*All statistics in this Post are courtesy of ESPN.com, and are accurate as of 9/19/2017
Following Monday Night’s showdown in New York there are currently eight unbeaten team still playing in the NFL. Of those eight teams, five call the AFC home, and three are stationed in the NFC. The truth is, its honestly too early to crown any of the teams we’ll be covering as Superbowl favorites, or even contenders, as so much can change in an NFL season. That doesn’t mean September discussions can’t be fun and useful. The five AFC contenders are the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Oakland (for now) Raiders. While the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Detroit Lions represent the NFC. To better understand the shaping of the NFL landscape to this point, the eight contenders will be separated into groups, based on their similarities and likelihood of playing in Minneapolis in February. After the groupings a list of the squads will be ranked in accordance with their Superbowl aspirations.
As previously stated, these predictions are coming after two weeks of football. So there are teams on this list with the potential to not make the playoffs, and teams who are 1-1 or even 0-2 who will. This is what makes the NFL such an exciting league, and why we watch. So with that being said, the two teams in this category face the steepest challenge of the unbeatens. In comparing the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers, the similarities jump off the page. For starters both are 2-0, rely on solid defensive play, and are in a division with another 2-0 team that are probably going to go farther than them. As a Panther’s fan it hurts me to say this, but until Cam Newton can show some sign of rhythm in the Carolina offense, and remain healthy, the Panthers remain a long shot in my eyes. The Ravens benefit from a weaker division, as the Browns are still the Browns and the Bengals are playing bad enough to finally get Marvin Lewis fired. However despite the dismal showing of these Division rivals, in games against the two opponents the Raven’s offense has looked less than stellar. Averaging 22 points per game, and not being even in the middle of the pack in Passing offense is disheartening for their playoff hopes. What these two teams do boast are strong defenses, with both still waiting to give up their first touchdowns of the 2017 campaign in Week 3. The level of competition of both teams raises some flags, but the positive is that both teams have time to get their offense up to the task of complimenting their defense.
Wait and See
This division hosts probably the two most different teams which I have grouped. The Detroit Lions are the wildcards in this discussion in that we really don’t know what we can expect from them this year. The Lions looked dominant at times in their Monday night showdown against the Giants, and looked good against the Cardinals in Week 1. The problem is no one is really sure who those teams will be in 2017, so its hard to use them as measuring sticks. Statistics don’t exactly help the Lions case as their offense ranks just outside the top fifteen in total yards. The defense is top ten in yards allowed, but playing the dismal Giants offense certainly boosts that standing. Stafford’s pedigree and the success of the defense make this team scary moving forward, potentially. The reason my faith in the Lions is so tested probably centers more around their division than the Lions themselves. The Packers have shown us that we should never count out Aaron Rodgers, and the Vikings looked like an entirely squad not against the historically futile New Orleans defense, but could look better if they return Bradford or Bridgewater this season. On the other side of this group are the Falcons, who I am much more optimistic about but still uncertain. The Falcons looked every bit of a Superbowl contender in their clash with the Packers in Week 2. However Week 1’s near collapse against the bumbling Bears and the curse of 28-3 linger in my mind too heavily for me to suddenly consider them the cream of the NFC either. With that being said, the Falcons are probably the best time in the NFC to this point in the NFL season. Matt Ryan doesn’t seem to have stopped spreading around the rock, and the defense has the potential to be much improved in 2017.
One Side Dominant
The two teams in this category boast dominance on one side of the ball, and a pedigree for success in the Regular and Post Season. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos are two of the most revered franchises in professional sports with a combined 9 Lombardi Trophies between the two. Either of these teams posts the potential to add to that count in 2017; however, if they are to compete this year it will be behind dominance on one particular side of the ball. The Steelers Big 4 of “Killer Bs”, Ben, Bell, Brown, and Bryant, have the Steelers in position to be scary good on offense in 2017. They’re currently a top 5 offense in the NFL, and have the potential to ascend to possibly the number one spot. The Pittsburgh defense is actually ranked higher than the defensive oriented Broncos, but that will happen when you play a Vikings team on its third quarterback and the Browns who are still the Browns. The Broncos Superbowl aspirations rest on the shoulders of their Orange Crush 2.0 defense, and they seem to be playing up to par. Their defense showed Sunday against Dallas that it has the potential to be scary, shutting down Dallas and their daunted offensive line. Combine that with the ball hawking skills of their secondary, and the Broncos may have a recipe for another Lombardi run. Both of these teams will have to rely on their less than spectacular other sides of the ball to make noise in a crowded AFC.
The Front Runners
In a season of possible AFC dominance, the AFC West posts three unbeaten teams, with two who have serious Superbowl aspirations. The Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs have looked excellent thus far in the NFL season, with potential to maintain it. Kansas City sent a strong message in their opening week win against Tom Brady and the Patriots, and looked spectacular on both sides of the ball. An early season loss of All Pro person and safety Eric Berry put a damper on their hopes, but against the Eagles the Chiefs showed they are capable of still performing without their emotional leader. Kareem Hunt has looked every bit of a legit dual threat running back, and with stars like Kelce and Hill complimenting him the Chiefs look poised to continue last years late season run this year. Meanwhile the Raiders are Beast Mode dancing their own way into 2-0 status. Derek Carr looks the part of an MVP on offense, and Khalil Mack has the pedigree and game wrecking ability to be a Defensive Player of the Year as well. The biggest threat to these two teams dominance in the AFC are the dreaded idea of injuries, and the strength of their division.
These rankings don’t necessarily rank the teams in order of skill, but rather in my confidence in them to compete for a Lombardi trophy.
8. Baltimore Ravens
7. Detroit Lions
6. Carolina Panthers
5. Atlanta Falcons
4. Denver Broncos