Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske ranks the league’s 32 teams. This week, the Saints are a clear No. 1 after their dismantling of the Eagles. The Cowboys and Colts sneak into the top 10, despite their modest 5-5 records, on the strength of their recently improved play. The Vikings, Panthers and Redskins drop after their losses and, in the Redskins’ case, the season-ending injury to their quarterback, Alex Smith. The Raiders move out of the cellar thanks to their win over the Cardinals, returning the 49ers to the bottom spot.
1. New Orleans Saints (9-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The dismantling of the Eagles was so thorough it seemed cruel. And that was against the defending Super Bowl champion. This offense is functioning at an unimaginably high level, and the defense is doing its part. Drew Brees is the league MVP front-runner.
2. Los Angeles Rams (10-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
It wasn’t that the Rams didn’t play any defense in Monday night’s scoring-fest against the Chiefs. They won in part because their defense forced turnovers and scored points on its own. But the offense, of course, had the starring role. A rematch certainly would make for an entertaining Super Bowl.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
It took the Steelers most of the game to get their offense moving Sunday in Jacksonville. But they pulled out a win against a team that has been a nemesis. That’s meaningful.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
There were a few too many mistakes and a few too many turnovers by QB Patrick Mahomes and the offense Monday night in L.A. But it was a memorably great game, and the Chiefs can play with anyone in this NFL season of revved-up offenses.
5. New England Patriots (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
The Patriots return from their bye for a less-than-demanding road game against the Jets. The biggest issue will be the health and availability of TE Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots probably need him at something resembling his best the rest of the way to get back to another Super Bowl.
6. Houston Texans (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The injury to the Redskins’ Alex Smith overshadowed everything else that happened Sunday at FedEx Field, but the Texans’ victory pushed their record to 7-0 since their 0-3 start. It’s still difficult to envision them as a viable Super Bowl contender.
7. Chicago Bears (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings added Kirk Cousins to a team that reached the NFC title game last season. But it is the Bears who are the NFC North’s best team at the moment. The defense overwhelmed Cousins and the Vikings on Sunday night until Cousins managed late to make his numbers look respectable. Mitchell Trubisky is developing into a QB who’s plenty good enough. This is a very dangerous team, and the Saints and Rams had better be wary.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
Just when you start to trust the Chargers, they go and do something like lose to the Broncos.
9. Dallas Cowboys (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
Things change quickly in the topsy-turvy NFC East. Only a few weeks ago, the Cowboys’ season seemed all but over. Two road victories later, they will host the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day with a chance to grab a share of first place and establish themselves as the division’s team to beat headed down the stretch.
10. Indianapolis Colts (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Colts might have gotten lucky, as it turns out, to have gotten Frank Reich instead of Josh McDaniels as their coach. Reich is doing a terrific job, and the Colts’ return to respectability is on fast-forward. Andrew Luck looks like a franchise QB again, and the team around him is performing surprisingly well.
11. Baltimore Ravens (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The way the Ravens played in Sunday’s triumph over the Bengals, with rookie QB Lamar Jackson getting 27 carries in his first NFL start, is not sustainable for Jackson and might not be effective against the league’s better teams. But it gave the Ravens a win they needed badly. Jackson gets at least one more start, with Joe Flacco expected to remain sidelined this week, and then Coach John Harbaugh will have an interesting QB decision to make.
12. Seattle Seahawks (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
It’s surprising that the Seahawks are managing to remain in playoff contention in such a transitional season. Their game Sunday at Carolina against the suddenly reeling Panthers is significant for positioning in the NFC wild-card chase.
13. Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
No one is saying it’s all Kirk Cousins’s fault. But he was signed to be the final piece of a Super Bowl puzzle in Minnesota. And it’s not working out so far.
14. Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
Aaron Rodgers’s greatness is not saving the Packers this time, at least not so far. They’re 0-5 on the road, and the scrutiny on Coach Mike McCarthy is intensifying. The Packers’ meeting with the Vikings on Sunday night at Minnesota isn’t a playoff elimination game, but it sort of feels like one.
15. Detroit Lions (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The Lions remain an inconsequential team, even after beating the Panthers. If they mange to win Thursday against the Bears, they might begin to merit attention.
16. Carolina Panthers (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
Coach Ron Rivera’s decision to go for the two-point conversion and the win in regulation Sunday at Detroit wasn’t wrong because it failed. It was wrong because when you believe you have the better team — and Rivera should have believed that Sunday — you should extend the game and avoid having it come down to a single play with a 50-50 outcome.
17. Washington Redskins (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
Colt McCoy is a capable backup and he has a chance to keep the Redskins in the division race after taking over as the starter at QB for the injured Alex Smith. But Smith’s prudence in avoiding turnovers and his athleticism while playing behind a depleted offensive line may have been overlooked and underestimated. He didn’t have overwhelming numbers but he wasn’t losing games for the Redskins. Will the same be said about McCoy?
18. Miami Dolphins (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
Ryan Tannehill could be nearing a return to the Dolphins’ lineup. That is a good thing, right?
19. Tennessee Titans (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
So much for that two-game winning streak and the notion that the Titans are fighting their way back into playoff contention. It all came undone Sunday in Indianapolis.
20. Denver Broncos (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
Just when you give up on the Broncos, they go and do something like beat the Chargers.
21. Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
The Browns will be an interesting non-contender down the stretch. This season has been all about a return to respectability for them, and they still have a chance to achieve that if they play well and win a few more games.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
So much for the idea that the Eagles might emerge from their bye to begin a second-half run that would put them in control of the NFC East. The loss to the Cowboys was puzzling. Sunday’s defeat in New Orleans was alarmingly lopsided. The Eagles look nothing like a team less than a year removed from a Super Bowl. This is bordering on being a mess right now, and it’s up to Coach Doug Pederson and QB Carson Wentz to clean things up.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
How bad is the Cincinnati defense these days? The Bengals surrendered 403 total yards to the Ravens in Sunday’s loss, in which rookie QB Lamar Jackson was making his first NFL start for Baltimore. And THAT qualified as progress for the Bengals.
24. New York Giants (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
A two-game winning streak for the Giants? Eli Manning completing 17 of 18 passes in a game? Maybe things actually bottomed out a few weeks ago and the Giants will close the season on a comparatively high note. Maybe.
25. Atlanta Falcons (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
It’s difficult to imagine the Falcons climbing back into playoff contention. Doing so would probably require them to win Thursday night at New Orleans. And how likely is that? Not very likely, given how the Saints are playing.
26. Buffalo Bills (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
Rookie QB Josh Allen could return to the lineup Sunday to face the Jaguars and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who called Allen “trash” in an interview with GQ. So at least there’s one reason to pay attention to a matchup of 3-7 teams.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
It’s all but official now: The Jaguars aren’t getting this fixed, not this season. And they will be one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments of 2018.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
It’s back to Jameis Winston as the starter at QB. That’s the right move. The season is lost. Dirk Koetter probably will be out as the coach. All that’s left is to figure out if Winston is or is not the long-term solution at QB.
29. Oakland Raiders (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
How would it have been possible to lose to the Cardinals?
30. Arizona Cardinals (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
How is it possible to lose to the Raiders?
31. New York Jets (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
The Jets just had a bye week. Did anyone miss them?
32. San Francisco 49ers (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
The 49ers return from their bye to play out the rest of their schedule because, you know, NFL rules pretty much require it.
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