The first four weeks of the 2016 NFL season are now complete, and the true playoff contenders are starting to emerge. It's still too early to declare any team the Super Bowl favorite, but the contenders are starting to emerge. We can also start trying to forecast which teams will make the playoffs.
This list should change a bit each week, especially early in the year. While it's not quite the same as power rankings, it should look somewhat similar. This accounts for team's schedules as well as their divisions, so it's not based solely on record. So, here are my projections for the NFL Playoffs after four weeks.
1. New England Patriots (3-1)
Turns out the Patriots are beatable. Hats off to the Buffalo Bills, who even managed to shut out the Fighting Belichicks. But here's the bad news: Tom Brady is back. The Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC and possibly the NFL.
2. Denver Broncos (4-0)
The Broncos are once again going to win on the strength of their defense. The offense looks better than last year, although the run defense has room to improve. I'd take the Patriots over Denver head-to-head, but the defending Super Bowl champs look like they'll back in the playoffs once again this year.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)
That loss to the Eagles stings and was a surprise, but this is still a very good team. They showed as much in a dominant win over the Chiefs. They've already beaten the Bengals once, something that helps their divisional chances. A game against the Jets this week will be critical for both teams involved.
4. Houston Texans (3-1)
That loss to the Patriots was bad, but Houston is still atop the division in the AFC South. The defense is really good, although the offense still has some work to do. Brock Osweiler has to keep getting. The AFC South is still a mess, with all four teams posting a negative point differential. I still think it comes down to the Texans and the Colts.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (2-2)
The Bengals have lost a pair of tough games to the Steelers and Broncos, although self-inflicted wounds played a major role in those losses. But those are two of the hardest games the Bengals have all season. The schedule gets easier and the Bengals will start winning very soon. I like this team a lot, and I think they'll be a playoff team once again.
6. Oakland Raiders (3-1)
It hasn't always been pretty, but the Raiders are in great position to make the postseason. The defense needs to get better, but a win over the Ravens could have a major impact on their chances. This team is not perfect, but the Raiders certainly have the offense to make noise. However, there will be a tough battle for the wild card spots in the AFC. There's the Bills and potentially the Jets, plus the entire AFC West and the Ravens.
1. Minnesota Vikings (4-0)
This Vikings defense is absurdly good. The offense isn't great but defense wins championships. And the Vikings have a championship defense. They've already beaten two likely playoff teams in the Panthers and Packers. Minnesota looks great so far and while they could regress at some point, they're in the pole position for the No. 1 overall seed.
2. Seattle Seahawks (3-1)
If the Seattle offense plays like they did in Week 3 and 4, they could be the number one seed. If the Week 1 and 2 units keep showing up, they won't make the playoffs. Seattle is loaded on defense, but that offensive line has already resulted in two Russell Wilson injuries. At some point, he won't be able to get back up.
3. Carolina Panthers (1-3)
The Panthers might have three losses, but those teams have a combined one loss. The schedule gets easier (for the most part) from here on out. The secondary is a major worry, but I still think Carolina is better than Atlanta. They'll bounce back very soon. And they had better, because starting 1-4 is not the path to the postseason.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-0)
No team has surprised me quite like the Eagles have, and I mean that in a good way. I didn't see them starting the 3-0 and I certainly didn't think they'd take it to Pittsburgh like they did. I'm not sure how good this team actually is and although I do think the Dallas Cowboys will make a run at this division, but the Eagles could very well start the season 5-0. Still, I don't completely trust this team.
5. Green Bay Packers (2-1)
Losing to Minnesota never sits well with Green Bay, but they are still 2-1. They are a clear playoff threat, especially if the offense can build on last week's effort. There's still room for improvement, but the Packers should at least be a wild card team.
6. Arizona Cardinals (1-3)
The Cardinals should have beaten the Patriots in Week 1, until a missed field goal ruined it. I still like this team, even after terrible offensive showings against the Bills and the Rams. I think they bounce back in a needed way and enter a key home game against the Seahawks playing more like they did in Week 2. Arizona is talented, but the Falcons and maybe even one of those NFC East teams could snag this spot.
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