We're now a quarter of the way through the NFL season, and while some teams have performed as expected, others have varied significantly from how everyone thought they would. After every three weeks during the season, I am providing full league rankings for every team based on how each team has performed up to that point. If you missed that last week, you can read it here:
Prior to the start of the season, I predicted the final standings for each division, highlighting the teams that would make it into the playoffs when the season is all said and done. I still stand by some of my original predictions, but there are certainly teams that have surprised me, both positively and negatively, through the first quarter of the NFL season. After every four weeks, starting now, I will update my previous division standings and playoff outlook to reflect what I think will occur for the remainder of the season and how the final standings will shake out. Keep reading if you want to know where your team will finish in the playoff picture this year.
x - clinch division
y - clinch wildcard
1. Buffalo Bills (4-0 currently) - x
2. New England Patriots (2-2) - y
3. Miami Dolphins (1-3)
4. New York Jets (0-4)
Analysis: I expected the Bills to be improved under a more experienced Josh Allen, but I didn't think he would be this good already. Allen has been incredible, amassing over 1,300 passing yards with 15 total touchdowns and only 1 interception. I'm just as confident now that Buffalo will win the division, but the Patriots will pose more of a threat than I previously expected. Cam Newton has been really good so far in Bill Belichick's offense, and while they're currently sitting at a mediocre 2-2, their losses have been to the Seahawks and the Chiefs, and they didn't have Newton in the latter. The Dolphins haven't been too bad so far, and they'll likely be competitive in the division in the next couple years when Tua takes over. The Jets are abysmal per usual.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) - x
2. Las Vegas Raiders (2-2)
3. Los Angeles Chargers (1-3)
4. Denver Broncos (1-3)
Analysis: I had high hopes for the Chargers and probably disrespected the Raiders in my original predictions. I just love the skill players on offense for L.A., although the offense can never seem to really get going as a whole. Justin Herbert has provided a spark in the past few weeks, and they got up on Tampa Bay 24-7 before collapsing in the second half and losing by a touchdown. The loss of Austin Ekeler will hamper both the running and passing game until he is able to return. The Raiders have improved from last season, but are still mediocre in my opinion, and the Broncos are really bad after they have been riddled by injuries in the young season. The Chiefs should have a relatively easy road to home-field advantage in the playoffs again.
1. Baltimore Ravens (3-1) - x
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0) - y
3. Cleveland Browns (3-1)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2-1)
Analysis: I still think the AFC North finishes in the same order I initially projected, but it's evident that the division will be tougher than I thought. The Ravens appear just as good as they were last year, and the Steelers are much improved after getting Ben Roethlisberger to complement their stifling defense. I sort of wrote off the Browns after their beatdown at the hands of Baltimore in week 1, but their offense has looked surprisingly very good since then. There's still a chance Cleveland either overtakes Pittsburgh for the two spot or earns the additional wild card spot nonetheless. The Bengals, despite having just one win, are only 10 points away from being 4-0 on the year. The AFC North is definitely trending upward, and could be very competitive in the coming years with three young, developing quarterbacks.
1. Indianapolis Colts (3-1) - x
2. Tennessee Titans (3-0) - y
3. Houston Texans (0-4)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3)
Analysis: My initial prediction of the Colts winning the AFC South seemed idiotic after their embarrassing loss to the Jaguars in week 1. However, Indy has looked really good on both sides of the ball since then, and just stymied a previously undefeated Bears team in Chicago behind their number one ranked defense in the NFL. Marlon Mack was taken out for the season in their first game, but rookie Jonathan Taylor has looked very good in his place as the lead back. As long as Phillip Rivers can limit his interceptions, the Colts should win a lot of games going forward. I think the Colts and Titans are pretty evenly matched, but I still don't trust Ryan Tannehill to consistently win football games when defenses stack the box and shut down Derrick Henry. I still like the Titans to make the playoffs, and it's possible that Indianapolis and Tennessee are flipped in actuality by the end of the season. Houston just fired head coach Bill O'Brien, for good reason, but I still think they have enough talent to finish ahead of the Jaguars, who have actually been better than I thought they would be thus far.
1. Dallas Cowboys (1-3) - x
2. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1)
3. Washington Football Team (1-3)
4. New York Giants (0-4)
Analysis: The NFC East is just absolutely terrible. There's no other way to put it. It's frankly a travesty that a team from this division will get rewarded a playoff spot. I still think Dallas has the best team of these four, but although Dak Prescott seems to be throwing for 700 yards every game, his defense can't stop a runny nose. I had semi-high expectations for the Eagles, but they're seemingly down to their third string offensive line among other positions. Washington is the biggest positive surprise under new head coach Ron Rivera, and while they're currently just a half-game out of first place, I don't think they have enough offensive firepower to ultimately win the division. Lastly, as they deserve, the Giants look more akin to a local high school team in comparison to teams from the other seven divisions. The NFL needs to reconsider their automatic playoff bid to division winners in my opinion.
1. Seattle Seahawks (4-0) - x
2. Los Angeles Rams (3-1) - y
3. San Francisco 49ers (2-2) - y
4. Arizona Cardinals (2-2)
Analysis: I believe the NFC West is the best division top-to-bottom in the NFL, and because of that, I'm predicting they get three teams in the playoffs with the addition of a third wild card slot this season. The Seahawks and the Rams are the top two teams right now in my opinion, but I think the 49ers can make a run for the wild card as they regain some of their depleted roster in the coming weeks. Arizona looked great in the first two weeks, but mediocre at best in weeks 3 and 4. This division is tight enough and talented enough to where no spot is settled at the moment, but I would bet my money on Seattle to come out on top. Their defense seems to be coming along, though it doesn't have to be that great in order for Russell Wilson to win games. I would be very surprised if the NFC West doesn't get at least two teams into the postseason.
1. Green Bay Packers (4-0) - x
2. Chicago Bears (3-1)
3. Minnesota Vikings (1-3)
4. Detroit Lions (1-3)
Analysis: The Lions are performing pretty much as expected this season, but the other three teams have surprised me in one way or another. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are playing out of their minds, averaging nearly 40 points per game thus far. Chicago has performed well too, managing to win their first three games behind either Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles before falling to the Colts on Sunday. On the other end of the spectrum, the Vikings have been extremely disappointing. I'm not sure what the root cause of their struggles is, as the only big losses they suffered from a year ago are the departures of wide receiver Stefon Diggs and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. They did manage to get their first win this past week, and have been playing better in the recent weeks. There is still a lot of talent on both sides of the ball in Minnesota, so I wouldn't panic just yet if I were a Vikings fan. For now though, until they prove themselves to be contenders, I'm going to leave them as the third-place finishers in the NFC North.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) - x
2. New Orleans Saints (2-2) - y
3. Carolina Panthers (2-2)
4. Atlanta Falcons (0-4)
Analysis: After the week 1 bout between the Saints and Buccaneers, I thought the Saints were going to roll through the regular season and take the division. However, New Orleans has stumbled twice in their last three games, putting them at just 2-2 on the year. The Bucs have put together three straight wins now and appear to be playing the best out of all teams in the division right now. I'm not going to count out Drew Brees, and I think the top two teams here could flip before the end of the year, but I expect both of them to make it into the postseason. The Panthers have a couple of nice wins on the season, but are still at least a step below the Saints and Bucs in my opinion. Atlanta is becoming known for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory week in and week out, and I don't see that changing too much in the future due to their porous defense. It should be fun to see whether Tampa Bay or New Orleans will end up with the division title when the season is all said and done.
Written by Nick Swatson