We’re through the first quarter of the 2015 NFL season and so far there’s been a lot of surprises. The NFC South looks like it could have two very good teams, who saw that coming? But over the years how many times have we seen a team start hot only to implode? Remember it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And you’ll remember how shaky the Patriots looked through four games last season or how bad the Giants were under Eli Manning for long stretches before their Super Bowl titles with him. So which teams are fool’s gold and which teams should be taken very seriously?
New England Patriots (3-0): So far they look unstoppable. The defending champs are averaging 39.7 points per game and people are already starting to wonder if this is the year they can go 19-0. While that’s incredibly premature, Tom Brady’s 72.2% completions, 9 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions serves as notice to the league that he’s possibly playing the best football of his career. That should be terrifying. Their defense is also 5th in sacks and tied for 6th in interceptions so far. That’s more than enough to set up Brady and co. for wins.
Denver Broncos (4-0): The fact that they haven’t played their best football and that Peyton Manning looks like a shell of his former self makes their 4-0 record even more impressive. This may be the most balanced and solid team top to bottom. This defense gets after the quarterback and DeMarcus Ware already has 4.5 sacks this season. The Broncos lead the NFL in sacks and they’ve also had incredibly solid special teams so far. The team does struggle to run the football and Manning is off to a very slow start but if the offense can start to put it together it will be the missing link to making them unbeatable.
Green Bay Packers (4-0): Two words: Aaron Rodgers. Enough said. He’s the best player in football and when you have him on the field you have a chance to beat anyone regardless of what’s around him. With Jordy Nelson out for the year and the number of injuries they’ve had at the receiver position it has not mattered one bit. He’s still not missing a beat. As impressive as Brady’s numbers are, Rodgers has 72.4% completions, 11 touchdowns and no picks (granted one more game played). And the Packers are second only to the Broncos in sacks, so they’re getting production from the defense too.
Arizona Cardinals (3-1): Many argued this was the best team in football last year before the injury to Carson Palmer. So far they look like they’re picking up right where they left off. The offense is putting up 37 points per game and when you have a defense as strong as theirs that makes them a clear contender. Palmer has played lights out and Larry Fitzgerald has been surprisingly awesome so far this year… but the big question is whether they can continue to run the football as well as they have so far.
Atlanta Falcons (4-0): The Falcons are playing good defense, surprisingly, and they’re running the football which has helped everything come together. They are going to be in a good position come playoff time because of their schedule. Consider these upcoming matchups: vs. Washington, at New Orleans, at Tennessee, vs. Tampa Bay, at San Francisco, vs. Indianapolis, vs. Minnesota, at Tampa Bay, at Carolina, at Jacksonville, vs. Carolina, vs. New Orleans. Is 16-0 out of the question? I ask that half serious. Never has a team had a softer schedule and they are already 4-0. And the way Julio Jones is playing, he may break every record by the time the season ends if he can stay healthy.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-0): So far it’s been the Andy Dalton show but I don’t think anyone believes he can maintain his 123.0 quarterback rating. Even Bengals fans. The Bengals are a balanced team but they just don’t seem built to compete with all of the teams listed above, being slightly weaker in almost every department. Ultimately Dalton’s ability to perform when it matters most remains most in question.
Carolina Panthers (4-0): They’re 4-0 without Luke Keuchly who is by far their best player. That’s impressive, and he should be back soon. But while their defense is good they are short on pass rushers (which forced a trade for the aging Jared Allen) and their pass defense can be attacked. Cam Newton continues to struggle with accuracy and Kelvin Benjamin is out for the year, meaning his only real receiving threat is a tight end. They have yet to play a tough opponent but they go to Seattle this weekend.
Seattle Seahawks (2-2): They’ve been to the last two Super Bowls so we can’t discount them but they’re trying to rebound from a disastrous start to the season. They started 0-2 and were extremely fortunate not to lose at home to the Lions thanks to a major mistake by the officiating crew. Without the return of Kam Chancellor they would be 1-3. Most of all the Jimmy Graham trade which felt like a panic move in response to losing in the Super Bowl on a red zone pass seems like a mistake. They traded Max Unger, the anchor to their running game, and they sorely miss him. Marshawn Lynch averaged ~1 yard less per carry without Unger in the game last year, and it’s showing it’s ugly head again. Jimmy Graham may be an elite receiving tight end but the fit in Seattle is a bad one. They are a running team and Graham’s blocking ability is poor. Despite talk he would improve that this year it’s been a disaster so far and so his presence on the field when they run is a liability.
New York Giants (2-2): I include them as a pretender despite a poor start because they play in the NFC East. The Redskins are the Redskins, the Eagles look awful, and the Cowboys are incredibly injured. The division is theirs for the taking and you can’t rule out Eli Manning getting hot at the right time when he now has Odell Beckham, Jr.
New York Jets (3-1): Ryan Fitzpatrick is their quarterback. 3-1 is nice, but do you really see this team beating the teams I listed above in a game with very high stakes? Feeding Chris Ivory will keep them in games but he has an injury history. As tough as the Jets are defensively every win will be a battle and grind for them.
Indianapolis Colts (3-2): Despite a horrific start, Matt Hasselbeck has gone 2-0 to give them new life. Their division is so bad they’re already in complete control and Andrew Luck should return soon. Although as well as Hasselbeck has played and as bad as Luck has been, I’m not sure the Colts want him back too soon. The Colts look shaky at best. They’ll easily win their division and be in the playoffs but their offensive line may be the weakest of every team listed in this post.