Posted: Wednesday September 19, 2012 11:30AM ; Updated: Wednesday September 19, 2012 11:30AM
Don Banks
Don Banks>NFL POWER RANKINGS

It has been a tense, tough, dark week in the NFL. Jay Cutler goes off and bumps a much bigger teammate on the Chicago sideline. Miami general manager Jeff Ireland swears at a Dolphins fan in mid-game. The replacement refs melt down on Monday Night Football, and Jonathan Vilma and the NFL play an endless game of dueling declarations and affidavits in a saga we've long since tired of.

Worst and saddest of all, we lose master NFL Films storyteller Steve Sabol, who was truly the best thing to ever happen to pro football. Even Sabol, with all his talent for imagery and myth-making, might not have been able to pretty up the past few days in the game he loved. Let's hope Week 2 was the worst of it. And now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 2
We already know the well-rounded 49ers can handle the best of the NFC North, having beaten 2011 playoff teams Green Bay and Detroit to open the season and take on the look and caste of the NFL's most complete team. This week they stay in that division with a trip to Minnesota and the Metrodome, where San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh once famously got his butt chewed out on the sideline in mid-game by grumpy Bears coach Mike Ditka. Now Harbaugh gets to do the butt-chewing.
 
2Houston Texans
Last Week: 4
The JV portion of the Texans' schedule is over for now with this week's trip to Denver, where the Broncos always put up a fight. Houston has seen this Manning guy at quarterback a time or two before, but not for a while. Since they last faced Peyton, the Texans are all grown up, winning the AFC South in his absence in 2011 and this year playing like a team that expects to win every week. If Atlanta's defense gave Manning fits, at least in the first half, imagine what the fast, athletic and swarming Houston D might do.
 
3Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 5
The Packers, having not played since last Thursday, will be well rested heading into Seattle. But that plan didn't work out so well for sluggish-looking Dallas, which had 10 days off before taking on the improved Seahawks at a raucous CenturyLink Field. We assumed this was going to be the Matt Flynn Bowl all offseason, but a funny thing happened on the way to that reunion game. Now it's the former Wisconsin quarterback (Russell Wilson) versus the MVP Packers quarterback (Aaron Rodgers), and that's not too shabby a storyline either.
 
4Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 3
I'll be at Sunday night's highly anticipated AFC title game rematch between the Patriots and Ravens in Baltimore, and I can't wait to see if Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff make amends in front of the home crowd. What? Oh. They're both gone? Well, yes, that makes sense. At least it's safe for Ravens fans to watch this one, hopefully minus the heartburn and palpitations.
 
5New England Patriots
Last Week: 1
I don't know about you, but it's always a bit jarring to me to see the Patriots look positively mortal, as if they're affected by the same laws of NFL gravity as the next team. I know they haven't won a Super Bowl since Corey Dillon was their lead running back, but they still crank out victories at a rate that sets them apart from the rest of the league. But last week the Cardinals were their Kryptonite, and that's an odd sentence to even write.
 
6Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 6
While we were all caught up in the train wreck that was the officiating in Monday night's first half, the Falcons defense was busy turning in a heck of a 30 minutes (that lasted roughly two hours in real time). It was almost like I expected an Atlanta defender to intercept Peyton Manning every time he dropped back to pass in that wild first quarter. The Falcons picking up cornerback Asante Samuel didn't get a lot of attention, but it might be one of the slickest moves of the year in the NFL.
 
7Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 14
The Eagles are off to the most deceptive 2-0 start in NFL history, with nine turnovers in eight quarters and a pair of one-point fourth-quarter comeback wins against AFC North teams. The glass is definitely half full in Philly, but the glass is a little cracked and leaking water, too. This is not a formula for victory that can sustain itself for long, and I think the Eagles realize that. Style points do count in these here power rankings, and that's why Philadelphia is still a few slots behind Baltimore, even with a head-to-head win over the Ravens.
 
8New York Giants
Last Week: 9
It's gotten to the point where you never really think Eli Manning is out of any game, no matter the score. Need a 25-point fourth-quarter to win? Coming right up. That's Montana, Elway, and early Brady territory in my book. You knew they were going to win a bunch of those type of games every year, and so did their opponents in the fourth quarter.
 
9Denver Broncos
Last Week: 8
Forgive the non sequitur, but the funniest thing I've heard in the last week came from Archie Manning, when I asked him the other day what Olivia Manning -- Peyton's mom -- thought of that hilarious United Way spoof commercial that Peyton did on "Saturday Night Live" back in 2007? "She thought he was really banging balls off those kids," Archie said in his ear-pleasing southern drawl. "I had to tell her those were Nerf balls with sound effects. She was pretty concerned about him beating up on those kids."
 
10Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 10
The Steelers travel to Oakland this week to face Carson Palmer, a quarterback Dick LeBeau and his defense used to have their way with in games against the Bengals in the AFC North. That was the quintessential Pittsburgh win over the Jets on Sunday, with Ben Roethlisberger making Big Ben-style keep-the-play alive throws all over the field, and the Steelers defense dropping the hammer on the New York offense.
 
11Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 26
I don't really believe the Cardinals can stay in this neighborhood for long with their offense producing about 250 yards per game, but that Ray Horton-coordinated defense is certainly no fluke. If Arizona limits the damage this week against the visiting Eagles and Michael Vick, we'll be forced to keep their upward mobility going in our rankings. And don't forget, dating back to Week 9 of 2011, the Cardinals have gone 9-2, tying for the best regular season record in the league over that span.
 
12San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 17
I'm containing my enthusiasm for the Chargers because they've beaten a pair of AFC bottom-feeders in Oakland and Tennessee. But you can't downgrade San Diego too far for getting two Ws and only allowing 24 points in the process. So the Norv Turner Survivor Tour rolls on into Week 3, and a much tougher test awaits this week as red-hot Atlanta pays a visit to Qualcomm Stadium. That should tell us a little bit more about who these Chargers really are.
 
13Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 18
No more calls, please, we have a winner. I saw the hit of the year in the NFL on Sunday in Seattle, when receiver Golden Tate laid the mother of all crackback blocks on Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said after the game that Tate had earned his honorary membership in the Seattle secondary's "Legion of Boom." Catchy. That one's got potential. Kind of like these Seahawks if the defense keep punishing opponents like it did the Cowboys in Week 2.
 
14Chicago Bears
Last Week: 13
I kind of see the same old Bears so far. They can look like world beaters one week and come apart at the seams the next. And word to Jay Cutler and Co.: You might not want to prattle on about how opposing defenses will need "good luck" to contain Brandon Marshall in press coverage. The Packers made him disappear until the game was essentially over last Thursday night, and that's why it's better to do your talking after the game than before it.
 
15Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 7
The Cowboys went to Seattle feeling good about themselves again, and look what happened. No matter how many times Jerry Jones had his glasses cleaned, he couldn't have liked what he saw in Sunday's second-half domination by the Seahawks. At least Dallas finally gets to play its home opener this week against the feisty Bucs, and the Cowboys can only hope there's trouble of some sort while they're dropping into their victory formation.
 
16Washington Redskins
Last Week: 11
The Redskins in St. Louis again looked like a dangerous team on offense with Robert Griffin III under center, but Washington's defense just doesn't have the depth to sustain season-ending injuries to the likes of Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker. And the offense really can't afford game-turning brain cramps like the one Joshua Morgan suffered late against the Rams. Throwing the ball makes it an easy call.
 
17Detroit Lions
Last Week: 16
A week after he adeptly endured the "Handshake Bowl" spotlight, Lions coach Jim Schwartz makes his homecoming to Tennessee, where he learned most of what he knows about the NFL as a longtime defensive assistant on Jeff Fisher's Titans staff. The Lions could actually use a little defensive expertise about now, because Detroit can't get where it wants to go this season giving up 25 points per game. Where's the suffocating defensive line play so far?
 
18Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 20
As ugly as the ending was against the Giants, the Bucs move up a couple notches because they've played seven quality quarters out of eight so far this season. Eli Manning has done that to a lot of defenses of late, but 510 passing yards allowed is still about 200 too many. On the plus side of things, the Vincent Jackson signing is looking pretty good in Tampa Bay.
 
19St. Louis Rams
Last Week: 23
That's the Danny Amendola I expected last year, when I predicted he'd be Sam Bradford's security blanket and catch a Wes Welker-like batch of balls. But then Amendola got hurt and Bradford's season quickly went south. It's Rams at Bears week, with the twist of St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher once playing in Chicago and Bears coach Lovie Smith once coaching in St. Louis.
 
20Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 19
The Bengals' injury-depleted defense is getting gouged a bit, and if Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden can look that effective against Cincinnati, imagine what RGIII might do to Mike Zimmer's guys this week at Washington. The Bengals' dynamic duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, however, re-announced their presence in the home win over Cleveland.
 
21Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 21
It was smart of the Panthers to let Cam Newton get his running-game groove back against the Saints, because it seems to get him fully into the flow of the action and help his efforts on the passing side, too. Thursday night's visit from the Giants is the kind of showcase game Carolina needs to be able to win if we are to take the Panthers seriously as a threat in the NFC South.
 
22New York Jets
Last Week: 15
So many coaching returns/reunions this week, with Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano headed back to Miami, where he called the shots until getting canned last December. Let's see what game plan he has cooked up for a Dolphins team he knows pretty well. I seem to recall Tim Tebow had a pretty memorable day in Miami last year, winning in overtime for Denver in his first start of last season.
 
23New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 12
With winless Kansas City coming to the dome this week, the free-fall in New Orleans must stop now. Otherwise, I'm not sure exactly what Joe Vitt will be presiding over by the time the Saints' other interim head coach returns from his six-game league suspension in October.
 
24Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 25
It's Buffalo at Cleveland this week, so insert Lake Erie Classic or Rust Belt city joke here. But seriously, think about what Bills and Browns fans have been through: Buffalo has a streak of 12 consecutive non-playoff seasons, and Cleveland has enjoyed one playoff game from 1995-on. As the NFL's parity-based existence goes, that way more than constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
 
25Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 29
I bet you didn't know that since that little 0-13 blip to start last season, the Colts have actually won three of their past five games, including a perfect 3-0 mark at home. And with the 0-2 Jaguars headed to Indy this week, the Colts have a great shot to make it four in a row in their House of Oil.
 
26Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 24
Given that he was a Raider, a Patriot, and briefly a Titan, I'm surprised to learn that Randy Moss has never visited the Metrodome as an opponent during the regular season, as he will this week with the 49ers. But the bigger story for the Vikings is actually how well quarterback Christian Ponder is playing in year two. Through two games, he's completing 75.8 percent of his passes for 8.3 yards per attempt, with two touchdowns, no picks and a 110.6 passer rating. Those are winning numbers.
 
27Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 32
I've already offered one mea culpa to Dolphins running back Reggie Bush this week, because he's pretty much done everything he said he would do as a lead rusher in Miami. But now I'm wondering why Sean Payton and the Saints could never seem to get this kind of rushing production out of him from 2006-2010?
 
28Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 28
I'm going to be generous and leave the Jags at No. 28 this week. But that offense is anemic. And Blaine Gabbert's Week 1 improvement got washed away by an abysmal performance at home against Houston in Week 2. Jacksonville should be able to compete on a level playing field at Indy this week. If not, there's no telling how low they might go.
 
29Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 31
The Browns haven't mailed anything in. They had a lead late against the Eagles and gave the Bengals all they wanted last Sunday in Cincinnati. With both Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson turning in strong Week 2 showings, and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson having a three-sack, one-pick day against the Bengals, there were positives to take away from the seven-point loss.
 
30Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 22
The natives are getting restless in Kansas City, and being down 35-3 in the fourth quarter at Buffalo will do that to a fan base. I didn't have this Chiefs team making the playoffs this season as some pundits did, but I apparently still overrated them. It's desperation time as Kansas City packs off for New Orleans and the equally desperate Saints in Week 3.
 
31Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 27
The Titans aren't only bad, they're deathly boring. That's just a bad combination all the way around. Chris Johnson is supposed to be helping take the offensive load off quarterback Jake Locker's shoulders, but that's a game plan that has gone unfulfilled.
 
32Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 30
You can't blame the Raiders' long-snapping for the second-half embarrassment in Miami. Oakland was out-rushed 263-23, and that boggles the mind when you start Darren McFadden in the backfield. At the moment, having the 49ers at No. 1 and the Raiders at No. 32 in our rankings makes the Bay Area duo the Yin and Yang of the NFL.

 
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