New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Ranking Super Bowl contenders
One month into the NFL season, we have found out that there are no dominant teams. Games have been close. There have been plenty of upsets. Several of last year’s Super Bowl contenders are struggling.
While we still have a lot to learn about all of the teams during this 17-game season, here are my Super Bowl contenders through four weeks:
After a slow start, quarterback Josh Allen is on fire, the same way he ended last season. But the real reason for optimism in Buffalo is the team’s No. 1-ranked defense. The pass rush is excellent. They are only giving up 68 yards per game on the ground.
There’s no question that the Chiefs (more on them later) are capable of bouncing back to reclaim the top spot in the AFC, but for now, it belongs to the Bills.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Bucs squeaked out a 19-17 win in Tom Brady’s return to New England, bringing their record to 3-1. Brady’s numbers have been a little off so far this season, but it’s no reason for concern. He’s still an exceptional leader and winner, and will have this team positioned well in the Super Bowl chase.
But if there’s a reason for concern, it’s on defense. In particular, the pass defense has been a problem, and they’ve been ravaged by injuries in the secondary. Richard Sherman started Sunday’s game after having been signed during the week, and Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones completed nine passes to Sherman’s side for 102 yards. The Bucs, who are still great at defending the run, will need to get that sorted out.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
They look disinterested in a season-opening 38-3 loss to New Orleans, but then bounced back with three straight wins. They’re still led by Aaron Rodgers, who has eight touchdown passes over the last three weeks.
The defense ranks sixth in the NFL in yards allowed per game, even with pass rusher Za’Darius Smith on injured reserve. Perhaps most importantly, the Packers hold a dominant position in the NFC North. The Vikings, Bears and Lions all have their issues.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Justin Herbert is having the best two-season start to a career since Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson in 2012. He’s completing close to 70 percent of his passes. He’s a great leader, and the offense is humming.
The defense has looked good under first-year Coach Brandon Staley, holding opponents to roughly 20 points per game. At 3-1, the Chargers have a great chance to challenge the Chiefs for the AFC West title.
The defense has been excellent against both the run and the pass, and having Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney as edge rushers has been huge.
It hasn’t necessarily been a great start for quarterback Baker Mayfield. No. 1 receiver Odell Beckham is only recently back from injury, and the two of them don’t always seem to be on the same page. But they have a great offensive line and can count on running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to drive the offense.
The 4-0 Cardinals are off to an incredible start, and Kyler Murray has been excellent. He’s completing 67 percent of his passes for a staggering 9.5 yards per attempt. The offense is averaging 35 points per game.