Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week, Kansas City holds on to the top spot after maintaining the league’s only unbeaten mark with a convincing Sunday night win over the Texans in Houston. Nipping at the Chiefs’ heels are the Green Bay Packers, who broke more Dallas Cowboys hearts thanks to another sensational last-minute comeback authored by Aaron Rodgers. Things get a little muddy thereafter, with plenty of solid squads filling out the top 10.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The Chiefs are quite simply the league’s best team. The offense has been next to unstoppable while the defense has been more than adequate, even if it permitted Deshaun Watson to post some impressive numbers Sunday night. Get used to the idea of Alex Smith as an MVP candidate. Does Smith’s excellence this season complicate the Chiefs’ long-term plan to move on to Patrick Mahomes at QB? That’s an issue for another day.
2. Green Bay Packers (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
Aaron Rodgers did it to the Cowboys again. Was there any doubt when he took the field Sunday for that final drive that he would guide the Packers to at least a tying FG attempt? He and the Packers got the winning TD, however, and they continue to pile up victories as some of their injured offensive contributors begin to return. Rookie RB Aaron Jones looks capable of helping out considerably.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The toughest part of the Eagles’ schedule is still to come. That is undeniable, and it begins with Thursday night’s game at Carolina. But win or lose against the Panthers, the Eagles have shown enough to prove they should have staying power. Carson Wentz is legitimate, making the Eagles a factor in the division chase all season.
4. Denver Broncos (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The Broncos return from the bye with a favorable matchup Sunday night against the Giants, who are winless and basically out of wide receivers. If they can beat the Giants and then the one-win Chargers, the Broncos would take a 5-1 record into an Oct. 30 showdown with the Chiefs in Kansas City on “Monday Night Football.”
5. Carolina Panthers (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
QB Cam Newton has completed 48 of 62 passes for 671 yards with six TDs and one interception in his past two games. His return from shoulder surgery was gradual but now he has emerged as an accurate pocket passer who clearly has changed his game, with a relatively modest 90 rushing yards this season. Newton was criticized last week, and rightfully so, after his sexist remark for which he later apologized. But things are going extremely well on the field, and if this continues he will be an MVP candidate again and the Panthers will be Super Bowl contenders once more.
6. New England Patriots (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The defense was better, but still far from perfect in Thursday night’s win at Tampa. The offense struggled without TE Rob Gronkowski, managing only one TD. The Patriots prevailed only because of three missed FGs by now-former Bucs kicker Nick Folk and Jameis Winston’s last-second incompletion at the goal line. But there’s no sense worrying about lost style points, and now the Patriots have a chance to get a winning streak going when they visit the Meadowlands on Sunday to face the Jets.
7. Seattle Seahawks (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
It could have been a passing-of-the-torch day in the NFC West. Instead, the Seahawks beat the Rams in L.A. in a game with unusual significance for early October. The Seahawks remain the team to beat in the division, and the future perhaps is not quite now for the Rams.
8. Atlanta Falcons (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The Falcons return from their bye with, they hope, WR Julio Jones ready to play Sunday without missing any games due to his hip injury. The playing status of pass rusher Vic Beasley, out since Week 2 because of a hamstring injury, is to be determined as the week progresses.
9. Detroit Lions (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
The Lions are good but perhaps not quite good enough to match up with the NFC’s best teams, as narrow losses to the Falcons and Panthers demonstrate. Now QB Matthew Stafford is dealing with hamstring and ankle injuries heading into Sunday’s game at New Orleans.
10. Los Angeles Rams (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The Rams had their chances against the Seahawks but couldn’t deliver. They’ve still become competitive ahead of schedule. Overtaking the Seahawks so soon was a lofty ambition.
11. Baltimore Ravens (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The Ravens ran into the Raiders at a good time, with Derek Carr sidelined. Still, it badly needed a solid performance after lopsided losses to the Jaguars and Steelers.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
The good version of the Jaguars showed up Sunday in Pittsburgh. They can’t actually play well two weekends in a row, can they?
13. Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The 0-3 start has been followed by wins over the Browns and Bills, so the Bengals can rest a little easier on their bye week. All is not well yet. But their season at least has possibilities again.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
That unraveled quickly, didn’t it? The Steelers went from celebrating a big win in Baltimore with a breakout performance by RB Le’Veon Bell to lamenting a lopsided defeat to the Jaguars with QB Ben Roethlisberger throwing five interceptions and then questioning whether he still has it. Is Roethlisberger done? Probably not. But it’s never a good sign for a player to be even wondering that.
15. Buffalo Bills (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
No, the Bills are not for real, at least not in terms of being an honest-to-goodness contender. Their loss to the Bengals demonstrated that pretty clearly. The offense simply isn’t good enough. But that doesn’t diminish the very good job being done by their first-year coach, Sean McDermott, in simply having them competitive and above .500.
16. Minnesota Vikings (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Sam Bradford quite simply should not have been on the field Monday night. His knee clearly was not ready for him to return to the lineup. Case Keenum should have gotten the start. The in-game switch to Keenum was the obvious move and it resulted in the Vikings’ victory over the Bears.
17. Washington Redskins (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The Redskins return from their bye week feeling relatively good, and rightfully so, about how they’ve played. They appear to be the main challenger to the Eagles in the NFC East. Who would have predicted that two-team race? The Redskins have the winless Niners coming to FedEx Field this weekend but cannot afford to be complacent, particularly with CB Josh Norman out of the lineup. His absence will be felt.
18. New York Jets (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Jets are competent, but don’t get carried away. A win over the Browns means next to nothing. And there could be a reality check when the Patriots show up across the field Sunday at the Meadowlands.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
Maybe it’s time to do something dramatic, such as use a second-round draft pick on a kicker. In the meantime, Patrick Murray takes over for Nick Folk and tries to bring some stability to what is beginning to seem like a cursed position for this organization.
20. Houston Texans (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
Rookie QB Deshaun Watson continues to dazzle, but the Houston defense simply had no answers for the Chiefs. The Texans led the league in total defense last season even without J.J. Watt, but now that defense is in disarray and is without Watt again. Watt pushed his body to the brink for so long while becoming a three-time NFL defensive player of the year. But that approach clearly took its toll, and now it is fair to wonder if Watt’s days of playing at that level are done.
21. Indianapolis Colts (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
So much for what could have been a pretty pleasant day for the Colts, with the ceremony honoring Peyton Manning followed by Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning FG in OT against the 49ers. Instead, the day was all about Vice President Pence’s early exit.
22. Miami Dolphins (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The Dolphins had little time to savor their win over the Titans, needing to deal with that video of offensive line coach Chris Foerster ingesting a powdery substance. Foerster resigned Monday, and the organization must move on from that episode while players come to terms with a new policy requiring them to stand for the national anthem if they’re on the sideline or opt to remain in the locker room or tunnel.
23. New Orleans Saints (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Saints emerge from their bye on a two-game winning streak but with a pair of difficult games, Sunday at home against the Lions and then at Green Bay a week later.
24. Dallas Cowboys (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Cowboys are below .500 and two games behind the Eagles in the NFC East heading into their bye week. They also could lose RB Ezekiel Elliott at any time if a federal appeals court lifts the injunction that is keeping his six-game suspension on hold. This is not at all how things were supposed to be going, is it? In retrospect, the Cowboys needed to take more time off the clock before scoring their late go-ahead TD Sunday — they know as well as anyone by now that you simply cannot give Aaron Rodgers that much time to beat you. He will.
25. Oakland Raiders (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The Raiders say they expect QB Derek Carr to return after missing only one game due to a transverse process fracture in his back. That’s good. They certainly need him. Losing at home to a team that was struggling like the Ravens is not what a top contender should be doing. There is plenty of reason to question if the Raiders are as good as was advertised entering the season.
26. Tennessee Titans (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
Good thing the Titans had that rock-solid, no-need-to-do-anything-else backup-QB situation, huh? Otherwise they might have had to make a call to Colin Kaepernick.
27. Los Angeles Chargers (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
The Chargers went on the road to beat the Giants for their first victory of the season. But after playing in front of opposing teams’ fans at StubHub Center, does it even make a difference where they play?
28. Arizona Cardinals (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
When the Cardinals are bad, they’re really bad. Their three losses have come by a combined 50 points. And those poor outings are happening far too often these days.
29. Chicago Bears (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky had some good moments Monday night in his first NFL start. One of them was not the late interception that he threw to set up the Vikings’ winning FG. No one should have expected any miracles right away. This will be a long process with ups and downs. But Trubisky provided enough glimpses of his talent to believe he just might get there eventually.
30. New York Giants (0-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
The season is as done as it gets. The Giants are winless. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall are out for the remainder of the season as part of a severe shortage of WRs. It’s amazing that it has come to this. But now thoughts turn to the fallout. Will Coach Ben McAdoo’s job be safe? And would the Giants use a top draft pick on a QB even if Eli Manning isn’t ready to retire? The answers here are yes and maybe.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Politics aside, the Niners lost another game they had a chance to win. They’re not Browns-level bad, based on the eye test. But their record says that they are.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Carson Wentz is in Philly. Deshaun Watson is in Houston. And now the Browns are left wondering if Kevin Hogan possibly can be the answer at QB, if indeed they’re ready to be done wondering that about DeShone Kizer. The answer: Probably not. These are, after all, the Browns.
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