It’s no mystery why the Kansas City Chiefs are the league’s only remaining undefeated team—Alex Smith has left his “game manager” status behind and the powerful offence is firing on all cylinders.
Other strong teams, to borrow a famous football phrase, are who we thought they were: the 4-1 Green Bay Packers are leading the NFC North, the Carolina Panthers are playing like it’s 2015, and the Philadelphia Eagles are showing why they’re ready to contend.
But then there are the clubs that are, by all accounts, good — just not according to the standings so far. Numbers don’t lie, but they can be a little bit deceiving sometimes. While a team’s record is the most logical measurement of how they’re doing, it doesn’t always tell the whole story.
Let’s look at some of the teams that are better than what the records show.
Dallas Cowboys, 2-3 | third in NFC East
Week 6 opponent: Bye
Expectations were high for the Cowboys going into this season, especially after going 13-3 last year with standout rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. That offensive line has really held its ground, too, and has been strong again this season.
Yet here they are, above only the winless Giants in the NFC East heading in the bye. Why?
The Cowboys have faced a pretty tough crop of opponents. They earned victories over the Giants in Week 1 (you know, back when they actually had a full slate of healthy receivers) and Cardinals in Week 3, who have themselves been disappointing so far this season. But it’s their losses we’ll look at here: The defence-heavy Denver Broncos, high-scoring Los Angeles Rams and, most recently, they fell victim once again to late-game heroics of Aaron Rodgers (which you can watch at the top of this post). While the loss to the Broncos can easily fall under the “blowout” category, the other two were close until the very end.
The standings should align a little better in their favour soon, as Dallas draws San Francisco in Week 7 after a week off, followed by a matchup against Washington.
Los Angeles Chargers, 1-4 | Last in AFC West
Week 6 opponent: Raiders
When you share a division with the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders, it’s tough sledding from Week 1. (Story of the Chargers’ lives…) Add in the fact you’re playing in a new home in front of
new fans your opponents’ fans, and the cards are already stacked against the Chargers.
There are highlights here, though—just look at Melvin Gordon, who earned AFC offensive player of the week honours thanks to 163 rushing yards and two touchdown receptions in the club’s win over the New York Giants.
Now, for the losses: three of their four losses on the season came down to just a two- or three-point differential, while their only blowout loss came thanks to the dominant Chiefs.
New England Patriots, 3-2 | third in AFC East
Week 6 opponent: New York Jets
For most teams, 3-2 after five weeks of play is perfectly reasonable. But the Patriots aren’t most teams, so it’s only natural to raise an eyebrow at their third-place position in the AFC West under both the Bills (!) and Jets (!!).
The dynastic squad has taken two losses so far this season, first in Week 1 as we all learned just how good the Chiefs are, and then in Week 4 as the Carolina Panthers made a statement of their own.
The issue has been on defence, as free agent signee Stephon Gillmore has struggled to find his place—though he showed marked improvement against Tampa Bay last Thursday.
We have to admit, it’ll be fun to see the Patriots face the Jets in a division rivalry game that might actually mean something. But we’ve got a feeling the Patriots will be having more fun once this one’s over. It shouldn’t be long before the Patriots are back on top.
Cincinnati Bengals, 2-3 | Third in AFC North
Week 6 opponent: Bye
The Bengals’ season opener went about as poorly as possible, being shut out by division rival Ravens. They suffered two more losses (first to the Texans and then the Packers in OT) in the two weeks that followed before finally getting a win against the Browns.
The Bengals currently rank second in total defence and sacks (18) and are allowing the second-fewest points per game (16.6 — behind the Bills) thanks to a rush of young defenders that have been inserted into the lineup to help turn the season around. And the offence is nothing to scoff at, either, as it boasts a healthy A.J. Green and a supporting cast that includes an emerging Tyler Kroft at tight end filling in for Tyler Eifert.
A week of rest will be followed by a potential shot at the No. 1 spot in the division when they meet with the Steelers in Week 7 and attempt to prove that you can recover from 0-3.
Pittsburgh Steelers, 3-2 | First in AFC North
Week 6 opponent: Kansas City Chiefs (ouch)
The Steelers fall under the (totally subjective) category of should be better than their record. Yes, they’re still in first place despite a career-worst performance from Ben Roethlisberger & Co. against Jacksonville this past Sunday that prompted some questionable comments.
The team has gone from Super Bowl pick to a bunch of question marks as sideline drama and on-field chemistry issues plague them.
They’ve got a tough road ahead if they want to maintain their first place division standing, facing the undefeated Chiefs this Sunday and following it up with a matchup against the Bengals and Lions in the weeks that follow. They’ve still got the benefit of the doubt, but just barely. Time to prove yourselves, Steelers.