Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week’s rankings begin with New England remaining on top after its rout of Rex Ryan and Buffalo.
2. Green Bay Packers (3-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
An Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady Super Bowl would not be awful to watch.
3. Arizona Cardinals (3-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
It appears that Carson Palmer falls in the indispensable-QB category. With him in the lineup, the Cardinals are back to being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
Note to Ravens: When the game is close, cover A.J. Green. You’re welcome.
5. Denver Broncos (3-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The defense is doing the heavy lifting but now that Peyton Manning gets to run his offense instead of Gary Kubiak’s, he looks capable of doing his part.
6. Atlanta Falcons (3-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
They have unofficially clinched the NFC East by beating the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys. Now they’ll work on the NFC South.
7. Seattle Seahawks (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Kam Chancellor returned and the Bears did nothing but punt Sunday. The Seahawks should be able to get back to 2-2 with the winless Lions visiting Monday night.
8. Carolina Panthers (3-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The Panthers obviously believe they’re contenders, making a win-now trade Monday by dealing for 33-year-old pass rusher Jared Allen. He had only 5.5 sacks in 18 games for the Bears since the start of last season. But he perhaps can fill a role for an already formidable defense.
9. Buffalo Bills (2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The Bills rebounded from their loss to the Patriots in Week 2 to win convincingly Sunday at Miami. But they reportedly could be without RB LeSean McCoy this weekend because of his hamstring issues.
10. Minnesota Vikings (2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
It took the Vikings until Week 2 to make the decision to give the ball to Adrian Peterson early and often in games. Since then, he quickly has reestablished himself as an MVP-caliber player and the Vikings look capable of being in the playoff race.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Ben Roethlisberger has been durable as well as productive. Now the Steelers must try to get by without him. They actually should be relieved that he might return from the sprained MCL and bone bruise in his left knee in 4 to 6 weeks, given that the injury had the look of a season-ender when it occurred. Michael Vick no longer appeared capable of being an effective starting QB while he was with the Jets. But maybe, just maybe, he can get by with the Steelers, given the presence of RB Le’Veon Bell to be the centerpiece of the Roethlisberger-less offense.
12. Dallas Cowboys (2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Brandon Weeden, filling in at QB for the injured Tony Romo, threw the ball accurately Sunday and RB Joseph Randle got off to a very fast start against the Falcons. But the defense must lead the way while Romo is sidelined with his broken left collarbone, and it failed miserably in that regard in the loss to Atlanta.
13. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Chiefs incorporated the forward pass and began utilizing WR Jeremy Maclin midway through Monday night’s loss at Green Bay. But it was a bit too late. Until then, a six-yard pass had been this offense’s idea of taking a shot down the field.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
Chip Kelly the GM got the Eagles into this early-season predicament. Now Chip Kelly the coach is trying to get them out of it.
15. Oakland Raiders (2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
Is it crazy to think the Raiders might be a halfway competent team this season? Beating Josh McCown and the Browns doesn’t amount to all that much, true. And it took the old-man guile of S Charles Woodson to pull off his game-saving interception. But the Raiders very well could be at least mediocre, and that’s a very big step up from where they’ve been.
16. New York Jets (2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
Did Brandon Marshall learn how to throw the ball to the other team by playing with Jay Cutler in Chicago? It’s a skill that a wide receiver rarely gets to put to use but Marshall seized his opportunity Sunday with his ill-fated lateral.
17. Indianapolis Colts (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
It took all of one win to put the Colts in a four-way tie for first place in the AFC South. But clearly all is not well yet, not with the reports of unrest between Coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson, the lineup reshuffling along the offensive line and the seven interceptions thrown by QB Andrew Luck. Even Kirk Cousins probably thinks that is a lot.
18. New York Giants (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
No, the Giants aren’t particularly good. But neither is anyone else in the NFC East with the Cowboys shorthanded, the Eagles going through a stumble-and-bumble routine early in the season and the Redskins now back to being the Redskins. It’s not at all crazy to think the Giants, even with their deficiencies, could be in the thick of the division race right to the end.
19. San Diego Chargers (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
Three of Philip Rivers’s offensive linemen left Sunday’s loss at Minnesota with injuries, and he paid the price by being sacked four times and absorbing a hard hit by the Vikings’ Anthony Barr.
20. Cleveland Browns (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
Josh McCown put up some handsome passing numbers against the Raiders. But he and the Browns didn’t win. There is no reason at all to play a 36-year-old QB and lose when you need to find out whether the 22-year-old QB on the bench, coming off his first taste of NFL success in his Week 2 start, can play or not. The Browns got exactly what they deserved by going back to McCown over Johnny Manziel.
21. Miami Dolphins (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
Warren Buffett had better be careful about showing up to games with a jersey and shoulder pads. The Dolphins might be tempted to play him on defense the next time. How much worse could he be?
22. Baltimore Ravens (0-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
This is not like being 0-3 in, say, last season’s NFC South or this season’s NFC East. This is a big-boy division and the Ravens already are three games behind a very solid team in the Bengals. But they don’t have to face Ben Roethlisberger when they play Thursday night in Pittsburgh, so they at least have a chance to keep their season from unraveling any further.
23. Houston Texans (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Aren’t the Texans overdue for a starting-QB switch?
24. Washington Redskins (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Remember that talk last week about the Redskins being able to be in the mix in the right-now-dreadful NFC East? It’s a possibility that’s not even worth considering until the QB play gets better. There are some decent parts in place elsewhere. The defense has done its part and the offensive line and running game can be productive. But until Kirk Cousins stops throwing interceptions or the Redskins go from Plan B to Plan C at QB, there’s little hope of contending even in a bad division.
25. Tennessee Titans (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
Marcus Mariota reaches his first NFL bye week with eight touchdown passes, two interceptions and a 109.2 passer rating. Not bad at all.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The Jaguars need to get back to the JV-level competition in the AFC South. They stepped it up to a varsity game against the Patriots and it was ugly.
27. St. Louis Rams (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The Rams were absolutely on fire Sunday. Or maybe that was just their field.
28. San Francisco 49ers (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Did they have the highlight of their season in the opener? It’s beginning to look that way. Hey, didn’t you used to be Colin Kaepernick?
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
It’s been one step backward, one step forward for Jameis Winston. That’s how it goes with a rookie QB with a poor team around him. No one should be surprised or alarmed at this point.
30. Detroit Lions (0-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
Ndamukong Suh’s departure from the Lions for Miami via free agency in the offseason is starting to shape up to be a lose-lose-lose scenario for everyone involved: the Lions, Suh and the Dolphins.
31. New Orleans Saints (0-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Luke McCown put up passing numbers good enough in his fill-in start for Drew Brees at QB to land another TV commercial. But clearly this team is going nowhere without Brees. And it might not be going anywhere once he returns to the lineup, either.
32. Chicago Bears (0-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Maybe the Bears should consider carrying two punters. The workload might be too great for one player.