Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. After New England’s surprising defeat at the hands of the Chiefs on opening night in Foxborough, the top spot quickly became up for grabs.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 2
The Steelers become the caretaker of the No. 1 spot with the Patriots’ temporary (it says here) setback. RB Le’Veon Bell was not particularly involved in the offense Sunday in Cleveland after his late arrival before the season, but that undoubtedly will change soon. Rookie LB T.J. Watt probably won’t play every Sunday like he’s about to add a fourth NFL defensive player of the year award to the family’s mantel. But he brings energy and passion and he should be a nice addition to the defense.
2. Atlanta Falcons (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 3
The opening win over the Bears was probably more challenging than it needed to be, as the Falcons just held on at the end. Things get more interesting with Sunday night’s nationally televised matchup with the Packers in the first regular season game at the Falcons’ new stadium.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 9
The offense was dynamic and the defense was solid during the upset Thursday night at New England. No one was calling QB Alex Smith merely a game manager, at least for one night, and WR Tyreek Hill and rookie RB Kareem Hunt were superb. The loss of safety Eric Berry to a season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon is significant. But it might be time to rethink the Chiefs’ potential to go deep into the AFC playoffs, provided that Coach Andy Reid allows the offense to keep this aggressive, attack-down-the-field approach.
4. Green Bay Packers (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 4
The Packers will know very quickly this season how they match up against the NFC’s other top contenders. They beat the Seahawks on Sunday. They play in Atlanta this weekend and at Dallas on Oct. 8.
5. Dallas Cowboys (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 7
RB Ezekiel Elliott is in the lineup, perhaps all season, thanks to the injunction granted by a federal judge in Texas that keeps his six-game suspension on hold. With Elliott, the Cowboys are back to being the equal of anyone in the NFC. Elliott and QB Dak Prescott played well in the victory Sunday night over the Giants, and the performance of the remade defense was a pleasant surprise.
6. New England Patriots (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 1
So much for a run at a 19-0 season. That didn’t provide much drama, did it? The defending champs were pretty dreadful in the loss to the Chiefs. The offense was out of sync and the defense gave up huge plays in the highest-scoring game ever against a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team. But are you really going to wager against Belichick and QB Tom Brady getting things fixed? The strong suspicion here is that this will still be the team to beat entering the postseason.
7. Oakland Raiders (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 5
Marshawn Lynch still has some good football left in him, it appears. That is a very good sign for the Raiders as they try to be an elite team.
8. Detroit Lions (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 11
QB Matthew Stafford was unbothered by the expectations that come with his huge contract and with the interception for a TD that he threw on his first pass attempt Sunday. He rebounded to throw four TD passes in the Lions’ win over the Cardinals, picking up where he’d left off in 2016.
9. Seattle Seahawks (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 6
If it is true that there are internal tensions based on Seattle’s defense feeling the offense hasn’t done its part, that was not helped by how Sunday’s defeat to the Packers unfolded.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 14
QB Carson Wentz began his second NFL season with a mixed bag of brilliant improvisational plays and rookielike gaffes Sunday at FedEx Field. He did not get his big-name newcomers, RB LeGarrette Blount and WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, consistently involved in the offense. But it was good enough for a season-opening win over the Redskins, thanks in large part to a defense that generated four turnovers.
11. Baltimore Ravens (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 16
The defense was very good against the Bengals. It’s exactly what the Ravens envisioned when they spoke during the preseason about their infusion of young pass rushers and the depth and experience in their secondary. The running game was productive in Cincinnati but more will be needed at some point from QB Joe Flacco and the passing game.
12. Denver Broncos (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 12
The Broncos nearly squandered a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter Monday night to the Chargers but just held on to win on a blocked field goal with one second left. Coach Vance Joseph got the victory in his NFL head coaching debut and QB Trevor Siemian played well enough to instill belief that he’s capable of getting the Broncos back into the playoffs.
13. New York Giants (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 8
The offense simply is not good enough without WR Odell Beckham Jr., who was sidelined Sunday night by the ankle injury he suffered during the preseason. Minus Beckham, there is no playmaker who allows the offense to transcend the deficiencies of the offensive line. It is not all that difficult right now to envision the Eagles supplanting the Giants as the primary challenger to the Cowboys in the NFC East.
14. Carolina Panthers (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 20
Cam Newton’s first real game back from shoulder surgery was pretty good. But the Panthers will probably need even better from Newton down the line if they’re going to return to contender status.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 25
The formula is clear for the Jaguars: Hand the football to rookie RB Leonard Fournette as often as possible, limit the chances for mistakes by QB Blake Bortles, and play defense. The pass rush won’t always be as productive as the 10-sack outing in the impressive opening victory over the Texans. But maybe, just maybe, the Jaguars can be better than anyone expected.
16. Los Angeles Rams (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 27
Jared Goff looked like a franchise QB and the defense was overpowering against the Colts. Plenty of credit goes to Coach Sean McVay and defensive guru Wade Phillips. It’s only one game, of course, and the Luck-less Colts might be putrid. But it still signals considerable improvement by the Rams under their new regime. The defense should get even better with the return of DT Aaron Donald. McVay will see plenty of familiar faces when the Redskins visit L.A. this weekend.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) | Preseason Rank: 15
The Buccaneers had their opening game scheduled for this past Sunday in Miami postponed by Hurricane Irma, and now the NFL is beginning to consider whether this coming Sunday’s game in Tampa against the Bears can be played as scheduled.
18. Houston Texans (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 10
The performance against the Jaguars was about as disappointing as it gets. Coach Bill O’Brien clearly needs to go to rookie Deshaun Watson as the starter at QB and, perhaps more importantly, the Texans must get holdout left tackle Duane Brown back on the field. The defense surely will play better. There is little time to sulk with a quick turnaround for Thursday night’s game at Cincinnati.
19. Minnesota Vikings (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 23
Things went very well Monday night, with QB Sam Bradford throwing for 346 yards and three TDs and rookie RB Dalvin Cook providing 127 rushing yards in the win over the Saints. But after last year’s great start and subsequent unraveling, the Vikings are going to have to prove this season that they have some staying power.
20. Tennessee Titans (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 18
Losing at home to a very good Raiders team is not a major transgression. But if the Titans are going to take the next step and be a formidable team, they’ll have to show that they can win at home against even tough opponents.
21. Miami Dolphins (0-0) | Preseason Rank: 21
Playing 16 straight weeks after last Sunday’s postponement is not ideal for the Dolphins or the Buccaneers. But postponing the game, rather than playing it elsewhere, allowed players to be with their families. It was the proper move. Football-related competitive considerations should not take precedence at such times.
22. Los Angeles Chargers (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 19
The Chargers made things very interesting with their fourth-quarter comeback Monday night in Denver but failed to force OT when their rookie kicker, Younghoe Koo, had a tying FG attempt blocked with one second left (after a successful kick didn’t count because of a Broncos timeout just before the snap). It was a determined effort in Coach Anthony Lynn’s first game but the Chargers were undone by their poor play in the first three quarters.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 13
The shutout loss at home to the Ravens was not exactly the start the Bengals anticipated for what they hope will be a bounce-back season. QB Andy Dalton was particularly awful in a four-interception, five-sack showing. How long will he be allowed to continue to struggle like that before the Bengals would consider making a move to backup AJ McCarron?
24. Washington Redskins (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 17
Kirk Cousins probably will put up some big numbers this season, and the bidders will line up for him if and when he becomes available. That will be justified in a league with so many QB-needy teams. But he still makes too many bad plays at the most inopportune times, such as the overthrow that produced a goal-line interception in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Eagles.
25. New Orleans Saints (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 26
The pairing of Adrian Peterson and the Saints is not off to a promising start, but no one should have expected too much, anyway. The defense could not stop Sam Bradford and the Vikings on Monday night. How do you think it will fare against Tom Brady and the irked Patriots on Sunday?
26. Buffalo Bills (1-0) | Preseason Rank: 30
Of course the Bills are in first place in the AFC East. Did you expect anything else? But does beating the Jets really count?
27. Arizona Cardinals (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 22
Things got pretty bad, pretty quickly for the Cardinals, with the come-from-ahead loss to the Lions as well as the possibly dislocated wrist suffered by RB David Johnson that could require surgery.
28. Indianapolis Colts (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 24
Andrew Luck is to be sidelined for at least another game, and there’s little reason to believe the Colts can win without him. Scott Tolzien clearly is not the answer at QB. Perhaps the Colts should turn to Jacoby Brissett.
29. Chicago Bears (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 28
Mike Glennon gave a decent performance Sunday against the Falcons, keeping the Bears competitive before failing to get them into the end zone for what would have been a winning TD in the final minute. But did the Bears hand out that contract for decent play at QB? And is decent play enough to keep rookie Mitchell Trubisky on the bench?
30. San Francisco 49ers (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 29
It’s going to be a long, long first season in the Bay Area for the new regime of Coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch. It’s a necessary first step. But it won’t be much fun for anyone, most likely.
31. Cleveland Browns (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 31
The Browns are improved. There’s little question about that. That, however, was a low bar to clear. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer showed some promise against the Steelers. But he and the Browns have plenty of distance to cover to reach respectability.
32. New York Jets (0-1) | Preseason Rank: 32
For the tanking-the-season conspiracy theorists, it’s so far, so good.
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