Now six weeks into the season we have a pretty good picture of all 32 NFL teams. Sure, you never know what will happen over the rest of the year, but I tried to rank them by the way they’ve played so far and factor in how they’ve improved since the season started or what they can still get better at. As of right now the list looks like this:
1. Minnesota Vikings (5-0)
This to me is a no-brainer. They are the only undefeated team left and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be on top. So far they have scored a total of 119 and allowed only 63 points. Not only have they outscored opponents almost two to one, with four TDs coming on defense and two on punt returns, they lead the league with a turnover differential of +11 and they have done with key players like Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and Sharrif Floyd not in the line-up. Sam Bradford has been tremendous since being named the starter and they rely on their defense, which I ranked as the top unit in the NFL just a week ago.
2. New England Patriots (5-1)
I never thought the Patriots would start the year with three straight wins with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time suspended. The coaching staff has been brilliant putting their two young QBs, who stepped in for Brady, in positions to succeed and their defense has looked as good as it has in a decade. With a rookie quarterback in his first ever start they shut down the Houston Texans 27-0 and in Brady’s two games back they have dismantled the Browns and Bengals with him averaging a QB rating of 135.5 while completing more than two thirds of his passes. Once again everybody in the AFC is looking up at New England.
3. Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
The bad boys are back. There may be no Beastmode, but this 2016 team could easily be as good as their 2013 and 2014 units that went to back-to-back Super Bowls. The offense now lays more and more in Russell Wilson’s hands, who undoubtedly has become a top-five QB in the league, but the defense still has the core of the Legion of Boom, two outstanding linebackers who can play in space and the disruptive force of Michael Bennett, who I had among my 30 best overall players in the NFL before the season started. So they have a more explosive offense and a defense that is on course to be ranked number one overall in yards allowed for the fifth (!) straight year.
4. Denver Broncos (4-2)
Before the reigning Super Bowl champs were beaten twice in a five-game span you could have easily made an argument for them belonging at the very top of this list, but the theory of them being able to put anybody behind center and winning has proven to be nonsense. The Falcons forced rookie Paxton Lynch to keep up with their high-scoring offense which relied heavily on taking advantage on mismatches against their dynamic RB-duo and Denver’s offense seemingly didn’t do anything for three quarters to be put in a 19-3 hole, which they couldn’t climb out of as the Chargers finally found a way to finish a game. I don’t want to panic too much because they have a very good wide receiver duo and still one of the elite defenses in football, but their offensive line has really struggled in recent weeks and they have to put the game more into rookie Devontae Booker’s hands, who I loved coming out of the draft and who has been very productive when he was finally given the chance to be.
5. Dallas Cowboys (5-1)
The Cowboys have put their franchise into the hands of two rookies in the offensive backfield. Fourth-rounder Dak Prescott just broke Tom Brady’s record for most consecutive pass attempts without an INT to start a career and has been so impressive that people who said the success of the franchise lays in Tony Romo’s hands now root for the rookie to lead their team. On the other hand Ezekiel Elliott just ran for 157 yards on the first-ranked rush defense by the Packers, leads the league in total rushing yards and is on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s record for total yards on the ground by a rookie. Of course their success in large part is due to the best offensive line in football, but the entire offense has been spectacular even with Dez Bryant out. What’s even more impressive has been their defense who many people (including me) thought would be at the bottom of the league because of all their supensions on the D-line, but the secondary has been so good that QBs simply haven’t found anybody open down the field and therefore some unknown names have come up with sacks.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-2)
This matchup of the Falcons’ high-powered offense against Seattle’s D and the 12th man was thrilling until the very end when the refs missed a pass interference call against Julio Jones. Sure this doesn’t mean the Falcons would have won the game, but they would have had a chance to pick up a couple more first downs and kick the game-winning field goal to beat the Seahawks at home, which outside of last year happened just twice since the start of the 2012 season. They are still ranked first overall in total yards and points scored on offense and the defense finally put together a nice series of stops on Sunday. That side of the ball is certainly much younger and faster than in recent years. Oh and they have a young and more athletic version of Megatron destroying defenses.
7. Buffalo Bills (4-2)
Two weeks and two losses by the Bills into the season I thought the injuries were too much for their defense and with Sammy Watkins out and a medicore receiving corp this offense wouldn’t get going. Thankfully I was wrong. Since that the defense has been on fire allowing less than 11 points per game, sacking quarterbacks 15 times and turning opponents over ten times. With the firing of offensive coordinator Greg Roman they have shifted their focus more on running the ball with LeSean McCoy. Shady has rushed for a crazy total of 470 yards in those four contests and quarterback Tyrod Taylor has been much more productive throwing and running the ball because of that.
8. Arizona Cardinals (3-3)
Finally the Cardinals are back to the standards I expected to see from them before the season started. They lost two close games against the Patriots and Rams as well as being simply outplayed by the Bills. Carson Palmer hasn’t been nearly as good as last year, but veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t slowed down one bit and sophomore runningback David Johnson has turned into one of the great all-around backs. The O-line is still without their two starting guards Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati, who will be instant upgrades to this unit. On the defensive side of the ball they had their struggles against the ground game, but they just held the Jets to 33 yards rushing and they lead the league in takeaways with a total of 14.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)
Who saw that one coming? A Dolphins bunch that just lost a two score-game against the Titans outscores the Steelers 30-15. Pittsburgh is known for playing down to bad competition in recent years, but after that demolition of the Chiefs I never thought that would happen. Especially Jay Ajayi and this heavily critized offensive line came up big against the Steel Curtain whose strength lays in their ability to shut down the run. Still, their trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell is clearly the best in the league, even though Atlanta has challenged them this season, and you could certainly make an argument for each of those guys to be the best at their respective position. The defense has been a concern in their two losses against the Eagles and Dolphins, but Cameron Heyward is a beast up front, Ryan Shazier is the most athletic linebacker in football and this DB core has gotten younger and more talented. Time to step it up!
10. Houston Texans (4-2)
This team has had two rough losses against the Patriots and Vikings, and on Sunday night it looked like the loss of J.J. Watt would keep the Texans from competing for a Championship, until something happened. Brock Osweiler became the quarterback of the Texans by driving the offense down the field for a huge touchdown to tie the game and then set the field goal team up in overtime. Houston’s receiving corp is young but more talented and explosive than ever and Lamar Miller just had his breakout game too, racking up a total of 179 yards from scrimmage and making the play of the week. With the edge rushing duo of Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, a strong secondary and Brian Cushing in the middle of the defense this unit will be the basis for a playoff run.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (3-2)
The Chiefs defense against the Raiders was awesome. They held the Black and Silver to a total of 65 rushing yards and held all their pass catchers outside of Amari Cooper under 30 yards receiving. Alex Smith might not put up monster stats, but he gives his team a chance to win every single week because of his efficiency and the fact he knows how to protect the football. At 3-2 this team is in good shape as they are trying to get Jamaal Charles back into the groove and with Justin Houston returning in the next few weeks, who was the best edge rusher in the league before he got hurt.
12. Green Bay Packers (3-2)
I’m not quite sure what I shall do with these Packers. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t played like the guy who has won two MVPs. The receivers simply can’t get open. The offensive line has been very good, but now Eddie Lacy might be out for several weeks. And their number one ranked rushing defense? It got destroyed by Zeke. They miss several defensive backs, which will upgrade their pass defense when they are healthy, but I can’t trust this team. The one thing they’re great at is getting after the passer, with Nick Perry emerging in his fifth season as a pro.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (3-2)
Philly was riding high heading into the bye after going 3-0, taking care of the Steelers offensive attack, holding them to a mere three points and Carson Wentz lighting up the league. This Sunday the Redskins ran for more than 200 yards while Wentz didn’t even crack the 200 yard mark passing. I still believe in Wentz and this Eagles defensive front to turn things around, but they face a tough stretch hosting the Vikings this weekend followed by two division games on the road. They’ll have to show what they’re made of.
14. Oakland Raiders (4-2)
Derek Carr has looked brilliant until this weekend. He had a tough time against a Chiefs defense that was sick about hearing how the Raiders are in prime position to take this division. I feel like this team puts too much weight on the shoulders of the young QB who’s in just his third season. They need to get the ground game going and their high-priced pickups in the offseason need to start making plays on defense. Teams have thrown the ball all over the place against them. This defensive unit has been disappointing to me.
15. Washington Redskins (4-2)
Call me a hater, but I’m not ready to jump on the Redskins bandwagon. I think the reigning NFC East champs have only had one really convincing victory among this 4-0 stretch and that was against the Browns. The Giants were a field goal on their final drive away from the victory, the Ravens gave the game away with C.J. Mosley’s fumble for a touchback and lack of concentration on a foot drag in the endzone and on Sunday when they were up by two scores they allowed a kick return touchdown which was set up by a dumb penalty after scoring a touchdown and Kirk Cousins threw a costly pick six, which put the Eagles back in the game. I like what the defense has done in recent weeks, but I want to see more discipline and a complete game to be convinced.
16. Baltimore Ravens (3-3)
Some people might want to say the Ravens have dropped three games in a row, I’d say they have given away three games. Against Oakland they set up the game-winning touchdown of the Raiders by jumping offside on a fourth-and-one, against Washington linebacker C.J. Mosley fumbled a pick-six right before the goal line for a Redskins touchback and last Sunday they allowed Odell Beckham Jr. to take over the game with touchdown catch-and-runs of 75 and 66 yards. I still believe in the Ravens as a contender for a wild-card spot, but they need to start finding a way to win those close games again.
17. New York Giants (3-3)
Let me get this straight – Odell Beckham won that game for the Giants. Without his two touchdowns over the whole field they would have had no shot. I think the defense is improved, but it’s not in the upper half of the league yet. The receiving trio of Beckham, Cruz and rookie Sterling Shepard is nice, but the need to get things going in the running game. The offensive line to me is still a question mark and they’ve got to find a way to get to the quarterback with Olivier Vernon and JPP coming off the edges. Turnovers have killed this team as they rank second-to-least in TO differential with -10.
18. Detroit Lions (3-3)
Does anybody realize Matthew Stafford has played like a top five quarterback in this league? Outside of their only really bad loss against Chicago he has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 12-2. Not too shabby for a guy who people said was successful just because of Calvin Johnson. And he has done it with an almost absent rushing attack and a defense that ranks in the bottom third when it comes to total yards and points given up as well as turnovers forced. So why do I have them higher than a couple of other 3-3 teams? Now with Ziggy Ansah coming back and two other edge rushers who have picked up a combined 8.5 sacks in his absence they have the pass rush qualities to close out shootouts.
19. L.A. Rams (3-3)
Case Keenum played a wonderful game including a career-high four touchdowns on Sunday against the Lions before forcing a throw into double-coverage which ended the game. I know he hasn’t been playing great the prior five games (4 TDs to 5 INTs), but what worries me about this squad are the two things I expected them to rely on – their ground game and the defense. Todd Gurley, who many already crowned the best or second-best back in the league, has averaged just 2.9 yards a carry and the defense gave up a combined 89 points in their three losses so far. They have quality divison-wins against Seattle and in Arizona, but the need to find more consistency.
20. Cincinnati Bengals (2-4)
When I predicted the outcome of the season before it started I had the Bengals out of the playoffs for the first time in five years and right now it looks like they’re pretty far from making them. There’s no doubt they miss Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to complement the great A.J. Green and the rushing attack has been atrocious compared to the previous two years. Even with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap up front they lack some of the stinginess on defense we’re used to. Right now they have a point differential of -6 a game, so they have to find a way to equal their record by defending homefield over the next two weeks.
21. Tennessee Titans (3-3)
At this point the Titans are second in the AFC South ahead of the Andrew Luck-led Colts and the hyped-up Jacksonville Jaguars. I’m not quite ready to put them any higher because their three wins came against teams with a combined record of 5-13 while their three losses came against foes with a 13-5 record. What I do know is that the offensive line and the running game are for real, Marcus Mariota has superstar potential and Brian Orakpo has been a terror off the edge.
22. San Diego Chargers (2-4)
Finally the Chargers have found a way to hold onto a lead against the Broncos. If the Bengals roster wasn’t this talented the Chargers would certainly be the best 2-4 team out there. They have been without their number one receiver in Keenan Allen and two of their top three runningbacks. And even with their best corner and their middle linebacker out for the season the defense has found ways to make big plays. If Melvin Ingram and third overall pick Joey Bosa can keep creating havoc in the backfield to pair up with Philip Rivers and the nearly 29 points a game they put up this unit could be the spoilsport for some teams in the competitive AFC West.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)
Once again the Bucs were one of the sexy playoff tips before the season started and once again they have started the season very slowly. After Doug Martin ranked second in rushing yards only behind Adrian Peterson last season he has left the lineup in week two with a hamstring injury and now they are down to their number three back Jacquizz Rodgers, who finally got the job done attacking the heart of Carolina’s defense in the middle. Even though the defense features superstar qualities on every level it has given up more than 28 points per game and second-round kicker Roberto Aguayo has been a complete bust. They will have to improve in those two areas and the passing game needs to rely less heavily on Mike Evans or they won’t be able to build on their win over the Panthers and turn their season around.
24. New Orleans Saints (2-4)
That Drew Brees guy is something else. Against the Panthers he completed about 70% of his passes for 465 yards and 4 TDs. Over the course of the season he has been awesome getting all the members of this young receiving corp involved. Still, this offense needs more balance with Mark Ingram, who ran the rock with great power last season. The defense is still a mess giving up the most points in the league with rookie D-tackle Sheldon Rankins out for the season and key members of the secondary like their top corner Delvin Breaux missing significant amount of time.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3)
How high everybody was on those Jags when they stole the draft and what now? Blake Bortles and the offense have taken a huge step backwards, free agent acquisition Chris Ivory has barely seen the field and now is splitting carries with sophomore T.J. Yeldon, with both of them barely finding any success on the ground. The young defense has been much better than in 2015 with some young studs across the entire field, but they still give up way too many points to make up for the offensive struggles.
26. Indianapolis Colts (2-4)
If not for Andrew Luck leading this squad they’d be lost. The defense can’t stop anybody outside of shutdown corner Vontae Davis who was outstanding is his matchup against DeAndre Hopkins. And even though they have some nice weapons in the aerial attack the ground game rarely finds a way to get going. Don’t get deceived by their average rushing yards per game ranking among the middle of the pack. Luck has accounted for about 22 of those per contest on scrambles. In fact Frank Gore topped the 100 yard rushing mark in the overtime loss to the Texans for the first time among Indy runningbacks since 2012.
27. Miami Dolphins (2-4)
What a performance by an offensive line which released two starting tackles from last week and a runningback who had yet to reach the 100 yard mark in a game. Heck, what a performance by the entire team. Still, let’s not forget this team’s only other win came against the 0-6 Browns. Ryan Tannehill doesn’t look like their long-term option and they are -5 in turnover differential. If the star-filled defensive line comes through and the ground game finds success on a more consistent basis this team could rise up some spots in upcoming weeks.
28. Carolina Panthers (1-5)
And the most disappointing team of the 2016 NFL season is? Yes, it’s the reigning NFC champs. Cam Newton hasn’t nearly played up to his MVP standards, the offensive line has been a mess at times and the secondary seemingly can’t cover anybody without Josh Norman. No doubt this is the best 1-5 team with all the talent on their roster, but how many teams with that record have made the playoffs in recent years?
29. New York Jets (1-5)
Everybody wanted Fitz back. Now you have him. The journeyman who teams like the Bills and Texans already thought of as the solution, the one who doesn’t take care of the football and has been a top 20 QB once in his career and that was in 2015. I know he has a lot of supporters in the locker room, but at what point do they realize their season is over and they give one of those two young bucks in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg some playing time? But let’s not put everything on the quarterback position, this secondary has been dreadful and they don’t get any pressure on opposing QBs with their outside linebackers.
30. San Francisco 49ers (1-5)
Colin Kaepernick is back as the starter, but that Niners team is a shadow of the one they sent to the NFC Championship game three years in a row. Carlos Hyde has been very reliable this season and the offensive line has been okay, but they simply lack quality skill players on offense. On defense they have struggled mightily to stop the run and now they lost their best player in NaVorro Bowman for the season. If they want to get anything done over the next ten weeks Kap needs to bring back some of the magic he showed when he came onto the scene.
31. Chicago Bears (1-5)
There was a reason to get excited about John Fox’s defense. A bunch of young talented pass rushers, a nice pair of inside linebackers and an improved secondary that brought back Kyle Fuller and added Brandon Boykin to play in the slot and Antrel Rolle to have a lot of versatility in coverage. Injuries have hit the defensive backfield hard and none of those three names have seen the field and neither has their best defender from last year Pernell McPhee. On offense they’ve actually looked better with their starting QB and RB out with Brian Hoyer filling in nicely and Jordan Howard pretty much officially taking over the duties as their lead back. They need to throw the ball more to Alshon Jeffery though.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-6)
A few positive things: three of their losses were decided by just one score, Cody Kessler has looked as good as any Browns QB in the past five years, Terrell Pryor has turned into an excellent receiver and I could see them pulling one or two wins at home along the way. Other than that it’s pretty dark times in Cleveland.