Back in August, we narrowed the field of NFL 32 team down to six that had a legitimate shot of winning the Super Bowl. Now that we've had nearly two months to see every team in action, it's time to revisit and revise that list.
Some disappointing teams have been dropped (bye Carolina, Arizona and Green Bay) and two new teams have been added to the list of potential Super Bowl champions.
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots played their way through Tom Brady's suspension (and Jimmy Garoppolo's injury) far better than anyone could have imagined, escaping the four-game stretch with a 3-1 record. Now New England sits atop the AFC at 6-1 with no real threat in race for home-field advantage. Consider the three teams directly below them in the AFC: The Raiders, Texans and Chiefs.
It didn't take long for Brady to knock off any rust he may have had after sitting out a month. He's compiled a passer rating north of 130 while throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions over his first three games. With LeGarrette Blount emerging as one of the most productive backs in the league and Brady doing his thing, this offense looks unstoppable. And it will only get better from here with receiving back Dion Lewis slated to return to the lineup soon.
New England's defense hasn't played well, which is the biggest concern for Bill Belichick's team - especially if it has to go up against this next team in the playoffs.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have to be somewhat encouraged by their ability to hang with the Patriots for most of Sunday's game without Ben Roethlisberger. In defeat, Pittsburgh may have stumbled upon the strategy that gives it the best chance against New England: Controlling the clock by grinding out drives on the ground. The Steelers were forced into that strategy with Landry Jones starting for Roethlisberger, but Tomlin should consider utilizing the same strategy if these teams meet up again in January.
The longer the defense is on the sideline the better. It's undisciplined against the run and the secondary still isn't very good after the team spent a couple of high draft picks on defensive backs. If the Steelers are scoring touchdowns while controlling the clock and the defense can play a bend-but-don't-break style and hold teams to field goals, this team will be dangerous in the playoffs.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Don't look too far into the Seahawks' anemic offensive performance on Sunday night in Arizona. Yes, the offensive line is still woeful, but Seattle's scoring troubles will be remedied when (if?) Russell Wilson fully recovers from his early-season injuries. His scrambling is a key component of the team's passing scheme and the threat of him taking off on option looks gives the running game a boost. As Wilson get healthier, the offense will look better.
The defense will carry the load in the meantime, and they are clearly capable of doing so. This unit hasn't played this well since the 2013 Super Bowl run. The pass rush is simply dominant, the secondary is suffocating and the linebackers make plays all over the field. Sorry Denver and Minnesota, the best defense in the world still resides in Seattle. Now just imagine how good this team will be when Wilson and the offense get going.
4. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys look good and might have the most room to improve of any team on this list, especially on the defensive side of the ball. With DeMarcus Lawrence returning to the lineup and Randy Gregory still on track to return late in the season, the pass rush could be hitting its stride by the time the playoffs roll around. That's really been the biggest - and maybe only - weakness for this Cowboys team. If Dallas can get even average pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it will be a tough out for any team.
The offense has hit another gear these last few weeks with Ezekiel Elliott putting together four straight games with more than 140 rushing yards. Fellow rookie Dak Prescott has led one of the league's most efficient passing games, and I'm not even sure if it has maxed out its potential with Dez Bryant missing time and Tony Romo on the sideline. As good as Prescott has been, he's not nearly as good as Romo was the last time we saw him fully healthy. That's reason enough to give the veteran a shot at starting. If he's healthy, this team is not only a Super Bowl contender but maybe the favorite to win the NFC.
5. Minnesota Vikings
I almost didn't include the Vikings on this list after the egg they laid in Philadelphia on Sunday. That is not a championship-winning offensive line we saw against the Eagles. Does anyone trust Sam Bradford to deal with that kind of pressure in a playoff game against a team like Seattle? Didn't think so. And it's not like Minnesota has a running game to fall back on. Sure, Adrian Peterson is out injured but he wasn't very effect before tearing his meniscus. The offense is an issue.
Minnesota's defense is the reason we can't write this team off just yet. It has 2015 Broncos potential. Denver's offense was a mess heading into the postseason, but that didn't stop Wade Phillip's defense from steamrolling through three prolific offenses. The Vikings have the talent to make a similar run - especially with Mike Zimmer pulling the strings from the sideline.