It’s officially midseason in the NFL. Fantasy leagues are starting to establish their front-runners, candidates are well on their campaigns for the MVP trophy, and some teams are looking forward to next year’s draft already. Most importantly of all, contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy have been established.
Without further ado, in order from worst to first, these are the eight teams that have proven themselves as serious contenders for Super Bowl 53.
Teams That Missed The Cut: Ravens, Eagles, Redskins, Texans, Panthers, Packers
These are the teams that can still make the playoffs, but have something missing that will prevent them from making a run at a Super Bowl. In some cases, it’s a bad supporting cast around a star (Packers), where with other teams, it’s a lack of playmaking ability (Ravens, Redskins, Panthers to an extent), and for some, it comes down to consistency – or rather, inconsistency (Eagles, Texans). These teams may make the playoffs, but won’t get past the Divisional Round.
8) Chicago Bears (4-3)
Best Win – 24-17 over Seattle
Need – Khalil Mack to keep being Khalil Mack, Mitchell Trubisky to keep progressing.
Yes. I’m buying in. Chicago has a defense that is ready to win now and an offense that is getting better each week. Matt Nagy is one of the most creative play-callers in the NFL, and has turned Mitchell Trubisky into a reliable quarterback by utilizing weapons such as Tarik Cohen and Trey Burton as sneakily-good big-play threats. The defense has Khalik Mack, but also a plethora of other stars up front. Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith have developed into studs at linebacker, and the ever-reliable Adrian Amos holds down the back end of the defense.
The most impressive thing about the Bears so far haven’t been their wins, but their losses. They went toe-to-toe with New England in week seven, coming down to a last play with one of the best teams in football. They also played one of the best first-halves of football against Green Bay, and should figure to beat the Packers week fifteen at Soldier Field. Look for Chicago to get into the playoffs at around 10-6, and be a dangerous team in January.
7) Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1)
Best Win – 41-17 over Atlanta
Need – Better DBs, Avoid mental mistakes.
Even when the Steelers are bad, they’re still good. There are very few more dangerous offenses than the one that resides at Heinz Field, and the front seven of the defense knows how to get to the quarterback above all else.
Antonio Brown continues to be himself, reeling in eight touchdowns in the teams’ first seven games. The wide receiver corps stays dangerous from there, with JuJu Smith-Schuster – who always shows up in big games, and James Washington – who has blossomed into a solid young player. Le’Veon Bell not being around is a concern, but James Conner has been as good – if not better than Bell so far this year.
The biggest problem with the Steelers right now is how many big plays they give up on defense. Ryan Shazier has clearly been missed since his injury at the back end of last season. Also, no matter how good a Steelers team is, recently, they always seem to shoot themselves in the foot. The team has done themselves in by overlooking teams in the playoffs before, and average more penalties (9.1) per game than any team in the NFL. The botched punt return against the Browns is a perfect example of Pittsburgh screwing themselves over.
When it’s all said and done, however, Big Ben and Co. are always a threat to win in big games.
6) Los Angeles Chargers (5-2)
Best Win – 38-14 over Cleveland
Need – Joey Bosa to get healthy, Keep pushing the ball vertically.
They just keep silently winning. Los Angeles has carried momentum from the strong finish last year into the beginning of this year, and their only two losses have come against the two hottest teams in football (Chiefs, Rams).
Melvin Gordon is playing the best – and healthiest football of his career, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and having 9 total touchdowns on the year. Philip Rivers has access to the most talent LA has had at wide receiver in years, with the sure-handed Keenan Allen, and two big-time deep threats in Tyrell and Mike Williams.
On the defensive side of the ball, Casey Hayward continues to be one of the best corners that no one talks about, building off of last year’s campaign, where he led all corners in PFF. Sticking to the secondary, Derwin James is looking like the steal of the draft, where Trevor Williams, Jahleel Addae, and Desmond King all continue to improve.
The pass-rushing combo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram (when healthy) has proven to be the best in the NFL across the last two years. As long as the Chargers keep healthy, they should be able to match up with anyone. Los Angeles knows how to win ugly and pretty; come postseason time, they aren’t a team anyone wants to matchup against.
5) Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1)
Best Win – 23-21 over Philadelphia
Need – To win out for home-field advantage, A running game.
Over the years, Minnesota has been known for their stellar defense; and while the defense is still strong, this year, it’s the offense that has opposing teams worried. Kirk Cousins has started to look like he’s worth the money. With weapons like Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, and 100-yard guaranteed Adam Thielen; Cousins has never looked more comfortable under center.
The only problem with the Vikes’ offense is the running game. They have none, and they really aren’t trying to hide it. With Dalvin Cook injured again, and Jerrick McKinnon in San Fran, Minnesota has been winging it at running back for the past couple weeks.
The defense remains a top-tier one in the league, with dependable players such as Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, and Anthony Barr holding down the other half of the ball.
Besides that, Minnesota hasn’t been able to win when it matters this year, but has been able to compete, and in the playoffs, with colder weather, a well-coached team by Mike Zimmer should figure to get the job done.
4) Kansas City Chiefs (7-1)
Best Win – 30-14 shellacking of Jacksonville
Need – Any kind of defense, Patrick Mahomes to stay hot in the winter.
Offense, and a lot of it. Kansas City is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode for an 80-yard play at any moment. Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill has been the most fun connection in all of football this year, and receivers like Sammy Watkins and Chris Conley serving as insurance for Andy Reid’s high-powered attack. Kareem Hunt keeps hurdling his way to touchdowns, and Travis Kelce rounds it all out as one of the best tight ends in football.
So how come Kansas City isn’t higher? Because, you have to play two sides of the ball. With Eric Berry being out, an already bad defense has been historically awful, giving up the most plays over 20 yards in the NFL, and putting extra pressure on the offense to score.
Eight games in, and Kansas City has been as good as it gets at controlling the ball, with only six turnovers on the year; but the defense doesn’t force many turnovers either, and in the playoffs, teams will try to control the time of possession and force the Chiefs’ offense to watch from the sideline.
As for now, this team isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
3) New England Patriots (5-2, Playing Monday Night)
Best Win – 43-40 over Kansas City
Need – A front seven, Home field advantage.
It just makes sense, doesn’t it? New England just wins, it’s what they do. Every September, the team struggles a little bit, trying to get into form and figure out what works, but by the end of every October, they’re a contender all over again.
The offense was banged up to start the year, but with Julian Edelman back, and the addition of Josh Gordon, Tom Brady has a plethora of targets to choose from. There are familiar faces – such as Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski, and fresh playmakers – with a lethal running back tandem of Sony Michel and Kenjon Barner, and Cordarelle Patterson developing into more than ‘just a special teams player.’
The defensive backs are talented, but without a pass rush, they have been exposed for most of the year. The one thing that the Pats will have to find to win this year is a pass rush of any kind, or else they seem doomed to have a repeat of last year’s Super Bowl, where they were gashed through the air.
Yet, there is no team better at covering up their weakness than New England, and with Brady and Belichick, nothing is out of the picture.
2) New Orleans Saints (6-1)
Best Win – 30-20 over Minnesota
Need – To find a perfect balance on offense, Fill holes on D.
We all wrote the Saints off after a loss to the Buccaneers to kick off the year and their struggles week two against Cleveland. Boy, was everyone wrong. Since then, New Orleans has done nothing but dominate, and entertain while doing so. Michael Thomas is one of the best wideouts in the league, and the two-headed monster of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram is scarier than Michael Myers on Halloween. Tre’Quan Smith has emerged as a big-play threat, and Tedd Ginn remains one of the sneaky-good wide receivers in the league. Drew Brees is breaking records left and right, and no one on the offensive side of the ball is showing any signs of regression.
Defensively, the Saints are good-but-not-great, but have enough stars to get the job done. Cam Jordan holds down a stellar D-line, and Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams headline a loaded secondary. The one area of concern is the linebacker corps, which is forgettable to say the least.
Overall, the Saints are one of the most-fiery teams in the NFL, getting a winning attitude, starting from their coach, Sean Payton. The team can get it done in any way on the offensive side of the ball, and can force turnovers on the defensive side, and seem to be peaking at the right time.
1) Los Angeles Rams (8-0)
Best Win – 38-31 over Minnesota
Need – Just keep doing what they’re doing.
So there are teams like the Patriots and Saints; who are great at covering up their weaknesses, and then there are teams like the Rams; who just have no weaknesses. Quarterback. Running Backs. Wide Receivers. O-Line. D-Line. Linebackers. Defensive Backs. Special Teams. Unit-for-unit, the Rams are the best team in the NFL.
The offense is ridiculous, with Todd Gurley leading the way, and blossoming star Jared Goff having access to studs in Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp at wide receiver. The offensive line is tremendous, and the whole team benefits from the genius play-calling of second-year head coach Sean McVay.
The defense is just as loaded as the offense, with the best front in all of football. Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers consistently have their way with opposing offensive lines, and Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib lock up the outside.
Even in the kicking game, the Rams don’t regress. Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein are the best punter-kicker combo in the league, and Pharoh Cooper is as dangerous as return men come.
The Coliseum in LA isn’t known as one of the greatest home-field advantages in sports, but there hasn’t been another city this year that has backed up their team as much as LA has with the Rams. The Rams are loaded from front to back, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be losing anytime soon.