Editor’s note: Rick Gosselin is in his 46th season reporting on the NFL in 2018. He has covered the Lions, Giants, Chiefs and Cowboys in his career plus 35 Super Bowls. He has served on the Hall of Fame selection committee and is a member of both the senior and contributor sub-committees. Gosselin also is one of the 12 voters for the AP 32, the weekly ranking of NFL teams conducted by the Associated Press. Here is his ballot for Week 5:
1. Los Angeles Rams. It’s not that the unbeaten Rams need any help these days, but… The Rams visit Denver this weekend and the game will be officiated by the Shawn Smith crew. The home teams are winless in the four games the Smith crew has worked this season.
2. Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes threw an interception on his sixth NFL pass in the 2017 season finale – but didn’t throw another one until the fifth game of the 2018 season. That was a stretch of 187 passes without an interception by Mahomes for the 5-0 Chiefs.
3. New Orleans Saints. Mark Ingram is back from his NFL suspension and he announced his return with a two-touchdown game against the Redskins. Now the backfield is complete with Ingram, Alvin Kamara and the NFL’s all-time leading passer.
4. Cincinnati Bengals. There have been eight fumbles returned for touchdowns this season and the Bengals have two of them. Clayton Fejedelem scooped up a Jack Doyle fumble and raced 83 yards for the first TD in the season opener against the Colts, then rookie DE Sam Hubbard returned a Ryan Tannehill fumble 19 yards for a score last weekend against the Dolphins. NFL teams that have scored touchdowns on fumble recoveries this season are 8-0.
5. New England Patriots. With Julian Edelman back from suspension and Josh Gordon running deep routes, this is not the same New England team that staggered through September with a 2-2 record. Along with Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady now has his full complement of elite weapons.
6. Carolina Panthers. The Panthers finished in the NFL’s Top 10 in special teams in 2017 and the kicking game continues to be an edge for Carolina. Colin Jones recovered a fumbled punt in the end zone for a touchdown and Graham Gano kicked a game-winning 63-yard field goal in a 33-31 victory over the New York Giants.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars and Rams are the only two teams that rank in the Top 10 in both offense and defense this week. The Rams have a 5-0 record to show for their statistical brilliance. Jacksonville sits 3-2 because the Jaguars lead the NFL with a dozen turnovers.
8. Chicago Bears. The Bears are coming off their bye and head into an unusual scheduling stretch. Chicago will play its four AFC rivals in succession over the next four weeks – Miami, New England, the NY Jets and Buffalo. The Dolphins and Bills are on the road, the Patriots and Jets at home.
9. Los Angeles Chargers. The best quarterbacking in the NFL these days can be found in Los Angeles. Not only does Jared Goff lead the NFC and NFL in passing efficiency, Philip Rivers of the 3-2 Chargers leads the AFC in passer efficiency rating at 116.4. The two L.A. quarterbacks have combined for 25 touchdowns against only six interceptions this season.
10. Minnesota Vikings. The best receiver in the NFL? Hopkins? Beckham? Jones? Brown? Try Adam Thielen, who became the first player in NFL history to open a season with five consecutive 100-yard receiving games for the 2-2-1 Vikings. That’s one more 100-yard game than Thielen managed all of last season on the way to his first Pro Bowl.
11. Baltimore Ravens. Great defense is expected in Baltimore and the 2017 Ravens are again delivering. Baltimore ranks fourth in the NFL in defense and has allowed only seven touchdowns. Only the Jacksonville defense has allowed fewer TDs.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL leader in sacks this week is Watt – both of them. Houston DE J.J. Watt and his younger brother Pittsburgh OLB T.J. Watt have six sacks apiece for a share of the NFL lead along with Cincinnati DT Geno Atkins.
13. Detroit Lions. With victories over perennial Super Bowl contenders Green Bay and New England, the Lions have stamped themselves as a playoff contender themselves despite their 2-3 record. Rookie Kerryon Johnson has given the Lions a long-awaited rushing attack to complement the franchise arm of Matthew Stafford.
14. Green Bay Packers. Mason Crosby missed only four field goal attempts for the Packers all of last season. He missed four last Sunday alone in Green Bay’s 31-23 loss to the Detroit Lions — plus an extra point.
15. Cleveland Browns. Remember when Browns GM John Dorsey was criticized for taking cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick of the 2018 draft, passing over the best pass rusher in the draft (Bradley Chubb) in the process? Ward has intercepted three passes for the 2-2-1 Browns and blocked a field goal last week in a 12-9 upset of the Baltimore Ravens.
16. Tennessee Titans. The Titans have scored only seven touchdowns in five games yet have managed to win three of them. Only Buffalo has scored fewer touchdowns (6) this season than Tennessee – and the Bills beat the Titans last weekend because Buffalo managed to score the only touchdown of the game.
17. Philadelphia Eagles. QB Carson Wentz has thrown only one interception in his first three starts for the Eagles. But he has lost a fumble in each of those starts. His fumble last weekend against Minnesota was returned for a touchdown in the Vikings 23-21 victory.
18. Houston Texans. Three quarterbacks have passed for 300-plus yards each of the last four weeks – Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson. Goff and Mahomes both quarterback 5-0 teams and Watson a 2-3 team. The Texans clearly are going to need more from their running game and defense. The quarterback can only do so much – especially when he’s been pressured in the pocket to the tune of a league-runnerup 18 times.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The bye week has given QB Jameis Winston an extra week to get re-acclimated with his receivers. Wideouts Michael Evans and DeSean Jackson and tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard represent the best set of receivers Winston has ever had at his disposal. But Winston had to wait out a four-week NFL suspension to throw to them.
20. Washington Redskins. Washington is the only team in the NFC East with a non-losing record (2-2) and has the chance to build on the division lead it with three home games in the next four weeks – Carolina this week, Dallas next week and Atlanta Nov. 4.
21. Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins rank 30th in the NFL in offense but their defensive opportunism has been the key in a 3-2 start. Miami has intercepted a league-high 10 passes. That’s already one more pick than all of last season when the Dolphins stumbled home 6-10. Cornerback Xavien Howard has three of the interceptions.
22. Buffalo Bills. The Bills rank 31st in the NFL in offense and 32nd in passing with rookie quarterback Josh Allen. But Allen has managed to win two of his four starts because of his legs. He rushed for two touchdowns in a victory over the Vikings and scored the game’s only touchdown last weekend in Buffalo’s upset of the Tennessee Titans. He has more rushing touchdowns (three) than passing (two).
23. Seattle Seahawks. There have been 57 300-yard passing games by 27 NFL quarterbacks this season. Russell Wilson is not one of them. In fact, Wilson has passed for fewer than 200 yards in each of his last three starts for the 2-3 Seahawks.
24. Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are 2-0 at home against stationary quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford) this season and 0-3 on the road against mobile quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, DeShaun Watson).
25. New York Jets. Isaiah Crowell became the first back in to rush for 200 yards in 23 NFL weekends. He rushed for 219 yards in New York’s upset of Denver last weekend – the first back to hit 200 since Christmas Eve 2016 when Miami’s Jay Ajayi slapped 206 yards on the Bills.
26. New York Giants. As Odell Beckham attempts to throw the Giants into chaos with his words, rookie RB Saquon Barkley is doing his best to restore some order with his play. He’s had a 100-yard rushing game (Jaguars), a 14-catch game (Cowboys) and a two-touchdown game (Panthers) five weeks into his career.
27. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons fielded a Top 10 defense in 2017 on the way to the NFC semifinals. But Atlanta has already lost three key starters with season-ending injuries – MLB Deon Jones and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen – and all the great defense is gone. The Falcons have allowed the most points and the fifth most yards in the NFL in their 1-4 start.
28. Denver Broncos. One of the traits that attracted the Broncos to free agent QB Case Keenum was his ball security. He threw only seven interceptions in 2017 in quarterbacking the Vikings to the NFC title game. Three Denver quarterbacks combined to throw 22 interceptions a year ago to doom the Broncos to a 5-11 finish. Well, it must be that Rocky Mountain air – Keenum has already thrown as many interceptions in his five starts with the Broncos as he did all of last season with the Vikings.
29. Indianapolis Colts. Remember the injury to his shoulder that forced Andrew Luck to sit out the 2017 season? There is no longer any concern. Luck has thrown at least 50 passes in three of his five games this season and is on a pace to throw an NFL record 784 passes in 2018.
30. Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals rank last in the NFL in offense and there’s an obvious reason. Arizona has held onto the ball a league-low 23 minutes and 53 seconds per game. That’s three fewer minutes than any other offense in the league. It’s impossible to generate yards and points when your quarterback is standing on the sideline with the head coach.
31. Oakland Raiders. The Khalil Mack-less Raiders defense ranks 30th in the NFL and has only six sacks. The Khalil Mack-led Bears defense ranks third in the NFL and Mack has five sacks himself. That lack of defense has doomed Jon Gruden and his Raiders to a 1-4 start.
32. San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers may have lost their quarterback (Jimmy Garappolo) but have found a running back. Matt Breida ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing with 369 yards and a league-best 7.5 yards per carry. The less the ball is in the hands of QB C.J. Beathard (six turnovers in two starts) and the more it’s in the hands of Breida, the better chance the 49ers have of surviving this season.