Examining the Top Shelf of the NFL: Which teams can compete for a title?

RAMS QUARTERBACK Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, arguably the deadliest offensive duo in the NFL. Zach Bolinger / Associated Press

Lucas Rapeepat | Head Editor

November 7, 2021

November has arrived, a signal that the 2021 NFL season reached its midpoint. After eight weeks of football, it’s time to evaluate the true contenders, analyzing who this year’s Super Bowl favorites are. 

The scene appears muddled at the moment. The last undefeated team, the Arizona Cardinals, fell to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night at home, preseason favorites such as the Chiefs have struggled, while hot teams such as the Cowboys, Bills, Packers, and Titans have exceeded expectations. Anything can happen in this league. Yet which teams are equipped for a deep playoff run?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

The defending champion Buccaneers returned from the last Super Bowl with their successful roster, becoming the first team ever to bring back all 22 starters. Because of this, expectations were high, with the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, the scariest wide receiver trio in the league, and the top-ranked defense. “I feel like everybody talks about their defense, receivers, and quarterback,” senior Evan Lowe said. “But one of the unsung heroes is Leonard Fournette. He’s lowkey having a great season and has played a significant role in their offense.” Their performance up to this point has been excellent, though some weaknesses were apparent in a double-digit loss to the Rams and Brady’s pick-six that sealed a defeat to division rival New Orleans. Tight victories by margins of two points against the Cowboys and Patriots prove that the Buccaneers are not an indomitable ship. They aren’t perfect, but blowouts such as the 38-3 drubbing of the Chicago Bears are a reminder that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Baltimore Ravens: 

RAVENS QUARTERBACK Lamar Jackson, one of the most electrifying players in the league. Getty Images / Ringer Illustration

The Ravens have played several of the most nail-biting games of the season thus far, such as a record-breaking game-winner for the longest field goal of all-time against the Lions, all on the back of electrifying quarterback Lamar Jackson. They have appeared dominant on all sides of the ball in some games, such as a 34-6 rout against the Chargers and a 23-7 win against the Broncos, yet their constant need for miraculous comebacks against teams they should not have been behind, coupled with an often suspect defense, are worrying signs for the future. Their 41-17 loss to the Bengals demonstrates what happens when everything goes wrong, a signal that backing this scrappy Baltimore team is risky. 

Dallas Cowboys:

Is this finally the year for the boys? In the first game of the 2021 season, they were a hair away from knocking down the Super Bowl champions and have not lost a game since. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense is filled to the brim with talent, with a historically great offensive line, a superstar running back, and a pair of star receivers. But the real improvement is on the defensive side, with rookie linebacker Micah Parsons flying around everywhere and second-year corner Trevon Diggs leading the league in interceptions. With their schedule soon heating up, it will be interesting to see if this team can break the curse of falling short that has plagued them for years.

Green Bay Packers: 

After knocking off the unbeaten Cardinals without their top three receivers and a slew of other key players, the Packers appear to be the cream of the crop in the NFL. Following a bizarre 38-3 loss to the Saints, they’ve won seven games in a row, with reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers throwing 17 touchdowns to only one interception. With a promising trajectory, especially when some of their players return from injuries, the Packers have the potential to win a title. Though they are only beating teams by an average of three points per game, this might be the year that they escape their NFC championship woes.

Buffalo Bills:

Josh Allen’s fourth season is going swimmingly, with the Bills playing the role of the most dangerous team in the AFC, outscoring opponents by a league-leading 120 points. Their defense is elite and filled with talent on all three levels. Stefon Diggs has played incredibly since being traded from the Vikings. Their only losses are to the Steelers in week one, which can be counted as a warm-up game, and a tight contest against the Titans on the road. Despite these, the Bills can still be considered the most solid, consistently great team in their conference and are the probable favorite to represent the AFC in the Superbowl.

KYLER MURRAY, the signal-caller for the Arizona Cardinals and MVP candidate, has led the team to a 7-0 start. Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

Arizona Cardinals:

Until a surprising last-minute loss to the Packers on Thursday night, the Cardinals were an unbeaten juggernaut, the unquestionable best team in the league. Kyler Murray’s air raid has produced an incredible offense aided by Deandre Hopkins, the receiver with the best catching ability in the league. On the other side of the ball, big names such as Chandler Jones and Budda Baker commandeer an imposing unit that contributed to the destruction of contenders such as the Titans, Browns, and Rams. Because of the reputation they built up over the season, a loss at home to a beaten-up Packers team was surprising. Though the defeat is unlikely to start a trend, the Cardinals are banged up and may face some trouble in the future, though the talent is still clearly there. 

Los Angeles Rams:

Selling their future in draft picks for talent to win now seems to be working wonders for this franchise. Matthew Stafford has proven that he is a star quarterback who only faced so much defeat because of his terrible old team, the Detroit Lions. Receiver Cooper Kupp is on a record-setting pace, and the defense, led by superstars Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and now Von Miller, is frightening. No other team in football has a roster this terrifying. Their only setback came in the form of an enormous loss to the division-rival Cardinals. “They have sold their entire future,” senior Niko Ripley said. “They better win a ring soon, or rebuilding is going to be extra difficult.” 

One of the main reasons for the NFL’s massive popularity is its impossibility to predict. The volatility of football games is incredible, and though some teams can be singled out, it is impossible to be sure about any of them. At certain points, teams such as the Chargers, Saints, Bengals, Titans, Browns, Steelers, or Raiders flashed the potential to go the distance. But we will not know which franchise will hoist the Lombardi trophy until the last second of play in February.

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