Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams. There’s a change at the top and a change at the bottom this week, after the Saints knocked the Rams from the ranks of the unbeaten, and the Raiders lost in dreadful fashion to the 49ers.
1. New Orleans Saints (7-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
The Saints move up to No. 1 on the strength of their pulsating victory Sunday in New Orleans over the previously unbeaten Rams. It was offensive football at its finest, and in the end, the Saints had a little too much of Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara for the Rams to handle. But about that stashed-flip-phone TD celebration by Thomas: Paying homage to Joe Horn is great, but next time, maybe wait until the outcome of the game is no longer in doubt.
2. New England Patriots (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
Tom Brady actually seemed confused at times Sunday night by the looks given to him by the Green Bay defense, but he figured out a way to win. Isn’t that how it always goes with Brady and the Patriots? This is resembling another one of those seasons in which a 1-2 start for New England gives way to a Super Bowl appearance.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs took care of business Sunday in Cleveland and now have a tuneup against the Cardinals before their Nov. 19 meeting with the Rams in Mexico City.
4. Los Angeles Rams (8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The loss in New Orleans is significant only if the Rams must go back there for the NFC title game. The burden of chasing a 19-0 season was something they didn’t need anyway. The bigger issue is the defense. This was constructed to be a superteam, not just a super-on-offense team. Yes, this is a season in which it’s difficult to play defense well. And, yes, that was Drew Brees and the Saints. But this defense is supposed to be better than that. Far better. Coordinator Wade Phillips needs to figure some things out.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Chargers are still the second-best NFL team in L.A. But the gap between the two is not all that wide.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
The four straight 100-yard rushing games by James Conner and the four straight wins have made it easy for the Steelers to stop fretting about when or whether Le’Veon Bell will show up. If he does, fine. Work him into the lineup and use him as a complementary player. If not, fine. Keep handing the ball to Conner. The Steelers have little time to savor Sunday’s win in Baltimore with a Thursday night meeting with the Panthers at hand.
7. Carolina Panthers (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Panthers are an interesting team, but are they an actual postseason threat to the Saints or Rams in the NFC? Their December meetings with the Saints could be telling.
8. Houston Texans (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The Texans were fortunate in Denver with the missed field goal by the Broncos’ Brandon McManus that would have been the game-winner. But good luck is part of it when things are going well. And they are going very well for the Texans, with six straight wins and their bye week at hand.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Redskins’ vulnerability means the NFC East is there for the taking for the Eagles, even with their early-season inconsistencies. But they need to play far better than they did in the first half of the season. They host the Cowboys on Sunday night in what becomes almost a must-win for them, given that their following game is at New Orleans and they still have a December road game against the Rams.
10. Chicago Bears (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
Even after the Khalil Mack trade, few figured the Bears would lead the NFC North at the halfway point of their season, not with the Vikings and Packers once looking so formidable. But there’s no reason that the Bears can’t win this division.
11. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
Suddenly, there’s a lot to like about the way the Vikings are playing. Their triumph Sunday over the Lions didn’t require big passing numbers by Kirk Cousins. Maybe, just maybe, this team still can become what it was expected to be.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The Bengals, as they return from their bye, reportedly will play without WR A.J. Green for at least two games. But his injured toe won’t require surgery, a welcome development for the Bengals because their offense absolutely has to have him.
13. Atlanta Falcons (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The Falcons have reassembled their once-broken season with three straight wins following a 1-4 start. The victory Sunday over the Redskins at FedEx Field was impressive. But there are two excellent teams ahead of the Falcons in the NFC South: the Saints and Panthers. Getting to the playoffs remains a long shot, but at least it’s not a no-shot any longer.
14. Washington Redskins (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Just when it seemed like it was time to begin trusting the Redskins as a legitimate playoff contender, they gave a dud of a performance against the Falcons that was made even worse by the season-ending injuries suffered by WR Paul Richardson Jr. and Gs Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao. The defense remains formidable, even after being shredded by Matt Ryan and the Falcons. But the offense is reaching the point of being nonfunctional, especially given the depleted state of the offensive line.
15. Miami Dolphins (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
It does not appear that Ryan Tannehill is ready to return to the lineup. That’s not the worst thing. Brock Osweiler has not been all that awful as the fill-in starter at QB. And the Dolphins somehow are hanging around as playoff contenders.
16. Tennessee Titans (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The Titans got off to a shaky, turnover-marred start Monday night in Dallas. But QB Marcus Mariota and the offense settled down. The defense was very good, and the Titans emerged with a road victory that they sorely needed.
17. Green Bay Packers (3-4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Packers had some bad luck against the Patriots, with injuries and the questionable ejection of S Jermaine Whitehead. But their worst break was again self-inflicted: the fumble by Aaron Jones when Green Bay was driving toward a fourth-quarter lead. Being competitive against the Rams and Patriots in back-to-back road games but losing should provide no comfort to the Packers. This is a results league, and the Packers’ inability to support Aaron Rodgers in close games has left their season unraveling.
18. Seattle Seahawks (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Seahawks, in this season of transition, have overachieved even to be at .500. It would be surprising to see them hold things together in the coming weeks, coming off Sunday’s loss to the Chargers and with the Rams, Packers and Panthers up next.
19. Baltimore Ravens (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
There’s little sense in firing John Harbaugh or benching Joe Flacco in favor of rookie Lamar Jackson. The Ravens’ best chance for a turnaround is with Harbaugh as their coach and Flacco as their QB. It’s not a good chance, not with the way things are going, but it’s better than the chance the Ravens would have with an interim coach and a rookie QB. Leave the big changes until after the season if they miss the playoffs again.
20. Indianapolis Colts (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Colts return from their bye to play home games against the Jaguars, Titans and Dolphins. They’re on a two-game winning streak, and they have a chance to continue to progress toward respectability.
21. Dallas Cowboys (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The addition of WR Amari Cooper helped a little bit Monday night, but not nearly enough. The Cowboys couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities. The defense couldn’t keep the Titans in check. Dallas is simply a poor team halfway through its season. It makes no difference how wide-open the NFC East is if you can’t win any games.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
It’s now or never for the Jaguars, who return from their bye to play three of their next four games against the Colts and Bills. There’s also a home game against the Steelers during that four-game stretch. If the Jaguars can’t go at least 3-1, feel free to count them out.
23. Detroit Lions (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
When they traded WR Golden Tate, the Lions said they weren’t giving up on their season. But their performance in Sunday’s loss at Minnesota looked like that of a team that has given up on its season. That matters much more than what was said.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
All of this Ryan Fitzpatrick stuff is entertaining to watch. He certainly makes things interesting, and he remains the starter at QB for now. But eventually, the Bucs need to go back to Jameis Winston so they can make a fully informed decision about his future with the franchise.
25. Denver Broncos (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Nothing is going the Broncos’ way, and front-office executive John Elway is being asked about the possibility of an in-season coaching change. Elway is sticking with Vance Joseph for now, but Joseph’s hold on his job is looking increasingly tenuous.
26. Arizona Cardinals (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
The Cardinals became the most recent contributor to the Sam Bradford Fund before becoming the latest team to part ways with him.
27. New York Jets (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
No, Sam Darnold is not playing well at all. The four-interception performance against the Dolphins was horrendous. But the Jets absolutely should not sit him. This is part of the deal when you commit to a rookie QB.
28. San Francisco 49ers (2-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Nick Mullens? Seriously? Okay, it was only against the Raiders. But having a better 49ers debut than Joe Montana or Steve Young is something, no matter how sorry the competition. The Niners should stick with him as their starter. There’s no reason not to do so in a lost season, and with Jimmy Garoppolo done for the year.
29. Cleveland Browns (2-6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
Maybe the Browns' performance against the Chiefs in Gregg Williams’s first game as interim coach will lead to him getting four more secret head coaching offers.
30. Buffalo Bills (2-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
All you need to know about Nathan Peterman is that throwing three interceptions and having a 45.4 passer rating against the Bears qualified as a decent outing by his standards.
31. New York Giants (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
When the bye week is your best week of the season, only because nothing terrible happened, things are not going well.
32. Oakland Raiders (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
The performance Thursday night against the Niners was about as dreadful as it gets. The Raiders drop to the No. 32 spot because there’s no way to rank them any lower.
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