2. Denver Broncos (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
The Denver defense sacked Philip Rivers four times and intercepted him three times in Sunday’s triumph over the Chargers. It was a good tune-up for this Sunday night’s meeting with MVP candidate Derek Carr and the Raiders in Oakland with first place in the AFC West at stake.
3. Dallas Cowboys (6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
Dak Prescott wasn’t very good overall Sunday night against the Eagles. But he was very good when it mattered most in crunch time, throwing a tying touchdown pass in regulation to wide receiver Dez Bryant and the winning TD pass in overtime to tight end Jason Witten. That’s what winning quarterbacks do. That’s what Prescott is. The Cowboys very well might be the NFC’s best team right now with him at QB, and there’s no reason whatsoever to consider a switch to Tony Romo as long as that’s the case.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Nick Foles — remember him? — did a nice job filling in for the injured Alex Smith during Sunday’s victory at Indianapolis. It was far from a given that he’d be able to deliver when needed. He’d totaled 20 TDs and 20 interceptions over the previous two seasons for the Eagles and Rams, that after his 27-TD, two-interception masterpiece of a year for Philadelphia in 2013.
5. Oakland Raiders (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Derek Carr was great (again) Sunday in Tampa. Coach Jack Del Rio’s fourth-down gamble in OT resulted in the winning TD, and the Raiders are 5-0 on the road. It’s almost as if they’re playing like they’d prefer to be anywhere but Oakland.
6. Atlanta Falcons (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
QB Matt Ryan was terrific in Sunday’s pulsating victory over the Packers. He got things done even without WR Julio Jones being his main target. That’s a good sign that the Falcons have a measure of versatility on offense. Maybe, just maybe, they actually have some staying power this season.
7. Houston Texans (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The consternation about the play of QB Brock Osweiler has been justified. And it remains difficult to envision the Texans, minus J.J. Watt, being much of a factor in the AFC playoffs. But the win over the Lions was solid and Houston clearly is the class of the AFC South, for what that’s worth.
8. Seattle Seahawks (4-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
It’s not the officiating, Richard Sherman. This Seahawks team simply isn’t good enough right now. Tying the Cardinals and losing to the Saints isn’t going to get it done.
9. Minnesota Vikings (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Vikings did not exactly respond to Coach Mike Zimmer’s scathing postgame assessment of their loss the previous weekend in Philadelphia. That was an ugly performance Monday night at Chicago. The offensive line issues are not going away.
10. Green Bay Packers (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Aaron Rodgers was excellent in Sunday’s QB duel with Matt Ryan. But it’s very unlikely that there were two top NFC contenders on the field Sunday in Atlanta, so there are reasons to be concerned about the Packers.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
Carson Wentz played decently Sunday night at Dallas but lost the battle of the rookie QBs to Dak Prescott. There’s no time for the Eagles to dwell on the defeat, as they come back with another key divisional game on the road Sunday against the Giants at the Meadowlands.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The bye is over and now there is only one question that matters: Will Ben Roethlisberger heal from his knee surgery quickly enough to play Sunday at Baltimore?
13. Detroit Lions (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
Matthew Stafford was okay against the Texans. But he wasn’t great. And it pretty much takes Stafford playing great for the Lions to win. His passer ratings in their four victories this season have been 128.6, 135.0, 139.8 and 103.5.
14. New York Giants (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The Giants return from their bye to play three straight home games. They don’t play on the road again until Nov. 27.
15. Tennessee Titans (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
The Titans are legitimately mediocre. And that’s meant to be a sincere compliment, given that it’s a significant step up from where they were last season.
16. Buffalo Bills (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Bills weren’t competitive against the Patriots and they’re back to being a .500 team. They now have road games at Seattle and Cincinnati sandwiched around their bye week. Things don’t look particularly promising. But the Bills responded the last time that was the case, following their 0-2 start by beating the Cardinals and Patriots en route to a four-game winning streak. A similarly unexpected bounce-back is needed again.
17. Washington Redskins (4-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Coach Jay Gruden trusted his kicker, Dustin Hopkins, and played for the field goal in OT against the Bengals in London. He paid the price, as Hopkins missed and the Redskins tied. Maybe Gruden hadn’t watched the OT kicking misadventures in the Cardinals-Seahawks tie a week earlier. Memo to NFL coaches: Don’t play for the FG in OT.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The Bucs are close to being good. But they simply must figure out a way to win at home, where they’re 0-3.
19. Miami Dolphins (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
20. Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Were the Cardinals and Panthers really in the NFC title game last season? That’s beginning to feel like a long, long time ago for these two struggling teams.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
There’s definitely something missing here. The defense had no answers for the Redskins offense for long stretches of Sunday’s tie in London. You can’t lose in the postseason if you don’t even get there, can you?
22. New Orleans Saints (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
The Saints aren’t awful. They have made that clear with three wins in four games since their 0-3 beginning. They can get to .500 by winning Sunday at San Francisco. It’s difficult to imagine that they actually can be a good, contending team with this defense. But perhaps anything is possible in an NFL season in which there is a severe shortage of powerhouse teams not named the Patriots.
23. New York Jets (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown only one interception over his past four games, including three starts, after throwing nine interceptions over a two-start span. But there’s probably no climbing out of the hole that Fitzpatrick and the Jets dug for themselves.
24. Los Angeles Rams (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
There’s simply no reason to pay any further attention to the Rams until rookie Jared Goff is named the starter at QB.
25. Carolina Panthers (2-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
Yes, Cam Newton’s complaints are legitimate. They also are strategically sound. Think there’s any way the next borderline hit on him doesn’t draw a penalty flag?
26. San Diego Chargers (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
If the Chargers are going to salvage anything positive out of this season, they simply must win the next two weekends at home against the Titans and Dolphins.
27. Indianapolis Colts (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
It’s just not going to come together for the Colts this season. Those who still believe that it will probably are fooling themselves.
28. Baltimore Ravens (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
The Ravens last won on Sept. 25. Yet they have a chance to secure first place in the AFC North with a triumph at home Sunday over the Steelers. Clearly it’s not the best of seasons for the AFC North.
29. Chicago Bears (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Jay Cutler being back was actually a positive thing Monday night. It also helped to get a big performance by running back Jordan Howard.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The Jaguars have fired Greg Olson as their offensive coordinator and surely Coach Gus Bradley will lose his job at some point if the losing continues at this rate. But the bigger issue has become: As what point do the Jaguars have to give up hope that they have a potential franchise QB in place with Blake Bortles?
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
NFL rules dictate that the Niners must return from their bye to play their remaining games.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
LB Jamie Collins lost seven wins in the standings (and 31 spots in the rankings) when he was traded Monday from New England to Cleveland. His reward might be a handsome contract, given that the Browns presumably intend to keep him beyond this season after giving up a draft pick to get him.