It barely takes sixty minutes for judgments to be made. As the final whistle blew in each of the National Football League’s Opening Week games, a massive shuffling of the teams followed. Immediately listed as either an undefeated 1-0 or a winless 0-1 team, an entire offseason of speculation and predictions was derived down to a singular win or loss.
The final score of each team’s game only means so much, as the approximated strength of an opponent needs to be considersd. Beating the Browns’ backup quarterback is not nearly as powerful as losing a nail-biter in Atlanta.
Enter the first edition of the 2015 Power Rankings.
1. New England Patriots (LW:–)
New England keeps on rolling. The defending Super Bowl champions opened the year with a primetime win against the visiting Steelers. The Patriots never appeared threatened by their opponent, although Pittsburgh missed on a few potentially game-changing plays. Despite the win — and how secure it became in the second half — New England’s defense was exploited as a potential weakness.
2. Green Back Packers (LW:–)
After a while, a rivalry is nothing more than an older brother beating up his younger sibling. The Bears did their best to stay in the fight, but the Packers are simply a better team with more weapons. Green Bay did show some warts, early on, but the Packers have a recent history of overcoming flaws. Until proven otherwise, Green Bay remains the team to beat in the NFC North.
3. Denver Broncos (LW:–)
It’s not as easy in Denver as it used to be. The Broncos, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, are finding it increasingly more difficult to bludgeon teams to death. They still kicked the season off with a win, but the level of dominance usually displayed was nonexistent. The Ravens do, indeed, give the Broncos a hard time, but Denver’s Opening Day win did little to alleviate whatever fears still linger from last postseason’s first-round exit.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (LW:–)
The Cincinnati Bengals quietly go about their business of thrashing weaker football teams. It’s easy to discount their accomplishments when this happens, but credit is due for a Cincinnati team that does not play down to the level of its opponents. The Bengals are a significant cut above the Raiders, and looked like it on Opening Day.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (LW:–)
It wasn’t easy to share the AFC West with the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos for the past few years, but the Chiefs have fared well, regardless. Continually able to start seasons on a high note — 9-1 and 7-3 in the first ten games of each of the last two years — Kansas City did more of the same against the Texans. Winning in September has become a trend for the Chiefs, but they are more than capable of keeping it going as the season progresses. Their first test will be on Thursday Night Football against the aforementioned Broncos.
6. Miami Dolphins (LW:–)
The Dolphins simply never make it easy. Entering its Opening Day game as the vastly superior team, on paper, Miami did everything in its power to ensure a nail-biter in Washington. On the legs of dynamic wide receiver and punt returner Jarvis Landry, the Dolphins secured a much-needed win. They hardly looked like the powerhouse that they could be, but there is clearly potential for improvement ahead.
7. Arizona Cardinals (LW:–)
Different year, same result. The Arizona Cardinals — formerly a running joke in the National Football League — have taken the ‘us against the world’ mentality and ran with it. Hosting the New Orleans Saints — a team primed for a ‘bounceback’ year — Arizona held serve with a home win on Opening Day. The continued health of quarterback Carson Palmer will remain a concern throughout the year, but the team is built to win, right now.
8. Dallas Cowboys (LW:–)
While the Giants were a large contributing factor, the Cowboys secured a win on Sunday Night Football, despite multiple attempts at giving the game away. Dallas looked nothing like the machine of last season, and the loss of running back DeMarco Murray was evident early and often. Now, with Dez Bryant out for weeks, the Cowboys better hope that whatever magic they found on Opening Night is enough to carry them forward.
9. Seattle Seahawks (LW:–)
As much as there is to say about a resilient Seattle team that refuses to go down without a fight, there is equal truth to the theory that the Edward Jones Dome is their house of horrors. Now with two consecutive losses — and three in their last four meetings — in St. Louis, the Seahawks should find solace in the fact that the tough loss is now behind them. The pill will be hard to swallow, but Seattle displayed its usual late-game toughness through most of the fourth quarter. It just wasn’t enough. This time.
10. Atlanta Falcons (LW:–)
It was just too unbelievable that the quarterback and wide receiver combination of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones wouldn’t help right the ship in Atlanta. Playing in what had been a palpable home field advantage only a few short years ago, and anchored by a new head coach, the Falcons had the perfect clean slate for the 2015 season. Two Julio Jones touchdowns later, Atlanta looked like the prolific offense that flourished in the not-so-distant past. The team’s defense still appeared to be a liability in the second half, but they were given the unfortunate task of stopping the onslaught of plays presented in rapid-fire form by the Eagles.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (LW:–)
The writing was on the wall during the entire first half of the Eagles’ Monday Night Football game: head coach Chip Kelley was going to be hammered by the media on Tuesday. After an offseason of moves that left many heads scratched, Kelley’s Eagles looked like a puzzle that had yet to be assembled. As the Eagles’ offense picked up its blazing pace, the picture became clearer. Philadelphia might have lost in Atlanta — a late-game missed field goal could have potentially offered a different outcome — but the Eagles showed how dangerous they could be when firing on all cylinders.
12. San Diego Chargers (LW:–)
The San Diego Chargers are the definition of ‘constantly competitive.’ They make nothing look easy until it looks hard, yet they are limited in success. This is the nature of a franchise that has not won or lost double digit games since 2009. Based on the patterns in their Opening Day home win against the Lions — the Chargers trailed by 18, led by 12, and won by five — little has changed in San Diego.
13. Indianapolis Colts (LW:–)
What was that, Indianapolis? Yes, Bills head coach Rex Ryan has a knack for developing defense. Yes, Buffalo was a hostile environment on Opening Day. But quarterback Tyrod Taylor completing 14-of-19 passes with one touchdown in what was basically a blowout? Either the Colts were caught completely off guard or their weaknesses were exploited. Whichever the answer, it isn’t good.
14. Buffalo Bills (LW:–)
No one ever considered Bills head coach Rex Ryan of a poor motivator. The city of Buffalo was foaming at the mouth with the hype that surrounded the team, and the players did not disappoint. Dominating the Colts — no pushover, if they are anything near their 2014 edition — Buffalo made an early statement that it is a franchise on the rise. As long as the Bills’ Opening Day win wasn’t built more on adrenaline than talent.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW:–)
It’s unfair to criticize the team that travels to the home of the defending Super Bowl champions for the Opening Night kickoff game. Still, Pittsburgh missed one opportunity after another in its game against the Patriots, and only looked like the dangerous Steelers team of the past during garbage time. It should become apparent rather quickly which of the Steelers’ identities was its real one.
16. St. Louis Rams (LW:–)
The Rams should offer to host the Seahawks on a weekly basis. St. Louis would gladly pay for the airfare. In reality, the Rams have a reason to be hopeful, this time around, as quarterback Nick Foles stepped up when his team needed him. Quarterbacks are critical in today’s league, and Foles was arguably the most important factor in an Opening Day overtime victory against the back-to-back NFC Champion Seahawks. This might be the start of something new in St. Louis.
17. Detroit Lions (LW:–)
There was a brief moment in its Opening Day loss against the Chargers were the Lions looked deadly. Last season’s top-three defense looked no worse for wear despite the losses of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, and the offense and special teams looked electric on the legs of rookie running back Ameer Abdullah. Alas, the same mistake-prone Detroit team of years past reared its ugly head, and the Lions whimpered out of San Diego with a loss. In Detroit, there should be equal parts hope and reason for trepidation.
18. New Orleans Saints (LW:–)
Head coaching and quarterbacks are frequently two keys to success. The New Orleans Saints have both. They still struggle. The team either isn’t nearly as good as the sum of its parts, or they were dealt a bad hand by facing the Cardinals on Opening Day. Either way, the Saints remain in a hole, and need to act quickly before getting buried.
19. New York Jets (LW:–)
Thankfully, for New York, it was the Browns. Had the Jets been playing almost any other team on Opening Day, they would likely have taken a loss. Instead, the Jets — after allowing Cleveland to march down the field — knocked Browns quarterback Josh McCown out of the game before feasting on backup Johnny Manziel. New York’s offense finally looked like it wouldn’t cripple the team, but the defense delivered a sub-par performance, despite the win. The Jets won a game they could not allow themselves to lose, but it means little until they do it against a full roster.
20. Tennessee Titans (LW:–)
What a way to start a career. More touchdown passes — four — than incomplete passes — three — and a perfect quarterback rating, Marcus Mariota began his professional career with a bang. Granted, Tennessee’s Opening Day opponent was the hapless Buccaneers, but the two teams were barely playing the same game on Sunday. The true test of Tennessee’s ability is yet to come — with excitement levels rising after only sixty minutes of football, a loss in Cleveland, this week, would be a setback — but the Titans started 2015 as best as could be expected.
21. Baltimore Ravens (LW:–)
Traveling to Denver to open the season is no easy task, yet the Baltimore Ravens have done it twice in the past three seasons, losing both games. Baltimore typically has the makeup of a team that performs best when its back is against the wall, and it almost pulled out the road victory in Sunday’s Opening Day contest. Under normal circumstances, the loss in Denver would be forgiven. The Broncos, however, looked more human than normal. The fact that the Ravens did not take advantage is an indictment on them.
22. New York Giants (LW:–)
However good or bad the Giants actually are, it will be completely overshadowed until they take the field next. The events that led to their gut-wrenching Opening Night loss will linger for days, and, if an inability to put away a team on the ropes is an indication of power, the Giants are clearly lacking.
23. San Francisco 49ers (LW:–)
Shrouded in off-field controversy for months, the San Francisco 49ers left their collective demons behind and opened the 2015 season with a home victory. Emotions were running high on Monday Night Football, and the 49ers were given a gift by hosting the Vikings, but San Francisco’s win was anything but impressive. For a large portion of their Opening Night game, the 49ers looked mistake-prone and lost. Playing the same game against most of the league will not end in victory.
24. Carolina Panthers (LW:–)
The Carolina Panthers are prone to falling asleep on the job, only to deliver on time. For nearly all of 2014, they were one of the worst teams in the league, but closed the regular season with four consecutive wins, earning an unlikely playoff berth. Carolina was able to avoid an Opening Day nap when making the short trip to Jacksonville, but there are hardly ‘style points’ to be earned when beating the Jaguars.
25. Chicago Bears (LW:–)
The new regime in Chicago looked poised to make an early statement in its Opening Day tilt with the Packers, but a bad draw against a good team proved to be too much for the Bears. A loss to Green Bay is forgivable, and running back Matt Forte is still an offensive force. A better matchup should help get the team back on track in the coming weeks. At least, it will provide a better litmus test for the state of the Bears.
26. Washington Redskins (LW:–)
Give the Redskins credit — they went toe-to-toe with a team that was better than them on Opening Day. Close losses mean nothing in the record book, but Washington isn’t playing for the standings. It’s playing for its employees’ jobs. Everyone from quarterback to head coach is on the hot seat, and it looks like there will be some shuffling of the deck in the near future.
27. Houston Texans (LW:–)
In a quarterback-driven league, the road to victory often requires either a top passer or a top pass rusher — taking away the opponent’s strength. The Houston Texans obviously have the latter in game-changing defensive end J.J. Watt, but their deficiencies on offense — namely quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, and backup-turned-starting running back Alfred Blue — are too devastating to overcome.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW:–)
Is there ever a reason to be hopeful in Jacksonville? It defies logic and reason that a franchise could be so bad for so long — the law of averages appears defeated — but the Jaguars are an exceptionally poor team. Even the infusion of youth — quarterback Blake Bortles, running back T.J. Yeldon, and wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson — needs to make strides quickly to become relevant. Until then, they remain the punch line for a joke.
29. Minnesota Vikings (LW:–)
The Vikings had all the makings of a ‘sleeper’ team for 2015. Within minutes of its Opening Day Monday Night Football matchup, the team flat-out looked asleep. Any projections for the Vikings’ season hinges on a combination of running back Adrian Peterson approximating his once-dynamic form and the expected growth of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Neither occurred on Monday. If that doesn’t change, neither will the direction of the Vikings.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW:–)
That was certainly no way to start a professional football career. Months after being selected with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, quarterback Jameis Winston promptly threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on his first career pass attempt. A career is hardly made in one game — let alone one pass — but the first impression was rough. As Winston improves, so should his team, but the Buccaneers currently look like they need a lot of work.
31. Oakland Raiders (LW:–)
So much for the hope that was surrounding Oakland. An injury to quarterback Derek Carr — as well as the team’s ego after trailing by 33 points in the fourth quarter — was the icing on the cake for an otherwise forgettable Opening Day. Drafting wide receiver Amari Cooper created a buzz around the franchise, but showing no signs of improvement on the field quickly ended Oakland’s party.
32. Cleveland Browns (LW:–)
The Cleveland Browns are now on the clock. Entering this season with one of the worst teams in the league, the Browns lost their quarterback to a concussion in the team’s Opening Day defeat by the Jets. There was almost nothing positive to take away from the game besides backup quarterback Johnny Manziel’s first career touchdown pass. If anything, the Browns may finally get to see if Manziel has a future with the team.