Rick Gosselin's Week 13 NFL rankings: the NFL is a "run-to-win" league

Lamar Jackson 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 13:

1. New England Patriots. There have been 10 blocked punts in the NFL this season. The Patriots have three of them. J.C. Jackson blocked a Buffalo punt for a touchdown, Brandon Bolden blocked a Giants’ punt for a touchdown and Matthew Slater blocked a Dallas punt last weekend to set up the only touchdown of the game in New England’s 13-9 victory over the Cowboys. Special teams matter, at least in New England.

2. San Francisco 49ers. The shutdown of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers last weekend has vaulted the 49ers back ahead of the Patriots as the league’s best defense. It all starts with the pass rush. The 49ers lead the NFL with 44 sacks, collecting four or more sacks in seven of their 11 games thus far. San Francisco has sacked Kyle Allen seven times, Rodgers and Russell Wilson five times apiece and Andy Dalton, Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield and Kyle Murray four times each in games.

3. Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing. Why is that important? Because teams that run the ball win. Of the top seven rushing attacks this week, five of them have at least eight victories. The rankings: 1, Baltimore (9-2); 2, San Francisco (10-1); 3, Indianapolis (6-5); 4, Minnesota (8-3); 5, Buffalo (8-3); 6, Seattle (9-2); 7, Houston (7-4). The Ravens, 49ers and Texans all sit atop divisions heading into the Thanksgiving holiday.

4. Seattle Seahawks. As noted above, the Seahawks must do a better job of protecting their franchise quarterback Russell Wilson. He has been sacked 33 times this season, third highest in the league. He was sacked six times by the Eagles, five times by the 49ers and four times apiece by the Bengals, Cardinals and Steelers. Wilson is too valuable a commodity for the Seahawks to continue allowing him to take such a weekly beating.

5. New Orleans Saints. Through 11 games last season, Alvin Kamara had 15 touchdowns in building a strong case for himself as the NFL’s MVP. Through 11 games this season he has only two touchdowns. He’s now gone six consecutive weeks without reaching the end zone. Yet the Saints are in the hunt for both an NFC West crown and a top seed in the NFC with a 9-2 record. If Sean Payton can get Kamara back into the offensive flow in the next five weeks, the Saints will be quite formidable come January.

6. Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are one of only eight NFL defenses with a sack in every game this season. Baltimore, Carolina, Cleveland, Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and the Rams are the others. The Patriots departed that fraternity last weekend when the Cowboys kept their pass rush off Dak Prescott. Minnesota ranks ninth in the league with 31 sacks.

7. Green Bay Packers. The Packers don’t overwhelm you with statistics. They rank 21st in the NFL in offense and 28th in defense. But Green Bay sits 8-3 atop the NFC North because they do not beat themselves. The Packers are one of only three teams still in single-digits in turnovers. Arizona and New Orleans are the others. Green Bay has given the ball away only eight times, second fewest in the league to the Saints, on two interceptions and six fumbles. And one of those turnovers came on a fumbled punt on special teams. QB Aaron Rodgers has committed five of the turnovers on the two interceptions and three fumbles.

8. Buffalo Bills. Remember when everyone thought QB Josh Allen would hold Buffalo back? It was supposed to be a too big jump for Allen from Wyoming to the NFL and he was not considered an accurate passer. But guess who has the Bills in striking distance of a playoff spot with an 8-3 record? And guess who leads the Bills in touchdown with seven? Allen’s the answer to both questions. He has rushed for those seven touchdowns and passed for 15 more. Never a 60 percent passer in college, he’s completing 60.2 percent of his passes in this his second NFL season.

9. Houston Texans. QB DeShaun Watson rushed for five touchdowns in the first six weeks of the season. But he hasn’t rush for any scores in the five games since then. The Texans started 4-2 with Watson running and are now 3-2 without him finding the end zone with his legs. He takes enough hits in the pass rush (32 sacks). He doesn’t need to take them on runs.

10. Kansas City Chiefs. All the byes have finished, so every team will be playing every weekend the rest of the way to sort out the playoff field. Arizona, Kansas City, Los Angeles (Chargers) and Minnesota return this weekend from the final round of byes in Week 12. The Chiefs are 17-11 coming off byes and will be home this weekend to play the Raiders in a game that could all but close out the AFC West race for Kansas City. The Chiefs are 7-4, the Raiders are 6-5 with a loss to KC already.

11. Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys learned a valuable lesson last weekend. Great defense travels. You can take it any place in any sort of weather conditions and execute. Cold, rain, snow, wind…it doesn’t matter. Not so offense. The Cowboys rolled into New England on Sunday with the NFL’s top-ranked offense, averaging 447 yards and 28.6 points per game. But in wet, miserable weather conditions, Dallas failed to score a touchdown and mustered only 321 yards against the NFL’s best defense in a 13-9 loss to the Patriots.

12. Los Angeles Rams. The home field was huge for the Rams last season as they posted a 9-1 record on the way to the Super Bowl. But the Coliseum magic has vanished in 2019. The Rams have played .500 football at home (3-3), with a couple of lopsided losses to Tampa Bay (55-40) and Baltimore (45-6). Where’s the Fearsome Foursome when you really need it?

13. Tennessee Titans. The Titans were scuffling along with Marcus Mariota at quarterback in the first six weeks of the season, losing four of six games. Mariota threw only seven touchdown passes in those six games, so coach Mike Vrabel switched quarterbacks, giving the starting job to Ryan Tannehill. He has 10 TD passes in his five starts, and the Titans have turned their season around, winning four of five games to move return to the wild-card hunt with a 6-5 record.

14. Indianapolis Colts. Pro Bowl WR T.Y. Hilton has missed four of Indianapolis’ 11 games this season with injury but he still leads the Colts with five touchdowns. Indy does have balance, though. Eleven different Colts have scored touchdowns this season, which is why they have managed to stay afloat in the AFC South race with a 6-5 record.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers. Two weeks after the helmet swinging incident involving Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, the two AFC North rivals will square off again Sunday, this time in Pittsburgh. Garrett won’t be there; the NFL suspended him for the remainder of the season. And there’s a good chance Rudolph won’t be on the field, either. He was benched last week against Cincinnati and Delvin Hodges came on to rally the Steelers to victory.

16. Oakland Raiders. Hunter Renfrew has proven to be a steal for the Raiders. After starring at Clemson, he slid to the fifth round of the 2019 draft where the Raiders claimed him with the 149th overall pick. Renfrew has emerged as Oakland’s slot receiver and ranks second on the team with 36 catches for 396 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He ranks fourth among rookie receivers in receptions. The three rookies ahead of him were all selected in the first three rounds of the draft – Deebo Samuel (San Francisco) and D.K. Metcalf (Seattle) in the second round and Terry McLaurin (Washington) in the third.

17. Philadelphia Eagles. The 5-6 Eagles trail the 6-5 Cowboys by a game in the NFC East, but their remaining schedule gives them hope for a division title. It’s softer than a pillow. Philadelphia plays the Giants (2-9) twice, the Redskins (2-9) and the Dolphins (2-9) in addition to a home game against the Cowboys on the penultimate weekend of the season. Win out, and the Eagles likely capture the East.,

18. Carolina Panthers. The Carolina Panthers have generated 3,817 yards of offense this season. RB Christian McCaffrey has produced 45 percent of those yards – 1,123 rushing and 586 receiving. The Panthers have also scored 29 touchdowns. McCaffrey has 16 of them. It’s hard to imagine a more integral player in any NFL offense this season than McCaffrey. OK, maybe Lamar Jackson.

19. Cleveland Browns. Few franchises have a history in the ground game like the Browns. Of the 12 running backs named to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team last weekend, two were Browns – Jim Brown and Marion Motley. Cleveland has another Hall of Fame runner in Leroy Kelly. On a more current note, Nick Chubb has become Cleveland’s first 1,000-yard back in nine years with his NFL-runnerup 1,117 yards this season. The running game is once again alive and well in Cleveland.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Chris Godwin has stepped out of Michael Evans' shadow this season in becoming one of the NFL’s finest receivers. His nine touchdowns lead NFL pass catchers, as do his 20 catches of 20 yards or more. He’s also one of only three receivers with 1,000-yard seasons already. Evans, by the way, is another. Godwin has had five 100-yard games for the 4-7 Buccaneers.

21. Los Angeles Chargers. Philip Rivers threw only 10 interceptions in 2017 and 12 in 2018. But he has already thrown 14 through 11 games this season, including seven in his last two games. Rivers is on a pace to throw 20 interceptions this season. His career worst was 21 interceptions in 2016.

22. Chicago Bears. The Bears travel to Detroit for the annual Thanksgiving game in the Motor City. It will be the last breather they have for a while. Awaiting the Bears upon their return from Detroit will be three consecutive games against division leaders – Dallas, Green Bay and Kansas City. The games against the Cowboys and Packers will be at home.

23. Jacksonville Jaguars. D.J. Chark has quietly put together a Pro Bowl-caliber season for the Jaguars with an NFL runner-up eight touchdown catches. He’s caught 56 passes for 834 yards, a 14.9-yard average, despite catching balls from two different quarterbacks in the NFL’s 14th best passing attack. A second-round draft pick in 2018, Chark has had 164-yard receiving game against Carolina and a 146-yard game against Kansas City.

24. New York Jets. Tennessee cornerback Logan Ryan led all NFL defensive backs with four sacks last season. Jets safety Jamal Adams already has 6 ½ sacks this season to lead all DBs. That’s as many sacks as Pro Bowl pass rushers Khalil Mack and Cameron Heyward have this year and more than Pro Bowl edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Lawrence.

25. Atlanta Falcons. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is one of the league’s newest and best. But the Falcons have not been able to establish much of a homefield advantage there. In the three seasons the Falcons have called Mercedes-Benz home, they have compiled a 10-11 record. Atlanta is 1-4 at home this season with a current four-game losing streak. The Falcons host the New Orleans Saints this weekend.

26. Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals lead the NFL in penalties with 94 for 730 yards. That’s a lot of free yardage Arizona is asking its rookie quarterback (Kyler Murray) to overcome. The Cardinals have been penalized 37 times on offense, 39 times on defense and a league-high 18 times on special teams.

27. Detroit Lions. As bad as the season has been for the 3-7-1 Lions, they still find themselves as a league leader in one category. Despite playing two quarterbacks, the Lions lead the NFL with nine individual 100-yard receiving games. Kenny Golladay has four, Danny Amendola and Marvin Jones two apiece and rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson one. So throwing the football hasn’t been the problem. Running it (18th in the NFL) and stopping both the run (24th in the league) and pass (30th in the league) are the areas that need to be addressed.

28. Denver Broncos. The lack of offense has wasted another stout defensive effort by the Broncos this season. Despite its 3-8 record, Denver ranks in the NFL’s Top 10 in defense, allowing the eighth fewest yards and 10th fewest points. The Broncos are allowing an average of only 19.7 points per game. But Denver ranks 27th in the NFL in offense and 29th in points, averaging only 15.9 points per game. You don’t win many games when you’re a minus-4 every week.

29. Miami Dolphins. The 2019 season hasn’t been a total wash for the 2-9 Dolphins. The fire sale that purged the roster of veteran talent and salary-cap dollars has opened the door for Miami’s young players to get on the field. Fourteen of Miami’s starters last weekend have been in the league for three years or less. That will accelerate the rebuilding process in 2020 when the Dolphins can spend all those high draft picks to fill talent holes around these youngsters.

30. Washington Redskins. This has been one of the most forgettable seasons in the storied history of the Redskins. At 2-9, all of Washington is in a hurry to get football season over and get back to baseball. But the Redskins should have a Pro Bowler amid the disaster this fall. Punter Tress Way leads the NFL in both average (49.2 yards) and net average (44.2 yards). He’s been asked to punt 55 times and has been one of the few Redskins who can say he has delivered this season.

31. New York Giants. Alvin Kamara isn’t the only elite running back who has been MIA most of the season. Through 11 games last year, Saquon Barkley had a dozen touchdowns on his way to NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. But through 11 games this season he has only three scores. Barkley hasn’t scored a touchdown in the last three weeks, all losses by the 2-9 Giants.

32. Cincinnati Bengals. Only two teams have finished inter-conference play, the Patriots and the Bengals. New England went 4-0 against the NFC East and Cincinnati went 0-4 against the NFC West. Which helps explains why the Patriots sit atop the AFC with a 10-1 record and the Bengals sit at the bottom at 0-11. Forty-eight of the 64 interconference games have now been played and the NFC holds a 25-23 edge.

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