Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams. This week, the Los Angeles Rams keep the top spot after their victory in Denver. They’re now the NFL’s last unbeaten team of the season after the Kansas Chiefs lost Sunday night at New England in the first game in league history decided by a 43-40 score. The Steelers, Eagles, Ravens and Packers all get into the top 10 while the Panthers, Bengals, Jaguars and Bears drop out with their losses.
1. Los Angeles Rams (6-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The Rams had trouble protecting QB Jared Goff in Denver but were fine as long as they stuck to handing the football to RB Todd Gurley. When is it time to begin wondering if the Rams are good enough for a 19-0 season? They clearly are the league’s best team but regular season tests remain against the Packers, Saints, Chiefs, Bears and Eagles.
2. New Orleans Saints (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The Saints return from their bye week as the clear top challenger to the Rams in the NFC. They’re on a four-game winning streak and QB Drew Brees is the NFL’s newly crowned king in career passing yards. But they face a tough test Sunday in Baltimore, starting a rugged five-game stretch in which they face the Ravens, Vikings, Rams, Bengals and Eagles.
3. New England Patriots (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Remember that 1-2 start to the season? It’s a fading memory now. The Patriots have totaled 119 points while winning their last three games. The return of Julian Edelman and the addition of Josh Gordon have fixed the problems at WR. Now comes a trip to Chicago to face a Bears defense that ranks among the league’s best but couldn’t stop Brock Osweiler on Sunday in Miami.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
QB Patrick Mahomes is great and the offense was clicking with a 31-point second half Sunday night at New England. But the defense failed to do its part and the Chiefs lost the first 43-40 game in NFL history. Getting injured standouts Justin Houston and Eric Berry back will help. But there are no excuses. The Chiefs simply must play better on defense with the players they have.
5. Minnesota Vikings (3-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Vikings are showing signs of becoming the excellent team they were supposed to be all along. They have two straight wins and can make it three in a row when they face the Jets on Sunday at the Meadowlands. That would set up an interesting Sunday night game against the Saints a week later.
6. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
Don’t look now but L.A.’s second-best NFL team is an honest-to-goodness contender. The Chargers are within a game of the Chiefs in the AFC West and they could emerge as the primary threat to New England and Kansas City.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The Steelers enter their bye week with two straight wins, including Sunday’s key road victory over the Bengals. Now they must decide what to do about Le’Veon Bell if he joins the team next week and signs his franchise tag. Do the Steelers try to trade him? Or do they welcome him back, work him into the offense alongside James Conner and try to be the Super Bowl contender they hoped to be?
8. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The defending champs got well Thursday night against the Giants, and they play two of their next three games at home against the Panthers and Cowboys and meet the Jaguars in London in between. Will the Eagles make an effort to trade for Le’Veon Bell? They could offer one of their two second-round picks in next year’s draft.
9. Baltimore Ravens (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
This Ravens defense is looking positively fearsome after sacking Marcus Mariota 11 times in Sunday’s shutout of the Titans. It won’t be so easy against Drew Brees and the Saints this weekend in Baltimore.
10. Green Bay Packers (3-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The Packers made it tougher than it needed to be Monday night against the lowly 49ers. But Aaron Rodgers made the plays in crunchtime, as usual, and kicker Mason Crosby delivered the game-winning FG to redeem himself after his dreadful performance in the Packers’ previous game.
11. Washington Redskins (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The Redskins aren’t great. They aren’t terrible. There’s no way of knowing from week to week which version of their team will show up. That qualifies them for contender status in the NFC East.
12. Miami Dolphins (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
Brock Osweiler was terrific filling in for Ryan Tannehill at QB in Sunday’s overtime victory over the Bears. But if Tannehill does not return soon and Osweiler remains the starter, an eventual on-field demise will be about as predictable as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s downfall was after his early-season exploits for the Bucs.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The loss to the Steelers doesn’t knock the Bengals out of contention. But it does contribute to the notion that the Bengals simply cannot be trusted in games that matter. There’s little time to sulk, however, with a matchup with the Chiefs in Kansas City this Sunday night.
14. Carolina Panthers (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The Panthers managed to make their old friend, Josh Norman, look good during Sunday’s loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field. That hasn’t been easy to do lately.
15. Chicago Bears (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Bears had every chance to establish themselves as the NFC’s third-best team and the primary challenger to the Rams and Saints. But they somehow found a way to lose Sunday at Miami thanks to RB Jordan Howard’s fumble at the 1-yard line, QB Mitchell Trubisky’s brutal interception in the end zone and the down-the-stretch breakdowns on their supposedly powerful defense. Now they host the Patriots on Sunday.
16. Dallas Cowboys (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The Cowboys have alternated wins and losses all season. They’ll play at Washington this coming weekend after a very good performance in Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars, putting up 40 points and rushing for 206 yards. Can they actually have a two-game winning streak?
17. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
That 3-1 start and the notion of having an overpowering defense dissipated with consecutive road losses to the Chiefs and Cowboys in which the Jaguars surrendered 70 points. The offense continues to struggle without injured RB Leonard Fournette. If the Jaguars are going to be the excellent team they were expected to be, they need Fournette to be healthy and productive and the defense to return to its dominating form.
18. Houston Texans (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Texans have won three straight games to pull into a first-place tie in the AFC South. It helps, of course, that every other team in the division is headed in the wrong direction and it takes only a .500 record for a share of first place. But Houston undoubtedly will take it at this point.
19. Detroit Lions (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Lions return from their bye to prepare for a road game Sunday in Miami. They’ve won two of three games since their 0-2 start, giving them a chance to get back to .500.
20. Seattle Seahawks (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Beating the Raiders barely counts at this point. But the Seahawks have managed to win three of four games to climb back to .500.
21. New York Jets (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The Jets have regrouped with wins over the Broncos and Colts since a 1-3 start. The competition gets much tougher this weekend when the Vikings come to the Meadowlands.
22. Atlanta Falcons (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
QB Matt Ryan’s big numbers actually resulted in a win this time. Ryan is having a terrific season with 14 TD passes, two interceptions and a passer rating of 113.6. He’s on pace to throw for more than 5,200 yards. But almost no one has noticed because the Falcons have been wasting his good play.
23. Cleveland Browns (2-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
Bakermania can calm down for a little while after the Browns and rookie QB Baker Mayfield weren’t competitive against the Chargers. It was Cleveland’s first loss of the season by more than three points.
24. Buffalo Bills (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
Josh Allen’s elbow injury could mean it’s back to Nathan Peterman at QB. Peterman marked the occasion in characteristic fashion by throwing two interceptions in relief of Allen in Sunday’s loss at Houston. Coach Sean McDermott at least has an alternative, with veteran Derek Anderson now on the roster.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
The Buccaneers made the league’s first coordinator change Monday, firing Mike Smith as their defensive boss and elevating LB coach Mark Duffner to replace him. The move is probably justified given how the defense has been playing. But will it actually fix anything? Almost certainly not.
26. Tennessee Titans (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
The Titans were about as feeble as it gets on offense in getting shut out at home by the Ravens and allowing QB Marcus Mariota to be sacked 11 times. Yes, the Baltimore defense is very good. But it’s not THAT good. The Tennessee offense did its part.
27. Denver Broncos (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
That’s now four straight losses since the 2-0 start and another season is coming undone. The pass rush, led by rookie Bradley Chubb, was great against the Rams but the Denver defense could do nothing about the running of Todd Gurley.
28. Arizona Cardinals (1-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
The season is lost and all that matters now is the development of rookie QB Josh Rosen. He wasn’t dreadful in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings. The Cardinals did allow him to be sacked four times, though, and must do a better job protecting him.
29. Oakland Raiders (1-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
Is it too late for Jon Gruden to go back to the broadcast booth?
30. New York Giants (1-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
QB Eli Manning, at 37, looks done and WR Odell Beckham Jr. is throwing temper tantrums. Rookie RB Saquon Barkley is terrific. But that doesn’t mean the Giants should have taken him second overall rather than drafting a young QB. This is a mess, with the Giants having lost 18 of 22 games since the start of last season, and there’s little reason to believe it’s about to get better.
31. Indianapolis Colts (1-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
There were signs of progress by the Indianapolis defense early in the season. That’s no longer the case. The Colts have allowed 117 points while dropping their last three games to the Texans, Patriots and Jets, stretching their losing streak to four games.
32. San Francisco 49ers (1-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Second-year QB C.J. Beathard was superb Monday night in Green Bay and the 49ers hung tough. But Beathard threw an interception with the game on the line and the Niners defense couldn’t keep Aaron Rodgers from producing his latest dose of quarterbacking magic.
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