By Matthew Zimmer
If the NFL does play a full 16-game season, then we’ve reached the end of the first quarter (after tonight’s games). You might be saying to yourself, “it’s too soon to know who’s good and who’s not.” That’s fair.
Some of you may wonder, how do we know who the contenders and pretenders are?
Well, honestly we don’t for sure because injuries could happen, teams could get better (or worse), but none of that has ever stopped sports personalities from throwing out their opinions. So, let me give you my criteria for this piece.
Contenders should be self-explanatory, but a contender for me is a team that is good enough to compete for the Super Bowl LV crown. Outsiders are teams outside of contention right now, but I’m honestly just not sure about them; maybe they’re good or maybe they’re not. Everyone else is just a snapshot look at the rest of the league. Truthfully, I’m just making sure I mention all 32 teams so you have a reason to read this.
Okay, let’s get started.
The more I look at games and box scores the more I question what I know, but I also trust my eyes. There are six teams I think are good enough to win the Super Bowl right now. Most of them should be obvious, but a couple might shock you.
1. Kansas City (3-0) – The Chiefs look almost unstoppable. The LA Chargers nearly beat Patrick Mahomes, but even with just one-third of the time of possession KC still won. Then, the highly anticipated matchup with Lamar Jackson and Baltimore ended with Kansas City running away from the Ravens. Even if the Chiefs lose to New England tonight (I don’t see it happening though), KC will still be my Super Bowl favorite.
2. Seattle (4-0) – Russell Wilson is really cooking. I know it’s been a cliché to hear that phrase, but my goodness Wilson is playing on another level. First, he’s tied Peyton Manning’s record for most touchdown passes (16) through four games when Manning set the season record (55) in 2013. The defense needs to get better in order to beat a team like KC, but I’ve said this for a long time: as long as they have Russ, the Seahawks will be in contention.
3. Green Bay (3-0) – Last year, the Packers were the most questionable 13-3 team heading into the postseason. They won a bunch of one possession games (within eight points), including only beating Detroit by a combined four points in two games. This year, the Packers look much better. With me writing that, now they’ll lose to the awful Atlanta Falcons. Anyway, Aaron Rodgers is still a Top 5 quarterback, but their defense needs some work. Like the Hawks with Wilson, if the Packers have a healthy Rodgers they’ll always have a chance.
4. Buffalo (4-0) – The BILLS?! I know, right?? Josh Allen is proving me wrong from a few years ago, he’s improved his accuracy. Also, he looks like he trusts his backs, receivers and tight ends. Have they played another good team yet? Yes and no. The only “good” team they’ve played is the LA Rams, and the jury is still out on them right now. The Bills defense isn’t very good, but it’s been good enough to keep them 4-0 so far. We will learn a lot more about Buffalo in the next two weeks than we have in the first four. If Tennessee is allowed to play, the Bills will face the Titans in Week 5 and the Chiefs in Week 6. Right now, I think they can compete, but that opinion could certainly change if the Bills struggle or lose big the next two weeks.
5. Baltimore (3-1) – Lamar Jackson admitted that the Chiefs are kryptonite. The Ravens are still a good football team. They can beat the Chiefs, but they can’t rely on Jackson (right now) to make a comeback. Since Jackson was drafted in 2018, the Ravens are 0-9 after trailing at halftime (includes playoffs). Also, Baltimore is 21-1 in the regular season against all NFL teams except KC. Jackson and the Ravens are 0-3 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs… The other problem is the Ravens haven’t won a playoff game in two tries with Jackson as the quarterback. He will get better, and Jackson will eventually win a playoff game, but until he does it will haunt him.
6. Pittsburgh (3-0) – Ben Roethlisberger is back, and he looks like the young Big Ben. Granted, it’s been against some bad teams (Denver, Houston and the Giants) but the Steelers are 3-0 and would have faced a test this week if the Titans didn’t get ravaged with positive COVID-19 tests. Right now, Pittsburgh will only play one “good” team (outside of Baltimore), and that one team is Tennessee. So, the Steelers might end up 12-4 or better and then kicked from the playoffs in the wild card round.
Unlike the contenders, these teams are in no particular order. Like I said at the top, I just don’t know who to believe in or what to believe about each of the teams in this section.
Tennessee (3-0) – The Titans are a good football team … by record. They’ve gone 3-0, beating teams with a combined margin of victory of six. They beat the Broncos by two, the Jaguars by three and the Vikings by one. Tennessee’s three opponents have a combined record of 3-9. The Titans have games against the Bills, Steelers, Ravens and Packers still on the schedule. I don’t think they’ll go 0-4 against those teams, but they need to do better than 2-2 in order to impress me. They have a lot to prove to me.
New England (2-1) – Yes, I know it’s foolish to bet against Bill Belichick. I understand the implications of writing the Pats are pretenders. Just stay with me. The team’s two wins are against bad teams. Yes, they handled the bad teams by double digits, and yes they only lost to Seattle by five. However, New England faces KC tonight, and the Pats won’t have Cam Newton. If Newton is sidelined for significant time because of COVID-19, then the Patriots don’t stand a chance to win SB LV. Even if they make the playoffs because they get four games with Miami and the Jets, they won’t be champs. Even if they beat Mahomes tonight, I do NOT trust the Patriots to sustain success with Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham. New England can tread water with those two, but they won’t compete for a championship with either.
Tampa Bay (3-1) – I know, it’s also foolish to bet against Tom Brady. I heard you loud and clear while writing about the Pats. After the Bucs struggled in Week 1, they’ve looked a lot better … against bad/meh teams. Tampa smashed Carolina and Denver, both not great teams. They didn’t play exceptionally well yesterday to Justin Herbert and the Chargers, but LA’s defense was considered a Top 11 defense through the first three weeks in DVOA. The Bucs should make the playoffs, and they’ll probably make a run. However, we’ll get a better reading on Tampa’s success level when they face Green Bay in Week 6 and Kansas City in Week 12. They are really good on defense (No. 2 in DVOA through three weeks), so they might be able to compete for SB LV, but right now I just don’t know.
Los Angeles Rams (3-1)/San Francisco (2-2) – The NFC West is probably the best division in football. I combined the Rams and Niners for two reasons, 1) to save space and 2) they’re kind of similar. Both have ridiculously talented and smart head coaches. Both have teams that could be contenders when healthy.
The Niners are one of the most injured teams in the NFL, but even when healthy they still have issues. If they get Jimmy Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert back, and more importantly playing well, then we’ll talk.
The Rams are just so confusing. One year they go all the way to the Super Bowl on their offense and then suddenly can’t score against Bill Belichick. Then, they go 9-7 last year. Now they’re 3-1, just a game behind Seattle. Have they beaten a good team yet? No. They’re 3-0 against the God-awful NFC East. The Rams were getting smoked by Buffalo, came all the way back, and still lost. So, I really don’t know what the Rams are about.
Okay, I still have 21 teams, but I’m not going to fully breakdown every team. I will give you at least a sentence for each team (alphabetical order).
Arizona (2-2) – The Cardinals looked good when they beat SF. However, losing to Detroit and even Carolina is a bad look for a team many were lauding after Week 1.
Atlanta (0-3) – If the Falcons beat the Packers tonight, it will be the most 2020 thing to happen in the league.
Carolina (2-2) – Speaking of the Panthers, they’ve bounced back from 0-2 to win two straight, but they’re going to be a middle of the road team at best.
Chicago (3-1) – The Bears got exposed by the Colts. Nick Foles, Mitch Trubisky, it doesn’t matter this offense is stinky.
Cincinnati (1-2-1) – Joe Burrow got his first win, and he became the first rookie QB to throw for at least 300 yards in three consecutive games. He’s also being asked to do way more than most rookie QBs.
Cleveland (3-1) – The Browns have won three straight, and they look better with head coach Kevin Stefanski. They might make the playoffs, but they’re not good enough to beat KC.
Dallas (1-3) – The Cowboys are one miraculous comeback against a disastrous Falcons team away from being 0-4. Yikes.
Denver (1-3) – The Broncos are crazy injured, but they also haven’t done themselves any favors in their three losses.
Detroit (1-3) – The Lions have lost an NFL record six straight games after holding double-digit leads. Their coach is a defensive-minded coach. Oof.
Houston (0-4) – They’re spending $255 million in cash on their roster this season, more than any other team in the NFL, and they don’t have their first- or second-round picks in 2021 (via Field Yates). They also traded DeAndre Hopkins and haven’t won a game. Deshaun Watson, you deserve better, and he got it on Monday.
Indianapolis (3-1) – The Colts almost made my “outsiders” list, but they beat three bad teams (Minnesota, Chicago and the Jets). So, I need to see more from them, even though they’ve got the best defense in the NFL, according to DVOA.
Jacksonville (1-3) – The Jaguars won’t go 0-16 like some predicted, but they’re not playing well. After cutting and trading most of their good players, it’s not surprising, but it’s also not fair to the players who will waste a year of their careers playing for a front office that doesn’t seem to care.
Las Vegas (2-2) – The Raiders are the opposite of Carolina: they went 2-0, and lost their last two. Who are the Raiders? They’ll finish between 7-9 and 9-7.
Los Angeles Chargers (1-3) – Justin Herbert looks like a stud, but he’s still making some rookie mistakes to cost LA chances to win.
Miami (1-3) – They’re not as bad as the 1-3 record indicates, but they’re not much better than a .500 team.
Minnesota (1-3) – Kirk Cousins is not worth his contract, which we’ve known since the moment he put pen to paper. At least they get to play the Bears, Lions and Falcons a total of five times in the final 12 games of the season.
New Orleans (2-2) – The Saints are baffling. Drew Brees looks old one week, but then looks great yesterday … that was against the Lions so that probably says more about Detroit.
New York Giants (0-4) – No Saquon Barkley, no chance to win. Luckily they play in the NFC East, so they should get at least one win, even if it’s a fluky one.
New York Jets (0-4) – Adam Gase is still a head coach in the NFL. They might go 0-16. Sam Darnold, you deserve better.
Philadelphia (1-2-1) – Carson Wentz finally got some help from the depleted wide receiver corps. The offensive line could still get Wentz killed, and their defense is awful.
Washington (1-3) – The only team they’ve beaten is Philly, and their coach is fighting cancer, and their organization is facing sexual assault claims, and, and, and … they’re not good. The Washington Football Team has more issues off the field than on it, and they’ve got a ton of issues on it.
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