We are just about halfway through the NFL season, and we are still not clear on who the favorite to win it all is. We’re still not even sure who the real contenders are yet. The AFC and NFC are pretty wide open in terms of playoff spots. Today, we’ll take a look at three teams and see where they stand. The Ravens, the Bears, and the Patriots. We’ve seen a lot so far, but in this league, it’s never safe to assume a definite conclusion about any team.
#1 Ravens (Contenders)
The Baltimore Ravens are now 5-2, sitting in second place of the NFC north. This past week they lost to a division rival and still undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a very close game up until the final play, but many would argue that the Steelers dominated on both sides of the ball right from the jump. One of the first plays of the game was a pick 6 by the Steelers and that sort of set the tone for the rest of the game.
Many people, including myself, had the Ravens representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. While that is still very possible, the Ravens have yet to separate themselves from the top teams. Their two losses this season came to the Chiefs and the Steelers, wherein both games they seemed to be outplayed vastly by both. The wins have come against teams such as the Browns, the Bengals, the Texans, the Eagles, and the Washington Football Team; obviously, none of these teams is anything to write home about so one could argue that so far, the Ravens are pretenders; however, I will argue that.
It has been well known amongst both the league and the media that despite whatever the Ravens do in the regular season, they are only going to be judged in the postseason. I will say that it may be a better situation for the Ravens to not go 14-2 again, just to get bounced in the Divisional round like they did last year to the Titans. Lamar Jackson will once again be under tons of pressure heading into the postseason, so for him, the most important thing is to stay the course during the year and be ready to prove yourself in this year’s playoffs. His future and a major extension could all be on the line with Baltimore, depending on his performance in a playoff game.
To me, this team is still very much a contender until we see yet another playoff disappointment. They will play the Colts this upcoming Sunday at 1 pm.
#2 Bears (Pretenders)
How is it that the Chicago Bears are 5-3 yet have one of the worst offenses in the league? It’s simple, the defense is carrying the load week after week. We all know how this team passed up on both Mahomes and Watson to get Mitch Trubisky, but is it possible they need to bring him back in? I would say yes; Nick Foles seems to be making this offense even worse.
They are constantly struggling to move the ball and are only scoring around 17 points per game. That is simply not going to get the job done in the NFL, especially in today’s league where the majority of rules and penalty calls are obviously in the favor of the offense, not the defense. This past Sunday, the Bears lost 26-23 to the Saints in a very tight game that ended up going to overtime. So far this year, the Bears have wins over the Lions, the Bucs, the Falcons, the Giants, and the Panthers. Outside of the Bucs, who many argue was a fluke win anyways, those are not very impressive teams to have beaten on your resume.
Their losses come to the Colts, the Rams, and the Saints. With two games still coming against the Packers on the schedule, it may very well come down to that for the Bears to win this division.
The only way for this team to really make a run in my opinion is a large improvement in the play of the QB. This looks like a difficult task to achieve due to the inconsistency of both Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, but the Bears do have a pretty easy schedule outside of two meetings with the Packers and a meeting with the Titans. If the Bears win the games they are supposed to, they may have a shot at the 6th or 7th wild card spot in a very stacked NFC; for now, it’s only fair to claim this team as pretenders since they really haven’t done anything to separate themselves from the mediocre teams in the conference. They play on the road vs the Titans this Sunday at 1 pm.
#3 Patriots (Pretenders)
This one feels weird to type but, the New England Patriots are 2-5 and in third place in the AFC East. Yeah, that was something I never thought I would say. Living right in the heart of Boston, the fans are baffled, to say the least. I mean, after 20 years of pure dominance, six super bowl rings, ten appearances in all, this is something no one in New England is used to, but life without Tom Brady is surely becoming a slow, miserable reality here.
When they brought in Cam Newton during the summer on a one-year “prove it” contract, some might say he was expected to add to this pretty mediocre offense at best. This couldn’t have been further from what we are seeing currently. The Pats have now lost four games in a row and have not won a game since week 3 at home to the Raiders. The first two games of the season showed a lot of promise as they dominated Miami at home and Cam looked to be his normal self, running all over the field. They lost week 2 at Seattle, but Cam had one of the best games of his career. He was stopped on a goal-line stand and they lost, yet there were certainly many positives to take away from the game. Ever since that moment, nothing has really been going right for Cam or this New England offense.
We need to keep in mind that New England, outside of Tennessee, was the most impacted by Covid by a wide margin. They were forced to use their bye week in Week 5, Cam Newton tested positive one day before the matchup with the Chiefs, they were forced to go with Brian Hoyer and ended up losing the game where the defense actually contained Pat Mahomes pretty well, and they ended up losing the next three weeks to the Broncos, the 49ers, and the Bills, two of those games coming at home where the Pats have been nearly unbeatable for the past two decades.
It’s very clear to see that the tides are turning in New England. The schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out and it will be difficult for them to even get the last wild card spot at this point; moreover, I would argue that may be more of a positive than a negative. The draft is something the Pats can use to become better and maybe use a quick rebuilding year or two to get back in the mix of things as since about a month ago, the Pats have been nowhere near contenders.
They may be in the market for a QB next year, which could be Sam Darold, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, or maybe even the return of Jimmy G. Cam deserves to be playing somewhere in this league, but sadly it may not be for this team. The Patriots play this coming Monday against the 0-8 Jets, looking to get back on track.