Peyton Manning (18) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 23, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.
By Kelton Brooks (@BrooksWeekly)
The once unbeaten Cardinals and Bengals lost by a combined 45 points Sunday, falling from the ranks as the last remaining undefeated teams in the 2014 NFL season.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins didn’t break sweat. Those unblemished Dolphins still remain the only team to go undefeated in the regular season and win the Super Bowl.
No more undefeated teams are left, but there are seven heralded one loss teams in the NFL as of week 5: Dallas, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, San Diego, Denver, Seattle, and Arizona. While a few are sitting on a high pedestal, others have squeaked by to cling on to a single loss.
How would you rank the seven one loss teams? Here is how I would:
1. Denver Broncos (3-1)
The Broncos are led by the ageless wonder Peyton Manning, fresh off becoming the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 500 touchdowns in his career. Manning’s career high of 479 yards passing and four touchdown performance in a 40-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals, moves him within five (503) of Brett Favre’s record of 508.
Denver’s next opponent is the New York Jets. He has the chance to tie or break the record against the dysfunctional Jets.
The Broncos biggest test was a 26-20 overtime loss against the Seattle Seahawks—a loss that was a win in the grand schemes of things. The embarrassing 43-8 Super Bowl loss to Seattle is a thing in the past. The Broncos showed toughness, fearlessness and a will to battle back after falling in a 17-3 deficit before scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Denver has issued they need to fix, starting with the ailing 29th-ranked rushing attack. The injury to running back Montee Ball may not appear as a major loss with backup Ronnie Hillman coming on strong lately as a dual threat out the backfield.
This team isn’t perfect and has formidable opponents left on the schedule with San Francisco, San Diego and New England lined up after their tune up against the Jets. But with Manning under the helm, the Broncos will remain the best team in the league.
2. San Diego Chargers (4-1)
Philip Rivers is a legitimate MVP candidate. Rivers posted a passer rating of 125 while completing 71 percent of his passes in a 31-0 shutout against the Jets, giving Rivers a career-best four straight games of 120.0 or higher. According to ESPN Stats&Info, Rivers threw three touchdown passes in a game for the ninth time in the last two seasons on Sunday, the second most games in the NFL behind Peyton Manning (14).
In my pre-seasons predictions, the Chargers were my surprise team in the NFL with a predicted record of 10-6, but this team is talented enough to win 12 games. A 30-21 week 2 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks was an eye-opener around the league. The Chargers have bolted through every team since their highlight win over Seattle.
The Chargers underrated defense is ranked 8th overall, stifling opponents yielding 12.6 points per game and 194.8 yards through the air.
This is a complete football team. The only setback to San Diego is the loss of oft-injured running back Ryan Matthews, but rookie RB Braden Oliver filled in admirably rushing for 114 yards and a score in his first start.
3. Seattle Seahawks (3-1)
The Seahawks are scary, nasty, mean, intimidating, every adjective a 6-year-old would use to describe the boogeyman.
The Legion of Boom, headlined by the brass Richard Sherman, the 12th man of CenturyLink Field, and the most poised, young quarterback in the NFL in Russell Wilson—there is nothing to like about the NFC favorites to return to the Super Bowl. After thwarting Washington Monday night, Wilson completed 6 of his 8 passes when under duress, tying for the second-highest completion percentage of his career and the highest in the NFL this season (minimum 8 attempts), according to Elias Sports Bureau. Wilson finished the game completing 18 of his 24 passes for 201 yards.
Not only was he efficient with through air, he was even deadlier on the ground.
Wilson rushed for 122 yards of the Seahawks 225 Monday night. It was the most rushing yards by a quarterback on Monday Night Football in NFL history. Wilson finished with 85 rushing yards off scrambles with 80 yards rushing in the first quarter. He has two of the three highest such games since joining the NFL.
Percy Harvin is the X-factor for Seattle. He runs hard after the catch, making people miss and bouncing off tacklers. But the diminutive offensive weapon has seen his share of injuries throughout his NFL career. Harvin had three touchdowns called back Monday night due to costly penalties, a 26-yard screen pass wiped away by a false start; a 16-yard run wiped away by offensive holding; and a 41-yard touchdown pass wiped away by unnecessary roughness.
Even through his strange, roller coaster night, Harvin did it all with a nagging leg injury he sustained in the second quarter. A healthy Harvin and poised Wilson will take the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl.
4. Arizona Cardinals (3-1)
It was bound to catch up with the Cardinals sooner or later.
Starting quarterback Carson Palmer has been nursing a nerve injury to his shoulder after falling awkwardly on the shoulder week 1 against the Chargers. He remains listed as day-to-day after reportedly throwing 20 light passes of 10 yards pregame to the Cardinals loss to the Broncos Sunday.
Backup Drew Stanton won his first two starts in Palmer’s absence, but Arizona’s defense can only take so much. Against the Broncos, the opposing offense has to produce more than 21 points. To make matters worse, Stanton was lost to a discussion to a questionable chop-block by tight end Julius Thomas.
In three starts, Stanton has completed less than 55 percent of his passes and thrown just two touchdown passes. Arizona has won impressive games without their starting QB in wins over the Chargers, 49ers and a resurgent Giants’ team.
The sooner Palmer returns, the sooner the Cardinals will continue to supplant themselves as one of the league’s best.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)
From top to bottom, Cincinnati is the most talented team in the NFL.
Top offense, playmakers on defense, good special teams play, but there is something always something missing in Cincinnati. After a 43-17 loss to the struggling New England Patriots, look no further than quarterback Andy Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals looked unstoppable in their first three wins only to lose embarrassingly under the bright lights, the M.O. of Dalton and Lewis. It was a regular season game, yes, but Dalton’s playoff record and statistics show you the type of the players he is when the spotlight is on.
Dalton is 0-3 in the playoffs and has completed 56.9 percent of his passes with one touchdown and six interceptions. During the regular season, he ranks only behind Dan Marino and Peyton Manning in NFL history with 80 touchdown passes during his first three seasons.
In 12 seasons with the Bengals, Lewis has a regular season record of 93-86-1 with four AFC North crowns. But he is winless in the postseason with a 0-5 playoff record.
Like the old adage says, “the quarterback takes on the personality of their head coach.”
The Bengals will again win the AFC North on talent alone, but when the lights are at their brightest, Cincinnati folds.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (4-1)
After nearly squandering a 27-point lead over the St. Louis Rams, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles told a reporter
“We have to learn how to finish better,” Foles said. “As a team, we’re not there yet.”
And Foles is right, the Eagles are not there yet.
Philadelphia found themselves in a 17-0 hole at halftime against the Jacksonville Jaguars before winning 34-17 in week 1. They were down 20-6 against the Andrew Luck and the Colts before storming back to win 30-27, and found themselves in another deficit as Washington jumped out front to a 17-7 lead. Again, the Eagles showed resilience in a come behind 37-34 victory.
But that’s a dangerous game to play in the NFL. The Eagles took a stranglehold on the Rams with a 34-7 lead, but nearly watched the win slip out of their talons as the Rams scored 21 points in the second half. Philadelphia continues to struggles in the secondary giving up 274.2 ypg (29th) and a weak often gashed 24th-ranked rushing defense.
But luckily, the Eagles special teams has risen to the occasion. Philadelphia has scored 42 of their 156 points on special teams and defense, accounting for nearly 27 percent of their points. They scored on a fumble return and blocked punt against the Rams.
But sooner or later, falling behind early in games will come back to haunt them.
7. Dallas Cowboys (4-1)
At 4-1, “America’s team” has reached the halfway point of their 2013 total of 8 wins. Barring a major setback, the Cowboys will finish with a winning record for the first time since 2009 (11-5).
But other than the 38-17 win over the New Orleans Saints—who has been less than stellar this season—Dallas hasn’t looked impressive in either of their wins.
A 26-10 win over the Titans in week 2 is nothing to hang your hat on as Tennessee looks to be in the running for a top-5 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The Cowboys were down 21-0 against a now 1-4 Rams team and as talented as the Cowboys are, they should’t have found them down against Ryan Fitzpatrick, albeit a stingy Houston defense.
But this is not college football, the NFL is not determined by the strength of schedule or how many quality opponents you play. A 4-1 record in the NFL means you’re getting the job done, period.
Although, how well can we trust the Cowboys? A team notoriously known for a bobbled snap, a back breaking penalty or the frequent heart breaking interceptions by Tony Romo when the game is on the line?
League leading rusher DeMarco Murray (670) is a major reason why America’s team is back on the national stage. But when the game matters most, Romo will have the ball in his hands.
Hands that are not always trustworthy.