Who Is Truly the NFL’s Top Team Entering Midseason?

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    November is here, which means we’ve unofficially hit the midseason portion of the 2021 NFL schedule. And with the eighth Sunday of the campaign now in the books, it feels like an appropriate time to ask who the league’s top team is.

    After all, we’re out of unbeaten teams, following the Green Bay Packers’ Thursday night victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills were the Vegas favorites in their respective conferences entering Week 8, but both have now lost a pair of games as well. The Packers, Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans are particularly hot right now, while the Los Angeles Rams join Green Bay, Dallas and Arizona in the one-loss club.

    With the preseason favorite Kansas City Chiefs still a game below .500, let’s break down each team in contention for the top spot at midseason, starting from the bottom of the list.

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Why they’re the best: They’re on a tear that has included victories over the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs (the latter of which came in blowout fashion) and a critical Week 8 win over the division-rival Colts in Indianapolis. Running back Derrick Henry might also be the top offensive weapon in the NFL. 

    Why they’re not: They needed overtime to defeat the inferior Colts on a brutal day for Carson Wentz, while that victory over the Chiefs isn’t quite as special this year because K.C. has struggled so much. The Titans also nearly lost that Bills game at home, and they also fell to the Cardinals and (incredibly) the New York Jets in Weeks 1 and 4, respectively.

    Verdict: Not the best. Every team on this list entered the week ranked in the top 12 in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders) except the Titans, who ranked 20th. That might not change significantly based on an overtime win over the unimpressive Colts. That Jets loss also looms large for a Tennessee team with a scoring margin of just plus-32. They’re in tier two. 

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    Why they’re the best: They took down the defending AFC champion Chiefs and later hammered the contending Los Angeles Chargers. And their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, is a former MVP who is averaging a league-best 5.5 completed air yards per pass attempt while also leading all quarterbacks in rushing. 

    Why they’re not: Before their Week 8 bye, they were smashed by the Cincinnati Bengals. That was their second loss of the season, and they were also lucky to get past the Detroit Lions and Colts with come-from-behind victories. 

    Verdict: Not the best. You could make an argument that the 5-3 Bengals are better than the 5-2 Ravens, but nobody in the AFC North can claim to be king of the league right now.

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    Why they’re the best: They’re the defending champs, Tom Brady is their quarterback and they entered the week with the top offensive DVOA in the league. 

    Why they’re not: The Bucs are 6-2 following a loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, and they were defeated by the Rams by double-digits. They also easily could have lost to Dallas and the New England Patriots, as they won both games by just two points each.

    Verdict: Not the best. If not for the fact they won it all last year, nobody would consider the Bucs to be the top team in the league at the moment. But it’s not 2020. 

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    Why they’re the best: They’ve outscored their opponents by 108 points, which leads all one-loss teams by a wide margin. They’re also 4-0 on the road, including wins over the Rams and Cleveland Browns, and they crushed a Titans team that is also on this list. 

    Why they’re not: They failed to take care of business in a critical prime-time game Thursday night. There’s no significant shame in losing to the Packers, but Green Bay was depleted and traveling on short rest, so that was a game Arizona absolutely should have won. 

    Verdict: Not the best. At the very least, Green Bay can claim to be better right now. 

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    Why they’re the best: If they had made one more play and defeated the Buccaneers in Tampa in Week 1, they’d be unbeaten. And how much should we penalize them for losing to the defending Super Bowl champions by two points on the road? Throw in that quarterback Dak Prescott is a prime MVP candidate, and there’s a case to be made for Dallas, especially after the Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings on the road without Prescott on Sunday night. 

    Why they’re not: Prescott’s injury could still be a factor. They also needed overtime to get past a Patriots team that had a losing record, and the schedule hasn’t presented much of a challenge beyond that. 

    Verdict: Not the best. They still need to see a hallmark victory, and it’s fair to wonder if the defense can keep this up, but Dallas is in the mix.

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why they’re the best: They’ve been perfect ever since laying an egg against the Saints in Week 1, and that performance looks like an anomaly. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the league’s reigning MVP, and he’s posted 17 touchdown passes to one interception during the current seven-game winning streak. 

    Why they’re not: They were pretty lucky to survive in Arizona on Thursday night, albeit with several absences, including Davante Adams. Being that shorthanded could really hurt in Kansas City next weekend. They also haven’t hammered anyone all season, and that Saints dud is still a blemish that we can’t completely ignore. 

    Verdict: Not the best. Green Bay’s trajectory is promising, especially if they can get healthier soon, but they’ve outscored their opponents by just 3.1 points per game. They’re not quite there. 

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    Why they’re the best: There might not be a team in football with three players as dominant as quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, which explains why the Rams are 7-1 and tied for the league’s third-best scoring margin (plus-77). Throw in that Cooper Kupp is the league’s leading receiver and the Rams are in golden shape. Their only loss came against the contending Cardinals, and they’re the only team with a top-four DVOA on both offense and defense.

    Why they’re not: They were defeated handily by Arizona at home. That pretty much disqualifies them for now. 

    Verdict: Not the best. That record and scoring margin combined with a top-three DVOA (behind only Buffalo and Arizona) puts them in the conversation. However, the loss to the Cards and so-so performances against Indianapolis and Detroit hold them back. 

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    Why they’re the best: Following a 26-11 victory over their division-rival Miami Dolphins on Sunday, they’ve outscored their opponents by a league-best 120 points, and quarterback Josh Allen is a prime MVP candidate. Their Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers looks like a massive aberration, and their only other loss came in a close contest with a strong Titans team on the road. 

    Why they’re not: It’s still tough to deem them to be better than Tennessee considering that result, and the Pittsburgh dud still counts for something. 

    Verdict: They’re the best. They could have defeated Tennessee and arguably would have done so at a neutral site. They also led the NFL in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders) entering Week 8, and they almost certainly still will after week. 

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