Welcome to Quarters Coverage, a monthly NFL abstract of power rankings, awards and essential information. It’s like the prospectus your investment firm sends out every three months, except that it doesn’t leave you sitting at your office desk, staring at the wastepaper basket, wondering if all your toil and sacrifice will ever amount to anything.
The following power rankings are based upon hours of tape study and statistical analysis, strength of schedule, Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings (which are based on every, single play of the season, not just the overtime field goals) and the opinions of both national experts and the voices in my head. I welcome all emails to the effect of, “The Vikings beat the 49ers and therefore should be ranked higher than the 49ers so you are either a 49ers fan or some fat idiot who knows nothing about football.” I will write back assuring you that I am not a 49ers fan.
1. Texans (4-0): All but clinched a playoff spot on Sunday with a win and a combination of Titans/Jaguars football.
2. Falcons (4-0): Made major strides by going one week without a DUI. That explains why Arthur Blank was on the sideline of the Panthers game dressed like a chauffeur.
3. 49ers (3-1): Unveiled the Colin Kaepernick “Wild Ostrich” package against the Jets. Coming soon: the Wild Harbaugh “Gimmie a Damn Helmet, I Can Still Do It” package.
4. Ravens (3-1): Have all but scrapped the no-huddle concept because they realized it’s a bad idea to give their offense more opportunities to run plays.
5. Packers (3-1, oh wait, 2-2): Team finally figured out how to win close games this week. The technique is called “not getting totally hosed.”
6. Cardinals (4-0): Now 6-0 in overtime over the last six years. Arizona state legislature votes this week to overturn the laws of probability.
7. Patriots (2-2): Bottomed out on their tight-end addiction with the Kellen Winslow signing. Now getting clean again with Wes Welker methadone.
8. Giants (2-2): Fourth-quarter strategy of “waiting for the opponent to screw up” didn’t work against the Cowboys and Eagles, but you cannot blame the Giants for trying.
9. Vikings (3-1): Great defense, power running, pesky quarterback play. Like the Jets, minus idiocy.
10. Bears (3-1): Blowing off Mike Tice on the sideline was actually the smartest thing Jay Cutler has done all year.
11. Eagles (3-1): Did you notice that when the Eagles ran the ball more often against the Giants, both their sack and turnover problems disappeared? Andy Reid didn’t notice.
12. Bengals (3-1): On pace to go 0-4 against the Steelers and Ravens, 12-0 against everyone else, will miss the playoffs somehow.
13. Chargers (3-1): The Chargers are what the Giants would be if Tom Coughlin did not get enough Omega-3 fatty acids in his diet.
14. Broncos (2-2): An aging veteran whose career appeared over this time last year has revitalized the offense: Willis McGahee.
15. Redskins (2-2): Time for an SAT analogy. Redskins : RGIII :: Supremes : ______
16. Bills (2-2): If the Bills were a fantasy team, they would totally dominate your league.
17. Seahawks (1-3, oh wait, 2-2): Russell Mania and Refageddon are over, folks. Please return to your regularly scheduled 19-13 losses.
18. Lions (1-3): A solid team as long as it never runs, punts or kicks off.
19. Steelers (1-2): Cannot run the football, generate sacks or hold leads. The Terrible Towel is looking like a Tissue With Issues.
20. Dolphins (1-3): Back-to-back overtime losses show just how close the Dolphins are to the Cardinals and Jets. Let’s shorten that to just “Cardinals” for the fan websites.
21. Colts (1-2): Be strong, coach.
22. Panthers (1-3): Anti-Cam Newton backlash was so powerful and swift that it caused a 15-foot storm surge at Kill Devil Hills.
23. Rams (2-2): Danny Amendola, Cortland Finnegan, Robert Quinn, Sam Bradford, James Laurinaitis, duct tape, bailing wire, fake field goals, moustache jokes, wishful thinking.
24. Saints (0-4): Joe Vitt may want to be the first person ever to petition Roger Goodell to increase his suspension.
25. Cowboys (2-2): For the team’s sake, let’s hope that Jerry Jones is still not watching Monday Night Football.
26. Buccaneers (1-3): The “try hard when the game is lost” strategy is down pat, Greg Schiano. Now start working on holding a lead.
27. Raiders (1-3): No wide receivers, no cornerbacks, no big-play ability on either side of the ball. The Al Davis memorial flame must be billowing black smoke right now.
28. Jets (2-2): If Tim Tebow makes his teammates better, imagine what these guys are really like.
29. Browns (0-4): If Greg Little drops any more passes, he will cause Brandon Weeden to get gray hairs prematurely … well, at about the age-appropriate time.
30. Titans (1-3): Matt Hasselbeck is too old to put up with this nonsense.
31. Jaguars (1-3): The Redskins answer was “Diana Ross.” That’s right: The Jaguars don’t even get top billing in their own power ranking anymore.
32. Chiefs (1-3): Opponents are outscoring the Chiefs 41-6 in the first quarter. You can’t accuse them of getting anyone’s hopes up.
Offensive Player: Matt Ryan, Falcons. Ryan leads the league in passer rating and is near the top of the league in almost every statistical category, including high-tech stats like Football Outsiders’ DVOA and ESPN’s TQR. Ryan has not had an ugly game yet this season, which is more than you can say for Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Michael Vick or even Tom Brady, if you count the first 55 minutes of the Cardinals game.
Defensive Player: J.J. Watt. Watt has 7 ½ sacks, five passes defended and two fumble recoveries. Plus, his explanation of how he learned the Dolphins’ snap counts by watching “Hard Knocks” may have saved the world from ever having to watch that program again.
Rookie: Robert Griffin III. Duh. Griffin hardly even counts as a rookie anymore. Let’s reclassify him as a Macrookie: a mature, capable rookie. Or maybe a RILF (rookie I’d like for my fantasy team).
Comeback Player: Kevin Kolb, Cardinals. What is he coming back from? The same thing we all come back from: ourselves.
Biggest Surprise: The Vikings. Christian Ponder is a viable passer, Adrian Peterson is healthy, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is creative about using Percy Harvin and the front four is still great despite some new faces. We had that third win penciled in for late November, not Sept. 30.
Biggest Disappointment: Sure, the Saints are 0-4, but they are in a unique situation, and they keep losing close games. The Chiefs were expected to contend for their division, but they have played only about six competitive quarters of football this season. Of course, five of them were against the Saints.
Five Bold Predictions for the Second Quarter of the Season
1. Matt Flynn will become the Seahawks’ starter. And they will still score about 12 points per game.
2. The transition from “how the Patriots dynasty collapsed” stories to “the Patriots cannot be stopped” stories will occur so seamlessly that someone will actually do it in mid-sentence. (“The secondary is weak, the passing game is bogged down with short passes and the coaching staff has grown so arrogant that no opponent can possibly match up with these superior offensive weapons or outwit this championship-proven brain trust, and of course Brady rules and we are all Gronked. Wait, what just happened?”)
3. The Cowboys offensive line will give up a sack during a press conference. But it won’t be a Jerry Jones press conference, so it’s okay.
4. During the Bears-Panthers game on Oct. 28, so many cameras will be pointed at Jay Cutler and Cam Newton on the sidelines that there will not be enough footage to properly televise the game, let alone handle replays. “After further review, he don’t care.”
5. LeSean McCoy will get 40 carries. No, not in a game, in the next quarter of the season.
Five Stories to Bury in the First Quarter Time Capsule
1. Is Peyton Manning back? No? How about now? No? Now? Oh, so he is completely finished and embarrassing then? No? How about now?
2. The Tebow Wildcat. Unfortunately, it will be buried in favor of The Tebow Quarterback. In fact, all Jets stories deserve Robert Ludlum titles. The Sanchez Deterioration. The Santonio Dismemberment. The Sportswriter Defenestration. The Storyline Exhaustion.
3. Kneelgate. The sportsmanship gods have ruled from Olympus: Going whole-hog to stop an end-of-game kneel is the second-least mature thing a person can do, just above throwing down the controller, unplugging the game console, stomping around the room crying that you will never, ever play that stupid game again because the computer cheats, calming down, plugging in, and starting a new game.
4. Is this the greatest crop of rookie quarterbacks in football history, or are several teams so mismanaged that they resorted to throwing unprepared middle-tier prospects on the field and hoping that they develop through neglect, Artful Dodger style? Oh yeah, the second thing.
5. Thinking about replacement officials. Talking about replacement officials. Joking about replacement officials. Trolling for attention on Twitter by popping up at 1:07 on Sunday to announce that the replacement officials are doing a great job this week and anyone who says otherwise is just manufacturing controversy. Writing condescending little “now fans can go back to complaining about the real refs” articles, which is like saying “sure, your last girlfriend ran up your credit cards buying designer scarves and cheated on you with an entire construction site, but you will complain about this one, too, when she accidently unplugs your MP3 player.” Seeing your sister-in-law post replacement official jokes on Facebook and longing for the days of Farmville, and on and on and on …