1. New England Patriots (6-0) Def. New York Jets 30-23. Previously: 1.
With Dion Lewis unable to play and the Jets imposing defense in town, the Patriots answer for how to run the ball was simple: Don't. The NFL's most creative team opted for the NFL's simplest answer: put the weight on Tom Brady's shoulders. Brady shouldered it, and threw it 54 times, ran it four, and didn't turn the ball over. A lot of teams find ways to win; the Patriots invent them.
2. Green Bay Packers (6-0) Bye. Previously: 2
A quiet week at the top of the rankings starts here. That won't be the case next week when Green Bay travels to Denver for a matchup of unbeatens. Struggling Eddie Lacy will have a hard challenge getting on track against an outstanding Denver defense.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (6-0) Bye. Previously: 3
Even a bye week is a win for the undefeated Bengals. The Steelers, Ravens, and Browns all lost. Cincinnati's division lead is now 2.5 games on Pittsburgh and they'll get a chance to stretch it further when they resume play next week with a huge game in Pittsburgh.
4. Denver Broncos (6-0) Bye. Previously: 4
Denver's defense will face their biggest test yet when Aaron Rodgers comes to town. If they are going to carry Denver through the playoffs and to the championship, this is exactly the kind of game they will have to win.
5. Carolina Panthers (6-0) Def. Philadelphia 27-16. Previously: 5
Two victories against two pre-season super bowl favorites (albeit ones that have looked anything but since the season began) have to carry some weight. Offensive options besides Cam Newton are starting to emerge as well: Jonathan Stewart had 125 rushing yards Sunday night, his highest output of the season, and Cam only carried the ball four times.
6. Arizona Cardinals (5-2) Def. Baltimore 26-18. Previously: 7
Chris Johnson’s renaissance has continued even after Andre Ellington’s return to the lineup. Johnson’s 122 yards on the ground against Baltimore were his highest total since December 2013 and his third 100 yard game through the first seven games of 2015, already matching the total number he had in 2013 and 2014 combined. That 62-yard run Monday night against the Ravens? His longest since 2012.
7. New York Jets (4-2) Lost to New England 30-23. Previously: 8
The Jets did all they could in New England Sunday. It wasn't enough. That doesn't take away from what is establishing itself week in and week out as one of the better teams in the NFL. The biggest concern from the Patriots game? The disappearance of Chris Ivory, who had only 41 yards after back-to-back games over 140.
8. Minnesota Vikings (4-2) Def. Detroit 28-19. Previously: 10
Rookie fifth round pick Stefon Diggs is coming through weekly for the Vikings, with at least 87 yards in each of the last three contests. Having a weapon other than Adrian Peterson is vital if the Vikings are going to overcome early deficits like the 17-6 hole they found themselves in against Detroit Sunday.
9. Atlanta Falcons (6-1) Def. Tennessee 10-7. Previously: 9
The Falcons are still winning, but not quite in the convincing fashion with which they began the season. Matt Ryan's yards per attempt from week one through week four trended between 7.9 and 9.5. During the three games since then, he has topped out at 6.7. Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman are doing their share week in and week out, but a lack of other outlets is limiting this offense's ability to remain explosive.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) Lost to Kansas City 23-13. Previously: 6
This was the kind of week you expect when a team is down to it's third quarterback. Is it unsettling to see the Steelers' defense allow 110 rushing yards to Charcandrick West? Yes. But was this ever a Steelers team expected to win because of its defense? No. It will be a huge boost for this team if Ben Roethlisberger is able to return for next week's matchup against Cincinatti, a game the Steelers desperately need to win if they're going to contend for the division.
11. St. Louis Rams (3-3) Def. Cleveland 24-6. Previously: 12
Todd Gurley is everything the Rams hoped for when they drafted him. In three games as the starter he has 433 yards on the ground and is showing no signs his college injury, the only question on draft day, is holding him back. The passing attack is a big question mark however, as Nick Foles has not reached 200 yards passing in a game since week one against Seattle.
12. Seattle Seahawks (3-4) Def. San Francisco 20-3. Previously: 13
A few years ago, the only time you'd see these two teams entering this game with two wins apiece would be during week three. Seattle won those games. Winning this one might be just as vital as they attempt to catch the Cardinals in the NFC West. No miracle fourth quarter comebacks are a start for the defense. If they can follow through with a win against Dallas next week, they'll enter the bye at 4-4.
13. Miami Dolphins (3-3) Def. Houston 44-26. Previously: 20
Through the first four games of the season, the Dolphins scored a total of 65 points. In two games under Dan Campbell, they've scored 82. Lamar Miller and Ryan Tannehill have been the primary beneficiaries, along with the Dolphins' win column. Tannehill finished Sunday 18-for-19, with the lone incompletion ending an NFL record streak of 25 straight completions. These are the Dolphins we were expecting.
14. Indianapolis Colts (3-4) Lost to New Orleans 27-21. Previously: 11
You thought the Colts have things sorted out: two wins in a row without Andrew Luck, dominating their division, a tough fight against New England. Then they go and do this. Luck almost pulled off one of his better fourth quarter comebacks, but that doesn't absolve the problems that have bee everywhere this year. He has only one game (against New England) without throwing at least two interceptions, and exactly zero games with a completion percentage above 60.
15. Oakland Raiders (3-3) Def. San Diego 37-29. Previously: 18
The Raiders’ quarterback is showing all the kinds of progress you want to see: after four multiple interception games in his first 12 career starts, Derek Carr has none in his last eight. His yards per attempt are up from a dismal 5.5 in 2014 to 7.6 in 2015 and his completion percentage from 58.1 to 65.8. It helps having Amari Cooper in the fold: the rookie is 19th in the NFL this season with 519 receiving yards. Last year Carr’s best option finished 66th.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) Lost to Carolina 27-16. Previously: 15
The good news for Philadelphia is they have playmakers: Ryan Mathews now leads the NFL in yards per carry (6.1) among qualifiers after his 63 yard scamper against the Panthers. The bad news is the coaches don’t seem interested in using him. He’s 38th in attempts with 55. He’s managed to rack up more yards than 2014 NFL Rushing Champion DeMarco Murray (342 vs. 307) despite having 33 less carries. The bye week may be a time for a re-evaluation of those carries.
17. New Orleans Saints (3-4) Def. Indianapolis 27-21. Previously: 22
Suddenly the Saints have a renewed commitment to running the ball, and the biggest beneficiary is Mark Ingram, who ran for almost double his previous rushing high of 2015 on Sunday. Similarly suddenly, they're winning, and they're the latest beneficiary of the Colts bizarre struggles.
18. New York Giants (4-3) Def. Dallas 27-20. Previously: 21
The Giants took back first place in the division by doing their best impression of the week 6 Eagles to the Cowboys’ Week 6 Giants impression. This game had a lot in common (besides the outcome) with the first New York-Dallas matchup of the season, as the Giants pounced on Dallas’ turnovers despite being outgained by more than 100 yards in both games. The difference? In the fourth quarter of week one, the Cowboys had Tony Romo.
19. Buffalo Bills (3-4) Lost to Jacksonville 34-31. Previously: 14
A game overseas is never easy, and probably a poor way to judge a team, but this is not the Buffalo team that wowed us to open the season. Hopefully the Bills can use their bye to find a way to get back to the team that kick-started the Colts misery. If Tyrod Taylor is able to return to the lineup, that could be a big step.
20. Chicago Bears (2-4) Bye. Previously: 17
The Bears get a chance to continue their positive steps and stay in the fight in the middle of their division with a matchup against Minnesota next week after their bye. If the defense wants to earn back the moniker "Monsters of the Midway," stopping Adrian Peterson would be a good start.
21. San Diego Chargers (2-5) Lost to Oakland 37-29. Previously: 16
Despite both teams apparently being desperate to get to Los Angeles, San Diego Sunday looked like a team that is going nowhere. A tough loss to Green Bay seemed to linger, as the Raiders ran out to a 30-6 lead at halftime. Phillip Rivers has thrown for almost 120 percent as many yards as his nearest competitor, Tom Brady, but it’s not translating into wins.
22. Washington (3-4) Def. Tampa Bay 31-30. Previously: 25
In Washington’s four defeats this season, Kirk Cousins has thrown eight interceptions. In their three victories? A big fat zero. Getting the run game back on track might help on that front too. The team has run for just 135 total yards over their last three games combined. They can do it. They surpassed that number in a game twice this season already, in the first two weeks.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (2-5) Def. Pittsburgh 23-13. Previously: 26
The Chiefs took admirable advantage of Landry Jones to jumpstart their defense and their season. No game in the NFL is easy, but Detroit next week also isn't Denver, Green Bay, and Cincinatti. Then they get their bye, and a chance to catch one quick breath before it's Denver all over again.
24. Dallas Cowboys (2-4) Lost to New York Giants 27-20. Previously: 23
Darren McFadden’s 152 yards were his highest output since 2011, and his first 100 yard game since 2012. They were also the highest total of any Cowboys running back this season, and McFadden racked them up on 29 carries after starter Joseph Randle left the game injured, 11 more than Randle has tallied in any game this year. The fight to replace DeMarco Murray may be starting to turn. Unfortunately, the “fight” to replace Tony Romo saw no such outcome Sunday, as Matt Cassel threw three interceptions in his Dallas debut.
25. Cleveland Browns (2-5) Lost to St. Louis 24-6. Previously: 19
Josh McCown suffered an injury to his shoulder late in the game against St. Louis, after four sacks on the day, and it remains to be seen if he'll be good to go this week. If not, the Browns will turn to Johnny Manziel, as they did late Sunday. Manziel himself is under investigation by the NFL for an incident where he was questioned by police. The fun never starts in Cleveland.
27. San Francisco 49ers (2-5) Lost to Seattle 20-3. Previously: 27
Colin Kaepernick fell to 2-6 against the Seahawks in his career, although this game was lacking the stakes we became used to seeing in a San Francisco/Seattle matchup. If they want to be anything but the worst in the NFC West, the 49ers will need to win against the Rams next weekend to avoid an 0-3 division record.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) Lost to Washington 31-30. Previously: 30
It's hard to justify the Buccaneers' rise after blowing that game, but they're only a few weeks removed from beating Jacksonville, and the teams above them looked much less competitive. If they could just figure out handing it to Doug Martin on the goalline, we might be seeing them a lot higher. Martin had his third straight 100 yard effort Sunday, and as that aspect of the offense has emerged, Jameis Winston has improved.
26. Houston Texans (2-5) Lost to Miami 44-26. Previously: 24
Ryan Mallett was released Tuesday after missing the team flight to Miami. But the backup quarterback won't be missed as much as Arian Foster, who will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his Achilles Sunday in Miami. The Texans, seventh in the league in points allowed per game in 2014 with 19.2, are sitting at 28th with 28.4 through the first seven this season.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) Def. Buffalo 34-31. Previously: 32
The Jaguars were impressive first by building that lead over Buffalo, and then rallying to recover it once the Bills came back. After several weeks of big passing statistics and no wins, this week saw Blake Bortles' yardage take a tumble, but the Jaguars bring home the W. It was Allen Robinson's third straight game with a receiving touchdown. He's living up to the pre-season hype.
30. Detroit Lions (1-6) Lost to Minnesota 27-19. Previously: 28
Despite another loss, at least Calvin Johnson has re-emerged in Detroit. After one touchdown and no games above 83 yards through the first five games, he now has 252 yards and two touchdowns in the last two. Maybe three touchdowns if the Lions had challenged the spot of his catch Sunday. Maybe two wins for Detroit too.
31. Baltimore Ravens (1-6) Lost to Arizona 26-18. Previously: 29
The Ravens drift in the middle in most stat categories except wins and, turnovers. Their -7 is good for 30th in the NFL, and it’s a problem that’s been brewing for a while: They ranked just 15th in 2014 and 22nd in 2013, and Joe Flacco has thrown 42 interceptions in 39 regular season games since the 2012 Super Bowl. That blocked punt made the loss to Arizona look more respectable, but at the end of the day it’s another game where the Ravens were outgained 414-276 and lost the turnover battle 2-0.
32. Tennessee Titans (1-5) Lost to Atlanta 10-7. Previously: 31
The Titans long march to last place culminates today. With Marcus Mariota sidelined Sunday and Zach Mettenberger doing nothing to convince fans the Titans would have been better to stick with him, the Titans still opted to only run the ball 16 times. It's all the more confusing when you consider they were averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and surprisingly leading the Falcons for much of the game.