1 Dallas Cowboys: Still the team to beat. In back-to-back weeks the Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers, arguably two of the best teams in the NFC. Dallas’ first round pick (22nd overall) Felix Jones is a legitimate threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. He has reached the end zone in every game to start his NFL career (11-yard run against Cleveland, 98-yard kickoff return against Philly, and 60-yard run against Green Bay). Having Felix Jones and Marion Barber in your backfield is quite the luxury, considering teams still have to deal with Jason Witten, Terrell Owens, and Tony Romo. Dallas is going to be a tough team to beat, but winning in the early part of the season has never been this team’s problem. It’s the all-important January games that still remain the hurdle.
2 Buffalo Bills: The Bills were down 23-14 to Oakland on Sunday with 6:23 left in the fourth quarter. They were supposed to lose, but after a 14-yard TD pass to Roscoe Parrish and a 38-yard FG (as time expired) by Rian Lindell, Buffalo improved to 3-0 on the season. It was their second-straight fourth-quarter comeback and this is what separates the good teams with the bad teams. Trent Edwards and the rest of the Bills have to be gaining a swagger of confidence and there’s nothing more dangerous (in a good way) for an NFL team to have. Their next two games are on the road against Atlantic 10 power St. Louis and the Arizona Cardinals.
3 New York Giants: The Cincinnati Bengals traveled to New York to win that game on Sunday (sometimes they play like they don’t care). They brought their ‘A’ game and gave the Giants all they had. It’s possible the Giants looked past this game a tiny bit heading into the bye, but Eli Manning continues to get it done in the fourth quarter. Say what you want about him, but he doesn’t make mistakes and moves the ball when the game is on the line (stemming from the end of last year). And right now he is playing better than his brother Peyton. Maybe it’s time for Eli to get more commercials?
4 Tennessee Titans: Yes, they are taking a huge leap this week from number 11. Tennessee could have the best defense in the NFL right now. They have 11 sacks, seven interceptions (one returned for a TD, Cortland Finnegan), and only have given up 29 total points for the season. There’s nothing better to compliment a knock’em out defense with than a powerful running attack, which the Titans have in LenDale White and rookie Chris Johnson. This is a very physical team to play against on both sides of the ball.
5 Philadelphia Eagles: Brian Dawkins ran out of the tunnel during introductions (last one to be announced) and purposely tripped to the ground. He got up, brushed himself off, pulled his jersey number to the fans, and ran to his teammates at full speed. He was letting the fans know that he is quite capable of picking himself up after a bad game. His superman dive in the fourth quarter which resulted in a forced fumble and fumble recovery (ultimately sealing the game) was the icing on the cake. Hopefully, Brian Westbrook won’t miss any significant amount of time. The Eagles’ offense is not as intimidating when Westbrook is sidelined.
6 Green Bay Packers: Tough Monday Night loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Not only losing the game, but also losing cornerback Al Harris for the season (projected). The Packers now have to travel to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers and that will allow us to see how Aaron Rodgers can handle the pressure of playing on the road after a loss.
7 Denver Broncos: A very high-powered offense with a below-average defense. If they can continue outscoring teams, they should be fine, but when the cold weather arrives I can definitely see them slowing down. If the Denver Broncos want to be considered an elite team, their defense needs to start stopping opposing offenses. Giving up 28 points per game will eventually come back to haunt you. With that said, Brandon Marshall is the best wide receiver in the NFL right now. If Jay Cutler continues to get better and Marshall can stay out of jail, that duo will break records.
8 Pittsburgh Steelers: Exposed, exposed, exposed. I doubt the Steelers’ offensive line is as bad as they played this past weekend, but you have to agree they aren’t that good. Big Ben is not the most mobile quarterback in the league, so when he doesn’t have enough time to throw the ball he won’t be effective. And the road doesn’t get any easier for the O-line and Roethlisberger with a Week 4 match-up against the 2-0 Ravens and a Week 5 match-up against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If Big Ben can get out of this three-game stretch (started last week in Philly) alive, then Steelers fan should be very happy.
9 San Diego Chargers: They have finally broken into my top 12. It was only a matter of time until they won. Yes, they could/should be 3-0, but they aren’t. In a must-needed win last night, they blew out the New York Jets. Philip Rivers is playing great and LT finally reached the endzone, but their offense isn’t the issue. It’s their Shawn Merrimanless defense that needs to step it up, which they did last night forcing turnovers and setting up scores. When this team is running on all cylinders they are one of the best teams in the AFC. Their 0-2 start should not hinder any playoff expectations.
10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A very impressive overtime win in Chicago last week has the Bucs in a three-way tie at the top of a somewhat competitive NFC South. I advertised their game last week as a ground’em and pound’em attack, but Brian Griese was able to torch the Bears’ secondary for 407 yards. Not bad for a backup quarterback. The Bucs will be tested the next three weeks with games against Green Bay, Denver, and Carolina. If they can escape with a 2-1 record in those three games I will be very impressed.
11 Washington Redskins: The NFC East is easily the toughest division in football. They have a 10-2 record and both losses are within the division. But only three of the four teams in the NFC East will be able to make the playoffs. It looks like either the Redskins or Eagles will be the odd team out. After a shaky Game 1, quarterback Jason Campbell has the lead the Redskins to two straight victories with his consistent play. Veterans Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, and Chris Cooley give the young quarterback many options. Washington can make a statement in the NFC East in the next two weeks as they travel to Dallas and then to Philly.
12 Baltimore Ravens: By default because they are 2-0. We’ll find out this weekend against Pittsburgh how good they really are.