NFL Week 1: Team Tiers

Playing in the NFL is like trying to climb Mt. Everest. Without the right preparation, and the stars aligning, it is almost impossible to get very far. Many people get to base camp, but not much further, for one reason or another. Only the best and most prepared make it all the way to the top.

As the NFL season unfolds, more will be revealed about each team. Ultimately, all teams are aiming for a Super Bowl victory, but only the best will get there. Each week, we will look at how each team is faring in their quest to climb the mountain.

At the Summit

With their dismantling of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots have re-established themselves as the pinnacle of the AFC. The Patriots have plenty of weapons on Offense, complimented by a complex Defensive scheme, spearheaded by Dont’a Hightower. Right alongside them in the conference are the Kansas City Chiefs. When they look like scoring on every possession, teams will find it hard to keep up with the Chiefs’ dynamic attack.

The Minnesota Vikings’ play-action Offense run by Gary Kubiak seems to have unleashed their best components. They handily dismantled the Atlanta Falcons, who many saw as a strong Offensive team. The Dallas Cowboys hardly put a foot wrong as they racked up 35 points in their defeat of the New York Giants. Although their secondary could use some work, the Cowboys have firmly planted themselves as an obstacle to the NFC Championship.

On the Ascent

Higher Ground

Despite their 59 points, the Ravens don’t quite make it into the top tier since they played the Miami Dolphins, who are bereft of talent. A few more performances like that though, and they’ll quickly become a favourite to go all the way. Similarly, the Tennessee Titans may have finally put it all together with a stout Defensive front and strong running game led by Derrick Henry. They too will need to replicate their performance before they are considered a true contender.

The Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints all won against formidable opponents. The Chargers outlasted the Indianapolis Colts in overtime, while the Saints also held out late to beat the Houston Texans. The Rams were comfortable against the Carolina Panthers, and have a lot more left in the tank. The Eagles fell behind early, but managed to pull together on Defense to launch a comeback in the second half. These teams would move up a lot higher if not for how close their games ended up.

Uphill Battle

The Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills both won tough defensive matchups, where they and their opponents struggled to put up a lot of points. The Packers’ secondary appears to be among the best in the league, and their defensive front figures to be sturdy enough to give Aaron Rodgers enough chances to win games. The Bills will play a lot of clock management games by running the ball, but also have a stingy Defense that will cause problems for many teams.

The Seattle Seahawks, like the Eagles, were behind for the majority of the game, but managed to eke out a win. They figure to get better each week, and have enough experienced players to earn the benefit of the doubt in being a challenger. Despite their loss to the Rams, the Panthers were strong on Defense. Quarterback Cam Newton looked spritely and at full strength, and with Running Back Christian McCaffrey to lean on, it shouldn’t be too long before Carolina are in the winners’ circle.

Base Camp

Ready to Go

The Jacksonville Jaguars were moving the ball reasonably well with backup QB Gardner Minshew, but couldn’t get out of their own way with penalty after penalty. The Jaguars’ Defense caused plenty of issues for the Chiefs though, and if they can iron out some teething issues, they could start their climb to the top in a few weeks. Similarly, the Chicago Bears had too many misfires on Offense, and will need to correct them to begin their campaign. Rookie RB David Montgomery looked underutilised, and QB Mitchell Trubisky struggled to find his receivers. Both of these teams have what it takes to make the playoffs, but need to right the ship first.

Underlying Potential

Despite winning, the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers beat sub-par teams. The Raiders could trouble some opponents with a decent front seven on Defense, and a steady ground game with RB Josh Jacobs. The 49ers also have talent across their Defense, but the Offense is still finding its feet. Both teams look to be a year away from being ready to truly compete.

The Houston Texans were in a close shootout with the Saints. Despite moving the ball well on Offense, they allowed too much pressure on their QB to suggest they’ll win these close games. The Indianapolis Colts were also close to winning, and with a squad on the rise, there’s every reason to think they could go on a run this season. Someone has to win the AFC South, and while the Titans are currently the team to beat, it figures to be a tight-knit contest.

On the Descent

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons will need to regather themselves if they are to turn their seasons around. Both teams failed to score in the first half, and neither is built to be a defensive juggernaut. Both need to find a way to get their Offense going, or this will be a rocky campaign for both. There is a spark of hope in that they played top teams in their conference, but if you can’t beat them now, are you really on their level?

A bevvy of teams looked average, but not consistent enough in all areas to get the job done. The New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins weren’t expected to compete for playoffs, but none rolled over either. While hope remains for the moment, it’s only a matter of weeks before these teams look to be facing losing seasons.

The New York Jets and Cleveland Browns were both optimistic about their chances with second-year QBs. The Jets had opportunities to close out their game against the Bills, but couldn’t do enough to get there, and will have teething problems most weeks. The Browns also suffered with their lack of chemistry. By the end of the season they should figure it out for next year, if they can keep the wheels from falling off.

Missed Connection

The Denver Broncos also couldn’t find the end zone enough times and fell short against the Raiders, which should be deeply concerning. The Miami Dolphins were abysmal and things look like they could get a lot uglier for them before all’s said and done.

The Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals played out a tie that was far from inspiring for either team. The Cardinals were expected to have struggles with a few roster holes and a rookie QB, as well as a rookie NFL Head Coach. Yet to clinch a tie would suggest they aren’t as far away as they might have thought…except it was against Detroit. The Lions should have closed this out, but gave up 18 points in the fourth quarter. With their division, it’s hard to see the Lions playing meaningful football far into November.

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