The top of the league looks interesting for a few reasons. First, the Arizona Cardinals have the best record in the league but, with the loss of quarterback Carson Palmer, their future is less clear. Backup Drew Stanton played earlier in the year when Palmer had a different injury and performed well. I believe this blow to the Cardinals offense signals the beginning of their decline. They will probably still make the playoffs, but their Super Bowl chances appear to be dwindling.
I believe the next big topic in the NFL playoff picture is who is going to win the AFC north. With three teams with six wins and the other with five it is by far the most wide-open division. The Steelers appeared to have the hot hand until giving up four turnovers in a loss to the Jets. The surprise of the division, and also the current leader, seems to be the Cleveland Browns, who thrashed the Bengals on Thursday night. Another aspect to consider is that Josh Gordon, who is arguably the most talented receiver in the NFL, returns to the Browns roster in two weeks. I think with the way they’re playing now and the return of Gordon, the Browns are going to pull away from the rest of the pack and be a real threat in the playoffs.
Along with the Browns and other teams in the AFC, I believe the road to the Super Bowl for the AFC goes through Denver. Peyton Manning is the most dominant player in the NFL. His ninth career five-touchdown game against the Raiders on Sunday just furthers the Manning legacy.
However, the problem with the Broncos is that Manning seems to be the only one in mid-season form currently. Receivers are still dropping a decent amount of passes from Manning and the Broncos defense are missing a lot of tackles. Granted they are much improved from last season, the defense, with all its new additions, still seems to be finding their identity. Once this team gets tight and starts stopping more offenses, the Broncos will virtually be unbeatable.
While there is still some time until the playoffs start, it’s becoming harder and harder to pick a team that’s not the Broncos. Peyton Manning is the most dominant player in the NFL and it cannot be stated enough. I believe the Broncos’ biggest test will be the Patriots, but if their defense can start playing as one, the Broncos will race to the Super Bowl title.