Rick Gosselin's NFL rankings for Week 8: Defenses rise to the top

Dennis Allen photo courtesy of USA Today
Rick Gosselin

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 8:

1. New England Patriots. How much better are these Patriots than the team that won the Super Bowl a year ago? Defensively, quite a bit. New England leads the NFL with 22 takeaways on defense through seven games. The 2018 Patriots managed only 28 takeaways through 16 regular-season games.

2. San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers lead the NFL in defense this week. They acquired DE Dee Ford in a trade with Kansas City this offseason and then used the second overall pick of the 2019 draft on DE Nick Bosa. The dividends have been immediate. Ford has 4 ½ sacks and Bosa four thus far. The 49ers are now on a pace for a 53-sack season. San Francisco collected only 37 sacks a year ago.

3. New Orleans Saints. Dennis Allen inherited the NFL’s 31st ranked defense when he signed on with the Saints as coordinator in 2015. New Orleans finished 31st again that season, then improved to 27th in 2016, 17th in 2018 and are now 14th in 2019. The Saints rank in the Top 10 in both sacks and run defense. New Orleans has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 29 games, the longest such streak in the NFL.

4. Green Bay Packers. This is where the season gets interesting for the Packers. With five of their first seven games at home, Green Bay needed a fast start and got it with a 6-1 record. Now the Packers face a schedule with four of the next five games on the road, including tripsto fellow division leaders Kansas City and San Francisco.

5. Buffalo Bills. The oldest formula for success in the NFL is to run the ball and play defense. The Bills have been doing just that in their surprising 5-1 start. They rank seventh in the NFL in rushing and third in defense. That formula works even better when the weather gets colder. And this is the time of year the temperatures start cooling in Buffalo.

6. Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have a bye this week, which will give quarterback Lamar Jackson a chance to rest his legs. Jackson ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing this season with 576 yards. He has three 100-yard rushing games and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry with three touchdowns.

7. Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings rank sixth in the NFL in both offense and defense this week. They are one of only four teams that rank in the Top 10 in both offense and defense but the only one not leading a division. The others are Dallas (NFC East), New England (AFC East) and San Francisco (NFC West). The 5-2 Vikings sit a game back of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

8. Indianapolis Colts. The Colts sit atop the AFC South because they don’t beat themselves with turnovers. Indianapolis has given the ball away only five times, third fewest in the NFL. Marlon Mack has carried the ball 119 times without a fumble and quarterback Jacoby Brissett has thrown only three interceptions in 206 passes.

9. Seattle Seahawks. Speaking of taking care of the football, no one does it better than Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He finally threw his first (and only) interception last week and has lost only one fumble all season. Wilson and Carson Wentz of the Eagles are the only two quarterbacks who have thrown touchdown passes in all seven of the NFL weekends thus far. Wilson has also rushed for three scores.

10. Kansas City Chiefs. The last time the Chiefs went to a Super Bowl, they lost their quarterback (Len Dawson) for seven games in the first half of the season because of an injury. Mike Livingston stepped in and won all six of his starts to keep those Super Bowl hopes alive until Dawson could return. With Patrick Mahomes leaving the lineup with a dislocated knee cap, Matt Moore will now have the chance to become the Mike Livingston of the 2019 Chiefs.

11. Los Angeles Rams. Todd Gurley isn’t the back he was a year ago when he finished third in the NFL in rushing and chased NFL MVP honors. He has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game this season and ranks 22nd in the NFL with a paltry 311 yards. But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to find the end zone. He ranks seventh in the league in TDs with six, scoring five times on the ground and once on a pass reception.

12. Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have their bye this week, then play three of the next four games on the road upon their return. QB Dak Prescott has thrown 12 TD passes this season but only three of them have come in his three road games this season.

13. Carolina Panthers. No one does a better job of preparing quarterbacks than Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He won Super Bowls with Troy Aikman, won division titles with Jay Fielder and Teddy Bridgewater and made Pro Bowlers out of Gus Frerotte and Brad Johnson. So we shouldn’t be surprised that under Turner’s tutelage, Carolina backup Kyle Allen has won four consecutive starts in the injury absence of Cam Newton. Allen has thrown seven TD passes without any interceptions.

14. Houston Texans. DE J.J. Watt isn’t the only playmaker on the Houston defense. OLB Whitney Mercilus leads the Texans with 5 ½ sacks. He leads the NFL with four forced fumbles and also has an interception.

15. Arizona Cardinals. Pro Bowl CB Patrick Peterson is back from his six-game NFL suspension, which locks down the flank for the Cardinals. But they still need coverage help on the inside. Arizona has allowed six individual 100-yard games, including a league-high three by tight ends. T.J. Hockenson (Detroit), Mark Andrews (Baltimore) and Austin Hooper (Atlanta) have combined to catch 22 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns against the Cardinals.

16. Oakland Raiders. Rookie RB Josh Jacobs has two 100-yard rushing games through Oakland’s first seven games. That’s one more 100-yard rushing game than he had in 40 career games in college at Alabama. The Raiders used a first-round draft pick on Jacobs last April.

17. Detroit Lions. Rookie TE T.J. Hockenson debuted with a six-catch, 131-yard game on opening day against the Cardinals. But he’s been relatively quiet ever since with 12 catches for only 88 yards in Detroit’s last five games. The Lions took Hockenson with a first-round pick last April.

18. Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive tackle was a strength of the Eagles when they entered the season with Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson and Timmy Jernigan. But Philadelphia lost Jackson for the season with a foot injury in the opener and Jernigan hasn’t played since the second week with a broken foot. That’s almost 600 pounds missing from the middle of the Philly defense and that lack of a push from the inside is evident. The Eagles rank 18th in defense in their 3-4 start to the season.

19. Tennessee Titans. In benching Marcus Mariota, the Titans may have a found a passing attack in the arm of Ryan Tannehill. Acquired from the Dolphins during the offseason as quarterback insurance, Tannehill debuted with a 312-yard, two-TD passing performance for the Titans last weekend in a victory over the Chargers. Mariota failed to throw a touchdown pass in three of his six starts.

20. Chicago Bears. You have to think the Bears overplayed their hand in trading the leading rusher on their 2018 NFC North champions (Jordan Howard) to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. The Bears have been inept running the ball this season, averaging only 70 yards per game – down from the 121 yards they averaged a year ago with Howard carrying the load. That lack of balance on offense has the Bears spinning their wheels at 3-3 this season.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers. Mason Rudolph returns at quarterback this week against Miami after a one-game absence while in concussion protocol. In his three starts in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger, Rudolph threw for five touchdowns with only one interception. He takes a streak of 57 consecutive passes without an interception into the Miami game.

22. Los Angeles Chargers. The 2-5 Chargers are allowing quarterbacks to complete a league-high 74.6 percent of their passes. The only other defense allowing quarterbacks to complete 70 percent is Washington at 71.0 percent. Compare that to the 49ers, who are unbeaten and allowing a league-best completion percentage of 55.2 percent. The league average is 64.7 percent.

23. Denver Broncos. Emmanuel Sanders was the Pro Bowl wide receiver on the Broncos … but Courtland Sutton evolved into new QB Joe Flacco’s go-to guy. The second-year wideout has caught 36 passes for 564 yards and three touchdowns from Flacco. So the Broncos dealt Sanders to the San Francisco 49ers this week for a draft pick.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars. Leonard Fournette had a forgettable year in 2018 when he missed seven games with a hamstring injury and another with an NFL suspension. But there’s nothing forgettable about his 2019 season. He leads the AFC in rushing with 715 yards, averaging five yards per carry. His career-best season was 1,040 yards in 2017 when the Jaguars advanced to the AFC title game. He’s on pace for a 1,600-yard season in 2019.

25. New York Giants. The Giants lead the NFL with 18 giveaways, throwing nine interceptions and losing nine fumbles through seven games. When the Giants last won a Super Bowl in 2011, they committed only 25 turnovers in 20 games.

26. Cleveland Browns. Browns QB Baker Mayfield leads the NFL with 11 interceptions – and this week he faces a defense that leads the NFL with 18 interceptions. Mayfield is the only quarterback who has thrown an interception in every game his team has placed this season, and this week’s foe -- the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots -- are coming off a four-interception game against Sam Darnold and the Jets.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Chris Godwin was the hottest receiver in the NFL before his bye week. He strung together three consecutive 100-yard games – catching 12 passes for 172 against the Rams, seven for 125 against the Saints and 10 for 151 against the Panthers. Did the week off cool him down any? We’ll find out Sunday when the Bucs return to face the Titans.

28. Washington Redskins. The arrival of Bill Callahan as interim head coach has revived the career of 34-year-old Adrian Peterson. Under deposed head coach Jay Gruden, Peterson was given only 40 carries through the first five games for 108 yards. In the two games under Callahan, Peterson has rushed 43 times for 199 yards. He needs only 60 more yards to move into sixth place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, passing past both Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson.

29. New York Jets. Sam Darnold has now thrown five interceptions in his three starts – that’s two more than his backups Trevor Siemian and Luke Falk threw during his three-game absence with mononucleosis. The five New York quarterbacks to take snaps this season – Eli Mannign and Daniel Jones of the Giants and Darnold, Siemian and Falk of the Jets – have combined to throw 17 interceptions this season.

30. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are already out of the playoff mix with a 1-6 start and haven’t even played an NFC South game yet. Atlanta is the only team that hasn’t played a game in its division yet – and the Falcons are still three weeks away from that game. They visit the Saints on Nov. 10.

31. Cincinnati Bengals. Three different wide receivers have had 100-yard games for the Bengals this season…and none of them are named A.J. Green. John Ross, Tyler Boyd and Alex Erickson have turned in the 100s in Green’s absence. The seven-time Pro Bowler Green has missed the first seven games of the season with an ankle injury.

32. Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins are 0-6 and in the throes of a nine-game losing streak. Miami lost the final three games of the 2018 season to start the skid. The Dolphins opened the 2007 season with a 13-game losing streak and also lost 10 games in a row from the end of the 2010 season to the start of the 2011 season. Where is Dan Marino when you really need him?

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