Rick Gosselin's Week 7 NFL rankings: AFC 5 of the Top 8
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 7:
1. Los Angeles Rams. Remember when the NFL community considered Jared Goff a bust? The first overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft, Goff went 0-7 as a rookie with more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5). But Troy Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie and still wound up with a bust in Canton. Goff went to the Pro Bowl in his second year in 2017 and has now won 18 of his 25 starts since that rookie season.
2. Kansas City Chiefs. Can we fast forward the season to Nov. 19 when a Super Bowl preview will be played between the Rams and Chiefs…on a Monday night in Mexico City? They are the two highest-scoring teams in the NFL. So potentially the biggest game of the NFL season will be played on foreign soil.
3. New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees seemingly collects a milestone every time he steps on the field these days. He tied Hall of Famer Dan Marino in victories last week with 147 and, with a win over the Minnesota Vikings this week, can tie Hall of Famer John Elway at 148.
4. New England Patriots. The 5-2 Patriots have won this season with and without both Julian Edelman and with and without Rob Gronkowski. Tom Brady has found a willing set of hands in their absences in James White, who leads all NFL running backs and ranks eighth overall in receiving with 45 catches. He also has a league-runnerup six TD receptions.
5. Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers are one of four teams with byes this weekend along with Atlanta, Dallas and Tennessee. But the Chargers are the only team of that bunch that neither needs nor wants that bye. Los Angeles’ “other” team has a 5-2 record and are rolling while the Falcons, Cowboys and Titans are all under .500 and could use the extra week to address their issues.
6. Minnesota Vikings. When your top running back Dalvin Cook is out with injury, Latavius Murray is an attractive option. A former 1,000-yard rusher with the Raiders, Murray has rushed for 267 yards and three touchdowns in the last three games filling in for Cook, who has a hamstring injury.
7. Baltimore Ravens. The most important statistic in the Super Bowl equation is scoring defense. It’s not about how many points you score, it’s how few you allow. Forty-five of the 52 Super Bowl champions finished in the Top 10 in scoring defense. The Ravens lead the NFL in both defense and scoring defense this season.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers. Antonio Brown is still the touchdown-maker on the flank for the Steelers with a team-leading six. But Pittsburgh’s other starting wide receiver, surprisingly, has caught more passes for more yards than the perennial Pro Bowler Brown this season. Juju Smith-Schuster has two more catches (42) than Brown for 83 more yards (561).
9. Detroit Lions. Detroit ranked last in the NFL in rushing last season – the second time in three years the Lions hit rock bottom on the ground. But the Lions signed LaGarrette Blount in free agency and spent a second-round draft pick on Kerryon Johnson last April and have now reached rushing heights that they have not experienced since the days of Barry Sanders. The 3-3 Lions rank 11th in the NFL in rushing with an average of 122 yards per game – 46 more yards than they averaged in 2017.
10. Houston Texans. The Texans are now playing to their potential after a rocky 0-3 start. QB DeShaun Watson and DE J.J. Watt have shaken off the rust of their season-ending injuries in 2017 and are playing to their Pro Bowl ability. The Texans have won four in a row to surge into first place in the AFC South. Watson has thrown a TD pass in all seven games this season and Watt has four sacks during the winning streak.
11. Washington Redskins. The NFC East-leading Redskins made an investment in their defensive line – plus an investment in Alabama – and it is paying off in 2018. The Redskins used a first-round draft picks in 2017 on Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen and in 2018 on ‘Bama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne. That’s more than 600 pounds of muscle and talent up front, giving the Washington defense some teeth. The Redskins now rank third in run defense and fifth in overall defense.
12. Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton has not thrown for 300 yards in any of his four games but he has thrown at least two touchdown passes in all four of them. The Panthers have won three of those games to move to 4-2 and challenge the 5-1 Saints atop the NFC South. The two teams meet twice in the final month of the season.
13. Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers has won 65.8 percent of his career starts. He’s been even more successful when his Packers are coming off a bye, winning 77.7 percent of his starts (7-2) with a rested arm. Green Bay returns from bye this week to play the Rams.
14. Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks rank seventh in the NFL in rushing with contributions from a lot of legs. Chris Carson and Mike Davis have both had 100-yard rushing games and are both averaging better than 4.5 yards per carry. Rookie Rashaad Penny has chipped in 135 yards as a third option. With Russell Wilson, the Seahawks now subscribe to the “Run to Win” philosophy.
15. Cincinnati Bengals. An inability to run the ball – the Bengals rank 29th in the NFL – translates into an inability to control the clock. That’s forced the Cincinnati defense to play almost 32 minutes per game and that has taken a toll on its efficiency. Despite talented performers at all three levels – Geon Atkins up front, Vontaze Burfict in the middle and Dre Kirkpatrick at the back end -- the Bengals rank 31st in the NFL in defense.
16. Philadelphia Eagles. The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles have been having a difficult time winning this season on American soil. They have already lost more games (four) in the first two months of the 2018 season than they lost in all of 2017 (three). So the Eagles are taking their show on the road to London this week to play the Jaguars. The Eagles have played at Wembley Stadium one other time, losing a 1991 preseason game to the Buffalo Bills.
17. Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins share the NFL lead with 11 interceptions on defense. Cornerback Xavien Howard has three of them and safety Reshad Jones two. They have combined for more interceptions than 11 other NFL teams.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers have allowed a league-high seven 100-yard receiving games to wide receivers (Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Juju Smith-Schuster, Taylor Gabriel), tight ends (Vance McDonald) and running backs (Alvin Kamara, Tarik Cohen). Not surprisingly, the Bucs rank last in the NFL in pass defense.
19. Chicago Bears. The Bears are a lot closer to contention than their 3-3 record and these rankings indicate. Chicago ranks 11th on the NFL on offense and 12th on defense. The arm of Mitch Trubisky gives the Bears hope on offense and edge rusher Khalil Mack injects confidence on defense. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen also give Chicago a powerful 1-2 punch at running back.
20. Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have made an investment in the linebacker position and it’s paying off. They have used a first-round draft pick in 2018 on Leighton Vander Esch and past second-rounders on Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. They form the backbone of a defense that has allowed the third fewest yards and the fourth fewest points this season.
21. Denver Broncos. The best element of the Broncos – the pass rush – is heating up with edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Denver has 11 sacks in the last two games – this after collecting only 11 sacks in the first five games of the season. The perennial Pro Bowler Miller has 7 ½ sacks on the season and the rookie Chubb 6 ½.
22. Cleveland Browns. The NFL game today is all about the quarterback and the pass rush. The Browns believe they now have the quarterback in Baker Mayfield, the first overall pick of the 2018 draft – and certainly have the pass rush. Cleveland leads the NFL with 31 sacks. Myles Garrett, the first overall pick of the 2017 draft, ranks fourth in the NFL with seven sacks.
23. Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan has thrown 14 of his 15 touchdown passes this season at home. Unfortunately for the 3-4 Falcons, six of their remaining nine games are on the road.
24. Tennessee Titans. Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck threw four touchdowns apiece last weekend and Tom Brady threw three. Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown only three touchdown passes all season.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars. L 3-4 The Jaguars return to their home away from home this week – Wembley Stadium in London -- trying to snap a three-game losing streak. Jacksonville has played a “home” game at Wembley in each of the last five seasons. They are 3-2 overseas and have a current three-game winning streak in London with victories over the Bills, Colts and Ravens.
26. New York Jets. L 3-4 There’s a surprisingly high standard for rookie starting quarterbacks with the Jets. In 2013, Geno Smith won eight games as a rookie starter and in 2009 Mark Sanchez won nine games. Sam Darnold has won three of his first seven starts. If he wins three more he’ll surpass the win count of Hall of Famer Joe Namath in his rookie season in 1966.
27. Indianapolis Colts. W 2-5 The Colts rank 21st in the NFL in defense and can thank a rookie linebacker for that. Indianapolis found Darius Leonard of South Carolina State in the second-round of the 2018 draft and he has emerged as the front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors with his league-leading 79 tackles – a dozen more than anywhere else. He has four sacks, two forced fumbles and two recoveries.
28. Buffalo Bills. L 2-5 The Bills can play defense. It’s too bad they can’t play any offense. The Bills have allowed the fourth fewest yards in the NFL and rank in the Top 10 in both sacks and takeaways. But the Buffalo offense has cycled through three quarterbacks already and has been inept. The Bills have been shut out once and failed to score a touchdown in two other games. Buffalo has scored a league-low 81 points in their 2-5 start.
29. New York Giants. The Giants started 1-6 in 2017 under coach Ben McAdoo on the way to 1-8 and, eventually, 3-13. That cost McAdoo his job. The Giants have again started 1-6 under his replacement Pat Shurmur.
30. San Francisco 49ers. When the 49ers won their last Super Bowl in 1994, they committed 24 turnovers, including 11 interceptions. The 2018 49ers have committed a league-high 18 turnovers, including 10 interceptions, and find themselves 1-6. Winning comes easier when a team stops beating itself with giveaways.
31. Arizona Cardinals. In a league legislated to promote and produce offense, the 1-6 Cardinals rank last in the NFL in offense, last in rushing and 31st in passing. They now have a rookie quarterback and a remaining schedule that includes the Chiefs, Chargers, Packers and Rams. Worse days loom for first-year coach Steve Wilks.
32. Oakland Raiders. Good-bye Khalil Mack. Good-bye Amari Cooper. In 10 months on the job Jon Gruden has traded away the best player on his defense and the best player on his offense. You rebuild with draft picks and the Raiders now have three first-rounders next April.