Fans of every league wish for parity in their favorite sport. Parity allows for hope of a glorious run to the championship and your childhood team raising the banner. The NFL sells hope better than anyone else, and it’s even more evident this season.
While New England and Kansas City seem like the clear favorites to win the Super Bowl, we know just getting into the dance is the first step, and there are 22 other teams still in the hunt! There are 24 teams — including the Patriots and Chiefs — that are .500 or better, and 13 of them are sitting at 2-2. I’m going to focus on those teams because their seasons could go in any direction after the first quarter of the season.
Let’s start with looking at their efficiency rankings heading into Week 5, as graded by Football Outsiders:
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. Philadelphia Eagles
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
13. Carolina Panthers
14. Cleveland Browns
15. Minnesota Vikings
16. Tennessee Titans
17. Houston Texans
18. Jacksonville Jaguars
19. Los Angeles Chargers
22. New York Giants
25. Oakland Raiders
26. Indianapolis Colts
If y’all follow my writing, you know I don’t like to rank things, but I do love to put teams in tiers. So let’s tier up these teams and see who’s got a chance for actual playoff success.
Teams with new starting QBs (that probably won’t make the playoffs)
Backup quarterbacks are awesome. We all love them when they are winning. And they are doing some winning now — but sorry, I don’t think these teams are getting to the postseason.
New York Giants
The Daniel Jones era has begun, and he’s off to an excellent start. The Giants had a big comeback win against the Bucs and then beat a punchless Washington team that saw Jones regress back to the mean. Now the Giants get the Vikings and Patriots, plus have three games against the Eagles and Cowboys still on the schedule.
Jones will have his rookie bumps and bruises, and the defense will continue to be poor. That combination will cost them a chance at the playoffs. At least the Giants are exciting again. They have hope — a new franchise quarterback.
I understand that Jacoby Brissett is the starter now, but he entered the preseason as the backup before Andrew Luck retired. He’s played better than most expected, which isn’t a surprise to me. He’s been efficient in the offense and the Colts have rushed the ball well.
However, their defense has been less than ideal — 31st by Football Outsiders — and the injuries are piling up. I think they get to eight wins, but that’s not enough to take the division.
Kyle Allen is a great story, but I think the fairy tale is ending soon. He got the win over Houston, but fumbled three times and didn’t complete passes with the same energy as his first start. Their offense is ranked in the bottom third.
One reason for optimism is the defense. It’s taken off under Ron Rivera, who’s calling plays on defense again. Rookie Brian Burns has been everything they’d hoped for as a pass rusher. That all being said, I think Allen struggles against Jacksonville, Tampa, and San Francisco in his next three games. Cam Newton will be back under center at some point, but can we trust him? I’m not sure.
This is the one team in this group I can see having a chance to make the playoffs, because the Jaguars’ division is so bad and their defense is so good. Their defense can carry them. Gardner Minshew, the rookie from Washington State, has been a breath of fresh air this season. His play so far seems like it can stick, so they are dialing up easy throws for him. If he can win a few more games before Nick Foles comes back, or if Minshew continues his torrid start, they have a playoff chance.
Are we sure they are any good?
It’s hard to know what to make about these teams right now.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Raiders are in via tiebreaker! Yes, you read that correctly. But I think it’s smoke and mirrors. As you can see by their efficiency ratings, it’s not been pretty. They beat a bad Broncos team and upset the Colts last weekend. That was a shocker and now they head to London to face the Bears. The Bears’ defense is about to eat.
My question with the Raiders is this: Is there anything they do well? What can they hang their hat on? That’s my concern. Don’t count on them making the playoffs.
Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans
Someone has to win the AFC South, but these two teams aren’t trustworthy. The Titans have beaten the Browns and Falcons on the road, while losing to the Jaguars and Colts. I don’t know what to expect from them in any given week.
The Texans, including Deshaun Watson, have looked awesome at times, while other times looking like poop. I think their coaching staff is subpar and it’s holding them back. Their offensive line isn’t the best, but Watson doesn’t help by holding the ball forever. I don’t trust either of these teams, but one might make the playoffs anyway.
This is an indictment on Kirk Cousins, who’s not been worth that $84 million he received. He’s got multiple wide receivers upset with him as the offense hasn’t been able to throw the ball at all. He’s ranked 30th by Football Outsiders, and that will only improve if they change the offense to something that’s more aggressive. More play-action pass. More Cousins moving outside the pocket.
But, I don’t think Mike Zimmer will allow his offensive staff to be more aggressive. Nothing in the past has shown I can believe this change will be made.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I was shocked to see Tampa Bay this high on the efficiency list, with its defense leading the way at No. 6. They aren’t a talented bunch, but defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has elevated the play of the entire unit, starting with Shaquil Barrett, who leads the NFL with nine sacks through four weeks. Good start for them.
On the offensive side, I thought the pairing of Bruce Arians with Jameis Winston would be fruitful. And it seems like it’s moving in that direction. Winston has cut down on turnovers, with only two interceptions in the last three games. However, do we trust this is the new Winston? I certainly don’t. I need more games to determine if the Bucs are real or not.
Los Angeles Chargers
They are just beat up. I believe in Philip Rivers, and playmakers like Derwin James, Melvin Ingram, and Hunter Henry should eventually return this season. They are in this group because of those injuries solely. I think the Chargers will make the playoffs if they can get some of those players back.
These teams are likely in the dance
Whether it’s by winning their division or as a wild card, I expect these teams to make the playoffs.
They’re so well coached and have an elite quarterback in Carson Wentz. They are 2-2, but ranked at sixth because they are a well-balanced team. The Eagles know how to win and I think their victory in Green Bay with some key parts back in the lineup will fire them up. The Eagles are in the playoffs.
I know some think I “hate” the Browns, yet I believe they’re making the playoffs. Their offense finally came alive last weekend against the Ravens. That’s the offense everyone expected. Their defense is still legit and they are 1-0 against their main competition in the division. I trust their talent, but I’m still not sure about their coaching yet. Still, they most likely will win the AFC North.
It’s no surprise the Ravens’ defense has taken a nosedive after losing four starters to free agency. If their defense isn’t good, it shut downs their offense. Their offense is best when playing ahead, as we’ve seen in the limited time Lamar Jackson has been at quarterback. The Ravens’ signal caller is outstanding against terrible opponents, but is now 1-4 in his five games against strong competition. I didn’t like the Ravens coming into the season for these two reasons, and if they get left out of the playoffs, it’s because of that.