Rick Gosselin's Week 15 NFL rankings: The Saints are marching in

Photo courtesy of USA Today

If all goes well for the Saints, their next road game will be the Super Bowl

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 15:

1. New Orleans Saints. If all goes well for the Saints, their next road game will be the Super Bowl. Right now New Orleans owns the NFL’s best record at 12-2 and homefield advantage in the NFC playoff bracket. The Saints play their final two regular season games at home against Pittsburgh and Carolina and potentially two playoff games at the Superdome in January.

2. Los Angeles Chargers. With a stadium capacity of 27,000, the Chargers don’t have much of a homefield advantage. So the Chargers make themselves at home on the road. They have the NFL’s best road record at 6-1 with victories over division leaders Kansas City and Pittsburgh plus Seattle. The only road loss was to their crosstown rival the Rams.

3. Kansas City Chiefs. RB Kareem Hunt scored 14 touchdowns for the Chiefs before he was released after 11 games because of domestic violence. The running-back productivity, surprisingly, has gone up in his absence. The Chiefs have six touchdowns in the three games since with Spencer Ware, Damien Williams and Darrel Williams picking up different segments of Hunt’s workload.

4. Chicago Bears. The Bears lead the NFL with 35 defensive takeaways. Only one other team is in the 30s – the Browns with 30. Chicago has intercepted 26 passes and recovered nine fumbles. When the Bears won their Super Bowl with a defense for the ages in 1985, Chicago forced 44 turnovers.

5. Houston Texans. The Texans have won 10 of the last 11 games with the lone loss by a mere field goal to the Colts. The Texans were allowing an average of 25 points per game in their 0-3 start. But they have allowed an average of almost a touchdown less (18.8 points) in the last 11 games.

6. Los Angeles Rams. What’s happened to Jared Goff? The quarterback who threw five touchdown passes against Minnesota and four against Kansas City hasn’t thrown a single TD pass in his last two games – and the Rams have lost both to fall to 11-3. Goff has thrown six interceptions during those two games – this after throwing only six interceptions in L.A.’s first 11 games.

7. New England Patriots. The 9-5 Patriots play their final two games of the season at home. They finished 3-5 this season on the road. Only one team in the Super Bowl’s 52-year history managed to win a Lombardi Trophy despite a losing road record – the 2010 Green Bay Packers, who also went 3-5 on the way to a 10-6 wild-card finish.

8. Indianapolis Colts. The scoreboard wasn’t the only shutout posted by the Colts last weekend. The Colts also shut out Pro Bowl DE DeMarcus Lawrence and the Dallas pass rush. It was a league-best sixth time the Indianapolis blocking front kept QB Andrew Luck upright in a game. The Colts also shut out the pass rushes of the Jets, Bills, Raiders, Jaguars and Titans and have allowed only 16 sacks all season.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers. Perennial Pro Bowler Antonio Brown still has the touchdowns – a league-high 13 of them – but Juju Smith-Schuster is slowly but surely taking his place as Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to guy. Smith-Schuster has been targeted 142 times with passes this season, Brown 128. Smith-Schuster has seven 100-yard receiving games, Brown four. Smith-Schuster has more catches (100-95) and a better per catch average (13.4 yards) than Brown (12.4).

10. Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry must feel like he’s back at Alabama with the way the Titans have featured him the last two weeks. He’s carried the ball 50 times for 408 yards and six touchdowns to help power Tennessee’s three-game winning streak. You’d have to go back to his final college season at Alabama for a two-game stretch like this when he carried the ball a combined 56 times against Michigan State and Clemson in the College Football Playoff to deliver the Crimson Tide a national championship. Henry rushed for 233 yards and five touchdowns in his final two college games.

11. Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks lead the NFL in rushing and there’s a very good reason – they are the only NFL team that has run the ball (457) more than it has passed it (377). Halfbacks Chris Carson, Mike Davis and rookie Rashaad Penny have all posted 100-yard rushing games this season and QB Russell Wilson has chipped in a 92-yard game.

12. Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are one of only four teams that have not scored a touchdown on a return yet this season along with the Browns, Colts and Eagles. The Chicago Bears lead the NFL with six return touchdowns on fumbles, interceptions and kick returns.

13. Baltimore Ravens. Gus Edwards rushed for only 713 yards at Rutgers last season with only one 100-yard game. So it’s not surprising he went undrafted last April. What is surprising is that he collected his third 100-yard game in the NFL last weekend when he rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore’s victory over Tampa Bay.

14. Minnesota Vikings. It’s clear now why Mike Zimmer replaced offensive coordinator John DeFilippo with Kevin Stefanski last week. Dalvin Cook carried the ball a season-high 19 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over Miami. It was Cook’s first 100-yard game and first touchdowns of the season. It marked only the second time all season the Vikings ran the ball more than they passed it in a game. Zimmer wants to run the ball and Stefanski will call handoffs.

Dalvin Cook photo courtesy of USA Today

15. Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia’s injury-riddled secondary has faced 54 passes each of the last two weekends. Dak Prescott threw 54 times against the Eagles on Dec. 9, then Jared Goff fired 54 passes last weekend. The two quarterbacks combined for 79 completions, 794 yards and three touchdowns. But the Eagles also intercepted four passes and split the two games to stay alive in the playoff chase at 7-7.

16. Miami Dolphins. Frank Gore’s 14th NFL season has come to an end with a foot injury. He leads the Dolphins in rushing with 722 yards, which places him fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list (14,748) behind Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. He’s 35 years of age.

17. Washington Redskins. Josh Johnson became the fourth quarterback to start for the Redskins this season and beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 16-13. The last time an NFL team won with a fourth quarterback was 2015 when the Baltimore Ravens started Ryan Mallett in the 15th game of the season against the Steelers.

18. Cleveland Browns. Baker Mayfield went into Ohio State and Tennessee as a college quarterback and won. He won games on every Big 12 campuses except Oklahoma, where he played, and Texas, because those games were always played on a neutral field in Dallas. He remains a great road quarterback now in the NFL. He has thrown more touchdown passes on the road (13) than at home (eight) in his rookie season for the surprising 6-7-1 Browns.

19. Carolina Panthers. The Panthers started the season fast, using victories over the Cowboys, Ravens and defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to open the season 6-2. But they haven’t won since – six consecutive losses that have knocked them out of the playoff chase with a 6-8 record. QB Cam Newton threw only four interceptions in Carolina’s first eight games. He has thrown nine in the six games since then.

20. Denver Broncos. When the Broncos opened the season 2-0, QB Case Keenum was playing pitch-and-catch with his veteran Pro Bowl wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and DeMaryius Thomas. They caught a combined 25 passes for 312 yards in those two victories. Now both are gone. Thomas was dealt at the trade deadline and Sanders ruptured his Achilles in early December. Denver is winless in the two games the Broncos have played without both of them to fall out of the wild card chase at 6-8. Keenum has one TD pass in the last two weeks.

21. Cincinnati Bengals. QB Andy Dalton has missed the last three games with a thumb injury so the 6-8 Bengals have asked RB Joe Mixon to shoulder the offense. And he has. Mixon has carried the ball 65 times for 322 yards and three touchdowns over the last three weeks with 100-yard rushing games against both the Chargers and the Raiders. He now ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing with 995 yards and an average of 4.8 yards per carry.

22. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons will finish their season with a whimper – on the road. They are 1-5 away from home this season, an inability to perform that has doomed Atlanta to this 5-9 season. The Falcons have averaged almost 10 more points per game more at home than they have on the road. Atlanta finishes the season with games at Carolina and Tampa Bay.

23. Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen has started nine NFL games at quarterback for the Bills and has rushed for as many touchdowns (six) as he’s passed (six). He has won four of those starts, leading game-winning fourth-quarter drives to beat both Tennessee and Detroit. He has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game but he has rushed for 100 yards twice.

24. Green Bay Packers. All that ails the Packers is not offensively- or defensively-related. Green Bay has lost a league-leading four fumbles on special teams. When those returners do hold onto the football, they aren’t very productive in the return game. The Packers rank 24th in the NFL in kickoff returns (20.8 yards) and 18th in punt returns (7.1 yards).

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers share the NFL lead with 13 individual 100-yard receiving games. Wide receivers Mike Evans has seven of them, DeSean Jackson three and Chris Godwin two and RB Jacquizz Rodgers one. Kansas City, Minnesota and Pittsburgh also have 13 individual 100-yard receiving games apiece.

26. Detroit Lions. The one bright spot in the lost season of first-year coach Matt Patricia has been the emergence of Kenny Golladay as a trusted go-to receiver for QB Matthew Stafford. He leads the 5-9 Lions with 64 catches for 1,005 yards. He has three 100-yard games, including a career-best 146-yard effort last weekend against Buffalo and the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense.

Kenny Golladay photo courtesy of USA Today

27. New York Giants. Eli Manning has been a far better quarterback on the road than he has been at home this season. He has thrown 13 TD passes on the road against only five at home. He has thrown only three interceptions on the road against six at home. He also has engineered more victories on the road (three) than at home (two).

28. New York Jets. Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen were all selected in the Top 10 of the 2018 draft. Darnold went third overall to the Jets, Allen seventh to the Bills and Rosen 10th to the Cardinals. All start and all three of their teams are enduring the growing paints. The Jets rank 28th in the NFL in passing, the Bills ranks 31st and the Cardinals 32nd. Baker Mayfield, the first overall pick of the draft by Cleveland, is the only exception. His Browns rank 17th in passing.

29. San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have only five defensive takeaways this season – two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. San Francisco’s last takeaway was a fumble recovery against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 28. That was seven games ago. The 49ers have still managed to win three of the six games during that turnover drought, including the last two.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars have become the second team in three years to collapse from a conference championship game appearance one season to a 10-loss season the next. The 2015 Carolina Panthers went 15-1 to win the NFC championship, then fell back to 6-10 the following season. The Jaguars went 10-6 in 2017 to win the AFC South and reach the AFC title game against the Patriots but have fallen back to 4-10 this season.

31. Oakland Raiders. A pass rush without Khalil Mack isn’t the only defensive deficiency the Raiders have up front. Oakland has allowed a league-high seven individual 100-yard rushing game this season and sit dead last in the NFL in run defense. Three rookies have run up the Raiders for 100-yard rushing games – Phillip Lindsay, Nick Chubb and Gus Edwards.

32. Arizona Cardinals. It’s hard to believe an offense with David Johnson in the backfield and Larry Fitzgerald on the flank could rank last across the board – 32nd in rushing, passing, total offense and scoring. Where’s Bruce Arians when you really need him?

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