I will hit all the teams in this article, I promise. But I'm starting with the Patriots...
I can't remember a span of five weeks that has been more up and down for the Patriots than the ones we just witnessed. Hopes of a third straight title were high when the Pats took down the Raiders in the season opener. They then fell flat as the team collapsed in Carolina. Redemption was had as Adam Vinatieri booted a last-second field goal to seal the win in Pittsburgh, and it was subsequently lost as the Patriots 21 home game winning streak was shattered in a blow-out to the Chargers. As Week 5 hit, everyone was saying that the Patriots were finished. Well another Vinatieri kick later, they're suddenly back in the running. And I think it's safe to say that just about anything could happen when the team journeys to Mile High this Sunday.
There's two things I know about this team: Our defense is in shambles. And Tom Brady is flat-out the best quarterback in the league. And when I say flat-out, I mean flat-out. I've been a believer in the "Manning is more talented, but Brady knows how to win" theory for quite some time now. But after Sunday, you can throw that argument out the window. Tom Brady proved that he is the most talented quarterback in the league. He's got the arm, the brain, the heart, the total package. What he managed to pull off against Atlanta took as much talent as any quarterback in history has shown. So you can take all of Peyton's stats which are skewed by his team's generally weak schedules, bad defense, and the fact that he gets to throw to the best receiver in the league, and you can toss them out the window. Anything Peyton can do, Brady can to better. Including winning big games.
But where does that leave the Patriots on the other side of the ball? In trouble. This team's defense needs to pull together big time. Right now, we're the Colts. All offense, zero defense. And history has proven that a combo like that seldom wins the title. The nice part about all of this is that it's only Week 6 with eleven more weeks ahead. Bill Belichick has plenty of time to right this ship, and he will. There was noticeable improvement by Duane Starks and Gus Scott this week compared to how they played against the Chargers, and there's no reason to think the trend won't continue.
The Patriots will almost certainly make the playoffs in the decimated AFC East. So while a bye-week may be out of reach, given our current schedule and situation, there's no reason to panic. I'm sure there will be a lot of people hopping on and off the Pats bandwagon week to week, but I'm standing firm. I believe in Tom Brady, and I believe in Bill Belichick. Together, they'll weather the storm and put this team where it needs to be heading into the post-season. We've proven that we don't need the best record. We don't need home field advantage. This team has proven time and time again, that all we need is to hold on.
As for the clash between the Bengals and the Jaguars, it proved me right in who I believed was the better team all along. Don't get me wrong, the Bengals 4-0 start was impressive. But it also was built on a cup-cake schedule. The Jags, who suffering some difficult losses to quality teams, are a force to be reckoned with. This game could end up meaning a lot since I believe these two along with the Charges will be the three teams fighting for the wild card spots, unless Ben Roethlisberger's injury is season-ending. The Bengals have a very easy schedule on their side, but the Jaguars are better. San Diego might be the best out of all three, but they have what is by far the toughest schedule.
The Panthers have been shaky at best all season, but there's no reason that they shouldn't end up with a wild card spot if they straighten up even a little bit. With the NFC West and North being so terrible, it's up to the South and East to pick up the slack. Other than the Saints, the seven teams in those two divisions should all have playoff aspirations. If you give spots to the Eagles, Bucs, and Falcons, the Panthers are by far the most solid team left. It will be tough getting three teams from one division into the playoffs, but with the NFC being so bad, it's not so far-fetched.
And finishing up with the Saints. As I said above, it's going to be a long season. New Orleans has been through a lot lately, but the folks from the Big Easy have to hang tough and hope for better days ahead. If you can hold on, hold on.
The Cardinals as a sleeper-pick? I'll believe it when I see it. It's a toss-up between the Rams and Seahawks. But the Seahawks just had so many implosions last season and still managed to get in. If they can learn from their mistakes, there's no reason to count them out.
Panthers over Seahawks, Falcons over Vikings
Buccaneers over Panthers, Eagles over Falcons
Buccaneers over Eagles
Patriots over Bengals, Broncos over Jaguars
Colts over Broncos, Patriots over Steelers
Patriots over Colts
Patriots over Buccaneers
Proving that XXXVII was undoubtedly a fluke.