At just about a third of the way through the NFL season, people are starting to recognize the true contenders throughout the league. The Rams took over as favourites in September and haven’t relinquished the position; the Patriots look to be the Patriots again after a slow start; the Chiefs’ offence has been too strong to deny; and the Saints, Jaguars, and Vikings are still getting some love as potential contenders.
That’s a list of six teams that, for now, seem to be standing above the rest of the league through a combination of performance, potential, and expectation. We know, however, that status as a favorite – particularly after six or seven weeks – doesn’t always translate to a championship.
An overview of NFL odds and trends points out, interestingly enough, that favorites lost 80 out of 284 competitions last season, including the Super Bowl, in which the Eagles upset the Patriots.
So, as tempting as it can be to boil things down to a short list of favorites as early as possible, we should also be considering some potential playoff underdogs with the potential to do damage.
These would seem to be some sensible candidates.
The Los Angeles Chargers kind of have it all. Philip Rivers is about the steadiest quarterback in the league; Melvin Gordon is having a sensational year at running back behind a decent offensive line; the wide receiver corps is deep and talented, led by a star in Keenan Allen; and the defense has given up the fewest points in the division to date.
The Chargers don’t jump out at you because they’re viewed as a middle-of-the-pack team and the most common talking point around them is their lack of home-field advantage. But the Chargers have the tools to make a real playoff run.
If Philip Rivers is the steadiest quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers is the best. He’s better than Drew Brees, better at this point than Tom Brady, and of course still better than the incredible rookie Patrick Mahomes. His health has been a question, and the team around him has some holes, but as long as Rodgers is in the NFL he has a chance to carry his team to a Super Bowl.
It’s hard to be very confident in the Panthers. From week to week they seem determined to make every game as difficult as it can be. That said, this team at full health has a lot of weapons on both sides of the ball.
Cam Newton doesn’t have a star wideout, but he may have the deepest receiving corps he’s ever had. He also has the support of second-year running back Christian McCaffrey, who’s been sensational so far. If this team starts clicking and makes it out of the tricky NFC South, it will be battle-tested and formidable in the playoffs.
There was a preseason article on possible dark horses that has already whiffed on a number of picks, but did highlight the Cowboys as a team that could make the Super Bowl. It noted that the team has the most well-rounded roster in years, and while we might not agree with that, the defense and offensive line are both excellent. Really, that’s the core of a competitive team, so while the skill positions have left something to be desired, Dallas should be in the game more often than not.
The Super Bowl champions from last season seem almost eerily overlooked. They’ve been far from dominant so far this year, and there’s been at least a mild championship hangover.
But Carson Wentz is just getting going, the running back situation can only stabilize further after Jay Ajayi’s injury, and the core of this team is unchanged from a season ago. Philadelphia will in all likelihood find itself and look the part of a Super Bowl contender within another month.
Do you think there’s other dark horses that are emerging as possible contenders? Can Big Ben and the Steelers pull their season together? Are the 4-2 Redskins suddenly looking like a team that can take a real run at lifting the Lombardi? Let us know!