PFPod’s NFL Contender Rankings: Week 3

With two weeks of football under our belts, can now debut its first Contender Rankings of 2013. Think of our Contender Rankings as the half-breed love-child of traditional “Power Rankings” and the NFL playoff format: from Best to Worst, we rank the 8 divisional leaders and our two favorite wild card teams from each conference. Our Top 12 rankings give you all the fun of a college poll AND a meaningful outlook on the NFL playoff picture! Yes, football fans, you can have your cake and eat it too. At least until you bitch about us dissing your team’s crappy division.

Top 4: Bye-week bound Divisional Leaders

1. Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning has been the best offensive player in the league so far. And we’re still waiting for him to show up in the first half of a game! Broncos fans should Thank Eli for hosting big brother in NYC last weekend–Manning Bowl III might have been Denver’s walk-through for this year’s Super Bowl at the new Giants’ Stadium.

2. Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks’ bludgeoning of the defending NFC Champs in Week 2 signals a big problem for the rest of the conference: if Seattle gains home field advantage during the playoffs, there may not be a team capable of derailing their Super Bowl aspirations.

3. Houston Texans. Houston has not looked like the team it did a year ago, but they’re 2-0, and they have a shot to take down the defending champs in Baltimore this week. Look for Ed Reed to inflict a little bit of regret on his former franchise.

4.New Orleans Saints. Last week’s razor thin margin of victory against a mediocre Tampa Bay squad shouldn’t worry Saints’ fans–bizarre lightning delays are as good an excuse as a road team can get for a less than satisfying performance. Look for N’awlins to bounce back with a better game this week.

Best of the Rest: NFL Contender Rankings 5-12

5. New England. Before the season started, the Pats had a clear path to a playoff bye. This perennial powerhouse looked hungry for redemption before the dust had even settled from their season-ending loss in the AFC Championship game. But New England’s offense had the worst off-season in NFL history: Belicheck’s innovative strategy to create coverage mismatches for his top-shelf tight ends has unexpectedly disappeared. With Gronk sidelined day-to-day, and Hernandez for 25 to life, Tom Brady has been relegated to an extended preseason with a relatively fresh receiving corps. Where’s Wes Welker when you need him, New England?

6. Chicago. The Bears have not looked convincing in their two come-from-behind wins, but they are one of only three undefeated teams remaining in the NFC. As the season progresses, however, we would not be surprised if Green Bay, Detroit, and/or Minnesota finished ahead of them in the division. BTW, it is a travesty that the NFC East will get a team into the playoffs ahead of, well, anyone in the NFC North.

7. Miami. Ryan Tannehill’s surprising KO of Andrew Luck’s hapless Colts has kept the Dolphins undefeated. It seems unlikely that the Fins’ record will stay unblemished this week, though–a date with the Falcons should diminish Miami’s hope for a playoff berth.

8. Atlanta. The best 1-1 team in the NFL has to be the Falcons. Their Week 1 loss to the Saints was nothing more than a great advertisement for the divisional rematch in November. Atlanta’s victory over the Rams was a little disconcerting, however; a game that had looked like a blowout in the making nearly slipped from the Falcons late in the fourth quarter. This Atlanta team had better figure out how to finish strong–Falcons’ fans are getting tired of watching Mike Smith’s team falling flat on its face during the playoffs.

9. Kansas City. Chiefs fans might be a little miffed that we placed their undefeated team behind the one-loss Falcons, but let’s all be real here: your win against Jacksonville does not compare to their narrow defeat at New Orleans. That said, a victory against the high-flying Eagles would do a lot to catapult KC in our view.

10. Baltimore. The defending champs have not looked good in its first two games. The defense is still trying to form its identity in its first season EVER without Ray Lewis, and the offense is hoping that Joe Flacco can adapt to life without Anquan Boldin. For now, the Raven’s best chance at a repeat begins with their crummy divisional opponents. Cincinnati has looked strong enough to win the division, but the only thing the Steelers and Browns are gonna win this year are high draft picks for 2014.

11. Green Bay. Sure, it’s hard to say that Green Bay is better than the 49ers team that beat them in Week 1. But San Francisco won’t regain Contender status until they bounce back from the beatdown they took in Seattle on Sunday night. In the meantime, the Packers have looked solid in both games. Their dominating first half against Washington may be a sign that this team has figured out their formula for balancing Aaron Rodgers’ passing attack with an effective running game.

12. Dallas. Congratulations to the Dallas Cowboys for having the least unimpressive team in football’s sh*ttiest division. Sure, the Eagles are right there with the ‘Boys in the middle-third of NFL teams; but for now, we’re gonna bank on Monte Kiffin’s defense taking Dallas into December. Philadelphia is flying high on Chip Kelly’s offense for the moment, but even he doesn’t know if any football player can keep this pace up for more than 13 games a season.

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