It’s too early to say we’ve got “contenders” and “pretenders” in the NFL quite yet. We’ve just hit the one-third point of the season and there’s so much drama left to happen between now and the playoffs.
That said, we’re settling into the midpoint of the year and even this early there are some teams that leap off the screen as being much better (or worse) that their records have shown thus far. Part of this is a factor of their schedule, early season injuries, or adjusting to new coaches — but some are just underperforming or overperforming based on their pure ability.
Let’s break down who we think are better and worse than their record shows as we approach Week 7 in the NFL.
5 teams better than their record shows
Cincinnati Bengals (3-3)
Stop me if you have heard this before.
The Cincinnati Bengals stumbled out of the gate, and it lead to near-panic in Cincinnati about whether the team would be able to put things together. Because last year the Bengals started 0-2 but put together a run to the AFC Championship Game.
While this year’s slow start felt different, due to Joe Burrow’s injury, the team has won two-straight games and heads into their bye week at .500. While the offense still looks sluggish at times, their defense can get after the passer with four — something we saw down the stretch Sunday against the Seahawks on a pair of sacks from Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard — which is always a good thing in the NFL.
Now they get the bye week to gear up for a tough stretch, as they’ll face San Francisco, Buffalo, Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville over their next six games.
Los Angeles Chargers (2-3)
Man, I don’t know what to make of the Chargers — but they should be better than 2-3, right? I mean, if you looked at their schedule up to this point and saw “Dolphins, Titans, Raiders and Vikings” you’d probably pick them to be 4-1 or maybe even 5-0.
Justin Herbert is a Top 10 quarterback in the NFL, and I wouldn’t fight you if you said Top 5. He has the weapons, this defense is pretty loaded — they should be one of the best teams in the NFL right now… but they’re not.
Los Angeles fell to 2-3 on the year with a loss to the Cowboys on Monday Night Football and pushed them to the limit. That showed they have the chops to contest with the really good teams, but things just haven’t panned out so far. There’s every chance this team makes a surge in the second part of the year and finds its form.
Brandon Staley has a lot to answer for as a coach, and his inability to adjust in game is making this team look a lot worse than it really is.
Minnesota Vikings (2-4)
A year ago the Vikings were a team widely regarded to be worse than their record showed. This was proven true in the playoffs when Minnesota was bounced by the Giants. This year though, it’s a different story.
As it stands the Vikings are 2-4. Their only wins have come against the Panthers and Bears, two of the worst teams in the entire league. Nobody is confusing this team with an NFC juggernaut, but they’re a damn sight better than they’ve shown this season.
Even if you remove Justin Jefferson from the equation because of injury, still this team has the tools to be good enough on offense to hang with a lot of teams in shootouts — and a smattering of defensive difference makers who could easily be doing more. As it stands Minnesota is seriously underachieving, but should still be above .500 at this point. Losing to the Buccaneers and Chargers will definitely come back to haunt this team come playoff time.
Houston Texans (3-3)
Yes, the Houston Texans are underrated, even at 3-3. Sure, that’s already as many games as they won in 2022 — but this team is really damn good. They’re maximizing the production out of rookie C.J. Stroud who has been incredible in the Houston offense, while boasting one of the more underrated defenses in the NFL.
This teams’ +22 point differential is better than any other team with a .500 record, and their three losses can be chalked up to getting comfortable in a new system, paired with playing some good teams in Baltimore, Indianapolis and Atlanta — all are pushes based on pure talent.
The Texans are swinging above their weight class and proving they belong to remain there in the process. DeMeco Ryans is proving he’s the real deal at head coach, and there’s some real Detroit Lions vibes to this squad where they could be the next to take a big step forward.
Los Angeles Rams (3-3)
As noted in our recent power rankings, we kinda owe the Rams an apology. We did not give them much of a chance coming into the season, yet they sit at 3-3 with what you might consider “quality losses.” After all, Los Angeles lost by seven to the 49ers, lost by three to the Bengals, and lost by nine to the Eagles.
Now Cooper Kupp is back in the fold, Puka Nacua remains a revelation — and if you have Puka on a fantasy team relax, he still saw seven targets on Sunday — and last we checked this defense still has Aaron Donald up front.
After all, if the playoffs started today, the Rams would be the seventh seed in the NFC, facing a trip to San Francisco to take on the 49ers. That is well ahead of where we, and many, saw them coming into the season.
5 teams who are WORSE than their record shows
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
The Steelers are zombies. You cannot kill them, no matter how many times they look like they’re dead. The defense remains extremely, extremely good, the offense just…doesn’t. There’s no rhyme or reason to what they do on that side of the ball and offensive coordinator Matt Canada is getting booed at Pittsburgh Penguins games. Not great at all.
This Steelers team is basically every Steelers team since like 2019. The defense will keep them in games long enough for a special teams touchdown and the offense will just be there for the ride. They simply don’t have the offense to make this entire outfit sustainable, and it’ll more than likely show as we get deeper into the season.
Las Vegas Raiders (3-3)
The Raiders are weird, man. They’re 3-3 but the vibes just seem so off. Despite beating the New England Patriots on Sunday, they lost starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who hasn’t played that great this season but is better than Brian Hoyer. The offense feels disjointed and has a distinct inability to get the ball to Davante Adams, and the offensive line can’t really pass block.
Defensively, Maxx Crosby is absolutely insane but he is covering up for a whole lot of issues on that defense, especially in the secondary. They’re still susceptible to big plays and lack a true option at corner. November brings dates with the Jets, Dolphins and Chiefs so…good luck!
Washington Commanders (3-3)
This team is so hungry for a shake up, and it just doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. The biggest thing right now is the extreme inconsistency to the point where every game, win or lose, feels like it reached that point through happenstance, rather than design.
One week the Commanders are narrowly losing to the Eagles, the next they’re getting blown out by the Bears. There is nothing consistent about this team other than the fact their wins came against teams with a combined record of 5-13, and even then only won each game by a single score.
Defensively Jack Del Rio is struggling to adapt to the modern NFL, offensively Eric Bieniemy is squeezing blood from a stone with Sam Howell, but the end result is an organization with a -43 point differential across six games. Other teams with a differential this low are languishing at 1-5 or worse.
There’s very little reason to believe this team stays at .500 with a stretch coming up in winter that includes the Dolphins, Seahawks, Cowboys, and 49ers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2)
The Buccaneers are certainly one of the more surprising teams through the early part of the 2023 schedule. Despite Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions, they sit at 3-2 on the year and are still atop the NFC South.
However, those three wins have come against the Minnesota Vikings (2-4), the Chicago Bears (1-5), and the New Orleans Saints (3-3). Both their losses, to the Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles, were two-score losses.
Their schedule, and the chaotic nature of the NFC South, might keep them in the mix for the playoffs. But their 3-2 resume is rather paper-thin.
New England Patriots (1-5)
The New England Patriots might be 1-5, but the harsh reality of their situation is that they are worse than such a record indicates.
After two of the worst losses during Bill Belichick’s tenure — a 38-3 loss to the Cowboys and a 34-0 loss at home to the Saints — New England went out and somehow turned in a loss that could arguably be worse than those two on Sunday. The Patriots lost to a mirror image of themselves, 21-17 to the Las Vegas Raiders in a game where many former Patriots were on the other side of the field.
Oh, and they get Buffalo and Miami over their next two games.
This is a bad offense, a banged up defense, and it seems it is a question of if, and not when, the team moves on from Mac Jones. There are no easy answers right now.