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 9:
1. Philadelphia. Carson Wentz has five TD passes longer than 50 yards this season to four different receivers – Nelson Agholar (72, 58) Mack Hollins (64), Torrey Smith (59) and Alshon Jeffery (53).
2. Pittsburgh. Is Joe Greene back in uniform? The Steelers held their last three opponents to 15 points or less. They held two other opponents this season to fewer than 10 points. This defense is allowing an average of only 14.6 points per game. That’s winning football – and the reason the Steelers sit 6-2.
3. Kansas City. The best tight end in the NFL? Slow down, Gronk fans – it could very well be Travis Kelce of the 6-2 Chiefs. He leads the Chiefs and all NFL tight ends in receiving and also leads all tight ends with three 100-yard games thus far.
4. New England. It’s a pretty safe bet the 6-2 Patriots will remain in the Top 5 again next week. That’s because New England has its bye this week along with Chicago, Cleveland, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and the Chargers.
5. Minnesota. Pro Bowl DE Everson Griffen says this edition of the Vikings is the best team he’s ever been on. And he’s a big part of the reason with his NFL-runnerup 10 sacks. Minnesota ranks third in the NFL in defense and sixth in sacks on the way to the top of the NFC North at 6-2.
6. LA Rams. The NFC South has not committed a turnover yet on special teams. Neither has the AFC South or AFC West. But the Rams have four special-teams giveaways all by themselves – three by punt returner Tavon Austin and one by kickoff returner Pharoh Cooper.
7. Seattle. The 5-2 Seahawks are the most penalized team in the NFL this season with 66 for 534 yards. In the last two weeks alone, Seattle was penalized a combined 25 times for 230 yards in a pair of victories over the Giants and Texans. In comparison, Carolina has been penalized a league-low 34 times through eight games this season.
8. New Orleans. The Saints have gone the longest of any NFL team without getting shut out – 247 consecutive games. The last time the Saints were blanked was the 2001 season finale, a 38-0 shellacking at the hands of the 49ers.
9. Buffalo. The Bills rank 22nd in the NFL in defense this week, but don’t judge this defense on the yards it allows. Judge this D on its points allowed and opportunism. The reworked Buffalo defense, which features free-agent Micah Hyde and rookies Tre’Davious White and Trae Elston in the secondary, leads the NFL with 17 takeaways and has allowed the second fewest points (115).
10. Carolina. Cam Newton has thrown 10 touchdown passes this season, including nine on the road. He has thrown just one TD pass in his three home games; and it was also his shortest TD pass of the season, a 1-yarder to RB Christian McCaffrey.
11. Jacksonville. The 4-3 Jaguars have one of the NFL’s best defenses, leading the league in both sacks and takeaways. That defense got a little bigger and a little better over the bye week with the acquisition of former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus from the Buffalo Bills.
12. Atlanta. RB Devonta Freeman was one of the NFL’s top TD producers a year ago with 13. But he has not reached the end zone in the three games since the bye, and his fellow Pro Bowler Julio Jones has only one TD to show for his season. The offense that led the NFL with 540 points in 2016 is now a shadow of its old self.
13. Tennessee. The Titans return from their bye this week to host Baltimore. They are 15-13 coming off byes. Also returning from the week off are Arizona, Green Bay, Jacksonville, the Giants and the Rams.
14. Dallas. Ezekiel Elliott reeled off three consecutive 100-yard rushing games to get the Cowboys back in the playoff hunt at 4-3. But now he’s gone – sitting the next six games because of a court ruling this week reinstating his six-game NFL suspension. Elliott is/was the best player on the Cowboys.
15. Houston. DeShaun Watson has started only six games in the NFL, but you can hardly call him a rookie any more. Not after he blistered a proud Seattle defense for 402 yards passing and four touchdowns last weekend. He’s also had a 300-yard passing game against the Patriots and a five-TD game against the Chiefs. As in college, he saves his best for the best competition.
16. LA Chargers. At 3-5, the Chargers are a flawed football team. But the pass rush isn’t one of the flaws. Edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have 8 ½ sacks apiece. The LA defense has had three five-sack games thus far and ranks third in the NFL with 26 sacks.
17. Baltimore. The Ravens became only the third team to post two shutouts in a single season since 2010. The St. Louis Rams also posted a pair of shutouts in 2014, as did the Steelers in 2011. Baltimore shut out the Bengals, 20-0, on opening day and the Dolphins, 40-0, last week.
18. Washington. Redskins’ RB Chris Thompson has more 100-yard receiving games this season than Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green and Julio Jones. He has two. All those Pro Bowl wide receivers have one 100-yard day or less.
19. Detroit. Matthew Stafford passed for 312 yards against New Orleans and 423 against Pittsburgh in the last two weeks, but Detroit lost both games to fall to 3-4. It be interesting to see what Stafford could do if the Lions ever gave him a running game. In Stafford’s eight seasons as the starting quarterback, the Lions’ average rushing rank has been 25th in the NFL. They rank 28th this season.
20. Miami. The Dolphins have been shut out twice this season and five times since 2010, which is tops in the league during that stretch.
21. Oakland. The Raiders allowed 30-plus points in three of their last four games and managed a combined two sacks in those last four games. Where’s that vaunted pass rush? Where’s the defense?
22. Chicago. The Bears are in a perfect position to develop a young quarterback. They have a Top-10 defense and a Top-5 rushing attack, which takes the pressure off first-round draft pick Mitch Trubisky to win games by himself. The Bears are 2-2 in his four starts, with Trubisky only chipping in two TD passes.
23. NY Jets. At the midway point of the season, would you have guessed Jets’ QB Josh McCown would have more touchdowns passes (12) than Drew Brees (11), Cam Newton (10), Ben Roethlisberger (10), Jameis Winston (10), Eli Manning (10) and Matt Ryan (9)? McCown gets my mid-season vote for Comeback Player of the Year. Quick, can you name any of his receivers?
24. Green Bay. The Packers are 18-10 coming off bye weeks – but those 18 victories have come with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers taking snaps. This week Brett Hundley will be the quarterback when the 4-3 Packers come off their bye to host the Detroit Lions. Rodgers has been sidelined with a broken collarbone.
25. Denver. The clock must be ticking on Trevor Siemian’s tenure as Denver’s starting quarterback. In his last five starts he has thrown 8 interceptions and only 3 TD passes. The Broncos traded up into the first round to get Paxton Lynch a year ago. It’s time to give him an extended look.
26. Cincinnati. The Bengals are clinging to playoff contention with a 3-4 record and now play their next three games on the road at Jacksonville, Tennessee and Denver. Andy Dalton has been a better quarterback on the road than at home. He has 8 TDs and 2 interceptions in three road games and 3 TDs and 6 interceptions at Paul Brown Stadium.
27. Arizona. Drew Stanton steps in at quarterback for the injured Carson Palmer and, for the next eight weeks, it will be his challenge to keep the 3-4 Cardinals afloat in the playoff chase. A 10-year veteran, Stanton has an 8-5 career record as a starter and is 6-3 in his four seasons with the Cardinals.
28. Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have a dazzling passing offense with Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. But Tampa Bay is fading from playoff contention at 2-5 with the worst defense in the NFC. The Bucs have a league-low seven sacks.
29. Indianapolis. The Colts are 0-4 on the road, 1-3 against the NFC, 0-2 in the AFC South, and their Pro Bowl WR T.Y. Hilton has scored just one touchdown in eight games. At 2-6, Indy’s season is over regardless whether franchise QB Andrew Luck makes it back to the field this fall.
30. NY Giants. With injuries to his top receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard, Eli Manning’s productivity has fallen off the cliff in the last five games. His passing yards have diminished in consecutive weeks from 366 to 288 to 225 to 128 to 134.
31. San Francisco. If the 0-8 49ers are to win a game this season, it likely will be in the next two weeks. They are home this Sunday against an Arizona team playing without Carson Palmer and then host the Giants, who are the lowest scoring team in the NFC. And they now have a new QB to pin their hopes on – Jimmy Garoppolo.
32. Cleveland. In his seven starts this season, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer has as many rushing touchdowns (3) as he does passing touchdowns for the 0-8 Browns. He has not thrown for a touchdown in his last four starts covering 105 passes.