Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams. This week, after the Patriots' loss, the Chiefs and Rams each move up a spot, just behind the Saints, ahead of their meeting Monday night in Mexico CIty. The Redskins, with a two-game lead in the NFC East, re-enter the top 10 and are joined there by the Titans.
1. New Orleans Saints (8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
Dez Bryant suffered a season-ending injury in practice before making his debut for the team so the Saints signed Brandon Marshall. But does adding a complementary WR really matter at this point? The offense is next to unstoppable at the moment and QB Drew Brees seems to have plenty of options with WR Michael Thomas, RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram and TE Benjamin Watson running routes.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
Patrick Mahomes has raised the expectations for himself so much that his 249-yard, two-TD, no-interception performance Sunday against the Cardinals seemed ordinary. The Chiefs hope to have WR Sammy Watkins back in the lineup for Monday night’s highly anticipated showdown with the Rams in Mexico City.
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The triumph over the Seahawks got the Rams back into the win column ahead of the big matchup with the Chiefs. But the season-ending knee injury suffered by WR Cooper Kupp is significant. He was a major contributor and created huge matchup problems for defenses.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The victory in Oakland was routine, and the Chargers keep winning while drawing relatively little notice for it. If Joey Bosa ever comes back to join the defense and plays at anything close to his customary level, this is an honest-to-goodness Super Bowl contender in the AFC.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
If RB Le’Veon Bell indeed skips the entire season, the ramifications will be far more about Bell’s career and future earning power than about the Steelers’ season. The Steelers, thanks to the emergence of James Conner, aren’t missing Bell. He would be a nice addition, but the Steelers don’t absolutely have to have him.
6. New England Patriots (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
It’s not that the Patriots won’t rebound from the loss Sunday in Nashville. They will. But they’re two games behind the Chiefs in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. That matters quite a bit. For now, the Patriots must hope that their bye week gives TE Rob Gronkowski enough time to heal and return to the lineup.
7. Houston Texans (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Texans have the Titans on their heels in the AFC South as they return from their bye to play Sunday at FedEx Field against the Redskins, putting their six-game winning streak on the line. QB Deshaun Watson has eight TD passes and no interceptions over the past three games, and J.J. Watt has played his way back into NFL defensive player of the year contention.
8. Chicago Bears (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The Bears are for real. Khalil Mack celebrated his return to the defensive lineup Sunday with a two-sack performance in the win over the Lions, and second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky continued his rapid development with another good outing. The Bears aren’t on the level of the Saints or the Rams, but they are a viable playoff team.
9. Washington Redskins (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Redskins were dominated statistically in Tampa but didn’t turn the ball over and benefited from the Buccaneers’ miscues. That’s not an exciting way to win. But it works. With the rest of the NFC East retreating from the Redskins, they again look like a solid favorite to win the division.
10. Tennessee Titans (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The victory over the Patriots has the Titans again looking like a viable contender. QB Marcus Mariota seems much closer to fully healthy. Things get very interesting now with AFC South road games against the resurgent Colts and the first-place Texans the next two weeks.
11. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The Vikings come back from their bye in second place in the NFC North, a half-game behind the Bears. The two teams still face each other twice, including Sunday night in Chicago. It’s the most significant game thus far for Kirk Cousins as Minnesota’s QB. The Vikings can only hope there will be bigger games to come in Cousins’s first season with the team.
12. Carolina Panthers (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The lopsided defeat Thursday night in Pittsburgh was alarming. But Coach Ron Rivera was right: It happens in the NFL and it must be discarded quickly. The Panthers have a chance to rebound with upcoming games against the Lions, Seahawks, Buccaneers and Browns before a difficult closing stretch in which they face the Saints twice in a span of three games.
13. Green Bay Packers (4-4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The victory at home Sunday over the Dolphins calms things down a bit and gets the Packers back to .500. But they’re winless on the road this season and now must play their next two games at Seattle and at Minnesota. Traveling west to face the Seahawks on a Thursday night is a particularly difficult task.
14. Indianapolis Colts (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
No one is paying too much attention but the Colts actually have become a competent team, with three straight wins. QB Andrew Luck hasn’t been sacked in the last four games. He has 10 TD passes and one interception during the three-game winning streak. It might be a stretch to call the Colts a legitimate playoff contender. But a return to respectability is a big deal, with Luck returning from his lost 2017 season and the offseason coaching-change fiasco.
15. Dallas Cowboys (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
Just when things seemed to be falling apart for the Cowboys, QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott came up big Sunday night in Philadelphia. WR Amari Cooper was more of a factor in the offense in his second game with the team, and the Cowboys managed what might have been a season-saving victory. The euphoria will be only temporary, though, if the Cowboys don’t build off the win.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
So much for the notion that the Eagles were about to go on a second-half run to take control of the NFC East. The performance against the Cowboys wasn’t good at all. The offense simply can’t score enough points, and WR Golden Tate made little impact in his first game with the team. The Eagles play Sunday at New Orleans, not exactly a great place to try to get their issues worked out.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
Another season is slipping away and the firing of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, on the heels of Sunday’s obliteration by the Saints, is unlikely to change anything. The defense hasn’t stopped anyone lately and the offense is limited without injured WR A.J. Green. The outlook will be very bleak indeed for the loser of the Bengals’ game this Sunday in Baltimore.
18. Miami Dolphins (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
There was a time this season when the Dolphins were 3-0 and threatening to be a challenger to the Patriots in the AFC East. So much for that.
19. Baltimore Ravens (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Ravens were reeling heading into their bye, and they return from it with QB Joe Flacco’s playing status uncertain because of a hip injury. The move to rookie QB Lamar Jackson potentially could be forced upon the Ravens, if Flacco is unable to play Sunday against the Bengals.
20. Seattle Seahawks (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The Seahawks have remained competitive during their transitional season but they could be about to fall out of realistic playoff contention, with a two-game losing streak and the Packers and Panthers up next.
21. Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The Browns, after beating the Falcons on Sunday, are 1-1 with Gregg Williams as their interim head coach after firing Hue Jackson. Williams probably will not keep the job on a full-time basis, given the prospect of the team being able to hire an offensive-minded coach to oversee QB Baker Mayfield’s development. But Williams has done pretty well so far.
22. Atlanta Falcons (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The Falcons seemed to have regrouped from their poor start to the season. Then came Sunday’s loss in Cleveland. The Falcons can afford very few missteps the rest of the season if they’re going to climb back into playoff contention, which now is back to being a long shot.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
Hey, didn’t you used to be the Jaguars? The bye week didn’t help. The Jaguars returned from their time off and fell to the Colts to extend their losing streak to five games. There’s no relief in sight with the Steelers up next on the schedule.
24. Detroit Lions (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
It appears ever more certain that Year 1 of Matt Patricia’s coaching tenure in Detroit is going to be a major disappointment. This was a nine-win team last season, remember.
25. Denver Broncos (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The Broncos come back from their bye to resume a season that has gone so wrong, putting Coach Vance Joseph’s job is in jeopardy. There’s little reason to believe that things will get immediately better for the Broncos, with games against the Chargers and Steelers up next.
26. Buffalo Bills (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Matt Barkley has been the Bills’ most effective QB this season. Does that say more about Barkley or the desperation of the Bills’ QB situation?
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
FitzMagic is not looking so magical these days. At some point, the Bucs need to switch back from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Jameis Winston and give Winston one final chance to demonstrate that the team should stick with him as its QB of the future.
28. New York Giants (2-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Not much good has happened for Eli Manning and the Giants this season. But the game-winning drive orchestrated by Manning to win Monday night at San Francisco at least provided a little relief from the misery.
29. Arizona Cardinals (2-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
No one said the rookie-year education of QB Josh Rosen was going to be easy.
30. New York Jets (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
The Jets are not exactly making a spirited run to keep Coach Todd Bowles from being fired after the season.
31. San Francisco 49ers (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
Nick Mullens and the Niners came up a bit short Monday night against the Giants. But the second-year QB and former undrafted rookie is playing well enough that he could have some trade value in the offseason, assuming that Jimmy Garoppolo comes back to reclaim the starting job for the 49ers.
32. Oakland Raiders (1-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
If this season ends up being it for the Raiders in Oakland, the final days are ugly indeed.
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