1. New England Patriots (8-0)
Next game: at New York Giants (5-4)
Dion Lewis, who was having a stellar season for the Patriots, tore his left ACL last week against the Redskins. He’ll miss the remainder of the season.
That’s a big blow to New England’s offense, as Lewis was providing explosiveness and an extra receiving threat to an already potent Patriots passing attack.
Unfortunate as that is, the Patriots figure to be just fine, as 63.2 percent of their offense has consisted of passing plays.
New England’s 2nd-best pass offense should enjoy Thanksgiving early, as they figure to feast against the Giants’ 2nd-worst pass defense on Sunday. And if the Patriots want to run the ball, they’ll still be more than able, as LeGarrette Blount has produced twice as much as Lewis:
- Lewis’ 2015 rushing stats: 49 carries, 234 yards, 4.8 ypc, 2 TD
- Blount’s 2015 rushing stats: 98 carries, 447 yards, 4.6 ypc, 5 TD
2. Carolina Panthers (8-0)
Next game: at Tennessee (2-6)
I was wrong about the Packers. I knew the Panthers were really good, but I didn’t think they were good enough to hand Green Bay its second consecutive loss.
The Panthers are so good that Cam Newton is beginning to gain legitimate momentum as a MVP candidate.
Think about that. No Steve Smith, no Kelvin Benjamin, no DeAngelo Williams, and Newton is having his best season yet. Not statistically, per se, but in terms of his overall performance. Although he still turns it over too much and his completion percentage could improve, Newton has accounted for 19 touchdowns so far, which puts him on track to break his own single-season record. Most importantly, he’s becoming a leader and, as usual, is exuding plenty of confidence.
Carolina has won 12 straight regular season games and is on pace to score 456 points this season (which would be a franchise record).
There’s a lot to like about this team.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-0)
Next game: vs. Houston (3-5)
The notion that the Bengals will win a playoff game came across my mind last weekend, and I couldn’t reason against it.
Cincinnati is poised to not only make the playoffs, but to clinch the AFC North early and get a first-round bye.
If the Bengals win versus Houston and the Steelers lose versus Cleveland this week, Cincinnati would be four games up with seven left to play. That would create an everything-needs-to-go-right-and-then-some scenario for the rest of the AFC North.
Like the Panthers, the Bengals have been so impressive in 2015 that their quarterback has not only shaken a previously disappointing reputation, but has done so emphatically. Andy Dalton shouldn’t get MVP consideration, because he’s not as good as Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, and his supporting cast is better than Newton’s. That said, I have a feeling that won’t matter once the 5th-year veteran is playing football deep into January.
For what it’s worth, 2015 has been, by far and across the board, the best season of Dalton’s professional career. If he was the “problem” before, what does him being their best player say about their chances now?
4. Denver Broncos (7-1)
Next game: vs. Kansas City (3-5)
The Broncos lost their first game of the year last week against the Colts. They were dominated on the ground and Ronnie Hillman, who has been so effective thus far, was limited to one yard on seven carries.
Here are four factors that caused the Broncos to lose for the first time this season:
- Total rushing yards: Indianapolis 120, Denver 35
- Time of possession: Indianapolis 38:39, Denver 21:21
- Total offensive plays: Indianapolis 74, Denver 50
- Turnovers: Indianapolis 0, Denver 2
Denver has won won six of its eight games this year by one score. Peyton Manning has thrown an interception in every game. They’ve faltered before but have still figured out a way to win. But if the Broncos let the Chiefs whip them like the Colts did, they’ll lose their first regular season home game since December 12, 2013.
Even though Jamaal Charles is out for the year, the Chiefs will still bring it. The Broncos better be ready.
5. Arizona Cardinals (6-2)
Next game: at Seattle (4-4)
Starting this week, the Cardinals will begin their toughest four-game stretch of the season. Sunday they play at Seattle, and play two more divisional road games in Weeks 12 and 13 against the 49ers and Rams, with a home game against the undefeated Bengals in between.
The good news is that the Cardinals have a team this year that can go toe-to-toe with any other. Led by Carson Palmer, Arizona is on its way to a high seed in the NFC playoffs and, very possibly, to Super Bowl 50.
Speaking of Palmer’s tremendous season, if he averages 282 passing yards per game for the rest of the year, he’ll eclipse the 40,000-yard mark for his career–something just 16 quarterbacks have done before (Philip Rivers is 312 yards away from being No. 17).
According to that list, reaching 40,000 passing yards gives you an excellent shot at one day donning a gold jacket on a stage in Canton, OH.
Offensively the Cardinals are clicking, as they’re one of only two teams in the league to have a quarterback, running back, and wide receiver rank in the Top 10 in passing, rushing, and receiving yards, respectively (Atlanta). Defensively, who wants to go up against Calais Campbell, Tyrann Mathieu, and/or Patrick Peterson.
Game of the week
Arizona Cardinals (6-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-4)
Sunday, November 15, 8:30 P.M. ET on NBC
Vegas line: Seattle -3
Forecast: Cloudy, 40 degrees, 40% chance of rain, wind S at 8 mph