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article imageOp-Ed: NFL: The Best 5 Teams In Each Conference So Far

By Shawn McLeish     Oct 13, 2011 in Sports
We're through week 5 of the NFL season and there have already been some surprise teams play their way into the top 5 in each conference. Here's how they break down for now...
* In the AFC, there are 4 teams in the top 5 that started the season there. The Patriots, Ravens, Chargers, and Steelers were all expected to compete for the Super Bowl and, thus far, they are living up to that billing (although the Steelers are barely hanging on.) What very few predicted was Buffalo's meteoric rise from also-ran to contender. The top 5 teams in the AFC are extremely closely matched with not much separating them. Here's how they rank 1 through 5 (all stats are from nfl.com):
1. New England Patriots (4-1), next Sunday vs Dallas
The Patriots are averaging an AFC-best 33.0 points per game (PPG) and lead the NFL with an average of 495.2 yards of offence per game. The individual offensive stats of quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Wes Welker could fill an entire book. In fact, they may combine to rewrite the NFL record book this season. The only chink in the Patriots armor could be some injuries they have on defence. Safety Patrick Chung is playing hurt and linebacker Jerod Mayo may be out for another 6 weeks, but coach Bill Belichick always seems to find the parts to fix any problem.
2. Baltimore Ravens (3-1), next Sunday vs Houston
Any talk about the Ravens begins and ends with their defence. They have allowed an NFL-low 14.2 PPG while scoring 4 touchdowns themselves. That leaves the offence very little to do, but coach John Harbaugh has weapons at his disposal there. The Ravens boast a solid offensive line and two good receivers in Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans. As long as Ray Lewis is playing, though, this team is defence first...and why mess with success?
3. San Diego Chargers (4-1), bye week
The most intriguing thing about the Chargers this season is the fact that quarterback Philip Rivers hasn't really put it all together yet. This team has the ball an average of 35:17 per game to lead the league, but the offence hasn't really clicked yet. Once they do, it will be scary for their opponents. The Chargers also are the third least penalized team in the NFL, including an amazing ZERO last week in Denver. That's right, zero.
4. Buffalo Bills (4-1), next at New York Giants
The Bills continue to amaze. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is getting plenty of notice for his play this year (and some MVP consideration) and running back Fred Jackson is third in the league with 480 rush yards, but the main reason for Buffalo's turnaround is turnovers. The defence has intercepted a league-high 12 passes, returning three of those for scores. The Bills lead the NFL in turnover differential at +11 and have forced Pro Bowl quarterbacks Brady and Michael Vick throw 4 interceptions each in games this season.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2), next vs Jacksonville
Injuries continue to be a concern this season for the aging Steelers. Running back Rashard Mendenhall may be able to return this weekend, but running the ball wasn't an issue without him. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combined for 156 yards against the Titans. When healthy, the Steelers are dangerous, but linebacker James Harrison is missing for a few more weeks with his eye injury and safety Troy Polamalu is only ever one play away from disaster.
In the NFC, things aren't as close, but the surprises are plentiful. The Packers and Saints have performed the best so far, as expected. What's astounding is the Lions, Redskins, and 49ers being a combined 12-2 five weeks into the season. The best team and player in the league are both in Green Bay. Here's how the NFC teams stack up so far:
1. Green Bay Packers (5-0), next vs St. Louis
The Packers lost their starting left tackle, Chad Clifton, last game against the Falcons, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers played a superlative second half to lead them to victory. There is no doubt losing Clifton will hurt Green Bay, but they still have so many weapons on both sides of the ball. The Pack lead the NFL with 34.6 PPG and Rodgers has separated himself as the single best football player in the world.
2. New Orleans Saints (4-1), next at Tampa Bay
The only blemish on the Saints season so far has come at the hands of the only team ranked above them. The game was also decided on the final play from scrimmage in week 1, if you recall. That play is all that separates the two teams. The Saints, leading the NFC by averaging 452 yards per game, are less than two years removed from their Super Bowl victory and hungry to get back. Tight end Jimmy Graham has become an absolute weapon this season and Drew Brees is quietly putting up Brady-like numbers.
3. Detroit Lions (5-0), next vs San Francisco
The Lions defensive line dominated Chicago last Monday night, and have done so all season long. This domination is helping Detroit lead the NFL with a point differential of +70. More importantly, the swagger is back in Motown. Monday night's game set a Ford Field attendance record for a Lions game at 67,861. On top of that, the game, according to Nielson, was the most watched Lions game in history in the Detroit area. Thanksgiving Day, the Lions have a date with the Packers in Detroit. Happy Holidays for football fans!!
4. San Francisco 49ers (4-1), next at Detroit
The Niners have been improving for the past couple of years and seem to be putting it together so far in 2011. Their defence is led by linebacker Patrick Willis and it is intimidating. On offence, QB Alex Smith seems to be improving by the second under head coach Jim Harbaugh. San Francisco also plays the field position game better than any team in the league. Punter Andy Lee leads the NFL with a 45.8 net average while punt returner Ted Ginn has an NFL-best 5 punt returns for more than 20 yards. That's the same as the number of fair catches he's made this year! Yards gained on changes of possession is a little used stat in the NFL, but the 49ers are using it to great advantage this season.
5. Washington Redskins (3-1), next vs Philadelphia
In the pass happy world of the NFL, the Redskins are using clock management and stingy defence as a recipe for first place in the NFC East. Washington leads the NFC in time of possession at 33:40 and their defence has allowed only six more points (63) than the vaunted Baltimore squad. On offence, the 'Skins won't be spectacular, but they can do enough. Quarterback Rex Grossman won't light up the scoreboard too often so fans have never been enamoured with him, but the fact remains he led a team to the Super Bowl in the only season he played all 16 games (2006).
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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