Rick Gosselin’s NFL rankings: Falcons taking flight


Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

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 4:

1. Atlanta. The Falcons are 3-0 and steaming toward 5-0 with home games up next against Buffalo and Miami before their Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots on Oct. 22.

2. Kansas City. Rookie Kareem Hunt has scored touchdowns of at least 50 yards in each of his first three NFL games. He caught a 78-yard pass in the opener against New England, then ran for a 53-yarder against Philadelphia and a 69-yarder against San Diego last weekend.

3. New England. There are only three quarterbacks who have started all three games this season and have yet to throw an interception – Tom Brady (110 attempts), Drew Brees (111) and Alex Smith (84).

4. Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is the only NFL quarterback to open the season with three consecutive 300-yard passing games. The Packers have needed every one of his yards to get to 2-1.

5. Detroit. Matt Prater has converted 12 consecutive field goal tries of 50 yards or more for the Lions, including kicks of 55, 56, 57 and 58 yards this season. He kicked a 57-yarder in the 2015 season finale, then was a perfect 7-of-7 in 2016.

Dalvin Cook photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

6. Oakland. Marquette King is launching some incredible punting numbers, averaging 53.3 yards per punt and 48.8 net yards. The NFL records are 51.4 yards (Sammy Baugh) and 46.0 net (Johnny Hekker).

7. Minnesota. Who’s Adrian Peterson? Rookie Dalvin Cook leads the NFC in rushing with 288 yards and also has caught 10 passes in his three games with the 2-1 Vikings.

8. Tennessee. The best offensive line in the NFL? Here’s a vote for the Titans, who rank second in the NFL in rushing and have allowed their quarterback Marcus Mariota to be sacked a league-low two times.

9. Pittsburgh. Not only does Antonio Brown lead the NFL in receptions with 26, he leads all receivers in first downs with 18. Ben Roethlisberger has targeted him a league-high 36 times.

10. Dallas. End DeMarcus Lawrence leads the NFL with 6 ½ sacks and the Cowboys as a team have 11. Last season, Dallas didn’t get to 11 sacks until the eighth weekend.

11. Philadelphia. The Eagles beat the Giants last weekend but lost Darren Sproles for the season with both a broken wrist and torn ACL. His departure is immense. Sproles did it all for the Eagles, catch passes, take handoffs and return both punts and kickoffs.

12. Washington. The Redskins are one of only two teams in the NFL that rank in the Top 10 in both offense and defense this week. Washington has the league’s eighth best offense and fifth best defense. Green Bay is the other.

13. Denver. The most basic football axiom is run the ball and stop the run. No one does that better than the Broncos, who rank third in the NFL in rushing and first in run defense.

14. Houston. There are six Texans who had sacks in September. J.J. Watt was not one of them. That’s four games in a row now without a sack for a player considered to be the league’s preeminent pass rusher. His last sack came on September 18, 2016 before he went on injured reserve last season with a back issue.

15. Seattle. The Seahawks allowed only three individual 100-yard rushing games all last season. But they have been dinged for one each of the last two weeks by Carlos Hyde and then DeMarco Murray.

16. Buffalo. The Bills are one of only five teams rushing the ball more than they are passing it thus far this season, joining the Colts, Jaguars, Rams and Ravens. Buffalo has rushed the ball 98 times and passed only 79 times.

17. Jacksonville. The Jaguars now have a three-game winning streak in their “home” games played in London. Last weekend’s crowd of 84,592 was the second largest of the 26 exhibition and regular-season games played by all NFL teams in England.

18. LA Rams. Todd Gurley rushed for only six touchdowns in his rookie season in 2016. He already has three this season, one in each of his first three games. In addition, he has caught two touchdown passes.

19. Tampa Bay. Where are Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp when you really need them? The Bucs have a league-low one sack this season. And now linebacker Lavonte David figures to miss a month with an ankle injury.

20. Baltimore. The Ravens are 2-1 despite fielding the NFL’s worst offense, averaging only 264 yards per game. In a passing league, Baltimore also has the NFL’s worst passing attack with only 121 yards per game.

Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals

21. Carolina. There were three wide receivers selected in the Top 8 of the 2017 NFL draft. But the first rookie to post a 100-yard receiving game this season was a running back – Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey, who caught nine passes for 101 yards last weekend against New Orleans.

22. Arizona. It’s going to be a long year for the 1-2 Cardinals and even a longer year for Carson Palmer if Arizona can’t protect its quarterback. Palmer has been sacked 10 times the last two weeks.

23. Miami. This is a rarity – an NFL team not playing a home game until October. The Dolphins were supposed to open the season at home Sept. 10 against Tampa Bay but that game was postponed until November because of Hurricane Irma. Then came two road games. So the Dolphins play for the first time at home Sunday against the Saints.

24. New Orleans. The Saints are an equal opportunity pass defense. They have allowed a 100-yard receiving game to a wide receiver (Adam Thielen), a tight end (Rob Gronkowski) and a running back (Christian McCaffrey).

25. Chicago. The Bears found RB Jordan Howard in the fifth round in 2016 and he went on to finish second in the NFL in rushing as a rookie. It looks like Chicago has found another gem in Tarik Cohen, using a fourth-rounder to claim him last April. He rushed for 78 yards on 12 carries in last weekend’s upset of the Steelers.

26. NY Jets. This offseason the Jets subtracted three of the biggest names from an 11th-ranked defense – Sheldon Richardson, David Harris and Darrelle Revis – and a young defense is now experiencing growing pains. The 1-2 Jets have tumbled to 24th in defense.

27. Indianapolis. The Colts play an unusual schedule. Four of their first five games are against NFC teams. They lost to the Rams and Cardinals the first two weeks, then beat AFC rival Cleveland last Sunday, now play at Seattle Sunday and then home against the 49ers the following week.

28. Cincinnati. The Bengals and the Browns are both 0-3. We’ll get to see who the best team in Ohio is this weekend when the two teams meet in Cleveland.

29. NY Giants. Little wonder the Giants are 0-3. They are averaging a league-low 25 minutes, nine seconds on offense per game. It’s difficult to score when you don’t have the football.

30. Cleveland. The Browns have won only one of their last 22 games dating back to December 2015. You need to see the corner before you can turn it.

31. LA Chargers. The Chargers are sinking in their LA debut at 0-3 but the problem’s not on defense. Inside backer Jatavis Brown leads the NFL in tackles with 36 and outside backer Melvin Ingram leads the AFC in sacks with 5 ½ sacks.

32. San Francisco. Life now gets worse for the 0-3 49ers and their new coach Kyle Shanahan. This week they embark on a three-game road trip to Arizona, Indianapolis and Washington.

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