Sorting Out Which Teams to Take Seriously This Season
Three games into the season, the teams that are strong contenders for playoff spots are emerging. If there’s a surprise, it’s that there are very few surprises.
An exception is the Los Angeles Rams, who’ve won two out of three. Led by QB Jared Goff – who is having the proverbial second-year step-up – and running back Todd Gurley, they are atop the league in points scored. The Rams, in passing on Carson Wentz, used the first overall draft pick in 2016 wisely.
The NFC Central Logjam
It’s not a surprise there’s a three-way tie for the NFC Central lead, with those teams all sporting 2-1 records. If the regular season were to end today, many would list them in order as Detroit (+22 in cumulative scoring differential), Minnesota (+10), and Green Bay (0).
Looking a little deeper into things, however, the Packers, in facing two quality teams, have had the toughest opposition. I’m not ready to consign the Bengals to a bottom-third grouping. Coach Marvin Lewis is a quality guy, and he won’t allow his players to roll over and play dead. In addition to the Falcons, I’m counting Seattle as a quality team, but as their 1-2 record shows, they will likely struggle to make the playoffs this year.
Detroit has faced the Falcons and two mid-rangers, the Giants and the Cardinals. The Vikings have played the Steelers, the so-so Saints, and the weak Buccaneers.
Packers’ Non-divisional Opponents
How are the rest of the remaining teams on the Packers’ schedule shaping up?
First in playing order are the Cowboys. They are 1-1 going into the Monday night game. Their 42-17 pummeling in Denver, however, suggests they won’t match their 12-4 record of last year. Both of their rookie stars of a year ago, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have come back down to earth a bit.
Next teams up are the Saints and Ravens. The Saints are clearly aging and in decline – a team who trades away receiver Brandin Cooks deserves to be 1-2. The Ravens, at 2-1, still have that tough defense, but how seriously can we take a team that loses to Jacksonville by 37 points?
We’re up to week 12 now on the schedule. When the Packers travel to Pittsburgh on November 26, it could be a Super Bowl preview.
The Packers start out December with a reprieve: games against the Bucs and the Browns, who continue to look like cellar dwellers.
The Panthers, who are 2-1 against mediocre teams, are an unpredictable group, and if they are in position to make the playoffs when they meet the Packers in Carolina on December 17, this should be a close game.
The Other Contenders
How are the remaining contenders looking?
The Seahawks are 1-2, and their win was by three points over the 49ers. They do not look like a playoff team at this point.
The experts predicted big things this year from the Raiders. Though they’ve won two out of three, they just got beat up, 27-10, by the Redskins.
As Tom Brady goes, so go the Patriots. He’s going better than ever so far, but I don’t see them matching their 14-2 record of last year.
We’ve already seen what the Falcons are capable of doing. At 3-0, they give every indication of again going deep into the playoffs.
That leaves a final contender: the Chiefs. They signaled their aspirations when they embarrassed the Patriots on opening day. Aided by a career winning percentage of .597, coach Andy Reid already has the 10th most coaching wins in NFL history. The Chiefs are undefeated after three games, and their record is 46-21 since 2012.
The Current Prognosis
By the way they have played through the first three games, the Packers’ stiffest competition for the NFC championship crown appears to be, in order, the Falcons, Lions, and Cowboys.
I’d say that the Chiefs, then the Steelers, and then the Patriots, are the current class of the AFC.
Quite astonishingly, after but three games only two teams have a perfect record, the Chiefs in the AFC West and the Falcons in the NFC South. Going into the Monday night game, four teams have yet to play their third games, but each have already recorded at least one loss. You wanted parity? You’ve got it!