1. New England Patriots (7-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
There’s the Patriots. And then there’s everyone else. They have separated themselves from the rest of the league. It’s difficult to be much better than they were Monday night or much better than they’ve been through seven games. In a league that promotes parity, they’ve outscored their opponents, 223-48, for an average margin of victory of 25 points.
2. New Orleans Saints (6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
QB Drew Brees could resume practicing this week, but there’s no need for Coach Sean Payton and the Saints to rush him back from thumb surgery, given how Teddy Bridgewater is playing as the fill-in starter. Payton’s coaching, too, has been first-rate.
3. San Francisco 49ers (6-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The offense didn’t do much in the rainy, muddy slop Sunday at FedEx Field, as the 49ers managed only three field goals. But the defense was as sturdy as ever and the 49ers, as usual this season, found a way to win, giving Coach Kyle Shanahan a chance to savor the victory after the hard feelings that accompanied the Redskins’ parting with him and his father.
4. Green Bay Packers (6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Packers are an improved team because they don’t need to rely on QB Aaron Rodgers to do remarkable things, week after week, for them to win. But as Rodgers showed Sunday against the Raiders, he’s still capable of that when the situation requires it.
5. Buffalo Bills (5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Winning at home against the Dolphins barely counts, you say? It doesn’t matter. The Bills just keep winning. Whether they’ve turned outside observers into believers is irrelevant. They look like a solid playoff contender.
6. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Is it sustainable for Lamar Jackson to run the ball so often? Perhaps not. But it certainly is effective and entertaining.
7. Indianapolis Colts (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
Frank Reich is a really good coach. That’s all there is to it. For him to have this team in first place, with Andrew Luck retired and with LB Darius Leonard having missed time, is impressive.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Kirk Cousins suddenly is playing very well and has the Vikings’ offense in gear heading into Cousins’s reunion with his former team, the Redskins, on Thursday night. The playing status of WR Adam Thielen could be an issue in the short week. He hurt his hamstring during Sunday’s triumph over the Lions.
9. Carolina Panthers (4-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
Kyle Allen remains the starter at QB for at least another week, with Cam Newton set to do on-field work with trainers — but not yet ready to resume practicing — as he works his way back from his foot injury. There’s no reason for Newton to be rushed back, given how the Panthers have played with Allen. But Sunday’s meeting with the 49ers is a tough test.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The news about Patrick Mahomes’s knee injury wasn’t as bad as it could have been, given the optimism that he will return to play this season. But Mahomes and the Chiefs should be careful. His future is too bright and he is too indispensable to the franchise and the league to take unnecessary risks in pursuit of short-term gains. For now, Matt Moore takes over at QB and the Chiefs try to hold things together.
11. Seattle Seahawks (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The Seahawks could not deal with Lamar Jackson on Sunday. Now they’re two losses behind the 49ers and just holding off the Rams in the rugged NFC West.
12. Houston Texans (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Just when the Texans seemed ready to take control of the AFC South and make a run at being the AFC’s No. 2 team, they took a step backward.
13. Los Angeles Rams (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The Rams’ trade for CB Jalen Ramsey is intriguing because a defense that has both Ramsey and Aaron Donald is potentially tremendous. But the Rams perhaps should have been wary about what will happen if and when they get on Ramsey’s bad side, as the Jaguars did.
14. Dallas Cowboys (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The Cowboys ended their three-game losing streak with their convincing triumph Sunday night over the Eagles. That’s enough, for now, to make them the team to beat in the underwhelming NFC East. The offensive line was healthier, and that helped Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper all have productive performances. Jason Garrett’s job is safe for the time being.
15. Arizona Cardinals (3-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
Coach Kliff Kingsbury seems to be figuring out this NFL thing. And his version of the Air Raid offense does appear to work at this level.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Did the Jaguars’ decision to finally relent and accommodate CB Jalen Ramsey’s trade request amount to them giving up on this season? Not really. It had become clear that Ramsey wasn’t going to play for them. The Rams made an overwhelming offer, and the Jaguars made the only sensible choice at that point by accepting it.
17. Tennessee Titans (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
The Titans were fortunate to hold on to beat the Chargers. But being fortunate is a step toward being good. The switch to Ryan Tannehill at QB in place of Marcus Mariota brought some good luck, at least for one game, and a win.
18. Oakland Raiders (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Raiders are far better than they were last season and better than just about anyone expected them to be. They’re just not good enough to go to Green Bay and win. QB Derek Carr’s mistakes didn’t help. Complain all you want about the fumble-through-the-end-zone rule. But Carr was too careless with the football and should not have allowed that rule to come into play.
19. Chicago Bears (3-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
Is it time to wonder if it is not going to come together this season? Yes, some of it is on QB Mitchell Trubisky. But not all of it.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
Yes, the Eagles are beat up and yes, it hurt them to be missing WR DeSean Jackson and left tackle Jason Peters against the Cowboys. But they simply need to play better and QB Carson Wentz, in particular, must step it up. The Eagles recommitted to Wentz in the offseason with that big contract and the decision to allow Nick Foles to leave. He’s being treated like a franchise QB. He needs to play like one.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
Mason Rudolph regains the starting job at QB as the Steelers return from their bye. Devlin Hodges becomes the backup but the Steelers now know he’s a viable alternative, given his performance in the Oct. 13 win over the Chargers, when Rudolph was sidelined by a concussion.
22. Cleveland Browns (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
QB Baker Mayfield’s hip injury does not seem like a major concern as the Browns return from their bye. It’s not now-or-never time quite yet in their season of big expectations. But it’s getting close.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
The QB drafted immediately after Jameis Winston in 2015, Marcus Mariota, has been benched by the Titans. Now Winston must prove, as he and the Buccaneers return from a bye that was preceded by Winston’s six-turnover performance in a loss to the Panthers in London, that he should not be discarded as a starting QB as well.
24. Detroit Lions (2-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
There were no excuses this time for the Lions. They could not slow Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense.
25. Denver Broncos (2-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
So much for the Broncos’ revival. They couldn’t stay competitive with the Chiefs at home Thursday night, even with Patrick Mahomes getting hurt in the second quarter. John Elway’s acquisition of Joe Flacco is beginning to look like his latest ill-fated QB move.
26. New York Giants (2-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
There’s no turning back from QB Daniel Jones. There will be typical rookie ups and downs, and the Giants and their fans will have to live with the patience-testing outings.
27. New York Jets (1-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
Sam Darnold looked lost Monday night, and the Jets suffered their most lopsided shutout defeat to the Patriots in their history.
28. Los Angeles Chargers (2-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
The failure to get the ball into the end zone against the Titans epitomizes the Chargers’ season: plenty of promise, not enough in the way of results, frustration and exasperation all around.
29. Washington Redskins (1-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The Redskins lost Kyle Shanahan’s revenge game Sunday at FedEx Field. Next up is Kirk Cousins’s revenge game Thursday night in Minneapolis. Why do the Redskins seem to have so many disgruntled former employees?
30. Atlanta Falcons (1-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
It’s not necessarily Dan Quinn’s fault. He’s a good coach who took the Falcons to a Super Bowl. But no matter how patient owner Arthur Blank tries to be, it will become more and more difficult for Blank to tune out all the clamoring for Quinn to be fired.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (0-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Start planning now. The Bengals-Dolphins game Dec. 22 in Miami could be so terrible that it would be fantastic.
32. Miami Dolphins (0-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Having the lead through three quarters Sunday in Buffalo didn’t translate into a win. Whether it’s intentional or not, the Dolphins are really good at losing.