A’s: Seattle, New England, Denver, Kansas City, New Orleans.
Seattle, thanks to a rollicking 4-0 start, has separated itself from the NFC West pack early on in a convincing manner. With Russell Wilson and Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch captaining the offense and Richard Sherman trolling hard on defense, Seattle has amassed an impressive 109 points while conceding only 49—leaving them fifth in the NFL in rushing and fifth in pass defense. Super Bowl-losing San Francisco remains the only legitimate threat in the division, but they have been disappointing thus far.
The New England Patriots, who were critiqued on this blog for a sloppy Thursday Night Football performance against the Jets, have since won two more games. And to be fair, beating the Jets, Bills, and Buccaneers—two C’s and an F by my estimation—and the D-ranked Falcons leaves the Pats’s opponents with a GPA of 1.25. But they get an “A” from this blogger because of what they’ve been able to overcome in the way of well-documented in-house obstacles. Also for consideration, their man in the middle, Pro Bowl DT Vince Wilfork, is now out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
Denver has done everything right. Peyton Manning’s 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions has him looking like the Peyton of old, but really, he looks even BETTER than before. At the rate he’s going he’s on pace for an astonishing 64 touchdowns and no interceptions. Peyton’s renaissance, combined with a strong supporting cast on both sides of the ball, makes Denver an early Super Bowl favorite.
Kansas City has met every challenge behind the exploits of ol’ reliable Alex Smith and homerun threat Jamal Charles, although, admittedly, the Chiefs have had the benefit of poor competition just like the Patriots. Their top-ten defense, however, having allowed only 10.3 points per game, makes KC a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
And as long as Drew Brees plays for the Saints they’ll be in the playoff discussion. Brees’s spotless performance on Monday Night Football was yet another reminder of why he is an unquestionable member of the quarterback elite.
B’s: Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Indianapolis, Tennessee
Detroit beat Chicago in a shootout, creating a deadlock at the top of the NFC North. Both sides have their virtues and vices. The Lions have a high-powered offense, led by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, as well as a stable of gritty pass rushers and run stuffers, but a weak secondary and an unreliable rush attack leave them flawed. The Bears have a horse in Matt Forte, a dynamic duo in Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, the ever-dangerous Devin Hester, and a ball-hawking secondary, but they have put together middle-of-the-road numbers across the board of major statistical indicators. These teams, despite early success, must keep the Packers in their rear-view mirrors if they are to matter in January.
Indianapolis has gotten off to a solid start, but a difficult remaining schedule—Denver, Houston twice, Tennessee twice, Seattle, @Cincinnati, and a potentially playoff-crucial penultimate @Kansas City game—keeps them on the bubble for the playoffs.
Like Indianapolis, Tennessee has an extremely tough schedule to contend with from here on out, and now that it has been reported that vastly improved QB Jake Locker may miss up to eight weeks with a hip injury, serious doubt has been cast on the season that began with such promise.
Miami has been a pleasant surprise from the outset, but Ryan Tannehill’s very human hiccup of a performance last night showed that the Dolphins still have much room to improve before they turn from pretender to legitimate contender. They’ll be a team to watch, certainly, because of the relative weakness of the AFC East, where the Patriots alone present a threat.
C’s: San Francisco, Arizona, NY Jets, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Houston, San Diego, Dallas
Let it be known that no C-rank shall be considered equally. Out of these pedestrian teams, only San Francisco, Cincinnati, Houston, and Dallas will continue to be relevant. The Jets, Bills, Cardinals, and Chargers are all playing with house money for reasons of talent privation alone, especially in the face of divisional competition. The Browns remain a perpetual enigma, neither relevant nor irrelevant.
D’s: Philadelphia, Washington, Minnesota, Atlanta, St. Louis, Oakland, Baltimore
The Eagles, Redskins, Falcons, and Ravens form a group of colossal disappointments. Philadelphia began the year with much hoopla over Chip Kelly’s mad scientist offense, but it looks like they’ll have to go back to lab to perfect it. The Redskins entered with great optimism that Robert Griffin III would be back to his old self, but rather than his old self, he just looks old and sluggish in his knee brace.
The Falcons always seem to have great regular seasons only to fall flat in the playoffs, but this slow start, despite typical offensive explosiveness, puts them on notice. Don’t be surprised if they come out of the next four victorious. The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens went from a “B” to a “D” with a week four loss to the Bills. Flacco’s five interceptions were disturbing, but not as disturbing as losing to the Bills after winning the Super Bowl.
As for St. Louis, Oakland, and Minnesota, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. Adrian Peterson is the best player on all three teams and he only plays for one of them. Still, not even the Vikings have the faintest hope of competing for playoff football right now, with Green Bay, Detroit, and Chicago ahead of them.
F’s: Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, NY Giants
None of these teams have won a game. Jacksonville has looked absolutely hapless, being 30th in overall passing, 31st in overall rushing, 32nd in rush defense, and outscored by a whopping 98 points.
Pittsburgh is off to its worst start in 45 years. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger: “Right now, you could say we’re the worst team in the league,” per ESPN.
The Bucs have benched former first-round selection, QB Josh Freeman, in favor of rookie third-round pick Mike Glennon, which speaks volumes about the state of affairs in Tampa.
The most shocking of all of these is the Giants, who have not only lost every game, but done so in a particularly uninspiring fashion, losing their last two combined 69-7. They can’t get the running game going with David Wilson’s struggles, and Eli, having to compensate, has been off the mark. There is still hope for them, however: The NFC East has been the weakest division so far and seems to be up for grabs, even as the remainder of the NYG’s schedule includes many winnable games.
Incompletes: Green Bay and Carolina had BYE weeks and have still not completed a quarter of their games.