5) Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos are undefeated this season and it has become a usual feeling to see them doing well. Defensively, the Broncos are scary good with two lockdown corners, two incredible pass rushers and a linebacker crew that underrated. Offensively, the Broncos are making a transition to Gary Kubiak’s offense and that has been painful to watch at times. But even with that, they have found a way to make it happen when it matters the most. The Broncos have employed the Orange Crush and some think they will get better as the weeks go on. But there has to be some concern about Peyton Manning and the offense. Manning has made big throws when his team needs them, but he has also made some inexplicable mistakes unbecoming of Manning. And as the season goes on, it gets cold in Denver. And we all know that Peyton is not the best performer when it gets cold. Couple that with the Denver running game still trying to get it figured out and that could mean some issues for the Broncos come playoff time. If indeed this is Peyton’s last season, he will need to pick it up if he wants to end it on a high note. For now, they have to be the last-ranked undefeated team in this grouping.
4) Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have started 5-0 for the first time in their franchise history. Defensively, the Panthers survived the loss of superstar linebacker for three games and did not miss a beat. Defensive back Josh Norman has been spectacular in coverage for them in a contract season. And offensively, Cam Newton is making the plays for his team to win games every single week. They are playing very well on both sides of the ball, but the offensive limitations for the Panthers could hurt them. The loss of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a knee injury before the season was a huge blow to the Panthers offense. With him gone, the only weapon in the passing game that scares teams is tight end Greg Olsen. The veteran tight end has been excellent despite receiving extra attention from defenses. That may be something they can get away with in the regular season. But in the postseason, the Panthers will need someone to step up. Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess has all the tools to step up and be that other target Cam needs, but he has been inconsistent catching the football. Other than the Panthers passing game, all other aspects on offense and defense are solid. It will be interesting to see how they grow throughout the rest of the season.
3) Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have come out with some fire this season. Quarterback Andy Dalton is playing like he has something to prove this season. And to go along with the offense, the Bengals are also holding their own defensively. The most impressive moment of the season for them had to be the comeback in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks. And the thing that is interesting about this team is they are not dependent on AJ Green to have big games every week. It is hard to find holes in this team with the way they are playing. But like all teams, there is something they are missing. The Bengals have given up the second-most points of the undefeated teams. In the past, it was very hard to make it happen versus Cincinnati. This year teams have been finding a little bit more success. The Bengals defense is talented, but they have to make sure and tighten it up as the season goes on. Offensively, running back Jeremy Hill has been struggling to get going. The Bengals are surviving without him producing a lot, but they will need him to get going in December and January to fulfill their championship aspirations and win that first game for the combo of Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis. Time will tell if they can get these issues resolved. But this team has some work to do.
2) Green Bay Packers
Green Bay has come out this year just as impressive as they ended the season (despite the loss in the NFC Championship game). The defense has been better at all levels, led by linebacker Clay Matthews and his versatile play. And offensively, Aaron Rodgers is again playing like a MVP. Even with the loss of one of his best wide receivers, he still is making it happen and the Packers are still over 27 points per game. But even with all the great things, there are some things they need to work on. One noticeable thing is the offensive line. Too many times, Rodgers has had to be creative and avoid the rush. Some of that can be attributed to the pressure that comes. But other parts of that are linked to protection breakdowns. The Packers may face some issues if they don’t get that taken care of come playoff time even though Rodgers is their quarterback. Another issue offensively is health at the wide receiver position. They lost Jordy Nelson in the preseason for the year and many of their receivers have been dinged up. Rodgers makes it happen still in spite of that, but you need your best wide receivers on the field when the time comes to make a run. But even with these issues, the Packers have been able to look great this season. However, in order to win the title they must work to shore up those weaknesses.
1) New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have come out like a team possessed. They have scored the most points of any team in the NFL and they have been very solid defensively in each and every win. Some would say they are primed for a great run at repeating as champions. With Gronk in a groove catching the ball, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman running their short routes to perfection and the rotation of running backs playing well, there is no reason to think this offense will slow down anytime soon. Add to it the fuel that Tom Brady is playing with (Deflategate) and it looks like the defending champs are out to make a statement. But defensively, there lies one issue. The Patriots did not want to pay their starting cornerbacks from last season, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. As a result, Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan have been holding it down at the cornerback spots. Both have been doing their best, but they are not the best set of corners. In the playoffs, expect these two to be attacked and that could harm them. But with the offense they have and the defensive mind in Belichick pulling the strings defensively with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, they can cover them up with the pressure they bring and the disguises they make. Overall, it looks like the championship is theirs to lose.
These ranking could change as time goes on, but the Patriots are handling business. Each one of these teams has a great shot at making the championship game, but there are some things that both have to sure up or learn how to hide well. Whatever team does so will have the best chance at winning the trophy. It shall be interesting to see what the rest of the season holds for these five.