After finishing up week four in the NFL, there is still a while to go before the playoffs, but certain teams are looking like they may be playoff guaranteed. It’s never good to assume, as a 4-0 team could lose their next 12 games, but there are those teams that you know will continue their early success.
With the new playoff format, it allows for another team to join in. The AFC and NFC both get that extra team, adding more excitement to playoff football.
The AFC has four teams that remain undefeated (Bills, Chiefs, Steelers, and Titans). The difference between them and the NFC is that each division puts up one contender each year. The worst division-winning record last year was the Texans who went 10-6. There is no doubt the AFC puts forth another strong group of teams to compete for the chance at hoisting the Lombardi trophy this year.
*all stats from pro-football-reference.com*
1st Seed – Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
There is no doubt that the Chiefs came out strong this year, hungry for another chance the Lombardi trophy. Three of their four games they have won by two or more scores and the other, winning by just a field goal. Unlike the Ravens, the Chiefs schedule isn’t too easy. They face five projected playoff teams from the AFC and NFC (Baltimore, Las Vegas x2, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans).
Patrick Mahomes is proving that quarantine did not affect him. Currently, he’s throwing for an average of 283.5 yards per game and 11 touchdown passes. Serious threat Tyreek Hill hasn’t been used as usual, but still comes up big when they need him. Other receivers like Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins prove to Mahomes that they can help him out as well. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire didn’t wait too long to storm out onto the big stage. He showed off why he was the first running back taken in the draft, with a dominant 138 rushing yards in the Chiefs opening game.
The Chiefs defense continues to help out Mahomes, giving him and the offense momentum after a four and out stop. To hold quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson, all to 20 points or lower, showed that it’s not only the offense that is destructive.
With their upcoming games, the Chiefs may lose one or two of their more challenging games. That is what will give them the motivation to come back strong after a loss or two. No Super Bowl-winning team wants to miss the playoffs the next year, and Andy Reid’s Chiefs will not allow that to happen.
2nd Seed – Baltimore Ravens (13-3)
The Ravens, who didn’t appear to have the most demanding schedule, still don’t. Many of the better teams they are playing don’t look as strong anymore. The Ravens opponents have the lowest average win percentage (.438) of all teams, giving them the “easiest” schedule. An early loss to the Chiefs gets rid of their hardest opponent and helps them carry a long win streak into the playoffs.
Reigning MVP Lamar Jackson continues what he did last year, excelling in the passing and rushing game. Pass catchers Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews continue to get open, allowing him to stay in the pocket more. Running backs Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and JK Dobbins split their share of the carries and offer much needed run support.
The Ravens defense is the ones that continue to give Jackson and his offense, opportunities to go up big early on. They’ve allowed less than 20 points in three of their four games. The only time they allowed more was against the Chiefs (34).
The combination of great defense and offense will help the Raven’s continue to add to the win column. With a bitter ending to the playoffs last year, the Ravens look to silence critics this year.
3rd Seed – Buffalo Bills (12-4)
With Tom Brady leaving, it left the AFC East up for grabs, as the Patriots dynasty is over. Bills quarterback Josh Allen chose that the AFC East belongs to the Bills and snatched it away from other teams. They’re off to a hot 4-0 start, and a loss isn’t even a concern right now.
This year was the make or break season for Josh Allen to prove himself, as he entered his third year in the league. Allen has not disappointed and has already drawn a Tom Brady comparison from Brett Favre. A part of Allen’s success could be connected to their newest wide receiver, Stefon Diggs. Diggs and Allen both are top 2 in the league in passing and receiving yards. Other than that, second-year man Devin Singletary gets the bulk of the carries to help the offense.
The Bills defense hasn’t always been the greatest, but the offense continues to make up for it. With a stronger defense, a run at the playoffs looks to be likely for the Bills.
The Bills get to prove how good they really are when they take on the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. A team who lost in a playoff game which they choked last year, don’t want a repeat performance.
4th Seed – Tennessee Titans (11-5)
The Tennessee Titans are already back in the form they were in for the playoffs last year when they made the surprising run for the AFC Conference Championship. An early COVID scare, which postponed one of their games, is being handled at the moment.
The Titans run-heavy offense do not appear to have changed at all. Tannehill continues to hand the ball off to Derrick Henry and gets the passing offense going when needed. Any team who wants to stop this offense need to control the run game before anything else.
With the Titans only playing three games, it’s hard to judge their defense on anything as they’ve been inconsistent. Thirty points let up to both the Vikings and Jaguars, resulted in the defense looking to the offense for help. Their special teams are indeed getting them these wins as all three games have ended with a late field goal to seal the victory.
A team that gained more experience in the playoffs last year than anyone expected will no doubt come in with the same energy. They’ve seen what they can do to teams when they put their mind to it. The possibility of a deep run in the playoffs this year doesn’t even seem to be a question.
5th Seed – Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the surprise team this year as Ben Roethlisberger returned from injury. It was unsure whether he would perform to the standard he used to before his injury. A 3-0 start has shown he still can get the ball around to different receivers.
The Steelers offense has worked well as a unit so far. Their game plan seems to involve different guys on different nights, and whoever he is, he takes over. James Connor took over one night while Juju Smith-Schuster flew by corners another night. The overall offense hasn’t let a defense shut them down yet.
A Steelers defense helped them to an 8-8 record last year, and they continue to impress. With the addition of a healthy, commanding offense, the defense gets a lot more support. No doubt, they are given that boost of confidence, knowing the offense can take control early.
The Steelers only issue is that they now play 13 straight weeks, due to their week four-game getting canceled. The rest of the season will prove how tough they are. Stamina is what the Steelers need to get back to the playoffs.
6th Seed – Raiders (10-6)
The Raiders have already given glimpses of a team that could fight for a wild card spot. Defeating the Saints on Monday Night Football was their way of showing that they’re here and aren’t going to go down easy.
Derek Carr continues to show that he can lead his team when given a surrounding offense that works with him. Star running back, Josh Jacobs lets him take a break from the passing game and provides lots of yards after the catch. Nelson Agholor, who doesn’t look like his old self (which is a good thing), and Henry Ruggs III proves to be deep threats week in and week out. When their offense works together, there isn’t much that can stop them.
Four tough teams offensively have taken hits on their defense each week. Even though they have dealt with losses the past two weeks, the defense can get the job done, no doubt about it.
A team with hardly any playoff experience do have a coach who’s won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jon Gruden knows what it takes to lead a team to the Super Bowl, and is one of the better guys to have as a coach in the playoffs.
7th Seed – Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
A Colts team who didn’t have high expectations coming into the season have already flexed their muscles. The signing of Phillip Rivers proved to be the right move as he’s led them to a 3-1 record so far.
The offense behind Rivers is mainly a younger team, besides TY Hilton. Both have experience in the league and can guide other players on their team. The Colts have a passing offense and rushing offense that can be used whenever they need it. Most of the time, one is used more than the other, given the team’s defense has a weakness. New names like Mo Alie-Cox have emerged as a result of their new QB and his preferred targets.
The Colts defense has been impressive, as they held the Vikings and Bears to 11 points each. The defense also shut down the Jets offense, allowing them only to score once. Any team whos defense can consistently hold offenses to under 15 points lets the offense relax a little bit.
Two great units on offense and defense can propel the Colts to return to the playoffs after not making it last year. With the addition of Phillip Rivers, a QB who has gone as far as the AFC Championship game, can lead this team into the playoffs with confidence.
These seven teams look to be ahead of the competition, but you never know what other teams may emerge.
A competitive final 13 weeks will offer a close playoff race between all 16 NFL teams.