This week I finally give the Colts some love, and there's some grudging acknowledgment that I've been too critical of the Giants, who still suck, but not as badly as I thought. Meanwhile, the Panthers and Jets keep falling. This is the last ranking before my final, for-the-books, 2007 preseason power ranking, and things are firming up.
By the way, the record in parentheses after the team name is what I originally predicted for the team before the preseason started. I'll be adjusting that in next week's rankings.
RISING: Colts (6); Steelers (3); Seahawks (2); Giants (4)
SINKING: Panthers (-3); Jaguars (-2); Jets (-3 -- seven spots in two weeks!); Bengals (-3); Lions (-2)
1. (1) San Diego Chargers (13-3). Once again, the Chargers show they can score early and often, with or without LT. They're also deeper than most good teams.
2. (2) New England Patriots (13-3). Asante Samuel is back, which instantly upgrades the defensive backfield, and Lawrence Maroney looked sharp in his first preseason action after offseason shoulder surgery.
3. (3) Chicago Bears (13-3). When the biggest problem on your team is the QB-center exchange, you're having a pretty good camp. Bears are 3-0 in the preseason and made a pretty good 49ers squad look meek.
4. (10) Indianapolis Colts (10-6). Enough with the hating by yours truly: I don't know how on Earth they're doing it, but the Colts are stopping opposing offenses, particularly when it's starters versus starters. They've got the offense, but the defense has no business being this good. If it holds up, then this ranking is too low.
5. (4) Dallas Cowboys (12-4). The Cowboys fell apart against the Texans, but they hold fairly steady in this ranking since other top teams struggled as well..
6. (5) Baltimore Ravens (10-6). I think the Ravens are starting to come into focus: Solid and fundamental, but not a top-level contender. They're just not dynamic enough, which puts an awful lot of pressure on the team to be perfect.
7. (6) Philadelphia Eagles (10-6). About the same. The Eagles give you a look that makes you think they're ready to become something special, but it's never more than a tease.
8. (8) New Orleans Saints (10-6). Beating up on the lowly Chiefs isn't even sporting.
9. (12) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7). Early on I wrote that if the Ravens aren't careful the Steelers are going to sneak up, smack them around and walk off with the AFC North title. I suspect they're going to be a little inconsistent, but this is a team that could improve as the year goes on.
10. (7) Carolina Panthers (11-5). For the second year in a row, my first impression of the Panthers was overinflated. I'm keeping them ahead of the Jaguars based on the fact that the Jags have more troubling QB/offense problems. That said, the Panthers defense only looks good on paper this summer. Is that a sign of problems, or just an August mirage?
11. (9) Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6). I can't believe these dumb-asses cut Jermaine Wiggins.
12. (14) Seattle Seahawks (9-7). They're not as romantic a pick in the West as their trendy brethren in San Francisco or that dome team in St. Louis, but you get the sense they'll be good enough.
13. (13) San Francisco 49ers (8-8). I said they were good. I didn't say they could match up against the Bears. Yet.
14. (11) New York Jets (10-6). Just when you think the Jets have gotten things worked out, Chad Pennington gets goofy and opens up a quarterback controversy. A team like this one can't be risky in its approach to the game.
15. (15) Denver Broncos (10-6). The defense needs help, and that's a strange thing to write about Denver.16. (16) St. Louis Rams (8-8). They phoned one in against the Raiders, but I don't think they're much worse than this ranking.
17. (17) Minnesota Vikings (7-9). They're a solid team that does many things right, and in the third week of preseason play they did exactly what teams like that usually do: They lost. The Old School approach (run the ball, stop the run, kick field goals, throw the occasional deep ball, and don't fumble) doesn't work because it requires flawless play for four quarters. I think this is going to be a tough team that's going to make a lot of opponents sweat and bleed, but they're going to have to find a balanced offense or they'll be playing from behind all year.
18. (18) Cincinnati Bengals (9-7). Uh... they just lost to the Falcons in the only preseason game that is supposed to mean anything. This team is fantasy football heaven, because they're going to score points and give up points, which means they'll be gunning it in the fourth quarter most weeks. But in terms of wins and losses? Not so much.
19. (19) Buffalo Bills (6-10). I know it's early, but the Bills invested too much money in the offensive line this season to have the running game sputter like this.
20. (23) Houston Texans (6-10). Matt Schaub keeps getting better.
21. (21) Arizona Cardinals (7-9). Matt Leinart can play some football. Good thing they drafted Levi Brown though.
22. (20) Detroit Lions (7-9). The Lions finally played a professional opponent, and got smushed by the Colts.
23. (27) New York Giants (5-11). No, I don't believe in them. But I've clearly ranked them too low..
24. (22) Washington Redskins (6-10). This is the strange thing: Last year they didn't win a game in the preseason and went on to be awful. This year Joe Gibbs put the onus on them to win in August. Result? They've been awful, but they're 3-0. What does that mean? That awful teams can win meaningless games, I guess.
25. (24) Green Bay Packers (5-11). Apparently the "new" Brett Favre has learned to control his gunslinger tendencies. I suspect the "new" Brett Favre is going to last until the fourth quarter of Week 1, when the "old" Brett Favre's hardwired muscle-memory reacts to the sight of Donald Driver limping across the middle of a deep zone by trying to gun the ball into a two-foot window.
26. (25) Tennessee Titans (6-10). So Vince Young got the playground thing going this week and looked good. Maybe he really is all that. I don't think that's enough to make this team a playoff team, but who knows.
27. (26) Tampa Bay Bucs (6-10). TAfter sleep walking through their game against Jacksonville, the Bucs played better against Miami. Think of it this way: If they only played Florida teams, they might finish .500.28. (28) Oakland Raiders (4-12). It's hard to evaluate a defensive performance against a Rams unit that left both Steven Jackson and Torry Holt on the bench, but c'mon -- these guys were good last year, and they're still looking good. The offense is the question, and it's coming along nicely. There's actually talent here, and either Daunte Culpepper on Josh McCown will be an improvement over the Brooks/Walter disaster of '06. And check out LaMont Jordan!
29. (30) Cleveland Browns (6-10). Charlie Frye has weapons this year, and the offense should improve just because of the talent infusion along the line. But every time they stumble, somebody's going to be calling for Brady Quinn.
30. (28) Miami Dolphins (5-11). A team with aging talent goes out and acquires an aging field general. Let me know how that works out for 'ya...
31. (32) Atlanta Falcons (2-14). OK, I've been very snarky about Joey Harrington. And no, these guys don't really play defense, either. But I'm moving them up, and here's why: You just get the feeling that this team is going to rally a bit now that the whole Vick thing is in their rear-view mirror. And in a sense, all Harrington has to do is act like a stand-up, decent human being and the Atlanta fans will mark down even his bad performances as a wash.
32. (31) Kansas City Chiefs (3-13). Here's the good news: Brodie Croyle's performance was once again so inept that there's simply no way management can justify forcing him into the starting job. That means they'll have to suck it up and give the ball to Damon Huard, giving them a better one-year starter at QB than teams in Atlanta, Cleveland, Miami, Oakland, Tampa, Washington, Minnesota and Jacksonville. Also, they get Larry Johnson back, and last time we looked, he was no slouch as a running back. So maybe they don't deserve this ranking. Still, here's where they'll sit until they show somebody something.