Beyond the Bison: Homecoming

Doug Hendry, Editor-in-chief

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After six weeks of a surprising NFL season, five teams are undefeated and remain in the conversation of which teams are considered “elite.” Not all undefeated teams are created equal, and while some division leaders have been able to dominate their competition, other squads have just gotten by and may encounter some problems during the playoffs. Here are my power rankings for the remaining teams without a loss in the NFL.

  1. Denver Broncos (6-0)

The Broncos have limped the entire way to their undefeated status. Their largest margin of victory was just 12 points, and Peyton Manning has looked nothing like he has the past few seasons, leading the NFL with 10 interceptions thrown. The offense has sputtered, and the Broncos have either trailed or been tied in the second half in five of their six games. It’s great that they have been able to make comebacks late in games when it has mattered the most, but they don’t want to rely on that.

The saving grace for the Broncos has been their defense. Ranking second in yards allowed per game and fourth in points allowed per game, teams have not been able to exploit this defense that features Von Miller, T. J. Ward, and Danny Trevathan. If the offense rolls around, this team has a lot of potential. Still, that 3-4 defensive unit will be put to the test with the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers in upcoming weeks, and I don’t see them surviving against those teams.

First predicted loss – Week 8 vs. Green Bay.

  1. Carolina Panthers (5-0)

They may be the most surprising undefeated team left, but they have scored at least 20 points in every game so far, most recently including a 27-23 win over Seattle. Cam Newton finally looks like a leader, and both the ground game and the aerial attack are working.

The defense has been consistent, even with Luke Kuechly suffering from a concussion in the early season. He recorded 14 combined tackles in his return from injury, and if he stays healthy, he will be the leader of this defense. How they will fare against top teams is more worrying. They may be 5-0, with good players all-around, but Carolina won’t be considered an elite team by the end of the season.

First predicted loss – Week 8 vs. Indianapolis.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (6-0)

I would have thought that I was crazy if I said this at the beginning of the season, but Andy Dalton is my MVP so far. He has 1,761 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 116.1 passer rating. Even more impressive are the comebacks he has orchestrated. I know I bashed the Broncos for relying on their second-half comebacks, but Denver’s offense has been abysmal. Cincinnati has looked consistently strong throughout each game, before kicking into high gear in the fourth quarter.

Everything may be coming together for the Bengals, but will they have playoff success this season? Dalton’s biggest criticism has been his lack of success in the playoffs, but I don’t think this year will be the same. The team looks great, and they should certainly beat a wild card team if they secure a top-two spot in the AFC.

First predicted loss: Week 8 at Pittsburgh.

  1. New England Patriots (5-0)

The reigning Super Bowl champions have looked as strong as ever, and it all starts with Tom Brady. At 38 years of age, Brady has shown no signs of deterioration, leading the Patriots to wins over Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Indianapolis behind an excellent offensive line. Defensively, New England has a fairly strong unit. They might not be the best in the AFC, but they do their job well enough to let the offense do the rest. Linebackers Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, and Dont’a Hightower anchor this defensive unit.

New England has already faced the toughest part of the schedule, and in a weak AFC, there is little doubt in my mind that they will receive home field advantage in the playoffs. Their upcoming opponents include the rest of the weak NFC East, and their division rivals Denver, Houston, and Tennessee. Is there a loss in there somewhere? I’m not so sure, but I see them losing before my number one team ever suffers a loss.

First predicted loss: Week 13 vs. Philadelphia.

  1. Green Bay Packers (6-0).

Aaron Rodgers just became the quarterback to throw for 30,000 yards in the fewest attempts, passing all-time great Johnny Unitas. The award for best active quarterback in the NFL can be argued, and the answer is either Brady or Rodgers. Both New England and Green Bay have very similar teams, but I see the Packers having a lot more success behind the great fans at Lambeau Field. Like the Patriots, their schedule isn’t difficult; the toughest matchups will be later in the season, against Arizona and a healthy Dallas team.

There is excellent depth on this squad–when one player goes down or struggles, someone else is always there to fill the void. There are no ‘me’ players on this squad; this is an actual team that is fighting together for one ultimate goal—a Super Bowl victory. They will be searching for their homecoming back to the golden land, when they won the Super Bowl in 2011.

First predicted loss: In the 2016 season.

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