Coming into this past weekend, the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers were widely regarded as the NFL’s best teams. The Atlanta Falcons always got a mention, too, but that was far more due to their undefeated record than because anyone felt as though they were actually among the league’s two or three best teams.
Then Sunday happened.
Houston got absolutely destroyed by the Green Bay Packers; San Francisco got beat down by the New York Giants. Both lost in front of their home crowds. Atlanta, for what it’s worth, racked up another unimpressive victory over another overmatched team. The Falcons are now the NFL’s last remaining undefeated.
So what can we glean from this weekend’s happenings? Pretty much just that there is no best team at the moment.
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The Texans are a great squad, but the loss of Brian Cushing is pretty monumental. Beyond that, the Packers were their first legitimate test all year long. It’s a lot easier to beat the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans than it is to beat Aaron Rodgers and Co. Similarly, the 49ers found out the hard way that Good Alex Smith can go back to being Bad Alex Smith when his offensive line doesn’t offer the sort of protection that he has grown accustomed to over the past season and change.
Neither Houston nor San Francisco should immediately be disregarded as pretenders, though. Losses in the NFL happen; it’s how teams rebound from their losses that is more telling than anything else.
The Falcons are what they are – a flawed bunch that is doing what’s necessary to win against largely inept opponents. There is no shame in that. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that wins against the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders are exactly what they look like: wins against (mostly) weak teams. That doesn’t take anything away from their Super Bowl aspirations, nor is it meant to diminish their record – it’s just the reality of the situation.
The NFC East is a mess right now. New York earned its most impressive victory of the year on Sunday, but that doesn’t change the fact that the squad’s two losses came to divisional foes. The Dallas Cowboys lack the coaching and offensive line you need to compete for a title. The Philadelphia Eagles appear to be on a downward spiral right now, and it’s not clear how (or if) they will rebound. (Mind you, two of their three losses came by three points or fewer, and none of their wins have come by more than two.)
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San Diego choked away a chance at controlling the AFC West on Monday night. Now the Chargers and Peyton Manning’s Broncos are tied atop the division, with similarly easy schedules ahead (Denver had an unusually difficult one to start the year), and the Broncos owning the tiebreaker.
The NFC North is up for grabs. Green Bay earned a huge victory this weekend, obviously, but the squad’s running game is a major area of concern. The Chicago Bears still appear to be favorites to win this division right now, however, it’s impossible to know what to make of the Minnesota Vikings at this point. They could come back to claim the NFC North title, or they could collapse under their own weight and miss the postseason entirely.
Every team in the AFC East sits at 3-3 right now. Common sense tells us that the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets won’t make the playoffs so, ultimately, it will likely be the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills fighting it out for control of the division. Just an FYI: the Bills have a noticeably easier schedule ahead of them.
Atlanta is going to win its division, and nobody is even going to come to close. End of story.
The Baltimore Ravens currently lead the NFC North, however, the injuries suffered by this club on Sunday could have a lingering effect. Plus, they have a brutal schedule going forward. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals have similar schedules ahead of them, but it’s always a safer bet to ride with the veterans. Don’t be shocked if, despite their woes, the Steelers finish atop this division when it’s all said and done.
Houston will win the AFC South, and nobody is even going to come close. The Indianapolis Colts aren’t ready yet. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are terrible.
There is a three-team tie atop the NFC West between the Niners, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. San Francisco seems to be the smart choice as far as who will win out, however, Arizona and Seattle are both pretty legitimate in their own rights. If anything, they just lack the completeness that the Niners (usually) have.
Needless to say, this Thursday’s Seahawks-49ers showdown will be interesting. Same goes for Sunday's Giants-Redskins, Ravens Texans, Patriots-Jets, and Steelers Bengals games.
With all that in mind, here are this week’s rankings:
1. Atlanta Falcons
2. New York Giants
3. Chicago Bears
4. San Francisco 49ers
5. Houston Texans
6. Green Bay Packers
7. Baltimore Ravens
8. Seattle Seahawks
9. Denver Broncos
10. New England Patriots
11. Minnesota Vikings
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
13. Arizona Cardinals
14. Philadelphia Eagles
15. Miami Dolphins
16. St. Louis Rams
17. Cincinnati Bengals
18. San Diego Chargers
19. Washington Redskins
20. Dallas Cowboys
21. New York Jets
22. Buffalo Bills
23. Detroit Lions
24. New Orleans Saints
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
26. Indianapolis Colts
27. Tennessee Titans
28. Carolina Panthers
29. Oakland Raiders
30. Cleveland Browns
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
32. Kansas City Chiefs