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Assessing NFL Contenders and Pretenders

Assessing NFL Contenders and Pretenders at the One-Third Mark of the 2023 Season

We find ourselves one-third of the way into the 2023 NFL season, and it’s astonishing, isn’t it? These six weeks have gifted us with surprises, letdowns, upsets, and displays of dominance. While it’s still relatively early, the question looms large: Who possesses the fortitude to make it all the way to the pinnacle? Conversely, which teams are likely to fade as the year unfolds?

To assess the contenders and pretenders among the NFL teams, especially those poised for playoff berths if the season were to conclude today, we turn to Pete Prisco’s Week 7 Power Rankings as our guide. Let’s commence with an examination of the league’s most formidable teams.

Contenders

Kansas City Chiefs (5-1, 1st in AFC West)
Prisco’s Week 7 power ranking: 1

The reigning Super Bowl champions undeniably belong to the contender category. While Patrick Mahomes may have encountered a challenging start to the season, the defense has shone brightly. A recent display of their prowess was the way Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive strategy stifled the Denver Broncos’ passing game on a Thursday night.

Admittedly, the Broncos may not be an offensive powerhouse, but the Chiefs’ cornerbacks demonstrated their dominance. In my opinion, Kansas City should be active buyers at the trade deadline, as their passing game primarily relies on Travis Kelce. Nevertheless, Kansas City is unquestionably a legitimate contender.

Assessing NFL Contenders and Pretenders
NFL Contenders and Pretenders (Credits: ESPN)

San Francisco 49ers (5-1, 1st in NFC West)
Prisco’s Week 7 power ranking: 4

San Francisco’s first regular-season defeat since October 23 last year finally arrived. It was bound to happen eventually, but who could have foreseen that P.J. Walker would orchestrate that loss? In fairness, it was the Cleveland Browns’ defense that truly shone.

While Brock Purdy’s performance came down to earth with just 125 passing yards, he might not be the next Tom Brady, but he could very well be the best quarterback San Francisco has had in a while. Supported by a roster teeming with talent, including Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk, as well as a robust defense, the 49ers remain solid contenders, even if Week 6 revealed they are not invincible.

Miami Dolphins (5-1, 1st in AFC East)
Prisco’s Week 7 power ranking: 2

Let us all applaud Mike McDaniel, the head coach who has transformed Hard Rock Stadium into a virtual dance club. In three home games this season, Miami has been an offensive juggernaut, averaging 47.7 points per game, 558 total offensive yards per game, and 8.8 yards per play. Even when they fell behind 14-0 to the Carolina Panthers, the Dolphins staged a comeback, becoming only the fifth team in NFL history to win a game by 21+ points after trailing by 14 points in the first quarter.

There’s no need to convince anyone of Miami’s offensive prowess. With Tyreek Hill leading the NFL in receiving yards, Raheem Mostert leading in touchdowns, Tua Tagovailoa in the MVP conversation, and Jaylen Waddle’s contributions, their offense is a force. The key now is to stay healthy and maintain a strong defense, a task aided by the return of Jalen Ramsey and the guidance of Vic Fangio. There’s reason to believe the Dolphins are not merely a flash in the pan but a team with staying power.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-1, 1st in NFC East)
Prisco’s Week 7 power ranking: 5

Similar to the 49ers, the Eagles lost a double-digit lead on the road, surrendering it in the final two minutes of the game to mark their first loss of the season. Perhaps regression was inevitable after last year’s success, but Philadelphia remains a contender. They boast the second-best offense in the league and a strong defense, with star players across the field. Even after letting Miles Sanders go in the offseason, they maintain the NFL’s second-best rushing offense. Concerns may linger about their pass defense, but keep an eye on Howie Roseman during the trade deadline. The Eagles still soar in the NFC.

Baltimore Ravens (4-2, 1st in AFC North)
Prisco’s Week 7 power ranking: 9

The Ravens earn my admiration despite not yet securing a statement win this season. Lamar Jackson is showcasing impressive passing skills, Zay Flowers is emerging as a young star, and Baltimore wields a top-five rushing attack, even without J.K. Dobbins. It’s essential to remember that the Ravens are adapting to a new offensive scheme, one that may flourish in the upcoming weeks.

What truly positions the Ravens as contenders is their formidable defense. They rank second in yards allowed per game through the first six weeks, and Roquan Smith is a bona fide standout. Baltimore has initiated a promising start in the AFC North, leaving us eagerly anticipating their continued journey.

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Amar Singh

A passionate and driven individual currently pursuing a Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degree in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). Born on 06 February, hails from Raipur, where their journey into the world of technology and creativity began.

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