1. Baltimore Ravens (8-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
The Ravens looked great against the Texans and deserve to leapfrog the Patriots to No. 1, even with one more loss than New England. They have wins over the Seahawks, Patriots and Texans by an average margin of 21.7 points. Lamar Jackson was spectacular, as usual, against Houston. The most encouraging sign was that the defense also was very good.
2. New England Patriots (9-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
The Patriots got back into the win column Sunday in Philadelphia after the loss in Baltimore followed by their bye week. The defense was typically sturdy. But the failure of the offense to click is becoming worrisome. The Patriots go for a sweep of the NFC East this weekend when they host the Cowboys.
3. Seattle Seahawks (8-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The Seahawks had their bye week to savor the huge overtime win over the 49ers and continue to work WR Josh Gordon into the offense. The post-bye schedule is fairly demanding with consecutive games against the Eagles, Vikings and Rams.
4. San Francisco 49ers (9-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The comeback win over the Cardinals kept the Niners ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West and in the lead for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. But they have looked vulnerable lately, and the schedule is unrelenting with the Packers, Ravens and Saints up next. A return by TE George Kittle from his knee and ankle injuries would certainly help.
5. Green Bay Packers (8-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Packers return from their bye to play Sunday night at San Francisco in a significant matchup for NFC playoff positioning. Both teams are vying for NFC supremacy. But both continue to face tough competition in their own division, the Packers from the Vikings and the Niners from the Seahawks.
6. Minnesota Vikings (8-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
The Vikings never should have fallen so far behind the Broncos. But their big comeback and the uplifting victory provide further evidence that this is a different version of Kirk Cousins and a more resilient Vikings team on display this season.
7. New Orleans Saints (8-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Their win at Tampa Bay was routine but still meaningful after a baffling loss to the Falcons. The Saints failed to make home-field advantage work for them during last season’s NFC title game, but securing the conference’s top playoff seed this season still would be significant.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The Chiefs showed Monday night in Mexico City that they actually can win a game in which Patrick Mahomes isn’t unbelievably great. But Philip Rivers’s generosity certainly helped.
9. Dallas Cowboys (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The Cowboys are back in sole possession of first place in the NFC East and probably are the best team in a bad division. But unless they turn it up a few notches, they’re irrelevant in the bigger picture, with so many very good teams in the NFC. The Cowboys certainly need to get RB Ezekiel Elliott involved again in the offense after two straight quiet games. QB Dak Prescott is putting up huge numbers but can’t be asked to do it all himself.
10. Oakland Raiders (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
Oakland Raiders, playoff contender. Get used to that phrase, at least for the remainder of this season. It remains pretty amazing that Coach Jon Gruden has turned things around in Year 2, and the less-than-daunting remaining schedule means that the Raiders are likely to stay in the thick of the AFC postseason chase.
11. Buffalo Bills (7-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
QB Josh Allen threw the ball very effectively in a victory at Miami. If he can be even a threat in the passing game, the Bills are a difficult matchup for any opponent.
12. Houston Texans (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
The Texans simply were noncompetitive in Baltimore. Forget about that pass interference non-call. Houston’s defense had no answers for Lamar Jackson. On offense, the Texans couldn’t protect Deshaun Watson and didn’t score until they trailed 34-0 midway through the fourth quarter.
13. Los Angeles Rams (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Rams beat the Bears in what amounted to a playoff elimination game Sunday night. But it’s still a steep uphill climb for the defending NFC champs, and QB Jared Goff’s performance against Chicago was less than reassuring. Coach Sean McVay leaned on the running game and had Goff attempt only 18 passes.
14. Indianapolis Colts (6-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Colts pulled into a first-place tie with the Texans but must take to the road for Thursday night’s matchup with Houston for the AFC South lead.
15. Tennessee Titans (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Titans certainly aren’t out of it in the AFC South. Their chance to be a factor in the race is directly in front of them, with three division games in the next four weeks.
16. Cleveland Browns (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
Even when the Browns win, they can’t win. The NFL’s suspension of Myles Garrett for at least the rest of this season and postseason was fully justified after one of the ugliest on-field incidents in league history, and it cost the Browns their top defensive player.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
Don’t forget that the Eagles’ best moments and biggest wins the previous two seasons came with Nick Foles, not Carson Wentz, at quarterback. Foles is now in Jacksonville, and his offseason exit from the Eagles is not working out particularly well for either side.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
The incident in the final seconds of their loss in Cleveland completely overshadowed an inept offensive performance by the Steelers. Their four-game winning streak ended and their bid to reassemble their once-broken season is in peril.
19. Carolina Panthers (5-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Their lopsided defeat at home to the Falcons was unsightly, and another season is slipping away from the Panthers. Perhaps Kyle Allen is not the answer at quarterback after all. But Cam Newton is not coming to the rescue this season, and perhaps not ever again in Carolina.
20. Chicago Bears (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
The Bears are basically eliminated from playoff contention in the competitive NFC, and it would be very difficult for them to turn back now to Mitchell Trubisky at QB after Coach Matt Nagy pulled him from Sunday night’s loss in L.A., citing a hip injury. It felt like a benching, with Trubisky saying he had wanted to finish the game. The most sensible path forward is probably to make Chase Daniel the starter for the rest of the season and then pursue Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater or another QB option in the offseason.
21. Atlanta Falcons (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
If only someone had told the Falcons that those games in September and October actually counted in the standings, they would be just fine now. Suddenly they are unbeatable.
22. New York Jets (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
The Jets, somehow, have received full credit in the standings for their victories over the Giants and Redskins the past two Sundays.
23. Denver Broncos (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
The Broncos couldn’t hold the big lead at Minnesota, and there’s pretty much no reason to pay attention to them any longer, at least not until rookie Drew Lock gets his audition at QB.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
Nick Foles’s return went poorly in the loss at Indianapolis. It’s looking like a lost season for Foles and the Jaguars after his offseason parting with the Eagles.
25. Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Philip Rivers has thrown seven interceptions over the last two games, and the Chargers continue to lose games they could have won. The team that no one seems to want isn’t playing well enough to endear itself to anyone.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
The thing that’s easy to overlook is that the offense actually has been quite productive in Coach Bruce Arians’s first season. The Bucs are ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in total offense, scoring offense and passing offense. There simply have been too many mistakes by QB Jameis Winston, and the defense has been so dreadful that the positives on offense haven’t mattered.
27. Miami Dolphins (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
The two-game winning streak came to an end against the Bills. But if the Dolphins plan to return to their losing ways in earnest, it might be too late to “catch” the Bengals for the top overall pick in the NFL draft.
28. Detroit Lions (3-6-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
All the promise has been drained from the Lions’ season with QB Matthew Stafford’s back injury and a three-game losing streak. They’re 9-16-1 since hiring Matt Patricia as their coach on the heels of firing Jim Caldwell following a 9-7 season.
29. Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The early 16-0 lead against the 49ers disappeared. The Cardinals, in an interesting Year 1 for Coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray, remain a team that is competitive and entertaining, but not quite fully formed or ready to win consistently.
30. New York Giants (2-8) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
The Giants will return from their bye to finish their season because, well, NFL rules pretty much require it.
31. Washington Redskins (1-9) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
The Redskins have crossed that very dangerous line from inspiring anger in their fans to inspiring apathy in their now-former fans.
32. Cincinnati Bengals (0-10) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
The Bengals have two games left against the Browns and one each against the Jets and Dolphins. Is there a single victory to be had? It’s tough to say at this point.
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