We're in the midst of the most top-heavy season in NFL history with three teams at 8-0. And it's not just about the undefeated teams. It's hard to find many teams that even look like true playoff teams, much less legitimate title contenders.
The Around The NFL Midseason Power Poll came up with seven teams with real championship hopes, and a steep drop-off after that. The Jets and Vikings aren't unbeatable squads by any means, but they are top-10 teams in today's NFL. There's not a huge difference between the No. 8 team on this list and the No. 19 team -- there's a big middle class.
The rankings below are a reflection of the entire Around The NFL staff. Marc Sessler, Conor Orr, Kevin Patra, Dan Hanzus, Chris Wesseling and I ranked each team in the league. A team of mathematicians and scientists averaged out those rankings, with the results below. We also discussed the power poll in Tuesday's Around The NFL podcast.
We have included each team's quarter-season ranking in parentheses.
This group expanded by one since our quarter-season poll, with the Panthers rightfully joining the mix. Three of our top four teams weren't even considered top 10 squads going into the season, which is a reminder that no one knows anything in August. Especially us. ... This is easily the best Patriots team since 2007 and could rival the 2004 team as Bill Belichick's best team if they peak late in the season like they usually do. ... The Seahawks stay in this tier despite a 4-4 record because they pass the eye test. They are not far off, and their previous three seasons rival any three-year run by an NFL team this century. The talent hasn't changed much. That deserves the benefit of the doubt. ... Denver had the most impressive win over the last month of these teams, crushing Green Bay. The Broncos also had the most surprising loss, at Indianapolis. ... The Cardinals are 6-2 without even playing their best. They have played sloppy in half of their games. ... The Bengals' defense has slowly improved as their offense remains the best in the league behind New England.
Playoffs or Bust
This is the best Jets offense since the Brett Favre season, and the defensive line is ridiculously deep. That should be enough to make Todd Bowles the fourth straight Jets coach to make the playoffs in his first season. ... The Vikings have a tough schedule the rest of the season and have been too erratic offensively. Minnesota and Atlanta are the most likely teams in this tier to fall hard down the stretch. ... The Steelers have the best chance of any team here to jump a tier if Ben Roethlisberger gets healthy in time.
The Raiders' offense will keep them in every game, even if their secondary keeps them out of the playoffs. They were in my top 10. Oakland was No. 28 before the season, and barely in the top 20 at the quarter mark. ... St. Louis is trying to make the playoffs without using a quarterback. ... Buffalo has a high ceiling and would still be my pick for a wild card in the AFC. ... The Eagles look like the best team in the NFC East because they have some semblance of balance. The Giants just don't have the defensive talent. ... The Colts can survive Andrew Luck's injury because the AFC South is just that bad.
The Saints and Cowboys have top-ten quarterbacks (once Tony Romo gets healthy), so they can't be completely discounted. ... The Chiefs played two excellent games before their bye week. Don't be surprised if they upset a banged-up Broncos team Sunday and sneak into the wild-card mix. ... The Redskins have somehow exceeded expectations and disappointed at the same time. The defense and running game haven't held up the last few games. ... Miami is doomed to play spoiler with a talented roster that can't quite put it all together.
Prove us wrong
The Bucs were dead last after four weeks, so this qualifies as real progress. They are eminently watchable. ... That remains true of the Jaguars and Titans, who could sneak into the AFC South race with some division wins. ... The Bears are maximizing the talent they have, which is a credit to their coaching staff. ... I ranked the Ravens much higher than this. It should not shock anyone if they wind up with eight wins. ... The Browns have receded into the background of the NFL, especially since they refuse to start Johnny Manziel. ... Jim Caldwell is not dead, but his team is.