We are now one-third of the way through the 2022 NFL regular season, and it’s about time we try to separate the wheat from the chaff in this league. We have one remaining undefeated team in the Philadelphia Eagles, three 5-1 teams, four 4-2 teams and then a bevy of three-win teams.
Which NFL teams are for real, and which ones aren’t? Let’s take a look at the top teams in the league record-wise, and make an educated guess on whether they possess the wherewithal to make a Super Bowl run. We will take some liberty with the 12 three-win teams when it comes to the ones we discuss and the ones we don’t. Without further ado, here are six contenders and six pretenders.
The Bills do have a loss on their record, but they are the most complete NFL team and still the odds-on favorite to win Super Bowl LVII. Buffalo is coming off of a 24-20 victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City, in which Josh Allen threw three touchdowns, Devin Singletary rushed for 85 yards and Stefon Diggs caught 10 passes for 148 yards and a score. The defense also picked off Patrick Mahomes twice. Truly, it felt like a revenge game for last season’s playoff loss.
Buffalo statistically has the No. 2 overall defense and the no. 1 offense. They are second in points scored and first in points allowed. An obvious contender that is locked in on their championship mission.
Philadelphia Eagles (6-0, 1st in NFC East)
Many expected the Eagles to be much improved after the moves they made this offseason, but I don’t know how many expected them to be the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL. What’s wild is that they could go a few more weeks without a loss. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Washington Commanders and Indianapolis Colts are Philly’s next four games.
Jalen Hurts has scored 12 total touchdowns in six games and is en route to a career year, the same goes for Miles Sanders, who is averaging a career-high 80.8 rushing yards per game and then the Eagles do somewhat have two No. 1 wide receivers between AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith —. I also don’t think we’re talking enough about this defense, as they statistically rank fourth in the NFL. We saw how this secondary rattled Cooper Rush last week, as the additions of James Bradberry and CJ Gardner-Johnson have already paid dividends. Philly is the top team in the NFC.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-2, 1st in AFC West)
Anytime you have Patrick Mahomes under center, you’re going to be a contender. He’s tied with Allen for the NFL lead with 17 passing touchdowns, and has eight passing touchdowns when pressured this season — which is twice as many as anyone else. It’s a bit worrisome that Mahomes has a 54.9 passer rating in the fourth quarter this season, which ranks second-worst in the NFL. Both of the Chiefs’ losses have come when they’ve had the lead in the fourth quarter.
Something I’m waiting on with the Chiefs is for this wide receiving corps to find its rhythm. We saw a little bit of that against the Bills on Sunday, as JuJu Smith-Schuster went for 113 yards and one touchdown, but I want to see Marquez Valdes-Scantling do more. The Chiefs’ pass defense ranks sixth-worst in the league, but KC does have the fourth-best run defense.
It’s impressive that the Cowboys are sitting at 4-2 with Cooper Rush starting the last five games. Credit to the backup signal-caller, but this team’s identity has been on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas has what is statistically the No. 8 units in the league, but I’m sure everyone views this defense much higher than that. Micah Parsons may win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and it’s a legitimate joy to watch this front four attack the quarterback. Dorance Armstrong has been fun to watch as well.
The Cowboys have the potential to be one of the best teams in the league if Dak Prescott can provide a bit of an offensive spark. Dallas should be more effective passing the ball down the field, which will take some weight off the defense’s shoulders.
The 49ers are coming off of a 28-14 road loss to the Atlanta Falcons in which the defense did not look like the strong unit we have become accustomed to watching. They were without star pass-rusher Nick Bosa along with several other starters last week. Since drafting Bosa, San Francisco has allowed 4.4 more points per game when he doesn’t play.
We have to remember that the 49ers wanted to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason for a reason, and I wonder if the key to victory against this team is just getting out to an early lead — much like the Falcons did. Score points early, limit San Francisco’s rushing attack, and maybe you’re golden. Still, this 49ers team could win the NFC West, and we’ve all seen the late-season runs they are capable of. I wouldn’t try to sell the 49ers as pretenders at this point.
The Vikings may not be my top pick to win the Super Bowl this year, but now that they are 5-1 while the rival Green Bay Packers are losing to the New York Jets at home, it’s probably time that we as a collective admit that the Vikings may be the top team in the NFC North. Kirk Cousins has been solid under Kevin O’Connell, Dalvin Cook is one of the best backs in the league and Justin Jefferson is quite literally one of the top players in the NFL, as he averages 109 receiving yards per game. This offense has potential despite their middle-of-the-road statistical ranking, and PFF also says they have the fourth-best run blocking line.
The defense is going to have to be better, however, as they currently rank as the seventh-worst unit in the NFL. Still, they allow just 19.7 points per game — which ranks just outside the top 10.
The Chargers are 4-2, but this season has been a grind thus far. They’ve been crushed by injuries, and have just slipped by a couple of teams they probably should have blown out, such as the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns. The LA defense allows an average of 25.3 points per game, which ranks seventh-worst in the NFL, while the Chargers offense ranks No. 7 in the league. Austin Ekeler is a star, but the Chargers have the worst run-blocking offensive line according to PFF. While I like Justin Herbert, he can’t do much with this lack of protection. That was evident on Monday night vs. the Broncos. It was just the second game of his career in which he didn’t throw a touchdown!
If you weren’t worried about the Buccaneers at the beginning of the year, you should be worried now. They are coming off of a 20-18 loss to the Steelers — a game in which they were favored by nearly double digits. The Buccaneers are averaging 20.2 points per game this season, the fewest points per game in Tom Brady’s first six starts of a season in his career. Tampa Bay averaged an NFL-best 30.4 points per game in Brady’s first two seasons. This is just the fourth time Brady has started 3-3 or worse — and the first time in a decade. The Buccaneers have a top 10 defense, but I don’t see this team as the kind of contender they were in years past.
I don’t want to be categorized as a “Giants hater” for placing New York in the pretenders category, because they deserve so much credit for this hot start. But with major issues at wide receiver and the struggle to put up points, I don’t see the Giants as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Brian Daboll does have this franchise on the right track, however.
Just look at what happened on Sunday vs the Baltimore Ravens. The Giants looked like the inferior team for the majority of the matchup, and didn’t even cross 100 yards of total offense until the third quarter. Still, the defense forced two clutch turnovers in the fourth quarter, and the offense capitalized on their opportunities. The Giants have won an NFL-high three games when trailing by double-digits this season, which is tied for their most in a season in franchise history.
This squad has guts, and Saquon Barkley has been a huge part of their success. He leads the NFL in touches (140) and scrimmage yards (771), and also has three game-winning plays in the fourth quarter of this season: a two-point conversion in Week 1, and then rushing touchdowns in Weeks 5 and 6.
New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has brought a breath of fresh air to this unit, which has the highest blitz rate in the league. This is a solid football team, but they are probably the third-best club in their own division.
New York Jets (4-2, 2nd at AFC East)
The Jets are quickly becoming one of my favorite teams, as they win by running the ball and playing defense. They’ve outscored their last two opponents 67-27 — and haven’t thrown a single touchdown pass!
New York is on a three-game winning streak, and a big reason why is rookie running back Breece Hall. The favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year has recorded 396 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in the last three contests, and became the first Jets rookie to record 120-plus scrimmage yards in consecutive games since Al Toon in 1987. Quinnen Williams is another players we aren’t talking about enough. The former first-round pick recorded six pressures, two sacks, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal last week against the Packers. He’s rocking on the defensive line, while rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner is dominating in the secondary.
This Jets team is only building confidence, but what happens when they get punched in the mouth first? This offense is not eager to pass the ball with Zach Wilson, so can they score enough points to keep up with a legitimate contender? I’m not buying that just yet. The Packers victory was their most impressive win to date, but Green Bay is all kinds of discombobulated right now.
Baltimore Ravens (3-3, 1st in AFC North)
The Ravens have an MVP candidate in Lamar Jackson and an offense that can keep up with anybody on the scoreboard. But that’s not the issue when it comes to them being pretenders. The Ravens statistically have the eighth-worst defense in the NFL — and I don’t even think that accurately describes it. Entering last week, the Ravens statistically had the worst passing defense in the league, but got some help from Daniel Jones, who only passed for 173 yards. I get that this is an offensive-driven league, but you can’t win without defense!
The Ravens are now 3-3, and what blows my mind is that Baltimore has led by double digits in all three of its losses. Some Atlanta Falcons vibes over here.
If we learned anything about the Titans last year, it’s that you can never count them out. They fought their way to the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a record-setting amount of different players and without star running back Derrick Henry, but couldn’t win a playoff game.
The Titans have reeled off three straight wins after starting the year with two embarrassing losses, and just had their bye week to reset. It’s hard to view the Titans as a Super Bowl contender with the fifth-worst passing offense in the league and the worst passing defense, but I do have them winning the AFC South.
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