Connor Watson, Staff Writer
Halfway through the National League Season, many teams are starting to get ahead of the pack. Through defense, quarterback play, running back quality, and strength of teams beat, these teams are the best. From the National Football Conference:
Number 3: San Francisco 49ers
The only undefeated left in the NFC at number three? Yes. And here is why:
This season the 49er’s defense is second in the entire league behind the New England Patriots. Against the pass, they have given up only 901 yards (1st in the league) and five passing touchdowns (2nd). Against the run, they have allowed 670 rushing yards (11th) and only two rushing TDs (3rd). Standouts include: defensive end Nick Bosa, the rookie has a team leading seven sacks, 11 tackles for a loss (TFL), and 13 quarterback hits (QBHits); cornerback Richard Sherman, who has a team leading three interceptions (int), one TD, and seven passes defended (PD); and linebacker Fred Warner leads the team in tackles with 30 solo tackles.
Their offense is led by Jimmy Garoppolo. The fifth-year quarterback is averaging 69.3 percent of his passes (cmp.), 212.7 yards, and 1.3 TD a game. His good completion percentage is not reflected well in his yards and touchdowns per game – having only nine TD on the year. The ground game also has some hitches as well. Running back Matt Breida is averaging 10.5 attempts, 55.75 yds, with only one rushing touchdown on the year, and running back Tevin Coleman is averaging 14.2 att., 66.4 yds, one TD a game. Coleman has only played five games but is clearly the lead back. The split time between the backs ensures that not one is overcome with a massive workload. This can be beneficial and has helped the 49ers win games.
The schedule for the 49ers has been favorable for them; the combined record for the teams they have beat is 17-35. Two teams they beat were the 0-8 Cincinnati Bengals and the 1-7 Washington Redskins. Their best win came against the 5-2 Los Angeles Rams, who they defeated by a score of 20-7.
This is the reason for their number 3 power rank: they haven’t faced any real competition, and when they do, I believe they will be handed their first loss of the season. They have a great defense and will beat the teams they need to beat, but I believe they have another thing coming when they play more winning teams.
Number 2: Green Bay Packers
The Packers this year are 7-1 and have had an exceptional last three games. They are number two and here is why:
The Packers’ defense has been in the middle of the pack (no pun intended) this season: 2014 passing yards given up (19th in the league), 11 passing TD (12th), but have intercepted eight passes (5th).
Against the rush: 990 yards (24th) and eight TD (19th). Standouts this season include: linebacker Blake Martinez, who is leading the league with 52 tackles; defensive back Jaire Alexander, who has recorded one interception and 11 PD; and Defensive ends Za’Darius and Preston Smith, these two are the not-so-secret secret weapons for the Packers’ frontline, they are combined for 15 tackles and 28 QBHits.
Their offense started off shaky this year. In their first five games, Aaron Rodgers averaged 63 percent of passes, 261.4 yds, and 1.2 TD. Over his next three games, Rodgers was able to turn it around and get on the same page with first-year head coach Matt LeFleur. In his last three games, Rodgers averaged 71 percent cmp., 339 yds, and 3.3 TD. The early struggles are attributed to the new play designs by head coach LeFleur, who wanted to establish the running game early on this season. Running back Aaron Jones has been a workhorse this year: 14.2 att., 58.3 yds, one TD, and receiving this year he is averaging four receptions, 44.4 yds, with three receiving touchdowns on the year.
The schedule for the Packers this year has not been completely easy. The teams they have beaten are a combined 26-25, one game above .500, but they still faced stiff competition against many teams. They have faced off against three teams with a losing record. The Packers are second on my list because with each game they seem to be improving and playing better football. With Aaron Rodgers and Matt LeFleur on the same page, this team is a scary team to face.
Number 1: New Orleans Saints
The Saints this year were without their Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, for a good portion of the first half. He had a thumb injury that sidelined him for five weeks, but they still managed to acquire a 7-1 record. Here is how they did it:
The defense this year has been exceptional, better than the Packers. The defense has allowed 1858 passing yards (12th in the league), 10 TD (9th), with only three interceptions (27th). They have allowed 674 rushing yards (2nd) and seven touchdowns (15th). The defense has been excellent. Standouts include: linebacker Demario Davis, who leads the team with 42 tackles; defensive end Cameron Jordan leads with seven TFL and 13 QBHits; and star cornerback Marshon Lattimore has one int. and nine PD.
The offense has been just as impressive this year, even with Drew Brees missing. Back-up QB Teddy Bridgewater filled in for the hurt Brees and performed well. In six games, Bridgewater averaged 67.8 cmp., 228 yds, and 1.5 TD. They won all five of his games he started. Their only loss came against the Rams in Week 2 when Brees went down with an injury in the first quarter. Now, Brees is back and he picked up right where he left off. Excluding his game against the Rams, Brees is averaging this year, in two games, 76.7 cmp, 371.5 yards, and 2.5 TD. This is a small sample size, but it is still impressive.
With Brees down, Bridgewater stepped up and had the help of his running backs: Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. Kamara is averaging, in six games, 14 att., 62 yds, with only one rushing TD, and 5.5 receptions, 46 yds, with only one receiving touchdown. In Latavius Murray’s two starts, he averaged 24 att., 110.5 yds, 1.5 TD, and receiving he averaged seven receptions, 43 yds, one TD. He has had a higher workload in the games he started, and for good reason—he is really good running back. The Saints lead the power ranks because of their great offense and good defense. The combined record of the teams they beat is 27-25. They have faced better competition than the Packers, and I believe if Brees did not get injured in the first quarter against the Rams, the Saints might have been able to win that game – making them undefeated.
From the American Football Conference:
Number 3: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are atop of the AFC East with a record of 5-2. They were a tough choice to put at number three because they have good contenders in the AFC South in the Houston Texans. I ultimately chose the Ravens because the Texans have just lost their star Defensive end J.J. Watt. Now without his presence on defense, I feel the Texans may be hard fought to keep their spot of first place from the Indianapolis Colts, who have already defeated the Texans this year.
The defense of the Ravens is tricky, they give up a lot of yards (1858 yds, 26th in the league), but they do not give up many passing touchdowns (seven TD, 6th). On the flip side, they give up very few rushing yards (590 yds, 3rd), but give up many touchdowns (eight rushing TD, 24th). What this tells me, is when a team gets to the RedZone against the Ravens, the Ravens RedZone Run Defense cannot stop the other team from running it in. A few standouts from the defense include: linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, 23 tackles; cornerback Marlon Humphrey, two int., seven PD, and two fumble recoveries; and linebacker Matt Judon, four sacks, 13 QBHits. The defense has also won them games when the Raven offense has gone against a tough opposing defense. For example, their Week 8 game against the Seahawks was won by their defense who scored two touchdowns. The final score was 20-13.
Their main source of offense comes in the form of second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson. On the year, he is averaging 63.3 percent cmp., 206.25 yds, and 1.6 TD. Rather subpar numbers, but what he is truly gifted at is his rushing. He averages 11.9 rushes, 82.3 yds, and has three rushing touchdowns on the year. Another factor they have is Mark Ingram at running back. Ingram is averaging 14.14 att., 67.1 yds, and one TD.
The fact the Ravens are third also stems from the combined wins of the teams they beat: 12-25. They have won against really poor teams, i.e. losing 0-7 against the Dolphins and 0-8 against the Bengals. The only above .500 team they beat was the Seahawks where their defense won them the game. But, so far this year I am placing them at number three.
Number 2: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are 5-3 on the year and are looking to get back to the AFC Championship game. They are number two because of the reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes.
But first, the defense:
The Chiefs’ defense on the year has been – okay. Against the pass they have given up 1856 yards through the air (11th in the league) and 11 TD (12th). The pass defense is top tier. However, it is the run defense that gets the team in trouble. The Chiefs defense has given up 1160 rushing yards (30th) and 10 TD (26th). They struggle in all aspects in preventing teams from running. A few standouts from the defense include: cornerback Charvarius Ward, two int., five PD; defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, 4.5 sacks, 10 QBHits; and linebacker Damien Wilson: 36 solo tackles.
The reason for the success of the Chiefs does not come from the defense, it comes from Patrick Mahomes. On the year, Mahomes has averaged 65.1 per cent cmp., 311.4 yds, and 2.5 TD in seven games. Unfortunately, Mahomes was injured in his game against the Texans with a dislocated kneecap and relinquished quarterback duties to Matt Moore, who put up a decent outing against the Packers: 24/36 cmp. 267 yds, and two TD. Their running game has been less than okay. The lead rusher on the team is Lesean McCoy, who is averaging 8.6 att., 45.25 yds, and two total touchdowns. Most of the offense comes from the passing game anyway by Mahomes’ 2180 passing yards on the year.
The Chiefs are 5-3 and the teams they have beaten have a combined record of 17-19 with only two games under .500. The Chiefs are still a good team and are trying to replace the production they had from Kareem Hunt in the run game. They average 28.3 points per game, which is 4th in the league. They are number two because I believe they still have it in them to get back to the AFC Championship game with a healthy Patrick Mahomes.
Number 1: New England Patriots
The Patriots are 8-0 on the year and has shown no signs of slowing down. They have the best defense in the league, allowing 1190 passing yards (2nd in the league), two TD (1st), and a whopping 19 int. (1st). They have also been one of the best against the run as well: 682 rushing yards (4th) and two TD (2nd). Standouts, and this was hard to narrow down, include: cornerback Devin McCourty, five int. and six PD; linebacker Jamie Collins: three int. and 35 solo tackles; and cornerback Stephen Gillmore, three int. and 10 PD. The defense has been impeccable.
The offense has also been the best in the league in scoring: 250 points or 31.3 points a game which is first in the league. This is in part to quarterback Tom Brady. On the year, he has averaged 64.7 percent cmp., 281.4 yds, and 1.6 TDs. These are excellent numbers and from someone who has played for almost 19 seasons, it is impressive that he is still producing. The running backs have also been a big factor in the offense. Running back Sony Michel is averaging 17.5 att., 58 yards, and .75 TD – six touchdowns on the year. The other running back, James White, has been primarily used as a receiving back, recording an average of 5.25 rec, 44.75 yds, with only one TD. They have been dominating teams.
The Patriots are one of only two undefeated teams left in the NFL this season. However, one big reason the Patriots are undefeated is because of the quality of teams they have played. The combined record for teams they have beaten is 14-37. One of the biggest reasons for their inflated numbers are because of this fact. The only team they have beaten with a winning record are the Buffalo Bills who are 5-2. They alone account for five of the 14 wins. But, as it has been proven again and again, you do not count out Bill Belichick and his defense.