Rick Gosselin's NFL rankings for Week 9: NFC breathing down on the Patriots

Emmanuel Sanders 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 9:

1. New England Patriots. The unbeaten Patriots now have 25 defensive takeaways through eight games. That’s already more than 20 NFL teams managed all of last season. New England has converted four of those takeaways directly into touchdowns on interceptions and fumble returns. Thirteen NFL teams still have not scored a single defensive touchdown yet this season.

2. San Francisco 49ers. In an attempt to juice up the NFL’s 24th ranked passing offense, the 49ers acquired Pro Bowl wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the Denver Broncos last week and coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t waste any time incorporating him into the offense. He caught two passes in his first series with the unbeaten 49ers, including a four-yard touchdown, and QB Jimmy Garoppolo targeted him with five passes in the victory over Carolina. That led all wideouts on the team.

3. New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is back and so are the Super Bowl hopes of the Saints. Showing no rust from his five-game absence with a thumb injury, Brees threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns in a romp over the Cardinals. Backup QB Teddy Bridgewater kept those Super Bowl hopes afloat during Brees’ absence with five consecutive victories for a 7-1 start to the season.

4. Green Bay Packers. Davante Adams led all NFC receivers in touchdowns a year ago with 13. He has missed the last four games by the Packers but playing without his best offensive weapon has not slowed Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers any. Rodgers has 10 TD passes with only one interception as the Packers have mowed down the Cowboys, Lions, Raiders and Packers for a four-game winning streak without Adams and a 7-1 record.

5. Minnesota Vikings. Remember when there were questions in Minnesota about QB Kirk Cousins? Those questions have disappeared with the first frost in the “bold north.” Like Aaron Rodgers, Cousins has 10 touchdown passes and only one interception in his last four games. The Vikings have won all four to stay on the trail of the Packers with a 6-2 record.

6. Indianapolis Colts. Zach Pascal is the ultimate multi-tasker for the Colts. He has a 100-yard receiving game for Indy this season. His 26-yard average on kickoff returns is third best in the league and Pascal also has been credited with a safety in special-teams coverage.

7. Seattle Seahawks. The retirement of Doug Baldwin in the offseason cost QB Russell Wilson his favorite receiver. But rookie D.K. Metcalf is doing his best to fill that big-play void. He has caught 23 passes for 402 yards, an average of 17.5 yards per catch. He has a 54-yard reception against the Saints, a 42-yarder against the Bengals, a 40-yarder against the Rams, a 37-yarder against the Ravens and 30-yarder against the Browns.

8. Baltimore Ravens. Lamar Jackson has the opportunity this weekend to do something no NFL quarterback has done in 58 years – rush for 100 yards in three consecutive games. The only quarterback ever to do it was Billy Kilmer for the San Francisco 49ers in 1961. Jackson rushed for 152 yards against Cincinnati and 116 yards against Seattle in his two previous games. The challenge to do it a third time will be formidable, though, because Jackson and his Ravens face the AFC’s best defense Sunday, the New England Patriots.

9. Buffalo Bills. Slot receiver Cole Beasley is giving Bills QB Josh Allen the same security blanket on passing downs that he gave Dak Prescott when the two played together in Dallas. The Bills signed Beasley in free agency last offseason and he has caught 33 passes for 324 yards with two touchdowns for the 5-2 Bills. He also has the longest reception by a Bill this season at 51 yards.

10. Los Angeles Rams. The Rams are one of four teams with a bye this week along with Atlanta, Cincinnati and New Orleans. The Rams enter the bye in third place of the NFC West with a 5-3 record. Last season at this point, L.A. was sitting atop the entire NFL with an 8-0 record.

11. Kansas City Chiefs. With NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes out, the Chiefs are asking more from the defense – and coordinator Stave Spagnuolo’s group has risen to the challenge. Kansas City managed just 11 sacks through the first six weeks of the season. But with Mahomes missing seven quarters the last two weeks with a dislocated kneecap, the Chiefs have pummeled opposing quarterbacks with 14 sacks.

12. Houston Texans. For the third time in the last four years, J.J. Watt will finish the season on injured reserve. Watt tore a pectoral muscle last weekend against Oakland and will miss the final eight games of the season. In 2017, he missed the final 11 games with a fractured left leg. In 2016, he missed the final 13 games of the season with a back injury. In the one season he was able to stay healthy – 2018 – he collected 16 sacks and was named first-team all-pro.

13. Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys visit the Giants Monday night for the last cupcake they will see for a while. The next six games are all against playoff hopefuls (Minnesota, Detroit, New England, Buffalo, Chicago and the Rams). And only two of the games are at home (Minnesota and Buffalo). The Cowboys are 4-8 on the road over the last two seasons.

14. Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford is spreading the ball around in Detroit for the 3-3-1 Lions. Four different receivers have combined for a combined seven 100-yard games this season, an NFL runnerup total to the Rams. Kenny Golladay has three 100s, Danny Amendola two and rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson and Marvin Jones one apiece.

15. Carolina Panthers. Christian McCaffrey has scored at least one touchdown in five consecutive games and in six of the seven the Panthers have played this season. The only defense to keep him out of the end zone was Tampa Bay in the second week of the season. He has eight rushing touchdowns and two more receiving. More importantly, in 180 touches this season, he has yet to fumble.

16. Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles need to put in some extra work on their return game if they hope to make a run at the playoffs. There have been too many gifts thus far. Philadelphia has fumbled away a league-high three kicks this season. Corey Clement has lost a kickoff and a punt and Boston Scott fumbled a punt last week against the Bills.

17. Tennessee Titans. The Titans have first-round picks at both tackles in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin yet have allowed a league-leading 34 sacks. Marcus Mariota started the first six games and was sacked 25 times. Then Ryan Tannehill stepped in and has been sacked nine times in his three games. Mariota suffered a nine-sack game against the Jaguars, a five-sack game against the Bills and Tannehill has had a four-sack game against the Broncos.

18. Jacksonville Jaguars. Ten NFL teams have won games played in Florida this season but neither the Bucs nor the Dolphins are on that list. The three Florida teams are a combined 2-9 at home this season. The only victories came in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars defeated both the Titans and, last weekend, the Jets.

19. Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers have determined a scapegoat for their disappointing 3-5 start to the season – offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, firing him this week. Forget the fact Whisenhunt was without his starting running back (Melvin Gordon) for the first four weeks of the season because of a contract holdout and then lost his starting tight end (Hunter Henry) for four games because of injury. Someone needed to be blamed and it was Whisenhunt.

20. Arizona Cardinals. Drew Brees threw the ball 43 times against the Cardinals last weekend without being sacked. It was the first time since Dec. 6, 2015 – a span of 59 games – that the Cardinals failed to record a sack, the longest streak in the NFL. The Steelers now have the longest sack streak at 48 consecutive games.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers led the NFL with 100-yard receiving games last season with 15. Juju Smith-Schuster led the AFC with eight and Antonio Brown chipped in five more on the opposite flank. Brown was the defensive focus each week and Smith-Schuster benefitted. But without Brown on the other side this season, Smith-Schuster has struggled as “the guy.” He waited eight weeks before posting his first 100-yard game of the season Monday night against Miami.

22. Oakland Raiders. The Raiders need more road games. Or at least QB Derek Carr does. He has thrown nine touchdowns against only two interceptions on the road. Carr threw two TD passes in the road upset of the Colts and threw three last weekend in the near upset of the Texans. He has thrown only two TD passes with two interception at home this season.

23. Chicago Bears. The Bears led the NFC in sacks last season with 50 and started strong again this season with 17 in the first four weeks. That fueled a 3-1 start. But the pass rush has disappeared in recent weeks and so have the victories. The Bears have only two sacks in the last three games and now find themselves 3-4 for last place in the NFC North.

24. New York Giants. The Giants have a unique scheduling quirk. They return from their bye this week with back-to-back games in the same stadium – but only one will be a home game. The Giants will host the Cowboys this Sunday and then “travel” to the Jets the following weekend. The Giants share MetLife Stadium with the Jets.

25. Cleveland Browns. Baker Mayfield had nine multi-TD pass games in his rookie season in 2018, including a 4-TD game against Cincinnati and 3-TD games against Atlanta and Baltimore. Despite the addition of Pro Bowl WR Odell Beckham to pair with four-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry, Mayfield has yet to have a multi-TD pass game this season. He has only six touchdown passes in seven games, which puts him on a pace for a 14 TD season. He threw 27 passes a year ago.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs signing of Pro Bowl DT Ndamukong Suh has been impactful. His 313 pounds in the middle of the Tampa defense has helped the Bucs lead the NFL in run defense, allowing an average of only 68.6 yards per game. Opponents are averaging just 3.0 yards per carry. Tampa is one of only seven defenses that has not allowed an individual 100-yard rusher yet.

27. Denver Broncos. QB Joe Flacco has gone three games now without throwing a touchdown pass. His last TD came in the first quarter of an Oct. 6 game against the Chargers, 111 passes ago. Flacco has only six TD passes through eight games – and three of them came on the same day against Jacksonville.

28. Washington Redskins. Rookie Terry McLaurin caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter of an Oct. 13 game at Miami but the Redskins haven’t scored one since. That’s a span covering nine quarters and 23 offensive possessions. Dustin Hopkins has supplied all the Washington scoring over the last nine quarters with four field goals.

29. New York Jets. The Jets certainly aren’t utilizing Le’Veon Bell like the Steelers did. In his final season in Pittsburgh in 2017, Bell finished third in the league in rushing with 1,291 yards and led all NFL running backs in receptions with 85. He led the NFL in carries with 321, scored 11 touchdowns and averaged 27 touches per game. The Jets are giving him the ball seven fewer times each game. He’s a workhorse that isn’t being worked. He’s had only one 20-carry game this season.

30. Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan strung together six consecutive 300-yard passing games before suffering an ankle injury on the seventh game against the Rams. That snapped his streak of 154 consecutive starts by a quarterback, fifth best in NFL history, but his backup Matt Schaub came out firing in his absence with a 460-yard passing game. The Falcons lead the NFL in passing but have only one victory to show for their season.

31. Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have only two interceptions this season but there’s a logical explanation – you don’t have to throw on Cincinnati. Not when you’re averaging 5.1 yards per carry running the ball against the Bengals. Cincinnati has the NFL’s worst run defense and allowed 100-yard rushing games to Mark Breida of the 49ers, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens and Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars.

32. Miami Dolphins. There have been 102 100-yard receiving games in the NFL this season. The Dolphins don’t have any of them. They are the only NFL team that has not managed a 100-yard receiving game this season. The team’s top 3 receivers last season were Danny Amendola, Kenyan Drake and Kenny Stills. All are now gone. The Dolphins cut Amendola in the offseason, then traded away Stills in August and Drake in October.

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