1. New Orleans Saints (7-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
Ah, the joys of being No. 2 and being on your bye week when the No. 1 team loses. The Saints survived Drew Brees’s absence from the lineup after his thumb surgery, thanks to the exploits of backup QB Teddy Bridgewater, and now they’re atop the rankings. Few would have guessed that when Brees got hurt.
2. San Francisco 49ers (8-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The Niners weren’t overwhelmingly great Thursday night against the Cardinals. But they were good enough to win, which was more than the Patriots could say Sunday night in Baltimore. That leaves the 49ers as the NFL’s only undefeated team. And now, suddenly, Jimmy Garoppolo is playing like a franchise QB.
3. New England Patriots (8-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The possibility of a 16-0 regular season, duplicating the feat of the 2007 Patriots, is lost. So, too, is the prospect of the first 19-0 season in NFL history. So be it. The Patriots are all about winning Super Bowls, and that remains a distinct possibility. But the defense has had issues against the run in two straight games. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson was too much to handle Sunday night. And, at this point, the offense does not appear capable of winning a game that becomes a score-fest.
4. Baltimore Ravens (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Ravens don’t get to pass the Patriots in the rankings, not based on an early November win at home. But they showed they would be a formidable opponent if there’s a rematch in January.
5. Seattle Seahawks (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
The kicking misadventures of Jason Myers were excused by the overtime TD that beat the Buccaneers. But Myers had better get his issues worked out because he and the Seahawks might not be so lucky next time.
6. Houston Texans (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
Deshaun Watson is a legitimate league MVP contender, and the Texans are in the conversation about which team is the AFC’s second best after the Patriots.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Patrick Mahomes missed a second straight game, but the Chiefs managed a significant victory Sunday with Matt Moore filling in at QB. Mahomes presumably could return this week. But perhaps the Chiefs should be extra careful and keep him sidelined a bit longer, protecting him from himself.
8. Green Bay Packers (7-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
That was a stunningly inept performance against the Chargers in a home-away-from-home game. For now, it gets dismissed as an aberration.
9. Los Angeles Rams (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The Rams return from their bye looking up at both the 49ers and Seahawks in the standings and staring at a major struggle just to secure a wild-card playoff spot in the rugged NFC.
10. Dallas Cowboys (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott were productive in the win Monday night over the Giants, and the Cowboys remained atop the NFC East. They do need to begin games better, however.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The win over the Bears aids the Eagles’ recovery, but the loss of WR DeSean Jackson to season-ending surgery for his core muscle injury is significant.
12. Buffalo Bills (6-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
Beating the Redskins barely counts. But, then, winning the games that you should win is part of being good.
13. Carolina Panthers (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
It does not appear that QB Cam Newton will return to the lineup any time soon, leaving Kyle Allen as Carolina’s starter. That seems to be working out just fine for the Panthers for the time being.
14. Minnesota Vikings (6-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
It’s too easy to jump on Kirk Cousins. All of his good play in recent weeks shouldn’t be discarded with Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. But, again, a winnable game against a good team slipped away and the Cousins-led Vikings can’t seem to live with prosperity.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
Coach Mike Tomlin’s two failed pass interference challenges cost the Steelers two timeouts they might have needed against the Colts — but didn’t cost them the game, thanks to Adam Vinatieri’s missed FG. The Steelers could have used some help from the Patriots to inch closer to the Ravens and didn’t get it Sunday night. But at least they’re back to .500.
16. Indianapolis Colts (5-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Yes, the hold was bad. But the kick by Adam Vinatieri was even worse. Give the Colts credit for their loyalty. Vinatieri is an all-time great and the Colts have stuck with him and continue to express confidence in him, even when perhaps they shouldn’t.
17. Los Angeles Chargers (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
Somehow, the Chargers aren’t totally done. The AFC playoff race is far more forgiving than the NFC version and maybe — just maybe — the Chargers can begin to resemble the team they were last season on a more regular basis.
18. Oakland Raiders (4-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
Jon Gruden absorbed plenty of criticism last year, but he has done a good job and has the Raiders back to respectable in Year 2 of his return to coaching.
19. Denver Broncos (3-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
The Broncos did just fine Sunday without Joe Flacco. This coming offseason, will John Elway have to try to find the answer at QB again?
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Gardner Minshew II magic seems to have run out, and it would make sense for the Jaguars to go back to Nick Foles at QB after their bye this weekend. Minshew is the future. He has established that. Foles should be the present.
21. Tennessee Titans (4-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
The magic also ran out for QB Ryan Tannehill, who threw two interceptions and was sacked four times in the loss to the Panthers. It was Titans’ first loss in Tannehill’s three starts since taking over for Marcus Mariota.
22. Detroit Lions (3-4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Lions have returned to irrelevant status. They are not good enough to matter, but they are not bad enough to draw attention for ineptitude.
23. Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
The Cardinals were competitive Thursday night in the loss to the Niners. In Year 1 for Coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray, such moral victories should count for something.
24. Chicago Bears (3-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
The Bears’ season is in ruins, and there’s probably no climbing back into the playoff race in the competitive NFC.
25. Cleveland Browns (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
It’s time to wonder whether Coach Freddie Kitchens is in over his head, whether Baker Mayfield was the right pick at No. 1 overall last year and whether the trade for WR Odell Beckham Jr. was wise. The narrative sure has changed since the offseason.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
It’s just not the Bucs’ year, is it? Of course, when is it ever the Bucs’ year?
27. New York Giants (2-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
It wasn’t the black cat running across the field Monday night. It was, again, the turnovers by Daniel Jones. But that’s just an unavoidable part of life with a rookie quarterback.
28. Miami Dolphins (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Tanking? What tanking? The Dolphins beat the Jets on Sunday and were a failed two-point conversion from beating the Redskins earlier. Now they’re just your run-of-the-mill terrible team, not historically dreadful.
29. Washington Redskins (1-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The Redskins shouldn’t waver on playing rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. All that’s left in this lost season is to begin to find out if he can play and try to push along his development.
30. Atlanta Falcons (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Coach Dan Quinn was not fired during the Falcons’ bye week, but he did reshuffle the responsibilities of some of his assistant coaches. Yep, that surely will fix everything.
31. New York Jets (1-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
And to think, the Jets actually are trying to win. One year removed from using the third overall selection in the NFL draft on QB Sam Darnold and months after making a big-splash move in free agency to add RB Le’Veon Bell, they just lost to a Dolphins team that has been accused of tanking.
32. Cincinnati Bengals (0-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Ugh, the pain of being the No. 31 team when the No. 32 team finally wins. The Bengals are all alone with zero victories. So they’ve earned their cellar-dweller status. Good luck, Ryan Finley.