The Ladder: A Recap of Week 1
A comprehensive ranking of each team to analyze the best and worst NFL teams have to offer.
Before you clicked on this link, perhaps you were curious about what exactly you might be reading — maybe you were intrigued by the title “The Ladder”— In that case, I have good news! I’ll spare you the speculation and come right out and tell you what exactly The Ladder is. Beginning this week and through the rest of the season (including playoffs), I’ll be writing a column once a week called The Ladder. The sole purpose of this column will be to reflect on the previous week(s) of NFL games and focus on what worked well/not so well for all 32 teams and rank each team as if each respective team were rungs on a 32 rung ladder. In this hypothetical ladder scenario which I’ve created, the goal is to be the “lowest rung” on the ladder — which would mean #1 is the best team in football and #32 is the worst. See? Much simpler than you thought… I have no explanation or excuse for anyone who asks “Why not just call it Power Rankings?” other than the fact that everything has to have a cool name in 2016. The Ladder. Here we go…
32. Cleveland Browns
To say that the Browns struggled in all three phases against the Eagles would be quite generous. A team poised to be quite high on the ladder all season, the Browns struggled to get first downs all game long and particularly struggled versus Philadelphia’s heralded front-seven. This offense clearly lacks the play-making ability required to sustain leads and win games in the NFL — thus, Hue Jackson and his coaching staff are probably counting down the days until Josh Gordon returns in Week 5 to hopefully give the Cleveland unit some kind of spark. It’s unclear who will start at Quarterback in Week 2, as RGIII reportedly suffered a shoulder injury on a play where Griffin was running toward the sidelines to get out of bounds — he collided awkwardly with Jalen Mills of the Eagles and clearly showed signs of pain. Adam Schefter reported Monday that RGIII will be reevaluated in 3–4 weeks and could be out for the season.
As for the defense, Joe Haden also reportedly suffered an injury in Cleveland’s Week 1 matchup versus the Eagles, which could really put pressure on this young defensive backs unit — especially in obvious passing situations when the team is forced to go to their Nickel package. Though the Browns saw positive signs from young cogs Danny Shelton and Carl Nassib, Jordan Poyer and Tramon Williams were often liabilities in the secondary. Their slated for a divisional matchup versus the Ravens next week in their home opener and unfortunately could still be sitting in the #32 slot following that game as well.
31. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams couldn’t do anything against the Niners on Monday night. Case Keenum was ineffective against a mostly average San Francisco defense. Keenum’s inability to put together drives allowed SF to stack the line of scrimmage with multiple defenders in the box ready for anything Gurley had to offer. He was held to 47 yards and the Rams were shut out. It will be a tough week for the stars of Hard Knocks, as they need to bounce back next week against the Seahawks terror of a defensive unit.
30. Buffalo Bills
In what effectively could’ve been summed up as Sunday’s most boring matchup, the Bills offense came out looking vanilla as ever against a Ravens defense which is clearly in a transitionary period. Greg Roman and his staff could not find ways to get their team in the endzone — with a lone touchdown coming on a 1-yard goal line carry from Shady McCoy. Luckily for Rex Ryan and the Bills, the rest of the AFC East (minus the Patriots… not so shockingly), couldn’t get the job done either which could favor the job security of coach Rex Ryan down the line. They’ll face the Jets on a short week on Thursday night — in what already seems like a must-win game in order for them to be considered possible playoff contenders. It will be no short task however, given the news reported on Monday morning, announcing that Sammy Watkins will likely be playing through foot pain for most of the season.
29. San Francisco 49ers
Chip Kelly came out aggressive as ever, surprising, right? Surely not. Blaine Gabbert’s training wheels were taken off early in the game and he was making throws like an NFL quarterback. Everyone knows that when Chip’s system is working well, his bread and butter is the run game, which is what Carlos Hyde took advantage of in this game. He looked like a different back in this scheme. His elusiveness consistently made would-be tacklers miss. Though the success of the run-game did help make Gabbert’s night easier, his receivers often dropped passes that should’ve been caught. For a team with little to no expectations, Chip Kelly and the 49ers exceeded whichever expectations that were there by the end of the first half on both sides of the ball.
28. San Diego Chargers
21–3 at the end of the first half. 6 points in the second half. Gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter. Keenan Allen torn ACL and done for the season.
For a team who failed to sign it’s first round pick until two weeks before the start of the season — along with the fact that the owner is possibly looking to relocate from San Diego, things aren’t looking so great for the Chargers. With just a 2.5% chance of winning heading into the 3rd quarter, the Chiefs took advantage of the Chargers shaky defense — Spencer Ware leading the way in relief of Jamaal Charles.
Ware burned SD’s front seven up the middle in the running game as well as in the passing game in the second half. The Chargers defensive front wasn’t getting enough pressure at the line of scrimmage and repeatedly missed coverages.
27. Tennessee Titans
The Titans faced an uphill battle in Week 1 versus the Vikings. Though Teddy Bridgewater’s injury forced Minnesota to trade for Sam Bradford and start Shaun Hill in this game, Tennessee had to have known that Mike Zimmer was going to have his defense ready to play. That turned out to be the difference — Tennessee did a nice job to contain Adrian Peterson and hold Minnesota to just FGAs on offense, but Minnesota prevailed with an INT-returned for a touchdown and a blocked kick which was also returned for a touchdown. The Titans will have to eliminate those mistakes if they want to win games and benefit from their defense’s strong performance.
26. Chicago Bears
An offensive line which failed to gel early on. Cody Whitehair showing that he’s still a young offensive lineman that’s prone to making mistakes. Kyle Long playing injured did nothing to help Jeremy Langford’s day or Jay Cutler’s. Cutler was sacked five times and the offense was shut out in the 2nd half.
Chicago’s defense has a long way to go in the absence of Pernell McPhee. Offseason additions Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman were the top two tacklers in this game for the Bears, signaling that the Texans wanted to attack the interior of the Chicago defense with their run game — an area which the Bears struggled mightily last season.
25. Washington Redskins
The Redskins got Antonio Brown’d. Pittsburgh essentially did whatever they wanted to on offense against this Washington defense and Bashaud Breeland pretty much looked like this after a night of covering Antonio Brown with no Safety help. Kirk Cousins did not benefit from any semblance of a running game and Matt Jones’s 24-yards were a team high. It’s safe to say that heading into next week’s game against Dallas, the running game and run defense will be key areas of focus.
24. Dallas Cowboys
23. New York Giants
There were plenty of positives for both teams in this close matchup between NFC East rivals. Dak Prescott made his first start for the Cowboys and threw a staggering 45 passes — not what you’d typically expect in a rookie’s first start. The Giants made an effort to keep the ball out of the hands of Dallas playmakers and especially Ezekiel Elliott’s, as his debut left much to be desired. Dallas should be able to stay in games if the stout offensive-line can keep Prescott healthy and provide lanes for Elliott to make plays. Dez Bryant saw only one reception — an unfortunate reality — yet unorthodox. In the end, Dallas relied too much on Dan Bailey in this game and their offense was not potent enough to win the game.
The Giants played a sound game on the road within the division. Ben McAdoo coached the quintessential Ben McAdoo game with an even balance between pass and run — short, efficient routes, and a defense that did just enough to bring home the win. The Giants likely walk away from this game satisfied with how they contained the run game for Dallas, but they’ll need to generate a better pass rush in future games in order to move up The Ladder.
22. Baltimore Ravens
21. Miami Dolphins
Baltimore and Miami both struggled on offense scoring a combined 23 points. Both teams played their opponents in close games, the only difference between them is that Baltimore won against a much easier opponent in Buffalo. The biggest thing for the Ravens is their absence of significant talent at running back. Joe Flacco threw 34 passes and Justin Forsett and Buck Allen weren’t lighting the field on fire despite superb guard play. Mike Wallace’s 66-yard TD catch was the lone highlight for the Ravens offense, otherwise the Bills made their few playmakers look quite pedestrian.
Tough sledding for Miami against a rich with talent Seahawks squad. The Dolphins did some things on defense however to limit the Seattle offense. The most impressive thing Miami did in this game was to hire a guard at the stadium gate to make damn sure there was no chance of Marshawn Lynch showing up to the game in full uniform. All jokes aside, Suh had a good game on the interior defensive line, an are which Seattle has a lot of concerns. They kept the game close in a matchup against a premier contender and held Russell Wilson to an unlike-Russell Wilson 16-yards rushing. It’s clear Adam Gase has a vision for his team and we might see it better realized against a lesser team.
20. New Orleans Saints
19. Philadelphia Eagles
Two offenses which clicked quite well on Sunday. Brees threw for an ungodly 423 yards and 4 touchdowns on 42 attempts. Saints fans understand their offense is going to have to put up huge numbers in order to supplement their awful defense — but these kinds of numbers from Brees just aren’t sustainable week to week. Perhaps nothing speaks to the Saints defensive shortcomings more than the Raiders willingness to go for the win after the late Crabtree touchdown which would’ve tied the game with an extra-point, yet Oakland decided to go for the two-point conversion because they were clearly much more threatened by the thought of the New Orleans offense getting another chance to take the field, so they took their chances against a poor defense and proved themselves right.
Philadelphia played a sound game in all three phases against the Browns. Their front seven shut down Cleveland’s run game and little to no plays were being made against Philly’s corners in the passing game (aside from a hail mary to Corey Coleman in triple coverage), but the main takeaway in this game was the poise shown by Carson Wentz. He looked like he was in control of the game and a good start to the game seemed to keep him confident throughout. Continued production from Jordan Matthews and others in the receiving corps will prove to be integral, with news coming out that Zach Ertz could possibly miss a few weeks due to a rib injury suffered in Sunday’s game.
18. Indianapolis Colts
17. Atlanta Falcons
16. Oakland Raiders
15. New York Jets
Four teams clawing for a chance at the playoffs this season, each in divisions which could prove to be quite close. Starting with the Colts, they couldn’t capitalize on a brilliant performance from Andrew Luck, though it was good to see Luck return to his peak ability after a down year last season. The Colts defense is made up of very few stars and mostly replacement-level players. They’ll be in a situation similar to the Saints where their offense will be forced to put up large numbers in order to keep them in the game. The absence of Vontae Davis, their best defensive player, only made matters worse versus the Lions.
The Falcons got another taste of the awfully sour Jameis medicine of which they overdosed last season. Matt Ryan played well, a positive sign for Atlanta, but Julio Jones did not dominate in his season debut, which many thought he would at home against a revamped Bucs’ secondary. The Falcons defense just couldn’t handle the multitude of playmaking options Dirk Koetter’s offense offered and in the end Mike Evans, Doug Martin and Jameis Winston were just too much to handle.
The Raiders and Jets are in nearly perfectly antithetical situations. The Raiders, a young team, coached by a veteran coach, with playoff aspirations. The Jets, a veteran team, coached by a young coach, with playoff aspirations. Perhaps Oakland’s inspired the team to a win against the Saints in the final minutes thanks to a gutsy call, and the Jets “been here before” attitude might’ve allowed them to second guess the ever-consistent Bengals. Both teams will have many ups and downs this season and their trajectories at times fluid. Concerns live inside both teams’ secondaries — i.e. their ability to cover Brandin Cooks and A.J. Green, respectively.
14. Seattle Seahawks
The results of the Seattle-Miami game will cause many to second guess the now Marshawn-less Seahawks, but their defense played just as effectively as they normally do — just a lot to be cleaned up on offense — thought the health of Russell Wilson is probably their primary concern at this point in time.
13. Kansas City Chiefs
A 17 point 4th quarter saved the Chiefs from dealing with a long week of anticipation to prove themselves in Week 2. They showed resilience and poise in the second half and Spencer Ware made plays in Jamaal Charles’ absence — which they unquestionably needed to complete their comeback. Alex Smith redeemed himself in the second half, winning the game with an over-time run into the end zone. The Chiefs can’t allow their defense to play that undisciplined in the future if they want to seal their lead in the division early on this season.
12. Minnesota Vikings
A new stadium. Two new quarterbacks. The Vikings will look much different this season than last. Defensive turnovers for scores are necessary to win games when your offense is struggling to score touchdowns. Minnesota was fortunate enough to face an average Titans team, but the effectiveness of Sam Bradford and Adrian Peterson going forward, will be something to monitor in the coming weeks.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars.
A statement game from the Jaguars against a serious opponent in Green Bay. Their offense was potent and nearly matched the Packers’ effectiveness. We all know there’s no such thing as moral victories in the NFL, but Gus Bradley and his team should be pleased that they stood toe-to-toe with an NFL powerhouse and Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, and T.J. Yeldon, each members of their young core, showed up to play.
10. Houston Texans
9. Detroit Lions
Houston got a nice showing from their new QB, Brock Osweiler. They did just enough to win the game against a struggling Bears team, but they know that the best is yet to come with stronger performances in the future from J.J. Watt (who’s playing hurt) and Nuk Hopkins.
Jim Caldwell might’ve actually smiled at the result of this game. In non-Lions fashion, they executed late and put the Colts away in their first game without Calvin Johnson. Stafford utilized each and every weapon on offense and torched an underperforming Colts defense for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers offense without Le’veon Bell and Martavis Bryant didn’t miss a beat. Antonio Brown consistently beat his man for big plays and trips to the end zone. Ryan Shazier played excellently in coverage in the nickel package on defense covering Washington’s stud Tight End Jordan Reed. If D’Angelo Williams can continue to be productive in the coming weeks until Bell’s suspension subsides and Big Ben can protect the football and make solid decisions, we could be talking about this team as a top seed in the AFC in January.
7. Carolina Panthers
6. Denver Broncos
The Super Bowl rematch stunned nearly everyone watching when QB Trevor Siemian guided Denver to a win over league MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. There were many positive takeaways for the Panthers however, as Kelvin Benjamin returned and showed no signs of rust, especially when they packaged Benjamin in the slot on the same side of the field as their other giant wideout Devin Funchess — just an overkill of size on the behalf of the Panthers, almost too much for small corners like Chris Harris Jr. to handle. Concerning, however, was the multitude of hits Cam Newton suffered to the head thanks to the terrifying pressure caused by Denver, which ultimately won them the game, just as it had in February. C. J. Anderson ran effectively and took some of the pressure off of Siemian, with considerable tape of Siemian’s play now existing, it will be interesting to see if he regresses at all in future weeks.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati won their matchup against the Jets in a possible future playoff bout. Andy Dalton was efficient and A.J. Green was lights out. The Bengals did their best to takeaway nearly every playmaking option outside of Matt Forte. A field goal drive at the end of the game was enough to seal the win for Cincy— a promising feat for a team poised to play talented teams like New York in the near future.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Green Bay Packers
Stellar play on the behalf of Jameis and Aaron Rodgers left fantasy owners smiling ear to ear in Week 1. Tampa Bay, in a road win, placed themselves amongst the other up and comings fighting for a playoff spot, while Green Bay sustained their position as perrenial favorites to win the NFC and represent their conference in this year’s Super Bowl. It will no doubt take Green Bay time to adjust to the sudden loss of Josh Sitton but overall the offensive line did a nice job protecting Aaron Rodgers against Jacksonville’s, young, unpredictable defense.
If anything, Jameis Winston has proved that he has the Falcons number. He’s 3–0 against them in his career and is quickly proving to the rest of the NFC South that he is prepared to lead his team in a battle against Cam Newton in this season’s quest for the division title. On defense, Kwon Alexander was all over the field and Gerald McCoy dissuaded DeVonta Freeman’s plans to have a big day. Should Tampa’s pass rush improve, their defense has the potential to be lethal.
2. Arizona Cardinals
1. New England Patriots
The Cardinals should’ve won this game. David Johnson looked incredible, Larry Fitzgerald proving once again that he’s still capable of elite play. Ultimately, the burden falls on Arizona’s defense and their inability to adjust to the play of a backup quarterback. New England’s offense dictated what the Cardinals did defensively and there was no way for them to artificially generate enough pressure to fluster the inexperienced Garropollo. Expect the Cards to bounce back strong and give their all next week against the Buccaneers vigorous defense.
A result which no one saw coming — though they probably should’ve. The Patriots won in spite of Brady, Gronkowski, Ninkovich, Solder, and Vollmer. Jimmy Garropollo faced one of the league’s top defenses in his debut and handoffs to LeGarrette Blount, coupled with quick throws, took away what Arizona likes to do best — which is blitz frequently. Ultimately, the game came down to a missed field goal, which makes the difference between these teams quite negligible. However, New England showed that their depth is promising and that if injuries do in fact jeopardize their season, they’ve shown that they’re capable of weathering the storm. Julian Edelman looked healthy in his return and Chris Hogan could be an intriguing slot option for Tom Brady once he returns from suspension. Perhaps, best of all for the Patriots is that they’re 1–0 without Tom Brady, with three lesser opponents (two of which are inter-division), scheduled to come to Foxboro before Brady’s return against the Browns in Week 5.