We’re at the midway point of the NFL season and the playoff picture is slowly starting to take shape. This is the point where we see a cloud of teams who are great and some that are just wearing a mask.
So, let’s break down a list of the top 5 teams in the league with the brightest road ahead of them with just eight weeks left in the regular season!
1. New Orleans Saints
Sorry, Rams and Pats fans – the New Orleans Saints are the most complete team in the NFL right now.
This team is legit at every level. They have a franchise quarterback who is not only a solid veteran but also the league’s all-time leading passer. Drew Brees takes this team to a whole other level week in and week out. Just look at the stats. Sure, he’s not leading the league in any category like a Patrick Mahomes or Jared Goff, but Bress’ numbers are especially impressive given he’s 39-years-old and in his 18th season in the league.
Brees has passed for 2,336 yards so far this year; add to that 18 touchdowns to just one interception and you have something beyond elite. Brees has weapons on the offensive side of the ball too, with the dual-threat Alvin Kamara at running back along with Mark Ingram.
With the recent signing of Dez Bryant, the Saints have a plethora of receivers for Brees to find. Whether it be Bryant, the all-star Michael Thomas, or rookie deep threat Tre’Quan Smith there’s always an option for the vet QB to throw to and make a big play. Oh, and Benjamin Watson at tight end isn’t a bad option, either.
Add to this offence the packages that Head Coach Sean Payton has come up with for back up quarterback Taysom Hill and this offence reaches a dimension not many can. In addition, they have one of the best O-lines in football only giving up nine sacks on the year.
The defence for New Orleans isn’t much to look at on paper. They’re giving up plenty of yards and points per game, but they’re able to do so with the high-powered offence they have behind them. The secondary hasn’t shut too many teams down this year, but they have come up big when needed and the rush defence is the best in the league only allowing 76.4 yards per game on the ground.
They’ve only given up more than 23 points to three different teams in the Falcons, the Rams and the Bucs, the latter of which was led by an unexpectedly explosive Ryan Fitzpatrick.
What makes the Saints the best team in the league for me right now is their ability to stay in any game with any team. Sure, the defence has had some hiccups, but no defence up to this point has truly found a way to quiet Drew Brees and his plethora of weapons either. If that offence can keep rolling it will be an uphill battle for anyone to take them down.
2. New England Patriots
Two words. Tom Brady. That’s all.
Ok, maybe that’s not quite all but much like the previously mentioned Saints this team is near the top of the list mostly in part to their 41-year-old future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. Brady finds himself in the top ten in passing to no-one’s surprise with 2,494 yards 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
What makes Brady different this time around is he has options to choose from on offence. Throughout the majority of Brady’s career, he’s seemed to have to make the pieces around him better. This year he has the pieces around him to help him be better.
The usual suspects are still there with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, but he has more than viable options like Josh Gordon who the Pats acquired in a trade with the Browns earlier this year. The fourth option to throw to is Chris Hogan who isn’t a pro-bowler by any means but has shown he can come up with the big play when needed.
The other part of the offence that has been producing at a high level this year, is not something Brady has been used to – a run game. Between James White and rookie Sony Michel the team has a dual-threat running attack that has stayed consistent all year, and both backs are great receivers out of the backfield.
And then there’s the forgotten piece. Cordarrelle Patterson. Once a highly-touted draft prospect Patterson saw his career start to fizzle with the Vikings and Raiders. But not due to his big-play ability. Patterson has shown an explosiveness throughout his career and now Bill Belichick is benefiting from it.
Patterson is gaining snaps on special teams, as a pass-catcher and will spell White and Michel as a third option at running back. And that’s what makes this offence so dangerous. So many pieces that can do so many different things. And I didn’t even mention backup tight-end Dwayne Allen who is not only a great option to throw to, but also a great blocking TE as well.
The one piece that really sets this team over the top this year is the defence. At times last year, they looked shaky and were far from unbeatable. They tightened it up towards the end of the year but never really seemed solid.
This year the defence has given up its fair share of yards, but it’s had a solid bend but don’t break mentality. They give up an average of 22.4 points per game but as a team, they’ve outscored their opponents this year 270-202.
Much like the Saints, this is a team that knows how to beat you. With the veteran and future Hall-of-Fame quarterback and his basket full of options at his disposal mixed with a defence that knows how to get the job done, the Patriots are always a team to look out for and have been for nearly 20 years.
3. LA Rams
When you have the best offence in football, you’re bound to make it pretty high on a list like this. Most would probably have the Rams at number one. I have them a bit lower for a few factors but let’s look at why they’re so good.
The offence is averaging 447.1 yards per game with a 303-yard average through the air and a 144-yard average on the ground. When you factor in them leading the league at 4.8 yards per carry, they have the most lethal offence in the NFL.
Jared Goff has been lighting it up this year throwing for 2,816 yards, 20 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The young QB has had a flood of options to work with. First off is potential offensive player of the year, Todd Gurley, who continues to show he’s the full package with his ability on the ground and through the air.
Goff doesn’t really have a true number one receiver, but he has many different options that can all get the job done. Whether it be Brandin Cooks who can make any play downfield and is a speedster who can burn secondaries or Robert Woods or Cooper Kupp who have combined for 9 touchdowns this year, it’s no surprise Goff has such high passing numbers.
When you add that to a defence that is stacked on paper with names like Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Michael Brockers and John Johnson this team should be the best in the league.
The defence, however, hasn’t been as dominant as reading those names makes it seem it should be. They’ve given up an average of 349 yards per game and an average of 22.2 points per game. They’ve given up an average of 243 yards through the air and 105 on the ground. With a defensive line featuring Donald, Suh and Brockers no one should be able to run on this team, yet it appears they do.
As amazing as this team is to watch there are still a few holes that get overlooked. Sure, the previous two teams on the list made their spots because their respective offences can make up for defences that lack at times. But this teams’ defence should be much better than it has been.
And that’s not even my biggest reason for why they’re number three. It’s Jared Goff. I know let me have it. But hear me out. While the first half of this segment has been about Goff lighting it up, and while I am impressed with what he’s done this year, I’m still sceptical about labelling him as an elite QB.
I believe that Goff is a direct correlation of his coach, Sean McVay. I believe he thrives in the system with the pieces he has more than he is a true play-maker. Who cares if it’s winning games, right? I mean, they’re 8-1, right? Well, as true as that may be, there’s always that one game where a team will force Goff to make a mistake. A team like the Saints in Week 9, who forced a crucial interception late in New Orleans’ 45-35 victory.
As great as the Rams have been, I think their underperforming defence mixed with an explosive offence is what puts them below two teams led by veteran quarterbacks who know what it takes to win it all.
4. LA Chargers
That is correct. I said the LA Chargers, no need to refresh the page. As crazy as it sounds, hear me out. This team checks off almost every box. They have the veteran quarterback capable of winning games with Phillip Rivers. I know the Rivers fan base isn’t shooting through the roof and his playoff record isn’t exactly stellar.
However, the 15-year vet consistently racks up yards and points every year. So far on the season Rivers has thrown for 2,236 yards and has one of the best touchdowns to interception ratios at 19:3. He may not be successful in the playoffs up to this point, but he gives his team a chance each and every year and this could be the year he figures it out.
Rivers doesn’t have quite as sexy as an offence as the last two teams discussed, but he has more than viable options to help him out. Keenan Allen is a solid number one receiver who can do it all. The 6’2” wideout has 630 yards so far this season and is always a threat to make a big play.
Add to that the emergence of Mike Williams as a deep threat with Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams and Rivers always seems to have options who can make a play.
There are two reasons those receivers can make those plays. First off is the offensive line. Throughout Rivers’ career, he’s never really had a solid line to protect him. He now has that with a line led by veterans Mike Pouncey and Russell Okung. The Chargers O-line has given up just two sacks in the fourth quarter this year. Rivers has only been sacked 12 times all year.
The last part to this offence being so successful is the run game. Melvin Gordon finds himself in the top six in rushing so far this year with 579 yards rushing and a 5.4 average per carry. As a team, the Chargers are fifth in the league in rushing and when you add that to their 12th ranked passing attack you have a pretty solid offence led by a veteran QB.
The Chargers defence is what puts them over the top. They have a middle of the pack defence stats wise but as a team, they’ve outscored their opponents 220-180 this year. Where they really hold their own is on third down. The Chargers defence has a 43% efficiency rate on third downs this year and a lot of that comes from having a good pass rush.
Melvin Ingram has totalled 4.5 sacks this year while Joey Bosa hasn’t played due to a foot injury. LA has found ways to get pressure from other options, however, with rookie safety Derwin James sitting behind Ingram with 3.5 sacks and Bosa’s fill-in Isaac Rochell totalling 3 on the year.
The combination of the Chargers defence and their ability to run the ball already makes a deadly formula let alone factoring in Phillip Rivers and his ability to make a big play at any moment. LA has the ability to truly control any game they’re in and that’s what puts them ahead of a few other high-powered offensive teams.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers got out to a rocky start with the holdout of Le’Veon Bell and after four games sat with a 1-2-1 record. But since losing to the Ravens 26-14 in Week 4 they’ve turned things around and are showing they can play championship type football at every level.
Like most teams on this list, the Steelers have a veteran QB with not only playoff experience but Super Bowl experience as well. Ben Roethlisberger is in his 15th season and since the team has turned things around has started to look like the All-Star type quarterback we’re used to seeing. Big Ben has passed for 2888 yards with 21 touchdowns to 7 interceptions so far this year.
When we look at the rest of his offence, he has the weapons to help him succeed. For the first time in a while, Roethlisberger has three solid options to throw to and has a consistent rushing attack, with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster threats to go deep at any given moment.
Brown has racked up 690 yards this season with Smith-Schuster just ahead of that with 762. Both receivers have a total of 13 touchdowns as well. When you add to that solid receiving tight ends in Vance McDonald and Jesse James and even more depth at the receiver position with names like James Washington, Ryan Switzer and Darrius Heyward-Bey you get a solid all-around receiving core.
That’s not even talking about the run game. Yes, Le’Veon Bell is missing and to start the season that looked like an issue. However, since the Week 5 turnaround James Conner has been doing an amazing job in Bell’s spot.
Conner has rushed for 771 yards and 10 touchdowns. Conner has also proved that he’s a solid option through the air out of the backfield with 39 catches for 387 yards and 1 TD. The anchor to it all of course is the veteran led offensive line. Roethlisberger has only been sacked 11 times all year making this offence that much more lethal.
The piece that’s really starting to come around for Pittsburgh is the defence. They’ve placed themselves right in the middle of the league stats wise, but this is a unit with a deadly front seven. With a front consisting of Cameron Hayward, Stephon Tuitt and linebackers TJ Watt and Bud Dupree this unit is one that has offensive coordinators up at night trying to figure out how to run against them.
That’s not even mentioning the pass-rush. The Steelers are fourth in the league with 26 sacks on the season. TJ Watt has been a force himself, dialling up the pressure on opposing QBs and totalling 8 sacks so far this year.
When you combine the explosive offence with the smothering defence you get the perfect recipe for a Super Bowl contender. The key for Pittsburgh like any team is consistency. They’ve done a great job over the last five weeks, but they’ll need to keep it going to really carve a path through the AFC playoff picture.
That’s my Top 5 teams in the NFL right now who look to have the best chance to make a run through the postseason this upcoming winter. There are shocking teams left off this list like the Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) and the Carolina Panthers (6-3) or even the Houston Texans (6-3).
For me, the Chiefs have an amazing offence but the more than lacklustre defence keeps them off this list. Patrick Mahomes can light it up, but getting into shootouts as they did with the Patriots isn’t something they will always be successful with against elite teams.
The Panthers were close to making this list when Cam Newton started showing flashes of his previous MVP season, but overall team inconsistency and lack of offensive weapons keep them in the shade for me. The Texans look like a hot team right now, but with a young QB have yet to beat a quality team to really send a message.
One thing is for sure, this is the time of year where the NFL gets to be truly exciting and as the playoff picture takes shape the games become more and more intense.
Get your popcorn ready!
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