1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2) | Last week’s rank: 4
The Cardinals played a third straight game without QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins. They won for the second time during that trying stretch, this time beating the Seahawks. Colt McCoy gave another solid performance filling in for Murray, and TE Zach Ertz showed he can be a difference-maker. The Cardinals are 6-0 on the road this season. While the league’s other upper-echelon teams are suffering perplexing losses, the Cardinals are winning without two of their stars.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) | Last week’s rank: 5
That was more like it Monday night against the Giants. QB Tom Brady threw two TD passes and even had a 10-yard run on a scramble. The defense was back to resembling championship-caliber. The Buccaneers pulled things together late last season to launch their Super Bowl run. If it’s going to happen again, now is the time.
3. New England Patriots (7-4) | Last week’s rank: 6
The defense is outstanding and rookie QB Mac Jones is solid, and no one should be stunned if Bill Belichick’s Patriots get to the Super Bowl in Year 2 post-Brady. The Falcons provided little resistance as the Patriots had four sacks and four interceptions while pitching a shutout Thursday night in Atlanta. The Patriots trailed the Browns 7-0 in the first quarter in Week 10. Since then, they outscored Cleveland and Atlanta 70-0.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) | Last week’s rank: 7
The defense was superb during Sunday’s triumph over the Cowboys as the recovery program continued for the Chiefs. They’ve won four straight, and suddenly they and the Patriots are back in the running for AFC supremacy. The five sacks and three turnovers generated by the defense against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys were extremely encouraging.
5. Baltimore Ravens (7-3) | Last week’s rank: 8
Who needs Lamar Jackson? Well, the Ravens do, obviously. The offense sputtered Sunday in Chicago with Tyler Huntley filling in at QB for Jackson, who was inactive because of an illness. But Huntley and the Ravens did just enough to escape with a win, and now it’s all about finding a way for Jackson to feel better and get back on the field.
6. Green Bay Packers (8-3) | Last week’s rank: 2
QB Aaron Rodgers put up big numbers in Minneapolis, with 385 passing yards and four TDs, in his second game back in the lineup after missing one following his positive test for the coronavirus. But a late interception by Darnell Savage Jr. that might have been a game-winning play was overturned on a replay review, and the defense allowed the Vikings to drive to a winning FG. It wasn’t a particularly alarming defeat for the Packers, but it was a missed opportunity.
7. Tennessee Titans (8-3) | Last week’s rank: 1
The loss to the Texans was stunning, even with the recent trend of the supposed top teams losing to the bottom-dwellers. The defense can’t do it alone. QB Ryan Tannehill’s four-interception performance suggests he cannot be trusted as the centerpiece of the offense. The Titans need to find a way to reestablish the running game, even without Derrick Henry.
8. Dallas Cowboys (7-3) | Last week’s rank: 3
So much for that joyride through the season. The Cowboys couldn’t even reach the end zone Sunday at Kansas City, managing only three FGs. They’ve dropped two of three, and they’ll be shorthanded at WR heading into the Thanksgiving game against the Raiders. Amari Cooper is in isolation after reportedly testing positive for the coronavirus, and CeeDee Lamb left the game at Kansas City in the concussion protocol. QB Dak Prescott was under nearly constant pressure against the Chiefs and committed three turnovers.
9. Los Angeles Rams (7-3) | Last week’s rank: 9
The Rams return from their bye seeking to steady themselves after two straight losses. They must incorporate their latest high-profile additions, WR Odell Beckham Jr. and LB Von Miller, into what they’re doing. QB Matthew Stafford must avoid the early interceptions that were the Rams’ undoing in pre-bye defeats to the Titans and 49ers. The Rams face a difficult test with this weekend’s game at Green Bay.
10. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4) | Last week’s rank: 12
The victory Sunday at Las Vegas was badly needed. The Bengals, after two straight losses and a bye week, hadn’t won in nearly a month. Now it’s time to find out how much staying power they have. They face the Steelers, Chargers and 49ers over the next three weekends.
11. Indianapolis Colts (6-5) | Last week’s rank: 13
RB Jonathan Taylor needs to be at least on the fringes of the MVP discussion. He almost single-handedly beat the Bills on Sunday by running for 185 yards and four TDs and adding a receiving score. The lopsided triumph in Buffalo was surprising, but the Colts continue to show they should not be dismissed as an AFC contender.
12. Cleveland Browns (6-5) | Last week’s rank: 14
The victory over the Lions wasn’t impressive, but at least the Browns avoided an upset. RB Nick Chubb (130 yards) was productive in his return. There remains room to wonder whether the best interests of QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns are being served by continuing to play Mayfield with his assortment of injuries.
13. San Francisco 49ers (5-5) | Last week’s rank: 15
The 49ers look formidable after a convincing victory Sunday at Jacksonville on the heels of an impressive triumph the previous Monday night at home over the Rams. The 49ers are using their running game and crafting ridiculously long drives, such as the opening FG march against the Jaguars that lasted 20 plays and took more than 13 minutes, and QB Jimmy Garoppolo played mistake-free football.
14. Minnesota Vikings (5-5) | Last week’s rank: 16
There was no reason to trust that the Vikings would get it done in crunchtime against the Packers. But they did. It took some good fortune; QB Kirk Cousins’s potentially calamitous interception was overturned on replay. Even so, Cousins made the plays down the stretch in a solid performance before Greg Joseph kicked the winning FG. That was the kind of game the Vikings usually find a way to lose.
15. Los Angeles Chargers (6-4) | Last week’s rank: 17
The Chargers never do anything the easy way, do they? They had to come from behind Sunday night to beat the Steelers even after leading 27-10 late in the third quarter and 34-20 with less than nine minutes to play. But at least they pulled it off. QB Justin Herbert and RB Austin Ekeler were terrific in the captivating 41-37 triumph. But if the Chargers are going to take the next step, they need to stop living on the edge and figure out how to have a routine win every so often.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1) | Last week’s rank: 11
The rally Sunday night at SoFi Stadium was furious. The 27-point fourth quarter was wondrous. QB Ben Roethlisberger returned to the lineup and played well, but the issues with the depleted defense were obvious. The Steelers can only hope that those are addressed when star pass rusher T.J. Watt, CB Joe Haden and others return.
17. Buffalo Bills (6-4) | Last week’s rank: 10
What in the world happened to the Bills? This was supposed to be the AFC front-runner. And that’s exactly what Buffalo resembled during that four-game winning streak early in the season. But perhaps the Bills began to listen a little too intently to all the good things being said about them. This team appears to have lost its edge, and now the Bills are not even the favorite in their own division.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) | Last week’s rank: 20
At the least, the Eagles’ retooling is beginning to feel like a success. But maybe this is something more. The Eagles have three wins in their past four games and are within a game of .500 as December nears. Second-year QB Jalen Hurts had three rushing TDs in Sunday’s home victory over the Saints.
19. Miami Dolphins (4-7) | Last week’s rank: 23
This is getting mildly interesting. The Dolphins have three straight wins since their 1-7 start. The Panthers, Giants and Jets are up next. If the Dolphins can win all three to reach .500, then it gets really interesting.
20. Washington Football Team (4-6) | Last week’s rank: 24
The wins over the Buccaneers and Panthers have kept the season from unraveling. Taylor Heinicke is getting it done at QB, and Coach Ron Rivera won Sunday in his return to Carolina. This team has been a disappointment for most of the season but suddenly is playing at a level much closer to what was expected all along.
21. Denver Broncos (5-5) | Last week’s rank: 22
The Broncos return from their bye still in the AFC playoff race. They remain a mystery. They lost to the Eagles at home right before their bye, one week after a dominant performance in a lopsided triumph at Dallas. The Broncos’ post-bye schedule begins with significant AFC West matchups against the Chargers and Chiefs.
22. New Orleans Saints (5-5) | Last week’s rank: 18
Coach Sean Payton made it work with Drew Brees at QB. He made it work with fill-ins Teddy Bridgewater in 2019 and Taysom Hill last season. He was making it work this year with Jameis Winston succeeding Brees — until Winston got hurt. He cannot make it work, apparently, with Trevor Siemian.
23. Las Vegas Raiders (5-5) Last week’s rank: 19
The season is coming undone. The Raiders have lost three straight, and it’s fair to wonder whether all the off-field strife has caught up to them. But there’s little time to wallow with a Thanksgiving Day matchup at the Cowboys looming.
24. Carolina Panthers (5-6) | Last week’s rank: 21
Cam Newton was decent at QB in his first start since his return. But the Carolina defense could not solve Washington QB Taylor Heinicke, and the Panthers dropped below .500. If the Panthers are going to be a factor in the NFC playoff race, the defense needs to lead the way — and it needs to be better than it was Sunday.
25. New York Giants (3-7) | Last week’s rank: 25
RB Saquon Barkley was a non-factor in his return to the lineup, and QB Daniel Jones continued to make head-scratching mistakes. The progress that had been made in recent weeks was undone with the dreadful performance Monday night in Tampa.
26. Atlanta Falcons (4-6) Last week’s rank: 26
How feeble can a team only two games below .500 possibly be? The Falcons have been outscored by the Cowboys and Patriots 68-3 over their past two games. They suffered their first shutout at home since 1988 in Thursday night’s pitiable showing against the Patriots. It’s far from certain that the Falcons will win Sunday at Jacksonville.
27. Seattle Seahawks (3-7) | Last week’s rank: 27
The return of QB Russell Wilson failed to save the Seahawks. Either Wilson came back too soon, or the rust on his game was too much to overcome. Either way, he has not been himself. The hole might be too deep now, and the talk about whether Wilson will leave Seattle in the offseason is almost certain to resume.
28. Chicago Bears (3-7) | Last week’s rank: 28
Andy Dalton performed relatively well in relief of Justin Fields after the rookie QB suffered a rib injury Sunday. But make no mistake: The season is lost, and Fields should play if he’s healthy enough to do so. There’s nothing else to accomplish here.
29. Houston Texans (2-8) | Last week’s rank: 31
Give this much to the Texans: They haven’t given up, either on themselves or on Coach David Culley. The victory over the Titans ended an eight-game losing streak that started after their season-opening triumph over the Jaguars. The Titans certainly helped out by committing five turnovers.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8) | Last week’s rank: 29
The recent improvement in the Jaguars’ play ended with Sunday’s defeat at home to the 49ers. The Jaguars weren’t even close to competitive. They barely could get possession early, and they trailed 30-3 before finally reaching the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
31. New York Jets (2-8) | Last week’s rank: 30
The decision to start 36-year-old Joe Flacco at QB was puzzling. What was the point? The season is lost, and it made far more sense to give Mike White another chance before Zach Wilson returns. Flacco’s play was fine, but the Jets got what they deserved with the defeat to the Dolphins.
32. Detroit Lions (0-9-1) | Last week’s rank: 32
The Lions can lose with Tim Boyle at QB, just as they can lose with Jared Goff at QB. That’s versatility. Going 0-16-1 remains very much in play.