NFL power rankings: AFC heavyweights lead the way

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) intercepts the ball. photo / AP
Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris (25) intercepts the ball. photo / AP

Washington Post provides his ranking of the NFL's 32 teams. With the Patriots' injuries continuing to pile up, how long can they stay at No. 1?

1. Denver Broncos (2-0) | Last week's rank: 1

Does any QB have any chance whatsoever against the Denver defense this season? Cam Newton and Andrew Luck have tried, with little success. The question now is whether the absence of pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware for four to five weeks because of a broken forearm will make a difference.

2. New England Patriots (2-0) | Last week's rank: 2

No Tom Brady? No matter. No Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo? That could be a different matter. Rookie QB Jacoby Brissett could take over as the starter Thursday night against the Texans with Brady still suspended and Garoppolo now hurt. If Bill Belichick can beat a playoff-caliber team on a short week with a rookie QB making his first NFL start, there will be no praise too lavish for his level of coaching genius.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) | Last week's rank: 4

The triumph over the Bengals gives the Steelers the early edge in the AFC North. This game lacked the nastiness of other recent Steelers-Bengals matchups but was, as always, highly competitive. The Pittsburgh offense has remained productive, as promised, without the suspended Martavis Bryant and Le'Veon Bell. DeAngelo Williams has kept the running game moving without Bell, but things should only get better once Bell returns after missing one more game.

4. Carolina Panthers (1-1) | Last week's rank: 6

Ron Rivera is a terrific coach, but it's enough now about the schedule. We get it: You would rather have opened up at home than gone on the road for a Super Bowl rematch. That's how it goes. The Panthers got into the win column Sunday against the 49ers and now have an interesting matchup this weekend against the Vikings.

5. Minnesota Vikings (2-0) | Last week's rank: 8

Remember when this season was supposed to be all about Teddy Bridgewater's ability to develop into a reliable QB to complement the running of Adrian Peterson and the defense? Now Bridgewater is out for the season and Peterson has a torn meniscus in his right knee. The Vikings are fortunate that they were able to trade for QB Sam Bradford and even more fortunate that he played so well Sunday night. The offense now could revolve around Bradford and WR Stefon Diggs.

6. Arizona Cardinals (1-1) | Last week's rank: 9

A 1-1 start, with two home games to open the season, is not exactly what the Cardinals envisioned. But they were back to being themselves against the Buccaneers. The schedule remains less than demanding in the next few weeks, with the Bills, Rams and 49ers up next.

7. Baltimore Ravens (2-0) | Last week's rank: 11

Beating the Bills and Browns does not exactly qualify as an otherworldly accomplishment, especially after somehow finding a way to fall 18 points behind in the first quarter in Cleveland. But the Ravens will take it, particularly after the way they faltered from the outset last season with a next-to-impossible early schedule. Next up on the Ravens' tour of pitiable NFL opponents are the Jaguars.

8. Houston Texans (2-0) | Last week's rank: 13

Plenty is going the Texans' way so far. They're off to a good start. The rest of the division is mediocre to dreadful. And now the Texans get to face the QB-depleted Patriots on a short week. It still won't be easy to win in New England, of course. But the odds certainly have tilted in Houston's favor.

9. New York Giants (2-0) | Last week's rank: 14

The expensive defensive improvements made during the offseason are paying off, at least so far. On offense, Eli Manning is making the most of the almost-constant three-WR alignments. Victor Cruz is back, seemingly fully healthy and making significant receiving contributions at key moments.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) | Last week's rank: 7

The Bengals quickly find themselves chasing both the Steelers and Ravens in the division race. There's no time to lament the loss in Pittsburgh, with the Broncos coming to town this weekend for the Bengals' home opener. QB Andy Dalton, if given enough time against the Denver defense, must do a better job of getting WR A.J. Green involved in the offense.

11. Green Bay Packers (1-1) | Last week's rank: 3

Things are still not quite right with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. Rodgers is not exactly playing poorly. But he's not at his best. The Packers need him to be an MVP-caliber player.

12. Kansas City Chiefs (1-1) | Last week's rank: 10

The offense simply must find a way to do its part. The return of RB Jamaal Charles presumably would help, if it happens this week. Things certainly won't be easy the next few weeks, with the Jets and Steelers up next on the schedule before an early bye.

13. Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) | Last week's rank: 17

Carson Wentz? Wow. Just wow. He's even better than advertised, and this might not be a rebuilding season after all - at least not in the less-than-imposing NFC East.

14. New York Jets (1-1) | Last week's rank: 18

The offense was clicking against the Bills. But does that really count? The Jets, after beating Buffalo in the Thursday game, have had a little extra time to rest and get ready for the Chiefs this weekend.

15. Dallas Cowboys (1-1) | Last week's rank: 19

A 0-2 start would have meant time to panic in Dallas. The Cowboys avoided that, and they have rookie QB Dak Prescott to thank. He made smart throws and was poised in the pocket against the Redskins. He was calm with the game on the line. The defense also did its part at key moments in the second half, twice limiting the Redskins to field goals while facing short fields after a failed onside kick and a turnover. Rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott was productive, but his two fumbles concerned the coaching staff enough to go with Alfred Morris in crunch time.

16. Seattle Seahawks (1-1) | Last week's rank: 5

For now, it's okay to believe that the Seahawks are a good team that simply cannot find a way to beat the Rams. But the lack of offensive production so far is an obvious concern, and the nagging injuries to QB Russell Wilson and WR Doug Baldwin in the season's early going could be ominous.

17. Atlanta Falcons (1-1) | Last week's rank: 25

The Falcons remain tough to read and even tougher to predict. Just when you're ready to proclaim them in serious decline after last season's unraveling act and this season's opening defeat to the Buccaneers, they go to Oakland and win. Their next two games, at New Orleans and home against the Panthers, will be telling as to where they stand in the NFC South.

18. Los Angeles Rams (1-1) | Last week's rank: 31

If only the Rams could face the Seahawks every week, that pending contract extension for Coach Jeff Fisher would make sense.

19. Tennessee Titans (1-1) | Last week's rank: 29

It all worked as the Titans envisioned Sunday at Detroit. Second-year QB Marcus Mariota was very good, and the running game helped out tremendously, highlighted by DeMarco Murray's 67-yard dash. There undoubtedly will be ups and downs all season. By no means have the Titans arrived yet. But as long as they can continue to see signs of progress, that should be enough.

20. San Diego Chargers (1-1) | Last week's rank: 30

Sometimes it seems as if QB Philip Rivers practically has to do it all by himself. And sometimes it seems as if he does just that.

21. Oakland Raiders (1-1) | Last week's rank: 12

Coach Jack Del Rio's fourth-down gamble late in Sunday's loss to the Falcons did not turn out anywhere near as magnificently as his two-point conversion to win the opener at New Orleans. The luck tends to even out, just not always so rapidly. The Raiders really shouldn't have allowed it to come down to that if they're serious about making the jump to being a contending team. That's a game they have to win at home.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) | Last week's rank: 15

There was pretty much no way that the Buccaneers were going to go to Arizona and win, with the Cardinals coming off a season-opening loss to the Patriots at home. But being a bit more competitive than that would have been nice.

23. Detroit Lions (1-1) | Last week's rank: 20

The Lions had played well since the middle of last season but took a step backward with Sunday's defeat at home to the Titans. That was unfortunate for them with road games at Green Bay and Chicago looming the next two weekends.

24. San Francisco 49ers (1-1) | Last week's rank: 21

That was more like the Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers everyone expected to see.

25. Washington Redskins (0-2) | Last week's rank: 16

So much for a drama-free existence on the heels of last season's NFC East title. There already are major questions about the play of QB Kirk Cousins and the tactics of defensive coordinator Joe Barry. There is no such thing as losing quietly in D.C. The Redskins actually could end up paying a price for their rebuilding project under GM Scot McCloughan being ahead of schedule last year. Expectations going into this season probably were unreasonably high.

26. Chicago Bears (0-2) | Last week's rank: 26

Jay Cutler was back to doing incomprehensible things Monday night, committing hideous turnovers before exiting with a hand injury.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) | Last week's rank: 22

There were legitimate reasons for hope entering this season, with the progress last year by QB Blake Bortles and all the young talent on defense. It's not working out so far, though, and the lopsided loss at San Diego was pretty ugly. Coach Gus Bradley's job security already is being called into question.

28. Indianapolis Colts (0-2) | Last week's rank: 24

Having QB Andrew Luck healthy again and back in the lineup has not immediately and automatically solved all the problems. This was a bad team both with and without Luck on the field last season, and it is a bad team with Luck back on the field so far this season. Owner Jim Irsay's patience in sticking with Coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson after last season is not being rewarded at this point.

29. New Orleans Saints (0-2) | Last week's rank: 23

The defense was better against the Giants, but this time, the offense struggled. It's a losing formula, and another season appears on its way to unraveling.

30. Miami Dolphins (0-2) | Last week's rank: 28

They made it interesting against the Patriots but only after knocking Jimmy Garoppolo from the game with a shoulder injury. Does that count for something? Not really.

31. Buffalo Bills (0-2) | Last week's rank: 27

Everything should turn around now that Greg Roman has been fired as offensive coordinator, right? It's pretty clear he was the entire problem.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-2) | Last week's rank: 32

Rookie Cody Kessler becomes Cleveland's third different starter at QB in three games this season and its 26th different starter at the position since 1999. Good thing the Browns didn't draft Carson Wentz, huh? They can't get a young franchise QB even when one is practically handed to them.

- Washington Post

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