I've seen some mind-boggling power rankings on Covers, ESPN and CBS Sports, so I have to throw my opinion out on the open market. It's time for me to get it right, or at least try to. I'll explain my rationale as we go along...
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)
It would be difficult for a team to look worse than Tampa did against the New York Giants this past week. They were shut out, showing no offensive explosiveness and little answer for New York's rushing attack. The Bucs are going to try youngster Josh Johnson at the quarterback position, but the switch from Byron Leftwich probably won't make much of a difference. As I suggested in my preseason predictions, it's going to be a long, long season for the Bucs.
31. St. Louis Rams (0-3)
They were one of the worst in the game a year ago, and little-to-nothing has changed in 2009. When healthy, Steven Jackson can be one of the more electric running backs in the NFL, but it's tough for him to thrive because of St. Louis' lack of balance. Now Marc Bulger is hurt and WR2 Laurent Robinson is done for the season, making improvement far-fetched. Kyle Boller may actually be better than Bulger, though. We'll have to wait and see what happens there.
30. Cleveland Browns (0-3)
I'm not afraid to say this:
I love watching Eric Mangini fail. I hated Mangini during his time as the head coach of my beloved Jets, and it's amusing to hear that his players hate him in Cleveland. Not only do his players despise him, but they're also playing very poorly. If Mangini goes to Derek Anderson over Brady Quinn, the Browns may improve slightly. Braylon Edwards was a much more dangerous weapon when Anderson called the signals in the past.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (0-3)
It has been difficult for new head coach Todd Haley to allow Matt Cassel to cut it loose, due in large part to his injury and that of WR1 Dwayne Bowe. Now Rotoworld is reporting that Bowe may be out again in Week 4, spelling more trouble for the Chiefs and their faithful. When healthy, I'm not sure that this team is as bad as its 0-3 record, but it doesn't look like it's going to come together for them this season.
28. Miami Dolphins (0-3)
If Chad Pennington was still under center, I definitely would have ranked them above the Raiders. However, Pennington is done for the year, and unproven commodity Chad Henne gets the ball. With the Jets thriving and the Patriots looking to piece it together, the AFC East is a tough place to be without your No. 1 quarterback. Ronnie Brown is a legitimate playmaker, but he'll lose some of his luster as Miami's passing attack dips in efficiency.
27. Oakland Raiders (1-2)
I've been pretty impressed by their defensive speed the past few seasons, but it's hard to maintain that collective energy when your offense is going three-and-out. JaMarcus Russell's inaccuracy is laughable -- well, not to Oakland's fans -- and he's wasting the surprising ability of WR1 Louis Murphy. I love their linebackers and CB Nnamdi Asomugha, but this team isn't going anywhere if their quarterback can't hit wide open receivers. Jeff Garcia, anyone?
26. Detroit Lions (1-2)
Yes, I know they're coming off a big victory over the Washington Redskins, but they've only won one game in the past two seasons. I can't have them any higher than 26th, especially with RB1 Kevin Smith questionable for the next couple of weeks. I congratulate them on their streak-ending win, but I can't place too much faith in them -- yet.
25. Washington Redskins (1-2)
This is where the Lions fans ask, "How could you rank them ahead of us, we just beat them this past week?!!" Well, I don't base these power rankings on a single head-to-head match-up, and the Redskins were without their best defensive player (Albert Haynesworth) for the critical stages of the game. Washington plays that "ball control" style of offense that many teams seem to have adapted in the past few years, which means they can lose a close one to a bad team, and win a close one against a superior team. I think they have a better shot of being competitive as the season rolls along.
24. Houston Texans (1-2)
Many analysts had them as one of the breakout teams in the league this year, but I projected them to have a losing record. They appear to be headed that way because they can't run the ball (Steve Slaton has been a major disappointment), and they can't make stops when they need to. Right now they can only win shootouts decided by each team's air attack.
23. Carolina Panthers (0-3)
This was one of the premier teams in the NFL in 2008, so I can't quite bury them yet. If not for the presence of Jake Delhomme, I would have them higher on the list and label their slow start "a fluke." But I can't because Delhomme is there, and he's the primary reason why they stink right now. He threw another game away against Dallas last night, though Muhsin Muhammad did little to help him out on the first interception. DeAngelo Williams remains one of the most explosive RBs in the game, but they need a quarterback if they want him to blow up again this season.
22. Buffalo Bills (1-2)
In my opinion, Trent Edwards is one of the absolute worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. I've been saying that since the beginning, even when he showcased winning ways. He has no arm, and he's one of the only professional QBs who could turn Terrell Owens into a non-factor. Edwards has ruined Lee Evans as well. I really like Buffalo's defensive unit, and that's what will keep them in ballgames as the season progresses.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)
Flip a coin between them and the Seahawks (up next), but I'll take Seattle right now because they were a lot closer to being 2-1. If David Garrard is smart and efficient like he was in 2007, this team can be relatively competitive. A reliable passing game would take some of the pressure off team MVP Maurice-Jones Drew, who broke out for three TDs against Houston this week. Jacksonville was an absolute mess last year, and little has changed for them in the personnel department, so I remain somewhat skeptical.
20. Seattle Seahawks (1-2)
The following statement may surprise you:
I'm not sure that Matt Hasselbeck is that much better than Seneca Wallace at this stage in their respective careers. Shocking, I know. Hasselbeck has been a solid quarterback for quite some time, but injuries are slowing him and he's completely limited to the pocket. Wallace, on the other hand, has excellent mobility and a knack for making plays. Hasselbeck is still better, but the point of this paragraph is that Seattle doesn't lose much with him on the sidelines. With T.J. Houshmandzadeh drawing much of the attention, Nate Burleson has emerged as this team's top receiving option. The Seahawks are certainly decent, but unspectacular.
19. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1)
This is where things get dicey. I know people are going to be upset by this positioning, especially considering the fact that the Bengals could easily be 3-0 right now. But Cincy was one of the worst teams in football the past couple of years, and I find it very hard to put my faith in their defense. Carson Palmer has always been too reckless for my taste, and I don't consider Cedric Benson an upper-tier running back. They've clearly shown that they can be competitive, and that's why I have them inside of the top 20; still, they have plenty more to prove to me.
18. Tennessee Titans (0-3)
I can hear the complaints now...
"What??!! They haven't won a game and you have them ahead of a team that should be 3-0??!!!"
Yup, I do. We're only three games into the year, and this was the premier regular season team of 2008. They lost their first game narrowly to the defending Super Bowl champions, a 34-31 heartbreaker to the Texans in Week 2, and a one-score battle to the scorching Jets this week. The Titans can beat any team in this league; there's no doubt in my mind. They can move the ball offensively, and have one of the best players in the league in RB Chris Johnson. Their defense is stuffed with talented performers, and head coach Jeff Fisher will not allow them to panic. I expect Tennessee to be in the playoff race at the end of the year.
17. San Francisco 49ers (2-1)
Like the Bengals at 19, Mike Singletary's 49ers could easily be 3-0. Nonetheless, also like the Bengals, they are not in my top 16. (Of course, there are 32 teams in the NFL, which means the top 16 represents the better half of teams). Like the Redskins and Bills, the 49ers are another of the ball control offenses. That makes them competitive -- thus, in the top 20 -- but simultaneously unexplosive. Shaun Hill has one of the weaker arms of the starting QBs, and now workhorse Frank Gore is out a few weeks. Their defense is very respectable, but long-term, my expectations are not very high for San Francisco.
16. Denver Broncos (3-0)
Josh McDaniels' boys have certainly benefited from a soft schedule and some incredible luck, but 3-0 is 3-0. Denver's defense has played over its head thanks to the favorable match-ups, but the momentum could carry them to season-long respectability. Kyle Orton has done just enough for his team to stay in games and eventually pick up victories, but he's been far from impressive. Eddie Royal has been lost in the shuffle, and Brandon Marshall continues to be unpredictable. There's a chance that they'll finish the season as a back-end playoff team, but I'm not putting them ahead of last year's Super Bowl teams yet.
15. Arizona Cardinals (1-2)
I want to give them the benefit of the doubt because they were outstanding in the postseason, but this team appears to have lost its mystique. Arizona's defense has digressed to its barely-average days of old, and Kurt Warner hasn't been on the same page with superstar Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals' offensive line has been terrible, and Warner has undoubtedly lost some zip on his passes. Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells are concerns in the running game as well. They're only this high because the Super Bowl isn't that far into the past.
14. Chicago Bears (2-1)
Let's be honest, many of these teams in the 22-12 range are interchangeable. I like the Bears because they're 2-1 in spite of the fact that RB Matt Forte has struggled; still, this is far from a powerhouse team. To their credit, Chicago's defense -- even without Brian Urlacher -- continues to keep them in games, and the Jay Cutler/Devin Hester combination has found a way to connect on some explosive plays. For the most part, this is a balanced club.
13. Atlanta Falcons (2-1)
A bit of an overrated team here. It will be difficult for Atlanta to do any damage in a postseason setting with their defense constructed the way it is. They aren't exceptional against the run or pass, and that's obviously a recipe for trouble. You have to love their offensive talent with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez, but defense is paramount in today's NFL. The Falcons are definitely a team with a ceiling.
12. Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
I love watching their passing attack struggle without Terrell Owens. Letting a superstar go because he's an "off-field distraction" isn't a good idea without a similar replacement. As a No. 1 receiving option, Roy Williams isn't on the same planet as Owens. It's not even the same solar system, and Tony Romo has subsequently struggled to find open receivers down field. However, their offensive line has been outstanding in the running game, regardless of who is taking the ball (Marion Barber, Felix Jones or Tashard Choice). Their defense, as always, is talented but questionable.
11. Green Bay Packers (2-1)
This is an extremely talented team on both sides of the ball, but their defense has a tendency to crack. The speed and ability are there, and the unit does a good job forcing turnovers, but they give up too many points. That's probably a result of gambling too often for big plays. Offensively, RB Ryan Grant has to stay fresh in order for Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, and Donald Driver to remain comfortable in the passing game. Injuries to the offensive line are a concern here.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)
They're the defending Super Bowl champions, and the preceding teams (Cowboys and Packers) haven't shown that they can win when it matters in recent years. There's no question that this defense isn't what it was without Troy Polamalu, but there's still a number of Pro Bowl caliber players in the unit (Harrison, Woodley, Farrior, Hampton, Smith). I have faith in Ben Roethlisberger long-term, and how could I not? The kid has two Super Bowl rings already. Mike Tomlin is an exceptional head coach, too.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (2-1)
The faces are changing -- Kevin Kolb and LeSean McCoy in place of Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook -- but the results are still good. McNabb is expected back after the Week 4 Bye, and Westbrook will share carries with McCoy from then on. Philly's defense continues to showcase the ability to make timely plays (although they were torched by Drew Brees and the Saints in Week 2), and Andy Reid is a stabilizing force at the helm of this team.
8. San Diego Chargers (2-1)
Sorry LT, but this team is better with Darren Sproles as its RB1. Sproles has superior moves and explosiveness at this stage in their respective careers, and he's as dangerous as they come on screen plays. Philip Rivers continues to thrive as he spreads the ball around to Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, Sproles, Malcom Floyd and others. San Diego's defense reminds me of both the Packers and Cowboys -- talented, but suspect.
7. New England Patriots (2-1)
This is far from the team that took the field in 2007, but they still have Tom Brady. New England's defense doesn't scare me at all, but if the score's close in the fourth quarter, it's tough to bet against Tom Terrific. He hasn't been the fantasy football monster that he was a couple years ago, but it's logical to expect improvement as the year progresses. Fred Taylor's been a pleasant surprise for them, and Wes Welker is on his way back. I guess I have to mention the best coach in the league -- Bill Belicheat, I mean "check" -- too.
6. Indianapolis Colts (3-0)
Two weeks ago, during their victory over the winless Miami Dolphins, I felt the Colts were lacking in explosiveness. They've had a similar roster for the past five seasons, and it looked as if time was catching up to them. But this week I got another look at the new blood, RB Donald Brown and WR Pierre Garcon, and I changed my mind a bit. Like Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning's arm doesn't look quite as strong as it used to be, but I suppose that's expected with age. Reggie Wayne is still a monster, and Joseph Addai has been a little better than adequate in the running game.
5. New York Jets (3-0)
As a Jets fan, I really wanted to put us above Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings; the reason I couldn't?
Adrian Peterson, of course. The Jets have a decent rushing attack with the combination of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, but Peterson is the best player in the NFL -- that's a 'whole nother level. The Jets' defense may be slightly better than the Vikings right now, but Minnesota remains well above average. My J-E-T-S are an incredible story behind Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez, and I can only hope that the Cinderella season continues.
4. Minnesota Vikings (3-0)
I hate Brett Favre, but I can't deny the incredible nature of his game-winning throw against the 49ers. The offseason surgery has certainly returned some of his arm strength, something he didn't have toward the end of his season with the Jets. This is a team patterned after the Pittsburgh Steelers, looking to win with their running game and defense. Their offensive and defensive lines are both exceptional.
3. New Orleans Saints (3-0)
They've been the most explosive offensive team in the NFL the past two years, and now their defense is coming around. It's far from an elite defensive unit, but it's becoming more respectable with time. Drew Brees is possibly the top quarterback in the game right now, and RB Pierre Thomas returned to form in Week 3. Don't forget about Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey or Devery Henderson, either.
2. Baltimore Ravens (3-0)
Their schedule's been a breeze to this point in the year, but bare in mind that this was one of the NFL's Final Four last season. Joe Flacco has shrugged off any concerns about a sophomore slump, elevating Baltimore's offense to a level we've never quite seen from them. Willis McGahee has been an extremely pleasant surprise, and WR Derrick Mason continues to be Steady Eddy in the passing game. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed anchor Baltimore's defense, a group that put together a Renaissance performance this past week.
1. New York Giants (3-0)
I still have some concerns about this team, namely its wide receivers and secondary, but this is a rock solid club overall. Eli Manning has been sharp through the first few games, and the Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw combination is a handful on the ground. The Giants' defensive line is far and away the deepest and most effective in football, and their linebacking core is beginning to come together nicely. Tom Coughlin is one of the top five head coaches in the NFL, and he has to like the way his team looks right now. The question is...how will it finish?
("JFro," aka John Frascella, is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land." It's the first full-length book centered on Boston Red Sox's popular general manager Theo Epstein. Preview or purchase it online at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or Borders. It's currently stocked in Barnes and Noble stores throughout the U.S. Also, check out John on Twitter.)