Here's what we learned in Week 1: There are three elite teams, a handful of good teams, and after that's it's just pick 'em.
The elites? San Diego, New England and Indianapolis. The Chargers broke down the NFC's best team, Chicago, removing them from any claim to elite status. The Patriots played with the Jets like a kitty toy. And the Indianapolis Colts dominated the New Orleans Saints.
The other headlines were mostly injury related.
1. (1) San Diego Chargers (1-0) The Bears and the Chargers spent Sunday afternoon trading punches like two heavyweight prizefighters. It was beautiful and ugly and there was never really any doubt which team was going to win in the end. The Bears didn't lose this game: The Chargers won it by pounding their opponent into submission. That's impressive, but that's what the No. 1 team in football does. Is that an accurate ranking? We're going to find out Sunday night, when No. 1 plays No. 2.
2. (2) New England Patriots (1-0). Be honest: Did you think Moss was going to be that good out of the gate? I sure didn't. Good, yes. Off the charts, carving up the Jets like warm Brie? No. They get the Chargers at home next week, so if they're going to stake a claim to the title of best team in the league, this is the time to do it.
3. (4) Indianapolis Colts (1-0). We knew about the offense, but the question was whether the depleted defense was going to play like it did in the playoffs or the 2006 regular season. Based on what we saw against the Saints, the defense has actually gotten better. I don't see how it can be an elite defense, but it doesn't have to be Peyton Manning at quarterback.
4. (5) Dallas Cowboys (1-0). I thought the Cowboys would beat the Giants, but the way that game unfolded surprised me. Who would have thought that the absence of Terrance Newman would turn the Cowboys secondary into a turnstile? Thank goodness for Jerry Jones that he's got Tony Romo under center: No, I don't think he's an elite QB yet, but put him up against an average defense and he's got the playground skills and bright personality to turn back a concerted challenge.
5. (3) Chicago Bears (13-3/13-3). The Bears drop here because of injuries as much as anything. Mike Brown and Dusty Dvorcek were big parts of the plan for this year, and though the Bears have quality players to plug into their slots, it changes the prognosis for the defense. Losing Mike Brown every year for the past three seasons annually hurts the defense's cohesion. The offense suffered against an underrated Chargers defense, so we'll get a much better bead on them against the Chiefs.
6. (9) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0). You heard it here first, sportsfans: This isn't your daddy's Pittsburgh Steelers, and Ben Roethlisberger isn't a cautious "game managing" rookie anymore. The Steelers opened it up on the Browns, and they're going to keep doing that. I think that's important, because that's what the modern game demands.
7. (6) Baltimore Ravens (0-1).
Other handicappers saw this one coming, but I thought the Ravens' sudden ineptitude was shocking. The first quarter Monday night was a nightmare, and it ended with a series of goal-line plays that will haunt the Ravens' dreams all year. But there is trouble here beyond the score: Steve McNair is hurting, Jonathan Ogden is hobbled and neither of these offensive leaders were on the field in the final drive. Oh, and don't blame Kyle Boller: He put the ball on TE Todd Heap in the end zone twice. The MNF crew was reporting that Ray Lewis played the second half with a torn tricep. I'm keeping them ahead of the Bengals, because there was a freakish quality to the Monday night game, but I've just got to say this: They looked old, hurt and tired.
8. (10) Seattle Seahawks (1-0). I don't know about y'all, but I just really don't know how to analyze a rather uninspiring home win over the Buccaneers. It wasn't entirely surprising that the Bucs put up a fight, but the Seahawks ugly win matches what I predicted for them in the off-season: They may not be great, but they're going to win games like this because they're a veteran unit.
9. (18) Cincinnati Bengals (1-0). Congratulations to the Bengals for opening their season with a huge win, taking down Baltimore with a hot first quarter and a gutty stand in the final minutes. This offense is impressive, but I saw a much more aggressive defense than I saw last year. Frankly, I thought the Bengals had gotten soft. Maybe not.
10. (7) New Orleans Saints (0-1). That was a disaster, wasn't it? Then again, the Colts tend to do that to people. What did we learn? That the Saints haven't progressed. Are they weaker? Let's hold off on that one. Anybody can have a bad week.
11. (13) Carolina Panthers (1-0). Let's not downplay their win against the Rams too much. Last year's Panthers would have blown this one, and the Rams are one of those dangerous, if generally mediocre, teams that can give non-elite teams fits on any given week. Shutting down RB Steven Jackson is an accomplishment for the defense, and Steve Smith came out healthy and strong. I don't believe in them yet, and I'll have to see a lot more before I forgive them for 2006, but this was a step.
12. (15) Denver Broncos (1-0). Jay Cutler showed me something I won't forget Sunday afternoon. He was OK, but not special, until the Broncos final drive. What he and WR Javon Walker put together in that drive is something the rest of the league had better notice. Good players put up great stats. Great players get 2 yards on 4th and 2 with the game on the line. That said, a reminder: The Bronocs let a mediocre Bills team take them to the limit.
13. (8) Philadelphia Eagles (0-1) Last week I asked this question: "Why aren't the Eagles better?" This week didn't provide an answer, but it sure spotlighted the problem. Attack these guys on the road with a good defense and they just don't handle it well. I mean, look at the stats from this one: They're awful. I think we witnessed a good defense from Green Bay stopping a decent Eagles attack, while a suspect Eagles defense could stop a weak Packers offense when it counted.
14. (16) New York Jets (0-1). I may have been a year early in predicting that the Jets were going suck donkeys. No, I shouldn't say that: They played a great team and lost. But there are problems here, and they start at QB. How do you lose like that and rise in the power rankings? By not sucking as bad as a couple of other, higher-rated teams, and by not losing a key player for the season.
15. (17) Minnesota Vikings (1-0). Viking fans everywhere are celebrating their division lead, but let's bring them back to Earth. They're not going to get two defensive touchdowns every week, and based on the lack of rhythm we saw from their offense against lowly Atlanta, they've got a long way to go before anybody is going to confuse them with a good team. They're closer than most people think, though, and they'll make you pay for your win. If Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice keep developing, look out. Oh, and Adrian Peterson? He's good.
16. (21) Houston Texans (1-0). Houston's ass-whuppin of Kansas City is Case Study No. 1 of why you don't assume that teams start off where they left off the year before. The Texans front seven is young and talented, and they're simply better in 2007 than they were in 2006. This isn't a great team yet, and it's early to say whether they're on the road to greatness. But they're going to be a tough game, week after week. That's progress.
17. (11) San Francisco 49ers (1-0). Will someone please tell the 49ers that the season has started? The defense looks better with Patrick Willis in the middle, but the offense? To quote from a commercial: WAKE UP PEOPLE! Their Monday Night "game" with the Cardinals rivaled the Vikings-Falcons and Redskins-Dolphins tiffs for offensive hopelessness. Alex Smith looked jittery and out of synch until the final drive. For the record, Darrell Jackson's drops were just awful.
18. (19) Arizona Cardinals (0-1). Their vaunted passing offense looked craptastic, but did we see tough defense or just a lousy showing by the 49ers? This franchise has a habit of letting games slip away, that that's exactly what happened Monday night. If they recover Arnez Battle's fumble in the end zone, it's game over, but they dribbled it away.
19. (14) St. Louis Rams (0-1). How huge is the loss of Orlando Pace? The Rams don't even list a third tackle on their depth chart behind Pace and RT Alex Barron. That means they'll probably have to move Barron to LT, plug a guard into the RT slot, and pray for a deal. Last time I looked, quality NFL tackles weren't just hanging around drug stores waiting to be discovered. The Panthers have a good defensive line, and they put a hurting on Marc Bulger, but even weak defenses may be able to stymie Steven Jackson if the Rams have to shuffle their line over the next month.
20. (12) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1). David Garrard wasn't great, but he wasn't the problem. The problem was the strength of the Jaguars as a team: the center of their defense, once regarded as one of the top cores in the league, was shredded by the lightly regarded Titans running game. So let's make a snap judgment and say what has to be said: Last year's pathetic 8-8 record was no fluke, it wasn't Leftwich's fault, and the person who must be held accountable is coach Jack Del Rio. The Jags couldn't get up to beat a threadbare division rival at Municipal Stadium.You're dead to me, Jaguars. DEAD!
21. (22) Detroit Lions (1-0). Maybe it's my blatant pro-Bears bias, but it's just hard for me to look at the Lions and see something other than Matt Millen's befuddled mug. But let me throw a little respect their way: The Raiders have talented defenders who play aggressive football, and Jon Kitna handled them. That's not what surprised me, though: The Lions actually stopped the Raiders' (suddenly competent) offense late in the game when it counted. Yeah, they let Lamont Jordan and Eddie Curry knock them around, but they contained them. The old Lions had a way of falling apart late.
22. (26) Tennessee Titans (1-0). One of these days the Titans are going to start playing like I think they're going to, but until then I'm going to keep looking like a moron every week. I just can't see how they're winning like this, and I'm sticking with my skepticism. That said, listen: When a team with obvious limitations wins games it shouldn't, you've got to give all props to its playmakers. Vince Young, you are the man.
23. (25) Green Bay Packers (1-0). They can't run the ball. They don't have great receivers. Their quarterback ain't what he used to be. But damn if they don't have a decent defense.
24. (20) Buffalo Bills (0-1).
I picked the Bills to knock off the Broncos last week, and yes, they took Denver down to the final tick before losing the game. But here's the truth: Dick Jauron's system is the kind that turns bad teams into over-achieving mediocre teams, but it doesn't translate to the next level. The good news for Jauron and the Bills: They've still got a ways to go to mediocrity.
25. (23) New York Giants (0-1).
Here's what I wrote in the preseason ranking: "There's just bad karma swirling around this team." You all watched them on Sunday night, and what did you see? Bad karma. It was almost tragic to watch: Eli Manning playing one of the best games of his career, in the national spotlight, with a chance to redeem much of 2006 and go a long way toward answering the leadership questions that dogged him in the offseason. What happens? The Giants defense couldn't stop anybody, G-Men were dropping to injury left and right, and ultimately even Manning fell. Now he's gone for a month and disappointing XXXL QB Jared "The Pillsbury Throw Boy" Lorenzen has to lead the team. This is a precarious moment in this team's history. If they don't rally, they could easily come apart like fat in a skillet.
26. (24) Washington Redskins (0-1). Beating the Dolphins isn't the accomplishment it used to be, but so long as the Miami defense continues to play at a high level, you've got to give the Skins some difficulty points. They were just good enough on offense to get to overtime and just competent enough on defense to bottle up a Dolphins offense that isn't going anywhere fast. Sure, they got lucky on the coin flip, but then they actually did something with it. Don't look now, but the Skins have been making a habit of winning ugly in August and September.
27. (28) Oakland Raiders (0-1). They didn't win, and the Lions aren't one of those teams that you can lose to and call it a moral victory. But on the bright side, the Raiders looked hugely improved. Curry and Jordan and McCown all had good games. Progress.
28. (27) Tampa Bay Bucs (0-1). On the road at the Seahawks is a tough way to open the season, particularly when you're shooting for the middle of the pack. They held up for a while, but once they cracked it was over.
29. (32) Miami Dolphins (0-1). This is one of those rare teams that is less than the sum of its parts. A good defense. What should be an adequate offense. Maybe Cam Cameron has a plan, but let's be blunt about it: this franchise will need some time to heal its wounds from the previous two seasons.
30. (30) Kansas City Chiefs (0-1). I don't think
they'll be very good in 2007, but I'd be surprised if they don't
improve a little bit from that pathetic Week 1 stinker. It's not that
they don't have players, it's just that the strengths they have don't
build on each other. This week they travel to Chicago, though, and the
Bears haven't lost a meaningful game to a bad team since they dropped
one to Miami in the middle of 2006.
31. (29) Cleveland Browns (0-1). Um... wow. I know the Pittsburgh Steelers are better than advertised, but that wasn't just a good team beating up on a weak team. That was a blowout, and a loss like that one can set a team back. If you're Romeo Crennell (and pray to God you aren't), you're going to have to really show signs of turning things around after this stinker. Charlie Frye lost credibility as the Browns' starter, Derrick Anderson didn't do anything to stake a claim, and the Brady Quinn watch has officially begun.
32. (31) Atlanta Falcons (0-1). Oh my.