Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. Thanks to New England getting its signal-caller back in the fold, the Patriots narrowly hold off streaking Minnesota for the top spot through Week 5.
1. New England Patriots (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The offense is really, really versatile and really, really good with Tom Brady back at QB. The Patriots didn’t even need the running of LeGarrette Blount against the Browns, and Brady made sure to get TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Chris Hogan involved in the passing game, in addition to throwing three TD passes to TE Martellus Bennett. WRs Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola also will have their moments. There are tougher tests to come with the Steelers, Seahawks and Broncos left on the schedule.
2. Minnesota Vikings (5-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
This defense is fully capable of doing what Denver’s defense did last season and carry the Vikings to a Super Bowl triumph. Minnesota’s QB situation actually is better than the Broncos’ was last season, with Sam Bradford having stabilized things. Minnesota is the clear NFC favorite at the moment, but it will be interesting to see who emerges from among the Seahawks, Falcons, Cowboys, Packers and Eagles to vie with the Vikings for conference supremacy.
3. Seattle Seahawks (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
The Seahawks’ bye week gave QB Russell Wilson’s ankle and knee injuries time to heal. That’s important with the Falcons coming to Seattle this weekend for what suddenly has become a significant confrontation between top NFC contenders.
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
The win in Denver on Sunday was impressive even with the Broncos playing without QB Trevor Siemian. The Falcons have now put together consecutive triumphs over last season’s two Super Bowl teams, the Panthers and Broncos. But there is no let-up with that trip to Seattle up next.
5. Denver Broncos (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 1
For the second time in recent years, there are real-life health concerns for Gary Kubiak, with the Broncos coach to be away from the team after being diagnosed with a complex migraine condition. Kubiak suffered a mini-stroke in 2013 while coaching the Texans. The job can take its toll on a coach’s health, and Kubiak would be wise to make certain all is well before he returns.
6. Dallas Cowboys (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Tony Romo’s MRI exam Monday is said to have confirmed the Cowboys’ belief that his back is healing well enough to put him on course to be available soon. The franchise’s decision-makers, including owner Jerry Jones, continue to say the starting-QB job will be Romo’s when he’s healthy enough to play. But that’s relatively easy to say now. It will be much more difficult to actually make a move away from rookie Dak Prescott if Prescott continues to play this way and the Cowboys continue to win.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
Second-year WR Sammie Coates has become a major contributor to the Pittsburgh offense. He has 19 catches in five games and is averaging an eye-popping 22.2 yards per reception. While defenses try to figure out how to slow down fellow WR Antonio Brown, Coates is finding ways to make game-changing plays.
8. Green Bay Packers (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Aaron Rodgers still hasn’t really gotten things going, with a passer rating of 87.7 through four games. That’s another step down from last year’s 92.7, which was Rodgers’s lowest mark over a full season since he became Green Bay’s starter at QB in 2008. Yet the Packers are 3-1. So maybe it’s time to relax.
9. Oakland Raiders (4-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The Raiders certainly are demonstrating an ability to win tight games. Their four victories have come by a total of 12 points.
10. Buffalo Bills (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
The NFL sack leader isn’t Von Miller, J.J. Watt or Khalil Mack. It’s Lorenzo Alexander, the veteran LB (and former Pro Bowler on special teams for the Redskins) who has seven sacks in five games this season for the Bills. He had nine sacks in nine NFL seasons before that. His previous single-season best was 2.5 sacks for the Redskins in 2012, and he had zero last season for the Raiders.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
The Eagles very well may have been wronged on the lost fumble that cost them the game against the Lions. It does appear that center Jason Kelce touched the football while he was out of bounds and Philadelphia should have been awarded possession. Even so, there was a simple way to have avoided all of that: Ryan Mathews shouldn’t have fumbled in the first place.
12. Washington Redskins (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
Being lucky is part of being good. So the Redskins needn’t apologize for the good fortune that has come their way in triumphs over the Giants, Browns and Ravens following an 0-2 beginning. At some point, however, the Redskins are going to have to win a few games not handed to them by opponents.
13. Arizona Cardinals (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
Drew Stanton saved the season by helping to beat the 49ers on Thursday night while filling in at QB for Carson Palmer. Now it’s up to Palmer, if he returns to the lineup this week, to keep things moving in a positive direction by beating the dreadful-of-late Jets on Monday night.
14. Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
The Chiefs return from their bye to play a tough game Sunday at Oakland. They at least have some history on their side: Andy Reid-coached teams have a record of 15-2 in the first game following a bye week. The Chiefs are 5-1 against the Raiders under Reid.
15. Los Angeles Rams (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
Has the Rams’ annual push toward a 7-9 record begun?
16. Cincinnati Bengals (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
The optimistic view of what’s happening in Cincinnati is that the Bengals, for a change, are saving their best play for the games that matter the most at the end of the regular season and perhaps beyond. The other way of looking at it is that they simply aren’t very good.
17. Baltimore Ravens (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
No, Marc Trestman wasn’t responsible for the play that really cost the Ravens the game Sunday against the Redskins, the fumble out of the end zone by LB C.J. Mosley after his interception. But Coach John Harbaugh’s firing of Trestman as the team’s offensive coordinator probably was justified, given the lack of production. Still, is Trestman’s successor, Marty Mornhinweg, really going to do that much better with an offense that relies so heavily on a 37-year-old WR in Steve Smith Sr.?
18. Houston Texans (3-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
Brock Osweiler, after signing a $72 million contract in free agency to be the Texans’ answer at QB, has six TD passes, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 70.6. Is it possible that Houston paid big money to actually regress from the Brian Hoyer days?
19. Indianapolis Colts (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Andrew Luck has been sacked 20 times in five games this season. Wasn’t the idea that keeping him healthy and in the lineup would be a priority this season?
20. Tennessee Titans (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Sunday’s win in Miami followed the Titans’ plan for this season. They got a running game going with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and that made things much easier for second-year QB Marcus Mariota.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
So did Roberto Aguayo have the worst good game ever by a kicker in Monday night’s overtime win over the Panthers? Or the best bad game ever by a kicker? A game-winning FG is nice. But when you use a second-round draft pick on a kicker, you’re expecting just a little bit more consistency.
22. Detroit Lions (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
QB Matthew Stafford, relatively quietly, is having a pretty decent season even without retired WR Calvin Johnson. And just when it appears that the Lions’ season is coming unglued, they go out and upset the Eagles.
23. New York Giants (2-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
It was good to see WR Odell Beckham Jr. follow his brilliant TD catch Sunday night by making peace with the nation’s sideline kicking nets. Beckham seemed to be having fun playing football again, at least for one night. The problem is, there wasn’t much joy to be found in anything else that the Giants did, and another season could be beginning to slip away.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
The win against the Colts in London before their bye week quieted the talk that Coach Gus Bradley was about to be fired. Now the Jaguars are back from their bye and actually have a chance to get a winning streak going with a victory Sunday at Chicago.
25. Carolina Panthers (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Are the defending NFC champs done five games into the season? Even Aguayo, the Buccaneers’ erratic rookie kicker, couldn’t save the Panthers on Monday night. There’s no more benefit of the doubt, even with Cam Newton sidelined, that this might be a still-good team playing badly. Right now, the Panthers are what their record says they are: a bad team.
26. Chicago Bears (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 22
Brian Hoyer can’t do it all by himself. Who ever thought that would become an issue?
27. New Orleans Saints (1-3) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
So much for that preseason talk about the Saints being meaningfully better on defense. They’re dreadful again.
28. New York Jets (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
At least QB Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t throw any interceptions in the lopsided loss at Pittsburgh. That counts as progress by the Jets’ current standards.
29. Miami Dolphins (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
Who is most encouraged by Coach Adam Gase saying he will stick with Ryan Tannehill all season as the Dolphins’ QB? Probably the remaining teams on Miami’s schedule.
30. San Diego Chargers (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
Was anyone even surprised that the Chargers botched a would-be tying FG attempt in Sunday’s narrow defeat to the Raiders? There is a growing belief in and around the league that Mike McCoy is coaching for his job Thursday night against the Broncos. The Chargers would have extra time, with the mini-bye week, to make a change before they face the Falcons on Oct. 23.
31. San Francisco 49ers (1-4) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Clearly it’s time for Coach Chip Kelly to give Colin Kaepernick a chance at QB. But will it make any difference? It has been a few years since Kaepernick played effectively. But Kelly’s high-speed offense seemingly gives him a decent chance to succeed.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-5) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
They have used Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Terrelle Pryor and Charlie Whitehurst at QB. Any volunteers to be next in line?