By Conor Harrington,
Sports Business Editor
As we sit now six weeks into the NFL season, a surprise team has moved into the driver’s seat in each of the two conferences. In the NFC, it is the Philadelphia Eagles, led by young quarterback Carson Wentz who have distanced themselves from the pack. Bolstered by wins over teams such as the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles have flown into the top spot of the conference. Their only loss has come to the surprise team of the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs were the NFL’s last unbeaten team before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Oakland Raiders on a last-second touchdown on Thursday night. The Chiefs already have quite the resume, beating the Eagles, Houston Texans, and New England Patriots. They have been led by a career year from quarterback Alex Smith and the emergence of rookie running back Kareem Hunt.
In the NFC, the teams that seem best equipped to compete with the Eagles include the Panthers, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, and Green Bay Packers. The Panthers gave the Eagles a close game on Thursday Night Football before falling 28-23. Two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance and MVP season from quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers are looking to make another playoff push from the always up for grabs NFC South.
The Rams have been the surprise story of the season. Fresh off a four win campaign in 2016, they already sit at 4-2 on the season. Young new coach Sean McVay has worked wonders with second-year quarterback Jared Goff, and has his Rams first in the NFC West.
In the NFC North, the Packers and Vikings both have all-around quality teams with playoff experience. Both also have suffered major injuries. The Vikings have lost rookie running back Dalvin Cook for the rest of the season while the Packers have lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers for an extended period of time. The injuries leave them behind the other three teams in terms of Super Bowl odds.
In the AFC, it is unsurprisingly turning into just a three horse race between the Chiefs, Steelers, and Patriots. The Steelers have been up and down all season, most exemplified in a two week stretch where the Jacksonville Jaguars, a surprisingly solid team this season, crushed them 30-9, before beating the Chiefs 19-13. The Steelers’ offense is spearheaded by the three-headed juggernaut of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and wide receiver Antonio Brown. The Steelers have not made the Super Bowl in seven seasons, and Roethlisberger, showing his age, must be inching for a chance at a third ring.
As for the Patriots, the defending champions have rebounded after a rough 2-2 start to pull themselves to 4-2. Even at 40 years old, Tom Brady continues to show himself to be the best player on the planet, having guided the Patriots to comeback wins over the Texans and the New York Jets this season. Brady has shown inclination towards retirement despite his age, and seems fully capable of winning an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl.
Some contenders are emerging, but it is important to remember that the season is certainly still young and that anything can happen in the NFL.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 24th print edition.
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