Staff writer Colton Molesky breaks down six teams that have been eye-catching
Week seven made teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots resemble the superstar teams we anticipated in the preseason. While some games muddled the playoff picture (I am looking at you, Oakland), the weekend offered clarity for the most part.
Teams with stock on the rise:
New England Patriots
The Patriots defense looked competent, while the offense continues to churn out points led by the ageless Tom Brady at quarterback. The Patriots kept Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan under 300 passing yards, which is the first quarterback they have held under that mark this season. The offense has been first in total yards and fifth in scoring. If the defense can catch up to the offense’s level of play, then the team will really start to round out.
The Steelers have finally figured out their offense, which does not involve quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing 30 times. The way for them to win games is running the ball 25 times or more with Le’Veon Bell, grinding out victories like a team in December. Their defense has also looked better, holding their last two opponents to a combined 430 total yards, racking up five sacks in the same stretch.
Despite all of the problems on the offensive line and the injuries at running back, this team still has quarterback Russell Wilson and a great defensive line. Wilson has put the team on his back multiple times, using his mobility to compensate for a poor line and his downfield running to make up for the lack of running back talent. Wilson is good enough to elevate the roster and with a front seven that can come into their own, which will be the key that carries this team.
I resisted for a long time, but the Carson Wentz-hype is real. He averages 264.6 passing yards per game and has shown an escapability with the likes of Aaron Rodgers. Wentz has looked like everything you could want from a quarterback that needs to elevate the team around them. Wentz is good enough to upgrade the Eagles from a B-squad to a playoff roster. The team has racked up 18 sacks, ninth-best in the NFL.
The Bills have proven they can win games on their defense, as they rank second in the league with 17 turnovers. They have nine interceptions and eight fumbles, putting the game on their cornerbacks who have produced 50 passes defended. The offense has had struggles, but is far more creative with head coach Sean McDermott at the helm and running a creative rushing scheme. With a defense that travels and All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, the Bills have the capabilities of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Kansas City Chiefs
They have had a two-game skid, really struggling on offense against cover-two defensive schemes. However Alex Smith, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are an offensive force that has averaged 392.4 total yards per game, third in the NFL. They are second in scoring, averaging 29.6 points per game. This team’s offense is not going to be derailed by a two-week slump and they are still a team to be considered the cream of the crop in the NFL.
The difference between the teams that have started to prove themselves and the teams still sorting themselves out is not that big. This season, the glaring problems that the top-level teams like the Patriots or Seahawks have makes for a small gap between them and a team like Oakland or Carolina. While these teams are starting to round out towards their expectations, the field is still open.