Rick Gosselin's NFL rankings for Week 14: Ravens are flying high at the top
Editor's note: Rick Gosselin is in his 47th season reporting on the NFL in 2019. He has covered the Lions, Giants, Chiefs and Cowboys in his career plus 37 Super Bowls. He has served on the Hall of Fame selection committee and is a member of both the senior and contributor sub-committees. Gosselin also is one of the 12 voters for the AP 32, the weekly ranking of NFL teams conducted by the Associated Press. Here is his ballot for Week 14:
1. Baltimore Ravens. There are five teams tied with a league-best 10-2 records. The Ravens have beaten three of them: San Francisco, Seattle and New England. The other is New Orleans…and the only chance the Ravens have of playing the Saints this season would be in the Super Bowl.
2. San Francisco 49ers. Opportunism pays off. There have been 48 touchdowns scored by NFL defenses this season. There are 12 teams that haven’t scored any defensive touchdowns. Three of the top teams in this week’s rankings have combined for 13 of them. The Ravens lead the way with five and the 49ers and Patriots next with four apiece.
3. Seattle Seahawks. Seattle no longer fields a defense known as the “Legion of Boom,” but that doesn’t mean the Seahawks have forgotten how to lower the boom. The names may have changed but the Seahawks still know how to separate offensive players from the football. Seattle has forced an NFC-high 22 fumbles and recovered an NFL-high 16 of them. The Seahawks rank third in the NFL with 27 takeaways.
4. New England Patriots. The Patriots have a Super Bowl-ready defense. But, surprisingly, an offense led by Tom Brady is lacking. There are no longer any game-breakers for Brady to find with his passes. New England ranks 14th in the NFL in offense. The last time the Patriots finished a season ranked this low was 2003 when they finished 17th in offense (on the way to their second Lombardi Trophy).
5. New Orleans Saints. This is one of those rare seasons when the Saints have a higher-ranked defense (10th) than their Drew Brees-led offense (13th). Which helps explain why they are in control the NFC South with a 10-2 record. New Orleans ranks fourth in the NFL with 40 sacks and DE Cameron Jordan has emerged as a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors with his league-runnerup 13 ½ sacks. He’s coming off a four-sack game against the Falcons.
6. Green Bay Packers. The Packers don’t get many chances to intercept the passes of Aaron Rodgers in practice, so they make up for it on Sundays. Rodgers has the lowest interception rate in NFL history. But Green Bay doesn’t face quarterbacks the caliber of Rodgers every week, which is why they have intercepted 12 passes this season. Only four NFL defenses have more interceptions. CB Kevin King leads the way with four.
7. Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen is one of only two 12-game starters at quarterback who still hasn’t passed for 300 yards in a game. But he makes up for it in other ways – namely his eight rushing touchdowns. He has more TDs on the ground than MVP front-runner Lamar Jackson and also more TDs than Pro Bowl touchdown machines RB Ezekiel Elliott (eight) and WR DeAndre Hopkins (six) plus the NFL’s leading rusher Nick Chubb (seven).
8. Houston Texans. DeShaun Watson is that throwback triple-threat in the game of football. He has passed for 23 touchdowns this season, rushed for five more and scored his first career TD on a reception last weekend in the upset of the Patriots. Watson became the first quarterback to catch a touchdown pass since Atlanta’s Matt Ryan in the 2018 season finale against Tampa Bay.
9. Minnesota Vikings. QB Kirk Cousins has thrown two interceptions in the last 10 weeks. Each time, a catchable ball passed through the hands of WR Stefon Diggs and into the hands of a defender. Cousins has thrown only four interceptions on the season.
10. Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs played the first penalty-free game of the 2019 season last weekend against the Raiders – and the first in the NFL since the 10th week of the 2018 season when the Eagles went penalty-less against the Cowboys. A total of 31 teams have played penalty-free games since 2001 but this was the first for Kansas City. Three teams played penalty-free against the Chiefs in that time – the Jets in 2001, the Broncos in 2006 and the Patriots in 2018.
11. Los Angeles Rams. Perennial Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters are gone from L.A.’s Super Bowl defense of a year ago but coordinator Wade Phillips is working his magic once again. After a slow start to the season – including a 55-point debacle against the Buccaneers in September – the Rams are again slamming the door shut on opponents. L.A. has held four of its last six foes to 10 points or less and climbed to sixth in the NFL in sacks with 38.
12. Tennessee Titans. There is not a hotter running back right now – and arguably not even a hotter player at any position – than Titans halfback Derrick Henry. He’s having the type of season Todd Gurley produced in 2018 on his way to the Super Bowl. Henry has rushed for 149 or more yards each of the last three weeks with five touchdowns for the 7-5 Titans. He has 1,140 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the year and also has two TDs on receptions, including the longest score of the season by the Titans (a 75-yard catch).
13. Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers entered the season without their two most dynamic – albeit disgruntled -- playmakers in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and are now down to their third quarterback. Yet the Steelers are 7-5 and in the playoff hunt. That’s because the Pittsburgh identity has always been defense – and the Steelers are playing to that identity. They field a Top 5 defense and lead the NFL with 30 takeaways. Defense still wins in the NFL.
14. Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are one of three teams to rank in the Top 10 in the NFL in both offense and defense this week. The other two – Baltimore and San Francisco – are potential top seeds this post-season with 10-2 records. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are spinning their wheels at 6-6. They keep beating themselves with more giveaways (16) this season than takeaways (12). In fact, the Dallas defense has not forced a turnover in four games.
15. Indianapolis Colts. The 6-6 Colts finish their season with three of the last four games on the road. That will be a tall challenge for Indy QB Jacoby Brissett, who has thrown 11 of his 16 touchdown passes in the indoor comfort of Lucas Oil Stadium. He hasn’t thrown a TD pass on the road since Sept. 15 at Tennessee.
16. Chicago Bears. QB Mitch Trubisky is coming to life at the right time for the Bears. He threw for only five touchdowns in Chicago’s first eight games – a lack of production in a passing league that contributed to the defending NFC North champion’s 3-5 start. But Trubisky has thrown eight TD passes in the last four games to help the Bears get back to 6-6 and give them a fighting chance for a wild-card playoff spot.
17. Oakland Raiders. Two weeks ago the Raiders were perched in playoff contention at 6-4 with a shot at the AFC West lead. But QB Derek Carr has had an interception returned for a touchdown each of the last two weeks in road losses to the Jets and Chiefs. At 6-6, the Raiders are once again speeding toward another non-playoff finish.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback whisperer Bruce Arians must be scratching his head these days with his latest project Jameis Winston. He has shown himself to be capable of the heights – a 400-yard passing game against the Panthers and a four-TD game against the Rams. But he’s also shown himself capable of the depths – 15 interceptions in his five home games, including five against the Panthers, four against the Saints and three against the 49ers. He leads the NFL with 20 interceptions … but also ranks second in 300-yard games with eight.
19. Cleveland Browns. There have been 103 300-yard passing games in the NFL this season. The Browns and New England Patriots are the only defenses that haven’t allowed any of them. The Browns have already faced Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Jimmy Garappolo but injuries kept Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Sam Darnold off the field in their games with the Browns.
20. Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have four 100-yard receiving games this season by four different players. WR DeSean Jackson started things off with a 154-yrd game in the season opener against Washington, followed by WR Nelson Agholor’s 107-yard game in the second week against Atlanta. Then came a six-game drought before TE Zach Ertz managed a 103-yard game against the Bears. Alshon Jeffery posted the fourth 100-yard game last weekend against Miami. It’s a passing league, and the Lions and Rams lead with 10 individual 100-yard receiving games apiece. The 5-7 Eagles need more plays on the flank if they are to make a last-ditch bid for the playoffs this month.
20. Carolina Panthers. The Panthers visit Atlanta this weekend with memories of QB Kyle Allen’s best – and worst – days as an NFL quarterback. Allen threw for a career-high 325 yards against the Falcons three weekends ago. But he also threw four interceptions and was sacked five times in a 29-3 loss to Atlanta. He has thrown five TD passes against only one interception since then and also rushed for a score.
22. Denver Broncos. There’s been one positive in this disappointing 4-8 season by the Broncos. They have won games with three different quarterbacks – Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen and, last weekend, rookie Drew Lock. Now the downside – the quarterbacking has been atrocious on the road. Flacco and Allen combined for only three TD passes in the first six road games. Lock now gets his chance on the road with back-to-back games against Houston and Kansas City.
23. Los Angeles Chargers. Eight rookie quarterbacks made the NFL starting debuts in 2019. Only three of them were victorious in those first starts – and two of them beat the Chargers, Pittsburgh’s Devlin Hodges and Denver’s Drew Lock. Hodges, an undrafted college free agent, beat the Chargers in Los Angeles in Week 6 and Lock, a second-rounder, won last weekend in Denver. The other rookie QB to win his starting debut was Daniel Jones of the Giants, beating Tampa Bay.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars gave QB Nick Foles a four-year, $88 million contract in the offseason. But four starts into his Jacksonville career, he was yanked at halftime against the Buccaneers Sunday in favor of rookie Gardner Minshew. Foles suffered a broken clavicle in the season opener but returned in the 11th week to face the Colts. Jacksonville has lost all three of his starts since then. After a three-turnover first half against the Bucs, he was pulled for Minshew.
25. Miami Dolphins. Through three weeks, the NFC built an 11-3 lead in the interconference series with the AFC. Through eight weeks, the NFC was still riding high with a 23-13 edge. But since then the AFC has won 13 of the 16 matchups to deadlock the series heading into the season’s final month. The AFC can thank the AFC East, which has gone 7-0 against NFC foes these last five weeks. The Bills, Jets and Patriots have all gone 2-0 and the Dolphins joined the party with an upset of the Eagles last weekend.
26. Washington Redskins. Bill Callahan is one of the best offensive-line coaches in the business. As the interim head coach of the Redskins, he wants to run the football. With a healthy Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson in his stable of backs, he now has the legs to do that. Guice missed eight games in the first half of the season with a knee injury but now he’s back and so is Washington’s commitment to the run. Guice rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns and Peterson added 99 more yards in last weekend’s road upset of Carolina.
27. Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals have the worst defense in the NFL and it’s no secret why. Arizona is defenseless against the pass. The Cards have allowed seven 300-yard passers and 11 100-yard receivers in their 12 games, both league highs. The opposition is completing 71.3 percent of its passes against Arizona for an average of 307.5 yards.
28. Detroit Lions. The Lions are one of four teams that has been forced to start three different quarterbacks this season – Matthew Stafford, Jeff Driskel and David Blough. The others are the Broncos, Redskins and Steelers. But only Pittsburgh has been immune to the losing. The Steelers have a 7-5 record, the Broncos and Jets are both 4-8 and the Lions 3-8-1.
29. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have not posted a sack in the last two games and have now gone sack-less in half of their 12 games. Atlanta has an NFC-low 18 sacks this season. If you can’t pressure the quarterback, you can’t win on Sundays. Just three years removed from a Super Bowl, the Falcons sit 3-9.
30. New York Jets. Here’s an idea – instead of pitting teams from the ACC and the Big Ten in the annual Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27, match up the two New Jersey NFL teams, the Giants and the Jets, to determine who’s the best (or worst) team in the Garden State. The Giants are 2-10, the Jets 4-8 and the two teams have combined to lose their last nine NFL games.
31. Cincinnati Bengals. In hindsight, maybe the Bengals shouldn’t have benched QB Andy Dalton for rookie Ryan Finley a month ago. Dalton was demoted following a 329-yard, one-touchdown, no turnover performance in a loss to the Rams. Three games – and three losses – later, coach Zac Taylor restored Dalton as his starter and he delivered the team’s first victory of the season against the Jets. Dalton played another turnover-free game, passing for 243 yards and a touchdown, in the win. His TD pass to Tyler Boyd made Dalton the franchise’s all-time leader with 198.
32. New York Giants. This has certainly been a learning experience for rookie QB Daniel Jones. And what he’s been learning is his line can’t clock. He suffered an eight-sack game against Arizona, a six-sack game against the Jets, five-sack games against the Buccaneers and Cowboys and a four-sack game against the Vikings. The offseason priority No. 1 for the Giants is to find some protection for Jones.