Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week, Philadelphia and New England flip spots in the rankings, as the Eagles move up and the Patriots drop after two weeks on top. Dallas was the week’s big mover, jumping from No. 11 to sixth after a strong showing against Kansas City. That could change, however, with Ezekiel Elliott’s legal status still in limbo.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
There is no reason to doubt any longer that this is the NFL’s best team. It’s not an early-season illusion. It’s past the halfway point of their season, and the Eagles are the league’s most complete team. The offense hasn’t missed a step since losing left tackle Jason Peters. Newly added RB Jay Ajayi made an immediate contribution Sunday. The progress made by QB Carson Wentz and Coach Doug Pederson in their second year together is the key to all of this.
2. New England Patriots (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The Patriots return from their bye to play a Sunday night game in Denver that once looked like it would be a marquee matchup. Instead, it’s a chance for the Patriots to take advantage of a Broncos team that is struggling mightily and couldn’t come close to keeping pace with the Eagles on Sunday.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The Steelers aren’t being challenged in the AFC North but this is now about vying for a first-round bye and possible home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. They return from their bye to play Sunday at Indianapolis and cannot afford a misstep against the overmatched Colts.
4. Los Angeles Rams (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Rams are back in the driver’s seat in the NFC West. The Seahawks say they aren’t ready to step aside for the Rams. But the Rams might not be giving them any choice.
5. New Orleans Saints (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Two games — and two losses — into the season, the defense looked atrocious and the futures of Coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees appeared uncertain with the Saints seemingly headed to, at best, another mediocre season. Six wins later, the defense looks like an asset and Payton and Brees at least can entertain notions of reaching another Super Bowl together.
6. Dallas Cowboys (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The availability of RB Ezekiel Elliott has become a week-to-week matter, with his case back in federal court Thursday. The Cowboys are making the most of things, with an impressive victory Sunday at home over the Chiefs. They go to Atlanta this weekend with a chance to push the reeling Falcons even further back in the NFC wild-card chase.
7. Minnesota Vikings (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
The Vikings have been winning with Case Keenum at QB. But they have some interesting decisions to make, with Teddy Bridgewater perhaps on the verge of being returned to the active roster and Sam Bradford still sidelined by knee problems. The Vikings play five of their remaining eight games on the road.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The Jaguars disciplined rookie RB Leonard Fournette and still had no trouble beating the Bengals. The new regime of front office czar Tom Coughlin and Coach Doug Marrone isn’t messing around. And it is getting results.
9. Carolina Panthers (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
Not much has come easily this season for the Panthers, and last week’s curious trade-deadline deal of WR Kelvin Benjamin was the latest issue to make things seem less than ideal. But the Panthers continue to play well through it all, and the win over the Falcons means that they are the primary challenger to the Saints in the NFC South.
10. Tennessee Titans (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Titans relatively quietly have put together a three-game winning streak to put them on pace for a 10-victory season. They and the Jaguars have emerged as the class of the AFC South. Could the division title be at stake when the two teams meet in the regular season finale?
11. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The Chiefs don’t resemble the team that began the season 5-0. But with the Raiders and Broncos failing to put much pressure on them in the AFC West, they haven’t had to be that team.
12. Buffalo Bills (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
They ended the first half of their season with a disappointing performance and a loss to the Jets last Thursday night in the Meadowlands. They open the second half of their season Sunday at home against the Saints in an intriguing matchup of teams having surprisingly successful years.
13. Washington Redskins (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
That was a stunning victory in Seattle, given the depleted state of the Redskins’ offensive line. It’s still difficult to imagine the Redskins contending for much of anything unless they can get far healthier and provide far more help to QB Kirk Cousins. But if they can hold things together a bit longer and some of their injured key players return, you never know.
14. Seattle Seahawks (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The loss to the Redskins was alarming. Yes, the kicking misadventures of Blair Walsh played a key part in the defeat. But playing at home against a team with the sort of injuries that the Redskins had along their offensive line, the Seahawks should not have allowed it to come down to kicking. That’s the sort of performance that signals you might not be as good as you think you are.
15. Oakland Raiders (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
The Raiders are talking about going 6-1 the rest of the way to reach 10 wins and secure a playoff spot. Nothing about how they have played suggests that the Raiders are about to go on such an extended run of solid play.
16. Arizona Cardinals (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
Beating the 49ers with Drew Stanton at QB was one thing. Trying to beat the Seahawks with Stanton at QB is another matter entirely. The Cardinals get their chance Thursday night.
17. Detroit Lions (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
Matthew Stafford earned his money Monday night in Green Bay and the Lions climbed back into the conversation in the NFC North.
18. New York Jets (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t do the Jets that much good when he was their QB. He can do them some good Sunday in Tampa by losing to them, now that he has taken over as the Buccaneers’ fill-in starter.
19. Atlanta Falcons (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The Falcons have four losses in five games after a 3-0 start. They simply aren’t very good at the moment. They’d better pull things together quickly as they face two NFC contenders, the Cowboys and Seahawks, in their next two games.
20. Baltimore Ravens (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Ravens enter their bye week with three losses in four games and a sub-.500 record. Their season hasn’t reached the point of hopelessness yet. But things aren’t looking particularly promising.
21. Chicago Bears (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
The Bears return from their bye and it will be interesting to see if they open things up for rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky in what remains of the season. Their success with Trubisky has come when he has been used in a supporting role rather than as the centerpiece of the offense. But at some point, the Bears will have to rev up the passing offense and see if Trubisky is ready to handle it.
22. Los Angeles Chargers (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
How did everyone in L.A. manage to occupy their time and entertain themselves with the Chargers on their bye week?
23. Indianapolis Colts (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Andrew Luck officially is done for the season and the countdown to Week 1 2018 is underway. Don’t be fooled by the win in Houston. There won’t be many moments to savor in what’s left of this season.
24. Houston Texans (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
Who needs Colin Kaepernick? The Texans have Tom Savage to replace injured rookie standout Deshaun Watson. That was good enough Sunday for them to come within six points of the Colts. Not bad, huh?
25. Miami Dolphins (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
They made things interesting in the final moments Sunday night against the Raiders but could not complete the comeback. QB Jay Cutler threw the ball well in his return but had too little help.
26. Green Bay Packers (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The case for Aaron Rodgers being the league’s MVP is bolstered in his absence.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
WR A.J. Green should have been suspended for his on-field attack of the Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey. Almost all of the fighting done in that altercation was done by Green. And his actions were probably more egregious than those of the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, who was suspended by the league for a game in a separate incident.
28. Denver Broncos (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
Is anyone surprised that starting Brock Osweiler on Sunday against the Eagles didn’t fix the Broncos’ QB problems? The next move must be to Paxton Lynch as soon as he’s deemed ready to play, as he works his way back from his preseason shoulder injury. In the meantime, Coach Vance Joseph is sticking with Osweiler. No matter what happens at QB, the defense must play far better than it did in Philadelphia.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
This is getting really bad. A season of high hopes has come completely undone with five straight losses. WR Mike Evans was suspended for one game by the league for his ill-advised hit Sunday on the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore after Lattimore had his helmet poked by Jameis Winston from the Buccaneers’ sideline. Winston is being shut down for the time being because of his ailing shoulder. He looked like anything but a leader during his interaction with Lattimore. Ryan Fitzpatrick to the rescue? Don’t count on it.
30. New York Giants (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
Did the Giants quit during Sunday’s lopsided defeat to the Rams? It’s a valid question. But it’s very, very difficult for anyone not in that locker room to know. Either way, it was a very bad look and it provides further evidence that Coach Ben McAdoo is having some serious issues. At least McAdoo is staying with Eli Manning as the starter at QB. There’s no good reason to sit him. It’s doubtful that Manning’s successor is in the fold at this point and his two Super Bowl triumphs with the franchise should buy him the opportunity to finish out this miserable season on the field and with his professional dignity intact to whatever extent remains possible.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Jimmy Garoppolo needs to be put into the starting lineup as soon as possible, and he needs to be re-signed for next season and beyond. All this silliness — about how Garoppolo might play or he might not, and about how he might be re-signed and he might not — needs to be put aside.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
GM Sashi Brown said Monday that he didn’t sabotage the botched trade for Bengals QB AJ McCarron on purpose. That’s good. Unfortunately for him, the alternative explanations are not that much more reassuring.
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