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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Unbeaten Chiefs go to the top of the tree

Super Bowl champions knocked off their perch

These are exciting times in Kansas City
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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

Here is this week's list:

1 Kansas City Chiefs (up one)
Record: 4-0
Last week: Won 29-20 at home to Washington
This week: One-point favourites at Houston

The only unbeaten team in the league are at the top of the chart but they limped over the line against Washington. Houston should have the wind in their sails but with Alex Smith performing excellently at quarterback and strength on both sides of the ball, the Chiefs could take some shifting.

2 New England Patriots (down one)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Lost 33-30 at home to Carolina
This week: 5.5-point favourites at Tampa Bay

There were no miracles this week as the Patriots fell to a second home defeat of the season. If their defence do not get their act together then others will know that the champions are there to be shot at.

3 Pittsburgh Steelers (=)
Record: 3-1
Last week: Won 26-9 at Baltimore
This week: 8.5-point favourites at home to Jacksonville

After their woeful loss to Chicago, the Steelers were back in business with a win over the team who should be their nearest NFC North rivals. Running back Le'Veon Bell had his most productive game of the season and there is cause for optimism, but the Jags could pose problems.

4 Green Bay Packers (up two)
Record: 3-1 
Last week: Won 35-14 at home to Chicago
This week: Two-point underdogs at Dallas

The Packers claimed what has become their customary win over the Bears. That they have won three of their four matches with a host of injuries, including two offensive tackles, is impressive and they should get stronger when their current problems clear up. 

5 Atlanta Falcons (down one)
Record: 3-1
Last week: Lost 23-17 at home to Buffalo
This week: Bye

The Falcons slipped to their first defeat of the season against the Bills and the loss was made all the more painful when wide receiver Julio Jones picked up a hip injury. Their early bye week may not have come at a bad time.

6 Dallas Cowboys (down one)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Lost 35-30 at home to Los Angeles Rams
This week: Two-point favourites at home to Green Bay

The Cowboys saw some decent flashes from running back Ezekiel Elliott which have been missing in the last couple of weeks, but defeat to the Rams, especially at home was a poor result. The Packers will provide a key indication of how far they can go this year.

7 Seattle Seahawks (up three)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Won 46-18 at home to Indianapolis
This week: 1.5-point underdogs at Los Angeles Rams

While other fancied teams were slipping up against outfits they were expected to beat comfortably, Seattle put in a fine all-round show against the Colts. The Seahawks dominated the second half and finishing matches strongly is an enviable habit to get into.

8 Denver Broncos (up three)
Record: 3-1
Last week: Won 16-10 at home to Oakland
This week: Bye

Another solid defensive performance from the Broncos who added a decent scalp to that of the Cowboys, who they beat in Week Two. It has been a pretty satisfactory first four weeks of work to reflect upon during their bye week.

9 Minnesota Vikings (down two)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Lost 14-7 at home to Detroit
This week: Three-point favourites at Chicago

The Vikings continue to have no luck with injuries. First quarterback Sam Bradford went down and now they have lost rookie running back Dalvin Cook to a knee injury just when he was showing great potential. Their slide could continue in the long term.

10 Carolina Panthers (up three)
Record: 3-1
Last week: Won 33-30 at New England
This week: Three-point underdogs at Detroit

A win at the Patriots is never going to do a team any harm and it was heartening for Panthers fans and backers to see quarterback Cam Newton have his best game of the season. The defence is strong and they could be getting it together offensively.

11 Tennessee Titans (down two)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Lost 57-14 at Houston
This week: Three-point favourites at Miami

Oh dear. Just as some of us were getting excited about Tennessee's chances this season, they get absolutely thumped by their AFC South rivals. The extent of quarterback Marcus Mariota's hamstring injury will have a huge bearing on their fortunes over the next few weeks.

12 Philadelphia Eagles (=)
Record: 3-1
Last week: Won 26-24 at Los Angeles Chargers
This week: 6.5-point favourites at home to Arizona

Some remain unconvinced by Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, but the team are getting the job done and Philadelphia merit their position at the top of the NFC East. It's worth remember that three of their first four matches have been on the road and the only team to have beaten them are the top-ranked Chiefs.

13 Oakland Raiders (down five)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Lost 16-10 at Denver
This week: One-point favourites at home to Baltimore

The Raiders could once again be stopped in their tracks by an injury to Derek Carr. If he is out for six weeks with a back injury, it is difficult to see them lasting the pace with Kansas City and Denver in the AFC West. Replacement EJ Manuel does not inspire confidence and it could again be a case of what might have been.

14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (=)
Record: 2-1
Last week: Won 25-23 at home to New York Giants
This week: 5.5-point underdogs at home to New England

The Buccaneers have had to take their time to get going and their two victories have come against teams who have mustered just a solitary success between them. Their clash with New England will provide more pointers as to how they might get on. Running back Doug Martin is back from suspension to help.

15 Detroit Lions (=)
Record: 3-1
Last week: Won 14-7 at Minnesota
This week: Three-point favourites at home to Carolina

The Lions keep holding their own and with the injury problems at Minnesota, they soon could provide the Packers with their toughest test in the NFC North. They were unlucky to suffer their only defeat at Atlanta and are capable of making strides up the chart.

16 New Orleans Saints (up two)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Won 20-0 against Miami at Wembley
This week: Bye

A scrappy match may not have pleased many spectators at Wembley last week but Saints coach Sean Payton will have been delighted that his much-maligned defence prevented Miami from scoring a point. If you match that effort with the quality Drew Brees typically displays at quarterback then you will always have a chance.

17 Arizona Cardinals (=)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Won 18-15 at home to San Francisco (OT)
This week: 6.5-point underdogs at Philadelphia

An overtime touchdown from Larry Fitzgerald got the Cardinals over the line but there seems little to get excited about at Arizona this season. It could prove a middle-of-the-road campaign in which they don't make much of an impression. 

18 Buffalo Bills (up three)
Record: 3-1
Last week: Won 23-17 at Atlanta
This week: Three-point underdogs at Cincinnati

Following up at win over Denver by beating the Falcons means it has been an impressive fortnight for the Bills. Their defence is a match for the best in the league and they could go on a decent run if they don't take it easy against teams who may be weaker than them. Such as Cincinnati.

19 Baltimore Ravens (down four)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Lost 26-9 at home to Pittsburgh
This week: One-point underdogs at Oakland

The Ravens started the season with wins over Cincinnati and Cleveland but the last fortnight has been dismal, particularly for quarterback Joe Flacco. The offence have not got going at all and they look to be on the slide. 

20 Washington Redskins (up two)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Lost 29-20 at Kansas City
This week: Bye

Since losing to the Eagles in Week One, Washington have beaten the improving Rams, nullified the Raiders offence and given the unbeaten Chiefs as tough a test as they have faced. There is scope for the Redskins to improve after their bye week.

21 Houston Texans (up two)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Won 57-14 at home to Tennessee
This week: One-point underdogs at home to Kansas City

Deshaun Watson went a huge way towards establishing himself as the new star at Houston with his inspiring performance against the Titans. The Texans' Week One capitulation against the Jaguars seems a long time ago and a visit from Kansas City should ensure they do not remain complacent after they blew the AFC South wide open.

22 Miami Dolphins (down three)
Record: 1-2
Last week: Lost 20-0 to New Orleans at Wembley
This week: Three-point underdogs at home to Tennessee

Maybe their first-week bye and a trip to Wembley has knocked the Dolphins out of sync, but they have had two poor offensive performances with Jay Cutler not living up to the optimism that was around in pre-season. Hosting a Tennessee side who will be fuming after their loss at Houston is hardly ideal this week.

23 New York Giants (down three)
Record: 0-4
Last week: Lost 25-23 at Tampa Bay
This week: 3.5-point favourites at home to Los Angeles Chargers

Still the Giants cannot get over the line. The passing game is improving but there is little joy to be gained from the running unit. Rapid improvement needs to happen if they are to be competitive in their division.

24 Jacksonville Jaguars (=)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Lost 23-20 at New York Jets (OT)
This week: 8.5-point underdogs at Pittsburgh

After their storming show at Wembley, a lack of discipline cost the Jags against the Jets and quarterback Blake Bortles disappointed once again. Running back Leonard Fournette has adjusted to the professional game well, but he needs some help.

25 Los Angeles Rams (up three)
Record: 3-1
Last week: Won 35-30 at Dallas
This week: 1.5-point favourites at home to Seattle

Last week it was said that the Rams had to prove themselves against the Cowboys to make people sit up and take notice. I have sat up and I am taking notice and a victory over Seattle this week will lead plenty of people to conclude that the tide has indeed turned. 

26 Cincinnati Bengals (up one)
Record: 1-3
Last week: Won 31-7 at Cleveland
This week: Three-point favourites at home to Buffalo

The first win finally arrived for the Bengals, but they have to convince against other teams than the hapless Browns. It is a key game for them this week as a win over the Bills would give them the chance to regroup during their bye week, but being 1-4 with four of their following five games away from home would leave them in a right pickle.

27 Indianapolis Colts (down two)
Record: 1-3
Last week: Lost 46-18 at Seattle
This week: 1.5-point favourites at home to San Francisco

Andrew Luck? Has anyone seen Andrew Luck? The Colts quarterback has returned to practice but it could be three weeks until he is back playing. If their defeat to Seattle is anything to go by, by that time the Colts' season could be over.

28 Los Angeles Chargers (down two)
Record: 0-4
Last week: Lost 26-24 at home to Philadelphia
This week: 3.5-point underdogs at New York Giants

Another close defeat for the Chargers who could have had three wins under their belt. Perhaps it says something about their mentality that they cannot get over the line in tight games. They need to win this week as their following three games are divisional clashes against Oakland and Denver, and a trip to New England. Ouch!

29 Chicago Bears (=)
Record: 1-3
Last week: Lost 35-14 at Green Bay
This week: Three-point underdogs at home to Minnesota

So, we are about to enter the Mitchell Trubisky era in the Windy City. Let's hope he gets more of a run than Mike Glennon did. The Bears have been confused at quarterback since the draft and running back Jordan Howard will probably have a key role to play with a new man under centre. They are best watched for the time being.

30 New York Jets (up two)
Record: 2-2
Last week: Won 23-20 at home to Jacksonville (OT)
This week: 1.5-point underdogs at Cleveland

Two wins out of two and the Jets are in serious danger of not getting that first-overall draft pick. A trip to Cleveland should hold no fears for them and maybe they are not the sitting ducks plenty of people predicted they would be after all, even with veteran former Brown Josh McCown at quarterback.

31 San Francisco 49ers (=)
Record: 0-4
Last week: Lost 18-15 at Arizona (OT)
This week: 1.5-point underdogs at Indianapolis

Head coach Kyle Shanahan was the offensive supremo at Atlanta last season, a team who averaged more than 34 points a game. So how come his team have prevented two teams from scoring a regulation-time touchdown and still haven't chalked up a win? Surely it has to get a bit better.

32 Cleveland Browns (down two)
Record: 0-4
Last week: Lost 31-7 at home to Cincinnati
This week: 1.5-point favourites at home to New York Jets

Back in what many people think is their natural home. Already some Browns followers are discussing whether now is the time to concentrate on next season. Again. A debut for number-one pick Myles Garrett after injury should help, but defeat against the Jets should not be contemplated.

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Some remain unconvinced by Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, but Philadelphia merit their position at the top of the NFC East
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