1. New England Patriots (8-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The Patriots are halfway to an unblemished regular season after the defense was dominant again against the Browns and the offense was good enough. But some cracks are evident heading into Sunday night’s game at Baltimore. The run defense was exploited by Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, and kicker Mike Nugent was less than reliable.
2. New Orleans Saints (7-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
Drew Brees made his return from thumb surgery and mostly looked like his reliable self in the victory over the Cardinals. If the Saints go on to accomplish big things, the great work done by Teddy Bridgewater to hold things together while Brees was sidelined should not be forgotten.
3. San Francisco 49ers (7-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
It’s time to stop nitpicking the quality of the 49ers’ opponents. They’re just flat-out good as their dismantling of the Panthers reinforced. They continue to get it done with fairly ordinary passing numbers from Jimmy Garoppolo.
4. Green Bay Packers (7-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
Remember when wondering whether this Matt LaFleur-Aaron Rodgers pairing would work was a thing? It’s not now. Rodgers is back in the MVP conversation, and LaFleur has coached the Packers to leading contender status in the NFC.
5. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
The Ravens return from their bye to host the Patriots on Sunday night. We will learn whether the dual threat of QB Lamar Jackson as a runner and passer will put a dent in the historic greatness of the New England defense.
6. Indianapolis Colts (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Adam Vinatieri is back to his game-winning ways after the decisive kick against the Broncos. The Colts continue to amaze.
7. Minnesota Vikings (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Kirk Cousins has played splendidly over the past month. But is this another mirage, or is that version of Cousins here to stay? It’s an intriguing story line as the Vikings elbow their way into the jumbled mess of teams vying for NFC supremacy.
8. Seattle Seahawks (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Winning in Atlanta is not a major accomplishment at this point. But the Seahawks certainly weren’t complaining as they rebounded from their home loss to the Ravens.
9. Houston Texans (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The loss of J.J. Watt to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle is agonizing. If only there were someone around — such as, say, Jadeveon Clowney — to pick up the slack on defense.
10. Los Angeles Rams (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
Being the NFL’s best third-place team doesn’t completely change the fact that you’re still a third-place team. Beating the Bengals in London keeps things from getting worse for the Rams but shouldn’t convince anyone that they are back on track. At least not yet.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The Chiefs showed Sunday night against the Packers, with Matt Moore filling in capably at QB, that they can be competitive against a good team without Patrick Mahomes. But they didn’t show that they can beat a good team without Mahomes. Still, this is about the big picture. The Chiefs need to be careful with Mahomes, protect him from himself and make certain he doesn’t put his future at risk by coming back too soon from his dislocated kneecap.
12. Dallas Cowboys (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Cowboys return from their bye and must beat the Giants on Monday night at the Meadowlands. The schedule toughens after that, with games against the Vikings, Lions, Patriots and Bills.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The win at Buffalo was decisive and impressive after all the talk about locker room issues. But the Eagles need to show that they can play like that more often.
14. Buffalo Bills (5-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The loss at home to the Eagles was alarming. The Bills are a good team if they’re able to play their game without deviating from that script. But when they’re forced to throw the ball, they can’t do it effectively enough.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
Coach Doug Marrone said he is not thinking about his upcoming QB decision between Gardner Minshew II and Nick Foles. That choice is still weeks away, but Minshew’s play certainly is making things interesting.
16. Carolina Panthers (4-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
Kyle Allen had a bad game against the 49ers. The San Francisco defense can do that to a QB. Allen is entitled to one ugly performance, but it could change the dynamics about when Cam Newton returns to the starting lineup.
17. Tennessee Titans (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Ryan Tannehill, savior of the Titans’ season? Stranger things have happened, haven’t they? Okay, maybe not.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
It was an ugly beginning Monday night against the winless Dolphins. But QB Mason Rudolph, RB James Conner and WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson got things going on the way to 27 straight points and a win that moved the Steelers within a game of .500.
19. Detroit Lions (3-3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The Lions got back into the win column by beating the Giants. Unfortunately for them, there’s almost no way they will catch the Packers and Vikings in the tough NFC North.
20. Los Angeles Chargers (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
The Chargers finally had something go their way with the Bears’ miss on their would-be game-winning field goal. It probably won’t matter, with the Chargers’ season already in such ruins. But you never know.
21. Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The failed fourth-down try by Coach Kliff Kingsbury in the Cardinals’ half of the field is drawing criticism. But it was fine. The Cardinals were not going to win in New Orleans by taking a conservative approach.
22. Oakland Raiders (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The Raiders are probably going to have to be satisfied with taking a step toward respectability. They’re doing that. Believing that they’ll accomplish more than that is probably unrealistic.
23. Chicago Bears (3-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
There’s just something about the Bears and kickers, isn’t there? Of course, an offense that failed to get touchdowns instead of field goal attempts all day against the Chargers and the passive play-calling at the end didn’t help.
24. Cleveland Browns (2-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
They have been one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments, and they’re well on their way to still being, well, the Browns. Freddie Kitchens is having his issues as a rookie coach. His team played sloppy and undisciplined football at New England, and his two failed instant replay challenges, seemingly based on hope for a good outcome, didn’t help.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Bruce Arians came back to coaching for this? Is it too late for him to change his mind?
26. Denver Broncos (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
There was nothing wrong about what Joe Flacco said in criticizing the Broncos’ lack of offensive aggressiveness. And Flacco, as a former Super Bowl MVP, certainly has the stature to say such things. But he hasn’t played particularly well for Denver, and now he is sidelined by a neck injury. Maybe if he had been playing better, the Broncos wouldn’t have been in such a predicament.
27. New York Giants (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
The initial excitement about Daniel Jones has faded, with Jones committing turnovers in bunches and the Giants on a four-game skid. But that’s just how it goes with a rookie QB. At least the Giants, unlike the Redskins, have gotten the development phase underway.
28. New York Jets (1-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
The woes continued in Jacksonville. Maybe the Jets should have been less concerned about QB Sam Darnold’s “seeing ghosts” comment getting attention and more concerned about what was causing him to feel that way.
29. Washington Redskins (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
All those with a grudge against the Redskins, please line up and get ready to take your turn for revenge, right behind Kyle Shanahan and Kirk Cousins. Meanwhile, it’s beyond time to turn to rookie Dwayne Haskins at QB. Give him all the practice reps. Put him on the field. Let him make his mistakes. And start to find out whether he is the real deal.
30. Atlanta Falcons (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
It’s beginning to feel as if it would be an act of kindness if owner Arthur Blank fires Coach Dan Quinn. This entire situation has become so dreary.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (0-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
All those seasons when Marvin Lewis coached the Bengals to the playoffs but couldn’t manage to get a postseason victory don’t seem all that terrible right about now, do they?
32. Miami Dolphins (0-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
From the failed two-point conversion against the Redskins to the lost fourth-quarter lead in Buffalo to the early two-touchdown advantage Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Dolphins have been going off script lately and actually threatening to win.
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