Heading into Week 4, the NFL is down to seven undefeated teams. Another seven teams are tied for sixth place in the NFC, despite their losing records. Looks like the NFC East isn’t alone in its mediocrity– more than half the Conference is committed to finish September in an underwhelming fashion. Here’s to hoping for better quality games in October! September looked a little too much like extended preseason for a few playoff teams from last postseason (not naming names, but you know who we talkin’ bout…).
Think of our Contender Rankings as the half-breed love-child of traditional “Power Rankings” and the NFL playoff format: from Best to Worst, we rank the 8 divisional leaders and our two favorite wild card teams from each conference. Our Top 12 rankings give you all the fun of a college poll AND a meaningful outlook on the NFL playoff picture! Yes, football fans, you can have your cake and eat it too. At least until you bitch about us dissing your team.
Top 4: Bye-week bound Divisional Leaders
1. Denver Broncos. Let’s see if Chip Kelly’s high speed system can keep pace with Peyton’s no huddle offense in their Week 4 matchup. Probably not. Until Kelly’s system beats one of Cam Newton’s teams, we’re gonna question its championship potential.
2. Seattle Seahawks. The creme de la NFC has an intriguing game against the Texans this week. Can the Texans (or anyone else) figure out how to score more than 20 points on Seattle’s defense?
3. New Orleans Saints. The Saints are on a mission. They will settle for nothing less than a Super Bowl trophy ceremony between Jonathan Vilma and Roger Goodell. In the Octagon.
4. New England Patriots. The Pats’ air attack should only get better from here.
Best of the Rest: NFL Contender Rankings 5-12
5.Chicago Bears. The Bears haven’t played a perfect game yet, but Chicago still has a perfect record. Intradivisional rivals Detroit will say a lot about say about that this Week.
6. Miami Dolphins. Stats from MIA’s win over ATL do not show a sustainable style of offense. That said, their two early road wins and this upset against a Steven Jackson-less Falcons’ squad could give this Dolphins’ team the cushion it needs to limp into a wild card berth.
7. Kansas City Chiefs. Wake us up when they play Denver in Week 11. Then we’ll talk about KC’s championship prospects.
8. Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens beatdown the Texans last week, but an ugly first half performance on offense was quickly erased by two vintage Ravens’ touchdown returns from special teams and their middle linebacker. To Flacco’s credit, his ball control offense worked effectively to keep the ball out of Houston’s hands in the second half. But make no mistake: this team needs Ray Rice healthy. (Editor’s note: Apologies to Cincy fans for breaking this tie in favor of Baltimore. The Bengals have looked consistently better than the Ravens so far this young season. Nevertheless, Ohio’s Other Lovable Losers will have to beat the defending Champs head-to-head if they want to grab PFPod’s AFC North Tiebreaker of the Month).
9. Houston Texans. Yes, Houston, you have two salary cap problems. The guaranteed money owed to Schaub and Foster over the next three seasons could cripple this franchise. Meanwhile, Indy and Tennessee look ready to eclipse the defending divisional champs. Kudos to Jake Locker for leading a game-winning last minute TD drive last week. Let’s hope your Week 1 performance against Pittsburgh was the fluke. Also, we think the national media outlets overhyped the Richardson trade . Yes, the Colts gained a serious goal line threat, but Willis McGahee will average more yards per rush this season than Richardson ever did in a Browns uniform. In other words, 3.6 yards per carry.
10. Dallas Cowboys. The NFC East leaders are looking better than any NFC wild card wannabes. For now.
11. Detroit Lions. Even if you don’t believe in Detroit, the Lions are one of only five NFC teams with a winning record. But don’t doubt this team’s ability to win during the playoffs– if Matthew Stafford can make it through the season, this team could make it way to the NFC Championship Game.
12. Carolina Panthers. Yeah, they looked extremely disappointing in Weeks 1 and 2. But every other 1-2 team in the NFC lost this week. And yes, we really do think the Panthers’ 38-0 win against the Giants could be a turning point for their season. That said, we’d be stunned if Carolina finished better than 9-7.
Dropped from rankings: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers
New to Top 12: Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers