Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week, the L.A. Rams surge back into the top five on the strength of a convincing home win over the previously streaking Saints, which simultaneously knocks New Orleans back a few spots. Pittsburgh and Minnesota inch a step closer to the top of the list, where the red-hot Eagles and Patriots maintain their iron grips on No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The Eagles’ last three wins have come by 28 points each. They haven’t had a single-digit margin of victory since a five-point triumph at Carolina on Oct. 12. Will their lack of experience in close games come back to plague them at some point? Perhaps. But if that’s your biggest problem, you don’t have many problems.
2. New England Patriots (9-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
Sunday’s win over the Dolphins was routine and the Patriots are in a very good groove now. They play their next three games on the road, traveling to Buffalo and Miami before Week 15’s highly anticipated clash with the Steelers that could determine the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
When did Mike Tomlin suddenly become such a chatty coach? While Tomlin was talking up the upcoming showdown with the Patriots, the Steelers nearly slipped up Sunday night at home against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers. That would not have been a good look. Fortunately for Tomlin, the Steelers narrowly escaped with a last-second victory.
4. Minnesota Vikings (9-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
Case Keenum keeps playing well and is maintaining his hold on the starting QB job. There remains no reason for Coach Mike Zimmer to make a switch to Teddy Bridgewater yet. The Vikings have had a bit of break since their Thanksgiving win at Detroit headed into difficult road tests at Atlanta and Carolina the next two Sundays.
5. Los Angeles Rams (8-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Rams recovered from their loss to the Vikings to beat the Saints in impressive fashion Sunday, reinforcing the idea that they belong in the conversation about which team is the NFC’s best. They get a temporary break from facing the conference’s other top teams when they play Sunday at Arizona. Then it’s back to the demanding portion of their schedule, with the Eagles and Seahawks on tap.
6. Carolina Panthers (8-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The Panthers keep finding ways to win. But if they’re going to be a legitimate contender for NFC supremacy, they need QB Cam Newton to be more consistent as a passer. They need TE Greg Olsen’s surgically repaired foot to be sound enough for him to return to being Newton’s security blanket. And they need rookie RB Christian McCaffrey to be a versatile and dynamic part of the offense, game in and game out.
7. New Orleans Saints (8-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
Their winning streak is over, thanks to the defeat in L.A. But there’s no time for the Saints to lament that loss with an NFC South showdown with the Panthers coming up on Sunday in New Orleans.
8. Atlanta Falcons (7-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Falcons have regrouped with three straight wins. They are clearly the league’s best third-place team, which just might be enough to get them into the playoffs. But their schedule gets difficult down the stretch. Atlanta hosts the Vikings on Sunday, and still must face the Saints twice and the Panthers once.
9. Seattle Seahawks (7-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The once-fearsome secondary is decimated and there’s little reason to believe that the Seahawks remain a major threat in the top-heavy NFC. Sunday night’s matchup at home with the Eagles should be telling in that regard.
10. Baltimore Ravens (6-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The passing game remained unsightly Monday night. But the Ravens had the benefit of facing Tom Savage and the Texans, and got the win they needed to remain very much in the AFC wild-card race.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (5-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
Being the second-best NFL team in L.A. is not such a bad thing at the moment. The Chargers are playing well and are probably the top team in the surprisingly downtrodden AFC West.
12. Tennessee Titans (7-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The Titans have pulled back even with the Jaguars. Everything appears to be setting up for the division title to be on the line when the two teams face one another in the regular season finale in Nashville.
13. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
It has been a breakthrough season for the Jaguars, and they still could very well end up in the playoffs. But while facing the Cardinals is not exactly a “gimme,” that’s a game that you have to win if you’re going to be a division winner.
14. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
With two straight wins, the Bengals continue to reassemble their once-broken season. Things get serious now, with a Monday night home game against the Steelers up next.
15. Detroit Lions (6-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The status of QB Matthew Stafford’s ankle, injured during the Thanksgiving loss to the Vikings, will be the main issue this week. Stafford hasn’t missed a game since 2011 and the Lions would be left with untested Jake Rudock at QB if Stafford cannot play Sunday in Baltimore.
16. Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
Hey, didn’t you used to be the Chiefs? Coach Andy Reid’s loyalty to QB Alex Smith is admirable in a “What have you done for me lately?” league. But it also might be exactly the wrong thing at the moment. The Chiefs’ once-promising season is falling apart. And a drastic move, like a switch to rookie QB Patrick Mahomes, could be the only thing that can save it.
17. Washington Redskins (5-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
Keeping this depleted team around .500 has been an accomplishment for Coach Jay Gruden. Talk of the playoffs isn’t realistic; this isn’t the AFC wild-card race, after all. The NFC wild-card chase is far less forgiving. But remaining competitive, under the circumstances, is more than anyone could have expected.
18. Oakland Raiders (5-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Raiders haven’t really gotten better. The rest of the AFC West merely is sinking to their disappointing level.
19. Buffalo Bills (6-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
Isn’t it about time for Coach Sean McDermott to make another QB switch from Tyrod Taylor back to Nathan Peterman?
20. Arizona Cardinals (5-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
Blaine Gabbert or Drew Stanton? How can a single NFL roster be blessed with such a wealth of QB talent?
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The backup-QB magic of Ryan Fitzpatrick has worn off and Jameis Winston could return this week. Winston is to resume throwing during Wednesday’s practice and might be back in the lineup this weekend.
22. Houston Texans (4-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Tom Savage’s versatility at QB was on display Monday night in Baltimore. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, showing that he is equally adept at various means of committing a turnover. Don’t ever forget that the Texans thought that Savage, and not Deshaun Watson, was the best option as their Opening Day starter.
23. New York Jets (4-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
Is it too late to go back to tanking the season? The Jets have played far better than expected. But that still puts them far away from a playoff berth, and now there’s room to wonder if their first-round pick will be lofty enough to land them one of the draft’s coveted QBs.
24. Dallas Cowboys (5-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
QB Dak Prescott hasn’t been very good in the absence of suspended RB Ezekiel Elliott. If Prescott wants to be considered a true franchise QB, he must rise to the occasion at times like this. Yes, the offense is built around Elliott. But Prescott must find a way to make this offense — and this team — his.
25. Green Bay Packers (5-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Coach Mike McCarthy’s faith in Brett Hundley was rewarded with a much improved performance Sunday night in Pittsburgh by the young QB. Unfortunately for McCarthy and the Packers, it wasn’t rewarded with a win.
26. Indianapolis Colts (3-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
It’s difficult to find a more irrelevant team in the league right now. At least the Browns are so bad that they’re interesting. The Colts fall squarely in the nothing-to-see-here category.
27. Chicago Bears (3-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
There reportedly was the stench of rotting fish Monday at Halas Hall, supposedly from a batch of sushi gone bad. Insert your own joke here.
28. Miami Dolphins (4-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The play of Jay Cutler and Matt Moore as this season’s fill-in QBs has done wonders for the long-term job security of Ryan Tannehill next year and beyond.
29. New York Giants (2-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
The offense is about as nonthreatening as it gets right now. There isn’t much help for QB Eli Manning. But at the same time, Manning is missing some passes and contributing to the woes. The effort level of Giants players this season isn’t the only indictment of Ben McAdoo’s coaching. He is an offensive-minded coach. And his offense is dreadful, even if injuries are a major part of the problem.
30. Denver Broncos (3-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Paxton Lynch is not the answer at QB, at least not at this point. So with the Broncos firmly in playing-out-the-string mode, it’s back to Trevor Siemian. Don’t expect much. It is a near certainty now that Denver will be among the teams searching for a QB this coming offseason.
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Jimmy Garoppolo made his Niners debut Sunday in a brief appearance after rookie QB C.J. Beathard was hurt. There’s no reason to go back to Beathard now, whether he’s able to play this coming weekend or not. It’s Garoppolo time. The 49ers can only hope that he seizes the starting QB job for good and doesn’t give it up for, oh, about a decade.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-11) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
When your only reason for optimism is pinned to the return of a suspension-plagued player — Josh Gordon — who last played in a regular season game in 2014, that underscores just how bleak the situation is.
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