Denver Broncos (6-2, 1st in AFC West): Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler signed with Houston, leaving Denver with questions at the quarterback spot. Despite taking Paxton Lynch in the first round, Denver opted with former seventh-round selection Trevor Siemian. In seven starts, Siemian is 6-1 as a starter, throwing eight touchdowns. The Broncos do not make the list because its defense is what led them to a Super Bowl last season, and it has been the defense leading them to a 6-2 start, allowing just 17 points per game.
New England Patriots (6-1, 1st in AFC East): New England went 3-1 without Tom Brady for the first four games. Since ‘Terrific Tom’ returned in week five, the Patriots have won four straight and Brady has thrown 12 touchdowns and zero picks. New England fails to make the list, simply because it’s Bill Belichick and Brady, the duo does it every year.
5.) San Diego Chargers (3-5, Last in AFC West)
No, it’s not surprising where the Chargers are in the standings of the AFC West. They finished 4-12 last year in the cellar of the division, but they are already one victory away from last season’s win total.What’s surprising is how they’ve got to 3-5. It’s crazy to ponder, but San Diego could very well be 6-2, 7-1, or even 8-0 after losing five one-possession games. Let’s look at the craziness of the Chargers’ five losses this season.
- Week 1: Chargers blow a 24-3 second-half lead at Arrowhead against the Chiefs. Lose in overtime on an Alex Smith touchdown run, 33-27.
- Week 3: A late field goal gives San Diego a two-point lead over the Indianapolis Colts with less than two minutes remaining. Andrew Luck responds to throw a game-winning 67-yard touchdown with 1:17 left in the game. Colts win, 26-22.
- Week 4: San Diego blows a 13-point lead in the last five minutes of the game. After a Saints’ touchdown made it 34-28, wide receiver Travis Benjamin fumbles on the first play of the Chargers’ ensuing drive. John Kuhn’s one-yard touchdown with 1:57 left in the game wins it for New Orleans, 35-34.
- Week 5: The Chargers led by eight in the third quarter but the Raiders responded with 18 unanswered points to take a 34-24 lead. An Antonio Gates’ touchdown cut Oakland’s lead to three, but a last-minute field goal by Josh Lambo was botched by the holder and San Diego fell to 1-5.
- Week 8: (The only game the Chargers didn’t blow a second-half lead in) Phillip Rivers was picked off three times (one returned for a touchdown), but still found himself with the ball, trailing by a touchdown, with just over five minutes left in the game. He completed three of four passes to move the Bolts to the Denver two-yard line, but four incompletions followed and the Chargers turned it over on downs, assuring a 27-19 Broncos’ victory.
Mike McCoy had kept his job in week six with a win at home over the Broncos on Thursday Night Football, but his club still came close to blowing a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter.
They may not be racking up the wins, but the Chargers always give fans an entertaining game. San Diego can pick up some slack in the next two weeks, hosting a pair of four-loss teams (Tennessee and Miami, respectively) prior to a bye in week 11.
4.) Minnesota Vikings (5-2, 1st in NFC North)
If this was three weeks ago, the Vikings would have been the number one surprise in the NFL. Without Teddy Bridgewater and All-pro running back Adrian Peterson, Minnesota got out to a 5-0 start, with a defense that held opponents to just 12.6 points per game. The Vikings christened its new stadium with a 17-14 win over Green Bay, then returned home to week four to dominate Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants, 24-10. On top of the defense, quarterback Sam Bradford’s play was a hot topic on an undefeated Vikings club. After backing up Shaun Hill in a week-one win over the Titans, Bradford threw for 990 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions over a four-game span. However, Minnesota drops on this list because of the results of the last two weeks.
In week seven, the Vikings and its vaunting defense were favored against rookie quarterback Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. However, the two teams played an ugly game with six first-half turnovers, while a Josh Huff 98-yard kick return provided the only touchdown of the first two quarters. Bradford threw his first pick of the season, and the Vikings didn’t find the end zone until there was 37 seconds left in the game.
Minnesota lost a second straight game, falling on Monday night to the one-win Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, 20-10. Bradford has been sacked 11 times over the last two games, and the Vikings cannot run the ball at all (ranked 31st rushing offense in the NFL).
A team that was once the NFL’s favorite surprise of the year has taken a turn for the worst with back-to-back losses. Minnesota hosts Detroit in week nine.
3.) Carolina Panthers (2-5, Last in NFC South)
Were the Panthers a product of Josh Norman? Of course not, but it’s fun to say. Carolina won its first 14 games last season before suffering a loss. In 2016, the reigning NFC champions started 1-5, including a three-game losing streak (week 4-6) against division opponents. Jonathan Stewart is the team’s leading rusher with just 253 yards on the ground. Cam Newton, the NFL’s MVP a year ago, feels “unsafe” on the football field after taking late hits to the head and to his legs. Newton missed a game with a concussion, allowing Derek Anderson to promptly come in and lose a home MNF game against Tampa Bay.
The Panthers did get a big win over the Cardinals last Sunday, though. They are 2-5 this season and will take on the Rams in week nine.
2.) Oakland Raiders (6-2, T-1st in AFC West)
You can draw the comparison that in 2016, the Chargers and Oakland Raiders are basically the exact same team aside from one thing: Oakland is able to finish games while San Diego chokes in dramatic fashion. The Raiders are 6-2 and sit atop the AFC West in a tie with the defending Lombardi Trophy-winning Broncos. Of the six Oakland victories thus far, five have been decided by seven points or less. So, like we did with the Chargers, let’s go in depth on how the Raiders have done it:
Week 1: Trailing by 14 to the Saints in the Superdome, the Raiders offense came alive in the second half to overcome the deficit and tie the game at 27. After a Saints’ touchdown, Oakland drove 75 yards in just over five minutes for a touchdown that seemed to tie the game at 34. However, Jack Del Rio opted to go for the win, and a Derek Carr found Michael Crabtree for the 35-34 win.
Week 3: Tennessee drives to the Oakland three-yard line but the drive stalls. Raiders hold on to win, 17-10, despite being shutout in the second half.
Week 4: Carr’s 23-yard touchdown to Crabtree with 2:12 left lifts the Raiders over the Ravens, 28-27.
Week 5: Aforementioned botched field goal helps the Raiders top the Chargers, 34-31.
Week 8: Oakland commits 23 penalties, most in NFL history, misses two game-winning field goal attempts, yet still defeats the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in overtime, 30-24, on a walk-off 41-yard touchdown catch by Seth Roberts.
Derek Carr is drawing MVP honors through eight games. He is fifth in passing yards (2,321), tied for third in touchdown passes (17), and fifth in overall passer rating (5th).
Oakland hasn’t made the playoffs since losing the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay in the 2002-2003 season, but a six-win first half of the season is a promising start to breaking that postseason drought.
1.) Dallas Cowboys (6-1, 1st in NFC East)
No one would have predicted the Cowboys, a 4-12, last-place club from one year ago, would have gotten off to the NFC’s best start after losing Tony Romo in the preseason. However, Ezekiel Elliot, the fourth overall selection from the draft, leads the NFL in rushing yards behind the league’s best offensive line. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Dak Prescott has taken over for Romo and is playing like a seasoned veteran. The Mississippi State product has 13 combined touchdowns and just two interceptions, leading Dallas to six straight wins after losing the opener to the Giants.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense is yielding just 18.6 points per game, seventh overall in the NFL. The entire team showed resiliency in last Sunday night’s overtime win over Philadelphia, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the second half.