Gosselin NFL rankings: Eagles, NFC stacked at the top
Editor’s note: Rick Gosselin is in his 45th season reporting on the NFL in 2017. He has covered the Lions, Giants, Chiefs and Cowboys in his career, plus 34 Super Bowls. He has served on the Hall-of-Fame selection committee for 22 years and is a member of both the senior and contributor subcommittees. Gosselin also is one of 12 voters for the AP 32, the weekly ranking of NFL teams conducted by The Associated Press. Here is his ballot for Week 11:
1. Philadelphia. The NFC East-leading Eagles return from their bye this weekend to visit the Cowboys in Dallas. Philadelphia is an NFL-best 21-7 coming off byes. The Eagles also will be taking a seven-game winning streak to AT&T Stadium.
2. Pittsburgh. The Steelers sit atop of the AFC North with a 7-2 record even though they have played a league-high six games on the road. The good news is the Steelers now play five of their remaining seven games at home with the two remaining road games against sub-.500 teams (Cincinnati and Houston). You can pencil in Pittsburgh for an AFC first-round bye.
3. New England. The Patriots have held each of their last five opponents to 17 points or less and are playing that type of defense that helped them win a Super Bowl a year ago. But they still rank 32nd in the NFL in defense, which tells you how poorly the Patriots played defense those first four weeks when they staggered out of the gate with a 2-2 record.
4. Minnesota. The Vikings are the only team in the NFL with two different 300-yard passers this season, Sam Bradford and Case Keenum. A third could be on his way to the field now that Minnesota has restored Teddy Bridgewater to the active lineup after a 14-month absence with a dislocated knee and torn ligaments. He was the Vikings’ starter in 2014-15 when he collected five 300-yard passing games.
5. LA Rams. We all know the impact head coach Sean McVay has had in the resurrection of QB Jared Goff’s career. But how about the impact Wade Phillips has had on the L.A. defense? Last season the Rams collected 18 takeaways. This season they lead the league with 19. Last season they had 31 sacks. This season they already have 28.
6. New Orleans. Under the category of “I never thought I’d see this during the Drew Brees era” – the Saints rank higher in the NFL in rushing than they do in passing. The Saints rank third in rushing and fifth in passing. They also have a seven-game winning streak to show for their new-found commitment to the run.
7. Kansas City. The Chiefs return from their bye this week to play the Giants on the road. I’m guessing Andy Reid spent the off week figuring out how to get rookie running back Kareem Hunt more involved in the offense. After a terrific start to his rookie season – six touchdowns and two 100-yard rushing games in his first three NFL weekends – Hunt has been silent. He hasn’t scored a touchdown in the last six games covering 131 touches.
8. Carolina. The Panthers field the NFL’s best defense. Now the defense rests. Carolina is one of the four teams with a bye this week along with Indianapolis, San Francisco and the New York Jets.
9. Seattle. The hits just keep on coming for the Seahawks. They have already lost their left offensive tackle (George Fant), starting running back (Chris Carson) and best pass rusher (Cliff Avril) with season-ending injuries. Now they have lost their best coverage player (Richard Sherman) for the season with an Achilles injury.
10. Jacksonville. At the seasons midway point, the good teams are starting to identify themselves. The Jaguars are one of six teams that rank in the Top 10 in both offense and defense this week. Joining the Jaguars are the Eagles, Falcons, Saints, Steelers and Vikings. In addition to the Jaguars, the Eagles, Saints, Steelers and Vikings all lead their divisions and the Falcons are 5-4.
11. Tennessee. Marcus Mariota has thrown only seven TD passes this season. And this is where rookie WR Corey Dais figures in. The Titans took the All-America fifth overall in the 2017 draft hoping he could give them the same vertical stretch and touchdown production he gave Western Michigan. But Davis suffered a hamstring injury in the second game, which sidelined him for the next five weeks. He’s back now but has only two receptions in the last two games for 76 yards and is still looking for his first TD.
12. Detroit. There have been 47 touchdowns scored by NFL defenses this season. The Lions share the league lead along with the Jaguars and Texans with four apiece. Miles Killebrew, Glover Quin and A’Shawn Robinson scored Detroit TDs on interceptions and Nevin Lawson returned a fumble for that fourth score last weekend against the Browns.
13. Atlanta. The Falcons rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense, so we know that secondary can cover receivers. But the defensive backfield lacks opportunists. Through nine games, Atlanta’s secondary has intercepted just one pass by CB Desmond Trufant.
14. Green Bay. With injuries last week to Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs), the Packers are likely to start their third different running back this season. Rookie Jamaal Williams, a fourth-round pick from Brigham Young, looms as the next man up. He rushed for 67 yards on 20 carries off the bench against the Bears last week.
15. Dallas. The Cowboys became one of three teams this season to allow at least eight sacks in a single game, joining Houston and Indianapolis. The Jaguars slapped 10 sacks on both the Texans and Colts and the Falcons leveled eight on the Cowboys. Both Houston and Dallas were missing their Pro Bowl left tackles in those games. Duane Brown (since traded) was in a contract holdout with the Texans and Tyron Smith was deactivated by the Cowboys with an injury.
16. Buffalo. It’s rare for an NFL team to have two 100-yard rushers in the same game. But the last two times it happened came in games played at Ralph Wilson Stadium. On the ninth weekend of the 2015 season, LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams both rushed for 100 for the Bills in a game against Miami. Then last weekend Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara both rushed for 100 yards for the Saints in a game against the Bills in Buffalo.
17. Oakland. Aaron Rodgers wanted the Packers to keep free agent TE Jared Cook last offseason – and now Raiders QB Derek Carr can see why. Cook left Green Bay for Oakland and has evolved into Carr’s favorite receiver. Cook leads the Raiders in receiving with 39 catches for 499 yards and a touchdown.
18. Washington. There have been 20 turnovers on special teams this season. The Redskins have committed a league-high three of them. Jamison Crowder has fumbled away two punts and Chris Thompson fumbled a kickoff.
19. NY Jets. Josh McCown is completing 69 percent of his passes on a 4-6 team that ranks 24th in the NFL in passing. He is completing passes at a higher rate than Tom Brady (67.3 percent), Matt Ryan (66.6) and Russell Wilson (62.7) – quarterbacks surrounded by far better supporting casts.
20. Arizona. The Redskins failed to collect a sack last weekend, ending their streak of sacks at 31 consecutive games. The Cardinals now have the longest current streak of sacks at 28 consecutive games, including five sacks each of the last two games.
21. LA Chargers. The Chargers have allowed only five more points (172) than they have scored (167) this season yet have just a 3-6 to show for it. Two of their losses were by a field goal, including one in overtime, and two other losses were by two points. Those defeats make for some long plane flights home to Los Angeles.
22. Miami. The struggling Dolphins were supposed to have a scheduled bye this week, but received an unscheduled bye on the opening weekend of the season when their home game against Tampa Bay was washed out by Hurricane Irma. Since the Buccaneers also were supposed to be off this week, the NFL rescheduled their game for this Sunday.
23. Baltimore. The Ravens rank last in the NFL in passing and it’s not all on Joe Flacco. His top target on the flank, Jeremy Maclin, has caught only 27 passes, which places him 85th in the NFL in receiving. AFC North rival Antonio Brown has more catches (60) than the combined total of Baltimore’s two starting wideouts Maclin (27) and Mike Wallace (20).
24. Chicago. Rookie QB Mitch Trubisky is starting to figure out the NFL way. He threw an interception in his debut start, lost a fumble in each of his first two starts and failed to pass for more than 170 yards in any of his first four starts. Then came Chicago’s bye and Trubisky returned a different quarterback last week. He passed for a career-high 297 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers against the Packers.
25. Houston. How much do the Texans miss pass rushers J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus? Houston has allowed 1,115 passing yards over the last three weeks in losing to the Seahawks, Colts and Rams to fall out of playoff contention in the AFC South at 3-6.
26. Denver. Trevor Siemien threw four touchdown passes in a victory over the Cowboys on the second weekend of the season. The Broncos have thrown only five touchdown passes in the seven games since then. Siemian has three of them and Brock Osweiler, his successor, has two in his two starts.
27. Tampa Bay. The Bucs collected six sacks in last weekend’s victory over the Jets. That’s more sacks than the Bucs managed in the month of September (1) and as many as they managed in the month of October (6).
28. Cincinnati. The lack of a running game is hampering the Bengals. Because they rank last in the NFL on the ground, the Bengals fail to control the clock, which places an inordinate amount of stress on the defense. Cincinnati controls the ball for a league-low 26 minutes, 57 seconds per game, which forces the defenses to play more than 33 minutes per game.
29. Indianapolis. Jacoby Brissett’s four touchdown passes over the last two weeks have covered 45 (T.Y. Hilton), 80 (Hilton), 60 (Donte Moncrief) and 61 yards (Chester Rogers). Tom Brady’s last 11 touchdown passes have covered 89 total yards.
30. San Francisco. First-year NFL head coaches Kyle Shanahan (49ers) and Anthony Lynn (Chargers) both picked up their first NFL victories against the New York Giants. Dick Vermeil, Jon Gruden and Jason Garrett also picked up their first NFL victories against the Giants.
31. NY Giants. The Giants are 1-8 but the problem isn’t necessarily QB Eli Manning, who has thrown only two interceptions in his last six games. The problem is an offense that can’t run the ball, can’t block and is asking its quarterback to make it work without his two best receivers (Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall).
32. Cleveland. The Browns have committed a league-high 23 turnovers, including 21 of them by their three quarterbacks. This is a franchise that in the last two drafts traded away from Carson Wentz in 2016 and DeShaun Watson in 2017.