Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. The top four get a fresh look this week as the Giants move into the league’s upper echelon.
2. New England Patriots (9-2) | Previous: 3
The Patriots found a way late to beat the Jets at the Meadowlands. Stunning, huh? Did anyone expect anything different? The New England defense played well, an encouraging sign for the Patriots. But QB Tom Brady clearly wasn’t himself after missing practice time last week because of a knee injury and TE Rob Gronkowski exited with a back injury after missing a game because of a chest injury. All of that, obviously, is far less encouraging.
3. Oakland Raiders (9-2) | Previous: 4
The Raiders have clinched their first winning season since 2002 but their possibilities are far more ambitious now. They are staying step for step with the Patriots in the race for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. But QB Derek Carr’s dislocated pinky on his throwing hand could be an issue. Yes, he showed Sunday that he can play with the injury and can play well with the injury. But will his throwing continue to be unaffected?
4. New York Giants (8-3) | Previous: 6
It wasn’t always easy against the Browns, a week after it was more difficult than necessary against the Bears. No matter. The Giants are winning and staying within striking distance of the Cowboys in the NFC East, with a December home game against Dallas still on the remaining schedule.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) | Previous: 10
The Broncos’ overtime decision to attempt a 62-yard field goal certainly contributed to the Chiefs’ uplifting triumph Sunday night. But the Chiefs more than did their part, also. Their performance was all about grit and perseverance. And QB Alex Smith was awfully good in crunch time against Denver’s powerful defense.
6. Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1) | Previous: 2
What to make of this team right now? Just when the best teams should be separating themselves from everyone else, the Seahawks go out and lose to the Buccaneers. The offense could get nothing done against the Tampa defense. Seattle remains among the top contenders for the time being. But now there is a suspicion that the Seahawks might not truly belong there.
7. Detroit Lions (7-4) | Previous: 7
Calvin Johnson is a dancer rather than a football player these days. The Lions are just over a year removed from a housecleaning by owner Martha Firestone Ford. And yet they’re a first-place team. It all speaks to a good job done by Coach Jim Caldwell and an MVP-caliber season by QB Matthew Stafford.
8. Miami Dolphins (7-4) | Previous: 8
The resurgent Dolphins are keeping some pressure on the Patriots in the AFC East and now have moved into the conference’s No. 6 playoff seed. That means nothing for now, of course. But Miami is playing meaningful December games in Coach Adam Gase’s first season. That means plenty.
9. Denver Broncos (7-4) | Previous: 5
Coach Gary Kubiak played to win in OT in the thriller Sunday night against the Chiefs, opting for a 62-yard field goal try instead of settling for a near-certain tie. Good for him. But the last-second loss that resulted from the miss, which set up the Chiefs’ winning drive, could prove costly to the defending Super Bowl champs as they vie for a playoff spot. They’re currently behind the Dolphins for the AFC’s No. 6 seed.
10. Atlanta Falcons (7-4) | Previous: 11
The Falcons took care of business against the fading Cardinals. They have a difficult matchup at home this weekend against the Chiefs but the schedule gets considerably easier after that with games against the Rams, 49ers, Panthers and Saints.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) | Previous: 14
Remember when QB Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers vowed in training camp they were ready to be a winning team and a playoff contender this season? They were right. It didn’t look particularly promising through the early stages of the season. But the Buccaneers are well positioned now and the win over the Seahawks reinforces their legitimacy.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) | Previous: 16
All is well again after triumphs over the Browns and Andrew Luck-less Colts? Well, maybe not. It probably would be wise to reserve judgment on that to see if the run of prosperity continues against some better competition. But the Steelers at least have steadied themselves and no one is talking right now about a lack of discipline and accountability.
13. Washington Redskins (6-4-1) | Previous: 9
Everyone can calm down a little about how good the Redskins supposedly are. Some were getting a bit carried away after victories over two unraveling teams, the Vikings and Packers. The Redskins are 15-11-1 since the start of last season. They’re a solid, above-average team; they’re not a top contender. But QB Kirk Cousins continues to make himself an awful lot of money.
14. Buffalo Bills (6-5) | Previous: 17
The Bills haven’t surrendered, but their path to a playoff spot does not seem particularly realistic.
15. Baltimore Ravens (6-5) | Previous: 20
Regardless of what you think about Coach John Harbaugh’s intentional-holding tactic to close out the victory over the Bengals, the fact remains that the Ravens almost certainly would have won, anyway. They’re jockeying with the Steelers for first place in the AFC North, and they face a key game this weekend with the playoff-contending Dolphins coming to Baltimore.
16. Tennessee Titans (6-6) | Previous: 21
The Titans really deserve to win the AFC South. That doesn’t mean that they’ll do it. But they are the division’s one and only team that, at this point, is deserving of being the postseason.
17. San Diego Chargers (5-6) | Previous: 22
The Chargers are a decent team stuck in a division in which being a decent team means you’re in last place.
18. New Orleans Saints (5-6) | Previous: 24
The Saints and Coach Sean Payton did as planned and ruined the Superdome return of Rams defensive boss (and former Bountygate figure) Gregg Williams. New Orleans now can return to the uninteresting, playing-out-the-string portion of its season.
19. Houston Texans (6-5) | Previous: 12
There is a lot that can be done with $72 million. Apparently bringing a competent NFL quarterback to Houston is not among those things.
20. Green Bay Packers (5-6) | Previous: 26
Aaron Rodgers played very well Monday night in Philadelphia as the Packers finally got back into the win column. But the real surprise was the improved play of a Green Bay defense that couldn’t stop anyone during the four-game losing skid.
21. Indianapolis Colts (5-6) | Previous: 13
Scott Tolzien did what he could against the Steelers but he and his team were overmatched. Only the mediocrity of the AFC South keeps the Colts’ situation from creeping up on hopeless.
22. Minnesota Vikings (6-5) | Previous: 15
There is no end to the losing in sight, with a Thursday night meeting with the Cowboys on tap next. The schedule gets easier after that. But will that even matter at this point?
23. Carolina Panthers (4-7) | Previous: 18
Just when the Panthers seemed on the verge of getting back into the NFC playoff race, their lead against the Raiders evaporated. A broken season remains broken, now probably beyond repair.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) | Previous: 19
The Green Bay defense played better Monday night. But the shortcomings of the Eagles’ offense contributed to that.
25. Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1) | Previous: 23
The Cardinals will face an interesting offseason decision about whether to tinker with the roster in hopes of making a push next season to return to elite-team status or opting to make more sweeping changes.
26. Los Angeles Rams (4-7) | Previous: 25
Rookie QB Jared Goff’s second NFL start was far better than his debut, with three first-half TD passes Sunday in New Orleans. But that was about it for the bright spots for the Rams as the defense became the problem against the Saints.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1) | Previous: 27
No, it wasn’t a good look for the NFL that the Ravens closed out their victory over the Bengals in the way that they chose to do. But Cincinnati did plenty to contribute to its defeat, with the late-game misadventures of QB Andy Dalton.
28. New York Jets (3-8) | Previous: 28
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick played pretty well Sunday against the Patriots but committed the outcome-sealing turnover in crunch time with his lost fumble on a sack. Now, seriously, it’s time for the Jets to go back to youngster Bryce Petty at QB. And is rookie QB Christian Hackenberg really so awful that playing him isn’t even a consideration?
29. Chicago Bears (2-9) | Previous: 29
Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley — can anyone really tell the difference at this point?
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) | Previous: 30
A miserable season will come to a merciful end soon enough.
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-10) | Previous: 31
QB Colin Kaepernick gave the first hints in quite some time Sunday that maybe, just maybe he still can succeed as a starter. But he came up just short of the end zone in the game’s closing moments against the Dolphins and it was more of the same, with another loss, for the Niners.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-12) | Previous: 32
It’s not unusual to be moved to tears by watching the Browns play. This time, it just happened to be the coach feeling that way.