You know what they say. The cream always rises to the top. And right now, at least, the best teams in the NFL have wasted no time proclaiming themselves title contenders.
Entering Week 4 of the NFL season, there are seven undefeated teams. While not all seven are equally talented, the “best of the undefeateds” — as I called them this week on my podcast — have certainly been established.
And yes, the New England Patriots are one of the best, as they enter their bye week. Only three games in, however, it seems somewhat impossible to name the top dog — a No. 1 in the power rankings, if you will.
So how about this? I’ll one-up your weekly power rankings by telling you that the top four teams in the NFL right now will be the last four teams standing in January during Conference Championship weekend.
Those four teams? The Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, and Denver Broncos. They’re the best of the undefeateds in the NFL through three weeks. And they’ll be the best four teams vying for a chance to play in Super Bowl 50 this winter.
The other three undefeated teams — the Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers — are all pretenders, in my opinion.
Credit where credit is due though. Both Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan are making the most of their respective big-play receivers in A.J. Green and Julio Jones. But the Bengals and Falcons have flaws that leave me uneasy putting them in the same category as the Patriots, Packers, Cardinals, and Broncos.
For one, Cincinnati’s schedule isn’t the easiest, as their next three games are against a hungry Kansas City Chiefs team, a Seattle Seahawks club that’s just getting their groove back, and a Buffalo Bills squad whose defense should give Dalton fits at the Ralph.
Meanwhile, the Falcons might have the easiest schedule in football, and with their next six games against Houston, Washington, New Orleans, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco, they could be looking at a 9-0 record entering a Week 10 showdown with the Indianapolis Colts. Still, it’s the Falcons quarterback — Ryan — who is guaranteed to make several mental mistakes and bad throws in every game, that will eventually cost them.
Oh, and as for Carolina, I can’t take the Panthers too seriously right now because the three teams they’ve beaten so far are Jacksonville, Houston, and a Drew-Brees-less Saints team.
So that leaves us with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer, and Peyton Manning. The best-four now. And the final four when it’s all said and done.
I know, you’ve already given up on Manning. You think he can’t throw anymore. I’ve heard you. But his offensive line will improve, and the reality of his arm strength (with time in the pocket) isn’t the same as what some want to be the reality. He’s got enough brains and weapons to get to the AFC Championship and lose to the Patriots.
Yes, I said “lose to the Patriots.” Because there’s nobody I’m taking in this league over Brady. Not right now. Not even over Rodgers, who some have recently tried to compare to Michael Jordan in his prime.
Wait, what? Jordan won six championships. Two sets of three-peats. And he was the Finals MVP in all of them. Rodgers has one championship and one MVP. If you’re going to compare Jordan to any NFL player (not even sure why you would), you better compare him to Brady, who has four championships and three Super Bowl MVPs.
No disrespect to Palmer, who I’ve somewhat left out. If he can stay healthy, he’ll get Larry Fitzgerald over 1,000 yards receiving. Combined with their play-making defense, the Cardinals will be at Lambeau for the NFC Championship. But only because Tony Romo’s injury has me second-guessing my preseason pick for the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC.
I know. It’s only Week 4. And a whole lot could change between now and Conference Championship weekend.
But in my eyes, the cream has already risen to the top.