1. New England Patriots (6-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The defense continues to do the heavy lifting while the offense finds its way. Is that sustainable? Don’t wager against Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady finding a way to make things function better on offense. If that happens, a run at an unblemished season isn’t out of the question.
2. New Orleans Saints (5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
The offense wasn’t great in the triumph at Jacksonville, but fill-in QB Teddy Bridgewater continues to find a way to get things done in the absence of Drew Brees. The Saints at full strength will be as good as anyone in the NFC. But can they avoid the sort of playoff misfortune that has ended their past two seasons in astonishing fashion?
3. San Francisco 49ers (5-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The defense is overpowering, and the 49ers absolutely are for real. They leapfrog the Seahawks in the rankings after the victory over the Rams. It’s time to start regarding the Niners as a Super Bowl possibility in a field of NFC contenders lacking a true front-runner.
4. Seattle Seahawks (5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
Russell Wilson might be the MVP favorite at the moment, and the Seahawks’ tough win at Cleveland keeps them in the thick of the chase for NFC supremacy.
5. Green Bay Packers (5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
6. Houston Texans (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The win over the Chiefs was huge. QB Deshaun Watson is an MVP candidate, and the Texans are a legitimate contender in the AFC.
7. Buffalo Bills (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The Bills return from their bye to play three straight home games, including meetings with the winless Dolphins and one-victory Redskins.
8. Baltimore Ravens (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
QB Lamar Jackson’s 19-carry, 152-yard rushing performance against the Bengals was both spectacular and concerning. What Jackson can do is amazing. But shouldn’t the Ravens be past the point at which they have to put their new franchise QB in such peril to beat a winless team?
9. Carolina Panthers (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
There’s no avoiding it now. Coach Ron Rivera has a legitimate QB issue on his hands. The Panthers weren’t winning when Cam Newton was playing. They are winning with Kyle Allen in the lineup. Newton is a former MVP and the face of the franchise. But should he get his starting job back when his mid-foot sprain is sufficiently healed? It would be tough to sit Allen any time soon.
10. Indianapolis Colts (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The Colts return from their bye and could welcome back LB Darius Leonard, the league’s leading tackler last season as a rookie. He has missed three games because of a concussion but announced on social media last week that he’d been cleared by doctors to return.
11. Minnesota Vikings (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
QB Kirk Cousins wasn’t the weak link against the Eagles that Zach Brown predicted. Cousins finally got WR Stefon Diggs involved in the Vikings’ offense to perhaps quiet all the trade speculation about Diggs. But the Vikings shouldn’t gloat too much. Cousins still has to show that he can get it done in bigger games against the better teams.
12. Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The return of speedy WR Tyreek Hill to the lineup gave the Kansas City offense a big-play boost against the Texans. But there are issues right now, and no one seems particularly afraid to face the Chiefs at this point.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Can anyone in the NFC East actually play? The Eagles and Cowboys are supposed to be Super Bowl contenders. At the moment, both look thoroughly mediocre entering their meeting Sunday night in Dallas.
14. Oakland Raiders (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Raiders expressed their displeasure that LB Vontaze Burfict was suspended by the NFL for the rest of the season. But they shouldn’t have felt as if they and Burfict, whose appeal was denied by a neutral arbitrator, were treated unfairly. Burfict’s long history of illegal hits had put him in jeopardy of an increased penalty for his next infraction, and the Raiders should have kept that in mind when they signed him.
15. Chicago Bears (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The Bears, while on their bye week, had plenty of time to sit and watch Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, the QBs they bypassed to draft Mitchell Trubisky, square off Sunday.
16. Los Angeles Rams (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
This is the first true crisis of Sean McVay’s head coaching tenure. The Rams clearly are only the third-best team in the NFC West at the moment, and McVay must figure out how to steady his team and end its spiral.
17. Dallas Cowboys (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
Owner Jerry Jones is not getting the results he expected when he handed out all those big-money contracts. When the Cowboys were 3-0, they looked like the team to beat in the entire NFC and QB Dak Prescott resembled an MVP candidate. It all has fallen apart very quickly and the entire NFC East is in retreat.
18. Detroit Lions (2-2-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Yes, the Lions were victimized by ill-timed officiating mistakes Monday night at Green Bay. But when you kick five field goals instead of getting touchdowns, you don’t get to blame the officials entirely.
19. Denver Broncos (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The Broncos have won two straight following their 0-4 start and finally are playing the kind of defense they were expected to play after hiring Vic Fangio as their coach.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
The Steelers got a win Sunday night with No. 3 QB Devlin Hodges, after getting a win earlier with No. 2 QB Mason Rudolph. Mike Tomlin actually is doing a very good coaching job, even if the Steelers don’t end up turning around their season and getting back into playoff contention.
21. Cleveland Browns (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Browns simply are not the “it” team that they were back in the offseason, when things looked so much better on paper than they have turned out to be in reality. QB Baker Mayfield’s second NFL season has been an up-and-down experience, and General Manager John Dorsey is even having to try to quiet speculation that he would consider trading WR Odell Beckham Jr.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
There have been days this season when it appeared that QB Jameis Winston was making progress with Bruce Arians as his coach. Sunday was not one of those days, as Winston had six turnovers and took seven sacks in the loss to the Panthers in London.
23. New York Giants (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
The Giants kept things interesting and competitive against the Patriots most of the way Thursday night. The Giants are a different team with rookie Daniel Jones under center, even with the mistakes he made against the powerful New England defense. They’re only a game out of first place in the NFC East and they could be a factor in the race, given how the Cowboys and Eagles are underachieving.
24. Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
Rookie QB Kyler Murray was superb in the victory over the Falcons. There have been the typical rookie-year ups and downs for Murray, but there’s no question he has the potential to be a star.
25. New York Jets (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The Jets are not terrible when they have Sam Darnold at quarterback. That was clear during Sunday’s upset of the Cowboys.
26. Los Angeles Chargers (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
They were supposed to be a top AFC contender this season. And now the Chargers can’t even win at home while facing a rookie third-string QB making his first NFL start. Don’t be fooled by the cosmetic fourth-quarter comeback against the Steelers. By that point, the Chargers had no realistic chance to win that game and they simply aren’t very good right now.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Minshew mania? Maybe not so much anymore after rookie QB Gardner Minshew II struggled in the loss to the Saints.
28. Tennessee Titans (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The QB switch from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill was justified. But is there any reason to believe that Tannehill will be the answer? Not really.
29. Washington Redskins (1-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
The Redskins got into the win column in Miami after firing Jay Gruden and making Bill Callahan their interim head coach. But, in truth, they didn’t play any better than they had on Gruden’s watch and they were very fortunate to narrowly escape the ultimate embarrassment of losing to a Dolphins team that has been accused of tanking the season.
30. Atlanta Falcons (1-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
The Falcons are in no hurry to get rid of Dan Quinn as their coach. But if the losing doesn’t stop, they might have no choice eventually.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (0-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
The Bengals are somehow managing to keep the pressure on the Dolphins in the race to the bottom of the league.
32. Miami Dolphins (0-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Coach Brian Flores’s decision to go for two points and the win against the Redskins was fine. But the play that the Dolphins drew up for their two-point conversion attempt had absolutely no chance to succeed.