13 weeks into the NFL’s regular season, one thing has become clear–nobody knows what’s going to happen. A league that prides themselves on parity has provided just that, as a record number of division races are still up for grabs. Even a 4-8 Dallas Cowboys squad is still in the hunt to host a playoff game. Heading into week the final four weeks of the season, here are two teams that are head and shoulders above their competition, and two teams that are quietly heating up at the right time, aiming for Super Bowl 50.
Carolina Panthers (12-0), clinched NFC South
The clear cut front-runner in the league, quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are proving to be more than just an easy schedule.
Newton has continued his MVP-worthy season at a staggering pace. In the last three weeks, Newton has thrown for 760 yards, ten touchdowns and only one interception, averaging a 108.3 quarterback rating. In two of those games, in week 11 against Washington and week 13 against the New Orleans Saints, Newton passed for five touchdowns. But it’s not just through the air that Newton has shined.
Newton has given us flashes of his collegiate days as a dual threat quarterback, both through the air and on the ground. To compliment his passing numbers, Newton has averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and contributed seven touchdowns on the ground.
Until Carolina sees their first loss, it’s hard to make an argument for anyone above them.
New England Patriots (10-2), 1st in AFC East
As long as quarterback Tom Brady is lining up under center and Bill Belichick is on the sidelines, it’s hard to count out the New England Patriots.
Despite losing two games in a row in week 11 to the Denver Broncos and week 12 to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Patriots still sit at 10-2 and in command of the AFC East. Brady is still having one of the best years of his career, and in league history for that matter, throwing for 3,912 on 63.7% completion rate, 31 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Aside from having “Tom terrific” on their side, the Patriots will also be welcoming back tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman in the coming weeks leading up to the playoffs. And with a January home field advantage in wintry Foxborough at Gillette Stadium, anything is possible.
Seattle Seahawks (7-5), 2nd in NFC West
The once struggling defending NFC champions seem to have righted the ship, handling the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings on Sunday 38-7, their third-straight victory.
As the spotlight had quickly turned to tumultuous rumors surrounding Russell Wilson and the struggling ‘Hawks, Wilson turned in a trio of career performances in weeks 11-13, throwing for a combined 879 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. The defense also seemed to wake up in week 13, holding league-leading running back Adrian Peterson to 18 yards on eight carries.
The Seahawks seem to be surging at the right time, gaining momentum heading into the postseason.
Kansas City Chiefs (7-5), 2nd in AFC West
The surprise of the list is almost definitely the Kansas City Chiefs. But Andy Reid’s 7-5 team should not be viewed lightly.
Despite the loss of all-pro running back Jamaal Charles following a 1-5 start, the Chiefs have rattled off six straight wins to place themselves just thee games back behind the Denver Broncos for the AFC West crown. But more importantly–in the driver’s seat of the AFC’s first wild card spot.
Alex Smith has been quietly efficient this season with 2,843 yards, 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Charcandrick West’s role replacing Charles at the running back position has been sufficient. And the defense has held their own against top tier opponents, including a victory over the Denver Broncos in week 10 which saw Peyton Manning exit the game as a result of injury.
If there’s one thing the NFL tries to teach everyone, it’s that champions don’t always have the best records–they’re the teams that get hot at the right times.
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