With six weeks in the books, the picture has become more clear on whom the real contenders are in the race to Levi Stadium, to play in Super Bowl 50. After several surprising starts and a few that weren’t too shocking, five teams remain unbeaten. The Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals and the defending champions, New England Patriots.
Judging by the record alone, one would have to believe that all of these teams have a legitimate chance at playing in San Fran come February. Digging a little deeper will uncover the faults in the somewhat lucky success a few of these clubs have experienced.
Lets begin with the two most probable teams to crumble as quickly as they’ve risen, The Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals. First, the Bengals. The current leaders of the AFC North are poised to make yet another playoff run with Andy Dalton behind center, this time looking for their first postseason win. Now while they will almost certainly end up winning the division, barring a complete collapse mixed with a sudden resurgence in their three rivals, Cincy has had some close calls throughout their short win streak. Week three was a nail biter against the offensively challenged Ravens, a field goal in overtime won them the game against the Seahawks and their blowout wins have come against bottom dwellers such as the Raiders and the under achieving Chiefs and Bills. Coming off their bye in two weeks they will face a Steelers squad who will more than likely have Big Ben back at a 100%. Followed up by some hard hitting NFC games near the end of the season, the journey is anything, but smooth from here on out for the Bengals.
At 39, Peyton Manning has all, but conquered his dreams and ambitions in the NFL. One thing he hasn’t done is silence the critics when it comes to his postseason ability, or lack thereof. Starting off the year as he finished it in 2014, Peyton has looked nothing like his future hall of fame self. Throwing numerous pick sixes, incompletion after incompletion and basically providing Manning-Haters with enough material to make a comedy routine about, the former MVP has taken a back seat to his defense on their bumpy ride to the top of the AFC West. With a run game only existent in the past few weeks and a QB who is playing like a first year rookie, the defense has been forced and challenged to bring their “A” game to the table each and every week and they have, convincingly. If the offense doesn’t pick up the slack soon, it will only be a matter of time before the Denver team encounters their first loss.
Two other teams that are unbeaten, but have a great chance of continuing this streak for much more weeks, are the Carolina Panthers and The Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay has, and always will be, a perennial favorite to win the Lombardi as long as they have Aaron Rodgers leading the way. While most will assume that the CheeseHeads have the best chance of going 16-0, the odds are less likely than most will know. Allowing Philip Rivers to throw 60+ times for a staggering 500 yards and zero picks, shows that they need to buckle down on their pass coverage. Although the run game has recently regained momentum with the emergence of Starks, the lack of Lacy and his dominance has been a major breaking point. The Pack have The Broncos on tap following their bye week, it’s a guarantee one of those teams will be staring at a daunting 1 in the loss column. Look for both teams to strategize a win, most importantly by correcting their major mistakes in the run game.
The Carolina Panthers have made history for their franchise on way to their impressive 6-0 start. Cam Newton has firmly placed his name in the mid way votes for MVP, leaving little doubt that he is poised to be an elite superstar for years to come. Losing Luke Kuechly early in the season seemed like it would be a devastating blow to an already injury plagued team, this was not the case. They have cemented themselves as a top contender in not only the NFC South, but the entire conference. Also having a date with the powerhouse Packers team, they too have quite a difficult road ahead. As Cam continues to produce with little targets and the defense gets their heart and soul back when Luke returns, watch for the Panthers to make more than a statement in the following weeks.
Last and certainly not least, is the dreaded Patriots. Clouded in controversy since the conference final last January and let’s face it , for most of the decade, New England has taken that criticism, hate and negativity and transformed into major success. With the latest “defletegate” and non suspension of Brady, the heat hasn’t been more fierce for the New England team. As always, both Belichick and Brady have used this to their advantage and absolutely have laid waste to the competition this year. Matching an outstanding 2007 season so far, which seen the Patriots and Tom the terrible smash the history books cruising to a 16-0 regular season record, the Pats have all, but silenced every doubt cast upon them. With no clear favorites to upset Brady’s Bunch, New England fans can almost book a date by the golden gate with a 16-0 record at their side.
So who will be the last to fall? Will the Bengals continue their thrashing of the AFC North? Will the Panthers surprise everyone and stop the mighty Packers en route to an undefeated season? Will Peyton find the fountain of youth to help the obsolete offence in Denver? Will the Packers prove they are the NFC favorite for years to come? Or will the Pats be the first to repeat a Super Bowl win and ultimately become the dynasty to beat as they will be the only team to have two undefeated seasons? It won’t be long until we see the first loss out of this bunch of unbeatens, the real test is about to ensue in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned !!