To score tons of points, you obviously need a powerful offense -- but it doesn't have to be the best. Conversely, you can have the most balanced, talented offensive squad in the NFL -- but you might not be scoring the most, especially with variables like non-offensive touchdowns coming into play.
With that in mind, I decided to look at the five highest-scoring teams (in terms of points per game) through Week 5 of the NFL season -- Arizona, New England, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Green Bay -- and rank their offenses. All five offenses are good, with the top three in particular looking very close -- but I was able to come up with an order that says something about each team.
Below, presented from No. 5 to No. 1, is how I rank the offenses of the NFL's five highest-scoring teams:
5) Atlanta Falcons (5-0)
*Points per game: 32.4 (third). Total points: 162 (second). Point differential: 50 (fourth). *
The biggest thing that's changed for the Falcons from last season: They're running the ball much more effectively, putting up 630 yards in five games (126 yards per game, ninth-best in the NFL) after finishing 24th in the NFL in 2014. Meanwhile, they've only given up 392 rushing yards (78.4 per game, least in the NFL), giving them a crucial 238-yard cushion. Devonta Freeman has been a huge surprise, racking up 405 yards on 93 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and a league-leading eight rushing touchdowns; he's also chipped in 240 receiving yards for 645 yards from scrimmage, tops in the NFL. He has not looked like the same guy I saw last season (who finished with 248 rushing yards on 65 carries with one touchdown). Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has a history of producing successful ball carriers, from Alfred Morris in Washington to Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell in Cleveland. And in Atlanta, Freeman's the beneficiary. It looks like he understands the game better; he's playing with more burst and knows which hole to hit.
Matt Ryan is a very bright quarterback who throws the ball well, but he's not in that upper tier of quarterbacks; I'd say he's in the top 10, but toward the bottom, around the ninth or 10th spot. His numbers this season -- 64.9 percent completion rate, 7.87 yards per attempt, 90.7 passer rating, 2.2 percent interception rate -- are roughly in line with his numbers entering 2015 (64 percent completion rate, 7.2 yards per attempt, 91.1 passer rating, 2.3 percent pick rate). He's good, he's just not the kind of quarterback who will make plays like Aaron Rodgers. The run game has has helped Ryan a lot. Consider last Sunday's overtime win over the Redskins, in which all of Atlanta's touchdowns came via the run or the defense: Ryan completed just 57.1 percent of his passes, threw two picks and registered a passer rating of 55.1, while Freeman racked up 197 yards from scrimmage, including 153 on the ground.
The Falcons' offense is not invincible, as Washington showed by keeping things close with good defensive play. Receiver Julio Jones is off the charts, but he's been dealing with injury issues lately and was held to just five catches for 67 yards and four catches for 38 yards in his past two games. Bottling him up is key to slowing Atlanta.
4) Arizona Cardinals (4-1)
Points per game: 38 (first). Total points: 190 (first). Point differential: 100 (first).
Carson Palmer is healthy and playing lights-out behind an offensive line that's performing well. And this team is getting major support from two veterans assumed to be well past their prime entering 2015: 32-year-old receiver Larry Fitzgerald and 30-year-old running back Chris Johnson. In his 12th season, Fitzgerald is on pace for career highs in catches (112), yards (1,568) and touchdowns (19). Fitzgerald can't run very fast, but he's as good a catcher as we have in the NFL right now, and he understands both how to run routes and how to beat people.
Meanwhile, if Johnson keeps running like he has, he can finish with his highest yardage total since 2010. He's racked up 405 yards thus far, tying him with Freeman for second-most in the NFL. Johnson has already nearly eclipsed the yardage total he managed in 16 games with the Jets last season (663), and he's picking up nearly a yard more per carry than he did in 2014 (5.1 to 4.3). When Arizona signed Johnson in August, no one wanted him, but the move has proved monumental for the Cards, who are the third-best running team this season (134.8 rushing yards per game) after finishing 31st (81.8) in 2014.
So what's Arizona's secret? A good, veteran coaching staff that knows how to get the most out of players like Fitzgerald and Johnson. Bruce Arians -- B.A., as they call him -- is amazing. He has time for everybody, and he has a great rapport with both his players and his staff. He's very sure of himself. He's also a special individual who is tremendously loyal and football smart. Put simply, this team has talent -- including youngsters John Brown, who is probably one of the 10 most-improved players in the league right now, and rookie back David Johnson, who has a penchant for the big play -- and a coaching staff that knows how to use it. What's currently separating the Cardinals from the top three? Thus far, they -- like the Falcons -- have relied more on non-offensive touchdowns (three defensive, one return) than the three teams above, who have no return touchdowns and just one defensive touchdown (by the Packers) between them.
3) New England Patriots (4-0)
Points per game: 37.2 (second). Total points: 149 (third). Point differential: 73 (second).
Tom Brady is on a mission, on pace for 5,548 yards -- which would top Peyton Manning's single-season record of 5,477 -- and 44 touchdown passes, which would be his highest total since he notched 50 in the Patriots' undefeated 2007 campaign. He doesn't really throw the ball downfield a ton, but he has pass catchers in Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola who can turn relatively short throws into big gains. Plus, running back Dion Lewis -- 180 rushing yards and 418 yards from scrimmage, second-most on the team -- has emerged as a real threat. I don't think anyone realized how good the former journeyman could be in the passing game until this season, when he's collected 23 catches for 238 yards and a score in four games. Lewis is a system player who's found the right system, a Shane Vereen type who is probably more effective in the passing game; this offense is made for him.
The Patriots are on pace to score 596 points this season, but I don't think they'll keep going at quite this rate. The Cowboys did, after all, hold them to three points in the first quarter and 30 in total on Sunday. And New England does have some weaknesses on offense, notably an offensive line that has been dependent on rookie contributions and will miss veteran left tackle Nate Solder, out for the season with a biceps tear. But as long as Bill Belichick is coaching this team, the Pats will be tough to stop. He's so good at covering up weaknesses and playing to his team's strengths; he's like Mandrake the Magician.
2) Green Bay Packers (5-0)
*Points per game: 27.4 (fifth). Total points: 137 (fifth). Point differential: 56 (third). *
The Packers do not rank especially high in either offensive yards (10th) or passing yards (20th). But this offense is near unstoppable, thanks largely to the presence of Aaron Rodgers, who has been phenomenal (70.6 percent completion rate, 117.4 passer rating), as expected. Basically, to have a chance against Green Bay, you have to get to Rodgers with a pass rush, and there aren't many defenses out there capable of doing that. The offensive line is solid enough, while Rodgers has the smarts and athleticism to stay out of trouble much of the time. The Rams, who have a pretty good defense, came the closest of anyone in 2015 to stopping Rodgers and company last Sunday -- and while the quarterback didn't have his best day, throwing two picks, he still led the Pack to a relatively comfortable 24-10 win.
Green Bay obviously misses injured receiver Jordy Nelson, but the team received a present from heaven in the form of James Jones, an ex-Packer who rejoined the squad in early September after being cut by the Giants. Jones has never been a spectacularly gifted receiver -- even during his previous Packers heyday -- but he's played like gangbusters in 2015, piling up five touchdowns and 20.7 yards per catch in five games and showing off fantastic chemistry with Rodgers. Jones' re-emergence has been even more significant in light of Davante Adams' ankle injury, which has caused him to miss the past two games.
The jury is still out on newly installed play caller Tom Clements, but I think Mike McCarthy was smart to relinquish those duties, so that he can make sure the rest of the team is running smoothly. Eddie Lacy is a good running back, but he only has one touchdown so far and his yards-per-carry mark is down from what it was last year (from 4.6 to 4.1). The offense is further bolstered by a defense that ranks seventh overall and fourth against the pass, with the Packers recording 20 sacks thus far, second-most in the NFL. The bottom line is, as long as they have Rodgers and Rodgers has people to throw it to, the Packers will be an offensive force.
1) Cincinnati Bengals (5-0)
*Points per game: 29.6 (fourth). Total points: 148 (fourth). Point differential: 47 (fifth). *
The Bengals have the best overall line, the best overall pass-catching corps and the best overall running back group of any team on this list -- and they have a quarterback in Andy Dalton who is a) having the season of his life thus far and b) proving that he can withstand some adversity. Sunday's comeback win over the Seahawks was huge for this group. Before last week, I'm not sure Cincinnati would have been my No. 1, but now that we know this team is strong enough to pull something like that off, I have to put this crew up top. The Bengals just have too many things going for them.
Coordinator Hue Jackson is an excellent coach and a very good play caller; I'll be shocked if he doesn't end up with another head-coaching opportunity down the road. A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu make up a fantastic pass-catching group. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is having an excellent year leading this top-notch O-line. And the Bengals have not one but two really good running backs in Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. How can you stop that offense? I'm not sure there's a way. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the Bengals travel to Pittsburgh in Week 8 and Arizona in Week 11.