1. New England Patriots (7-1)
The Patriots have not been immune to the parity that has been everywhere this NFL season, falling to the Buffalo Bills 16-0 in Week 4. However, they are still clearly a step above everyone and have been the class of the league thus far. Roger Goodell might have done the team a favor by giving star quarterback Tom Brady an extra four games rest. They don’t put up gaudy numbers or ‘wow’ you with star power (outside of Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski) but what they do is win, although Brady does lead the league in total QBR. With a weak AFC East, the Patriots are on their way to finishing the year with a superb record and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
2. Dallas Cowboys (7-1)
Disclaimer: This is a ranking of the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys, not the soon-to-be Tony Romo-led Cowboys. Prescott has been the pleasant surprise of the league so far, going from fourth-round pick in April to leading one of the best teams in the NFL. The team has been a little bit snake bitten, dealing with numerous injuries all season and they are still 7-1. Prescott has shown no signs of the rookie jitters and the team has functioned at a high level all season. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot leads the league in rushing and as a team, the Cowboys are sixth in total offense. The defense is top-10 in total defense as well. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic changes and what Jason Garrett decides once Romo is fully healthy, but so far this year it has been clear they are a force to be reckoned with.
3. Atlanta Falcons (5-3)
I’m bullish on this Falcons squad. Their record and their recent history aren’t on their side but this might be the year they break through as a real contender. Matt Ryan has been phenomenal so far this year, leading the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns and he is near the bottom of the league in interceptions. His partner-in-crime Julio Jones has been a big reason for their success as well, leading the league in receiving yards and receptions for 20 or more yards. As a team, Atlanta leads the league in total offense. They seem to have climbed over the hill from a rough patch a couple weeks ago but a challenging next few weeks is when we will find out if they are for real. Count me in as a believer.
4. Oakland Raiders (7-2)
I might be sleeping on Oakland here, and I’ll own that. But despite their success this year, currently topped off with their victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, I’m not ready to totally anoint them quite yet. There’s no denying the success of their young offensive standouts, quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper. Carr is fifth in the league in passing yards and Cooper is third in the league in receiving yards. However, the Raiders are 30th in total defense and are only 2-2 at home this year. Plus, with the background noise of the team moving to Las Vegas and a tough division, I’m going to have to wait to see if head coach Jack Del Rio has turned this team around for real.
5. Denver Broncos (5-3)
There was a lot of mediocrity to choose from for this final spot. Reasonable cases could be made for the Vikings, Chiefs and Seahawks in my opinion. However, those teams haven’t shown enough to be trusted yet. The Broncos are fairly reliable, Gary Kubiak has been here before and I’m not worried that they are third in the AFC West. They have two games left against the Chiefs and one against the Raiders and, should they perform well, they’ll leapfrog those teams. They are an incredibly talented defensive team who need to tighten things up a little bit. Offensively, quarterback play has been inconsistent between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, but it has been serviceable. Von Miller is still one of the best defensive players in the entire league and they are still the reigning Super Bowl champions. Despite their most recent game being a loss, they’re only going to trend upwards in my opinion.
Matt Barresi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org