Bortstein's NFL Power Rankings -- September 12

If the defending Super Bowl champions win their season opener with the QB who knows full well he still shouldn't be the QB, they do so in ugly and uninspiring fashion and they do so against a team (Atlanta Falcons) that's been hyped as one of their most legitimate threats to their chances of repeating as... what was that again... defending Super Bowl champions, then they still deserve the top spot.

Nothing more to add here. That was a second half beatdown over the (more than likely) overhyped and greatly exaggerated Oakland Raiders. They're likely to only get better with more time under their belt, and in my mind, appear to be the most reliable team at this stage of the season.

It wasn't so much that they won on opening day, but it was the way in which they did so against a team (Houston Texans) with more than a few emotionally charged returning starters. The Patriots were methodical, calculating and just as deadly as they've been for the better part of a decade. And remember, all the talk this offseason about how methodical and calculating head coach Bill Belichick supposedly is was painted as a bad thing.

Kirk Cousins doesn't need to be THE man in this offense. He simply needs to not be the man who tosses this chance into a dumpster fire. An emphatic win on opening weekend and a defense that will only get better as the season progresses.

I might be reaching a bit on this one, but allow me a moment to explain. Teams get brownie points from me when they make offseason moves (free agency or otherwise) that show immediate results. Three names you'll find on the "scoring plays" portion of any scoreboard reflecting the ass-kicking Baltimore laid on the Buffalo Bills are Willie Snead, John Brown and Michael Crabtree. All three of them were picked up this offseason. If Flacco continues to make use of those weapons, the AFC North just got a lot more interesting.

Patrick Mahomes was outstanding, more so than I even care to admit, since I was a bit skeptical coming into the season opener in which they ran off on the Los Angeles Chargers. The offense is as sharp as they were early in the 2017 season... and the 2016 season... come to think of it, in the 2015 season as well. You get the point, they're good, but will they stay that way?

The defense of this team still doesn't get the credit they deserve, and while what's left of the playmakers on the Dallas Cowboys may be crumbling in numbers, it shouldn't be held against the Panthers who got solid enough play from a versatile Cam Newton, who still appears to be adjusting to Norv Turner's offensive schemes.

The world waits with bated breath the status of quarterback Aaron Rodgers before Sundays' first must-see game of the season when the Packers face the Vikings. Rodgers' historic second-half comeback after suffering what appeared to be a devastating injury earlier in last weekend's primetime clash against the Chicago Bears may prove to be the season's first defining moment. But now comes the moment of truth... if Rodgers can't go or proves to be a liability if he does, all that hype goes away in a hurry.

All teams at some point in time go through adversity. Some do it better than others, some wither and crumble. I'm gonna give this Steelers team a chance to weather this storm of Leveon Bell's protracted holdout and the embarrassment of blowing a double-digit lead to the hapless albeit eager Cleveland Browns. Talent-wise, they're still a high profile team which may need to rely more on its defense in the coming weeks. And that's not a bad thing considering how well that defense played (for the most part) despite being put in some bad positions by a turnover-prone offense.

An acid test coming up this weekend against New England, but the strength of this team has always been its defense, which will need to again be the case. They can clearly make their case as - again - a legitimate threat this season with an impressive showing against the defending AFC title holders in what will be seen as a revenge match.   


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