In what can only be described as an eyeblink, the 2015 National Football League season is nearly halfway over. Approaching the midpoint, an unprecedented five teams are still undefeated — although Week 6 brought the first loss to Atlanta — while the last of the winless teams — Detroit — secured a victory.
With double-digit games remaining for every team, at least half of the playoff field already appears to be coming into form. The Packers, Cardinals, Broncos, and Bengals currently hold division leads of no fewer than two games, while the Panthers, Falcons, Jets, and Patriots are locked in battles atop their respective divisions, but have a solid edge over the rest of the conference. The NFC East and AFC South are still up for grabs, and both are now led by teams that started the year 0-2.
1. New England Patriots (LW:1)
It doesn’t matter the opponent, the location, the time, or the size of the audience anymore. The New England Patriots simply win week-in and week-out. At this point, the victories have become so second-nature, that talks have already begun about where this team lies in the ranks of New England’s best of the past few decades. Before the 2015 Patriots enter those conversations, they will have to host the New York Jets, currently their biggest competition in the AFC East.
2. Green Bay Packers (LW: 2)
The Green Bay Packers are such an elite team that, even when it looks like they might be threatened, they hardly break a sweat before coming out on top. More amazingly, injuries take a backseat to the Packers’ will, as running back James Starks shouldered the load for Eddie Lacy — not completely at 100 percent — to the tune of two touchdowns in a seven-point victory in Week 6. Green Bay enters the bye week at a perfect 6-0.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 3)
The Cincinnati Bengals are doing everything right. Now 6-0 and cemented as one of the conference’s best teams, the Bengals have run the gamut in the early part of 2015, surviving both tough and ‘trap’ games. A trip to Buffalo in Week 6 appeared to be a potential location for a stumble, but the Bengals left unscathed, again. Cincinnati is destined for another playoff berth, where its true value will be tested.
4. Carolina Panthers (LW: 8)
Now the Carolina Panthers have a noteworthy win on their resume. While the Seattle Seahawks have proven to be a significantly worse version of their former selves, winning a game in Seattle is always impressive — as no one had done it since October of 2014. Carolina has played Seattle exceptionally well for years — despite the 0-4 record against the Seahawks, only one game was decided by more than five points — and finally finished them off with a win in Week 6. As the Panthers improve to 5-0, they can no longer be considered a fluke.
5. Denver Broncos (LW: 5)
It’s time to face reality; the new-look Denver Broncos are still tough to beat — so far, impossible to beat — but no longer put teams away. For the fifth time, this year, the Broncos won a game by a touchdown or less, and improve to a perfect 6-0 entering their bye week. Whatever Denver is doing is clearly working, and the record gives the Broncos a commanding lead in the AFC West. The small margins of victory remain noteworthy, however.
6. New York Jets (LW: 7)
Entering 2015, a case could have been made for any of the other three AFC East teams as worthy combatants for the New England Patriots, although the Jets would have likely been the last choice. Instead, New York travels north to New England in Week 7 for a showdown that will leave the winner in first place in the division. If the Jets want to put an exclamation point on the first half of the season, handing the Patriots their first loss would surely do the trick. As it stands now, New York has exceed expectations, regardless of the outcome.
7. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 4)
The Atlanta Falcons were bound to lose eventually. While suffering a defeat against the previously one-win Saints is difficult to accept, the Saints are a completely different team when playing at home in primetime. Atlanta is still among the top teams in the conference, and the setback in Week 6 should be little more than a bump in the road.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 11)
The Pittsburgh Steelers were impressive before Week 6, as the team had almost won back-to-back starts in the first two games without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. When the Steelers completed the task against the Cardinals, improving to 2-1 in Roethlisberger’s absence, Pittsburgh ascended to new heights. Until now, questions still existed outside the quarterback position. After beating the Chargers and Cardinals in consecutive weeks, the answer is clear: Pittsburgh is dangerous everywhere.
9. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 6)
Of all the teams that had proven immune to potential ‘trap games,’ the Arizona Cardinals topped the list. That was, until they traveled to Pittsburgh in Week 6. The Cardinals had been flying as high as any team could, outscoring opponents by a league-leading 100 points after five weeks, but fell from grace in a big way by losing to the Steelers. Mistakes happen, and Arizona will almost certainly rebound, but the machine that was the Cardinals is running a little less smoothly, now.
10. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 9)
The Indianapolis Colts have already had some odd twists in their season. Prior to the season, when New England quarterback Tom Brady was initially suspended — the suspension was eventually lifted — his return was supposed to be against the Colts in Week 6. For a few weeks, it looked as if Indianapolis’ own quarterback, Andrew Luck, would be inactive for the game with a shoulder injury. After already missing two games — both of which the Colts won — Luck returned to action to face a Patriots team that Tom Brady had previously led to a 4-0 record. The force of New England was too strong for Indianapolis, and the Colts dropped to 3-3 — remarkably, Andrew Luck is 1-3 in 2015. The one break Indianapolis did receive is that the rest of the division is even worse, as the Colts lead the AFC South by one game.
11. Buffalo Bills (LW: 10)
The Buffalo Bills had a perfect opportunity to answer their critics when hosting the undefeated Bengals in Week 6. Instead, the flaws were exploited by a significantly better team, and Buffalo fell to 3-3. As is the case with most teams led by head coach Rex Ryan, the offense is in question. Surprisingly, so is the defense.
12. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 16)
The Minnesota Vikings did everything in their power to make sure that their bye week was not wasted. Returning to football after a week off, Minnesota handed the visiting Chiefs their fifth consecutive loss in Week 6, and earned itself a winning record. While the Lions and Bears scratch each other at the bottom of the NFC North, perhaps the Vikings are the team most worthy of competing with the Packers. There are still a handful of weeks before the two teams meet, but the Vikings have the power to make sure the matchups have something at stake.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 17)
The Philadelphia Eagles won’t win any awards for beauty during their Monday Night Football home victory over the Giants in Week 6, but they slid to the top of the crowded NFC East afterwards. The irony is that Philadelphia may actually be the one team that is pushing for ‘style points,’ attempting to win games with an unorthodox college-style of play. Despite the slow start — 0-2 and 1-3 — the Eagles have won back-to-back games and are gaining momentum.
14. St. Louis Rams (LW: 13)
The St. Louis Rams haven’t quite solved the puzzle yet. Hopefully for St. Louis, the bye week will allow the team to dissect the integral parts of the few upsets they have been able to complete, while figuring out where it went wrong otherwise. As it stands now, the Rams are simply an average team prone to having any number of personalities show up on a given week.
15. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 14)
No team needed a bye week more than the Dallas Cowboys. Now losers of three consecutive games without quarterback Tony Romo, the Cowboys are scuffling in what has become a wild NFC East. The injury to Romo has arguably been the most important factor in the three-game losing streak, although the Cowboys had the misfortune of playing the Patriots and Falcons in his absence. Certainly, the team has looked good enough, at times, that wins are not completely out-of-the-question, but the losses are becoming too plentiful.
16. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 12)
The Seattle Seahawks have a recent history of conducting themselves in a certain manner. That is, the team, as a whole, bought into a mentality that they would not be beat — especially at home. In Week 6, the Seahawks were beat. At home. While this marks the first time since October 12, 2014 that fans of the Seahawks left CenturyLink Field after a defeat, losing is becoming more prevalent for a team that has basically only seen success under the current regime. The tide is shifting in Seattle, and the end of the Seahawks, as we have grown to know them, might be here.
17. New York Giants (LW: 15)
It is never over in the NFC East. After starting the 2015 season 0-2, the New York Giants looked like they would quickly be buried by a Cowboys team trying to defend its 2014 division title. Three consecutive Giants wins, coupled with three Cowboys losses moved New York to the top of the NFC East, prior to Week 6. Traveling to Philadelphia to face the under-performing Eagles, the Giants played their worst collective game of the season — doomed by turnovers, penalties, and mistakes. With the games the Giants have played — two losses after leading by double-digits in the fourth quarter, yet three wins elsewhere — New York has yet to set forth on a straight path.
18. Miami Dolphins (LW: 24)
Perhaps all it took was an international embarrassment and a coaching change to finally present the Miami Dolphins that should have opened 2015. With a win in Tennessee in Week 6, the Dolphins stopped the bleeding of an otherwise lost season. The AFC East still appears to be unobtainable, as the Patriots and Jets have set a high bar, but Miami is, at least, competitive.
19. Oakland Raiders (LW: 18)
The Oakland Raiders almost have it together. With back-to-back losses by a combined eight points, Oakland turned a 2-1 record into a losing campaign in the heartbeat. Granted, the more recent loss was against the Denver Broncos, but the Raiders have played well enough to be better than their 2-3 record indicates. With a canyon between Oakland and Denver, the Raiders will either win enough games to stay in the playoff picture, or fall off the map for yet another miserable year.
20. Cleveland Browns (LW: 19)
‘Moral victories’ are often diminished in the National Football League, but the Cleveland Browns continue to rack them up. Now a disappointing 2-4 after a home loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 6, the Browns have played four consecutive games decided by a touchdown or less — and the last three decided by a field goal. Close losses will do nothing to improve the team’s standing, but it does serve as a reminder to the league that Cleveland is no longer an ‘automatic win.’
21. New Orleans Saints (LW: 28)
It is easy to jump to conclusions, but there should not be too much stock placed in the New Orleans Saints, even after their Thursday Night Football defeat of the previously 5-0 Atlanta Falcons. For New Orleans, the circumstances were conducive for an upset on one particular night, but the team is still a disappointment overall. The division win helped keep hope alive that the Saints can compete in the NFC South, but they remain behind all three of their division-mates, and multiple games behind the Falcons and Panthers.
22. Washington Redskins (LW: 20)
After how valiantly the Washington Redskins had fought for the few games leading up to Week 6, the team was ready to either break free or break down. Visiting the Jets as New York was coming off a bye week proved to be the catalyst for the floodgates opening. Washington played its typical brand of surprisingly tough football that keeps it in games, but, eventually, talent won out. The Redskins have the misfortune of playing another team coming off a bye week when it hosts Tampa Bay in Week 7.
23. San Diego Chargers (LW: 21)
The San Diego Chargers were punished for how they played against the Steelers in Week 5. Following an inexcusable loss to a Pittsburgh team still trying to figure out its quarterback situation, the Chargers traveled to Green Bay in Week 6 to face a team in a completely opposite mindset. As San Diego tends to do, it played one of its better games against a superior opponent, but still couldn’t secure the victory.
24. Houston Texans (LW: 32)
Perhaps the Houston Texans finally found their quarterback. Again. Maybe. After multiple changes at the most important singular position in football, the Texans handed the starting job back to Brian Hoyer for Week 6. Houston and Hoyer responded with a double digit win in Jacksonville. With Houston being the only AFC South team to win in Week 6, the Texans now trail the Colts by a single game in the division race. Though it seems unlikely given the 2-4 record, the Texans have a chance to turn everything around.
25. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 30)
The San Francisco 49ers deserve credit for following a heart-breaking Sunday Night Football game across the country with an impressive win. Surely, the 49ers have disappointed over the course of the season, but winning in Week 6 against the visiting Ravens is a clear sign that San Francisco has some level of toughness not shown in many of the games, this year.
26. Tennessee Titans (LW: 23)
Apparently, these are the same Tennessee Titans. Even with the potential of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota on full display in the early part of 2015, the Titans have managed only a single win. Tennessee had an opportunity to knock off a reeling Dolphins team in Week 6, but, instead, suffered a debilitating home loss. The rest of the AFC South has failed to grab a stranglehold of the division, but the Titans have shown nothing to suggest they belong in the conversation.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 26)
Playing in arguably the most top-heavy division in the National Football League, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a massive hill to climb if they want to make a push for a playoff berth in 2015. After the team’s Week 6 bye week, Tampa Bay will travel to Washington, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis in four of its upcoming six games.
28. Detroit Lions (LW: 31)
The Detroit Lions appear to find difficulty everywhere. Finally securing the team’s first win of 2015, Detroit squandered one opportunity after another when hosting the Bears, flirting with an 0-6 record. Thankfully for Detroit, Chicago complied, and the Lions put a positive number in the win column. If the Lions keep playing how they have, the number won’t grow much more.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 22)
It just keeps getting worse for the Kansas City Chiefs. Now firmly ingrained at the bottom of the division, the Chiefs share the worst record in the league with the likes of the Lions, Ravens, and Jaguars. Surely, the Chiefs had higher aspirations prior to the season, but the wheels have fallen off the wagon and there looks to be no relief in sight.
30. Chicago Bears (LW: 27)
While the Chicago Bears may be 2-4, the team has looked far better in its last three games than in the first three. Naturally, the health of quarterback Jay Cutler was integral to the recent success, but offensive talents like wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Matt Forte are contributing, as well. The Bears certainly aren’t great, but they may not be the worst team in the league anymore.
31. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 25)
Even when the Baltimore Ravens have the advantage of playing a team with incredible familiarity — former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith now plays in San Francisco, and the former head coach of the 49ers is the younger brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh — the Ravens still can’t find another win. The excuses have run out in Baltimore. The offense is hollow, and the Ravens are terrible.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 29)
It’s just another year in Jacksonville. Even with the AFC South being led by a team with a 3-3 record, the season is coming to an end quickly for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now 0-2 in the division and a dismal 1-5 overall, the Jaguars have actually under-performed, given their talent. Jacksonville looks like it has the playmakers to surprise a team on a random Sunday, but that’s the extent of the positives for a team that can’t find its winning ways.