The way certain teams have performed so far this season has been a surprise, to say the least. The Patriots have the same 3-2 record as the Bills and the Jets, which makes the AFC East an exciting race, especially after the Patriots have won it a record-setting eight seasons in a row.
In the NFC South, the Falcons were expected to stay at the top of a tough division. Instead, the Panthers look like they’ve shaken off last year’s Super Bowl hangover, and they’ve made a strong case to be the favorites in the division.
Some divisions are shaking out just the way you’d expect them to this season. The Chiefs were good last year, and Derek Carr’s injury put a damper on the Raiders’ chance to challenge them. The Broncos aren’t going down without a fight, and the Chargers are inarguably the AFC West’s worst team right now.
We asked SB Nation’s NFL team sites to weigh in on their respective divisions and where each team stands heading into Week 6 of the 2017 season.
Best: New England Patriots … or Buffalo Bills?
The Patriots, for all their warts, are clearly the class of the division and their two losses have come against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Panthers, that have a combined record of 7-1 against non-Patriot teams in 2017. They’re good opponents that had good days, while the Patriots defense struggled to find its footing.
Seriously. Someone has to win the division. It might as well be the Bills. New England has already won it for eight straight seasons. Sooner or later the law of averages has to catch up, right? Trust the process.
Worst: New York Jets or Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are not a last place team. They will surpass the New York Jets this season — even though they already lost to the Jets once this year. They may not be able to surpass the New England Patriots, who should return to their annual position as the top team in the division, but they could challenge the Buffalo Bills for the second position.
Entering the year, many people thought the Jets would be the worst team in the entire NFL, not just the AFC East. Through five weeks, that does not appear to be the case. The worst team in the division so far is the Miami Dolphins, who were blown out by the Jets in Week 3. The Dolphins are averaging an unfathomably bad 10.2 points per game. Sure, their starting quarterback is out for the year, but even the Cleveland we saw on Sunday is over 15 points per game.
Who is the best team? I won’t answer just yet. We might have better idea on Sunday after the Jets and the Patriots play. I think we all know the most likely outcome. One team has Tom Brady. The other has Josh McCown.
Best: Kansas City Chiefs
The best team in the division so far is clearly the Chiefs. No one except Denver fans are arguing that. What I can’t wait for is when the Chiefs get a chance to prove that. After this week, the Chiefs play the Raiders in Week 7 and then the Broncos in Week 8.
Worst: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are a team that has building blocks for the future. They have some elite talent already. And they are not necessarily one of the worst teams in the league, but the AFC West is the strongest division in football and they are by far the worst team in it. Perhaps with a strong offseason, they can crawl out of the cellar and maybe even challenge for a Wild Card spot next year, but for now, they are already out of contention.
And the rest …
The Chargers are very capable of coming to Oakland and getting the win, and if they do, it would drop the Raiders to 2-4 and to the bottom of the division officially.
Derek Carr is expected back this week from his back injury. That’s good news for the Raiders, but Carr wasn’t playing well even before he left, so his return is no guarantee the Raiders will suddenly be dominant again.
As the only undefeated team left in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs are clearly the best in the west right now. However, the Denver Broncos are nipping no their heels after five weeks. It’s a two horse race.
Frankly, the Chiefs have a history of regular season prowess and then find ways to falter come January. The Broncos could be the spoiler that ruins their hopes and dreams, which would be glorious.
Best: Pittsburgh Steelers or Cincinnati Bengals with Bill Lazor as OC?
Currently, the Steelers are still the team with the most potential. Their defense is by far the most talented in the division, and their defense is playing at a much higher level than anticipated coming into 2017. However, the Steelers are also a team who has some major issues which need rectified if they want to win back-to-back division crowns. The defense has been gashed by the run, while the offense hasn’t come close to living up to their potential.
During the first two games of the year, the Bengals were arguably the worst team in the NFL due to the offense being led by Ken Zampese. His atrocity of an offense and play-calling were arguably the worst by any NFL coordinator. With the amount of talent he had at his disposal, Zampese managed to make this offense look like the worst in football, it was so bad that it made the Bengals arguably the worst team in the division.
But with Bill Lazor breathing life into this offense while the defense continues to play great, the Bengals now looks like the best team in the division, at least if we’re going off the last three weeks, during which the Bengals have shown their dominance.
Worst: Cleveland Browns
There is no doubt it’s the Browns again. I don’t have to say anything more other than the fact that they are 0-5 and continue to have shuffling at the quarterback position.
And the rest …
The best team in the AFC North is inconclusive, but I’m giving the leader of the chase to the Steelers. Until Baltimore overtakes them by multiple wins, they are in second place.
Best: Jacksonville Jaguars
This is a team that is playing historically good on defense and allowing their offense to function largely without a quarterback. They have the best run game in the NFL, their offensive line is protecting their quarterback better than anyone in the AFC, and the coaching is (finally!) good.
Worst: Every team but the Jaguars
The division is still bad and while the Indianapolis Colts have certainly lost the throne, every team is closer to average than they are to dominant. No team has dominated the division in the same way as Peyton Manning did during his tenure in Indianapolis. He has a statue to prove it.
Now that I have talked about how good the Titans are, they are the worst team in the division with Matt Cassel under center. We have talked about his limitations ad nauseam this week. He can’t make about 75% of the throws an NFL quarterback should be able to make. If the offensive line isn’t elite, which it hasn’t been this year, this team won’t win very many games (if any) with Cassel at quarterback.
On one hand, the Jaguars manhandled the Texans in Week One. On the other hand, that was before Deshaun Watson became the Texans’ starting quarterback and thus before Bill O’Brien’s offense rose from the ashes like a phoenix. Then again, the Texans are now sans Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt for the next eleven games, so how much will the defense fade in the coming weeks? Of course, the Jaguars still feature Blake Bortles as their starting quarterback, so can they really be taken seriously, even with that nasty defense and running game?
Best: Philadelphia Eagles
Football Outsiders gives the Eagles a 66.9% chance of winning the division. They also give the Eagles a 22.4% chance of being the No. 1 seed in the conference — the best odds of any NFC team right now.
And are you ready for this? Guess which NFL team currently has the second best odds to win the Super Bowl?
That’s right, it’s your Philadelphia Eagles — at 9.3%.
Worst: New York Giants
Your down-trodden, woebegone, wretched, dreadful 0-5 New York Giants are the worst. That would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago, but it’s true.
And the rest …
Dak and Zeke are hitting their stride, but the team’s inability to close out games and slow down opposing offenses has proven costly.
At 2-2, (Washington sits) in second place but have quietly gained confidence against what looks like the hardest schedule anyone in the NFC East has faced.
Best: Seattle Seahawks or Los Angeles Rams
I think Seattle is better one through 53, but there’s no argument Rams have some solid pieces. However, they also have two of the oldest 10 or 12 starting offensive linemen in the league, have had phenomenal injury luck thus far and have yet to beat a team that currently has a winning record. They’re better than they have been, but haven’t arrived just yet in my opinion.
The best team of yesterday’s NFC West remains the Seattle Seahawks. The best team of tomorrow’s NFC West looks like it could be in LA.
But today? I’m not sure if we’re closer to yesterday or tomorrow. And given what happened Sunday, I’m not sure that either of those two teams know either.
Worst: San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers close out their season on the road facing the Los Angeles Rams. It’s impossible to tell what will be happening at that point, but it would be pretty fun to see the 49ers with a chance to cost the Rams the division or a wild card berth in the final week.
And the rest …
The Seahawks remain at the top, but now there may be another challenger appearing as the Rams look like the best option to challenge the Seahawks.
The Arizona Cardinals have fallen to the middle tier, where the Rams called home for so long, and the 49ers are in the midst of their third rebuild post Jim Harbaugh.
Best: Green Bay Packers
The biggest reason for that is, of course, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has the same number of MVP awards, two, as the rest of the quarterbacks in the division have Pro Bowl appearances — combined. A year after leading the NFL in touchdown passes, he is doing so once again so far this young season and he is doing so with an increased completion percentage over last year and with nearly an identical passer rating.
Worst: Chicago Bears
I was really hoping the Chicago Bears would have won on Monday Night Football, because then I could have gone with the, ‘they’re 1-0 with Mitchell Trubisky argument,’ and not had the Bears as the worst team in the division, but at 1-4, the Bears are the worst.
And the rest …
If you look at the DVOA standings after Week 5, the Green Bay Packers aren’t the best team in the NFC North. In fact, they aren’t even a top 10 team. Here’s how the entire NFC North ranks according to DVOA.
Lions: 8th overall (21st on offense, 8th on defense, 2nd in special teams)
Packers: 11th overall (4th/20th/19th)
Vikings: 14th overall (5th/16th/22nd)
Bears: 28th overall (28th/17th/26h)
So not only are the Packers second to the Lions, but the Vikings are right on their tail.
On Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings have a chance to upset that mix a little bit when they host the Packers. If the Vikings should emerge victorious on Sunday, then they probably can make the claim that they’re the NFC North’s best, but there will still be plenty of season remaining.
Best: Atlanta Falcons or Carolina Panthers
See, if you would have asked me this last year, I would have had to hold my nose and say the words ‘The Falcons are the best team in the NFC South’. But I don’t have to do that this year. The Panthers have found their 2015 form once again and are on pace to finish with a 12-4 record and a berth in the playoffs.
That said, are they more talented than the Falcons? I’d say no. I’d also suggest that they’re much more likely to run into issues on offense than Atlanta, given their recent track record on that side of the ball. I’d suggest that the talent gap, all things equal, will put the Falcons in a better position to win the South. We’ll see if that holds true, but the Falcons have the better ground game, receiving corps, offensive line, arguably linebackers, and certainly secondary and special teams. It should be enough.
Worst: New Orleans Saints
No one is ready to crown the Saints, and rightfully so. They have lost to the Lions three straight seasons, and no one will hop on their bandwagon anytime soon. Victories over the Lions and Packers, two of the better (maybe best) teams in the NFC could very well change that. We want to see if the defense is real or fool’s gold. Still, offensively you have to feel good about what rookie Alvin Kamara has been able to do throughout the first part of the season, which helped lead to the dismissal of Adrian Peterson. Getting Terron Armstead and Willie Snead back will be a big boost to the offense, but will losing Alex Anzalone be a big issue on defense?
And the rest …
The reality is that the Buccaneers aren’t the best team in the division, and they’re not even close right now. They’ve struggled to get to 2-2 against a fairly weak schedule and while they haven’t been bad, they’ve been disappointing—and nowhere near the best team in the division.