Gosselin NFL rankings: Eagles, Patriots, Vikings & Steelers form a crowd at the top


(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s note: Rick Gosselin is in his 45th season reporting on the NFL in 2017. He has covered the Lions, Giants, Chiefs and Cowboys in his career, plus 34 Super Bowls. He has served on the Hall-of-Fame selection committee for 22 years and is a member of both the senior and contributor subcommittees. Gosselin also is one of 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. Philadelphia. The Eagles are the highest-scoring team in the NFL with 351 points, an average of 31.9 points per game. The last time Philadelphia led the NFL in scoring was 1949. The Eagles also won an NFL title that season.

2. New England. Dion Lewis gave the Patriots their first 100-yard rushing game of the season in last weekend’s victory over Miami. That leaves seven NFL teams still without a 100-yard rusher in 2017: Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Oakland, Seattle and Tampa Bay.

3. Minnesota. The Vikings are the only team in the NFL that ranks in the Top 5 in both offense and defense this week. Little wonder Minnesota has a seven-game winning streak to claim first place in the NFC North with a 9-2 record. The Vikings and Eagles have allowed the fewest points in the NFC, giving them control of the two NFC first-round playoff byes heading into December.

Jared Goff photo courtesy L.A. Rams

4. Pittsburgh. It may not be the resurrection of Blitzburgh from the 1990s, but the Steelers have the only defense in the NFL with at least two sacks in every game this season. End Cam Heyward leads the way with nine sacks and rookie T.J. Watt has chipped in five.

5. LA Rams. Jared Goff has been on a tear in the four games since the bye, passing for an average of 311 yards per game with nine touchdowns and only one interception. The Rams won three of those four games to sit atop the NFC West with an 8-3 record. Goff has thrown the three longest TD passes of his career in the last month — 94, 67 and 52 yards.

6. Carolina. The Panthers are 8-3 with half of their victories coming against AFC foes, having swept their four-game non-conference slate against the AFC East. Only two other NFC teams have not lost to AFC opponents this season – the Rams at 3-0 record and the Bears at 2-0. The NFC holds a healthy 28-18 lead over the NFC in non-conference play.

7. New Orleans. Is there a better 1-2 rushing punch in the NFL than Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara? Ingram ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing (837) and Kamara ranks fifth in yards from scrimmage (1,094). Ingram ranks sixth in yards from scrimmage (1,055). Ingram is averaging 5.0 yards per rush and Kamara 7.1. They have combined to rush for 13 touchdowns.

8. Atlanta. There have been 59 games this season that an NFL team has been assessed 10 or more penalties. The Seattle Seahawks lead the way with five of them. Only three teams have not suffered a 10-penalty game this season – the Falcons, Cowboys and Buccaneers.

9. Seattle. The Seahawks continue to field a Top 10 defense despite the injury absences of Cliff Avril, their Pro Bowl pass rusher, Richard Sherman, their Pro Bowl cornerback, Kam Chancellor, their Pro Bowl safety and tackle Malik McDowell, their top draft pick last April. The Seahawks have allowed the eighth fewest yards and 10th fewest points in the league this season.

10. Tennessee. The Titans collected only 13 sacks in their first nine games of the season. But they have 11 sacks in the last two games, including eight at Indianapolis Sunday that lifted them past the Colts. That gave the Titans a share of the AFC South lead along with the Jaguars with 7-4 records.

11. Jacksonville. The Jaguars have the best defense in the NFL and also the highest scoring. Defenders Dante Fowler, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith and Calais Campbell have all returned fumbles for touchdowns this season and Barry Church and Smith have both run interceptions back for scores.

12. Detroit. Marvin Jones ranks second in the NFL in touchdown receptions along with Antonio Brown and Jimmy Graham with eight apiece. Only DeAndre Hopkins of the Texans has more (9). Among the players with 40 or more receptions, Jones’ 16.6-yard average trails only the 17.4 of Robby Anderson (Jets) and 17.0 of Brandin Cooks (Patriots).

13. Baltimore. The Ravens lead the NFL with 18 interceptions. Safety Eric Weddle has four and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr three apiece. Baltimore also led the NFL in interceptions with 18 a year ago.

14. LA Chargers. Los Angeles is home to glitz and glamor – and also some of the best pass rushes in the NFL. The Chargers rank fifth in the NFL with 32 sacks and the Rams rank sixth with 31. Chargers’ edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram both rank in the Top 10 in the league in sacks and inside rusher Aaron Donald of the Rams is the best defensive tackle in the game.

15. Buffalo. There have been 17 field goals of 55 yards or more in the NFL this season and Buffalo’s Stephen Hauschka has four of them. Detroit’s Matt Prater also has three.

Kirk Cousins photo courtesy of Washington Redskins

16. Kansas City. QB Alex Smith did not throw an interception in his first eight games of the season as the Chiefs powered their way to the top of the AFC West with a 6-2 record. But Smith has thrown four interceptions in the last three games and the Chiefs have lost them all, re-opening the door for the Chargers and Raiders in the West. Both are now a game back at 5-6.

17. Washington. QB Kirk Cousins has five 300-yard passing games this season, tops in the NFC. Only Tom Brady over in the AFC has more (six). Cousins has victimized three division leaders – Philadelphia (303 yards), Minnesota (327 yards) and the Saints (322).

18. Oakland. The Raiders have allowed only 19 sacks, the fourth fewest in the NFL. Derek Carr has been sacked once or less in six of his 10 starts this season for the 5-6 Raiders.

19. Arizona. Adrian Peterson rushed for 100 yards in two of his first three games with the Cardinals. But his comeback has hit a snag in the last three weeks against some top-shelf defenses. He rushed for only 29 yards on 21 carries against the Seahawks, 26 yards in 14 carries against the Texans and 79 yards on 20 carries against the Jaguars. He also hasn’t scored a touchdown in the last three weeks.

20. Cincinnati. Andy Dalton has not thrown an interception since Oct. 22. That stretch covers five games, 16 quarters and 140 passes. The Bengals have a two-game winning streak to get back into the wild-card hunt at 5-6 and have won three times during Dalton’s interception-less streak.

21. Dallas. A month ago the pass rush was the strength of the Dallas defense. Not any more. The sliding Cowboys have gone without a sack the last two games and have only one sack during their current three-game losing streak. Couple that with the fact Dak Prescott has failed to throw a TD pass in the last three weeks and you can see why the 5-6 Cowboys are fading from playoff contention.

22. Green Bay. WR Jordy Nelson misses Aaron Rodgers as much as coach Mike McCarthy does. Nelson finished fifth in the NFL in receiving last season with 97 catches for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns. But Rodgers has missed the last five games with injury and Nelson has disappeared in the Green Bay offense. He has a total of 15 receptions in those five games and is chugging along this season with only 38 catches for 393 yards and six TDs.

23. Houston. The Texans have tried and failed to survive this season without both their best offensive player (QB DeShaun Watson) and best defensive player (J.J. Watt). At 4-7, Texans will fail to win a third consecutive AFC South title. The Texans are 2-4 since losing Watt to a season-ending injury and 1-3 since losing Watson.

24. NY Jets. At some point, the Jets must find out what they have in QB Christian Hackenberg. New York took him in the second round in 2016 but have been reluctant to put him on the field. With a 4-7 record, the Jets have nothing left to play for this season and better find out what they have in Hackenberg before the 2018 draft. He still has not thrown an NFL pass.

25. Tampa Bay. For the first time in months, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots no longer have statistically the worst defense in the NFL. That dishonor now belongs to Tampa Bay, thanks in large part to that 253-yard receiving game Atlanta’s Julio Jones slapped on the Bucs last weekend. The Patriots have inched up to 30th. Tampa Bay is allowing 395 yards per game. It wasn’t that long ago that the Bucs won a Super Bowl with a truly great defense.

26. Miami. The season went off the rails for the 4-7 Dolphins in training camp when QB Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury. With Jay Cutler and then Matt Moore taking the snaps in his place, the Dolphins have endured two games with fewer than 100 yards passing this season and five others with fewer than 200 yards. Their 17 TD passes have been offset by 15 interceptions.

27. Chicago. Only two NFL teams still have not had a 100-yard receiver thus season, the Bears and the Browns. Both have rookie quarterbacks. Chicago now has gone without a 100-yard receiver for 12 consecutive Bears. Cleveland has gone 15 consecutive games without a 100-yard receiver.

Eli Manning photo courtesy of the New York Giants

28. Denver. When Denver started Paxton Lynch at Oakland last weekend, the Broncos became only the second team this season to go three-deep at quarterback. The other team is Arizona. The Broncos have started Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Lynch. The Cardinals have started Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert.

29. Indianapolis. QB Jacoby Brissett has been sacked 43 times in his 10 starts this season. He was sacked 10 times by Jacksonville, eight times by Tennessee and suffered four sack games against Arizona, Cincinnati and San Francisco.

30. NY Giants. Remember back in the summer when the Giants held Super Bowl aspirations based on their talented wide receiver corps of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard? Well, 11 games into the season, the Giants sit 2-9 and their leading receiver is rookie tight end Evan Engram with 44 catches. That ranks 38th in the NFL. Now they have benched Eli Manning for Geno Smith.

31. San Francisco. The Jimmy Garoppolo Era has begun. He came off the bench late for an injured C.J. Beathard in a loss to Seattle last weekend and threw for a touchdown on just his second pass with the 49ers.

32. Cleveland. The Browns have become the seventh NFL team since 2000 to open a season 0-11. Only the 2008 Detroit Lions wound up winless at 0-16. The 2016 Browns started 0-14, the 2011 Colts and 2007 Dolphins both 0-13, the 2001 Lions 0-12 and the 2000 Chargers 0-11. All won their next games to end their winless seasons.

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