Already five weeks into the 2015 season, teams are beginning to separate from one another. Those who began Week 5 towards the top of the mountain stand unscathed, as all five undefeated teams remained unbeaten. Conversely, teams like the Ravens, Lions, Texans, Saints, and Jaguars continued their downward spiral.
There is the obvious downside that comes with teams holding multi-game division leads this early in the year, but all drama is not lost. The NFC South is top-heavy with Atlanta and Carolina combining for a 9-0 record, while the NFC East is separated from top-to-bottom by a single game.
As the year continues, more races are sure to emerge, and what seems like a runaway victory now will likely become a nail-biter, down the road.
1. New England Patriots (LW: 1)
Naturally, the New England Patriots won their last game. Even when there are threats of a potential ‘trap game,’ New England is unaffected. The Patriots go about their business, handing out losses like candy on Halloween, and return to their headquarters to prepare for the following week. Few things in life are guaranteed. Another postseason appearance by the Patriots should probably be added to the list.
2. Green Bay Packers (LW: 2)
The Green Bay Packers finally showed a weakness, at home. Of course, a ‘weakness’ for the Packers is equivalent to an above-average performance for most teams, as Green Bay was still able to overcome its abnormally high turnover rate for a double-digit win in Week 5. The Packers have now scored fewer than 27 points in back-to-back games, so there may be a recipe in the works to slow the offense down, but it hardly matters. Green Bay is elite.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 3)
The Cincinnati Bengals would have still remained one of the best teams in the league, even if they lost their Week 4 matchup against the Seahawks. Instead, Cincinnati rallied late, and proved that it belongs in the upper echelon in the league. There have been questions about the legitimacy of the Bengals in the past, but 2015 has provided nothing but answers.
4. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 5)
The Atlanta Falcons could not continue on their torrid pace forever. Entering Week 5 with a 4-0 record, the Falcons hosted the Redskins in what became an overtime thriller. Letdowns are natural for a team that was as hot as Atlanta, but the key is that the Falcons emerged victorious. At 5-0, they now claimed the top spot in the NFC South, for the time being.
5. Denver Broncos (LW: 4)
The 5-0 record may state otherwise, but the Denver Broncos simply do not look as dominant as they have in recent years. Obviously, the team has found a way to win each of its games, but only one was by a margin of victory greater than one touchdown — against the 0-5 Detroit Lions. Currently without much competition in the AFC West, the Broncos should be fine for the foreseeable future, but the team cannot continue down this path forever. Soon enough, the Broncos will either explode for big wins or get caught out of position.
6. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 6)
The Arizona Cardinals are bullies. One week removed from a devastating home loss against their rivals from St. Louis, the Cardinals traveled to Detroit looking to take out their frustration. After mauling the Lions, the Cardinals reminded the league of how dangerous they could be. Coupled with losses by every other NFC West team, the Arizona Cardinals moved even further away from their pursuers in the division.
7. New York Jets (LW: 8)
The New York Jets have to be ecstatic to return from London with a 3-1 record. Already one victory away from matching last season’s win total, the Jets appear to have turned a corner. In the AFC East — especially with the Patriots — the Jets cannot afford to slow their momentum down. Thankfully for New York, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson will return from his 4-game suspension in Week 6, and should help solidify an already stout defense.
8. Carolina Panthers (LW: 9)
The Carolina Panthers could not possibly have asked for a better outcome in the first quarter of the season. Entering the team’s bye week, Carolina sits at an unblemished 4-0, including two division wins. The road to an undefeated start to the year was incredibly easy — the Panthers beat Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay — so the real test begins in the next stretch of games — Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Green Bay.
9. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 10)
The Indianapolis Colts are an enigma. In the three games that quarterback Andrew Luck started, the team is 1-2 with a two-point victory. Without Luck, the Colts are 2-0 with two division wins. Granted, backup Matt Hasselbeck needed to do little more than manage games against the Jaguars and Texans, but the Colts outside of the quarterback position had not looked good until now. Luck’s return is necessary for any lofty long-term goals, but the play of the team, as a whole, is inspiring.
10. Buffalo Bills (LW: 11)
It appears as if nothing is going to come easily to the Buffalo Bills. After starting the season 2-1 with only a loss to the Patriots, the Bills dropped a home game against the Giants, then narrowly escaped Tennessee with a win. The team deserves credit for managing a winning record, so far, but the offensive flaws cannot be overlooked.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 12)
Even when it seems like all hope is lost, the Pittsburgh Steelers are never out. Playing without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the second consecutive week, and entering play on Monday Night Football in Week 5 more than two games out of first place in the division, the Steelers scratched out a road victory in San Diego. The Steelers’ season hung in the balance when Roethlisberger went down with an injury, but a 1-1 record in his absence, so far, is inspiring.
12. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 7)
The Seattle Seahawks almost had put the puzzle back together. After dropping the first two games of the season, the Seahawks returned home to even their record. Traveling to Cincinnati proved to be as difficult as expected, but the Seahawks outplayed their opponents for three quarters. It wasn’t enough. With the Cardinals’ grip on the NFC West tightening, Seattle cannot afford any more missteps.
13. St. Louis Rams (LW: 14)
The St. Louis Rams could not possibly have completed every upset. After knocking off the Seahawks and Cardinals, the Rams traveled to Green Bay to try to do the unthinkable: beat the Packers at home. They couldn’t. Losing at Lambeau Field is no reason for concern, and the hope for St. Louis is that the schedule gets easier following the team’s upcoming bye week.
14. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 14)
It’s not getting any better in Dallas. Now 0-3 in starts without quarterback Tony Romo, this year, the Dallas Cowboys have come apart in a division where they most recently reigned. The timing of Romo’s injury was unfortunate for Dallas, as the team faced the Falcons and Patriots in two of the games, but it can only hope that the bye week gives extra time for all wounds to heal.
15. New York Giants (LW: 17)
How remarkable is it that the method by which the New York Giants lost their first two games is the same as how they secured their third win? After proving, yet again, that closing out games will not be the team’s strength in 2015, New York turned its opponent into the victim, completing a game-winning touchdown drive on Sunday Night Football against the 49ers. Sitting alone atop the NFC East for the first time, all year, the Giants have recovered from their heart-wrenching losses in Weeks 1 and 2, although the memories still fresh.
16. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 18)
The Minnesota Vikings are the sum of their parts. A steady mix of veterans — running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Mike Wallace — and youth — most notably, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater — the Vikings have ranged from completely over-matched to impressive over the first four weeks of the season. Hopefully for Minnesota, the bye week will help prepare the team for a more steady output.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 19)
The Philadelphia Eagles built their team to exploit weak defenses. When the New Orleans Saints came to town in Week 5, the Eagles were ready to explode. At 2-3, the Eagles have the good fortune of playing in a weak division, but their 0-2 record within the NFC East might ultimately be crippling. That is, as long as they can turn their most recent win into momentum.
18. Oakland Raiders (LW: 20)
The Oakland Raiders might be the most disappointing 2-3 team in the National Football League. The 2015 version of the team is arguably the best collection of talent in the past decade — which isn’t anything noteworthy — yet it still cannot pull off the key victories. Removing the Opening Day bludgeoning by the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland has competed in every game this season, losing its last two by a combined eight points. Unfortunately, the first loss was against the horrible Bears, while the second was against their division rivals from Denver.
19. Cleveland Browns (LW: 27)
The Cleveland Browns are dangerously mediocre. Too good to be overlooked, yet not nearly ready to compete with the powerhouses, the Browns have enough positives in the right areas to result in wins. Perhaps the move that has paid off the most was the organization’s decision to stick with quarterback Josh McCown, despite the public outcry for a change. Cleveland has now posted back-to-back solid outings, losing in San Diego by a late field goal, then beating the rival Ravens in Baltimore.
20. Washington Redskins (LW: 24)
The Washington Redskins are no longer pushovers. They are, however, nothing more than an average football team. Traveling to Atlanta has been difficult for the previous two teams, but Washington looked like the squad most capable of completing an upset. Ultimately, talent won out, and the Falcons survived. At least, Washington has the luxury of playing in the average NFC East, where their level of play could potentially lead to a winning streak.
21. San Diego Chargers (LW: 16)
It is always the same in San Diego. Shrouded in mediocrity for years, the San Diego Chargers play games at random. In five games, to date, the Chargers have played only one that was decided by more than a touchdown, and appear to have no rhyme-or-reason as to when they will impress or disappoint. Despite holding multiple leads in Week 5 against a Steelers team missing their star quarterback, the Chargers collapsed and dropped yet another winnable game. When the Chargers travel to Green Bay on a short week of rest in Week 6, it looks like things will only get worse. Then again, the Chargers are so sporadic, they may all-of-a-sudden find something that works.
22. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 15)
For the first quarter of the season, it appeared as if the Kansas City Chiefs were simply cursed by a difficult schedule. After playing — and losing to — the Broncos, Packers, and Bengals in consecutive weeks, the Chiefs finally received a break in the form of the visiting Bears in Week 5. Instead of pummeling Chicago like a good team would, the Chiefs extended their losing streak further by blowing a double-digit lead and losing at home. Now, the schedule seems like less of the culprit. In reality, the Chiefs just aren’t good.
23. Tennessee Titans (LW: 21)
The Tennessee Titans had every opportunity to even their record. Returning from a bye week to host the Buffalo Bills, the Titans’ youth and inexperience proved to be the team’s undoing, as it squandered away a double-digit lead for the second consecutive game. The development of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is the focus of the 2015 season, but the Titans had shown enough to suggest that they could survive in the weak AFC South.
24. Miami Dolphins (LW: 23)
What a mess the Miami Dolphins have become. As soon as the team entered its bye week, head coach Joe Philbin was fired. The double-digit loss to the Jets in London appears to have been the final nail in the coffin, and now the Dolphins will need to find a way to salvage any part of their dismal season. In the AFC East, this will be nearly impossible.
25. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 22)
Good night, Baltimore. At 1-4 overall, 1-2 in the division, and coming off a home loss to the Browns, the Baltimore Ravens’ season is basically over. The team had been a disappointment all year, but the warts can no longer be ignored. The Ravens will not recover from this horrible start.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 30)
The odd part about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beating ‘weaker’ teams is that they usually are the ‘weaker’ team. Hosting the Jaguars in Week 5, the Buccaneers pulled a role-reversal, taking advantage of their opponents’ mistakes. Tampa Bay still suffered from the mental lapses that tend to doom the team, but it was able to overcome its flaws, if only for one game.
27. Chicago Bears (LW: 32)
Break up the Chicago Bears! One week removed from winning their first game of the season, the Bears traveled to Kansas City and knocked off the desperate Chiefs. Chicago is still a terrible team — as it now has a combined margin of victory of three points for its two wins — but back-to-back wins should provide a nice boost when the team travels to Detroit on Sunday.
28. New Orleans Saints (LW: 25)
With Atlanta and Carolina already totaling nine combined wins, the New Orleans Saints are basically out of any division race. Whatever hopes the team had to stay afloat in the conference were also squashed when Philadelphia manhandled the Saints in Week 5. Clearly, New Orleans’ Sunday Night Football victory over the Cowboys was more a function of circumstance than anything else. In reality, the Saints are as bad as they have looked for at least one calendar year.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 26)
The Jacksonville Jaguars never change. Even when the franchise appears to have finally found a quarterback, running back, and two capable wide receivers, it posts an embarrassing 1-4 record. There is finally talent in Jacksonville, but there still aren’t many wins.
30. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 31)
Every once in awhile, the San Francisco 49ers will play an inspired game in which they somewhat resemble a decent football team. They do feature a solid running back in Carlos Hyde, and wide receiver Anquan Boldin apparently never ages, but the team, as a whole, is still a mess. San Francisco is obviously capable of winning the rare game, on occasion, but it will not become a habit.
31. Detroit Lions (LW: 28)
It was nice while it lasted. One year removed an 11-5 season, the Detroit Lions found themselves scuffling. Hope appeared to have peeked through when the Lions almost pulled off an upset in Seattle in Week 4. Once they were dismantled by the Cardinals, it reaffirmed how bad the team really is.
32. Houston Texans (LW: 29)
Quarterbacks by committee simply do not work in the National Football League. The Houston Texans seem committed to being noncommittal, as they have started and pulled quarterbacks arguably more frequently than a hockey team would pull a goalie. With losses to the Chiefs, Panthers, Falcons Colts, and an unimpressive win against the Buccaneers, look no further than the quarterback circus for excuses.