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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Cowboys are big fallers after Elliott ban

All 32 NFL teams ranked from best to worst

Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott had a miserable night in Atlanta
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Each week, we will rank the 32 NFL teams from the best to worst based on their prospects for the rest of the season, so we can see who is looking stronger as the campaign progresses and who is falling down the ladder.

Last week's rankings

1 New England Patriots (=)
Record: 7-2
Last week: Won 41-16 at Denver
This week: 6.5-point favourites v Oakland in Mexico City

The Patriots had another comfortable evening in Denver and look to be storming their way into the playoffs. They are behind Pittsburgh in the race for the AFC's number-one seeding, but they will have home advantage firmly in their sights with a Week 15 meeting with the Steelers to come.

2 Philadelphia Eagles (=)
Record: 8-1
Last week: Bye
This week: Three-point favourites at Dallas

The Eagles are back from a well-earned bye week and face their biggest game of the season. Seeing the Cowboys crash in Atlanta last week should make them confident of extending their NFC East lead.

3 Pittsburgh Steelers (=)
Record: 7-2
Last week: Won 20-17 at Indianapolis
This week: Seven-point favourites at Tennessee

The Steelers made hard work of seeing off the Colts but they are so firmly in control of the AFC North that they should have their eyes on the post-season already. Apart from their meeting with the Pats, the rest of their regular-season should be comfortable.

4 Minnesota Vikings (=)
Record: 7-2
Last week: Won 38-30 at Washington
This week: 2.5-point favourites at home to LA Rams

The Vikings have chalked up five straight victories and look powerful on both sides of the ball. Their post-season credentials look set to face a tough test against the Rams in what looks the best game of the week.

5 New Orleans Saints (up three)
Record: 7-2
Last week: Won 47-10 at Buffalo
This week: 7.5-point favourites at home to Washington

It is hard to ignore the credentials of a team who have won seven straight times and blew away the Bills on Sunday. Don't expect them to take their foot off the gas as they still have four key divisional games on their schedule.

6 Seattle Seahawks (=)
Record: 6-3
Last week: Won 22-16 at Arizona
This week: Three-point favourites at home to Atlanta

The Seahawks claimed their fifth win in six matches against the Cardinals but it came at a cost with star cornerback Richard Sherman suffering a season-ending Achilles injury, so they will have to cope with that.

7 Kansas City Chiefs (down two)
Record: 6-3
Last week: Bye
This week: 10.5-point favourites at New York Giants

The Chiefs were off last week and it was timely after three defeats in their last four outings. Defeat to the dismal Giants cannot be entertained, but Buffalo are the only team they have left to face who have a winning record so they can be expected to get over their rough trot.

8 Atlanta Falcons (up one)
Record: 5-4
Last week: Won 27-7 at home to Dallas
This week: Three-point underdogs at Seattle

A win over the Cowboys should have increased optimism in Atlanta, who set themselves high standards by reaching the Super Bowl last season. A win this week could put them right back in the hunt as they have five divisional games in their remaining seven matches.

9 Carolina Panthers (up one)
Record: 7-3
Last week: Won 45-21 at home to Miami
This week: Bye

It could still be a three-way battle in the NFC South and the Panthers are a big factor having claimed seven wins. Cam Newton was back to his best against the Dolphins and further improvement from the quarterback could lead to exciting times.

10 Los Angeles Rams (up two)
Record: 7-2
Last week: Won 33-7 at home to Houston
This week: 2.5-point underdogs at Minnesota

The Rams continue to flower and although it took them a while to get into their stride against the Texans, they posted another excellent victory. A visit to Minnesota and a clash with the red-shot Saints mean the next two weeks could be crucial, as they still have to go to Seattle.

11 Tennessee Titans (=)
Record: 6-3
Last week: Won 24-20 at home to Cincinnati
This week: Seven-point underdogs at Pittsburgh

It could have been a lot different for the Titans as victories in their last three games have been by three, three and four-point margins, all against AFC North opposition. The Steelers will be a much tougher test, but alongside a Week 16 clash with the Rams, it is the hardest fixture they have left.

12 Dallas Cowboys (down five)
Record: 5-4
Last week: Lost 27-7 at Atlanta
This week: 3.5-point underdogs at home to Philadelphia

The Cowboys were confident they could cope without the suspended Ezekiel Elliott, but there was little sign of that in their defeat against the Falcons. The running back is out for another five weeks (barring further legal developments) and that has made the clash with the Eagles even more important. Defeat would be a disaster.

13 Oakland Raiders (=)
Record: 4-5
Last week: Bye
This week: 6.5-point underdogs v New England in Mexico City

The Raiders were off after getting back to winning ways against Miami, but they have plenty of work to do and the tough nature of their fixtures - they still have Kansas City, Dallas and Philadelphia to play after their trip to Mexico - suggests it could be a difficult finish to the campaign.

14 Jacksonville Jaguars (=)
Record: 6-3
Last week: Won 20-17 at home to LA Chargers
This week: 7.5-point favourites at Cleveland

The Jaguars limped over the line against the Chargers last week and although their record is strong, they are not convincing with quarterback Blake Bortles at the helm. They cannot take their playoff challenge for granted even if their remaining schedule appears manageable.

15 Detroit Lions (=)
Record: 5-4
Last week: Won 38-24 at home to Cleveland
This week: Three-point favourites at Chicago

The Lions finished strongly with the final 21 points of the game to get away from the Browns last week and scored more than 29 points for the second consecutive game. They look Minnesota's chief rivals in the NFC North and face the Vikings at Ford Field next week.

16 Green Bay Packers (=)
Record: 5-4
Last week: Won 23-16 at Chicago
This week: Two-point underdogs at home to Baltimore

The Packers showed they can win without Aaron Rodgers when they saw off the Bears last week. However, they have tougher tests to face and, bearing in mind their injuries, an 8-8 record would be a decent achievement this year.

17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (up three)
Record: 3-6
Last week: Won 15-10 at home to New York Jets
This week: 2.5-point underdogs at Miami

The Bucs grabbed a win against the Jets, who had been showing signs of life recently and Ryan Fitzpatrick was solid against his former team in place of injured quarterback Jameis Winston. The damage may have been done for this season, though.

18 Denver Broncos (down one)
Record: 3-6
Last week: Lost 41-16 at home to New England
This week: 2.5-point favourites at home to Cincinnati

The Broncos' fall continues as they were unable to show much resistance against New England. Their celebrated defence have conceded 121 points in their last three outings and they look to be heading nowhere fast.

19 Washington Redskins (=)
Record: 4-5
Last week: Lost 38-30 at home to Minnesota
This week: 7.5-point underdogs at New Orleans

They attempted a spirited comeback against the Vikings, but Washington's predicament is that they have struggled in their divisional matches. They are still capable of handing someone a bloody nose, though.

20 Buffalo Bills (down two)
Record: 5-4
Last week: Lost 47-10 at home to New Orleans
This week: Four-point underdogs at Los Angeles Chargers

That's two dismal defeats in a row for the Bills, who looked primed for a playoff push a fortnight ago and quarterback Tyrod Taylor has surprisingly been benched for rookie Nathan Peterman this week. The AFC East title looks beyond them, even though they have two games to come against New England, and they need to snap out of their poor run quickly.

21 Arizona Cardinals (=)
Record: 4-5
Last week: Lost 22-16 at home to Seattle
This week: 1.5-point favourites at Houston

The Cardinals' four wins have come against teams who have just eight wins between them, so it would be a surprise if they could up their game against better opposition. However, there is still scope for them to gain a few more wins. Blaine Gabbert could start at QB this week in place of Drew Stanton.

22 Baltimore Ravens (=)
Record: 4-5
Last week: Bye
This week: Two-point favourites at Green Bay 

The Ravens had the week off and still have four home games to play after this week's trip to Lambeau Field. It is difficult to see them doing enough to give Pittsburgh much to worry about.

23 Miami Dolphins (=)
Record: 4-5
Last week: Lost 45-21 at Carolina
This week: 2.5-point favourites at home to Tampa Bay

This was the week the Dolphins should have been having their bye had they not been hit by Hurricane Irma and they could probably do with a rest. They have four divisional clashes left but it is difficult to see them making the post-season this time.

24 Houston Texans (=)
Record: 3-6
Last week: Lost 33-7 at Los Angeles Rams
This week: 1.5-point underdogs at home to Arizona

The Texans have lost their way since DeShaun Watson suffered his knee injury a fortnight ago and they are slipping out of contention in the AFC South. They are just not the same force with Tom Savage at quarterback.

25 Los Angeles Chargers (=)
Record: 3-6
Last week: Lost 20-17 at Jacksonville
This week: Four-point favourites at home to Buffalo

In a season of hard-luck stories, the Chargers will wonder how on earth they slipped up against the Jaguars, after fumbling late on just when they just needed to keep the ball to win. That would have given them a huge boost but now they have to pick up the pieces. Quarterback Philip Rivers suffered a concussion - Kellen Clemens is his back-up.

26 Indianapolis Colts (=)
Record: 3-7
Last week: Lost 20-17 at home to Pittsburgh
This week: Bye

The Colts will reflect on a decent performance against the Steelers when they had the AFC North leaders rattled for much of the game. Victories over Tennessee and Jacksonville immediately after their bye week could still make them a factor in an open division. 

27 New York Jets (=)
Record: 4-6
Last week: Lost 15-10 at Tampa Bay
This week: Bye

It was back down to earth for the Jets as a late touchdown put a gloss on their defeat at Tampa Bay. They have won more games already than many observers anticipated but a difficult schedule means they may not win many more.

28 Chicago Bears (=)
Record: 3-6
Last week: Lost 23-16 at home to Green Bay
This week: Three-point underdogs at home to Detroit

There were flashes of promise from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky last week but losing to a Rodgers-less Packers will have to go down as a disappointment. They can start preparing for next year if they losing to the Lions on Sunday.

29 Cincinnati Bengals (=)
Record: 3-6
Last week: Lost 24-20 at Tennessee
This week: 2.5-point underdogs at Denver

The Bengals are still not scoring enough points to be a factor in the AFC North. They have eclipsed 30 just once and that was against winless Cleveland, so it is difficult to anticipate a rapid improvement.

30 New York Giants (=)
Record: 1-8
Last week: Lost 31-21 at San Francisco
This week: 10.5-point underdogs at home to Kansas City

A win over the 49ers would have at least provided the Giants with a tonic, but defeat leaves them navel-gazing once more and questions about Eli Manning's future are surfacing. A changing of the guard may not be far away.

31 San Francisco 49ers (=)
Record: 1-9
Last week: Won 31-21 at home to New York Giants
This week: Bye

It is all about tiny steps of improvement under Kyle Shanahan at San Francisco, so the first victory is something of a landmark. They have a week to revel in it before a tough home clash with Seattle, but forthcoming trips to Chicago and Houston provide them with further chances to push up the list.

32 Cleveland Browns (=)
Record: 0-9
Last week: Lost 38-24 at Detroit
This week: 7.5-point underdogs at home to Jacksonville

The Browns were competitive for three quarters against Detroit but again they couldn't finish the job. Their remaining schedule includes matches against Cincinnati, the Chargers, Green Bay, Baltimore and Chicago, so they still have chances to avoid a 0-16 season even though linebacker Jamie Collins is out for the season. Wide receiver Corey Coleman's return from injured reserve provides a welcome boost.

It could still be a three-way battle in the NFC South and the Panthers are a big factor having claimed seven wins.
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