Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. For the first time since Week 5, the New England Patriots aren’t No. 1; let the Dak Prescott era begin in Dallas.
1. Dallas Cowboys (8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
The Cowboys’ win Sunday in Pittsburgh was the NFL’s game of the year so far. It solidified that RB Ezekiel Elliott is an MVP candidate and that the team belongs to rookie QB Dak Prescott. But does the dynamic change a bit with Tony Romo healthy enough to be a viable alternative as a backup? Will questions about Romo start getting asked after one bad game by Prescott? What would owner Jerry Jones and Coach Jason Garrett do after two poor performances? Things will remain mighty interesting.
2. Seattle Seahawks (6-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Traveling across the country on a short week of preparation and winning at New England was as impressive as it gets. That shows what the Seahawks are capable of at their best; they are capable of being the league’s best and most complete team. But they haven’t been at their best on a consistent basis. Don’t forget the tie at Arizona and the loss at New Orleans only a few weeks ago. Seattle still must prove that it can maintain an elite level of play.
3. New England Patriots (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
Opposing offenses had been moving the football reasonably well all season against the Patriots, but not scoring many points. That changed with the loss Sunday night to the Seahawks, who managed to move the ball efficiently and score points. The defense is an issue for the Patriots. But there’s no need to overreact to one loss. The Patriots were at the 1-yard line, on the doorstep of getting a TD and extra point to send the game into OT. They still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and they’re still the team to beat in the AFC.
4. Oakland Raiders (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The Raiders will return from their bye to face the Texans on Monday night in Mexico City. They have home games against the Panthers and Bills after that. So winning the games they really should win would keep the Raiders well positioned for a closing stretch that includes key road games at Kansas City and Denver.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
No one is paying much attention to the Chiefs, as usual. But they’ve won five straight games. They’re on an 18-3 run of success going back to last season, including the playoffs. Someone will have to contend with them in the postseason.
6. Denver Broncos (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The game-winning two-point run-back of a blocked extra point against the Saints was done legally, according to the NFL. It was miraculous. And it creates a sense that maybe the Broncos remain destiny’s darlings.
7. Houston Texans (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Texans made it look difficult in Jacksonville. But at least they finally have a road victory.
8. New York Giants (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The defense is improved, as planned. The Giants even got the pass rush revved up a little bit in the late stages of Monday night’s triumph over the Bengals. They’re winning the tight, down-to-the-wire games they couldn’t win last season. QB Eli Manning is getting the football to WR Odell Beckham Jr. effectively. But he does need to cut down on his interceptions.
9. Detroit Lions (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The problems of the Vikings and Packers mean that the NFC North is there for the taking for the Lions. But can they capitalize?
10. Miami Dolphins (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
Adam Gase, the Dolphins’ first-year coach, is making things work. It didn’t look good early in the season. But Gase had a plan and stuck with it, and now he’s getting results.
11. Washington Redskins (5-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The Redskins continued their nagging habit of letting an opponent back into the game but did what was necessary against the Vikings. It was a nice bounce-back after the disappointing tie in London against the Bengals and a bye week. Now they must take advantage of playing the reeling Packers at the right time when they meet this coming Sunday night at FedEx Field.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The Eagles are awfully tough at home, where they’re 4-0. But if they’re going to be a team of consequence, they’re going to have to be far better on the road. Their only road triumph of the season has come at Chicago, and that was way back in Week 2.
13. Atlanta Falcons (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Falcons are securely in first place in the NFC South. The division seems to lack a legitimate challenger. But more and more, Atlanta no longer looks like a threat to Dallas and Seattle in the chase for NFC supremacy.
14. Baltimore Ravens (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
QB Joe Flacco’s three second-half TD passes Thursday night against the Browns were encouraging. The Ravens have managed to become a first-place team without playing well on offense. If Flacco begins to do his share, they might transform into a team with some legitimate possibilities.
15. Tennessee Titans (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The Titans did whatever they wanted against the Green Bay defense. QB Marcus Mariota was brilliant. So, too, was RB DeMarco Murray. The Titans have arrived at respectable and now have a chance to make progress toward being pretty good.
16. Indianapolis Colts (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Colts come back from their bye to host the Titans this weekend in a game that could determine which team will retain at least some (perhaps unrealistic) hopes of catching the Texans in the AFC South and being a factor in the playoff race.
17. Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
Needing a FG as time expires to win at home against the Niners does not exactly inspire confidence that bigger and better things are ahead. But at least kicker Chandler Catanzaro connected this time.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
Beating the Bears was nice. But it’s time to get serious with the Chiefs and Seahawks up next on the schedule.
19. New Orleans Saints (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
How, exactly, do you recover from a loss like that? The Saints seemed to be moving in a positive direction. But the extra point-that-wasn’t against the Broncos changes the tone of their season.
20. Minnesota Vikings (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Remember when the Vikings were 5-0? Nope, didn’t think so. The problems become more prevalent every week. Another offensive lineman, Jake Long, was hurt Sunday at FedEx Field. Kicker Blair Walsh missed yet another extra point. The offense was shut out in the second half. The defense even played down to the offense’s level at times. Things probably won’t be getting better. This is the team the Vikings probably should have been all along once Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and Matt Kalil got hurt.
21. San Diego Chargers (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The future of the franchise was thrown into disarray with the lopsided defeat of the stadium-funding measure on election night. The present isn’t looking all that promising, either.
22. Los Angeles Rams (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
If the Rams are foolish enough to believe that getting three field goals and a homely win over the lowly Jets means they should continue to start Case Keenum at QB, they deserve what they get.
23. Green Bay Packers (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Packers are, simply, a bad team at the moment, with losses in three straight and four of five games. Sunday’s performance in Tennessee was particularly dreadful, especially on defense. Mike McCarthy is a very capable coach. But this is happening on his watch, and a head coach shouldering the blame for a season like this is merely how the sport works.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Steelers played well enough to win against the Cowboys but succumbed to masterful performances by Dallas rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The harsh postgame assessment by QB Ben Roethlisberger that the Steelers lack discipline and accountability was worth noting. Roethlisberger said it could be players or coaches at the root of the team’s problems. Is there tension within the organization?
25. Buffalo Bills (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The near-miss, controversial defeat at Seattle before the bye probably didn’t make for a particularly pleasant break for the Bills, who are on a three-game losing streak and, yet again, seemingly headed nowhere.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (3-5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
It’s simply not going to happen this season for the Bengals, is it? That seems to become more evident by the week.
27. Carolina Panthers (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
The Panthers had a 17-point lead at home against the Chiefs and actually might have had a chance of reassembling their broken season if they’d held it. But they didn’t. And as a result, the defending NFC champs remain a major disappointment and an afterthought.
28. New York Jets (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Starting Bryce Petty at QB was the right move, no matter how ugly things were on offense against the Rams. The Jets have to figure out if they have a QB who actually can play on their roster.
29. Chicago Bears (2-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
WR Alshon Jeffery is suspended. The speculation that the Bears will move on from QB Jay Cutler after this season is intensifying. The Bears are headed to the ninth non-playoff season in 10 years. Other than that, everything is great.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
It’s almost surprising now when Blake Bortles doesn’t throw an interception for a TD.
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
If the Browns ever manage to win a game, the 49ers are demonstrating that they would be a worthy successor to the No. 32 spot in the rankings.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
The Browns actually are regressing after being competitive in many games earlier in the season. Coach Hue Jackson’s QB switch to Josh McCown in the second half Thursday night in Baltimore was ill conceived. Jackson needs to play things out with rookie Cody Kessler. Under no circumstances should he turn back to Robert Griffin III.