After the first week of regular season football, here are our takes on the top eight teams in the league:
1. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning torched the esteemed Ravens defense for 462 yards and seven touchdowns. The entire Thomas family caught a combined four touchdowns, Demaryius Thomas had scored twice for 162 yards, while new tight end Julius Thomas shocked the Mile High city, finishing the game with over 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns. On top of those impressive performances, former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker added two celebration dances of his own, accumulating 67 yards in the process. On top of that, the entire defense looked sound, picking off Joe Flacco twice and causing the Ravens offense to be completely out of sync with timely blitzes and solid coverage. With an elite receiving core, a great quarterback and a gridiron defense, it is easy to see why these guys are favorites to win the Super Bowl in Feb.
2. San Fransisco 49ers
With just about a year under his belt and a group of pass catchers who looked strong, despite missing Michael Crabtree, Colin Kaepernick looks poised to carry the San Francisco 49ers deep into the playoffs. Not only did he put up a whopping 412 yards passing, but he simply looked the part of a franchise quarterback. While the young signal caller only contributed 22 yards to the run game, the threat of the read-option will continue to scare defenses throughout the season, making this offense one of the most dangerous in the league. Furthermore, to the chagrin of Ravens fans across the nation, Anquan Boldin had a not-so-quiet 13 catches for 208 yards in his debut. And while the offense has clearly made strides over the offseason, we cannot forget that it was this defense, which had most analysts singing the praises of the 49ers before Kaepernick was even part of the equation. Led by middle linebacker Patrick Willis, the San Fran defense has a nasty edge, which nicely complements the multi-dimensional offense.
3. Seattle Seahawks
While there were no offensive fireworks from sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson, and Marshawn Lynch did not go into “Beast Mode,” (in fact he only managed 43 yards rushing), the Seahawks looked poised and controlled throughout the entirety of the game against the explosive Cam Newton. The Seattle defense held Newton to a total of 163 yards rushing and allowed just one touchdown, a short pass to Panther’s elite receiver Steve Smith. Wilson was clutch when he needed to be, and it was all about shutdown defense for the Seahawks on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if this defense can limit Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers consistent offense this Sunday.
4. New England Patriots
Call us crazy, but somehow the Patriots continue to win. Despite losing Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd for good, as well as Rob Gronkowski for the forseeable future, Tom Brady managed to pull together a last minute game winning drive to get his 10th straight season opening win. Behind a stellar performance from second year running back Shane Vereen and a clutch showing from newcomer Danny Amendola, the Patriots offense did just enough to eek out a win. The defense showed some promise, but, once again, streaks of inconsistency plagued the pass defense, against a rookie quarterback in Buffalo’s EJ Manuel no less. While the Patriots hold the fourth spot in our Power Rankings this week, how long they can hold onto it remains to be seen. With Vereen officially out until Week 11 and Amendola continuing to fight the injury bug that has followed him his entire career, cracks are appearing in the vaunted Patriots offense.
5. Houston Texans
Talk about a scare. Down 28-7 early in the 3rd quarter, Matt Schaub rallied the Texans offense to score 24 straight points to defeat the San Diego Chargers 31-28. It was only the fourth game of his career where Schaub threw for over 300 yards, but he was the sole reason for the Texans improbable comback. Superstar wide receiver Andre Johnson caught seven passes for 146 yards and tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdowns. The only question mark in this offense is the health of Arian Foster. If he continues to progress and get more touches this week, this offense will be incredibly potent. On defense, J.J. Watt remained quiet in the season debut as the defense held San Diego scoreless for 22 straight minutes to end the game.
6. Green Bay Packers
An opening game loss to the 49ers is nothing to be ashamed about. And what should be encouraging to Packers fans is the strong play of edge rusher Clay Matthews. After talking up a storm before the game started, Matthews made good on his word of getting physical with Kaepernick. Although the 49ers quarterback was still able to put together a strong game, the fact that Matthews was so disruptive can only help a Packers defense which had been ranked last in pass defense last season. Whether his improvement can makeup for a young secondary and the loss of Charles Woodson remains a major question mark for this team moving forward. However, with Aaron Rodgers under center and a rejuvenated running game with rookie power runner Eddie Lacy, the offense should make up for any slack on the defensive side of the ball.
7. Atlanta Falcons
The elite wideouts of this firepower offense were held quiet with the exception of a lone touchdown by Julio Jones and Matt Ryan cracked under pressure, throwing a costly interception in the Falcon’s last offensive possession of the game. Roddy White’s lingering injury and Jone’s fumble caused lots of problems with consistency in the offense while the defense couldn’t contain Drew Brees and the variety of weapons in the Saints offense. Steven Jackson looked solid overall in the Falcons offensive system, rushing for nearly 80 yards and catching five balls for 45 receiving yards. Look for a bounce back week against the Rams this Sunday.
8. Chicago Bears
The Bears secondary picked up from last year, picking off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton twice while also forcing two fumbles. Winning the turnover battle is one of the most important statistics in winning a game, and the Bears defense causes turnovers better than any defense in the NFL. Although cornerback Charles Tillman had his ups and downs against Bengals receiver AJ Green, few cornerbacks ever get the better of the Cincinnati wideout on a regular basis. If Jay Cutler can continue to make plays without giving up too many interceptions, the offense should be able to give the defense enough support to get into the playoffs. That is a big “if” though, as Cutler has been prone to turning the ball over throughout his career. But perhaps that gunslinger mentality is also what makes him a fearless leader under stress, leading his team to 18 game-winning drives since entering the league in 2006, good for sixth in the league over that time span.