Gosselin NFL rankings: Eagles still No. 1 … but here come the Patriots


LaGarrette Blount photo courtesy of the New England Patriots

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 12:

1. Philadelphia. LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long won Super Bowl rings with the Patriots last season, and both moved on to the Eagles this season. Their winning has become contagious. In their last 20 games, Blount and Long have played on teams that posted a 19-1 record. The Patriots won their last 10 games of 2016, and the now Eagles have the NFL’s best record at 9-1.

2. New England. With Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots never beat themselves. They have committed a league-low five turnovers in 10 games. Brady has thrown only two interceptions and lost two fumbles. Compare that to benched QB Trevor Siemian, who threw 10 interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles in seven starts for the 3-7 Broncos.

3. Pittsburgh. The Steelers have the No. 4-ranked defense this season but have yet to score a defensive touchdown. The Detroit Lions, by comparison, have five defensive touchdowns by five different players.

4. Minnesota. The Vikings have a Top-5 offense and a To- 5 defense, and both will be tested over the next three games, all on the road, against fellow playoff contenders Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina. The Thanksgiving game at Detroit will be the most critical because the Lions have already beaten the Vikings this season in Minneapolis.

5. New Orleans. Drew Brees is completing passes at an incredible 71.6 percent clip. The NFL record is 71.5 by Sam Bradford with the Vikings last season. Brees has had three previous seasons when he completed 70 percent of his passes. His best was 71.2 in 2011 when he threw for career-highs of 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns.

6. LA Rams. Kicker Greg Zeuerlein leads the NFL in scoring with 115 points – 35 more than he scored all of last season with the Rams. He’s been perfect with his 31 conversion kicks this season and has banged home 28 of his 29 field-goal tries. His lone miss was a 36-yarder against Seattle in early October.

7. Carolina. The Panthers play the best game of keep-away in the NFL. Carolina leads the NFL in time of possession with an average of at almost 34 minutes per game. The best and easiest way to win a football game is to keep the ball away from the opposing offense.

8. Jacksonville. Linebacker Telvin Smith is the only NFL player to score a defensive touchdown both by interception and fumble recovery this season. Smith intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in Week 5 and returned it 28 yards for a score. He also fell on a DeShone Kizer fumble for a score last weekend in Cleveland.

9. Atlanta. With victories the last two weeks over 2016 division champions Dallas and Seattle, the Falcons are finally starting to resemble the team that won the NFC crown last season.

10. Detroit. Matthew Stafford has been sacked in every game this season, 33 times in all. The Panthers and Vikings sacked him six times apiece, the Saints five times and the Browns four times. Stafford was sacked only 37 times all last season – and there are six games left in this season.

11. Kansas City. The Chiefs have lost their way. They were the league’s last unbeaten team this season at 5-0 but have lost four of their five games since then. Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, the two speed elements in the KC offense, have combined to score only three touchdowns in the last seven games.

12. Seattle. The Seahawks lead the league with 94 penalties for 780 yards, yet remain in the playoff hunt with a 6-4 record. Think about it – officials have walked off eight football fields in penalties against the Seahawks in 10 games. By comparison, NFC South-leading Carolina has only been penalized 45 times for 371 yards.

Dez Bryant photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

13. Tennessee. When the Titans drafted Adoree Jackson from Southern Cal in the first round last April, they received three for the price of one. In addition to starting at cornerback, Jackson also is Tennessee’s primary kickoff- and punt- return specialist. He ranks ninth in the league in punt returns with an average of 9.9 yards and 11th in kickoffs at 21 yards.

14. Dallas. Without Ezekiel Elliott, the big plays from the Dallas offense have vanished. The one big-play element was supposed to be WR Dez Bryant, but he hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game this season and hasn’t scored a touchdown in the last three weeks. He’s averaging only 10.8 yards per catch with four touchdowns on the season for the 5-5 Cowboys.

15. LA Chargers. The Chargers are resurrecting themselves as a playoff contender thanks to their pass rush. Despite an 0-4 start to the season, the Chargers have won four of their last six games to move within two games of the AFC West-leading Chiefs. Los Angeles ranks third in the NFL with 30 sacks, including a combined 19 from edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

16. Baltimore. There have been seven shutouts in the NFL this season and the Ravens own three of them. No one else has more than one. The last NFL defense to post three shutouts in a single season was the 2003 New England Patriots, who were on their way to a second Lombardi Trophy.

17. Green Bay. Brett Hundley failed to generate a point of offense in his fourth NFL start last weekend filling in for the injured annual MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers – the first time the Packers have been shut out since 2006. Green Bay fell to New England 35-0 back then when Brett Favre was knocked from the game in the second quarter with an injury after completing only 5-of-15 passes. Rodgers came on in relief and completed 4-of-12 passes.

18. Washington. Samaje Perine rushed for 100 yards last weekend against the Saints. Perine became the sixth different rookie to rush for 100 yards in an NFL game this season, joining Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville), Dalvin Cook (Minnesota), Alvin Kamara (New Orleans), Kareem Hunt (Kansas City) and Aaron Jones (Green Bay). Fournette was a first-rounder, Cook a second, Kamara and Hunt thirds, Perine a fourth and Jones a fifth.

19. Buffalo. Can rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman be salvaged? He threw five interceptions in the first half alone of his NFL debut start for the Bills last weekend at the Chargers. Peterman, a fifth-round pick, was benched at halftime with Buffalo trailing, 37-7. Randall Cunningham, Jake Plummer and Alex Smith were among those who threw four picks in their NFL debut starts, but Peterman became the first to throw five.

20. Oakland. When the Raiders added Marshawn Lynch at running back and Jared Cook at tight end, they expected a more explosive, more diverse offense in 2017 than the unit that finished sixth in the NFL in 2016. Wrong. Oakland has taken a step backward on that side of the ball, tumbling to 21st in offense. Lynch has been a disappointment. He has yet to rush for 80 yards in a game and has scored only four touchdowns. Unfortunately, he left his “beast mode” behind in Seattle.

21. Cincinnati. The Bengals are clinging to wild-card playoff contention with a 4-6 record and quarterback Andy Dalton is doing his best to keep Cincinnati afloat. He has not thrown an interception over the last four games, covering 107 passes. He has thrown seven TD passes during that stretch.

22. NY Jets. The Jets do not have a Top-10 passer, a Top-20 rusher or a Top-40 receiver. They do not have a Top-25 interceptor or a Top-60 pass rusher. Yet the Jets plug along on the periphery of playoff contention with a 4-6 record. Todd Bowles must be a better coach than we all thought.

23. Houston. The Texans have lost two of their top pass rushers for the season with injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. But the run defense is holding up fine without them. Houston ranks seventh in the NFL against the run and has allowed a league-low three rushing touchdowns. The Texans are allowing only 92 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry.

24. Tampa Bay. With Jameis Winston at quarterback, the Bucs were an underachieving 2-6 this season. With Ryan Fitzpatrick these last two games, the Bucs are 2-0. Does that translate into a quarterback controversy in Tampa? Not really, but coach Dirk Koetter has to wonder why the lack of productivity at wide receiver when Winston is on the field.

25. Arizona. Adrian Peterson scored two touchdowns in his debut with the Cardinals as their feature back against Tampa Bay on Oct. 15. But he hasn’t scored a touchdown since then, covering four games and 83 touches. Arizona has lost three of those games to sink in the NFC West at 4-6.

26. Miami. The Dolphins went to training camp hoping to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. That optimism was based on an offense that featured Ryan Tannehill at quarterback and Jay Ajayi at running back. But Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp, and Ajayi was traded to the Eagles. Miami now has the 30th-ranked offense and fields a 4-6 non-contender.

Paxton Lynch photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos/Eric Bakke

27. Chicago. When a back rushes for 100 yards in an NFL game, his team generally wins. There have been 53 such games this season and those 100-yard rushers have compiled a 44-9 record. But the Bears have wasted two of Jordan Howard’s four 100-yard games this season in losses to the Saints and Lions.

28. Denver. The 3-7 Broncos have struggled with Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler at quarterback and seem reluctant to play their recent first-round pick Paxton Lynch. So what do you do when you have a quarterback problem? You fire the offensive coordinator. The Broncos gave Mike McCoy his walking papers this week. And Lynch will get the start this week.

29. Indianapolis. The Colts return from the bye this weekend with a home game against Tennessee. Frank Gore needs 89 yards to pass Hall-of-Famer Jerome Bettis for sixth place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. If Gore rushes for 111 yards, he’ll motor past Hall-of-Famer LaDainian Tomlinson into fifth place. One problem — the Titans have a Top-5 run defense.

30. NY Giants. Where is Lawrence Taylor when you really need him? The once-proud New York defense has only one sack in the month of November. The 2-8 Giants have a league-low 14 sacks, managing one sack or fewer in seven of their 10 games this season.

31. San Francisco. Little wonder the 49ers sit 1-9 with an offense thatscored the fifth fewest points in the league. San Francisco has a league-worst time of possession of 26 minutes, 32 seconds per game. It’s difficult to score when you don’t have the football.

32. Cleveland. With the Cowboys and Rams failing to collect a sack last weekend, only nine NFL defenses remain with a sack in every game this season, including the winless Browns. Joining Cleveland with sacks in every game are Arizona, Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and the Chargers.

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