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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Racing Post Sport NFL power rankings: Rams start on top of the pile

Vikings and Eagles also impress in NFC

Jared Cook of the Oakland Raiders in action against the Los Angeles Rams
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Each week, we will list the 32 NFL teams in order of best to worst and see how far each one climbs up or falls down the list during the course of the regular season.

Here's this week's 1-32:

1 Los Angeles Rams
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 33-13 at Oakland
This week: 10.5-point favourites at home to Arizona

Last season's highest-scoring offence are up and running and even though they will face much tougher tests than Oakland, they are an excellent all-round team who set the standard.

2 Minnesota Vikings
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 24-16 at home to San Francisco
This week: One-point favourites at Green Bay

The Vikings look stronger with quarterback Kirk Cousins and they are boosted by running back Dalvin Cook's return from injury. The defence is as strong as ever after handing QB Jimmy Garoppolo his first defeat as a starter and they should go a long way.

3 Philadelphia Eagles
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 18-12 at home to Atlanta
This week: Three-point favourites at Tampa Bay

Even with first-choice quarterback Carson Wentz still sidelined, the Eagles chalked up a victory over a team who could be one of their biggest NFC rivals. All looks good for the Super Bowl champions.

4 New England Patriots
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 27-20 at home to Houston
This week: Two-point favourites at Jacksonville

It didn't matter that Tom Brady didn't have Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks or the suspended Julian Edelman to call upon. The Patriots still got the job done against a decent defence. They can be a force again this year.

5 Kansas City Chiefs
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 38-28 at Los Angeles Chargers
This week: Five-point underdogs at Pittsburgh

The Chiefs set out their stall from the first minute with Tyreek Hill's punt return and the big news was that young QB Patrick Mahomes really looked the part. The impressive win over the Chargers will do wonders for his confidence.

6 Jacksonville Jaguars
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 20-15 at New York Giants
This week: Two-point underdogs at home to New England

An efficient enough win over an improving team was marred by a hamstring injury to running back Leonard Fournette. With quarterback Blake Bortles still not inspiring great confidence, they need their star rusher back at full pelt quickly.

7 Baltimore Ravens
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 47-3 at home to Buffalo
This week: Scratch at Cincinnati

The Ravens steamrolled the awful Bills with all three of their new wide receivers claiming touchdowns. It's difficult to criticise them after such a comprehensive victory and maybe the sight of Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson on the sidelines was enough to inspire veteran quarterback Joe Flacco. 

8 New Orleans Saints
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 48-40 at home to Tampa Bay
This week: 8.5-point favourites at home to Cleveland

We're used to the Saints putting up 40 points at home but the days of their defence being taken apart were supposed to be over. Their loss to the Bucs should be a wake-up call.

9 Green Bay Packers
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 24-23 at home to Chicago
This week: One-point underdogs at home to Minnesota

Yet again, Aaron Rodgers came to Green Bay's rescue, producing a miraculous comeback to overturn a 17-point deficit on one leg when it seemed a knee injury might have destroyed the Packers' season in their first game. Rodgers said "We're taking it one day at a time," but if his injury proves to be more than a minor hindrance they will be in big trouble.

10 Carolina Panthers
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 16-8 at home to Dallas
This week: 5.5-point underdogs at Atlanta

The Panthers enjoyed a pretty good afternoon against the Cowboys when the Caolina defence demonstrated they should prove to be a match for anybody this season. The downside was tight end Greg Olsen sustaining a broken foot which will rule him out for several weeks.

11 Atlanta Falcons
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 18-12 at Philadelphia
This week: 5.5-point favourites at home to Carolina

The Falcons did not play badly against the Super Bowl champions but they have to start punching the ball in when they get to the red zone. Of even more concern were the injuries sustained by two of their best defensive players - safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones - which are a huge blow for that unit.

12 Pittsburgh Steelers
Record: 0-0-1
Last week: Tied 21-21 at Cleveland
This week: Five-point favourites at home to Kansas City

There seems no end in sight for Le'Veon Bell's holdout and the Steelers got away with one at Cleveland, despite throwing away a 21-7 lead and committing six turnovers against a decent Browns defence. There's a lot of work to do and Sunday's game against the Chiefs looks tough.

13 Los Angeles Chargers
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 28-38 at home to Kansas City
This week: Seven-point favourites at Buffalo

Being without star pass-rusher Joey Bosa was hard for the Chargers but they have the ability to pick themselves up. The problem is a divisional defeat can often feel like a double blow, but they came back strongly after a bad start last year.

14 New York Jets
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 48-17 at Detroit
This week: 1.5-point underdogs at home to Miami

Sam Darnold's first throw in the league was a pick six, but that was the Jets impressed for the rest of the game in the Motor City and it is a massive endorsement of the rookie quarterback that he recovered so well. It was an amazing start and maybe the Jets won't be the whipping boys many people envisaged. 

15 Cincinnati Bengals
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 34-23 at Indianapolis
This week: Scratch at home to Baltimore

After being the worst offence in the league last season, the Bengals will be gladdened to have posted 34 points in their opener, but a team looking for a playoff berth should be winning at Indianapolis. Thursday's clash against the Ravens will give us a good guide as to what to expect for the remainder of the campaign.

16 Denver Broncos
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 27-24 at home to Seattle
This week: 4.5-point favourites at home to Oakland

It was a familiar tale as some excellent defensive play helped the Broncos to a victory that their quarterback probably didn't deserve. New starter Case Keenum threw three interceptions on his debut and has to improve for the Broncos to have post-season ambitions. 

17 Washington Redskins

Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 24-6 at Arizona
This week: 5.5-point favourites at home to Indianapolis

Quarterback Alex Smith looked the part and running back Adrian Peterson rolled back the years too. Their defence didn't really give Arizona a chance in the first half and this looks a solid building block for what could be a decent season.

18 Miami Dolphins
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 27-20 at home to Tennessee
This week: 1.5-point favourites at New York Jets

Two weather delays were overcome in the course of this victory and the Dolphins will be delighted to have seen quarterback Ryan Tannehill back on the field. A solid start for a team whose supporters probably have modest expectations.

19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Record: 1-0
Last week: Won 48-40 at New Orleans
This week: Three-point underdogs at home to Philadelphia

Ryan FitzMagic is back - the veteran QB inspired an explosive start to the season for Tampa Bay's offence. The Bucs were the weakest team in the NFC South by some distance last season, but Jamieis Winston looks set to have a fight on his hands to get back in the team after his quarterback's three-match ban. The Eagles could bring them back down to earth with a thud, though.

20 San Francisco 49ers
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 24-16 at Minnesota
This week: 5.5-point favourites at home to Detroit

The Niners showed they are still a work in progress as QB Jimmy Garoppolo endured an uncomfortable afternoon against the Vikings. However, they remained competitive against one of the best teams in the NFC, and we'll get a better indication of where they are this week.

21 Cleveland Browns
Record: 0-0-1
Last week: Tied 21-21 at home to Pittsburgh
This week: 8.5-point underdogs at New Orleans

The Browns will be proud of their performance and they were a blocked field-goal away from victory. Their defence impressed, with rookie cornerback Denzel Ward snaring two intercepotions on his debut. They ended their losing streak after going 0-16 last season but still couldn't find a way to win. They are going to be fun to watch, though.

22 Chicago Bears
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 24-23 at Green Bay
This week: Three-point favourites at home to Seattle

The Bears will surely improve if they can get over the mental strain of seeing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead slip against one of their fiercest rivals. Khalil Mack had an excellent debut and there should be more to come if Chicago can put Sunday's disappointment behind them.

23 Houston Texans
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 27-20 at New England
This week: At Tennessee (prices not available)

Quarterback Deshaun Watson had problems getting out of the pocket and was not his most dynamic self against the Patriots, who also ket tabs well on star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. We need more evidence that Watson can reach the heights he did before last season's knee injury.

24 New York Giants
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 20-15 at home to Jacksonville
This week: Three-point underdogs at Dallas

Their defeat to the Jags was close enough to be considered grounds for optimism for a team who won just three games last season. They battled well against one of the best defences in the league and rookie running back Saquon Barkley lit up the MetLife with a great debut touchdown.

25 Seattle Seahawks
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 27-24 at Denver
This week: Three-point underdogs at Chicago

Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes and the defence made three interceptions, but still the Seahawks couldn't get the job done. It's a new era and could take time but at least rookie Will Dissley was a pleasant surprise at tight end.

26 Dallas Cowboys
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 16-8 at Carolina
This week: Three-point favourites at home to New York Giants

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott didn't get going in a disappointing opener for Dallas. The worst fears concerning the departure of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant were realised. Where are the points going to come from?

27 Tennessee Titans
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 27-20 at Miami
This week: At home to Houston (prices not available)

With quarterback Marcus Mariota picking up an elbow injury and key man Delanie Walker ruled out for the season, there was little for the Titans to enjoy in Miami and it is difficult to gauge what early-season progress they will make.

28 Detroit Lions
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 48-17 at home to New York Jets
This week: 5.5-point underdogs at San Francisco

Oh dear. Conceding 48 points to the Jets on your own patch. It was like a trip to the dark old days at Detroit and a rude awakening for former Patriots defensive co-ordinator Matt Patricia about the perils of striking it out alone after working under the best in the business.

29 Indianapolis Colts
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 34-23 at home to Cincinnati
This week: 5.5-point underdogs at Washington

The good news was that Andrew Luck was back and the Colts finally got something going offensively. Unfortunately they couldn't get over the line and there is not a lot a quarterback can do when the defence concedes 34 points.

30 Oakland Raiders
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 33-13 at home to Los Angeles Rams
This week: 4.5-point underdogs at Denver

The Raiders showed up well in the first half but were crushed after the interval. The effect of Khalil Mack's departure on their pass defence was plain as the Raiders were picked apart by Jared Goff. Returning coach Jon Gruden has plenty of work to do.

31 Arizona Cardinals
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 24-6 at home to Washington
This week: 10.5-point underdogs at Los Angeles Rams

The Cardinals were unable to get into their game with Washington until it was too late and QB Sam Bradford may not be able to keep rookie Josh Rosen at bay for long. It's difficult to see them keeping pace with the free-scoring Rams this week.

32 Buffalo Bills
Record: 0-1
Last week: Lost 47-3 at Baltimore
This week: Seven-point underdogs at home to Los Angeles Chargers

Their opening defeat to the Ravens can only be classed as a disaster. We may not see Nathan Peterman again and there was no Roy of the Rovers performance from Josh Allen, who took over in the third quarter. It looks like it's going to be a long season for the Bills.

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Buffalo's defeat to the Ravens can only be classed as a disaster
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