The NFL Landscape
With over a third of the NFL season in the books, trends across divisions and the entire league are starting to emerge.
October 23, 2021
The Cardinals are the de facto power in the NFC West. Following dominant victories against the Rams and the 49ers, the Cardinals are poised to make a deep playoff run. The Rams, with a flourishing passing attack led by Matthew Stafford and a strong defense, are currently second in the division with their only loss against the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers, who have a strong running game and defensive line but a porous secondary and interior offensive line unit, and Seahawks are at the bottom of the division, both plagued by injuries and tough losses.
Led by star quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have gone undefeated after losing their first game of the season. The emergence of their second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs has been pivotal for their blistering start. Over his first six games of the season, he has put his defensive prowess on display by snatching seven interceptions. The Cowboys offense leads the league in rushing yards and had been second in yards per rush during its four game winning streak from Weeks 2-5. The Cowboys appear poised to make a deep playoff run as they continue to dominate their relatively weak division.
After a tough loss to the Saints in Week 1, the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers offense has tormented opposing defenses, especially during the final minutes of a game. Davante Adams, arguably the best wide receiver in the league, is at the peak of his powers, having eclipsed 200 receiving yards against the Bengals in Week 5 and enjoying a pair of 100-yard games against the 49ers and Lions. The Vikings temporarily missed star running back Dalvin Cook, but he showcased his talent with a 140-yard performance in a Week 6 win over Carolina. The Bears, third in the division, will not have that luxury, as their featured running back David Montgomery will be out of action for the coming weeks due to a knee injury. The Lions, under new coach Dan Campbell, have built a culture of hard work and responsibility, but their 0-7 record indicates that they still are … the Lions.
Arguably the best team in the league, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won six of their seven games this season. Led by Tom Brady, who threw for 400 yards with an injured thumb against the Dolphins as well as the Rams, the offense has destroyed defenses this year. However, the injuries they have suffered on defense are concerning, as newly signed cornerback Richard Sherman pulled his hamstring and star safety Antoine Winfield Jr. still suffering from the effects of a concussion. With the Panthers and the Saints looming, the Buccaneers cannot afford to lose any more key players.
The Chargers currently boast a 4-2 record, partly due to the heroics of their star quarterback, Justin Herbert. Having thrown thirteen touchdowns over the last five games and defeated the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs, Herbert has placed his name among the top quarterbacks in the NFL. After losing their last four games, including a 17-14 loss to the Browns on Thursday Night Football in which star pass rusher Von Miller sprained his ankle, the Broncos hot start appears to be a fluke. The Chiefs have a losing 3-4 record in what seems like the first time in forever, due to their embarrassing offensive tackle situation and disappointing pass rush. The 5-2 Raiders, having replaced Jon Gruden with Rich Bisaccia, have beaten their last two opponents in the Broncos and Eagles by double digits, and are leading the AFC West title race by half a game.
The Bills defense has been stonewalling NFL offenses this season. One surprise this season for the BIlls defense has been rookie lineman Gregory Rousseau. Rousseau has used his giant 6-foot-6 frame and Bill Russell wingspan to accumulate 3 sacks and an interception as a rotational player. By beating the reigning AFC champion Chiefs, the Bills have proved to the league that they are serious Super Bowl contenders this season. Patriots QB Mac Jones has taken an innumerable number of hits as their offensive line continues to struggle. However, offseason acquisitions WR Kendrick Bourne and TE Hunter Henry have had solid seasons thus far. The Dolphins offense continues to disappoint as QB Tua Tagovailoa remains injured, and they may be considering a trade for disgraced QB Deshaun Watson to rectify the situation. Considering the overall weakness of the AFC East, the Bills appear set to make a deep playoff run this season.
Having beaten the Chiefs and narrowly lost to the Raiders in a thrilling overtime game, the Baltimore Ravens have cemented their status as a top contender in the AFC North. Even with injuries to their running back room, the Ravens have one of the stronger run games in the league. However, they were handily beaten 41-17 by the now 5-2 Bengals, who share first place with the aforementioned Ravens. Sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow is looking like a franchise quarterback, and rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase is ascending to the top of his draft class. While some Browns fans are disappointed with quarterback Baker Mayfield, the team is off to a good start, with their offense currently leading the NFL in rushing yards. The Steelers are last in the division with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggling. However, rookie running back Najee Harris is off to a great start and carrying Big Ben’s load in the Steelers offense.
The Tennessee Titans lead the NFL’s weakest division. Derrick Henry leads the NFL in rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing yards per game, and rushing touchdowns. However, their passing game is still not in sync despite having Julio Jones and AJ Brown as pass catchers. The Colts, despite winning three of their past four, are a distant second, with their hopes lying with running back Jonathan Taylor and the strong defense; Carson Wentz has shown improvement, but anything can be considered improvement compared to his ghastly 2020-21 campaign. The Texans and the Jaguars are two of the worst teams in the league. The Texans are in need of a competent quarterback and the Jaguars need to diffuse their controversial coaching situation.