Rick Gosselin's Week 16 NFL rankings

Drew Brees photo courtesy of USA Today

The power in the NFL is in the NFC with three of the top four teams

Editor's note: Rick Gosselin is in his 46th season reporting on the NFL in 2018. He has covered the Lions, Giants, Chiefs and Cowboys in his career plus 35 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 16:

1. New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is in position to win his first NFL passing title since 2009, the year the Saints won their only Super Bowl. Brees has a 115.7 passer efficiency rating. KC’s Patrick Mahomes is chasing him into the final weekend at 114.0. Brees also is completing passes at a record pace at 74.4 percent. He set the NFL record a year ago at 72.0 percent.

2. Los Angeles Rams. To win your division you must dominate your division. Which is why the Rams have won back-to-back NFC West crowns. The Rams are the only NFL team unbeaten in division play this season. Los Angeles is 5-0 in the West and can sweep the division Sunday with a victory over San Francisco in the season finale.

3. Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring with 530 points, already the 10th best season in NFL history with still one game remaining. Of the nine teams that scored more points in a single season than the 2018 Chiefs, not a single one won the Super Bowl. Only four of them even reached the Super Bowl.

4. Chicago Bears. The Bears vaulted from last place in the NFC North at 5-11 in 2017 to first place in 2018 at 11-4. It marked the fourth consecutive season an NFC team has vaulted from worst to first – Washington in 2015, Dallas in 2016 and Philadelphia in 2017.

5. Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers are one of two NFL teams that rank in the Top 10 in both offense and defense along with the Steelers. The Chargers are also one of only four teams that rank in the Top 10 in both scoring and scoring defense along with Chicago, Houston and New Orleans.

6. Houston Texans. The burden in Houston is getting heavier on Pro Bowl WR DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans have lost a second starting wide receiver for the season with injury. First it was Will Fuller, who tore his ACL in the eighth game of the season. After placing Fuller on injured reserve, the Texans acquired veteran Pro Bowl wideout DeMaryius Thomas from the Broncos. But he ruptured his Achilles last weekend against the Eagles.

7. New England Patriots. A homefield in the first-round of the playoffs would benefit the Patriots because it would benefit their rookie RB Sony Michel. He leads New England in rushing with 881 yards but all of his heavy-duty lifting has come at home. He has 495 yards and five touchdowns in five home games and 386 yards and one touchdown in seven road games.

Sony Michel photo courtesy of USA Today

8. Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson is enjoying the most efficient season of his seven-year career. He has thrown a career-low six interceptions and has matched his career-high of 34 touchdowns passes with still a game remaining against Arizona. His passer efficiency rating is a career-best 112.7 for the 9-6 Seahawks.

9. Indianapolis Colts. Of all the Pro Bowl omissions, Colts MLB Darius Leonard is the most difficult to understand. He leads the NFL in tackles with 155 – 23 more than his closest competitor. He also has seven sacks, forced four fumbles, recovered two, intercepted a pass and broke up seven other passes for the 9-6 Colts.

10. Tennessee Titans. The AFC has captured the interconference season series with a 34-30 record against the AFC. The Titans were the only AFC team to go unbeaten against the NFC, posting a 4-0 record against the NFC East. The Rams and Saints both posted 4-0 records against their AFC foes.

11. Dallas Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott is on the verge of winning his second NFL rushing title in his three seasons. His 1,434 yards are 183 more than Todd Gurley of the Rams heading into the NFL’s final weekend. Elliott’s Cowboys and Gurley’s Rams have already clinched division titles so even if one or both sits the finale to rest up for the playoffs, the lead doesn’t figure to change hands.

12. Baltimore Ravens. Even though he has started just six games, rookie Lamar Jackson has become just the 20th quarterback in NFL history to rush for 600 yards in a single season. Jackson has 605 yards. If he rushes for 95 yards in the season finale against Cleveland, he will become only the 11th quarterback to rush for 700 yards in a season.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers. There have been only nine 5,000-yard passers in NFL history. That list could grow by two this weekend. Ben Roethlisberger needs 158 yards in Pittsburgh’s season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals and Patrick Mahomes needs 184 yards in Kansas City’s finale against the Oakland Raiders. It would be the first 5,000-yard season for both. Drew Brees has five of them.

14. Minnesota Vikings. There are nine 100-catch receivers this season, tying the NFL record set in 1995. But with a game left, three more receivers could join the 100-catch club this weekend. Kansas City TE Travis Kelce needs two catches this weekend against Oakland, Minnesota WR Stefon Diggs needs six catches against Chicago and Keenan Allen of the Chargers needs seven in his finale against Denver.

15. Philadelphia Eagles. Zach Ertz has caught 112 passes to set the NFL single-season record for tight ends. That broke the mark of 110 by former Cowboys TE Jason Witten. Ertz also owns the franchise record for receptions, topping the 90 by RB Brian Westbrook in 2007. Ertz ranks second in the NFL in receiving, seven catches behind Michael Thomas of the Saints with one game remaining.

16. Cleveland Browns. Jarvis Landry may not be the best wide receiver in the NFL but he is certainly the most versatile. He leads the surprising Browns with 76 receptions for 874 yards and three touchdowns. He also has a TD rushing and has thrown for another. He has a 51-yard touchdown reception against Carolina, another 51-yard run against the Panthers and a 63-yard TD pass against Cincinnati.

Jarvis Landry photo courtesy of USA Today

17. Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have victories over division leaders Chicago, New England and Tennessee this season. But losses to Cincinnati (6-9), Detroit (5-10) and Jacksonville (5-10) have torpedoed the 7-8 Dolphins, dooming them to their eighth non-playoff season in the last nine years.

18. Washington Redskins. With his first 1,000-yard season in three years, Adrian Peterson is a strong candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. He becomes only the fourth back ever to rush for 1,000 yards at 33 years of age, joining Hall of Famers John Henry Johnson and John Riggins plus Frank Gore.

19. Atlanta Falcons. I mentioned earlier that the AFC captured the interconference series with a 34-30 record against the NFC. The NFC’s failings can be placed at the doorstep of the Falcons and Cardinals. They were the only two NFL teams to go winless in interconference play. Atlanta went 0-4 against the AFC North and Arizona 0-4 against the AFC West. Their 0-8 mark proved too much for the other 14 NFC teams to overcome.

20. Green Bay Packers. Last season there were 13 different NFL quarterbacks who threw 50 passes in a single NFL game. This season, 20 different quarterbacks have thrown 50 passes in single game. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger have thrown 50 passes in three games apiece. There have been 29 50-pass games total this season, 14 more than a year ago. Quarterbacks who have thrown 50 or more passes in a game this season have a combined 5-24 record in those games.

21. Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are struggling but their lead back Christian McCaffrey is not. He ranks second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,925. Only NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott has more (2.001). McCaffrey has 1,080 yards rushing and 845 yards receiving. He also ranks third in the NFL in first downs with 91. His 6.0 yards per touch tops all NFL running backs. But it has been all for naught. The Panthers have slid right out of playoff contention with a seven-game losing streak and a 6-9 record.

22. Denver Broncos. What Broncos GM John Elway saw in Case Keenum was a quarterback who didn’t beat himself. He threw only seven interceptions last season in taking the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game. But Keenum hasn’t been the same quarterback with the Broncos, throwing twice as many interceptions (14) this season. Keenum won’t be going back to the title game and his Broncos won’t even be going to the playoffs.

23. Cincinnati Bengals. What’s disappointing about Cincinnati’s 2018 season is that head coach Marvin Lewis has been one of the NFL’s top defensive coaches for decades…yet his Bengals rank last in the NFL in defense this season. Cincinnati also has allowed a league-high 439 points – 100 more than a year ago. It’s the first 400-point yield by the Bengals since 2002 – the year before Lewis took over as head coach.

24. Buffalo Bills. The one thing all rookie quarterbacks need to learn at the NFL level is pocket awareness – knowing when and where the rushing is coming…and how to protect the football when that rush arrives. Of the top six fumblers in the NFL this season, three are rookie quarterbacks – Lamar Jackson of the Ravens with six, Josh Allen of the Bills with five and San Darnold of the Jets with four. They’ll learn.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have combined to pass for 5,013 yards and 32 touchdowns. They have combined for four 400-yard passing games and four other 300-yard games, which explains why the Bucs lead the NFL in passing. But it doesn’t explain why Tampa Bay is out of the playoff hunt with a 5-10 record. The league-high 25 interceptions and 29 total turnovers by the quarterbacks helps explain that struggle in the standings.

26. New York Giants. The Giants trudged into their bye with 1-7 record. During those first two months, the Giants gave their rookie RB Saquon Barkley an average of 13.8 handoffs per game and he rewarded them with two 100-yard games and five rushing touchdowns. Since the bye, the Giants have increased his workload to 19 carries per game. Barkley has rushed for 100 yards in four of the seven games since the bye and scored five times. The Giants have been rewarded for their increased reliance on Barkley with four victories in those seven games.

27. Detroit Lions. The NFL has set up the rules so that offenses can dominate. That hasn’t been in the case in Detroit. The Lions have failed to score 20 points in any of their last five games and have failed to hit 20 in eight games total. The Lions rank 26th in the NFL in scoring with an average of 19.5 points per game, which explains why Detroit is 5-10 and has been out of the playoff hunt since Thanksgiving.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars feasted on big plays by their defense last season in reaching the AFC title game. The Jaguars finished second in the NFL in both sacks (55) and takeaways (33). But the feast is over. The Jaguars have only 31 sacks and 16 takeaways this season. A lack of any offense (27th in the NFL) and that lack of opportunism by defense have spawned a 5-10 season.

29. New York Jets. The Jets are a high-penalty team. They rank sixth in the NFL with 110 penalties and 10th with 918 yards. That’s way too many free yards for a team that struggles to both gain yards (29th in the NFL in offense) and stop the opposition (25th in defense). That helps explain why the Jets are again limping home with yet another losing season (4-11).

30. San Francisco 49ers. Losing QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth game of the season with a knee injury ruined coach Kyle Shanahan’s second season. But his absence was not without a silver lining. Shanahan discovered another talented quarterback in Nick Mullens, who passed for 400 yards in a victory over the Seahawks, 300 yards in a victory over Denver and three touchdowns in a victory over the Raiders.

31. Oakland Raiders. It appears the Oakland era of the Raiders has finally reached an end with that … Monday night … against the Denver Broncos. In 46 years in Oakland, the Raiders won 12 AFL/AFC West titles and reach four Super Bowls, winning two of them. Owner Mark Davis said the Raiders will not play in Oakland next season as they await their move to Las Vegas in 2020.

32. Arizona Cardinals. There’s a theory that most NFL rookies hit a wall at about the 12th game – the usual length of a college season. If that’s the case, Arizona’s rookie QB Josh Rosen has definitely hit the wall. He has not thrown a TD pass in his last four starts. The Cardinals take a three-game losing streak and a 3-12 record to Seattle for the season finale.

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