NFL Week 5 Power Rankings: Defensive dominance separates the league's elite

NFL Power Rankings: Week 5

There have been a stream of explosive offensive performances this season, including Ben Roethlisberger’s five-TD show on Sunday night and the Falcons’ dismantling of Carolina’s defense earlier in the day.

The top of this week’s Power Rankings, though, pay tribute to defense. That is what won last season’s Super Bowl, and it could be the ticket back to the championship again, if the teams currently atop the AFC and NFC are any indication.

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Here’s how everyone stacks up a quarter of the way into the season:

  • 1
    1Denver Broncos
    last week: 2
    record: 4–0
    The Broncos are surrendering more yards than they’d probably like on the ground this season (113.8 per game), but their pass defense is sucking the life out of opponents. Through four weeks, Denver’s D is allowing just 4.3 net yards per pass attempt, per Pro Football Reference (NY/A counts sacks as lost yardage in its formula). If that number holds, it would be the lowest in the NFL since the 2008 Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

  • 2
    2Minnesota Vikings
    last week: 3
    record: 4–0
    Mike Zimmer is a Coach of the Year favorite, and Xavier Rhodes is starting to join the Defensive Player of the Year fray. But the likeliest hardware winner in Minnesota right now is GM Rick Spielman, who has to be an Executive of the Year frontrunner. His fingerprints are all over Minnesota’s roster, and the Sam Bradford trade is working like a charm.

  • 3
    3New England Patriots
    last week: 1
    record: 3–1
    We shouldn’t take anything away from Buffalo’s Week 4 performance, but New England got caught looking ahead a bit. It would have been hard not to, what with Tom Brady ringing the Gillette Stadium doorbell and shouting, “Can I come in yet?!” all Sunday.

  • 4
    4Philadelphia Eagles
    last week: 4
    record: 3–0
    If you see a shirtless man sprinting through downtown Detroit Sunday afternoon, kicking birds and screaming at passing cars, don’t worry. It’s just Jim Schwartz trying to one-up his carried-off-the-field celebration from his last visit to Motown as the Bills’ defensive coordinator in 2014.

  • 5
    5Pittsburgh Steelers
    last week: 6
    record: 3–1
    “It felt good to have him out there,” Ben Roethlisberger said of running back Le’Veon Bell’s return. Which is like saying, “Oh, it’s nice that the sun rose today” or “The world really didn’t need a network TV remake of MacGyver.” We know.

  • 6
    6Seattle Seahawks
    last week: 9
    record: 3–1
    You didn’t forget about Jimmy Graham, did you? The talented tight end hauled in six passes for 113 yards against the Jets, his second consecutive game topping the 100-yard mark. He hasn’t done that in back-to-back outings since early 2013. That season ended with Graham leading the league in TDs (16) and scoring his lone first-team All-Pro nod.

  • 7
    7Green Bay Packers
    last week: 7
    record: 2–1
    Starting Sunday, the Packers will play three games in 12 days, all at home. A reminder before all that begins that Aaron Rodgers holds a career QB rating of 110.2 at Lambeau Field, with a QB:INT differential of 143 to 22. His historical QB rating also is higher in October (110.3) than any other month, so Rodgers might be on the verge of a hot streak.

  • 8
    8Cincinnati Bengals
    last week: 11
    record: 2–2
    Mike Nugent is on pace to break the NFL single-season record for made field goals—David Akers holds the top spot with 44, and Nugent would reach 48 if he keeps up his current clip. Of course, that doesn’t speak well of the Bengals’ ability to score TDs. They have the league’s worst red-zone efficiency right now, turning just 30.8% of their trips into six points.

  • 9
    9Dallas Cowboys
    last week: 12
    record: 3–1
    Jerry Jones getting popped in the head by a flying helmet is about all that’s gone wrong for the Cowboys over the past three weeks. This is exactly why Jones has been pushing to build a $500 million projectile defense system inside his own stadium.

  • 10
    10Oakland Raiders
    last week: 13
    record: 3–1
    Ten teams finished last season above .500 on the road—nine made the playoffs; the other, inexplicably, was the Bears. The Raiders just have to emerge victorious from two of their remaining five away games to reach that coveted five-win plateau. This team looks like it’s in the playoff race for the long haul.

  • 11
    11Atlanta Falcons
    last week: 17
    record: 3–1
    Matt Ryan’s first four games served as quite the silencer for his numerous critics, including yours truly. Shy of leaving a horse’s head in my sheets, Godfather-style, there’s not much else Matty Ice could have done to this point to teach his lesson. If he keeps it going through Atlanta’s upcoming trips to Denver and Seattle, the Falcons will grab a stranglehold on the division.

  • 12
    12Buffalo Bills
    last week: 20
    record: 2–2
    When he is healthy and engaged in an offense, LeSean McCoy is right up there with Le’Veon Bell and the NFL’s most exciting backs to watch. He runs in the open field like he’s slaloming down a ski hill, just darting side to side avoiding obstacles.

  • 13
    13Kansas City Chiefs
    last week: 5
    record: 2–2
    Nothing like having to sit on a bye after a 29-point Sunday night loss. The Chiefs have been dreadful in their two road games this season (losses at Houston and Pittsburgh). They have two weeks to figure out how to pull it together before heading to Oakland on the 16th.

  • 14
    14Houston Texans
    last week: 14
    record: 3–1
    How many wins is it going to take to win the AFC South? Seven? Eight? So long as the Texans care of business within the division, as they eventually did by holding off Tennessee last Sunday, they’ll be difficult to catch. The South as a whole isn’t scaring anyone.

  • 15
    Los Angeles Rams
    last week: 19
    record: 3–1
    Say you had an ex that, no matter how many times you asked, refused to try Thai food. And then when you run into her a few months later, she’s on a date at a Thai restaurant and tells you how much she loves the duck curry. However you would describe your feelings in that instance must be how St. Louis fans feel right now, watching Jeff Fisher’s Rams ascend the NFC West. “Why didn’t you just do that when we were together?!”

  • 16
    16Baltimore Ravens
    last week: 8
    record: 3–1
    There are signs of this offense being outstanding in the near future: Terrance West expanding his role, Kenneth Dixon returning, the combined play of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta and Mike Wallace in the passing attack. Given the Ravens’ nail-biting first four games, however, this team overall remains a riddle.

  • 17
    17Carolina Panthers
    last week: 10
    record: 1–3
    The most yardage Carolina’s pass defense allowed in one game last season was 331. Julio Jones was one big catch (as if there were any other kind on Sunday) from topping that number by himself in Week 4. So, yeah, the secondary officially is a problem for the defending NFC champs.

  • 18
    18Washington Redskins
    last week: 21
    record: 2–2
    Not surprisingly, the Falcons have scored at the highest rate this year, cashing in 54.5% of their possessions for points. Next up? Washington, at 52.5%. A dozen of those scores have been field goals (Dustin Hopkins is tied with Nugent at 12 makes), but the Redskins’ productivity has been low-key impressive.

  • 19
    19New York Jets
    last week: 18
    record: 1–3
    Jets coach Todd Bowles was asked about the possibility of benching struggling QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He responded, “Ryan’s fine,” and somehow the Internet did not take the opportunity to swap out that cartoon dog for Bowles in the “This is fine” meme.

  • 20
    20Arizona Cardinals
    last week: 15
    record: 1–3
    Uh ... fellas? You awake over there? The turnover problem is getting a little out of control in the desert: seven in the NFC title game, five in the loss to Buffalo, another five against Los Angeles. If the Cardinals are forced to start Drew Stanton over an injured Carson Palmer on Thursday ... well, that should be a much more substantial drop-off than it might turn out to be, given how Palmer has played of late.

  • 21
    21New York Giants
    last week: 16
    record: 2–2
    If only Odell Beckham Jr.’s on-field behavior was the biggest problem facing the Giants. Where they are really in a bind, though, is on the other side of the ball. The defense has yet to produce a turnover (New York’s one takeaway came when Washington fumbled a punt), its expensive D-line has a combined two sacks and the injury-plagued secondary was picked on by Sam Bradford Monday night.

  • 22
    22New Orleans Saints
    last week: 28
    record: 1–3
    Do the Saints deserve to be considered a middle-of-the-road team? Not based on the results. Check out the muck below them, though. Picking the 22nd-best team in the NFL is like having 20 tokens for a prize at Chuck E. Cheese. Do you want a pencil eraser or a pinwheel that’s going to break in five minutes?

  • 23
    23San Diego Chargers
    last week: 23
    record: 1–3
    Arguing that the Chargers would be a playoff contender if they knew how to close games is true to an extent. But, you know, the fourth quarter is a rather critical portion of a football game. Until San Diego figures out how not to wilt like a rose in the microwave during those final 15 minutes, it’s doomed.

  • 24
    24Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    last week: 24
    record: 1–3
    “I’m very concerned.” That’s what Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter had to say when asked about Jameis Winston’s recent play. Koetter added that Winston’s not regressing, but even a standstill is problematic since Koetter’s promotion from offensive coordinator came with the belief that he was the right guy to help Winston develop.

  • 25
    25Miami Dolphins
    last week: 25
    record: 1–3
    The Dolphins are running the fewest plays per drive in the NFL this season (4.5), have the shortest average drive (two minutes even) and least time of possession per game (24:16). All that would be fine if Miami were hitting home-run plays, thereby not needing the ball for long but ... yeah, that’s not happening either.

  • 26
    26Jacksonville Jaguars
    last week: 31
    record: 1–3
    With his team’s win over the Colts at Wembley Stadium, coach Gus Bradley now has more victories in London (two) than he does over NFC teams (one) during his tenure.

  • 27
    27Indianapolis Colts
    last week: 22
    record: 1–3
    The Colts have a game this Sunday, which is noteworthy in itself—they are the first team to decline the NFL’s offered bye week after a London trip; they’ll sit out Week 10 instead. Unless “most passes dropped in a season” comes with a trophy, that’s probably all the history Indianapolis will make this year.

  • 28
    28Tennessee Titans
    last week: 26
    record: 1–3
    The only AFC South team that Tennessee beat in either of the last two years was Jacksonville, so Sunday’s loss in Houston goes down as another missed opportunity. They raised Nissan Stadium in less time than it’s taking the Titans to get their rebuilding project off the ground.

  • 29
    29Chicago Bears
    last week: 32
    record: 1–3
    Coach John Fox all but said that he won’t turn back to Jay Cutler when he’s healed, unless current starter Brian Hoyer flops in the meantime. The only way Fox could have sent a clearer message about Cutler’s future with the Bears is if he’d ended that press conference by handing Cutler a suitcase.

  • 30
    30Detroit Lions
    last week: 27
    record: 1–3
    Is Jim Caldwell concerned about his job security at this point? We’ll let you know as someone reboots him and initiates his press conference sequence. If he’s not feeling the heat, he should be. The Lions have no discernible identity right now, and they’re spiraling toward another painful season.

  • 31
    31Cleveland Browns
    last week: 29
    record: 0–4
    Not sure who and not sure when, but the Browns are going to hurt a hopeful team by stealing a victory or two this season. It might have happened Sunday were it not for The Great Fumble Caper. Granted, 1–15 or 2–14 doesn’t sound all that exciting, but it’s better than 0–16. Math!

  • 32
    32San Francisco 49ers
    last week: 30
    record: 1–3
    Chip Kelly, after Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys: “I thought Blaine played well today.”
    [Ron Howard Arrested Development narrator voice] “He didn’t.”

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