We live in an age of equality. The days of dynasties and consistent dominance on the grid iron are fading, and the axiom “wait until next year” is quickly being replaced by “wait until next week”. Sure, every year seems to produce a team or two that plays better than the others in the league, but rarely do those teams go on to win it all; see the Packers from last season, the Colts of ’09, the Patriots of ’07, or the Chargers of ’06. All of those teams cruised through the regular season and were overwhelming favorites to win the Super Bowl, and they combined to bring home exactly zero Lombardi Trophies.
The days of Chuck Noll’s Steelers, Bill Walsh’s 49ers, Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys and even Bill Belichick’s Patriots from the early part of this century seem to be forever lost to the sport. Were those Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls in four seasons, the last dynasty the league will ever see? That question cannot be answered aside from guesswork, but they certainly were the last team that could seriously be considered in that light. In the seven Super Bowls since New England’s last title, there have been five different winners, with Pittsburgh ’05 & ’08, and the Giants ’07 & ’12 each winning twice. Given the number of years between those latter titles, to suggest those teams on the fringe of dynasties is a bit of a stretch.
There are currently 11 teams in the league with 3-3 records. A glance at the standings could easily garner the response, “six of one, half dozen of another”. But are all .500 teams created equal? I’m not sure that they are, and I’ve attempted to outline why. Below are my rankings of the eleven 3-3 teams.
11. Miami Dolphins
I think the Dolphins have taken great strides on the road to rebuilding. Reggie Bush is proving that he can be an every down tailback, and Ryan Tannehill may very well be the long awaited franchise QB to finally replace the great Dan Marino, but I think they are still a playmaker or two away on defense, and maybe a premier pass catcher away from being a serious contender.
10. Buffalo Bills
This one was tough for me, because the Bills have some great talent on both sides of the ball. But serious questions still remain unanswered at quarterback, where Ryan Fitzpatrick struggles with consistency, and at running back, where injury concerns outweigh the enormous talent that Fred Jackson and C. J. Spiller bring to the table.
9. St. Louis Rams
I know they lost a tough one on the road at Miami, but I like the direction that Jeff Fisher is taking this team. QB Sam Bradford can make all the throws, and they have some good, young talent on both sides of the ball. The loss of Danny Amendola set them back, but I think they’ll only get better as the season progresses.
8. San Diego Chargers
This is another that’s tough for me because I grew up, and still am, a fan. Putting the homer gene aside, I see some serious issues on this once talented roster. On the defensive side of the ball, they struggle to get pressure on the QB, and to cover on the back end, a harsh combination for any team to work with. Offensively, the line is terrible in pass protection, the lack of talent at wide receiver becomes more apparent by the week, and something is wrong with QB Phil Rivers. His footwork is off, his decision making has been subpar, and his arm strength is now suspect. Before last year, none of these things were an issue.
7. Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton is one of the hot young guns in the NFL, and he has developed a rapport with A. J. Green that promises to be something special. Consistency is still an issue for this team, however, as evidenced by last week’s loss at Cleveland.
6. New York Jets
I may be stretching on this one, but the Jets looked very impressive in all three phases of the game against the Colts last week, and their ground and pound approach worked to perfection. On defense, Antonio Cromartie is playing like he did in 2007, while matching the aggressive nature of the rest of the unit. This week will tell us a lot more about Rex’s team than we now know.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
With their rate of turnovers, I can’t believe I have them slotted this high; it must be the tremendous amount of talent on this roster. The potential Pro-Bowlers here are too many to list, and Andy Reid is still a top-notch head coach. This team can quickly move either way on this list in the next few weeks.
4. Washington Redskins
I’ve seen the future of the NFL, and his name is RGIII. I’m not only drinking the Kool-Aid, I’m buying it by the pallet at Sam’s Club. I really like what Mike Shanahan is doing with this club on offense; I’ve never seen a team run as effectively out of the Shotgun as the Skins do. And about that option that has received so much criticism from football pundits everywhere? It is very efficient, and gives defensive coordinators headaches with the match-up problems it creates. Rookie Alfred Morris has been consistently one of the better backs in the league, and RGIII has already developed the best play-action fake in the game. A suspect defense keeps this team from being great, but they’re on their way.
3. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning makes this team much better. For those of us who doubted that, we were wrong…period. Willis McGahee is still bucking the RB after 30 odds, and Peyton is quickly making Pro-Bowl caliber receivers of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. On defense, Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller present a fearsome pass rush, while Champ Baily remains a shutdown corner, and shows no sign of slowing down.
2. Green Bay Packers
2011’s performance was a tough act for any team to follow, and the Packers have already dropped two more games this year than last. But last week, Aaron Rodgers showed why is widely considered the league’s best QB, by tossing 6 touchdowns. On defense, they have a few playmakers, but lack the cohesiveness to be considered great. The thing that keeps this team from taking the top slot on this list is their lack of a consistent running attack. I expect we’ll see them into the post season.
1. New England Patriots
I think the Patriots abandoned the running game altogether in 2007, when Tom Brady and Randy Moss rewrote a bit of the record books. But the running game is back in New England, and in a big way. Halfback Stevan Ridley is the most exciting rookie I can remember on a Bill Belichick coached team, and fellow rookie Brandon Bolden is almost as good. But the passing game is still as strong as ever, with Gronk, Aaron, Wes and new addition Brandon Lloyd giving Brady the best compliment of targets he’s had in his career. The defense struggles at times, but with this offense, who cares? My pre-season pick to win the Super Bowl, I see no reason to back off of that prediction.
About the Author
Written by Steve Massey
Steve Massey is the author of Grid Iron Audible, a column covering all things NFL, at Pro Sports Blogging. Like a great QB led team, he is sometimes down, but never out of the game. He is always networking, and would consider any and all efforts to procure his talents. Just ask him. He was educated at Fort Scott Community College (Kansas), and now lives in Northern Arkansas with his beautiful wife, Debbie. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMassey9