The Patriots rewrote these rankings this week with a dominant performance. It's early yet, but it wouldn't me surprise if they maintained this ranking for the rest of the season.
1. (2) New England Patriots (2-0). Honestly: The Patriots didn't just beat the Chargers. They sent an ominous, threatening message to the rest of the league. The Pats played with no fear on a night when they had a national audience in their house, coming off a tumultuous week, and they came out with a no-huddle, attacking offense. By the time the Chargers caught their breath they were already down 17-0. New England's defense doesn't have the star power of some units, but that really doesn't matter when it's befuddling your QB with timely zone blitzes. And Tom Brady? He's got a cold-eyed, pissed-off look and my ballot for league MVP.
2. (3) Indianapolis Colts (2-0). Winning close ones over lesser teams shouldn't be a big deal, but it does say something about the maturity of a franchise. The Titans have a habit of playing the Colts tough, so maybe this was a better win than I'm making it out to be, but I love teams that understand how to close out a game. And the defense was good again.
3. (1) San Diego Chargers (1-1) What went wrong? A better question right now might be, How do they get their confidence back? There's more talent on this team than on any other unit in the league, but the Chargers were beaten before the end of the first quarter. Everything else was just statistics. What this really pointed out was the difference between Philip Rivers and the elite QBs: He's a quality NFL starter, and he looked gutty at times in the second half, but he simply wasn't up to the New England chess match at the beginning of the night.The Chargers need a get-well game after facing two top defenses in a row, and Norv Turner needs to prove that he's preparing this unit for their Sunday appointments.
4. (4) Dallas Cowboys (2-0). The Pokes are clearly on their way in the NFC, with a pivotal game this week in Chicago. Their defense has some issues, but it's solid enough to win, and the heart of the team is actually QB Tony Romo. He's hot again, after cooling off late last season, and that makes their roster of weapons even more dangerous. If he can avoid the cold streak in 2007, the Cowboys will be their conference's top seed, and they can take a big step by beating the Bears in Chicago.5. (5) Chicago Bears (1-1) The Bears were good enough in Week 2 to beat the Chiefs despite playing an uninspired offensive game. And here's the part that's hardest for me to write, because I'm a Bears fan and a Rex Grossman supporter: He had a couple of interceptions that were pure headscratchers, and it really made me doubt whether he has the ability to rise to the next level. You don't need great QB play when you're getting 100 yards form your RB, a touchdown from your punt returner and another yeoman effort from your defense -- so long as you're playing a weak team. That won't get it done against the Cowboys.I'll be pulling for Rex to step up on the national stage Sunday, but there's no way around it: This is a huge moment for him.
6. (6) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0).
We need to see how they'll play against a quality opponent, but after watching how the Brownies rose up against the Bengals, you have to wonder whether I'm not giving them enough credit. These guys thow the ball, run the ball and play defense. And the 49ers will give them a great test. If they win convincingly this week, they could easly climb into the top five.
7. (7) Baltimore Ravens (1-1). It's hard for me to get too excited about the Ravens' win over the Jets, given the tumult at New York's QB position and the way the Jets dropped passes that could have put them in position to tie the game in the final two minutes. Then again, a veteran team makes plays when they matter, and the offense was just good enough with Kyle Boller under center.
8. (16) Houston Texans (2-0). I'm making them the fastest riser on this board because both of the Texans' wins have been so impressive. They've got studs on both sides of the ball and they play like a team with a plan. Beating the Panthers on the road was the kind of win this franchise didn't get in the bad old days. The injury to Andre Johnson, however, has got me worried.
9. (15) Denver Broncos (2-0). Another week, another ugly win over a team that's theoretically less qualified. But here's the takeaway: The Broncos called a timeout right before Janikowski's first 52-yard game-winner, and the reason it worked was that they went up and told the refs exactly what they were going to do, so the refs were paying attention. It got in the kicker's head, and he missed the second try. That's a Broncos in a nutshell.10. (17) San Francisco 49ers (2-0). They still haven't gotten their passing game untracked, but the defense is becoming a top unit, and Frank Gore is getting it done on the ground. The Steelers-49ers game this week is one of the most interesting matchups so far this year.
11. (19) Arizona Cardinals (1-1). I think we learned an awful lot about the Cardinals on Sunday. It was gutty, not pretty, and they wouldn't have won without a mistake by the Seahawks, but it was more of a culture-changing victory than it was anything else.12. (13) Carolina Panthers (1-1). So, do we have pattern here? Panthers go on the road and win, come home and lose. They squandered a great performance by Steve Smith.
13. (8) Seattle Seahawks (1-1). I wasn't surprised that the Cardinals played them tough, but falling apart at the end was a very non-veteran act by these guys. Not a good sign. This team might make the playoffs, but they're pedestrians.
14. (22) Tennessee Titans (1-1). A little love is in order for these guys, who I've been dissing for about two years now. They really aren't pretty, but they play hard.15. (9) Cincinnati Bengals (1-1). Last week I gave the Bengals props for playing aggressively on defense. A mirage. They got taken apart by Cleveland. Couldn't stop the run. Couldn't stop the pass. They were just as soft as I accused them of being before the season started. So there's a problem with focus. What's up with that, Marvin Lewis?
16. (23) Green Bay Packers (2-0). The Giants are a team in trouble, but this was a good win for the Packers. They're tied for the division lead.
17. (26) Washington Redskins (2-0). So far the Redskins have found ways to win ugly games in August and September, hanging the skins of the Dolphins and the Eagles on their clubhouse wall. This week's win did a lot to give the first one legitimacy, but I'm still keeping their ranking relatively low. Why? Because I'm not convinced than any of these teams is all that good over a full season.18. (21) Detroit Lions (2-0). Jon Kitna is just one of the toughest guys on the planet. He came out of the game with an injury, but returned late and led the Lions to their game-winning field goal with two gutty, painful plays.
19. (28) Tampa Bay Bucs (1-1). Note to the NFL: Remember that wide receiver, Joey Galloway, who used to be so great for the Seahawks? He's still in the league, and if you don't cover him, you'll be sorry.
20. (10) New Orleans Saints (0-2). From bad to worse. Can it get worse? We'll find out Monday night when they host the Titans.
21. (13) Philadelphia Eagles (0-2). Last week I wrote that if you attack the Eagles on the road with a good defense, they wouldn't handle it well. This week a mediocre defense came to Philly and they didn't handle it well. They're just not good. Is it McNabb's fault? Not entirely. He might be better if he had receivers who could get open.
22. (14) New York Jets (0-2). What conclusions can you draw about a team that goes 0-2 against the Patriots and the Ravens? That they drew a tough schedule. I don't think they're good this season, but they might not be so bad.23. (23) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1). They notched a win, but it's a minimal win. Atlanta is the NFL equivalent of a bye week.
24. (15) Minnesota Vikings (1-1). OK, things would be better if they could get a balanced offense going. There simply isn't a reliable passing game, and it's squandering a good effort by the other units. And it isn't all Tarvaris Jackson's fault, either.25. (19) St. Louis Rams (0-2). The Rams did a decent job against an underrated 49ers defense, but it wasn't enough. Gutty play by Marc Bulger isn't going to make up for the medocrity of this defense or the holes in the OL.
26. (27) Oakland Raiders (0-2). Another week, another decent performance. Check this out: Lamont Jordan came out and racked up 159 yards on the ground. That's like driving a stake into the heart of the 2006 season.27. (31) Cleveland Browns (1-1). What the HELL was that??? Congrats to the Browns for running wild on the Bengals. That's a big turn-around for a team that was a doormat for the Steelers in Week 1. Delay the Brady Quinn Era by another week.
28. (24) Buffalo Bills (0-2). This was a sad performance. After putting up a spirited fight against the Broncos, they lay down against a pretty good Steelers team.29. (29) Miami Dolphins (0-2). On the bright side, they fought back against the Cowboys. On the realistic side, they weren't good enough to win that fight.
30. (25) New York Giants (0-2). Eli Manning gave it the old college try, but it didn't matter.They're hurt on both sides of the ball and they just don't have what it takes this year.
31. (30) Kansas City Chiefs (0-2). There's no great shame in being shut down by the Bears' defense, but they're struggling all over the place right now.
32. (32) Atlanta Falcons (0-2). Oh my. Again.