It seems as if every NFL season, there's always that one team who looks like they're going to win it all. Regardless of whether they actually go the distance of not, this is the time where people start to hop on the bandwagon for one team in particular. But with new elements such as the 17 game schedule this season feels different. This year, there's not one dominant team nor will any team remain dominant and here's why.
To start off, we must mention the 17 game schedule as a key component. With one extra game added, there's no breathing room for a team atop of their conference like the Arizona Cardinals, or a division leader like the Baltimore Ravens. For other teams that might have emerged in the hunt, this is an opportunity for them to not only sneak into the playoff picture, but gain significant ground. Take the Indianapolis Colts for example. Their new signal-caller Carson Wentz missed most of training camp with an injury and the Colts sputtered to a 1-4 start. But now they've won five of their last six games and currently hold the top wild card spot in the AFC. In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles, San Fransisco 49ers, and Minnesota Vikings are gaining momentum at the right time. To say that we'll probably see two out of these three teams in the playoffs isn't a crazy prediction.
One key factor that will determine the playoff picture like any other year is injuries. Some teams such as the Ravens, Cardinals, and Packers have still managed to win despite injuries to key players. Other teams such as the Saints have been hit hard. They lost quarterback Jameis Winston for the season to a torn ACL. At the time of the diagnosis, they were 5-2 and had defeated the Buccaneers, but now they're on the outside looking in after losing four straight games. Another notable team worth mentioning is the Titans. With running back Derrick Henry bullying opponents, they slowly climbed to the top of the AFC. Even in their first game without him after a foot injury that will keep him out 6-10 weeks, they blew out the Rams. But now they face lots of questions after losing at home to the one-win Texans. Whether some teams are able to sustain their success going into the final weeks of the regular season will be interesting to see. It's worth wondering about the affect COVID could have on this year's playoff picture. If the Packers have to go down to Arizona for the championship game because they were behind by one game and lose, will Aaron Rodgers regret his decision to not get vaccinated? Had he got vaccinated, would he have been able to play against the Chiefs, a game the Packers lost without him? Maybe that one win would have given them the top seed.
Each week, there's one team that just had a statement victory and is on top of the world, only to get beat the next week. Just look at the AFC. The Chiefs looked like they're primed for another deep run defeating the Browns in a rematch of their divisional meeting to open the season. Then the Ravens seemed to snatch that momentum in a comeback victory that started a five game winning streak that temporarily put them atop the AFC. The Tennessee Titans currently hold the no. 1 seed but they fell back to earth after losing to the one-win Texans. In the NFC, the Cardinals have held on to the no. 1 seed thanks to their 7-0 start. It's the wild card spots which have made the playoff picture for that conference interesting. The Rams and Saints appeared to be locks for the top two spots but both teams have struggled as of late, opening the door to other teams like the 49ers and Eagles.
Whether this satisfies you as a fan or not, there's no dominant team this season. I was originally against the implementation of a 17 game schedule, but it has helped make this playoff race more interesting. Every week some team changes the outlook of the playoff picture and there's every reason to believe that this will continue until the season's over.