1. Green Bay Packers (6-1) | Last week’s rank: 1
The victory over Washington was pretty routine as Aaron Rodgers threw for — yawn — 274 yards and three TDs. It wasn’t an overpowering performance, and the Packers were outgained 430 to 304. No matter. The winning streak is at six entering Thursday night’s showdown with the Cardinals in Arizona. The Packers could be missing WR Davante Adams after placing him on their reserve/covid-19 list Monday.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) | Last week’s rank: 2
It was 35-3 by halftime against the Bears. Tom Brady threw four TD passes in the first half to surpass 600 for his career. He probably shouldn’t have even stepped on the field in the second half. The Week 3 loss to the Rams spared the Bucs the pressure and attention that would have come with chasing a perfect season. But they certainly look capable of becoming a back-to-back Super Bowl winner. This weekend will be interesting with the first of two meetings with the Saints, who beat the Buccaneers twice last season.
3. Arizona Cardinals (7-0) | Last week’s rank: 3
Coach Kliff Kingsbury was back on the sideline after missing a game in the NFL’s coronavirus protocols. The Cardinals properly overwhelmed a Texans team that stood no chance. If they truly are the NFC’s — and perhaps the league’s — top team, they’ll have their chance to prove it Thursday night against the Packers.
4. Los Angeles Rams (6-1) | Last week’s rank: 4
Matthew Stafford threw for 334 yards and three TDs in his first game against the Lions since they traded him. The Rams allowed the Lions to hang around well into the fourth quarter, but it always felt as though they would do whatever was needed to win. They have one more gimme victory, this weekend against the Texans in Houston, before things get serious again.
5. Tennessee Titans (5-2) | Last week’s rank: 7
The Titans were dominant in their triumph over the Chiefs. They also showed versatility. RB Derrick Henry threw a TD pass. QB Ryan Tannehill had a TD run. The Titans made the Chiefs look completely overmatched. They’ve now beaten both participants in last season’s AFC title game in consecutive weeks, following their victory over the Bills. How in the world did this team lose to the Jets?
6. Dallas Cowboys (5-1) | Last week’s rank: 6
The Cowboys are in complete control of the NFC East as they return from their bye. The biggest issue is the status of QB Dak Prescott’s calf injury suffered during the pre-bye victory at New England. The Cowboys can afford to be cautious, given that Prescott is indispensable and there are bigger games to come down the road. The immediate post-bye schedule is not all that rigorous, with the Vikings, Broncos and Falcons up next.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) | Last week’s rank: 9
First-place Cincinnati Bengals? Who knew? But this team is absolutely for real. The victory at Baltimore was thorough and convincing. QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja’Marr Chase were terrific. But they had help, too. The defense did its part.
8. Buffalo Bills (4-2) | Last week’s rank: 8
The Bills, coming off their bye week, have had a long time to stew over that failed fourth-down QB sneak late in their pre-bye defeat to the Titans. They can hope that history repeats itself. Last season, the Bills won their final six regular season games after losing at Arizona on a Hail Mary in their final game before their bye week. This time, the schedule sets up favorably with games against the Dolphins, Jaguars and Jets on tap.
9. New Orleans Saints (4-2) | Last week’s rank: 10
The Saints weren’t explosive on offense Monday night in Seattle. But QB Jameis Winston went turnover-free, RB Alvin Kamara made the plays, and the defense did the rest. The Saints have their first two-game winning steak of the season.
10. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) | Last week’s rank: 5
That was an alarming performance in the loss to the Bengals. The Ravens had no answers on defense for Joe Burrow or Ja’Marr Chase. On offense, there was no magic this time for QB Lamar Jackson. The Ravens have relied too much on Jackson providing superhuman efforts and pulling out improbable wins. It caught up to them Sunday against a very good team.
11. Cleveland Browns (4-3) | Last week’s rank: 12
D’Ernest Johnson? Case Keenum? The Browns got it done with an unheralded RB and a fill-in QB as they patched together an offensive lineup for Thursday night’s triumph at home over the Broncos. The mini-bye after a Thursday game should help a bit as the Browns try to get healthier. But the extent of the damage to QB Baker Mayfield’s left shoulder is worrisome. Mayfield is tough, and it’s his non-throwing arm. But how effective will he be able to be if and when he returns?
12. Las Vegas Raiders (5-2) | Last week’s rank: 15
The Raiders are 2-0 since Rich Bisaccia took over as interim head coach following Jon Gruden’s resignation. He deserves plenty of credit because the Raiders weren’t playing all that well immediately before Gruden’s exit. Sunday’s victory over the Eagles came without TE Darren Waller, who was on the inactive list. Bisaccia and the Raiders have demonstrated their resilience, and perhaps they still can be a factor in the wide-open AFC.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) | Last week’s rank: 13
The Chargers emerge from their bye needing to prove they are for real and not merely the same old Chargers. Their lack of competitiveness in the lopsided pre-bye loss at Baltimore raised serious questions. Sunday’s game at home against the Patriots could be telling as to how much staying power the Chargers will have.
14. Minnesota Vikings (3-3) | Last week’s rank: 14
The Vikings had momentum going into their bye week, posting wins over the Lions and Panthers to get back to .500. The issue now is whether they can sustain it as they return from their bye. The upcoming schedule is rugged: Cowboys at home, at the Ravens, at the Chargers, Packers at home.
15. Atlanta Falcons (3-3) | Last week’s rank: 19
Don’t look now, but the Falcons at least are not dreadful any longer. They quietly have repaired their season with victories over the Jets and Dolphins sandwiched around their bye week. Those are bad opponents, for sure, but no one is claiming this is a Super Bowl run in the making. It’s just the Falcons elevating themselves above those terrible teams. Rookie TE Kyle Pitts had a second straight dazzling performance.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) | Last week’s rank: 16
QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers showed before their bye, with victories over the Broncos and Seahawks, that they aren’t finished yet. Their season still has possibilities. The next few weeks could be telling. The Steelers play at Cleveland this weekend in a toss-up division game, followed by winnable home games against the Bears and Lions.
17. New England Patriots (3-4) | Last week’s rank: 20
If the Patriots could play the Jets every week, all would be well. They’re 2-0 against the Jets after routing them Sunday — and 1-4 against everyone else. Rookie QB Mac Jones was solid, and the Patriots got a tone-setting TD on an early gadget play. Now the challenge is to actually win two games in a row. It hasn’t happened yet.
18. Indianapolis Colts (3-4) | Last week’s rank: 24
Things are looking up for QB Carson Wentz and the Colts. They dealt far better with the trying conditions Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium than the 49ers did. The Colts don’t seem to be quite on the level of the Titans, the team they’re chasing in the AFC South. But they are Tennessee’s only viable competition in the division race.
19. Kansas City Chiefs (3-4) | Last week’s rank: 11
This isn’t a great team playing poorly. It’s simply not a very good team at the moment. QB Patrick Mahomes threw another interception before failing to finish the game in Tennessee. He and Coach Andy Reid said Mahomes was cleared under the concussion protocols but, by that point, there was no reason for Mahomes to remain on the field. The Chiefs have reached the point at which they can’t even keep a game close. There’s still time for Reid, Mahomes and the Chiefs to turn this around. But it does not look good right now.
20. San Francisco 49ers (2-4) | Last week’s rank: 17
This is beginning to get ugly, with four straight losses following a 2-0 start. The 49ers could not function on offense amid the sloppy conditions in Sunday night’s loss to the Colts. The defense undid itself with costly pass interference penalties. Rookie QB Trey Lance could return to practice this week, but Jimmy Garoppolo remains the starter for now. How long that lasts remains to be seen.
21. Chicago Bears (3-4) | Last week’s rank: 18
It was a trying few days. The Bears had no chance in Sunday’s loss at Tampa Bay, and then Coach Matt Nagy said Monday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He can return to in-person team activities if he remains symptom-free and has two negative tests 24 hours apart. The Bears should stick with rookie Justin Fields at QB unless they feel things are bad enough that his long-term development is being hindered.
22. New York Giants (2-5) | Last week’s rank: 28
Just when it began to feel as though the Giants would never win another game, they managed to upend the Panthers in surprisingly lopsided fashion Sunday at MetLife Stadium. All is not well. Not even close. But at least the Giants can feel a little better about themselves for a few days.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (2-5) | Last week’s rank: 21
QB Jalen Hurts played fine in the defeat at Las Vegas, but the loss was the Eagles’ fifth in their past six games. At least the Lions are up next. That should provide a temporary reprieve.
24. Carolina Panthers (3-4) | Last week’s rank: 22
The good feelings from their 3-0 beginning are long gone, with four straight losses punctuated by Sunday’s ugly defeat to the Giants in which Coach Matt Rhule benched QB Sam Darnold in favor of P.J. Walker. The Panthers simply are not the same team without injured RB Christian McCaffrey, now in his second straight injury-marred season. The desperation of the situation apparently led to a renewed push to try to trade for QB Deshaun Watson.
25. Denver Broncos (3-4) | Last week’s rank: 23
Remember when the Broncos were 3-0? Nobody else does, either. That three-game start included wins over the hapless Giants, Jaguars and Jets, and it has been proved fraudulent by the 0-4 skid that has followed. The Broncos couldn’t win Thursday night at Cleveland even with the Browns barely able to patch together an offensive lineup, and now Coach Vic Fangio’s job security is an issue.
26. Seattle Seahawks (2-5) | Last week’s rank: 25
Another late-game chance to get a win slipped from the Seahawks’ grasp Monday night. This is what it looks like when an indispensable player like QB Russell Wilson is not available.
27. Washington Football Team (2-5) | Last week’s rank: 26
Actually score the touchdown first, then do the Lambeau leap. It seems simple enough. But nothing is ever that simple with this once-again-irrelevant team.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) | Last week’s rank: 29
Just when the Jaguars were flourishing, with the victory over the Dolphins in London to halt their 20-game losing streak, along came their bye week to interrupt all that positive energy. Oh, the unfairness of it all. They do get to face the Seahawks without Russell Wilson this weekend, at least.
29. New York Jets (1-5) | Last week’s rank: 27
The Jets gave up 54 points and lost their prized rookie QB, Zach Wilson, along with the game in New England. It pretty much goes without saying that this is not going well. Wilson’s knee injury is expected to keep him sidelined for at least a few weeks. Monday’s trade for QB Joe Flacco does not exactly seem like a cure-all.
30. Miami Dolphins (1-6) | Last week’s rank: 30
There is no fixing this broken season for the Dolphins. If they’re going to trade for Deshaun Watson, it had better be with next season — and beyond — in mind. Sunday’s last-second loss to the Falcons simply added to the disappointment. Tua Tagovailoa threw four TD passes but had two interceptions in a mixed-bag performance that did nothing to settle the debate of whether he’s capable of developing into a franchise QB.
31. Houston Texans (1-6) | Last week’s rank: 31
The only reason to pay any attention to the Texans is their decision on whether to trade Deshaun Watson. After that, there’s nothing to see here for the rest of the season.
32. Detroit Lions (0-7) | Last week’s rank: 32
QB Jared Goff made a less-than-triumphant return to Los Angeles, but the Lions did manage to have a fourth-quarter lead over the Rams before succumbing. Goff is struggling, and he’s probably not the answer at QB for the Lions. But there’s no reason not to keep playing him. Find out for sure.