The 1972 Miami Dolphins are getting closer to their annual toast. The last team to finish the season undefeated (17-0) raises a glass each year when the final undefeated team in the current NFL season takes a loss. Coming into this year, some thought the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs had the team to make a run at a perfect record.
Not happening. The Chiefs started to feel the impact of injuries last week in falling to the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s not always about the stars. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is a truly great player, but he can’t do it if the offensive line can’t protect him. Along with injuries to the Kansas City defense, the Raiders took advantage and picked up a big divisional win.
What does it mean? For now, it means the Chiefs are still the best team in the NFL. But if they’re not at full strength, they’re vulnerable, like every team in the league.
There are still four undefeated teams in the NFL. For now. But the ’72 Dolphins need not worry: None will win every game.
- Kansas City Chiefs (4-1) – That’s right, I’m still ranking them ahead of the four undefeated teams. They have not looked great in every game, but this team is built for the postseason. In a one-game matchup, I still like them against every other team. Yes, the Raiders shredded the Chiefs for 500 yards of offense, but remember: Kansas City had not lost a game since last November. It was bound to happen, but it won’t be any easier this week against Buffalo, also coming off its first loss.
- Green Bay Packers (4-0) – Aaron Rodgers is having an MVP season, but the Packers are also on a run that is hard to sustain. They’ve scored 150 points without losing a turnover. Their kicker has yet to miss a field goal. They play in the NFC North, where it appears only the scrappy Bears can challenge them. There’s a lot to like, except for that secondary.
- Baltimore Ravens (4-1) – The Bengals held Lamar Jackson to 3 yards rushing and yet Baltimore rolled 27-3. The upshot: This is still a defense-first team. Consecutive wins against Cinci and that Washington Football Team were the perfect tonic after losing to the Chiefs. If I picked which teams will make the AFC Championship game, it’s still Ravens vs. Chiefs. But there is this next team. …
- Tennessee Titans (4-0) – They’ve been hit by COVID-19 and they’ve been squeaking by in games, but this is a physical, well-coached team that brings the heat on defense and has the power running game to control the clock. They made Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen look bad in handing the Bills their first loss. And now they get the Texans, who finally won a game.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0) – Big Ben looks rejuvenated and the offense looks great. Still a tall order to topple the Ravens in the AFC East, and the Steelers got a number of breaks to stop the Eagles last week. An intriguing divisional matchup this week against the scrappy Browns, who are 4-1 with plenty to prove.
- Seattle Seahawks (5-0) – Critics will point to three close calls, all won by Seattle, and say sooner or later it’s not going to go their way. Probably true. Then again, Russell Wilson wins close games all the time. The Vikings dominated most of the game last week, but when Seattle needed a touchdown to win, Wilson delivered as he often does.
- Los Angeles Rams (4-1) – An ugly win over the New York Giants two weeks ago followed by a convincing win over the Washington (Alleged) Football Team. But Jared Goff is playing well and defensive tackle Aaron Donald is leading the NFL in sacks with 7.5. The defense is tough, and the Rams have been feasting on NFC East teams. They’ll eat well again this week against the reeling 49ers.
- Buffalo Bills (4-1) – This team is legit, and it sure seems like we have to add that validation a lot when discussing Buffalo. No shame in losing to Tennessee, but the Bills now get the Chiefs coming off a loss in a game that already has been moved from Thursday to Sunday and may get moved to Monday. Josh Allen is a star. Patrick Mahomes is a superstar.
- Cleveland Browns (4-1) – Is this the high-water mark or are there great things ahead for the Browns? They are winning even though QB Baker Mayfield has been good but not great. Miles Garrett is a monster on defense and the Browns bring a strong running game and top-notch receivers. It’s going to take a big win, like beating Pittsburgh this week, to persuade us the Browns are postseason material.
- New Orleans Saints (3-2) – Very fortunate to beat the Chargers in overtime after Los Angeles clanked a game-winning field goal off the right upright in regulation. The Saints have been getting by without Michael Thomas, the most prolific receiver in the NFL (notice I didn’t say best) who returns this week. In the meantime, Drew Brees has been built a nice connection with Emmanuel Sanders. If the New Orleans secondary can stop getting gashed, the Saints remain among the NFC favorites. But right now I’d rank them no better than fourth in the NFC.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2) – The loss to the Bears looked bad. Tampa Bay was sloppy, the officials blew some critical calls, Tom Brady got drilled again and again, and at the end of the game Brady and the Bucs coaches all seemed confused about what the hell was going on. The main issue with the Packers on tap this week is that porous Tampa Bay offensive line. No quarterback can keep winning without protection and no doubt the Bucs are focused on shoring it up.
- Las Vegas Raiders (3-2) – When two of your three wins are against the Chiefs and Saints, something good is going on. With the Raiders it appears to be the continuing development of Derek Carr — TD passes of 72 and 59 yards in this game — under Coach Jon Gruden. Rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III is an emerging talent.
- Carolina Panthers (3-2) – So they lose their best offensive player in Christian McCaffrey and promptly go on a winning streak. Credit the play of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the offense of Joe Brady. I’ve spent a few hours talking football with Carolina coach Matt Rhule and what I took from it was his attention to the mental side of the game and how to build a team the right way. He is impressive. The comeback is underway in Carolina and right now this is a tough team to play.
- Indianapolis Colts (3-2) – A top defense can take them a long way if Philip Rivers is merely efficient at quarterback. He wasn’t last week and he played like Rivers sometimes does if he is getting pressure – he threw a pick-six and was called for intentional grounding in the end zone to hand a safety to the Browns. Errors killed Indy against Cleveland, but this week a get well gift arrives in the form of the Cincinnati Bengals.
- New England Patriots (2-2) – Seems like we haven’t seem them play in a while but we have been hearing plenty, with the Patriots facility shut down three times in less than two weeks due to players testing positive for COVID-19. One of those was quarterback Cam Newton and that matters because they have no backup even close to his talent level. They finally get back on the field this week against the Broncos, who go from decent with QB Drew Lock to one of the worst teams in the league without him.
- Chicago Bears (4-1) – All right, all right, I’ll rank them in the top half of the league. They are 4-1 after all. Nick Foles is a better QB than Mitchell Trubisky but this team still struggles to score points. The Bears have yet to score a point in the third quarter this season. That sounds like a team maximizing its results, for now. Who knew an October matchup between the Bears and Panthers would feature teams with a combined 7-3 mark? I’m taking Bridgewater over Foles.
- Miami Dolphins (2-3) – They took out some frustration on the 49ers last week to get a second win. Here’s a fact: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing as well as he ever has and the Dolphins are still potentially a playoff team. Can this team win the NFC East? Yes it can. There, I said it. It starts with evening their record this week against the hapless Jets.
- Philadelphia Eagles (1-3-1) – If you’ve been scrolling down this list looking for the first NFC East team, well, here you go. I’d roll out an NFC East welcome mat for you and if I did it would be beat up and mediocre. The Eagles aren’t even leading the division, they’re a half-game behind 2-3 front runner Dallas. I still say this Philly team has the most talent in the division. Nearly pulled it off against the Steelers and to be fair, Carson Wentz is starting to play well again.
- Arizona Cardinals (3-2) – Might be the most mercurial team in the league, which is not promising in the NFC West, the conference’s best division. They’ve got three wins, but two of them came against the Giants and Washington, and the Cardinals lost to Detroit. As in, the Lions. Arizona also lost stud pass rusher Chandler Jones for the season in their third win – against the Jets. Call me unconvinced.
- Minnesota Vikings (1-4) – It took everything the Vikings had to lose that game against Seattle, but they found a way. This team has the look of a squad that is having one of those seasons when not enough goes right. They have a solid offense and the league’s most underrated running back in Dalvin Cook, but they fail on just enough plays to lose. Still, they play in the NFC North and if anyone thinks the 4-1 Bears are that much better than the 1-4 Vikings, I say stay tuned.
- Dallas Cowboys (2-3) – Andy Dalton will be an able replacement for Dak Prescott, but there’s no way the Cowboys will get better play out of Dalton than we saw this season from Dak. He was having a great year. I don’t think the difference will be dramatic because Dalton is an experienced pro and quarterback is not the Cowboys’ weakness. A defense that gives up 34 points to a Giants team that can barely score, that’s not a weakness, that’s a mess. That said, right now the mess is leading the NFC East.
- Los Angeles Chargers (1-4) – They led 24-7 against Tampa and lost, then last week led the Saints 20-3 and lost in overtime. Diagnosis: A team with some talent that can’t close. Hard to blame the Chargers for their kicker missing a field goal that would’ve beaten the Saints and it’s clear LA has a star on the rise in rifle-armed quarterback Justin Herbert – who turned in the best game ever by a rookie quarterback on Monday Night Football. This team will steal some wins this year and Herbert is the reason why.
- San Francisco 49ers (2-3) – This is a team in trouble in a division that can make life miserable. Last year San Fran played in the Super Bowl. As of now they are three games behind division leader Seattle. The 49ers were dominated by Miami and it looked like injured QB Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle sprain) came back too soon. That’s an indication the coaches know they don’t have an adequate backup. Their season is on the edge and now they face the rolling Rams.
- Houston Texans (1-4) – They fired their coach and finally won a game, led by DeShaun Watson lighting up Jacksonville with 359 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. This is not a team without talent but it is in a big hole. We’ll see if a turnaround is possible when they meet undefeated Tennessee this week. Watson is better than Titans QB Ryan Tannehill at piling up stats, but Tannehill has been one of the best red-zone quarterbacks in the league.
- Detroit Lions (1-3) – Calls for the head of third-year coach Matt Patricia are echoing across Michigan, but he made it through the bye week and now Detroit gets consecutive games against Jacksonville and Atlanta. Two wins would get Detroit to 3-3 and prove nothing, but something tells me they’ll lose one of the two, which will tell us what we already know.
- Cincinnati Bengals (1-3-1) – Poor Joe Burrow. He’s getting crushed in just about every game he’s played in his rookie campaign, and last week the Bengals had barely more than 200 yards offense in getting blasted by the Ravens. If Cinci does not improve its pass blocking and fast, they ought to pull Joe Burrow and let the backup take the hits. If they lose their new franchise quarterback to a season-ending injury, the Bengals are going to look stupid. But they’re good at that.
- Denver Broncos (1-3) – There’s not much to hope for until the return of quarterback Drew Lock, who was 4-1 last season after taking over the starting job. Lock injured his throwing shoulder in Week 2 but is on schedule to return next week against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Oh joy.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) – Detroit, Cinci, Denver and Jacksonville – they’re all about the same, but the Jags seem a little worse when it comes to sloppy mistakes that lose games. Turnovers, missed field goals, bone-headed play calls, they do it all. The defense is not bad. I believe Doug Marrone is a quality coach but he’s also going to be an available coach if the Jags don’t get it going.
- Atlanta Falcons (0-5) – Can you believe Matt Ryan is 35 years old and all we’re going to remember about him is the Falcons being on the wrong end of the Patriots comeback in Super Bowl LI? Atlanta fired their coach Sunday night after getting pushed around by the Panthers. Really, this team has not been the same in the three seasons since that Super Bowl collapse.
- Washington Alleged Football Team (1-4) – It was inspiring to see quarterback Alex Smith return to the field for the first time since his gruesome leg injury in 2018, but there is nothing else about this team that gives you a good feeling. Washington had 108 total yards in losing to the Rams. That’s beyond pathetic for an NFL team.
- New York Giants (0-5) – They almost won a game by almost beating the Cowboys who are almost a decent team. So the Giants sent Eli Manning off to retirement because Daniel Jones was ready, right? And by ready, I mean ready for 31 turnovers in his first 18 games. Turnovers really do lose games and Jones is showing he can lose games almost by himself.
- New York Jets (0-5) – Everyone is good at something. The Jets excel at finishing last. This franchise beats the law of averages when it comes to being bad. Even hopeless franchises can finish 7-9 or 8-8, but that’s not happening this year for the Jets. They’re bad even by their own standard – 0-5 for the first time since 1996.
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