their playing catch-up the entire day. Currently, they have the worst turnover margin in the league (-13). That will definitely need to change next week vs. a hot Ravens squad.

27. Indianapolis Colts (1-2)Last Week: 30

Needless to say, it was oddly perfect timing for the Colts to have their bye, what with the news that head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with a treatable form of Leukemia earlier this week. Now, their focus is squared on the Packers, and will have to improve on the league’s 12th-best passing offense if they expect to stand a chance. Welcoming back DE Dwight Freeney to the defensive front should help, and the motivation of playing for their ailing head coach may be just enough to push them over the top.

28. Tennessee Titans (1-3)Last Week: 27

Their matchup against the AFC South-leading Texans wasn’t even close, though they can take solace in a few things: 1) without two INTs converted to TDs by Houston, it wasn’t as terrible as the final score would indicate; 2) QB Matt Hasselbeck (193 yds, 2 TDs) looked decent in place of injured Jake Locker (non-throwing shoulder injury); and 3) RB Chris Johnson finally went off for a good game (25 carries, 141 yards) vs. a Top-12 rush D.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3)Last Week: 28

After getting bum-rushed by the Bengals, the Jaguars may have to rethink their strategy: they put the keys to the offense in the hands of their young QB Blaine Gabbert, and while his numbers that day weren’t terrible (186 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT), it wasn’t nearly enough offense to keep up with Cincinnati. 38 yards rushing from RB Maurice Jones-Drew obviously will not be enough on any Sunday, and will have to focus their offense around Jones-Drew – a formula that worked the week before vs. the Colts, if they have any hope of competing with the Bears next week.

30. Oakland Raiders (1-3)Last Week: 26

Apparently, nothing was going well against their division rival in the Manning-led Broncos. QB Carson Palmer couldn’t throw any TDs to get his offense going, RB Darren McFadden could only muster a paltry 34 yards on 13 carries, and they were dominated on time of possession (37:25 to 22:35). With that performance, the Raiders’ ground attack ranks dead-last in the NFL (60.8 yds/gm). Perhaps their respite lies with their bye week, and the Falcons’ 29th-ranked rush defense (146.3 yds/gm) come Week 6.

31. New Orleans Saints (0-4)Last Week: 32

The Saints just can’t win. I mean, literally, they can’t – even aided by a couple of blown calls by the regular referees vs. the Packers, New Orleans still couldn’t get the points they needed to overtake the Green Bay in the final minutes. At least QB Drew Brees threw for 446 yards and 3 TDs in the loss, along with tying Johnny Unitas’ record for most consecutive games with a TD pass. Unfortunately, their mere 45 yards on the ground could not help keep the Packers’ offense off the field. How could it get worse? Facing Brees’ old team, the red-hot Chargers, on Sunday night.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-4)Last Week: 31

Perhaps it’s a bit of a bummer to throw the Browns at the bottom of the barrel again (say that five times fast), but it is what it is – losing to a division rival, let alone the team that once held the Browns moniker before being shipped out of Cleveland in black of night, is never good. Despite their predicament on this list, their promise on offense continues to shine, with another impressive performance by QB Brandon Weeden (320 yards passing). If they can just come away with a win, they can pick themselves up out of the gutter.

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