Source: USA Today
Back in August, For the Win picked out the seven NFL teams that were capable of winning the Super Bowl. Now that we’re nearly halfway through the 2018 season, let’s re-do that list based on what we now know. We’ve whittled the list down to five teams, including two squads that did not make our initial list…
1. Los Angeles Rams
This Rams team is built perfectly for 2018. The offense can basically do what it wants, and the defense, while not great in terms of efficiency, has been able to create havoc. In that way, these Rams are similar to the 2009 Saints team that scored a lot of points and forced a lot of turnovers. Ultimately, the Rams’ postseason chances will hinge on Jared Goff. When last year’s team struggled offensively it typically fell on Goff, who’d miss open throws. But he hasn’t been missing those throws in 2018 and he has effectively killed off all that “System QB” talk with a number of difficult throws in big spots. If that trend continues, Los Angeles has to be considered the heavy favorite to lift the Lombardi Trophy in Atlanta.
2. New England Patriots
The Patriots defense hasn’t been much better than it was a season ago, but the offense may have improved after finishing first in offensive DVOA (a Football Outsiders method for measuring efficiency) in 2017. The additions of Josh Gordon and Sony Michel, along with Julian Edelman returning from an ACL injury, has raised the ceiling on the unit considerably. As long as Tom Brady is scoring points and Bill Belichick is drawing up defensive game plans, the Patriots are a threat to win the Super Bowl. We learned that lesson last season when Brady and Belichick carried a bad defense to the title game.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
Are you sensing a theme here? In 2018, it’s basically impossible to play defense at a consistently high level, which is why the Chiefs’ defensive struggles aren’t all that concerning. Everyone seems to be waiting for this Kansas City offense to regress, which has happened in the past, but the team is just too loaded to expect that to happen. Even when Patrick Mahomes hasn’t been at his best, the Chiefs have put up nearly 40 points so it may not matter if the second-year quarterback falls back down to earth after this record-breaking start to the season. And if Sunday night’s game is any indication, Kansas City may be getting better on the defensive side of the ball. If the defense can play at just a mediocre level (instead of a historically bad level, as it did in September), the Chiefs are going to make a deep run in January.
4. Baltimore Ravens
We just said it’s basically impossible to play defense consistently well in 2018, but the Ravens might be the exception to that rule. The Saints came into the Week 7 with the league’s best offense, but needed to scratch and claw and go for it on fourth down about a dozen times just to make it to 24 points. And that was with the Baltimore pass rush not playing particularly well after its 11-sack performance in Tennessee. More importantly, outside of one bad half in Cincinnati and the game in Cleveland, the Ravens passing game has been sneaky good thus far, ranking seventh in passing efficiency, per Football Outsiders. Baltimore is the only team that ranks in the top-10 in both passing DVOA and pass defense DVOA.
5. New Orleans Saints
The NFL’s best offense is starting to get support from a defense that has allowed more than 23 points only once since Week 3. The Saints seem to be following the script they followed in 2017 when defensive coordinator Dennis Allen simplified his scheme after two rough weeks and the defense took off from there. Now, it’s unlikely the defense reaches the level it did a season ago, but it may not have to with how the offense has played. Drew Brees is playing at an MVP level, Alvin Kamara is impossible to tackle, Michael Thomas is one of the two or three hardest covers in the league and the New Orleans offensive line might be the NFL’s best.