Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams. This week, the top five stays mostly stable thanks to victories for the Rams, Chiefs and Saints. The Carolina Panthers move up a spot on the strength of kicker Graham Gano’s game-winning 63-yard blast of a field goal against the Giants, while the Cincinnati Bengals debut in the top five thanks to a rousing comeback win over the Miami Dolphins. And don’t sleep on the Patriots, who rode a pair of convincing wins back to the cusp of the top five and have a chance to ascend further if they can knock off No. 2 Kansas City on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
1. Los Angeles Rams (5-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
Sean McVay continues to press all the right coaching buttons. But the narrow escape in Seattle did make the Rams appear beatable, something that hasn’t been the case too often in the early stages of this season.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (5-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
Patrick Mahomes finally threw an interception this season (and then another) but the Chiefs offense just kept going against Jacksonville’s celebrated defense. A second straight difficult test looms with this Sunday night’s game at New England.
3. New Orleans Saints (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
It only felt like about 70,000 of Drew Brees’s passing yards came Monday night. His record-breaking evening included a big performance against the Redskins that showed the Saints are prominently among the very few legitimate NFC challengers to the Rams.
4. Carolina Panthers (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Panthers were aided by plenty of good fortune in the closing moments against the Giants, first the generous spot for the first down and then the unbelievable kick by Gano for the winning 63-yard FG. But, then, most successful seasons are aided by such doses of good luck.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Is it time to begin trusting this Bengals team? Even just a little bit? Perhaps. But complete trust won’t come until this group breaks through in the postseason, of course.
6. New England Patriots (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Remember when the Patriots were facing an early-season crisis? That’s so two weeks ago. They look like themselves again, but their next two games are extremely interesting, starting with a home game against the Chiefs followed by a visit to Chicago.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The bad version of QB Blake Bortles was on display in Sunday’s defeat at Kansas City. It’s not that Bortles is terrible all the time. He’s not. But consistency is not exactly his thing, so it’s tough to know how seriously to take the Jaguars as a true Super Bowl contender, even with the other things that they do so well.
8. Chicago Bears (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Bears emerge from their bye week in first place in the NFC North. They haven’t lost since the season opener in Green Bay. And anyone who thinks it’s not possible that they’ll outlast the Packers and Vikings in the division race hasn’t been watching closely enough.
9. Minnesota Vikings (2-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The Vikings didn’t play all that well Sunday in Philly but got a few breaks on the Linval Joseph TD and the key roughing-the-passer call against the Eagles’ Michael Bennett. Maybe the victory will get the Vikings going.
10. Los Angeles Chargers (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The second-best NFL team in L.A. is not half-bad. Catching the Chiefs in the AFC West will be a daunting task but it’s feasible for the Chargers to be in the wild-card mix.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Steelers had a great offensive day against the Falcons even without still-absent RB Le’Veon Bell. But that might say more about the state of the depleted Atlanta defense than it does about the state of the Pittsburgh offense.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The defending champs are struggling on offense; they haven’t scored more than 23 points in a game this season. It’s worth noting that only one of the previous seven reigning Super Bowl champions to start a season 2-3 reached the playoffs. History says that the odds aren’t good for teams in the Eagles’ position to turn things around.
13. Cleveland Browns (2-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
Such a lofty ranking for the Browns? The Browns? Sure, why not? This is a competent, competitive team with Baker Mayfield at QB. There are standout young players on defense. The Browns actually could have another win or two with better luck. A .500 season is within reach. Playoff contention is not totally out of the question.
14. Baltimore Ravens (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Going to Cleveland and getting a win is not automatic any longer. The Ravens found that out the difficult way.
15. Detroit Lions (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
The Lions are showing signs of competence having won twice in three games after their 0-2 beginning. The triumph over the Packers was impressive, even if it was aided by Green Bay’s kicking misadventures.
16. Green Bay Packers (2-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
Mason Crosby is highly respected within the Packers organization. Not too many kickers could keep their jobs after the sort of game that Crosby had Sunday in Detroit, with four missed FGs and a missed extra point. But the team’s patience is unlikely to last much longer if Crosby’s struggles continue beyond one miserable game.
17. Washington Redskins (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Redskins had no answers Monday night for Drew Brees and the Saints. No one should have expected the Redskins to go to New Orleans and win. But they certainly should have played better than that.
18. Miami Dolphins (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The promise of that 3-0 start has dissipated quickly with losses to the Patriots and Bengals. It doesn’t get much easier with the Bears up next, although the game is in Miami.
19. Houston Texans (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
QB Deshaun Watson absorbed some jarring hits from Cowboys defenders Sunday night. But he and WR DeAndre Hopkins got it done in OT, and the Texans have reassembled their season with two straight victories following their 0-3 start.
20. Buffalo Bills (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
This looked like the NFL’s worst team through two games. The fact that the Bills have regrouped to win two games says plenty about the coaching prowess of Sean McDermott.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
The Bucs return from their bye week with Jameis Winston back as the starting QB. But Sunday’s game in Atlanta comes against a Falcons team that’s seemingly overdue for a win.
22. Tennessee Titans (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Few expected the Titans to get off to a 3-1 start. But losing to the Bills? That shouldn’t happen to a contender.
23. Seattle Seahawks (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The Seahawks played the Rams tough and had their chances. But the bottom line is, being the second-best team in the NFC West won’t mean much this season.
24. Dallas Cowboys (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
Coach Jason Garrett was questioned by owner Jerry Jones for his decision to punt rather than take a fourth-down gamble in OT during Sunday night’s loss at Houston. That’s not as big a deal as the fact that the Cowboys simply don’t have enough firepower in the passing game to succeed when they can’t control a game with the running of Ezekiel Elliott.
25. New York Jets (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
It was a great Sunday for rookie QBs. Sam Darnold did his part with a three-TD, one-interception performance in the triumph over the Broncos at the Meadowlands.
26. Denver Broncos (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The season seems to be slipping away from the Broncos after three straight losses. Falling to the Ravens and Chiefs is one thing; succumbing to the Jets and a rookie QB is quite another. It might not get any better this weekend with the Rams coming to Denver.
27. Arizona Cardinals (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
It wasn’t a big game for rookie QB Josh Rosen but he and the Cardinals got into the win column. The manner in which so many Cardinals players congratulated first-year head coach Steve Wilks on the sideline seemed to say something positive about their feelings toward him.
28. Atlanta Falcons (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
Matt Ryan continues to put up good numbers and the Falcons continue to lose. Getting back into the division race already is beginning to look far-fetched.
29. Oakland Raiders (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
This is simply not going well for Jon Gruden.
30. New York Giants (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
It’s not that any of what WR Odell Beckham Jr. said to ESPN was wrong. It wasn’t. But the fact that he chose to come out and say what he said after the Giants gave him a contract that made him the NFL’s highest-paid WR was equal parts provocative and puzzling.
31. Indianapolis Colts (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
Another year of QB Andrew Luck’s prime is slipping away. But the goals for this season need to be modest. Luck needs to show he’s healthy and can last an entire season. Frank Reich needs to demonstrate that he’s a capable head coach. And there must be signs of progress by the defense and the offensive line.
32. San Francisco 49ers (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
The countdown to next season — and QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s return — has begun.
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