Streaks and slumps that occur early on can make or break a season for NFL teams. After five weeks, the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings and two unexpected 4-1 teams highlight the streaks, while both New York teams and the defending NFC champions mark the most significant slumps.
Here is a closer look at the NFL teams streaking and slumping heading into Week 6.
The NFL’s last remaining undefeated team is the Vikings, who have won five straight—including victories over three 2015 playoff teams—to start the 2016 season. Quarterback Sam Bradford ranks second in the NFL in completion percentage (70.4) and passer rating (109.8), while Mike Zimmer’s defense has 19 sacks, 12 takeaways and only 63 points allowed.
Minnesota is among the league’s best in many important categories, including turnover margin (plus-11), scoring differential (plus-56) and passer rating differential (plus-37.7) A bye in Week 6 means the Vikings will stay unbeaten before a trip to Philadelphia to take on Carson Wentz and the Eagles in Week 7.
The biggest 4-1 surprise has to be the Cowboys, a team with four straight wins despite rookies starting at both quarterback and running back. The two youngsters have exceeded all expectations. Quarterback Dak Prescott still doesn’t have an interception after 155 attempts, while fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott is leading the NFL in rushing after weeks with 546 yards.
Equally surprising has been the Cowboys defense, which—despite lacking a pass rush and star power—has allowed only 18.2 points per game to start the season. Wins over two playoff teams (Redskins, Bengals) provide legitimacy to the Dallas start, but the toughest test figures to come Sunday, when the Cowboys travel to Green Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field.
The Falcons started 5-0 last season, so a 4-1 start in 2016 isn’t a huge surprise. Still, Atlanta’s four-game winning streak has been nothing short of impressive. Since losing to Tampa Bay in Week 1, the Falcons have beaten the Raiders (now 4-1) in Oakland, the Saints in primetime in the Superdome, the defending NFC champion Panthers in Atlanta and the defending AFC champion Broncos in Denver.
No team has scored more points (175 total, 35.0 per game) after five weeks, and Atlanta is one of only two teams (Raiders) to win three road games to begin 2016. The Falcons and their red-hot start face a daunting trip to Seattle on Sunday.
The Bills appeared to enter full-blown panic mode after losing their first two games of the season, but credit Rex Ryan’s team for pulling out of its tailspin. Buffalo is now riding a three-game winning streak, which includes victories over the Cardinals, Patriots and Rams.
Ryan’s defense has been at the heart of the revival, allowing only 37 points—with nine takeaways and 12 sacks—during the last three games. The Bills have also averaged 178.3 rushing yards over the win streak, including 110.0 per game from LeSean McCoy. Buffalo is winning the way Ryan wants to win, and there’s no reason why the streak can’t continue: The Bills play Colin Kaepernick (making his first start in 2016) and the 49ers and Ryan Tannehill (83.6 passer rating) and the Dolphins over the next two weeks.
New York Giants
So much for that 2-0 start. The Giants have since lost three straight, including a home divisional game against Washington and two primetime road games against the two best teams in the NFC North. New York all but gave away a win in Week 3 and then looked overmatched in back-to-back losses to the Vikings and Packers.
The New York secondary is still dealing with injuries, but bigger problems exist. Eli Manning is sporting a 73.8 passer rating over the last three games, and the Giants’ high-priced pass-rush isn’t getting to the quarterback (league-low four sacks). Four home games in the next five should give New York a chance to turn things around.
New York Jets
The season is slipping away from the Jets, who are 1-4 to start 2016—with four losses to 2015 playoff teams. Everyone in New York knew the early schedule was going to be tough, but there’s no excusing 13 turnovers (including 10 interceptions) and a pass defense that is allowing over 300 yards per game.
Todd Bowles’ team could easily be 0-5, and the schedule doesn’t get much easier. The Jets go on the road to play the Cardinals in Week 6, and the Ravens come to New York the following Sunday. If the losing streak somehow hits five games, the 2016 season will be all but over for the Jets.
The most surprising record after five weeks likely belongs to the defending NFC champions. After winning 15 regular-season games and advancing to the Super Bowl last year, the Panthers have started 1-4 in 2016—including Monday night’s last-second loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers have now lost three straight, largely due to an offense that can’t protect the football (league-high 14 turnovers) and a defense giving up 27.0 points per game.
A pair of teams started 1-4 and still made the playoffs last year (Texans, Chiefs), but Carolina has dug itself a deep hole, especially with Atlanta starting 4-1. The slump has to end in Week 6, when the Panthers go on the road to play Drew Brees and the Saints.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers aren’t so much slumping as they are comically cursed. San Diego actually has a plus-10 scoring differential in 2016, but four late losses—including three in a row—have sent Mike McCoy’s club to a 1-4 record.
The Chargers have 10 turnovers in the last three games, with game-deciding or game-changing fumbles in all three defeats. An offense ranked second in the league in scoring has been all but canceled out by a defense giving up 28.4 points per game. It’s likely going to get much worse for the Chargers, who have two games against the Broncos sandwiching a trip to Atlanta over the next three games.