1. New England Patriots (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
Remember those panicked claims in the season’s first few weeks that the Patriots wouldn’t be able to figure things out this time? As usual, those who doubt Bill Belichick and Tom Brady end up looking foolish. That’s not to say that the Patriots will win another Super Bowl title. But they certainly will be a factor in the postseason and they are back to playing like the league’s top team.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
QB Carson Wentz was terrific Monday night against the Redskins and is becoming very prominent in the race for the NFL’s MVP award. It wasn’t only his passing, it was his ability to escape the Washington pass rush and make something out of nothing. That could serve him well for the remainder of the season with Monday’s loss of left tackle Jason Peters to an injured right knee, a huge blow that plays a part in the Patriots overtaking the Eagles for the top spot. How to replace Peters will be a major issue going forward. Will Lane Johnson be moved from right to left tackle?
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
WR Martavis Bryant reportedly wants out of Pittsburgh and the Steelers should accommodate him. If Bryant can’t keep his discontent in check after the performance of Pittsburgh’s offense on Sunday, then both sides are better off with a parting of ways. The emergence of rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster makes Bryant’s presence unnecessary, anyway.
4. Seattle Seahawks (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
There was plenty of turmoil Sunday for the Seahawks, including the sideline spat between WR Doug Baldwin and offensive line coach Tom Cable. But Coach Pete Carroll doesn’t seem to mind, and the Seahawks, even with their flawed performance on offense against the Giants, emerged with a victory.
5. Los Angeles Rams (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
It might be time to take the Rams seriously as a contender right here, right now, this season. That’s way ahead of schedule. It would be enough for Coach Sean McVay merely to have things headed in the right direction with QB Jared Goff and the rest of the team. But with no superpowers or complete teams in the NFC, maybe McVay can accomplish even more in Year 1.
6. Minnesota Vikings (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Can the Vikings be a contender with Case Keenum at QB? Apparently so, at least in this version of the NFC North and the NFC as a whole. The big day by RB Latavius Murray against the Ravens points to some good work being done by an offensive line that did the same for rookie Dalvin Cook before his injury.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The 5-0 beginning has given way to losses to the Steelers and Raiders. The defense failed to come through in crunchtime Thursday night in Oakland. This remains a very good team. But the Chiefs are no longer the Super Bowl favorite in the AFC. They probably never were, realistically, even when their record suggested they might be.
8. New Orleans Saints (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
First-place Saints? Who knew? Of course, facing Brett Hundley in Green Bay instead of Aaron Rodgers helps just a little bit.
9. Buffalo Bills (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Bills continue to surprise, rebounding from a pre-bye loss to the Bengals to beat the Buccaneers on Sunday. They host the Raiders this weekend in a matchup of two teams attempting to remain in the playoff contender conversation.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The young defense is a sight to see on its dominating days. Two 10-sack performances in the same season is ridiculous. If QB Blake Bortles can stay out of the way and permit the defense to win games — which, granted, is a mighty big “if” — the Jaguars have a reasonable chance to win the AFC South.
11. Miami Dolphins (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
All of those proclaiming that the Dolphins are better off with Matt Moore at QB in place of Jay Cutler should slow down just a little bit. Adam Gase is a very good coach and he knows what he’s doing, particularly when it comes to QBs. If he wanted Cutler over Moore, give him the benefit of the doubt. Moore is a very good backup but he’s a backup for a reason. Still, he’s plenty good enough for the Dolphins to get by with him starting for short stretches.
12. Houston Texans (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The Texans returned from their bye and welcomed back left tackle Duane Brown, who ended his holdout. He was desperately needed and it should surprise no one if he’s in the lineup Sunday at Seattle.
13. Washington Redskins (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The loss in Philadelphia on Monday night was bad enough, in that the Redskins have been swept by the Eagles this season. The state of the offensive line, with the injuries to Brandon Scherff and Trent Williams, could be even worse.
14. Dallas Cowboys (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
RB Ezekiel Elliott remains eligible to play against the Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field. But the ongoing courtroom maneuvering in his case could result in his suspension being enforced at any point, so the Cowboys had better take advantage of Elliott’s presence while he’s available.
15. Tennessee Titans (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
Requiring OT to beat the Browns should count as only half a win.
16. Chicago Bears (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
The Bears won a game in which rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky completed just four passes. It’s a great way to win if you can pull it off. At some point, however, the Bears will need more production from Trubisky if they’re going to keep it up.
17. Los Angeles Chargers (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
The Chargers have followed their 0-4 start with three straight wins. Their early on-field struggles were overshadowed by their lack of fan support in L.A. But some thought going into the season that this would be a good team. The Chargers might be finally getting around to justifying that optimism about their level of play.
18. Oakland Raiders (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The win over the Chiefs on Thursday night saved the Raiders’ season. It was a stirring victory and a good start for the NFL in trying to return the focus to the football being played on the field. But the Raiders had considerable help. Their first TD should have been negated by offensive pass interference and a first-half turnover generated by the Chiefs was nullified by a phantom call. The suspension of RB Marshawn Lynch won’t hurt much, given his lack of production.
19. Carolina Panthers (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Just when it seemed like time to believe in the Panthers, things have come undone after losses to the Eagles and Bears. The defeat in Chicago was particularly galling, especially given the manner in which Carolina controlled the game. Mistakes by QB Cam Newton have been costly but the struggles of the offensive line and the lack of production by the running backs have factored into that.
20. Denver Broncos (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
Opposing defenses have decided to take away the running game and force Broncos QB Trevor Siemian to try to beat them. He can’t do it.
21. Detroit Lions (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Lions return from their bye to play a difficult game Sunday night at home against the Steelers. They cannot afford too many more missteps as they chase both the Vikings and Packers in the NFC North.
22. New York Jets (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
A healthy lead against the Dolphins disappeared on Sunday and the Jets fell below .500. Still, Coach Todd Bowles deserves plenty of credit for the job that he has done keeping this team competitive. The roster simply is not very good, but the accusations that the Jets were tanking the season may have been overstated. Still, they weren’t based on nothing.
23. Atlanta Falcons (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Falcons talked a good game when it came to putting their Super Bowl defeat behind them. In truth, there was no way to put THAT Super Bowl defeat behind them quickly or easily. They were overmatched Sunday night at New England and they’ve been outscored by the Patriots, 54-7, since taking that 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. The offense misses Kyle Shanahan, despite his play-calling role in the Super Bowl meltdown.
24. Green Bay Packers (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
About those three years that Coach Mike McCarthy said he had invested in Brett Hundley as a backup QB? McCarthy might not want to keep mentioning that if Hundley continues having 87-yard passing performances. It makes you wonder what he was doing during all that time.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
LB Vontaze Burfict won’t be suspended but could be fined by the league after appearing to kick a Steelers player in a pileup on the Bengals’ second defensive play Sunday. If Burfict can’t keep his emotions in check even after he began the season serving a three-game suspension, there’s a serious issue.
26. Arizona Cardinals (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
Is it even worth mentioning any longer when an NFL team would benefit from signing Colin Kaepernick? Perhaps not. But so what: The Cardinals would benefit from signing Colin Kaepernick.
27. Baltimore Ravens (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Another season is slipping away. This would be three straight seasons out of the playoffs after Coach John Harbaugh got there in six of his first seven seasons.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
This is really disappointing for a team that was supposed to have turned the corner by now and become both a winner and a contender.
29. New York Giants (1-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
So maybe the play-calling switch from Coach Ben McAdoo to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan couldn’t fix everything, huh? Oh, well. It did produce one victory and it made things interesting for another week. The Giants aren’t going to get things fixed this season and now it’s all about the futures of GM Jerry Reese, McAdoo and QB Eli Manning with the organization.
30. Indianapolis Colts (2-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Would it be fair for the Colts to fire Chuck Pagano as their coach with Andrew Luck not playing? That’s debatable. It’s not like Pagano is being judged solely on this season’s results. But it really doesn’t matter either way. This team, as presently constituted, is not going to be very good no matter who is coaching it, and it is becoming less and less likely that Luck comes back this season.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Coach Kyle Shanahan had managed to keep the Niners mostly competitive during the 0-6 start. That changed with defeat No. 7, Sunday’s lopsided loss to the Cowboys.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
The Browns deserve every bit of the ridicule they receive. They have become a subcaliber franchise and their QB follies are laughable. But take a moment to appreciate the reliably consistent excellence of offensive tackle Joe Thomas, with the season-ending triceps injury that befell him Sunday after hadn’t missed a single snap in his entire NFL career. He is professionalism personified and he will be in the Hall of Fame someday.
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