There is still a lot of season left, but through five weeks, these are the five teams that have stood out as the strongest potential Super Bowl contenders:
Kansas City Chiefs: Sunday’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders was a major surprise. Coach Andy Reid has dominated the rivalry since coming to Kansas City. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had been 0-6 playing at Arrowhead Stadium. For Las Vegas to score 40 was a big upset and ended the Chiefs’ 13-game winning streak, but it doesn’t change the fact that Kansas City is the best team in the AFC.
“We’ll learn from it,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said after the loss. “We won’t ever forget this day.”
The Chiefs went into Baltimore and beat the Ravens by two scores. They handled New England, albeit without Cam Newton, with little problem. They are 4-1 and remain a step ahead of everyone else in the NFL because of Patrick Mahomes. He is the equalizer if any other part of the team slips. Next week’s game against a surprising AFC contender, the Buffalo Bills, will be fun to watch.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson has 19 touchdown passes in five games, has completed 73 percent of his passes and is averaging nearly nine yards per attempt, easily establishing himself as the MVP front-runner. Thanks to Wilson and a potent offense, the Seahawks have a great chance to be the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
Seattle has started 5-0, all in non-division games. In its five remaining non-division games, it will face a challenge in Buffalo and then four teams with a 2-16-1 combined record. If the Seahawks can go 4-2 in the NFC West, they are looking at a possible 13-win season.
Wilson was incredible again Sunday night in a 27-26 win over Minnesota. He put together three touchdown drives in 113 seconds at the beginning of the third quarter, then led a 94-yard touchdown drive with less than two minutes left.
In the meantime, second-year wide receiver DK Metcalf has put up numbers in his first 21 games that are comparable to those of Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and some of the best receivers in league history.
Green Bay Packers: It sure looks as though the Seahawks and the Packers are battling for the NFC’s top seed. Sure, both teams have their issues on defense, but welcome to the NFL in 2020. No one is stopping Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. The Packers are scoring 38 points per game. Rodgers has thrown for 1,214 yards and 13 touchdowns and hasn’t thrown an interception.
Plenty of people thought there would be a Packers drop-off from their 13-3 season last year, after they won several close games against an easy schedule. But even though the Chicago Bears are a surprising 4-1, the Packers have looked like the class of the NFC North. Rodgers, playing at this level, can carry this team to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens: After 14 wins and an MVP season by Lamar Jackson, the Ravens automatically became a Super Bowl contender. Their defense got better with the additions of Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell, but even at 4-1 they aren’t yet playing their best football. Jackson seems to be bothered by the knee injury that kept him out of practices last week, and the running game isn’t as potent as a year ago.
“There are times when our offense isn’t clicking and we need to get better,” tight end Mark Andrews said.
Given its success from a year ago, don’t be surprised if Baltimore’s offense improves in the coming weeks. The Ravens are still very much in the Super Bowl mix, but their divisional competition has gotten tougher.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The return of Ben Roethlisberger combined with a top-level defense was supposed to have the Steelers back in the playoff conversation. Through four games, they look like a Super Bowl contender.
The defense didn’t have a great day in Sunday’s 38-29 victory over Philadelphia, but it was fine because the offense had five straight scoring possessions. The Steelers also unveiled what might be their latest wide receiver draft steal in rookie Chase Claypool, who had seven catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns plus a rushing score.
The next three weeks could define the Steelers. They host the 4-1 Cleveland Browns, go on the road in a rescheduled game against the Tennessee Titans and then play a pivotal road game against Baltimore.
Around the NFL
— Which team is next up on this list? I’ll go with the winner of the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints looked like the most talented team in the NFC at the beginning of the season, but they have had a couple of stumbles. Quarterback Drew Brees is facing questions about his arm strength, and star wide receiver Michael Thomas has missed games for injury and disciplinary reasons. They lost to the Raiders and Packers and needed overtime to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night to get to 3-2.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady is still trying to work out the kinks in his new Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense, and the team is 3-2 after this past Thursday’s loss to Chicago. It hasn’t helped that Brady hasn’t had wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans healthy at the same time. Still, you can’t count out Brady or Brees in any conference title chase. Whichever team wins this division will be a major threat to win the NFC.
— Can things get any worse in the NFC East? The Dallas Cowboys lost Dak Prescott for the season with a compound ankle fracture. They have also lost their two offensive tackles for the season — Tyron Smith and La’el Collins — which will make life difficult for backup QB Andy Dalton.
Still, Dallas might have the best chance to win the division. Wentz and the Eagles have struggled and the Washington Football Team and New York Giants, who face each other this weekend, have combined for one win.
— Waiver claims are at an all-time low. Since the start of Week 2, only two players have been claimed on waivers. With concerns about covid-19, teams seem to be reluctant to bring in players from other franchises. We’ll see if that carries over to the trade market ahead of this year’s deadline.
Meanwhile, injuries continue at a high pace. I’ve recorded 497 missed starts in 2020. Last year at this time, there were 393.
— The 2020 wide receiver draft class appears to be for real. Henry Ruggs II (Raiders), Jerry Jeudy (Broncos) and CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys) have delivered as the top three prospects, but Justin Jefferson (Vikings), Laviska Shenault (Jaguars) and Claypool are among the others making strong statements.
— Losing Chandler Jones for the season is a setback for the improving Arizona Cardinals defense. Since going to Arizona, Jones, who suffered a torn biceps, has been one of the league’s best pass rushers. At 3-2, the Cardinals are in the playoff mix in the competitive NFC West.