NFL Division Leaders: Contenders or Pretenders?

It’s been 3 weeks and like always, each division has its leader. But which of these leaders are contenders, and which are pretenders? Before we dive in we must first establish what being a contender is. To put it in simple terms, contender means that the team will continue to not only win games, but play like playoff contenders in those games. For example, if the Dolphins go 10-6 but win each game by 3 points against terrible teams, then they’re most likely a pretender. On the contrary, if the Dolphins go 10-6 but win each game by 17 points against difficult teams, then they’re most likely a contender. In general, being a contender means that the team would perform well in the playoffs.

AFC East: Miami Dolphins (3-0)

Heading into the season, this team was very underrated. There were some reports of them finishing last in the division. Well that looks unlikely now as they’ve gotten off to a scorching 3-0 start. They can thank the secondary greatly for that as they’ve already totaled 7 interceptions. However, it’s important to note the quarterbacks they’ve been playing against (Marcus Mariota, San Darnold, Derek Carr) as they’ve all proven to be fairly inefficient at times. Not to mention that these interceptions haven’t translated into a great passing defense as they actually rank 29th at the moment. Another possible fluke has been Ryan Tannehill who has been unusually efficient with the ball. If he can’t keep this efficiency up the team will get significantly worse. The efficiency and the teams wins in general may also be a result of the easy schedule so far. Playing the Titans, Jets, and Raiders and barely beating any of them is not the most impressive.

Verdict: Pretender

AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals (2-1)

For the first two weeks of the regular season, the offense was on fire. Andy Dalton was throwing extremely well, AJ Green had caught 4 TD passes, and the O-Line was looking good. Then, in week three it all came down. Dalton threw for 4 interceptions and despite Tyler Boyd compiling 132 yards they still lost. We’ve seen Dalton play really well for full seasons before but it hasn’t happened for a while. If he can continue what he did in Weeks 1 and 2 this team could have a slight chance at the playoffs. But even if they made the playoffs, they’d be a Wild Card exit as proven in years past. This is a team that has the talent, but just can’t put it together.

Verdict: Pretender

AFC South: Tennessee Titans (2-1)

This team made a wave in the playoffs last year with an upset in the Wild Card round. With completely new and upgraded coaches including HC Mike Vrabel this team looks to be going places. The O-Line is good, the weapons are good, and the defense has played really good. This team has the perfect combination of the talent on defense as well as the coaching on the defense to have this be one of the NFL’s top units. It’s showed so far as well as they held the Jaguars to just 6 points and the Texans to just 17. On the offensive side of the ball new OC Matt LaFleur looks to try and make Marcus Mariota the QB he has the talent to be, and I’m convinced he can. Let’s not forget he was the OC of the Rams in 2017, the season where Jared Goff improved significantly.

Verdict: Contender

AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)

Patrick Mahomes has become many peoples early MVP favorite, and for a good reason too. He’s thrown for 13 TD and shown off magnificent plays in just three weeks so far. He’s fully exploited the talent around him, which also happens to be filled to the brim. In the past three weeks the Chiefs offense has combined for an average of about 39 points. You read the correctly, 39 points. Will they be able to keep this up? Obviously not to that extent but it’s definitely possible that they could finish with one of the best offenses in the NFL this year. However, the defense is an entirely different story as they’ve given up an average of about 31 points this year, and that’s not even a surprise. The defense currently lacks any real talent and while S Eric Berry should come back at some point the defense will still be mediocre at best. You couple that with the fact that the Chiefs always seem to cool down in the second half of the year, and the playoff inconsistencies and I’m not completely sold on this team.

Verdict: Pretender

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles (2-1)

Despite losing to the red-hot Buccaneers and barely beating the Colts these are the Super Bowl champs, and now their star QB is back. They also still have one of the best O-Lines and D-Lines, and still have one of the best locker rooms as well as coaching in the NFL. Let’s not sleep on them.

Verdict: Contender

NFC North: Chicago Bears (2-1)

Another underrated team heading into the season, the Bears have performed exceptional for where they were supposed to be at the be at the beginning of the year. Barely losing out the Green Bay Packers, then beating the Seahawks and Cardinals they’ve gotten off to a 2-1 start. The defense, anchored by early DPOY favorite Khalil Mack along with loads of other talented players looks great, and the offense could break out this year under new and highly-acclaimed HC Matt Nagy. The talent and breakout potential of this team in general looks great and I expect them to continue if not improve this year as a whole.

Verdict: Contender

NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)

For almost a full game, it appeared as if this team had gone back down to earth, Fitzpatrick had thrown 3 interceptions and the team had amassed just 13 points. Then, Fitzpatrick unlocked Fitzmagic mode and the team was back in business, scoring 14 points in about half of a quarter and nearly completing a comeback. Not all good things could stay however, as the Buccaneers came back down to earth again and lost the game. No matter how good Fitzpatrick has played now, it almost certainly won’t continue. Fitzpatrick played like himself that game and its most likely how he’ll play for the rest of the year. Fitzmagic has happened before, and it’s certainly fun while it lasts but don’t expect the team to last.

Verdict: Pretender

NFC West: Los Angeles Rams (3-0)

The Rams look like the best team in the NFL. In Week 1 they beat the Raiders 33-13. In Week 2 they defeated the Cardinals 34-0. Then finally, the Rams got a true test in the LA Chargers, and they delivered winning 35-23. This team is legitimate, very. While the star-studded offense won’t always go off for 35 points, they could still finish as the best in the NFL this year. The defense also looks fantastic once again, and while the locker room may unfold a bit it shouldn’t be enough to knock the defense out of elite status. All in all, this team looks like the real deal.

Verdict: Contender