Editor’s note: Rick Gosselin is in his 48th season reporting on the NFL in 2020. He has covered the Lions, Giants, Chiefs and Cowboys in his career plus 38 Super Bowls. He has served on the Hall of Fame selection committee for 25 years 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 17:
1. Kansas City Chiefs. (Previous week: 1) Four quarterbacks have passed for at least 35 touchdowns this season – Aaron Rodgers (44), Patrick Mahomes (38), Russell Wilson (38) and Tom Brady (36). Mahomes gets the best bang for his buck with the average length of his touchdowns 17.3 yards. Wilson is next at an average of 16.1 yards, followed by Brady at 13.8 and then Rodgers at 13.2.
2. Green Bay Packers. (2) There have been only three games all season that a team has been penalty-free the Packers have played two of them. Tampa Bay was not penalized in a 38-10 victory over Green Bay in the sixth week, then the Packers were not penalized in a 40-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans last weekend. Jerome Boger officiated the Tampa Bay game and Brad Allen the Tennessee game. Seattle was the only other team to play a penalty-free game against Miami in the fourth week. It was officiated by the Scott Novak crew.
3. Buffalo Bills. (3) Stefon Diggs has turned in his three best games this season on the road, catching eight passes for 153 yards and a touchdown at Miami, 11 passes for 147 yards at Denver and nine passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns at New England. The NFL’s leading receiver has turned in five of his seven 100-yard games this season on the road.
4. New Orleans Saints. (4) The Saints are no longer a one-trick pony – not with the NFL’s No. 3 defense and a running back (Alvin Kamara) who leads the league in rushing touchdowns with 16. The completeness of this team has allowed the Saints to thrive despite a passing game that no longer ranks with the best in football. New Orleans has led the NFL in passing six times in the SeanPayton/Drew Brees era, as recently as 2016. But Brees is older now (41) and not as durable (missed four games). It hasn’t helped that the Saints’ best receiver (Michael Thomas) has missed more games (eight) than he has played (seven). The Saints are 11-4 with the NFL’s 17th-ranked passing attack.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers. (6) How much would a homefield game or two in January benefit the Steelers? They have a 12-3 record and the NFL’s second-ranked defense. Both the team and defensive success are a product of the pass rush, which has generated a league-high 52 sacks. A league-high 27 defensive takeaways are another byproduct of that pass rush. The Steelers have collected 36 of their 52 sacks in their eight home games. They finish the season at Cleveland.
6. Seattle Seahawks (9) Keep an eye on the Seahawks. In the salary-cap era, no division has sent teams to the Super Bowl more often than the NFC West. The AFC East and NFC West have each sent a team to the Super Bowl 10 times since 1994. But in the AFC East, it’s been New England all 10 times. The West has sent the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers three times apiece and the Cardinals once. The NFC West has gone to the last two Super Bowls and three of the last six.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (10) The Bucs will enter the playoffs as a wild card, which will be no problem for Tom Brady. He likes life on the road. Brady has six 300-yard passing games this season and four of them have come on the road, including each of the last two weeks against Atlanta (390 yards) and Detroit (347). He also has thrown 20 of his 36 passes this season on the road.
8. Baltimore Ravens. (11) Rookie J.K. Dobbins hasn’t started a game yet for the Ravens but that’s not keeping him out of the end zone. The second-round draft pick from Ohio State has scored a touchdown in each of the last five games and now as seven on the season. Dobbins also has had two 100-yard rushing games splitting carries in the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack with starter Gus Edwards and Pro Bowler Mark Ingram.
9. Tennessee Titans. (8) Ryan Tannehill has never been known for his legs. In his first six seasons as a starting NFL quarterback with the Miami Dolphins, he rushed for six total touchdowns. But in his last two seasons at Tennessee, Tannehill has rushed for nine scores. He has five this season, including three in the last two weeks. He has scored on runs of 45, 17 and 10 yards this season in addition to a couple quarterback sneaks near the goal line.
10. Indianapolis Colts. (7) The AFC captured the interconference series with the NFC this season by a 35-28-1 margin. The Colts were one of four AFC teams to go 4-0 against the NFC along with Baltimore, Cleveland and Kansas City. Not a single NFC team went 4-0 against the AFC. Cincinnati, Jacksonville and Philadelphia were the only teams that did not win a single interconference game although the Bengals-Eagles played to that one tie.
11. Miami Dolphins. (12) Ryan Fitzpatrick was dubbed FitzMagic during his time with the Jets. The magic is still there with the Dolphins. Fitzpatrick came off the bench for a struggling Tua Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter against the Raiders last weekend and generated three scoring drives in the final 10 minutes to keep the Dolphins in the playoff hunt with a 26-25 victory. He took Miami 49 yards in three plays in the final 19 seconds for the game-winning field goal with a second left. Fitzpatrick is now responsible for half of Miami’s 10 victories, winning four starts plus the Raiders game in relief.
12. Cleveland Browns. (5) Baker Mayfield became the 12th NFL quarterback this season to have a 50-pass game against the Jets. Dak Prescott, Jared Goff, Justin Herbert and Ben Roethlisberger have all had two of them. The combined record of the quarterbacks with those 50-pass games this season is 1-15. Goff has the lone win over Tampa Bay.
13. Los Angeles Rams. (13) Speaking of Goff, he suffered a broken thumb last weekend against Seattle and will miss the season finale against Arizona, ending a streak of 47 consecutive starts. Goff already underwent surgery and expects to be ready for a wild-card playoff game in two weeks if the Rams qualify. They would need a victory over the Cardinals or a Chicago loss to Green Bay to advance. John Wolford, an undrafted free agent in 2019 who has never thrown an NFL pass, will step in for Goff.
14. Chicago Bears. (15) The 8-7 Bears have rekindled their playoff hopes with a three-game December winning streak fueled by the legs of David Montgomery. After 12 weeks, the Bears ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing. But in the three games since then Montgomery rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown against Houston, 146 yards and two TDs against Minnesota and 95 yards and another score against Jacksonville.
15. Arizona Cardinals. (14) Kyler Murray has rushed for 11 touchdowns, which is three short of the NFL quarterback record set by Cam Newton at Carolina in 2011. The record appeared to be within Murray’s grasp when he rushed for 10 touchdowns in the first nine games. But he has only run for one more score in the six games since then
16. Las Vegas Raiders. (16) The wheels are official off the Raiders’ Playoff Express. Las Vegas have lost five of its last six games – and the Raiders needed a Hail Mary pass in the closing seconds against the then-winless New York Jets to claim the only victory. So a 6-3 start has dissolved into a 7-8 non-playoff finish and GM Mike Mayock can now begin work on overhauling a defense that has allowed 447 points, fourth most in the league.
17. New England Patriots. (19) Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes in a game three times in his New England career and five TDs in a game four more times. His successor, Cam Newton, has thrown for five touchdowns in his 14 starts covering 338 passes this season.
18. Los Angeles Chargers. (20) QB Justin Herbert has one NFL rookie record in his pocket and is in range for a few more. Herbert already has 28 TD passes, breaking the record of 27 held by Baker Mayfield. He needs six more completions to break the record of 379 set by Carson Wentz and 341 more passing yards in the season finale against Kansas City to break the record of 4,374 set by Andrew Luck.
19. Dallas Cowboys. (21) Give the Cowboys credit for their timing. It’s impeccable. If you’re going to play your best football of the season in a division that no one wants to win, play it in the final month when a playoff berth can be stolen with a losing record. The Cowboys are 6-9 and will attempt to extend their winning streak to four games Sunday against the Giants. A Dallas victory and a Washington loss would allow the Cowboys to become only the third team in NFL history to reach the post-season with a losing record.
20. San Francisco 49ers. (26) The 49ers committed $4.55 million to RB Tevin Coleman and $2.85 million to Raheem Mostert in 2020 to keep the NFL’s second-ranked rushing attack humming in an attempt to repeat as NFC champions. But injuries have limited both Coleman and Mostert, leaving undrafted free agent Jeff Wilson to carry the load. He has had the only two 100-yard rushing games by the 49ers this season, including a career-best 183-yarder last weekend against the Cardinals – the only 100-yard rusher allowed by Arizona all season. Not bad for a $573,000 investment by the 49ers this season.
21. Washington. (17) Washington can capture its first division title since 2015 with a victory over the fading Eagles in Philadelphia. Philly has won just once in the last eight weeks to tumble out of playoff contention in the hapless East with a 4-10-1 record. Washington put together a four-game winning streak with Alex Smith at quarterback to take control of the division at 6-7. But Smith has missed the last two games with a calf strain and Dwayne Haskins has turned the ball over five times in two losses. That led to his release this week. A division title could hinge on the availability of Smith this weekend.
22. Minnesota Vikings. (18) Coach Mike Zimmer built the Vikings to run the ball and play defense. Inside of three seasons on the job, he fielded the NFL’s best defense, leading the league in 2017. But a collapse of that defense this season has led to a collapse of Minnesota’s playoff hopes. The Vikings rank 28th in both yards and points allowed (440). That’s 137 more points than they allowed last season when they advanced to the playoffs as a wild card. It’s the first 400-point yield by the Vikings since 2013, which was the reason Zimmer was hired in 2014. Until Minnesota fixes the defense, the Vikings are wasting NFC rushing leader Dalvin Cook.
23. Carolina Panthers. (27) The Panthers are one of only four NFL offenses that hasn’t produced a 100-yard rusher yet this season. But that’s explainable. Their Pro Bowl RB Christian McCaffrey has played only three of Carolina’s 15 games because of injuries. He still came closer to 100 than any of his backups, rushing for 96 yards in the season opener against Las Vegas. The other three teams heading into the final weekend still without a 100-yard rusher are Buffalo, Seattle and the Los Angeles Chargers.
24. Cincinnati Bengals. (28) The Bengals have won only four games this season but they’ve done it with three different quarterbacks. Rookie Joe Burrow defeated Jacksonville and Tennessee in the first two months of the season, then Ryan Finley upset Pittsburgh and Brandon Allen toppled Houston in the last two weeks.
25. New York Giants. (22) If the Giants are to beat the Cowboys and potentially capture an NFC East crown this weekend, they will have to do so on the ground. Hello, Wayne Gallman. New York QBs Daniel Jones and Colt McCoy have combined to pass for two touchdowns in the last six games. The Giants have thrown an NFC-low 10 TD passes and haven’t tossed one at home in two months (Nov. 2 against Tampa Bay).
26. Denver Broncos. (24) In the 234rd and final regular-season game of his career in 1998, John Elway passed for four touchdowns against Seattle in his good-bye to Mile High. Boy, does Denver miss Elway and his Hall of Fame arm. The Broncos have thrown only six touchdown passes at home all season and three of them came in one afternoon against the Chargers. They close the season at home against Las Vegas Sunday.
27. Atlanta Falcons. (30) The worst Pro Bowl snub was WR Calvin Ridley, who was clearly punished because he plays for a bad team. Ridley has flourished in Atlanta’s season of collapse (4-11). He has posted a league-high eight 100-yard receiving games, including each of the last four weeks against Super Bowl contenders New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Kansas City plus the Chargers. He has scored nine touchdowns and ranks fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,322. Ridley deserved a better shake in the voting.
28. Philadelphia Eagles. (23) The Giants were held without a sack last weekend by the Baltimore Ravens, the first time all season that New York failed to get to the quarterback. That leaves only two teams that have collected a sack every weekend of the 2020 NFL season and they hail from the same state – Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Steelers have now collected a sack in 72 consecutive games and the Philadelphia Eagles have a streak of 17 consecutive games.
29. Houston Texans. (29) It is hard to believe the Texans sit at 4-11 with how well QB DeShaun Watson has played this season. He has passed for 300 yards in seven of his last 10 games with 17 touchdowns and only one interception. But no matter how many points Watson can generate it’s never enough. The Texans have scored 346 points this season but allowed 423. It’s too bad Watson can’t play defense.
30. Detroit Lions. (25) Speaking of defense… In 1962, the Detroit Lions fielded one of the NFL’s great defenses with five Hall of Famers: DT Alex Karras, MLB Joe Schmidt, CB Dick “Night Train” Lane, CB Dick LeBeau and safety Yale Lary. It collected 11 sacks on Thanksgiving to hand Vince Lombardi’s best Green Bay team its only defeat of the 1962 season. The Lions fielded the NFL’s top defense that year. The 2020 Detroit defense is the antithesis of 1962. The Lions have allowed the most yards and points in the NFL this season. Detroit has surrendered 40-plus points each of the last two weeks to Tennessee and Tampa and is 18 points away from its first 500-point yield since 2008 when the Lions finished 0-16.
31. New York Jets. (31) Where have these Jets been all season? After opening the season with 13 consecutive losses, New York shocked playoff contenders the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns in the last two weeks. And had the Raiders not hit a Hail Mary on the Jets, it would have been three victories in the last four games for the New Yorkers. The Jets look to close the season with a three-game winning streak Sunday in New England against the Patriots.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars. (32) Even though the Jaguars entered the NFL in 1995 as an expansion team, they have never held the first overall pick of a draft — until now. They drafted second overall in their first draft in 1995 and again in 1996. Jacksonville didn’t crack the Top 5 again until 2013, when they again drafted second overall. But that’s the highest they could climb in the draft pecking order until seizing that top pick in 2021 on the strength (or, rather, weakness) of their 1-14 record.