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The CHARGED Elite: Week Three

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Three teams remain undefeated, but the middle of the pack is still very crowded.

The CHARGED Elite: Week Three

After three weeks of football, just three undefeated teams remain across the league: the Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, and... Arizona Cardinals?  Yes, it has been another parity-driven season thus far, but that parity has made it hard to sort through the rest of the teams.  There are 27 teams with one or two losses, and a lot of the performances have gone against our expectations.  The Cardinals are 3-0.  The Vikings have two wins and just beat the 49ers.  The Packers, Patriots, Steelers and Broncos all have two losses.  Drew Brees and the Saints are winless.  There has really been no consistent trend this season as of yet.

Unless you look at the correlation of teams with bird monikers and success.  Five of the top nine teams in the rankings all have names relating to birds.  I have no idea what this means yet, but something could come of it down the road.

So I will ask for some more mercy in these early stages of the rankings.  Let's give it another whirl and see how things shake out.

1. Houston Texans (3-0, Last Week: 2) - A lot of people have the Falcons ahead of the Texans, but I like Houston at the top because of the toughness they showed in Denver last weekend.  Matt Schaub lost part of his ear lobe but only missed one play, and in the process he had his best game of the season.  The held off Denver at the very end, and this team has thus far passed every test in this young season.

2. Atlanta Falcons (3-0, Last Week: 3) - There was no second half near letdown for the Falcons against the Chargers last weekend.  They harassed Philip Rivers and did whatever they wanted on offense.  Michael Turner had his best game of the season, and the rest of the team seemed to be clicking.  When Atlanta plays focused football for four quarters, you get strong results like Sunday's.

3. Arizona Cardinals (3-0, Last Week: 11) - The Cardinals get the big bump this week.  Not only are they playing at an extremely high level, but they are doing it against top competition.  Beating Seattle, New England, and Philadelphia to start the season is no small task.  The defense looks great and Kevin Kolb has looked good ever since replacing the injured John Skelton.  Ryan Williams looked good on Sunday, but with Beanie Wells now on the IR, he'll have to keep performing well for this team.

4. Baltimore Ravens (2-1, Last Week: 6) - Aside from the shaky officiating (which hurt both Baltimore and New England on Sunday night), the Ravens looked better in their come-from-behind win.  Also, how amazing was Torrey Smith's performance following the death of his younger brother?  I can't imagine the emotions he was dealing with all game long, especially after his two touchdown catches.  He and the team have a short turnaround with the Thursday night game coming up.

5. San Francisco 49ers (2-1, Last Week: 1) - What a putrid offensive performance by the 49ers against Minnesota.  San Francisco couldn't get its two most dangerous weapons, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, consistently during the game.  But even more concerning is the defensive performance.  Last year, the defense only allowed 14.3 points per game.  Through three games, that number is up to 21.7.  A defense that tied for the lead in takeaways last season with 38 has just 4 this year.  A pass rush that accumulated 42 sacks has just 5 trough three games.  This was the offense's first bad game, but the defense needs to produce more for this team moving forward.

6. Green Bay Packers (1-2, Last Week: 5) - In solidarity with the Packers, I am moving them up after their Monday night game against Seattle.  Yes, they had a very favorable pass interference call go their way early in the fourth, but they played a brilliant second half.  Green Bay dominated the possession and neutralized Seattle's strong pass rush for the most part, but just couldn't finish drives.  We'll see if they can take advantage of a Jets defense next week that is now without Darrelle Revis.

7. Seattle Seahawks (2-1, Last Week: 16) - Let's not talk about Golden Tate, but instead talk about Seattle's pass rush.  They weren't even blitzing (just using four-man rushes) yet they were still able to get to Aaron Rodgers.  The entire defense played a spectacular game, and a unit that is that fast, that can chase down the sidelines that aggressively, and can get to the quarterback that easily is going to win a lot of games the rest of the way.

8. New York Giants (2-1, Last Week: 13) - The unsung hero for the Giants offense this season has been Martellus Bennett.  Finally out of Jason Witten's shadow, Bennett has been a revelation early on.  He's caught a touchdown pass in all three games and is averaging a solid 5 catches and 60-plus yards a game (with his involvement increasing each game).  That kind of production is perfect to compliment Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz on the outside, and the fifth-year tight end has a real opportunity to break out this season. 

9. Philadelphia Eagles (2-1, Last Week: 4) - Philly got blitzed by the Cardinals, and now they face a Giants team hitting their stride in a critical NFC East game.  If Michael Vick keeps getting hit like he has so far this season, there's no way he's going to make it through the year.  I harped on this all last year, but they have to incorporate LeSean McCoy into the offense more not only to keep Vick healthy, but to give their best player more touches.  

10. Chicago Bears (2-1, Last Week: 15) - Chicago's defense is really starting to click.  Six sacks, seven passes defensed, nine tackles for loss, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown).  This is one dangerous unit.  They can win even with lackluster performances from Jay Cutler, who looked more like Smokin' Jay Cutler on Sunday.

11. Dallas Cowboys (2-1, Last Week: 12) - Just like the Giants a week earlier, the Cowboys came out on top in a dogfight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  This one, however, was a low-scoring affair, 16-10.  Tony Romo looked shaky for the second straight game, but Dallas has to be happy with their defensive efforts.

12. New England Patriots (1-2, Last Week: 7) - Sunday night's game could have gone either way, but with the loss, New England is backed into a corner early on.  Sunday's game against the Bills is incredibly important now.  New England doesn't want to fall to 1-3, so you know they will come out guns blazing.

13. San Diego Chargers (2-1, Last Week: 9) - Ryan Mathews returned but had little impact against the Falcons.  It will take him a while to get into the swing of things, but he needs to produce next week against the Chiefs.  San Diego could have some reinforcements coming back in corner Quentin Jammer and offensive lineman Jared Gaither, although Norv Turner doesn't expect Gaither to be available.  

14. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1, Last Week: 18) - Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are such an exciting pair to watch.  Cincinnati has something special on their hands.  To strike gold on two picks like that is just sensational, and the pair can grow together as they develop.  

15. New York Jets (2-1, Last Week: 14) - The Jets won, but man was it ugly.  On top of that performance, they lost cornerback Darrelle Revis for the season with an ACL tear.  Revis is a vital piece of that defense, so Rex Ryan has his work cut out for him.  I don't think Joe McKnight getting snaps at corner is the answer, either.

16. Buffalo Bills (2-1, Last Week: 22) - The Bills just keep rolling out productive running backs this season.  Following CJ Spiller's injury early on, Tashard Choice (their third-string back, if you're counting) came in and rushed for 91 yards on 20 carries.  It's production like that that will allow Fred Jackson to ease back into the lineup, and if Ryan Fitzpatrick can perform like he did on Sunday, the Bills are looking pesky early on.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2, Last Week: 10) - Ben Roethlisberger and the offense aren't the problem in Steel City (although the fumbling is another issue), but the defense has been porous in the early weeks.  Aside from a strong showing against a week Jets unit, the injury-plagued defense just hasn't been itself.  The bye couldn't have come at a better time for this ailing unit, but even with the extra week James Harrison might not be ready (although Troy Polamalu is expected to be back). 

18. Minnesota Vikings (2-1, Last Week: 25) - Should be be taking the Vikings seriously yet?  I'm not so sure, although a win over San Francisco is mighty convincing.  If they can put away a Detroit team that is struggling right now, I will be extremely impressed with the unit.  They may have something in this Christian Ponder fellow.

19. Denver Broncos (1-2, Last Week: 8) - The defense came up big in key spots against the Texans to keep Denver in it, but they also let Houston get out to that big lead.  The Broncos defense hasn't been as imposing over the last two weeks, and now with the injuries in the linebacking corps, they could find themselves in trouble against the Raiders.  Peyton Manning and the offense have to be more efficient this week.

20. Washington Redskins (1-2, Last Week: 17) - Could this be a little bit of Cam Newton syndrome for Robert Griffin III?  Last year, Newton put up spectacular numbers for competitive teams that just couldn't get the job done.  Aside from week one, it looks like the same thing is happening to Griffin.  The defense lost two important pieces, but they have to figure out how to get stops.

21. Detroit Lions (1-2, Last Week: 19) - Mikel LeShoure's great performance should make Matt Stafford's life a whole lot easier, but the offense isn't as much of a concern as the defense is.  They have surrendered over 30 points a game, and unless you are the Greatest Show On Turf Rams, that's just not going to fly.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2, Last Week: 21) - Two weeks and two straight tough losses in a row for the Buccaneers.  I'm not ready to give up on this bunch just yet.  There's too much talent all around.  But something needs to click with Josh Freeman soon.  We saw glimpses of it against the Giants, and all that potential is there.  He just has to tap into it.

23. Carolina Panthers (1-2, Last Week: 20) - While it was a rough performance against the Giants on Thursday, Cam Newton's postgame press conference was way too mopey for my taste.  Newton is young and has some growing up to do, which was clearly evident after the loss.  You can be upset about the game, but he was treating it like the end of the world.

24. St. Louis Rams (1-2, Last Week: 23) - St. Louis couldn't get anything going against the Bears, though the defense did keep them in it the whole game.  Jeff Fischer has that unit playing hard, but now he needs the offense to pick up the slack.  A matchup against the Seahawks and their stingy defense is exactly what they don't need.

25. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2, Last Week: 29) - Two words: Jamaal Charles.  The explosive back's 233 yards propelled the Chiefs to an overtime win over the reeling New Orleans Saints, and they have a chance to return to .500 and move into a tie for first place.  The AFC West, everyone!

26. Tennessee Titans (1-2, Last Week: 31) - I don't know how to even describe Tennessee's win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.  They had it won, then they blew it, then they won again.  Lucky?  Maybe.  But they were able to do it in spite of Chris Johnson's third straight dismal performance.  If NFL teams had amnesty clauses, I'm sure the Titans would have used it on Johnson in a heartbeat.

27. New Orleans Saints (1-2, Last Week: 24) - The Saints are in some real trouble.  If they lose to Green Bay, they move to 0-4.  But Green Bay won't be in any mood to drop to 1-3, either.  This is a matchup of two desperate teams, and we'll see who really wants it more.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2, Last Week: 30) - Welcome back, Maurice Jones-Drew.  Chris Johnson he is not.  His 177 yards on the ground kept Jacksonville in it until Blaine Gabbert and Cecil Shorts saved the day at the end.  Now if only the 

29. Oakland Raiders (1-2, Last Week: 32) - The Raiders got their run game going, and Carson Palmer had a turn-back-the-clock day as Oakland upset Pittsburgh at home.  If McFadden and the offensive line have turned the corner with their zone blocking scheme, anything is possible, especially against a thin Denver defense.

30. Indianapolis Colts (1-2, Last Week: 26) - The Colts almost had a great comeback on their hands, complete with Vinatieri field goal in the final minute to win it.  But then they had to give up that 80-yard touchdown pass down the middle.  The Colts have the bye week to regroup, but they have to like how Andrew Luck has looked early on.

31. Miami Dolphins (1-2, Last Week: 28) - Without Reggie Bush, Miami's offense was quite painful to watch at times.  It sometimes looked like Ryan Tannehill knew about the forward pass with all of the check-downs Miami was using.  Yet they still should have won the game, and when your offense is that watered down, you can't throw away winnable games like that.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-3, Last Week: 27) - Trent Richardson only received 12 carries in Cleveland's loss to Buffalo.  The Bills were able to keep him contained, but they the Browns have to figure out how to spring him loose.  He really is their whole offense.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let us know what you think in the comments section.

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