Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams Take Three (Teams 1-16)

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

1(2). New York Giants (4-0): My third different top team in three editions of the rankings. After rolling over the Bucs, the Giants did much of the same against the Chiefs. Steve Smith continues to prove he is no longer "the other Steve Smith" with another 11 catches and two touchdowns, but only one other Giant receiver caught more than one pass (Kevin Boss had four). Eli Manning's injury isn't too worrisome, as he should be ready for the Saints in Week 6 even if he sits against Oakland. Either way, New York should be 5-0 this time next week.

2(3). Minnesota Vikings (4-0): Brett Favre has that magical feeling surrounding him again after beating his former team. But let's not be so quick to forget last season, where he threw 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in the first four games (he has eight touchdowns and one interception this season). The last 12 games last season: 10 TD, 18 INT. And he is "injured." The jury is still out.

3(6). New Orleans Saints (4-0): The Jets defense allowed just 10 points to the Saints offense, but it was the New Orleans defense that did work, forcing four Mark Sanchez turnovers, two of which turned into touchdowns. Darren Sharper and his five interceptions have made a difference for this secondary, and the Saints proved for the second week in a row that they don't need to score 30 points to win. Brees hasn't thrown a touchdown in two games, but Pierre Thomas is a beast and gives this team balance they've struggled to find in recent years.

4(5). Indianapolis Colts (4-0): Indy took care of business against Seattle and did nothing to drop below New Orleans this week, but after watching the Saints defense on Sunday I'm convinced they have a better overall team. Peyton Manning is playing out of his mind right now and as long as that continues, the Colts will be tough to stop. With upcoming games against Tennessee and St. Louis, they may be the last undefeated team standing.

5(4). New York Jets (3-1): You may ask how I can drop the Jets just one spot after an ugly loss in the Superdome. For starters, they beat New England (the next team on my list) and they lost to an excellent football team. Sanchez played like the rookie he is, but he didn't lose his composure despite piling on the mistakes. He should bounce back in the next few weeks, with two games against Miami and one against Buffalo and Oakland. Anyone who is writing the Jets off after last week will be sorry.

6(7). New England Patriots (3-1): The Pats took care of the top team in my rankings two weeks in a row, proving I underestimated them by putting them 10th in my initial rankings. Tom Brady has looked much more like himself the past two weeks, handling the Baltimore blitz much better than he handled the Jets blitz (with the exception of a fumble recovered in the endzone by the Ravens). He was 14-for-20 for 167 yards and a touchdown on plays where the Ravens rushed five or more and New England was able to run the ball enough to keep Baltimore off balance.

7(1). Baltimore Ravens (3-1): The Ravens are still an excellent football team, but after last week they can't stay above New England. If Mark Clayton doesn't drop that fourth-down pass late in the fourth, the Ravens could still be at the top of these rankings. But Clayton did drop it and despite great play from Joe Flacco this season, the Ravens receivers aren't their strong point and that showed on Sunday.

8(1). Atlanta Falcons (2-1): The Falcons better have used their bye week wisely to prepare for San Francisco, who scored three times on defense this week against the Rams. Michael Turner might struggle against Patrick Willis and the fourth-ranked 49ers rush defense, meaning Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez and the slow-starting Roddy White will be the keys to this one. If Ryan can take care of the football, the Falcons have a good chance to win.

9(9). San Francisco 49ers (3-1): The 49ers recovered a fumble in the endzone and returned one for a touchdown, as well as an interception. Shaun Hill continues to take care of the football and has thrown just one interception in four games. Hill also has been able to utilize the freakish ability of Vernon Davis, who looks to be in the midst of a breakout season (finally!). This team's focus will continue to be on defense and running the football, especially when Frank Gore returns, and Hill's ability to hang onto the ball will keep this team in the game each and every week.

10(14). Denver Broncos (4-0): They have finally earned enough respect from me to crack the top 10. Considering I had Dallas at 10 last week and they just beat the Cowboys, it goes without saying. The Cowboys offense is inconsistent for sure, but that shouldn't take anything away from the Denver defense, which has now kept two decent offenses, the Bengals and Cowboys, in check. Brandon Marshall showed why he's a superstar with that unbelievable run-after-catch on the game-winning touchdown and Kyle Orton just won't stop getting better. Teams that start 4-0 make the playoff over 85 percent of the time, so things are looking good for Denver right now. They might even close in on the top five with a win against New England on Sunday.

11(12). Philadelphia Eagles (2-1): No one else seems to want the first spot outside the top 10, so the Eagles get it just by not playing (read: not losing). They will welcome back Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Kevin Curtis off their bye week, which should make Sunday's showdown with Tampa Bay even more of a laugher than it would have been. With Oakland and Washington after that, the Eagles could go into their Week 8 divisional matchup with the Giants at 5-1.

12(13). Cincinnati Bengals (3-1): When you almost lose to the Browns, it's hard to convince me you're for real. But Cleveland can actually get the ball downfield with Derek Anderson at the helm, so give Carson Palmer and the Bengals credit for playing well when they've had to late in games this season. Going into Baltimore and winning next week might be a tall order, though.

13(18). Chicago Bears (3-1): I know, I know, beating the Lions isn't really deserving of a five-spot jump in the rankings. But 3-1 is 3-1 and their win over Pittsburgh gives them the nod over the Steelers in this spot. Jay Cutler has seven touchdowns and just one interception since his four-interception opener and Matt Forte finally got going against the Lions (who doesn't?). Cutler has been able to protect the ball and spread it around and his lack of a go-to receiver has helped prevent him from trying to force balls into coverage, one of the only knocks on his quarterback play.

14(16). Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2): Rashard Mendenhall went from doghouse to penthouse in just two weeks, running for 165 yards just a week after not touching the ball once. The Chargers' 29th-ranked run defense was part of the performance, but Mendenhall ran with a chip on his shoulder all night and no San Diego defender seemed willing to get in his way. There is always something to worry about with the Steelers it seems, and allowing 21 fourth-quarter points after having a 28-7 lead is cause for concern. There is still work to be done if this team wants to even have a shot at repeating.

15(10). Dallas Cowboys (2-2): This ranking doesn't seem justified either, as Tony Romo and the Cowboys lost to a now 4-0 Denver squad. Their ground game is solid but Romo hasn't exactly been a model of consistency, thanks to an underwhelming group of receivers if you take away Jason Witten. I'm just not convinced this team is any better than the 9-7 outfit from 2008.

16(11). San Diego Chargers (2-2): Philip Rivers almost led the Bolts back from a 21-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter against the defending champs. It really is a shame LaDainian Tomlinson can't stay healthy and the defense is struggling, because it has really overshadowed how great Rivers is. He may not move very well but he has great instincts and seems to get rid of the ball just before the pressure gets to him, and he does it with precision accuracy. Rivers will win a Super Bowl someday, and maybe then people will realize he is a better quarterback than Eli Manning, who he was traded for on draft day in 2004.

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