BY BENJAMIN DUNNING – STAFF WRITER
Entering Week 8 of the 2015-16 National Football League (NFL) season, the NFL has a record number of undefeated teams as New England, Green Bay, Carolina, Denver and Cincinnati all have 6-0 records.
The Patriots and a suspension-free Tom Brady are the best team in the league going into Week 8, having come off their toughest victory yet against the Jets’ and their number one-ranked defense. The other four undefeated teams have conquered adversity to achieve early division leads. Despite a lack of perimeter weapons for quarterback Cam Newton to utilize and the absence of All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly due to a concussion, the Panthers have managed to achieve one of the hottest starts in the league this season. Without wide receiver Jordy Nelson in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers has revived the career of James Jones with six touchdown connections and continues to dominate the NFC North. And despite 39 year-old Peyton Manning’s league leading ten interceptions, the Bronco’s defense has been spectacular in their undefeated start.
Elsewhere, the Bengals appear to be the next most complete team behind New England. In the Bengals’ AFC North, a knee injury to Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and early season suspensions for some young stars have All-Pro Antonio Brown and the Steelers’ defense trying to hold it together until their juggernaut offense can fully reassemble itself. In Cleveland, the league’s most prevalent quarterback controversy has been temporarily put to rest, as Josh McCown has taken full control of the starting spot over former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. The Ravens share the worst record in the league with the Lions at 1-6.
Aside from Denver in the AFC West, quarterback Phillip Rivers continues to dominate for the Chargers, however it is the Raiders in second place with the most promising situation they have seen in years with quarterback Derek Carr throwing to rookie receiver Amari Cooper. The Chiefs have lost All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles to an ACL tear, and with him, their season.
The AFC South might currently be the worst division in the NFL. Led by the unimpressive 3-4 Colts and a turnover machine in Andrew Luck, this would be the division to put a 7-9 or 8-8 team into an AFC Wild Card matchup. The Texans can’t beat anyone with their dual reject-quarterback system, while the Jacksonville Jaguars are still the same old Jaguars. Alas, with such a poor division, anyone could make the playoffs.
Much like the AFC South, the mediocre NFC East is very much up for grabs. The sensational young Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants lead the divisional race. Quarterback problems abound, the Redskins have managed to squeeze out three wins so far despite a ticking time bomb of a Robert Griffin III controversy. The losses of quarterback Tony Romo and All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant can sum up the story of the almost-promising season for the Cowboys.
The AFC East and NFC North are safely in the hands of the Patriots and Packers, respectively. The East is the tougher division with the Jets’ top-ranked defense contesting Brady’s offense, while Adrian Peterson and the Vikings are the only real divisional threat to the Packers in the North.
Carolina and Atlanta could end up giving the NFC South two playoff teams. Veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, stud wide receiver Julio Jones, and emerging star running back Devonta Freeman have finally brought the Falcons back to prominence at 6-1. An offseason roster shake up, including the surprise trade of tight end Jimmy Graham, has not boded well for Drew Brees and the Saints so far this season.
Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and an extremely young Buccaneers roster will need time to gain experience and cohesion.
Were it not for the newly pitiful 49ers, the NFC West may just be the stiffest competition in football, led by the 5-2 Arizona Cardinals. With injuries to Marshawn Lynch and a now-resolved hold out by All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor, the perennial powerhouse Seahawks have gotten off to a rough but manageable start at 3-4. Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley is sprinting towards superstardom and a Rookie of the Year trophy. With a talented young defense and one of the best D-lines in the NFL, the Rams could make a midseason surge.
As for some way-too-early predictions, the Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year will be receiver Julio Jones of the Falcons and cornerback Josh Norman of the Panthers, respectively. The Rookie of the Year race will be between tailback Todd Gurley of the Rams and receiver Amari Cooper of the Raiders. Cardinals’ back Chris Johnson will be Comeback Player of the Year and Tom Brady will win his third NFL MVP. And perhaps on Sunday, February 7, 2016, we will witness a fifth Brady Super Bowl victory over Rodgers and the Packers, cementing him as the greatest to ever play quarterback in the NFL.