Rick Gosselin's Week 8 NFL rankings: Here we go Steelers, here we go...
Editor's note: Rick Gosselin is in his 48th season reporting on the NFL in 2020. 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 for 25 years 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 8:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers. (Previous week: 3) In an offense-driven league, all the teams that live by the pass have fallen by the wayside with losses this season: Kansas City, Seattle, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, New Orleans -- and the one franchise that still places its greatest game-day premium on defense has ascended to the top spot. Pittsburgh is the NFL’s only unbeaten team at 6-0 because the Steelers still believe defense wins championships. Pittsburgh ranks first in the NFL in both defense and sacks (26).
2. Kansas City Chiefs. (4) The defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs are 6-1, with four of their victories coming on the road. Kansas City is one of only six teams still unbeaten on the road this season, but the Chiefs are the only one with four victories. Baltimore, Chicago and San Francisco are all 3-0 on the road, with both Pittsburgh and Tennessee 2-0.
3. Tennessee Titans. (1) Ryan Tannehill has turned the ball over only three times this season. Only Aaron Rodgers has fewer giveaways at the quarterback position. Tannehill threw an interception against Minnesota and then turned it over twice against Houston on an interception and a fumble. That’s been it. Not another player on the Titans has committed a turnover, which helps explain why Tennessee sits atop the AFC South with a 5-1 record. The Titans do not beat themselves with mistakes.
4. Baltimore Ravens. (5) The Ravens have sent Justin Tucker out to kick for points 34 times this season, and he’s been successful on 33 of those attempts. He’s 20-for-20 in conversion kicks and 13-of-14 on field-goal tries. His only miss was a 61-yard attempt in a blowout win over Cincinnati that sailed wide right. He booted a 55-yard field goal against Philadelphia.
5. Green Bay Packers. (6) Aaron Rodgers has thrown TD passes to eight different players this season. They arrived in the NFL as a first-round draft pick (Mercedes Lewis), a second-rounder (Davante Adams), a third (Jace Sternberger), a pair of fifths (Aaron Jones and Marquez Valdes-Scantling) and three undrafted college free agents (Allen Lazard, Lane Taylor and Robert Tonyan). Rodgers elevates the play of everyone around him. Taylor, by the way, is an offensive lineman.
6. Seattle Seahawks. (2) The Seahawks own a rare and unusual double this week. They have the league’s best offense and worst defense. Seattle has gained 2,551 yards on offense through six games this season to rank first in the league but allowed 2,875 yards on defense to rank 32nd. But thanks to the magic of QB Russell Wilson, the Seahawks sit atop the NFC West with a 5-1 record.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (8) Tom Brady has thrown a touchdown pass each of the last two weeks to tight end Rob Gronkowski. That gives the duo 92 touchdown connections, tying Steve Young-Jerry Rice as the second most prolific tandem of all time. The only duo still ahead of Brady-Gronk are Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison at 114 TD connections.
8. Buffalo Bills. (9) The Bills dealt with Patrick Mahomes this season. They dealt with Aaron Donald and Derrick Henry. But the one person they cannot deal with is referee Carl Cheffers. Buffalo has drawn the Cheffers crew for two of its seven games. He issued the Bills 10 penalties for 56 yards in the Tennessee game, then assessed 11 penalties for 106 yards last weekend in the Jets game. That’s 21 penalties in two games. The Bills have had only two double-digit penalty games all season. Their AFC East rival, the Patriots, have been penalized just 15 times in six games this season.
9. New Orleans Saints. (14) The Saints give up yards grudgingly – they have allowed the seventh fewest in the NFL – but the points still flow too easily. New Orleans has allowed at least 23 points in all six of its games thus far and ranks 21st in points allowed this season. That puts pressure on Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas to maintain their 30-point per game scoring average to stick with the Buccaneers in the NFC South race.
10. Arizona Cardinals. (13) In the last two weeks the Cardinals have won games when Kyler Murray completed nine passes (Dallas) and 34 passes (Seattle). The one constant has been his legs. He rushed for 74 yards against the Cowboys and 67 yards against the Seahawks. Murray has rushed for a touchdown in all but one of Arizona’s seven games this season and has seven on the year.
11. Los Angeles Rams. (11) Sam Sloman was nearly automatic as a senior last season at Miami (Ohio), hitting 34-of-35 conversion kicks and 26-of-30 field goals. The Rams drafted him in the seventh round, but he’s finding life a bit more difficult in the NFL than it was in the MAC. Sloman had his third kick of the season blocked Monday night by the Bears. Two of the blocks were extra points, and the Bears rejected a field goal. He’s the only NFL kicker with three kicks blocked through seven weeks.
12. Chicago Bears. (7) The 5-2 Bears have not had a 100-yard rusher yet. That’s no big deal. There are 13 teams that still don’t have that guy in their backfield. But what is a big deal is that Chicago can’t run the ball with anyone back there. The Bears rank last in the NFL in rushing with an average of only 84 yards per game. Chicago is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and has rushed for a league-worst two touchdowns.
13. Cleveland Browns. (15) Here’s a clear a sign of Baker Mayfield’s development as a quarterback: He posted the first five-TD pass game of his three-year NFL career last weekend against Cincinnati and not a single one of them went to his two Pro Bowl receivers Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry. When he doesn't force passes to his high-priced targets and takes what the defense gives him, Cleveland thrives. Mayfield has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game this season, but his Browns sit 5-2.
14. Indianapolis Colts. (10) In his first start in place of injured 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor gained 101 yards and scored a touchdown in the second week of the season against Minnesota. But Taylor, the winner of the Walker Award in both 2018 and 2019 as the best running back in college football, hasn’t come close to that height in his four starts since then. He hasn’t hit 70 yards in a game, and his carries have dipped from 26 against Minnesota to just 12 in his last outing against Cincinnati. The 5-2 Colts need to re-commit top both Taylor and a running game.
15. San Francisco 49ers. (16) The next three games could make or break the 49ers in their bid to repeat as NFC champion. San Francisco is 4-3 and plays fellow NFC Super Bowl hopefuls Seattle, Green Bay and New Orleans in order before their bye Nov. 22. Only the Green Bay game is at home.
16. Detroit Lions. (22) Matthew Stafford is 72-82-1 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Thirty-six of his victories – half his victories -- have come on game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, including last weekend’s 23-22 thriller at Atlanta when he drove the Lions 75 yards in eight plays in the final 64 seconds after the Falcons had taken the lead. Stafford ranks eighth in NFL history in fourth-quarter comebacks by a quarterback.
17. Las Vegas Raiders. (12) Josh Jacobs has scored five touchdowns for the 3-3 Raiders this season. All have come in the three games the Raiders played on the road. There’s good news ahead for both Jacobs and the Raiders – Las Vegas is on the road the next two weeks at Cleveland and Los Angeles (Chargers).
18. Miami Dolphins. (17) Tua Tagovailoa makes his starting debut for the Dolphins this week against the Rams. He was the second quarterback taken in the 2020 draft with the fifth overall choice, but both Joe Burrow (first overall by the Bengals) and Justin Herbert (sixth overall by the Chargers) beat him to the field. But both lost their starting debuts. Tua will be the 12th quarterback in the last two years to make his NFL starting debut in his rookie season, but only three managed to win those first starts: Drew Lock (Broncos), Daniel Jones (Giants) and Devlin Hodges (Steelers).
19. Carolina Panthers. (18) Cleveland edge rusher Myles Garrett leads the NFL with nine sacks. That’s more sacks individually than five NFL teams and as many as two others: Carolina and Jacksonville (six apiece), Las Vegas and Tennessee (seven apiece), Detroit (eight) and New England and Seattle (nine apiece).
20. Los Angeles Chargers. (23) Defenses might want to start running two-deep coverages when Jalen Guyton is on the field. He has only eight receptions this season – but he’s covered a staggering 258 yards with them. That’s an average of 32.3 yards per catch. He has touchdowns of 72 yards against Tampa Bay and 70 yards against Jacksonville and also had a 49-yard non-TD catch against New Orleans. He has three touchdowns in his eight catches, also a 14-yarder versus Kansas City.
21. Philadelphia Eagles. (24) The Eagles sit alone atop the NFC East with a 2-4-1 record – and there’s a very real possibility the champion of this division doesn’t finish with a .500 record. That’s only happened twice before. In 2014, Carolina won the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record, and in 2010 Seattle won the NFC West with a 7-9 mark. Both, incidentally, won games in their respective post-seasons.
22. Denver Broncos. (21) QB Drew Lock threw a touchdown pass against Tennessee in the season opener but hasn’t thrown one in his three starts since then. That’s 69 passes without reaching the end zone. Lock did miss two September games with a shoulder injury. In his absence, backup quarterbacks Jeff Driskel threw a TD pass and Brett Rypien two.
23. New England Patriots. (19) Since Tom Brady left, not surprisingly, the Patriots have a quarterbacking problem. They rank 24th in the NFL in offense and 28th in passing. They have been held to 12 points or less in each of their last three games, all losses. Quarterback Cam Newton ranks 31st in the NFL in passing, offsetting his two touchdown passes on the season with seven interceptions.
24. Washington. (31) Antonio Gibson became the fifth rookie running back to rush for 100 yards in a game this season, gaining 128 against Dallas. Gibson was a third-round draft pick. He joined a fraternity of rookie 100-yard rushers that already includes first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Kansas City), second-rounders Jonathan Taylor (Indianapolis) and D’Andre Swift (Detroit) and undrafted college free agent James Robinson (Jacksonville).
25. Cincinnati Bengals. (25) Rookie QB Joe Burrow is developing a chemistry with WR Tyler Boyd. A.J. Green is the Pro Bowl weapon on the flank, but Boyd has all three of the individual 100-yard receiving games by the Bengals this season. In the last two games, Burrow passed for 313 yards against Indianapolis and 406 yards against Cleveland. Boyd caught six passes for 125 of those yards against the Colts and 11 passes for 101 yards against the Browns. He also had a 10-catch, 125-yard game in a September game against the Eagles.
26. Minnesota Vikings. (26) The Vikings are 1-5 and return from their bye this week with a chance to get their season turned around and also get back into the NFC North race. That’s because Minnesota’s next three games are all in the division – at Green Bay, home against Detroit and at Chicago.
27. Houston Texans. (27) The state of Texas has oil. What it lacks are ballhawks. The Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys have a league-worst one interception apiece this season. In comparison, Indianapolis leads the NFL with 10 interceptions. For the Texans, that’s one interception in 238 passes. For the Cowboys, it’s one in 221 passes. Dallas intercepted its pass in the season opener against the Rams but has now gone six consecutive games without a theft. Houston intercepted its one pass two games ago.
28. Dallas Cowboys. (20) Ezekiel Elliott held out in 2019 and wound up with the richest contract ever given an NFL running back -- $90 million, with $50 million of it guaranteed. But 13 months into that contract the Cowboys must be having second thoughts. Elliott has failed to rush for 100 yards in any of the first seven games of the season, the longest such drought of his career. He has failed to rush for 50 yards in either of the last two games when the Cowboys asked him to shoulder a greater share of the offensive burden with the injury absence of QB Dak Prescott.
29. New York Giants. (28) QB Daniel Jones has yet to play a turnover-free game in seven this season. He has thrown at least one interception in all but the Dallas game and has fumbled the ball away in all but the Pittsburgh, Washington and Rams games. The Giants rank fourth in the NFL with 13 giveaways, and Jones has 11 of them.
30. Atlanta Falcons. (29) The Atlanta Falcons have had a league-high seven individual 100-yard receivers this season. That’s more than the entire AFC South (six). Calvin Ridley has four of the 100-yard games, Julio Jones two and Russell Gage one. But the Falcons have only a 1-6 record to show for their flashy group of wideouts.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars. (30) RB James Robinson ranks seventh in the NFL with 481 rushing yards. He’s on a pace to become the second undrafted free agent running back to rush for 1,000 yards in the last three years. Phillip Lindsay rushed for 1,037 yards for Denver in 2018. Robinson is on track to rush for 1,099 yards.
32. New York Jets. (32) The Jets sure could use Robby Anderson these days. He stretched the field for young QB Sam Darnold, averaging 15 yards per catch and scoring 11 touchdowns in the two seasons they played together in 2018-19. He was someone Darnold could trust. But the Jets let Anderson leave in free agency last offseason. He signed with Carolina and now ranks fifth in the NFL in receptions (46) and second in yards (640). The Panthers have improved from 20th in the NFL in passing a year ago without Anderson to 11th with him. And the Jets now rank last in the league in passing without Anderson.