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 1:
1. Los Angeles Rams. The Rams had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL last season and the best special teams. In adding veteran Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, they may now have the league’s best defense as well.
2. Philadelphia Eagles. The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles will be even better on paper this year for the simple reason they’ll have a full season out of Pro Bowl halfback Jay Ajayi. He rushed for 408 yards and one touchdown in seven games with the Eagles in 2017. He already has two touchdowns after one game in 2018.
3. Minnesota Vikings. Kirk Cousins completed 20 passes in his starting debut for the Vikings to eight different receivers. But one element in the offense hasn’t changed – Pro Bowl WR Adam Thielen continues to be the go-to guy, whether he’s catching passes from Case Keenum in 2017 or Cousins in 2018. He caught six passes for 102 yards from Cousins.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars were not penalized 100 yards in any game last season on the way to an AFC South title and the AFC title game. But Jacksonville was flagged 11 times for 119 yards in the 2018 season opener against the Giants.
5. New England Patriots. Ho-hum…another start for Tom Brady and another win. He has now won 197 of his 252 career starts with the Patriots for a winning percentage of 78.2. Only Hall of Famer Otto Graham won with greater regularity at 83.4 percent.
6. Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers passed for almost 300 yards and three touchdowns in the opener against the Bears. Wait until he starts working his newly-acquired Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham into the mix on offense. Graham only caught two passes for eight yards in his Green Bay debut.
7. Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have an unusual opening schedule in that they play their first four games in four different time zones. They opened last week in the Pacific Time Zone (Los Angeles Chargers), then play in the Eastern Time Zone (Pittsburgh) this week, return home to the Central Time Zone (hosting San Francisco), then visit the Mountain Time Zone (Denver) to play the Broncos.
8. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were one of four teams to go 0-4 this preseason. Only one team in the 52-year history of the Super Bowl went from an 0-4 August on the way to a Super Bowl championship – the 1982 Washington Redskins. Injuries to defensive starters Keanu Neal and Deion Jones in the opener makes the road even longer for the Falcons.
9. Carolina Panthers. Stopping Ezekiel Elliott was a big part of Carolina’s opening-day victory over Cowboys, holding the 2016 NFL rushing champion to 69 yards. The Panthers have now gone 21 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
10. Baltimore Ravens. Edge rusher Terrell Suggs collected a sack in the season-opening victory over Buffalo, giving him 126 1/2 in his career. That ties him with Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas at 23rd on the all-time sack list. Two more sacks will move him ahead of Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson.
11. Washington Redskins. His 96 yards in the season opener allowed Adrian Peterson to pass Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk and Jim Brown and move into 10th place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. Next up is Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, who sits in 9th place 367 yards away.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were one of four defenses with six or more sacks on the NFL’s opening weekend. Pittsburgh sacked Cleveland’s Tyrod Taylor seven times. The defenses of Baltimore, Carolina and Denver collected six apiece in their games.
13. Los Angeles Chargers. Here’s the deck that has been stacked against the Chargers. Since 2000, only three teams lost their season opener and went on to win the Super Bowl – the 2017 Patriots, 2013 Ravens and 2012 Giants. The Chargers (and 14 other teams) sit 0-1 after one week.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is one of 14 NFL teams with a different starting quarterback from opening day 2017. Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped in for the suspended Jameis Winston and passed for 417 yards and four touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s road upset of the New Orleans Saints.
15. Houston Texans. Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt is back but he didn’t bring his pass rush with him. Not yet anyway. He failed to sack Tom Brady in Houston’s opener. Injuries limited him to eight games the previous two seasons. His last sack came almost two years ago — Sept. 18, 2016 against Kansas City.
16. Miami Dolphins. The home-field advantage the Dolphins own shows up in September when the heat and humidity levels foes like a sledge hammer. With the opening-day victory over Tennessee, the Dolphins are now 50-25 all-time at home in the month of September.
17. New York Jets. Since 1980, three quarterbacks have beaten the Detroit Lions in the NFL starting debuts – Jim McMahon, Matt Ryan and now Sam Darnold. If Darnold can follow in the footsteps of two Super Bowl quarterbacks and an NFL MVP (Ryan), I’d say he’s on a pretty good career path.
18. Cincinnati Bengals. WR John Ross was a Top 10 pick by the Bengals in the 2017 NFL draft but it wasn’t until the 2018 season opener that he scored his first career touchdown on a three-yard toss from Andy Dalton.
19. Chicago Bears. That Chicago pass rush is going to be fun to watch this season with first-round draft pick Roquan Smith coming off one edge and Pro Bowler Khalil Mack coming off the other. The Bears had 42 sacks last season. Bet the over in 2018.
20. New York Giants. Eli Manning threw a pick-six in the opener against Jacksonville. Dating back to last season, Manning has now thrown an interception in six consecutive games. He has tossed eight interceptions with only five touchdowns during that stretch.
21. New Orleans Saints. There were only eight individual 400-yard passing games during the 2017 season. There were three on opening day of the 2018 season, topped by the 439-yard effort of Drew Brees in a losing cause for New Orleans.
22. Denver Broncos. Case Keenum has accomplished a feat in his one start for the Broncos this season that three different starting quarterbacks could not accomplish in 16 games for Denver last season – he passed for 300 yards in a game. He lit up Seattle for 329 yards and three touchdowns in his debut start with the Broncos.
23. Cleveland Browns. The Browns opened the season with their first tie game in 26 years, snapping a 17-game losing streak with that 17-17 deadlock with the Steelers. The last time the Browns played a tie game in 1989, they reached the AFC title game.
24. Oakland Raiders. Jon Gruden is back and so is the swagger…and penalties — 155 yards worth in the debut of his second go-round as head coach of the Raiders.
25. San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco’s $137 million quarterback is human – and, finally, beatable. Jimmy Garoppolo threw three interceptions against the Vikings in losing for the first time in his eight career NFL starts.
26. Seattle Seahawks. With veteran Pro Bowlers Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman and all gone from the Seattle defense, the Legion of Doom is no longer. The Seahawks allowed 470 yards and couldn’t get off the field as the Broncos controlled the ball for 35 minutes last weekend in toppling Seattle.
27. Tennessee Titans. Despite playing without starting right tackle Jack Conklin, the Titans were one of only three offensive lines that did not allow a sack on the opening weekend. The Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the other.
28. Dallas Cowboys. With Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone, it’s clear the defense is going to have to carry the Dallas offense this season. It could be a very heavy burden. The Cowboys gained only 232 yards and managed just one offensive score in a 16-8 loss to Carolina. They really miss their Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick.
29. Indianapolis Colts. The Colts started five rookies in their season opener, including their top three draft picks G Quenton Nelson, LB Darius Leonard and G Braden Smith. That’s the most rookie opening-day starters since 2012 when the Cleveland Browns also started five.
30. Detroit Lions. Matthew Stafford threw only 10 interceptions in each of the last two seasons. He threw four Monday night in Detroit’s stunning season-opening loss to the New York Jets. His backup Matt Cassel tossed a fifth INT…and Matt Patricia’s head-coaching debut went splat.
31. Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals collected three sacks of Washington’s Alex Smith on opening day. That extends their streak of consecutive games with a sack to a league-best 36.
32. Buffalo Bills. The glow from their playoff season in 2017 – the first for the Bills in 18 years – did not last long. They fell behind Baltimore 14-0 in the first quarter and 26-0 by half by halftime on the way to a 47-3 defeat. So it’s back to the drawing board for coach Sean McDermott.