1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
The offense is coming to the life and the defense has been superb. If this trait continues, this is going to be the team to beat, not only in the AFC, but throughout the league.
2. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
The Eagles passing game is as good as any in the game, the lack of a consistent rushing attack could eventually come to haunt this team. Defensively the Eagles play well enough to keep them in the game and this team is the cream of the crop in the NFC.
3. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
After a slow start, the Chargers offensive machine is rolling. Coupled with an improving defense, the Chargers are a legitimate threat week-in and week-out. Progress on the defensive side of the ball will determine how far this team goes in 2005.
4. ATLANTA FALCONS
Keeping quarterback Michael Vick healthy remains the top priority of the franchise. No one runs the ball better than the Falcons' combination of Vick, Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett – keeping that train rolling means even more success for the Falcons. Atlanta's defense is not often talked about, but is one of the best in the NFC. In spite of not stopping the run effectively early in the season, look for this to change as the focus will be to stop the run.
5. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
This Pittsburgh team never receives the credit they are due, not even here. This is a solid team which plays excellent defense and controls the ball. Pittsburgh could be the one team in the AFC to give the Colts all they can handle in the playoffs.
6. NEW YORK GIANTS
Tom Coughlin is too tough. Tom Coughlin doesn't get it. In just Coughlin's second year at the helm in New York, the Giants are one tough team. The defense is reasonably solid and the offense shows the tendency to be explosive and diversified.
7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Jon Gruden's has a team of his liking and players he had brought in. Now, the focus is on his job. As long as quarterback Brian Griese plays well and running back Cadillac Williams maintains his great start to the season, this will be one tough team to beat. The defense is again one of the best in the league which only makes this team more dangerous.
8. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Newsflash, the Bengals are for real. Sporting an explosive offense, though somewhat inconsistent due to penalties and turnovers, Cincinnati under the direction of Marvin Lewis has turned the corner. No longer is a doormat, the Bengals defense also improved, and sufficient enough to keep the team from playing in a shootout every week.
9. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
This may be the year injury and free agency catches up with the Super Bowl Champions. After losing Ted Johnson, Tedy Bruschi, Joe Andruzzi and Ty Law in the off-season, coupled with the losses of Matt Light, Kevin Faulk and Rodney Harrison this season, the Patriots have looked ordinary at times.
10. CAROLINA PANTHERS
Two losses by last-minute field goals have the Panthers at 2-2. Their defense, which was supposed to be the strong point of the team, has been pedestrian thus far. Offensively, the Panthers are moving the football and should keep the Panthers as a viable candidate until the defense comes around.
11. DENVER BRONCOS
Everyone wrote the Broncos off after their baffling collapse at Miami in the first game of the season. That game may have been an aberration, however, because the Broncos have been dominant ever since thanks to a stifling defense keyed by their rebuilt "Brownco" defensive line and an error-free and efficient offense.
12. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
One missed field goal in the Redskins game away from a 3-1 start, Seattle heads to St. Louis at .500 and looking to overcome the Rams' recent head-to-head supremacy. Doing so without wide receivers Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram (both of whom are expected to miss Sunday's game) means that Mike Holmgren will have to coach against type, pound the ball with Shaun Alexander and counter St. Louis' high-powered finesse game. If the Seahawks lose this game, questions about the season will begin to surface.
13. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Quarterback Byron Leftwich, wide receiver Jimmy Smith, and running back Fred Taylor are the Jaguars offense. At times this team can be explosive, but inconsistency remains the problem. Now, defensively is where the Jaguars are making their mark, one which keeps them in the game, week after week.
14. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
After two straight wins, the Chiefs have a week to heal their wounds after dropping back to back games. Last Sunday's meltdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, has brought up more questions about the defense and even more about the once proud high-octane offense. Neither is playing very well and a .500 mark at the bye week is about right for this team.
15. DALLAS COWBOYS
The Cowboys could easily be undefeated, but two fourth quarter losses to Washington and Oakland have left the organization wondering if enough off-season additions were made to get the team back to the playoffs. The good news is veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe has performed above expectations thus far. The bad news is the defense must improve for Dallas to stay above .500.
16. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
The Redskins' offense went from dormant for 7+ quarters to explosive for five minutes in Dallas and they continued to move the ball well against Seattle. Those who were saying that the game has passed by Joe Gibbs are beginning to revise their thinking. Still, they'll need to score more points and get some defensive takeaways if they are going to continue their winning ways. Two tests on the road in Denver and in Kansas City will show us more about the quality of this team.
17. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Head coach Jim Haslett has the Saints playing solid football, one-quarter of the way through the season. Being displaced from their home, playing on the road and now landing in San Antonio, the Saints can try and assume some normalcy to their lives. The offense has been sporadic, the defense has played much better in 2005, but has to improve if this team is going to be a playoff contender.
18. MIAMI DOLPHINS
Who would have thought the Dolphins would have played as well as they has through three games. Head coach Nick Saban has the team playing solid football, with the offense exceeding all expectations under the direction of coordinator Scott Lineham.
19. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Off to a 1-3 start after four games was not the expectation in Oakland. Head coach Norv Turner is already on the hot seat and the grumblings, though quiet are beginning to rise from wide receiver Randy Moss. Moss wants the ball more often, as does running back LaMont Jordan. The Raiders should improve as the season progress, which is as long as quarterback Kerry Collins begins to make his reads quicker. The Raiders defense has played much better than expected in the early season.
20. BALTIMORE RAVENS
Once again, the big question mark in Baltimore is the Ravens' offense. Kyle Boller is out with a hyper-extended big toe and back-up Anthony Wright has put the ball in the end-zone only twice in 10 quarters of play. With weapons like Derrick Mason and 1st round pick Mark Clayton in the mix and Jim Fassel as the Offensive Coordinator, expectations are high. The Ravens need to come up with something to supplement their generally solid ground game and put points on the board. With the exception of a bad outing against the Titans in week 2, the Ravens defense has performed as advertised given the lack of productivity on the other side of the ball.
21. ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Rams are up against it after an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants and head coach Mike Martz' recent health issues (bacterial endocarditis; an infection in the lining of the heart). They now face the Seattle Seahawks, a team with which they share the division lead and a 2-2 record. St. Louis' recent dominance over Seattle won't mean much if the Rams don't find a balanced offense and a more consistent defense. Pass-happy as the Rams may be, Steven Jackson has to run the ball more than ten times per game.
22. NEW YORK JETS
With an offense teetering on the brink of catastrophe, the New York Jets now turn to Vinny Testaverde. The team hopes the quarterback who led the franchise to the 1999 AFC title game will be a glimpse of his former self. Testaverde will have his work cut out for him against Tampa Bay; the offensive line is in shambles and Curtis Martin has been a non-factor this year. Head coach Herm Edwards announced that second year lineman Adrian Jones, who started the season at right tackle, will again start on the left side.
23. ARIZONA CARDINALS
Picked by many pundits to be a playoff contender before the season began, the Cardinals got off to a dismal 0-3 start before finally picking up their first victory in the 2005 season over the San Francisco 49ers in a historic Mexico City contest. To do any further damage this year, Arizona will have to establish some sort of running game and shore up a secondary affected by injury. On the plus side, kicker Neil Rackers is having a ridiculous season.
24. CLEVELAND BROWNS
The Browns are falling in line behind new head coach Romeo Crennel and buying into his philosophy. With few injuries, two successive solid road performances, and a seemingly rejuvenated Trent Dilfer at the helm, the Browns feel that they are on the right path. What can't be easily fixed, however, are some weaknesses in the team's front seven that will be hard for Crennel to hide from opposing offenses.
25. DETROIT LIONS
Joey Harrington loses a target in wide receiver Charles Rogers, but could less be more? Many believe Harrington's developed better chemistry with both Kevin Johnson and Mike Williams -- potential replacements. Regardless, productivity is required -- and fast.
26. CHICAGO BEARS
The defense is playing good enough to be a postseason contender. However, with a rookie quarterback the offense is struggling to put up points on a consistent basis. Still the Bears are tied for the top spot in a weak NFC North. A favorable schedule over the next six weeks could be the catalyst to getting the team above .500.
27. MINNESOTA VIKINGS
A preseason contender for the NFC title has fallen by the wayside after a horrendous 1-3 start that has seen two blowouts. The Vikings still can't figure out how to beat decent teams on the road or how to win the battle of turnovers. The good news is they are only a half game out of first place in a bad division and their first four opponents had a combined record of 13-3 after four weeks.
28. TENNESSEE TITANS
The Norm Chow offense hasn't yet taken hold in Tennessee and quarterback Steve McNair could soon become frustrated at the thought of the Titans playing out the string in the 2005 season. Going with a youth movement in light of salary cap issues heading into the season only ensure this is a rebuilding season for the Titans.
29. BUFFALO BILLS
The defense remains solid, though losing linebacker Takeo Spikes to an Achilles injury will certainly hurt. The issue in Buffalo is the offense, which head coach hopes to spark with the insertion of backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb into the lineup this weekend.
30. GREEN BAY PACKERS
The young Packers have been plagued by their own mistakes, and it's the main reason they are 0-4. Brett Favre has kept Green Bay in in games as the Packers have lost their last three games by a total of six points. The Packers are last in the NFL in the turnover ratio at minus-9 and haven't been able to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
31. HOUSTON TEXANS
First fire the offensive coordinator (Chris Palmer), and then hire the offensive line coach (Joe Pendry) to spark the Texans offense. Needless to say, the Texans offensive line has been offensive and the team was coming off its best offensive season in 2004. Can we say the development of quarterback David Carr has been stunted?
32. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
After one quarter of the season, preliminary talk from head coach Mike Nolan about division-winning sleeper potential has given way to the more realistic specter of development. Quarterback Alex Smith will get his first start this Sunday against the Colts, a team with a QB who can show Mr. Smith a thing or three. The real problem in Frisco is the defense – the team has dealt LB Jamie Winborn, franchise LB Julian Peterson may miss the game with a hamstring (questionable as of Thursday), and this injury-depleted secondary is not the sort you want going up against Peyton Manning.