Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week, the New Orleans Saints left no doubt that they’re a contender after destroying the Bills in Buffalo, 47-10, on the strength of six total rushing touchdowns and dual 100-yard performances from running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints creep up on the Eagles and Patriots, who remain atop the list in the top two spots. The Rams and Steelers, each winners on Sunday, round out the top five, while the Vikings, Jaguars, Panthers, Titans and Chiefs finish off the top 10.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The Eagles return from their bye rested and clearly feeling good about themselves. They play Sunday night at Dallas against the Cowboys, who will be without Ezekiel Elliott and have key injuries at other positions. The Eagles have a great opportunity to all but wrap up the division title, which is already a near certainty.
2. New England Patriots (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
The win Sunday night in Denver was routine and the Patriots are spending the week in Colorado, practicing at the Air Force Academy, for this weekend’s meeting with the Raiders in Mexico City. The AFC East race is over. It’s all about the race with the Steelers for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
3. New Orleans Saints (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Saints are a very balanced and very good team. It’s time to put aside the old notions about their suspect defense and lack of commitment to the running game. They can play defense. And they can — and will — run the ball. They overwhelmed a Bills team that had been playing very well at home for their seventh straight win.
4. Los Angeles Rams (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The Rams have games left against the Vikings, Saints, Eagles and Seahawks. It should be pretty clear by the end of the regular season exactly how they measure up against the NFC’s other top contenders.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The Steelers emerged with the win in Indianapolis, but they simply have to play better. It shouldn’t be that difficult against the Colts for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
6. Minnesota Vikings (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Teddy Bridgewater is back but Case Keenum continues to excel at QB. There’s no immediate need to make a change. Bridgewater’s comeback is to be admired and his future still could be great. But for now, he should be the fallback plan in case Keenum begins to struggle.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
It quietly has become a pretty good division race between the Jaguars and Titans. They’re good, young teams filled with new faces, and both are playing well right now. The Jaguars play their next three games against the Browns, Cardinals and Colts and cannot afford a misstep.
8. Carolina Panthers (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Dolphins offered little resistance Monday night. Still, it was an excellent performance by the Panthers, with Cam Newton excelling both as a passer and a runner.
9. Tennessee Titans (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The Titans have a chance to show what they can do against a top AFC playoff contender when they play Thursday night at Pittsburgh. A victory over the Steelers would signal that the Titans might be capable not only of reaching the postseason, but of being a factor once they get there.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The Chiefs return from their bye needing to reestablish that they are among the league’s top teams. It hasn’t looked that way lately, with three losses in four games since a 5-0 start. They play Sunday in the Meadowlands against the Giants, who are in total disarray. Anything less than a decisive victory would raise further questions about the Chiefs.
11. Seattle Seahawks (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered by CB Richard Sherman during Thursday night’s victory over the Cardinals represents a terrible loss for the Seahawks. But their complaints about the injury risks in Thursday night games may not be well founded. At least going into this season, the rate of injuries suffered by players was greater in Sunday games played on a six-day break than in Thursday games following a Sunday game, according to the NFLPA.
12. Atlanta Falcons (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
When is it really a must-win game? When your team’s owner is in the midst of a very public feud with the opposing team’s owner. Arthur Blank didn’t greet Jerry Jones on the field before the game Sunday in Atlanta, and Blank’s team gave him an undoubtedly satisfying triumph by beating Jones’s Cowboys.
13. Detroit Lions (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Was there any doubt that the Lions would find a way to win in the fourth quarter against the Browns? Or that the Browns would find a way to lose?
14. Oakland Raiders (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The groundbreaking ceremony for the Raiders’ new stadium in Las Vegas took place Monday. Meanwhile, trying to salvage this season in Oakland remains very much a work in progress.
15. Green Bay Packers (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
So the Packers can win a game with Brett Hundley at QB after all. But can they actually remain in the playoff race with Hundley? That could be another matter entirely.
16. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
The absence of suspended RB Ezekiel Elliott was significant Sunday in Atlanta. But the injuries to LT Tyron Smith and LB Sean Lee may be even more significant. Lee probably will miss at least a couple games and it’s not clear if Smith will be able to return this week. The Cowboys desperately need him after struggling so badly to protect QB Dak Prescott during the loss to the Falcons.
17. Buffalo Bills (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The loss to the Jets followed by Sunday’s embarrassingly lopsided defeat at home to the Saints has all but knocked the Bills out of the division race and raised questions about their viability as a contender for even a wild-card spot. They need to regroup quickly, settle down and realize they remain very much in the chase for what would be their first postseason berth since the 1999 season.
18. Washington Redskins (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The shocking win in Seattle was followed by Sunday’s loss at home to the Vikings. There’s no disgrace in losing to a very good Minnesota team. But it remains one step forward and one step back for these Redskins, who perhaps have found their level. Unfortunately for them, that level appears to be right around the .500 mark.
19. Baltimore Ravens (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Ravens return from their bye with plenty of work needing to be done to make themselves relevant. At the moment, they’re not.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The Buccaneers were one of the league’s bigger disappointments this season with Jameis Winston at QB. The forced move to Ryan Fitzpatrick, with Winston sidelined by an ailing shoulder, certainly isn’t a long-term situation. But in the short term, maybe things will look a little better and perhaps Winston will come back healthier and mentally refreshed.
21. Arizona Cardinals (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The Cardinals could be down to Blaine Gabbert at QB with starter Carson Palmer sidelined with a broken arm and his replacement, Drew Stanton, dealing with a knee injury. An already difficult season becomes even more so.
22. New York Jets (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
Yes, the Jets are far better than anyone expected them to be this season. But losing to Fitzpatrick was an indignity even for a team once accused of being in tank-the-season mode.
23. Chicago Bears (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
If someone doesn’t take the challenge flag away from Coach John Fox before the Bears play again, there’s a problem.
24. Los Angeles Chargers (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
Part of the equation for making the Chargers matter in L.A. was putting an interesting team on the field. They certainly aren’t doing that, and they’re providing few reasons for anyone in their new city to pay any attention to them.
25. Miami Dolphins (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
Did the Dolphins have any real interest in playing that game at Carolina Monday night?
26. Indianapolis Colts (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
The Colts enter their bye week with QB Jacoby Brissett in the concussion protocol. If he’s not cleared by the time the Colts play again, it would be back to Scott Tolzien as the starter.
27. Houston Texans (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The Texans took a look at their current roster and decided that sticking with Tom Savage at QB was their best option. That tells you all you need to know about their current roster.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Vontaze Burfict is a key member of the Bengals’ defense when he actually can keep his emotions under control and remain on the field. But his inability to keep his temper in check more than offsets his contributions as a player.
29. Denver Broncos (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
The QB issue is big. But it’s not the only issue. This Broncos team is simply falling apart.
30. San Francisco 49ers (1-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
The Niners undoubtedly were relieved to finally get a win. But if that keeps QB Jimmy Garoppolo on the bench for at least a while longer, was it necessarily a good thing in the bigger picture?
31. New York Giants (1-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch announced Monday that they will retain Coach Ben McAdoo for the remainder of the season and then evaluate him. McAdoo, at this point, appears to be making that evaluation pretty simple. He’s not getting his players to play very hard or very well at all for him. Mara and Tisch are patient, as they demonstrated again Monday by not firing McAdoo sooner rather than later. But no one is patient enough to keep McAdoo beyond season’s end if he can’t get the Giants to play much better in their final seven games.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Maybe the Browns should have refused to file the final score from the Detroit game with the league office and perhaps the loss would have been disallowed.
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