This Broncos team is far more flawed and interesting. The combination of the league's best defense with an offense led by an all-time great trying to find his way has led to wild finishes and weekly must-watch television. They have become the most entertaining team in football, with the rest of the league below them in my "watchability" rankings in this column.
It all starts with the Broncos defense. We wrote more than a month ago they could be a more dominant group than the 2013 Seahawks, and they are living up to that billing. The pass rushing duo features a future Hall of Famer (DeMarcus Ware) and a young star that could play his way into the Canton conversation (Von Miller). The star cornerbacks (Aqib Talib and Chris Harris) are playing like stars. The role players (Brandon Marshall, Malik Jackson, Shaq Barrett, David Bruton) take turns making a huge play each week. Wade Phillips, who is in the conversation as the best defensive coordinator of the last 25 years, dials up creative blitzes at the right time. They score weekly. They have a flair for the dramatic. John Elway has built a defense similar to the one that throttled his team in the Super Bowl.
And yet the Broncos have to scratch and claw every week because of the most confounding offense in the league. Through five weeks, the Broncos were ranked as the No. 1 defense in the league, with the No. 32 offense. This was the same team that set the NFL record in points two years ago. The same one that still has Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders leading the way, with a proven offensive coach in Gary Kubiak. There was some concern about Manning's adjustment to Kubiak's offense in the offseason, but no one thought it would be like this. The running game improved in Cleveland on Sunday, but Manning had his worst game yet with many misfires and three interceptions.
It's not schadenfreude to see Manning struggle like this; it's shock. It wouldn't be great television if we assumed this is how the Broncos' offense will look all season, but that's a silly assumption. We continue to watch because there is hope it will change. Manning is one of the sharpest players in NFL history and it's fascinating to watch him try to problem-solve his way out of this slump. It's not all about his arm strength. Opponents are sitting on his short stuff, and he's quietly delivered some nice mid-range and deep passes the last few weeks. But Manning is uncharacteristically telegraphing throws and making mental errors.
Add it all up, and the Broncos are playing thrillers every week, usually punctuated by a late Manning drive or defensive touchdown. All six of their games have come down to the fourth quarter, with three of them coming down to the last play. Manning now has a bye week to improve the team's offense. Until he turns it around, this will remain my favorite team to dial up every week on GamePass.
Here's how I'd rank all 32 teams in terms of watchability:
Notes: Creating these rankings made me realize how boring my tastes are this season. Winning teams with quality quarterbacks are naturally going to be more fun to watch.
The Cardinals, the Official Team of the Around the NFL Podcast, is a joy to watch on both sides of the ball. Chris Johnson, Carson Palmer and Tyrann Mathieu are all among the best stories this season. Any offense that stays aggressive throwing downfield this much is going to rank high. That's why this version of the Bengals is No. 3. Andy Dalton's deep success is more disarming than Manning's struggles. ... Aaron Rodgers has been the most entertaining quarterback on balance since he entered the league, although the injuries around him have had an effect this year.
Buffalo ranks high because of Tyrod Taylor, the team's playmakers on defense, their total unpredictability and, well, Tyrod Taylor. ... We've seen dominance from the Patriots before, but Tom Brady's movement this season is a new wrinkle. Jamie Collins continues to be one of the most exciting defenders to watch. ... It's a credit to the Steelers they rank this high despite missing Ben Roethlisberger. They are the most explosive team in the league with him, and only play close, surprising games without him. ... Any team led by Cam Newton is bound to rank high, and Sunday's win in Seattle was one of the most memorable games of the year. ... Todd Gurley's emergence, an improved Tavon Austin and a wildly deep defense make the Rams eminently watchable.
Notes:The real test for this article comes on Sunday nights. We get home from a long day of watching football, and have the energy to watch at least one condensed game on NFL GamePass before calling it a night. What team do we want to see the most?
Even though the Seahawks are in close games every week, the new team shine is off. The Seahawks in so many ways look like the same team they've been for years until the last 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. They will become even more intriguing moving forward because they have removed their margin for error. ... Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, and Amari Cooper have made the Raiders relevant again. Just having a watchable Raiders team ranks high because it's been so long. ... Watching Andrew Luck struggle has been a surprising story, but not particularly fun to watch. Matt Hasselbeck was a better story. ... The Falcons are a great story and fly around on defense, but they've turned Matt Ryan into a dink-and-dunk quarterback.
Marcus Mariota is a weekly must-watch despite the vanilla organization around him. ... The Chargers are the prime meridian of enjoyment, a living embodiment of a well-executed seven-yard pass by Philip Rivers on third-and-six. ... My rankings are heavily weighted towards fun quarterbacks to watch, with young players getting extra credit. Seeing Blake Bortles' development this year keeps the Jaguars high. ... The Jets are a nice story with entertaining players on both sides of the ball, but they haven't played a truly competitive game that had drama deep into the fourth quarter.
Notes: The Vikingsshould be one of the most fun teams in the league to watch. Yet Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, and Mike Zimmer have mostly produced snoozy games. ... Jameis Winston has made the Bucs relevant again. ... The Bears rank this high because they basically play barnburners every week that Jay Cutler starts and Pernell McPhee is a terror. They only rank this low because they inflicted Jimmy Clausen on America again. Oh, and John Fox's punting decisions. ... The Lions and Saints are together because they are hollowed-out versions of their formerly fun selves.
Dan Campbell lifts the Dolphins up, but it's been disappointing to watch a formerly promising young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill regress. ... The Browns are one of the most talent-poor rosters overall, but they play hard for Mike Pettine. ... Perhaps the 49ers should be higher because they give up so many big plays. ... The Texans somehow made a J.J. Watt team nearly unwatchable during the Ryan Mallett era. ... And the Chiefs' love of throwing short of the sticks on third-and-long make them an easy pick for the least watchable team. If you aren't going to be good, at least be interesting.