Gosselin: Week 1 NFL rankings


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: Rick Gosselin enters 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 1:

1. New England. The acquisition of WR Brandin Cooks in March looks even better in September following the loss of Julian Edelman, Tom Brady’s go-to guy last season with 98 catches. Edelman suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.

2. Oakland. The Raiders finished 12-4 a year ago on the arm of Derek Carr. If Marshawn Lynch still has a setting for Beast Mode, a running game will make Carr – and the Raiders — that much more dangerous.

3. Green Bay. Just as Tom Brady makes the Patriots the annual favorites in the AFC, Aaron Rodgers makes the Packers the annual favorite in the NFC. The NFL is all about the quarterback position, and these are the two best.

4. Atlanta. The Falcons have the talent to return to the Super Bowl, but do they have the mental makeup after their collapse against the Patriots? It’s been 24 years since a Super Bowl loser returned to the championship game (Buffalo).

5. Tennessee. Old-fashioned football is back, and the Titans are playing it. They run the ball behind one of the best offensive lines in football and play an aggressive smack-you-in-the-mouth defense coordinated by Hall-of-Famer Dick LeBeau. The quarterback (Marcus Mariota) isn’t bad, either.

6. Pittsburgh. Is there a better 1-2-3 offensive punch in all of football than Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown? CB Joe Haden was a late, quality addition to the defense. Pencil in the Steelers as favorites to repeat in the AFC North.

7. Dallas. The Cowboys will open the season with nine starters missing from their playoff lineup of last January, though that won’t include the NFL’s leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott. He has been suspended by the NFL for six games for violation of the personal conduct clause of the CBA but will be allowed to play Sunday.

8. Seattle. Pete Carroll believes that the winning begins in August. His Seahawks went 4-0 this preseason, their third 4-0 preseason in the last six years. Carroll has a 22-10 career preseason mark in Seattle, developing an August mentality that produced six playoff berths, four NFC West crowns, two NFC titles and a Lombardi Trophy.

9. NY Giants. Eli Manning was a 4,000-yard passer with 26 touchdowns a year ago playing pitch-and-catch with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. Two other potentially elite weapons, WR Brandon Marshall and TE Evan Engram, give Manning even more options in 2017.

10. Tampa Bay. Jameis Winston was fun to watch in 2016 when he passed for 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He’ll be even more fun to watch in 2017 with the addition of top-shelf offensive weapons WR DeSean Jackson and TE O.J. Howard.

Jameis Winston photo courtesy of Matt May/Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

11. Detroit. Matthew Stafford is one of only five quarterbacks in history to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season. The Lions made him the highest-paid player in the NFL this summer, so there are great expectations this fall in Motown.

12. Kansas City. With Alex Smith at quarterback, the Chiefs want to run the ball and throw play-action passes. But that gameplan took a hit when Kansas City lost its top returning rusher, Spencer Ware (912 yards), for the season with a preseason knee injury.

13. Houston. How much of an impact will the devastation of Hurricane Harvey have on the Texans? It’s hard to focus on football when your city needs a resurrection.

14. Washington. The Redskins will lean on quarterback Kirk Cousins even more this season with a defense that will be without nine-sack pass rusher Trent Murphy. He tore up a knee in the preseason.

15. Minnesota. The Vikings can throw the ball with Sam Bradford, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Randolph. But can they run it with Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook?

16. Carolina. It will be interesting to see how creative offensive coordinator Mike Shula can be with such a versatile weapon at his disposal as first-round draft pick Christian McCaffery. Maybe Cam Newton won’t feel the pressure to win all the games on his own now.

17. Cincinnati. Marvin Lewis and his Bengals desperately need to take the next step as a contender this fall. Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990, and Lewis is 0-7 in postseasons as a head coach.

18. Baltimore. The Ravens were one of four teams to go 4-0 this preseason. They also went 4-0 in the preseason on the way to their first Lombardi Trophy.

19. Arizona. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are a year older and a defense without two-time Pro Bowl end Calais Campbell and starting safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger is a year softer.

20. Miami. Dolphins’ QB Ryan Tannehill is another of the August casualties, tearing up a knee in training camp. So Miami coach Adam Gase reached out to his old quarterback at the Bears, Jay Cutler.

21. Philadelphia. Carson Wentz passed for 3,700 yards and 16 touchdowns as a rookie without any blue-chip weapons on his flank. So the Eagles bought a couple veteran playmakers for him in free agency this offseason in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.

22. New Orleans. The Saints signed a guard and wide receiver in free agency and used a first-round draft pick on an offensive tackle. That makes the NFL’s best offense even better. But New Orleans could be again held back again by its defense (27th in the NFL last season).

23. Denver. The Cowboys tried to trade up for Paxton Lynch in the first round of the 2016 draft but lost out to the Broncos and had to settle for Dak Prescott in the fourth. For the second consecutive summer, Lynch failed to beat out Trevor Siemian for the starting QB job in Denver.

24. Jacksonville. Blake Bortles remains a shaky option at quarterback, but the Jaguars are looking for first-round draft pick Leonard Fournette (and the influence of Tom Coughlin) to become a run-first team.

Kyle Shanahan photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

25. San Francisco. New GM John Lynch and new coach Kyle Shanahan have taken the approach of out with the old, in with the new. There’s a new QB, new receivers and a host of high draft picks (Solomon Thomas, Rueben Foster and Ahkello Witherspoon) now on defense. The 49ers sorely needed this makeover.

26. LA Chargers. The Chargers have a new head coach and a new city but the same old prospects – last place in the AFC West. Losing leading tackler Denzel Perryman in the preseason adds to their woes.

27. Cleveland. The Browns will go with rookie DeShone Kizer at quarterback. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have near the supporting cast that Dak Prescott had in Dallas on his way to NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2016.

28. LA Rams. The August acquisition of WR Sammy Watkins should give future offensive building blocks QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley more space and breathing room. Watkins can stretch a defense, averaging better than 16 yards per career catch in his three seasons at Buffalo.

29. Indianapolis. The Colts figure to open the season without quarterback Andrew Luck and center Ryan Kelly. Keep an eye on those center snaps by the backups.

30. Chicago. Not only do the Bears have to break in a new quarterback this season, the two best weapons of a year ago are gone. Leading receiver Cameron Meredith (66 catches) suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and Alshon Jeffery (52 catches) bolted in free agency.

31. Buffalo. The Bills’ four space players a year ago – WRs Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods and CBs Stephone Gilmore and Ronald Darby – are all gone. Woods and Gilmore in free agency, Watkins and Darby by trade.

32. NY Jets. Josh McCown will open the season as the starting quarterback of the Jets. New York becomes the sixth NFL team for whom McCown has started games in his 14-year career – and the fourth team in the last five seasons (also Bucs, Bears and Browns).

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