Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week, the Kansas City Chiefs solidify their spot at the top of the list as the NFL’s lone unbeaten team after a dramatic Monday Night Football win over the Redskins. Meanwhile, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Denver, all 3-1 after Week 4 victories, jostle for position below.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
Rookie kicker Harrison Butker, just signed off the Panthers’ practice squad, made the clutch FG late Monday night against the Redskins and the Chiefs remained the league’s only undefeated team. The offense didn’t get the usual big-play contributions by WR Tyreek Hill. But rookie RB Kareem Hunt again was productive, TE Travis Kelce was the go-to receiver for QB Alex Smith, and Butker atoned for a first-half miss by making his next three tries, including the winner.
2. Green Bay Packers (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The Packers needed the extra break after their Thursday night triumph over the Bears. Their list of injuries is long, but the extra recovery time should help heading into Sunday’s game at Dallas. It’s a rematch of last season’s playoff thriller in which the Packers ousted the top-seeded Cowboys. There is no clear-cut favorite in the NFC at this point. But with the Cowboys struggling, the Packers would be in pretty good shape if they win this game and get some of their injured players back in the lineup.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Steelers got RB Le’Veon Bell going Sunday in Baltimore with his 144 rushing yards. There was the little matter of that Gatorade-bucket-throwing sideline tantrum by WR Antonio Brown. But it’s tough to keep everyone happy, and all is well when the result is a 26-9 win. It feels like the offense still can improve but the Steelers have established themselves as the team to beat in the AFC North.
4. Denver Broncos (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Don’t even try to run the ball against this Denver defense. The Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch stood no chance Sunday. The Broncos are tough to beat when QB Trevor Siemian doesn’t make major mistakes. They have emerged as the primary challenger to the Chiefs in the AFC West.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
It was a nice bonus for the Eagles to have that home-away-from-home game at StubHub Center. They already have beaten the Redskins and Giants and are the early front-runner in the NFC East. Few expected that. But with the Giants winless and the Cowboys not living up to expectations, their chances cannot be discounted.
6. Detroit Lions (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Lions are winning even when QB Matthew Stafford does not put up dominant passing numbers. That’s a very good sign for them. Stafford will have his big games, and the Lions will be difficult to beat. They have a very interesting game Sunday at home against the Panthers in a meeting of 3-1 NFC contenders.
7. Los Angeles Rams (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
Whatever happens the rest of the season, it sure appears that Sean McVay can coach. And it’s not Wade Phillips’s defense that’s doing the heavy lifting, it’s McVay’s offense leading the way. The Rams may or may not have staying power this season. But McVay has Jared Goff on his way to being a franchise QB. He is taking full advantage of the talents of RB Todd Gurley. And he has the Rams looking like a winner.
8. Carolina Panthers (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
Cam Newton was very sharp as a passer Sunday at New England as the Carolina offense made the Patriots’ defense look overmatched. That was an improved showing by a Panthers offense that is without injured TE Greg Olsen and didn’t get much production out of rookie RB Christian McCaffrey. If Newton is going to throw the ball that way, watch out for the Panthers.
9. New England Patriots (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
It’s stunning that the defense is this bad right now. The Patriots re-signed LB Dont’a Hightower (although he’d been sidelined with a knee injury until returning Sunday), retained CB Malcolm Butler and added CB Stephon Gilmore in the offseason after leading the league in scoring defense last season. Some scrutiny must be aimed at defensive coordinator Matt Patricia; there is also room to wonder whether backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo should have been traded in the offseason for help on defense. Even the customary late-game exploits of QB Tom Brady are not enough at this point. But this might just mean that everyone will be saying, “Remember when the Patriots were 1-2 at home and 2-2 overall?” as they celebrate another Super Bowl title in February.
10. Buffalo Bills (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
First-place Buffalo Bills? Of course, just as expected all along. Should they be ranked higher here? Their results say yes, with consecutive victories over the Broncos and Falcons and their lone defeat coming to the Panthers. But let’s wait just a little bit longer and make the Bills prove it just a little bit more. They are, after all, the Bills.
11. Atlanta Falcons (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
The defending NFC champs limp into their bye week after a loss at home to the Bills. They already are without pass rusher Vic Beasley, sidelined by a hamstring injury since Week 2, and now standout WR Julio Jones has a hip flexor injury, although he reportedly is not expected to miss any games.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
It’s one step forward, one step backward for the Buccaneers. They can break that pattern when they host the Patriots in an intriguing Thursday night game. Nothing like facing a Bill Belichick-coached, Tom Brady-led team that is coming off a disappointing performance and needs a win.
13. Seattle Seahawks (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Seahawks suddenly are an offensive juggernaut, with their 36-point second half against the Colts and their 73 points over the past two games. They must reassert their NFC West superiority when they face the resurgent Rams on Sunday in L.A.
14. Houston Texans (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
Remember, Texans coaches looked at Deshaun Watson and Tom Savage all offseason, training camp and preseason, and thought Savage was their best option as the starter at QB in Week 1. How wrong can you be? Watson is the real deal.
15. Dallas Cowboys (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
This is not the way things were supposed to be going for the Cowboys in Year 2 for QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott. They’re off to an uneven start and the Cowboys could lose Elliott at any time, with the NFL asking a federal appeals court to lift the injunction that is keeping Elliott’s six-game suspension from being enforced. Sunday’s game in Dallas is much more important for the Cowboys than it is for the Packers. The Cowboys are at home and playing an injury-riddled team. If the Cowboys don’t win under those circumstances, it will be pretty clear they are not the team they were expected to be.
16. Washington Redskins (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The Redskins nearly pulled it out Monday night in Kansas City. The key near miss was the late TD catch that wasn’t by second-year WR Josh Doctson. QB Kirk Cousins made the throw that he needed to make to give Doctson a chance. It would have been a very good catch by Doctson. He just couldn’t hold on.
17. Minnesota Vikings (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
Dalvin Cook’s season-ending knee injury brings what had been an outstanding rookie year-in-the-making to an abrupt, early end. Latavius Murray takes over at RB and the Vikings will attempt to regroup Monday night at Chicago.
18. Oakland Raiders (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The season is coming unraveled for the Raiders. They have two straight losses since a 2-0 start and now they’ll be without QB Derek Carr for an estimated two to six weeks because of a transverse process fracture in his back. EJ Manuel takes over at QB and must prove that he’s up to the task. The Raiders’ next two games come at home against the struggling Ravens and winless Chargers. But then comes a quick turnaround for a Thursday night showdown, also in Oakland, with the Chiefs on Oct. 19, making it difficult to see Carr returning for that key game.
19. New York Jets (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
Something is going terribly wrong in the Jets’ bid to tank the season: They’re winning a few games. Does this mean that they can’t even tank the season properly? Maybe they should have spent the past few decades trying to tank. They would have won more often.
20. New Orleans Saints (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
The New Orleans defense should apply to play every game in London … against Jay Cutler.
21. Tennessee Titans (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The Titans are calling QB Marcus Mariota’s playing status day-to-day with a mild hamstring strain. The outlook for their defense might not be as promising after the 57-point performance by the Texans.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Believe in the Jaguars. Don’t believe in the Jaguars. Who knows any more? Outclass the Ravens in London, then come back to the U.S. and lose to the Jets. When someone figures this team out, please let everyone else know.
23. Arizona Cardinals (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
Needing 69-1/2 minutes, at home, to beat the winless 49ers does not count as an impressive victory. But since there’s no category in the standings for unimpressive wins, the Cardinals undoubtedly will take it. Coach Bruce Arians originally suggested the new 10-minute OT rule and nearly was burned by it when the Niners took more than 7-1/2 minutes off the clock with a FG drive. But Arians’s team bailed him out with its quick TD.
24. Baltimore Ravens (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
Remember when the Ravens were 2-0? They’ve been outscored, 70-16, in losses to the Jaguars and Steelers since then. Coach John Harbaugh said after the lopsided defeat to the Jaguars that he’d be fine not playing in London again. After the way the Ravens played Sunday against the Steelers, he might not want to play in Baltimore again either.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (1-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
The Bengals have their first win — over the Browns. Now they’ll try to get their first win over a legitimate NFL team against the Bills on Sunday in Cincinnati.
26. New York Giants (0-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
An NFL team calling New York its home is 0-4, basically out of playoff contention a quarter of the way into the season and in disarray. See? The season is going exactly as anticipated, after all.
27. Indianapolis Colts (1-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The Colts fell apart in the second half in Seattle. Things aren’t going to get better until Andrew Luck returns. And maybe not even then.
28. Chicago Bears (1-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The switch to rookie Mitchell Trubisky as the starter at QB is the correct move. The time is right. But the early change underscores how misguided the Bears’ offseason moves at QB were, signing Mike Glennon to a significant contract and then trading up in the draft to land Trubisky. They needed to do one or the other, not both. Now the Bears must hope that Trubisky has the same sort of early success that Deshaun Watson is experiencing with the Texans.
29. Miami Dolphins (1-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Getting shut out is bad enough. Going all the way to London and then getting shut out by that Saints defense is unforgivable. So much for Adam Gase getting the best out of Jay Cutler.
30. Los Angeles Chargers (0-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
If the Chargers are using a “Fight for L.A.”-sloganed tarp to cover empty would-be seating areas (without seats installed at this point beneath that tarp and others like it, according to the team) at tiny StubHub Center, that’s a pretty stark indication that the fight is not going too well so far.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
The Niners are more competitive than anyone had a right to expect them to be. They simply can’t find a way to actually win.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Let’s not hear anything more about how “improved” the Browns’ roster is this season. They played at home against the previously winless Bengals and were down, 31-0, before a late, cosmetic TD. This is not on Coach Hue Jackson. This is on the way the rebuilding process has been conducted and the unnecessarily roundabout route being taken at the quarterback position. The QB of this team right now should be Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson, not DeShone Kizer. The Browns basically went out of their way not to get Wentz or Watson in the past two NFL drafts and they are paying the price for it.
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