Heading into week seven of the NFL season, we are beginning to discover where teams stand. It’s clear that the Patriots are the real deal and that the Dolphins are a disaster, but what about everyone in between?
These are teams who have started well, but now it’s time to decide whether they are for real or not. Let’s break down some contenders and pretenders.
Contender: San Francisco 49ers (5-0)
No one expected the 49ers to be atop the NFC going into the season, but with a dynamic defense led by Nick Bosa, they look to be the real deal. Jimmy Garoppolo is settling in nicely, and the 49ers’ run-heavy offense is rolling, leaving the Niners as the only undefeated team in the NFC.
The one question mark doubters may have had was that the Niners had beaten up on lowly teams, with their first four wins coming against opponents with a combined 6-18 record. They silenced those critics this weekend with a statement win over defending NFC champion and division rival Rams in LA. The 49ers have cemented themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Pretender: Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
The Cowboys started the season with a bang, getting out to a quick 3-0 start. But those wins came against the hapless Giants (2-4), Redskins (1-5) and winless Dolphins (0-5). Then, the Cowboys lost consecutive games to good teams in the Packers and the Saints, but they were expected to get back on track against the formerly winless New York Jets this weekend.
Instead, they were embarrassed, dropping their third-straight game and sending the team into a full-on tailspin.
For a group that started the year with so much promise, it’s looking more and more likely that the Cowboys will be simply mediocre this year. The silver lining for Dallas is that they are still somehow tied for the division lead with Philadelphia in an awful NFC East. This weekend’s matchup against the Eagles could make or break their season.
Contender: Buffalo Bills (4-1)
The Bills have grinded through slow and ugly games, but they’ve found ways to win. Their offense, led by Josh Allen, has been fairly average, but their defense has been elite. The Bills’ ability to shut down the pass should keep them in every game they play. Buffalo even gave the Patriots a run for their money in the Bills’ only loss this season, a 16-10 defeat.
Buffalo might not make the highlight reels often, but its style of play is effective. Its defense is absolutely the real deal and if their offense can improve, this is a team with big upset potential.
Pretender: Chicago Bears (3-2)
The Bears’ defense has looked good, but the team’s flaws were revealed in their latest loss to the Raiders in London. This team doesn’t have the depth or the offense to keep up in what is perhaps the NFL’s toughest division — the NFC North. The Lions, the Vikings and the Packers all look good, and in a crowded NFC playoff picture, the Bears don’t have the talent to hang with the division leaders.
Contender: Green Bay Packers (5-1)
So far the Packers look like one of the best teams in football. After missing the playoffs last season, Green Bay rebuilt this offseason, bringing in coach Matt LaFleur and loading up on defense.
What might be the scariest for the rest of the league, though, is that Aaron Rodgers hasn’t even been dominating games. The Packers have been winning with a defense that can shut down the pass, as well as with a balanced offense that can beat teams in multiple ways. They beat the Cowboys week five with running back Aaron Jones putting up four touchdowns, while their Monday Night Football victory over the Lions was a gutsy team performance to come back from a 13-0 deficit, albeit with some questionable calls. Green Bay is not a team anybody will want to meet in the playoffs.
Pretender: Los Angeles Rams (3-3)
The Rams are in trouble. The defending NFC champions picked up the season where they left off, tallying three straight wins over solid teams in the Panthers, the Saints and the Browns. They’ve been a disaster since then, though, following up a shocking loss to the Buccaneers in which the Rams gave up 55 points with two straight crushing defeats to division rivals. A devastating one-point loss to the Seahawks was followed by the aforementioned dismantling by the 49ers, leaving Los Angeles three games back in the division from 5-0 San Francisco, with 5-1 Seattle in its way as well. The Rams’ offense has looked completely lost, and it leaves the Super Bowl finalists with a difficult task to even get back to the playoffs in one of the toughest divisions in football.