Gosselin NFL rankings: A new face at the top of the rankings…but it’s an old familiar face


Tom Brady 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 14:

1. New England. The 10-2 Patriots have three of their four remaining games against the patsies of the AFC East. The other game will likely determine the top seed in the AFC playoffs. The Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers Dec. 17. Both teams have 10-2 records.

2. Minnesota. The Vikings failed to sack Matt Ryan last weekend, the first time in 12 games this season Minnesota has gone sack-less. That leaves only seven NFL defenses that have managed sacks in every game this season: Arizona, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and the Chargers.

3. Philadelphia. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan failed to throw a touchdown pass last weekend in a home loss to Minnesota, leaving only one quarterback who has thrown a TD pass every weekend his team has played this season – Carson Wentz of the Eagles. Not surprisingly, Wentz leads the NFL with 29 TD passes.

4. Pittsburgh. The loss of linebacker Ryan Shazier with a back injury Monday night cost the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense its leading tackler. Shazier was having a Pro Bowl season with 89 tackles, three interceptions, a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles for the AFC North leaders. But his health remains a far greater concern for the Steelers than his absence from the lineup.

5. LA Rams. The Rams have won nine games for the first time since their Greatest Show on Turf days in 2003. They also have positioned themselves to win their first NFC West since 2003 when they finished 12-4. But that was in St. Louis. If the Rams can hold off the hard-charging Seahawks, they will win their first division title in Los Angeles since 1985. Remember Dieter Brock?

6. New Orleans. Drew Brees has thrown only nine touchdowns in the eight games since the New Orleans bye. Not too long ago that would have been an average month for Brees. But the Saints have gone 7-1 during that stretch, with the heavy lifting now done on offense by RBs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Ingram has had five 100-yard rushing games and the rookie Kamara one during that eight-game stretch. The Saints lead the NFL with 19 rushing touchdowns.

7. Seattle. The best pass rusher and cover cornerback on the Seahawks are out, as is Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor. But linebacker Bobby Wagner is still on the field, so the aura of the Legion of Boom lives on. Wagner ranks second in the NFL in tackles (113) and has two interception and a fumble recovery. He also has batted away eight passes, posted a safety and scored a touchdown.

8. Carolina. Cam Newton has gone four consecutive games without throwing an interception for only the third time in his seven-year career. He also went five games without a pick in 2012 and another five in his MVP season in 2015. The challenge remains tall for him to reach five this time, though. His Panthers face the defense-rich Minnesota Vikings Sunday.

9. Tennessee. At long last, the pass rush has come to life. The Titans collected two sacks or fewer in each of their first nine games as they slogged along as a contender with a 6-3 record. But Tennessee collected three sacks in the 10th week against Pittsburgh, eight against Indianapolis in Week 11 and four more last weekend against Houston. After collecting 13 sacks in their first nine games, the Titans now have 15 in their last three games – and a share of first place in the AFC South at 8-4.

10. Jacksonville. Speaking of a pass rush, you can pencil in DE Calais Campbell as the Free Agent Signing of the Year. The Jaguars lured him away from Arizona in the offseason with a $60-million contract, and he has already set the Jacksonville single-season sack record with 12 ½. The Jaguars now have the best pass rush in the NFL with 45 sacks. Jacksonville shares first place in the AFC South with Tennessee.

11. Atlanta. The Falcons are placing too much pressure on their offense to win games. The defense has forced only 10 turnovers. Only the Raiders have forced fewer (9). Atlanta has only three pass interceptions. Again, only the Raiders have fewer (1). Cornerback Desmond Trufant is the only player in the secondary with an interception, and he has two of them. But he missed last week’s game with the Vikings in concussion protocol.

12. LA Chargers. What does a great pass rush do? It keeps the pressure off your secondary. The Chargers have a great pass rush with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge, and the secondary has been the beneficiary. The Chargers have the only defense that has not allowed a 100-yard receiver this season.

13. Baltimore. The Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback. Can they win another with Joe Flacco playing like Trent Dilfer at quarterback? Flacco has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game this season. He’s been under 200 yards six times and under 100 another game for the 7-5 Ravens. Like the Dilfer Ravens, these 2017 Ravens will go only as far as their defense can carry them. That defense is stout, by the way, allowing the fourth fewest points in the league.

14. Oakland. The Raiders have gotten back on track as a contender in the AFC West by making a commitment to RB Marshawn Lynch. Teetering from playoff contention with a 4-6 start, the Raiders fed the ball to Lynch 26 times for 67 yards and a touchdown in a victory over Denver on the final weekend of November and then 17 times for his first 100-yard game as a Raider … plus a touchdown … in a win over the Giants on the first weekend of December. Lynch averaged only 10 carries in his first 10 games with the Raiders.

15. Dallas. The Cowboys also have resurrected as a playoff contender on the legs of a running back. Dallas treated Alfred Morris as if he were Ezekiel Elliott last weekend against Washington, handing him the ball 27 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. Morris powered a 38-14 victory that snapped a three-game losing streak without Elliott and moved the Cowboys back to .500 at 6-6.

16. Detroit. QB Matthew Stafford has coughed up a fumble in each of the last three games and now has lost seven fumbles on the season. That’s tops in the NFC and ties him with Tom Savage of the Houston Texans for the league-lead. But Savage has lost all of his fumbles in six starts, Stafford in 12.

17. Kansas City. There have been only six games this season that an NFL quarterback has passed for 300 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. KC QB Alex Smith has done it twice. But Smith became only the second to accomplish that triple (366-4-0) in a losing cause last weekend as his Chiefs fell to the New York Jets. He joins Russell Wilson, whose Seahawks lost to Tennessee in the third week of the season despite his 373-4-0.

18. Green Bay. Brett Hundley has won two of his six starts in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers to keep the Packers afloat in the wild-card chase with a 6-6 record. The Packers visit Cleveland this weekend with a chance to go to 7-6 – then Rodgers is both eligible and able to return in Week 15, giving Green Bay real hope then as a playoff contender.

19. Buffalo. The Bills lack big plays on offense. Their longest run this season was a 48-yarder by LeSean McCoy and longest pass reception a 47-yarder by Jordan Matthews. QB Tyrod Taylor’s longest TD pass was only 26 yards to Deonte Thompson. The Bills are averaging only 4.7 yards per play this season, second worst in the NFL (Baltimore, 4.5).

20. NY Jets. Six times this season an NFL team has had a pair of 100-yard receivers in a game. The Jets have done it twice – the last two weekends, in fact. Robby Anderson caught six passes for 146 yards, and Jermaine Kearse added five grabs for 105 yards in Week 12 against the Panthers. Then Kearse caught nine balls for 157 yards and Anderson eight for 107 last weekend against the Chiefs.

21. Miami. The Dolphins scored three defensive touchdowns in the last two weeks. Reshad Jones scooped up a fumble against the Patriots and raced 14 yards with it for a touchdown. Then Xavien Howard and Justin Simmons returned interceptions for scores against the Broncos last weekend. Howard ran his in from 30 yards out and Simmons from 65.

22. Cincinnati. The Bengals were assessed 13 penalties for 173 yards in a Monday-night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The yardage was the most assessed an NFL team since the eighth week of the 2016 season when the Raiders were penalized 20 times for 200 yards against Tampa Bay. The Terry McAulay crew officiated that Oakland game, and the Walt Anderson crew officiated the Cincinnati game.

23. Washington. Kirk Cousins lost his top two wide receivers in the offseason when both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson bolted in free agency. The player signed to replace them, Terrelle Pryor, has been a bust, with only 20 receptions this season. The team’s most reliable set of hands, Pro Bowl TE Jordan Reed, has missed six games with injuries. Yet Cousins still ranks fifth in the NFL in passing yards (3,289) and sixth in TDs (21). Pay the man his money.

24. Arizona. A tip of the cap to WR Larry Fitzgerald, who continues to perform at a Pro Bowl-level despite the demise of his team this season. Fitzgerald has four games of 10 catches or more and a pair of 100-yard games despite catching passes from three different quarterbacks. He ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards with 15,267 and needs just 26 more to overtake Randy Moss at No. 3.

25. Houston. This could work out well for the Texans. They have an injury-riddled roster that finds itself out of the playoff hunt heading into December with a 4-8 record. But their best offensive player (QB DeShaun Watson) and best defensive player (DE J.J. Watt) will both be back in 2018. That’s the good news. The bad: The Texans will wind up with a high impact draft pick … that goes to Cleveland as part of the Deshaun Watson trade.

26. Tampa Bay. OK, Dirk Koetter – where have you been hiding RB Peyton Barber? An undrafted free agent in 2016 from Auburn, Barber signed with the Bucs and spent his rookie season on the practice squad. He made the team in 2017 but ran the ball only 30 times through the first 11 games of the season. But Barber got his first NFL start last weekend against Green Bay and delivered the first 100-yard game for the Bucs this season – 102 yards on 23 carries against the Packers.

27. Chicago. The Bears are without their two top receivers from a year ago and, with a rookie quarterback this season, the results have been predictable. Chicago is one of only two teams (and the only team in the NFC) without a 100-yard receiver this season. Cleveland is the other. But with the return of Josh Gordon, the Browns have hope for one before year’s end.

28. Denver. The Broncos had a Hall of Famer taking their snaps for 20 seasons in a 32-year stretch from 1983-2015. John Elway and Peyton Manning combined to take Denver to seven Super Bowls, winning three Lombardi Trophies. Now the Broncos are finding out how the other half lives. Three different QBs have combined for 16 interceptions and only eight touchdowns over the last 10 games, and the Broncos have done a fast fade from playoff contention at 3-9.

29. Indianapolis. Frank Gore passed Hall-of-Famers Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson on the all-time rushing list last weekend, moving into fifth place with 13,697 yards. Next up is Hall-of-Famer Curtis Martin, who sits 404 yards away at 14,101 career yards. Gore must average 101 over his final four games this season to get there.

30. San Francisco. The 49ers have 22 sacks on the season, including 19 in their six road games. That leaves them three sacks in their six home games. Go figure. Home field is supposed to give the home pass rush an edge. Not so the 49ers.

31. NY Giants. The Giants play three of their last four games at home against division rivals Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington. But with a 2-10 record and GM Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo ousted this week, even the role of spoiler seems a bit of a pipe dream for a team that has fallen apart offensively (28th in the NFL) and defensively (32nd in the NFL).

32. Cleveland. The Browns have become the sixth team since 2000 to open a season 0-12. It also marks the second consecutive season the Browns failed to win a game in September, October and November for an 0-12 start. Cleveland ended that winless start in 2016 after 14 games.

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