A takeover at No. 2 and a newcomer to the Top 5 highlight the action at the sharp end of the ranks this week.
Down the list, the Jets and Raiders make the biggest moves up, while the Panthers’ four-spot slide is the worst of the week.
Here’s how our analysts see the league after three weeks, and the cumulative rank (below) that comes of their ballots.
With the votes tallied, here’s how the list looks after Week 5: (last week’s rank and change in rank in parentheses)
The Top 10
1. Denver Broncos (1, 0)
Tested in Dallas, the Bronco offense had to put up 51 to escape with the win. As dominant as the offensive show has been, questions around the defense have crept up, but those concerns weren’t enough to keep any of our voters from naming Denver to the top spot for the fourth straight week.
2. New Orleans Saints (3, +1)
The Seahawks’ stumble opened the door for the rising Saints to snag the No. 2 spot. Their win over a Top-10 team in the Bears finished the job and New Orleans is a unanimous choice to slide in behind the Broncos.
3. Seattle Seahawks (2, -1)
No longer just looking up at Denver, the Seahawks slipped and for the first time this season find themselves outside of the Top 2 in these rankings. A leaky O-line and a sophomore QB not yet finding his rookie form look like bigger issues with the ‘L’ on the board.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (6, +2)
The only team in these rankings to have risen every week, Kansas City cracks the Top 5 after opening the season at No. 17 and is running out of room to move up. Keeping pace with Denver in the AFC West, the Chiefs hope to keep chipping away until they face-off twice in a three-week span around Thanksgiving.
5. Green Bay Packers (5, 0)
Beating Detroit at home as they do, the Packers stay still after returning from their bye. With very little movement from their season-opening rank, a pair of losses to Top 10 teams, and Clay Matthews on the shelf for a month, we’ll see if a trip to Baltimore in Week 6 shows them worthy of a drop.
6. New England Patriots (4, -2)
With their offense struggling and their defense missing its key cog, the Patriots ended up on the short end of a tight game this time. Their second minor step back in the ranks sees them settle back to their preseason starting spot.
7. San Francisco 49ers (7, 0)
After back-to-back losses had them reeling, the receiver-less 49ers have returned to the run game and have ridden stellar defensive efforts to a pair of convincing wins. They hold steady at No. 7 and get the also 3-2 Cardinals at home next week.
8. Indianapolis Colts (10, +2)
Getting past some early-season questions of just how seriously they were to be taken, the Colts have set themselves squarely among the league’s best by notching legitimizing wins over San Francisco and Seattle.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (9, 0)
Finally securing a signature win, the Bengals’ defense held the un-Patriot-like Patriot offense, and their own offense mustered a key second-half drive to provide the scoring margin. The Bengals will now take on a series of teams from down the ranks.
10. Chicago Bears (8, -2)
After working their way up to No. 6 a couple weeks ago, the Bears now find themselves clinging to the fringe of the Top 10 after falling for the second consecutive week, this time to the second-ranked Saints.
11. Dallas Cowboys (11, 0)
On the strength of an outstanding performance by Romo, the Cowboys gave Manning and the Broncos all they could handle. In the end, Dallas stays just on the outside looking in at the Top 10.
12. Baltimore Ravens (13, +1)
Timely pass rush helped seal the win in Miami as Baltimore got back on track. After falling in the rankings in three of the first four weeks, the Ravens get a foothold and climb a spot ahead of their Week 6 matchup with Green Bay.
13. Detroit Lions (12, -1)
Unable to shake history in their most recent loss traveling to face Green Bay, Detroit slides a spot and their bid to press the Top 10 has to wait. They’ll have more shots at teams above them in coming weeks.
14. Miami Dolphins (15, +1)
Coming up just short against Baltimore, the Dolphins head to their bye on the back of consecutive defeats. The D-line is in fine form, but the O-line is having trouble affording Tannehill time to operate. Perhaps the week off carries a cure.
15. Tennessee Titans (18, +3)
Still in a surprising spot compared to preseason expectations, the now Fitzpatrick-led Titans fell short of handling the 5-0 Chiefs at home but crawl up a few spots back into the top half of the rankings.
16. Houston Texans (14, -2)
Trends continued for the Texans as JJ Watt terrorized another O-line and Matt Schaub sent another score the other way. Originally placed in the Top 10, Houston has found the middle of the ranks and is still heading in the wrong direction.
17. San Diego Chargers (16, -1)
The up-and-down Chargers settle back to No. 17 after a disappointing, five-turnover night in Oakland. They’ll return home to take on the Colts in Week 6 in an opportunity to take out a Top-10 team and continue their ‘who are we this week?’ season.
18. Atlanta Falcons (17, -1)
A Monday Night loss to the Jets coupled with another crucial injury has the Falcons pushing their way down this list. Their Top-5 rank to open the season seems a long way off after this steady march toward the Bottom 10.
19. Cleveland Browns (19, 0)
Three wins on the bounce has Cleveland feeling good and looking to climb. They hold here for the week as their QB situation has reverted, but have a handful of teams in their sights and a move into the top half of the ranks may not be far off.
20. New York Jets (25, +5)
Tied for the week’s biggest upward move, the Jets gain five spots on the strength of their Monday Night win (and a couple of teams falling past). The destructive D-line balanced some efficient QB play for a Jets team determined to stave off predicted demise.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (21, 0)
The 2-3, first-place Eagles hold steady after downing their division rival Giants. Good news is they’ve halted their slide here. Bad news is the QB questions are back. They’ll travel to Tampa Bay with one eye on the Week 7 matchup with Dallas.
22. Arizona Cardinals (24, +2)
A defense with talent in key spots like that in Arizona is a joy to watch, but the disjointed feel to their offense needs to be solved before they’ll make a serious move up. For now they escape the Bottom 10 and send Carolina down into it.
The Bottom 10
23. Carolina Panthers (19, -4)
The Panthers seem a team destined to suffer through tough losses. A strong front seven hasn’t been enough to balance out lacking QB play and they’ve fallen back to 23… a spot appropriate for their close-but-can’t-get-it-done standing.
24. Minnesota Vikings (23, -1)
Leap-frogged by the Cardinals during their week off, the Vikings get the team just above them next week as both hope to claw back out of the Bottom 10.
25t. Buffalo Bills (22, -3)
Failing to string wins together, the Bills’ Thursday Night loss forced another step down the list. Handing their vacated starting QB spot to practice squad call-up Thad Lewis is not inspiring confidence either.
25t. Oakland Raiders (30, +5)
The late-night win over San Diego vaulted Oakland into the 20’s for the first time this season. Terrelle Pryor has given them some offensive identity and the Raiders have already outperformed the preseason expectations of many.
27. St. Louis Rams (25, -2)
A win over Jacksonville didn’t go far in the eyes of the voters, as St. Louis saw the Jets pull away and the Raiders jump past while they took a two-spot hit despite the ‘W’. A Houston team primed for plucking awaits.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers (29, +1)
In a decimal-point curiosity from the vote tally, the Steelers’ bye week provides their only positive move this season. It’s the scrappy Jets next up on the schedule.
29. Washington Redskins (27, -2)
The other half of that mathematical switcheroo sees the Redskins slip as they sat on the couch. They travel to Dallas in Week 6.
30. New York Giants (28, -2)
Representing the opposite end from the always-rising Chiefs, the Giants are the only team to have fallen in these rankings in five straight weeks, and they’ve dropped multiple spots each time. The latest loss sends them down to challenge Tampa Bay for the second-to-the-bottom title.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (31, 0)
The Bucs watched from home in Week 5 and stayed secure in their 31 spot. They get the Eagles next.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (32, 0)
If something positive is needed, the Jags have avoided a fall in the ranks for four straight weeks. Luck of the draw has them heading to Denver to face their fourth Top-10 opponent in six games.