Editor's note: Rick Gosselin is in his 49th season reporting on the NFL in 2021. He has covered the Lions, Giants, Chiefs, and Cowboys in his career plus 38 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 third week ballot:
1. LA Rams. Last weekend’s victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers marked only the fourth time in QB Matthew Stafford’s 13-year career that he threw as many as four touchdown passes without an interception. The last time came in 2017 when he was with the Detroit Lions playing against, ironically, the Rams. Last week: 7
2. Tampa Bay. No pass rush translates into no pass defense for the Buccaneers this season. Tampa Bay has only three sacks in three games, allowing opposing quarterbacks the time in the pocket to find open receivers. And they have. The 2-1 Bucs are one of only two NFL defenses to allow a 300-yard passer each of the first three weeks of the season – Dak Prescott (403), Matt Ryan (300), and Matthew Stafford (343). Little wonder they rank last in the league in pass defense. Last week: 1
3. Arizona. QB Kyler Murray is the only player in the NFL to rush for a touchdown each of the first three weeks of the season. Through three games he’d be in the MVP discussion with Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford. Murray has had a 400-yard passing game, a 300-yard passing game, and has thrown seven TD passes to go with his three rushing scores for the 3-0 Cardinals. Last week: 3
4. Cleveland. The 2-1 Browns collected more sacks against Chicago Sunday – nine – than 23 NFL teams have collected all season. Myles Garrett collected more sacks personally Sunday – 4½ – than four teams have collected all season. Last week: 4
5. Buffalo. QB Josh Allen likes to spread the ball around. His seven touchdown passes this season have gone to five different receivers. WR Emmanuel Sanders and TE Dawson Knox have two apiece and WR Stefon Diggs, WR Gabriel Davis, and RB Zack Moss one each. But Allen’s leading receiver, Cole Beasley, still hasn’t reached the end zone. Beasley has an AFC-leading 23 catches for 194 yards. Last week: 5
6. Las Vegas. Derek Carr is the only quarterback to pass for 300-plus yards in each of the first three games of the season, powering the Raiders to a surprising 3-0 start. He leads the NFL with 1,203 passing yards. That puts him at a pace for 6,817 yards in 2021. The NFL record is 5,477 yards by Peyton Manning in a 16-game season in 2013. The Raiders play a 17-game season in 2021. Last week: 6
7. Dallas. The Cowboys are striking an offensive balance, resurrecting the running game to supplement Dak Prescott’s arm in this 2-1 start to the season. Dallas is the only NFL team with two running backs among the league’s Top 15 rushers. Ezekiel Elliott ranks eighth with 199 yards and Tony Pollard 13th with 183 yards. Last week: 9
8. Baltimore. Justin Tucker kicked an NFL record 66-yard field goal at Detroit last weekend. Thin air and perhaps an even longer attempt await him this weekend in Denver. Tucker broke the record held by Matt Prater, who kicked a 64-yarder in 2013 in Denver when he was with the Broncos. Five other players have kicked 63-yarders, including Jason Elam in Denver when he was kicking for the Broncos in 1998. In Tucker’s last visit to Denver in 2015, he kicked a 52-yarder. Kickers love Denver. Last week: 8
9. Green Bay. It’s not surprising that Aaron Rodgers has thrown six touchdown passes this season. That’s what the three-time NFL MVP does – throw TD passes. The surprising part is that Pro Bowl WR Davante Adams has caught only one of them. He averaged better than one TD per game last season, leading the NFL with 18 scoring grabs. Even though Adams shares the NFL receiving lead through September with 25 catches, he has only one touchdown to show for it. Last week: 12
10. LA Chargers. Keenan Allen is the Chargers’ Pro Bowl wide receiver. But defenses shouldn’t sleep on the guy who lines up on the other side. Mike Williams leads NFL wide receivers with 16 catches for first downs for the 2-1 Chargers. He has caught a league runner-up four TD passes and ranks fifth in receptions with 22. Last week: 14.
11. Kansas City. Having a defense that has allowed a league-high 95 points is no way for the Chiefs to defend their AFC crown. The worst defense ever to win a Super Bowl was the 2011 New York Giants, who allowed 25 points per game. The worst defense ever to reach a Super Bowl was the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, who allowed 26.6 points per game. The 1-2 Chiefs are allowing 31.6 points per game. Last week: 2
12. Carolina. The Panthers are off to their first 3-0 start since 2015 – and Carolina went to the Super Bowl that season. The Panthers have been helped along by their schedule – two of their three victories have come against rookie quarterbacks making their NFL debut starts, Zach Wilson of the Jets and Mills Davis of the Texans. Carolina is 5-0 in franchise history against rookie QBs making their debut starts. Last week: 13
13. Tennessee. Julio Jones spent the last 10 seasons catching passes from Matt Ryan in Atlanta and their comfort level was evident. Jones led the NFL in receiving yardage twice, receptions once, and was voted to seven Pro Bowls. He’s quickly reaching a comfort level with his new quarterback Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee. Jones has caught a team-leading 12 passes in this Derrick Henry-driven offense, averaging 17 yards per catch with a long of 51. Last week: 11
14. Denver. NFL teams are completing 66.8 percent of their passes this season – but not against the 3-0 Broncos. The Denver defense is allowing quarterbacks to complete a league-low 52.4 percent of their throws. The Broncos finished 17th in the NFL in pass defense a year ago but reloaded at cornerback, signing Kyle Fuller away from the Chicago Bears in free agency and drafting Alabama All-American Patrick Surtain in the first round. The Broncos have twice as many interceptions (4) this season as they have allowed touchdowns (2). Last week: 16
15. San Francisco. You can call rookie QB Trey Lance Mr. Touchdown. The 49ers’ first-round draft pick has taken seven snaps from the center this season and has been credited with three scores – two runs and a pass. He produced touchdowns with all three of them, scoring on 1-yard runs against Detroit and Green Bay and throwing a 5-yard TD pass to WR Trent Sherfield against the Lions. Last week: 17
16. New Orleans. Alvin Kamara’s strength in the New Orleans backfield has always been his versatility. He’s as dangerous catching the ball as running it. Maybe the Saints should feature his legs more. Kamara has carried the ball 20 times in a game only four times in his five-year career and New Orleans is 4-0 in those games, including both victories this season. Kamara had a career-high 24 carries in last weekend’s win at New England. Last week: 20
17. Cincinnati. LB Logan Wilson shares the NFL lead in interceptions this week with three, including two off Ben Roethlisberger in Cincinnati’s upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend. The NFL record for interceptions by a linebacker is eight by Stan White of the Baltimore Colts in 1975. Last week: 21
18. Minnesota. Kirk Cousins is one of only four quarterbacks who have started every game this season and not thrown an interception. Teddy Bridgewater (Broncos), Daniel Jones (Giants), and Russell Wilson (Seahawks) are the others. Dating to 2020, he has thrown 200 consecutive passes without an interception covering his last five games. Last week: 24
19. Seattle. His team is scuffling along at 1-2 through no fault of QB Russell Wilson. He has been the NFL’s most efficient passer through the month of September, completing 73.3 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s averaging a league-best 10.4 yards per attempt for an efficiency rating of 133.6. But his sterling play has not been able to overcome Seattle’s 32nd ranked defense. Last week: 15
20. Pittsburgh. How much do the Steelers miss Pro Bowl edge rusher, T.J. Watt? He sat out last weekend’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals due to a groin injury and, for the first time in 76 games, the Steelers failed to collect a sack. That ended the NFL’s longest sack streak, leaving Carolina, San Francisco, Seattle, and the Rams all tied with the longest current streak at 13 games. Last week: 10
21. Philadelphia. Jalen Hurts is one of three quarterbacks who leads his team in rushing and two of them are in the NFC East. The others are Daniel Jones of the Giants and Lamar Jackson of the Ravens. Jackson ranks fourth in the league in rushing with 251 yards. Hurts has 179 yards and Jones 161. The Eagles are asking their young quarterback to carry way too much of the offensive load. Last week: 23
22. Washington. Washington finished the 2020 season with the NFL’s second-best defense. After three weeks of the 2021 season, Washington has the NFL’s second-worst defense. Washington has allowed the fourth-most points (92), forced only two turnovers and failed to collect a sack last weekend in Buffalo. Now Washington ventures into the NFC South for games against Atlanta and New Orleans. Last week: 18
23. New England. Tom Brady walked into the New England dressing room 175 times in his career to suit up for a home game. Sunday will mark the first time he’ll report to the visitors’ locker room for a game at Gillette Stadium. This Buccaneers-Patriots game is the hottest ticket in the NFL this season for one obvious reason – Brady put all six Lombardi Trophies in the New England trophy case. He can expect a warm reception. Last week: 19
24. Indianapolis. The Colts have struggled on offense this season in large part because RB Jonathan Taylor has struggled. He finished third in the NFL in rushing last season with 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he has yet to rush for 65 yards in a game this season and still hasn’t scored a touchdown in 50 touches (42 rushed and eight receptions). Last week: 22
25. Miami. The Dolphins have thrown only one touchdown pass in a league whose rules all favor the forward pass. Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett have each started two games for Miami and combined to throw 120 passes. But the only touchdown came on a three-yard toss from Tagovailoa to WR Jaylen Waddle on Miami’s 21st pass of the season on opening day. Last week: 25
26. Detroit. In 1970, Tom Dempsey kicked an NFL-record 63-yard field goal at the gun to give the New Orleans Saints a 19-17 victory over the Lions. Forty-one years later, Justin Ticker kicked an NFL record 66-yard field goal at the gun to give the Baltimore Ravens a 19-17 victory over the 0-3 Lions on Sunday. Last week: 28
27. Atlanta. The Falcons are one of only four defenses still looking for its first interception of the season along with the Eagles, Jets, and Seahawks. Atlanta intercepted 12 passes a year ago but has swapped out its entire secondary, bringing in four new starters from 2020. So far, not so good. Quarterbacks are completing 70.7 percent of their passes against the 1-2 Falcons with eight touchdowns. Last week: 32
28. Houston. Rookie QB Davis Mills made his NFL starting debut last weekend against the NFL’s top-ranked defense, the Carolina Panthers. He was sacked four times in a losing cause. The road doesn’t get much easier going forward. In the next two weeks, he’ll face the NFL’s fourth- (Buffalo) and fifth-best (New England) defenses. Last week: 26
29. Chicago. Justin Fields became the fifth rookie quarterback to make his NFL starting debut this September and also the fifth to lose that starting debut, following in the footsteps of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, and Davis Mills. Fields had the roughest debut by far. He was the only one of the five who failed to generate a touchdown in a 26-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Fields completed only 6-of-20 passes and was sacked nine times. Last week: 27
30. Jacksonville. Speaking of Lawrence, he was one of the most efficient passers in NCAA history at Clemson with 90 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions in 1,138 career passes. That broke down to one interception every 67 passes. That efficiency hasn’t transferred to the NFL. He has thrown a league-high seven interceptions in 118 passes in his three-game career, which breaks down to one pick every 17 passes. Dating to his final season at Clemson, Lawrence has now thrown at least one interception in six consecutive games. Last week: 29
31. NY Giants. Through three weeks, QB Daniel Jones has as many rushing touchdowns as passing – two. The upgrades at wide receiver haven’t panned out as hoped. The Giants gave Kenny Golladay a four-year, $72 million contract in free agency but he has only 11 catches with no touchdowns. New York also used a first-round draft pick on Kadarius Toney. He has four catches and also hasn’t found the end zone yet for the winless Giants. Last week: 31
32. NY Jets. The winless Jets are the only team in the NFL that has suffered a shutout each of the last three seasons. There was a different quarterback each time – San Darnold in 2019 against the Patriots, Joe Flacco in 2020 against the Dolphins and rookie Zach Wilson last weekend against the Broncos. There have been nine total shutouts over the last three NFL seasons and the Jets have been the victim in a third of them. Last week: 30
Rick Gosselin has covered the NFL for 49 years for United Press International, the Kansas City Star and the Dallas Morning News. He has covered the Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, and Dallas Cowboys. He has been a Hall of Fame voter for 26 years and, in 2004, won the Bill Nunn Award for "long and distinguished reporting on professional football."
Presently he writes for the Talk of Fame Network, and he also is a friend and mentor to Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr.
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