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Who Wears the Crown?

Now that we are midway through the 2018 season, we are able to have a good handle on where certain teams stand as far as power rankings go. Right now, there are a clear top three teams in the NFL, all with only one loss. Those teams are: the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, and the New Orleans Saints. But who deserves the title of “Best in the League”? Since all three teams have only one loss, in order to determine who is king, we must look at strength of schedule, team statistics, and strength of wins.

Let’s begin with the Chiefs. The Chiefs are sitting pretty at the top of the AFC West with an 8-1 record. Their only loss was a close one against the Patriots, a score of 40-43. They have beaten the Chargers, who have done well this season losing only two games, and will most likely make the playoffs as a wildcard. This was not a pushover type of win, proving early that Kansas City means buisness. They have also beaten the Steelers (5-2-1) who seem a good bit weaker than they were last year, so this is not as big of a win as it would seem at first glance. In week 3 they beat the 49ers who are at the bottom of the NFC west with a 2-7 record. This win does not carry much weight, but a W is a W, so credit to Kansas City. They then beat the Broncos and the Jaguars in weeks 4 and 5, both not too impressive with both teams having losing seasons so far. In week 6 they took their 3 point loss to the Patriots, who have proven to once again be a powerful team, though not as powerful as they have been in the past. They then beat the Bengals, another unimpressive win in week 7, the Broncos a second time in week 8, and in week 9 they beat the Browns by a 16 point margin. The Browns have been on a bit of a come-up this year with the additions of Baker Mayfield and Jarvis Landry, but I am not ready to call them a playoff contender yet since they still have a record of 2-6-1 (which is already 2 wins better than they had all last season). Their schedule has not been all that difficult and remains relatively easy save difficult games against the Rams in Los Angeles and against the Chargers in Kansas City. In the worst case scenario, I see them losing 2 more games maximum.

As far as team stats go, the Chiefs have an incredible offense with stars Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. They are averaging 432 yards total offense per game and are allowing 426 yards per game, and scoring 36.3 while allowing 25.1 points per game. While they do perform very well offensively, their defense is lacking, which could cause problems for them come January.

Now let’s take a look at the Rams. The Rams were a solid team in 2017, making the playoffs as a wildcard but surprisingly losing to the Falcons. This year, they have performed very well, earning themselves an 8 game win streak which was ended by the Saints in New Orleans in week 9. In the first week of the season, they beat the Raiders who have proven to be one of the worst teams in the league by 20 points. In week 2 they faced the Cardinals, another team sitting at the bottom of the power rankings. Then they earned their first weighty win against the Chargers who, as I said before, are no team to scoff at. The very next week they beat the Vikings, another of the NFC’s strong teams. In week 5, they beat the Seahawks who are the definition of average with a 4-4 record. However, this win did come on the road, in a stadium with a great home field advantage, so it weighs more than it may appear on paper. They defeated the Broncos by a field goal in week 6 in Denver, handing them their fourth straight loss, despite Denver having an above average defense. Then, in San Francisco, they beat the 49ers by nearly 30 points which was not surprising considering how poorly the 49ers year is going so far with 7 losses. This win put them at three road wins in a row, which is not an easy feat to accomplish for any team, for which they deserve a lot of credit. Finally back in LA, they beat the Packers in another close one: 29-27, an 8 game win streak to start the season, a very respectable accomplishment. In week 9 the Rams travelled to New Orleans to face the 6-1 Saints who are the third team in the discussion for number 1 in the league. They fell to the Saints 45-35, their first loss of the season. This was easily their toughest opponent of the year, in their house, which has arguably the best home field advantage in football. The Rams are a very good football team and this loss will not slow them down at all. Looking ahead at their remaining schedule, there is only 1 more game that I see the Rams possibly losing, and that is against the Chiefs. This game is in LA though so taking home a win that night would not surprise anyone.

The Rams have a very productive offense containing possibly the best running back in the game, Todd Gurley who is averaging 96.4 yards per game. Their offense is averaging 33.2 points per game and 447.1 yards per game. Their defense is better than that of the Chiefs, but is still not up to the same tier as their offense, allowing 22.2 points per game and 348.7 yards per game. Many believe that they did not perform well in the playoffs last year due to the team and the coach being young and inexperienced, which is still true this year though not to the same degree. The Rams are a team that could be dangerous in the playoffs, especially if they get home-field advantage.

Finally, we have the New Orleans Saints. Last season the Saints ended with an 11-5 record in the regular season and lost on a last second touchdown to the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Saints were a powerhouse team last year and were expected to be one this year as well. Their record through 9 weeks is 7-1 (their bye week was week 6) with the only loss coming to the Buccaneers week one in New Orleans. This loss hurts because the Saints were expected to win this game, and win it by a decent margin. The Buccaneers started this season very strong and exposed the flaws that the Saints defense had coming into the season, which have been their achilles heel. In week 2, the Saints unimpressively beat the Browns 21-18. Now as I said before, the Browns are a good team, but they are not on the same level as the Saints. This win was an ugly win, but it was a win nonetheless and the start of the seven game streak. In week three, the Saints faced their arch rival, The Atlanta Falcons, in Atlanta. They pulled out the win and we saw their defense begin to improve. In week 4 the Saints beat the Giants, another game they were expected to win, thus not carrying very much weight. The next week the Redskins travelled to New Orleans and were handed a massive L in which the defense really stepped up, holding the Skins to fewer than 20 points, and Drew Brees broke the record for all time passing yards. Week 6 the was the Saints bye week, a relatively early week to have it. Week 7 the Saints travelled to Baltimore and beat the Ravens in a close one (one point to be exact), their third road game, and third road win, which is significant. They then travelled to Minnesota to face the Vikings, a rematch for the playoff heartbreaker. They went on to beat the Vikings 30-20 after the defense came out in the second half and set the tone early with a PJ Williams pick-6 in the third quarter. This put the Saints at 4-0 on the road. Week 9, the biggest matchup of the season was played out in New Orleans. The undefeated LA Rams were set to play the Saints in what seems to be the future NFC Championship game in January. This game was a battle and the saints came out on top 45-35. Easily the biggest and most impressive win of their season. The Saints have the hardest remaining schedule in the NFL with 4 division games and 3 games in a row on the road. I see the Saints losing 2 more games at the most, which would leave them with the same record as they had in 2009 when they won the Superbowl.

The Saints have one of the best and most balanced overall offenses in the NFL, forcing 34.9 points a game and 402 yards per game against some of the league’s best defenses. Again, their weakness is the defense which is getting better every week, but is still not up to the level of the offense. The saints have the best run defense in the league allowing only 76 yards rushing per game, but have one of the worst pass defenses, allowing 311 passing yards per game, a total of 387 yards per game and allowing 27.2 points per game. The Saints currently have a 97% chance of making the playoffs, and will most likely have a bye during the wildcard round. Their advantage here when comparing them to the Rams and Chiefs, is they are more experienced and have had more success in the postseason with the team captain Drew Brees and their head coach Sean Payton having won a Superbowl together in 2009. Their weakness (this seems to be a theme) is their defense. The pass defense has got to improve, and it has little by little, in order to reach this team’s full potential.

Now, to place the crown. Who is the current best team in the NFL? Comparing strength of schedule, the Saints have it toughest, then the Rams, then the Chiefs. The Chiefs have not really been tested yet and won’t be until they face the Rams in LA. Then we will see just how strong of a team they really are. Their defense as well is below average, so when they face an offensive powerhouse such as the Saints or Rams, it might cost them the game. I don’t doubt that they are a top three team, but I can’t say that they have been tested enough to say they are number 1. The Rams have been tested harder than the Chiefs have and they won 8 straight in those circumstances. They also have a better defense and are able to stop good offenses from putting up their typical numbers. Their offense is also incredibly effective. Gurley has the ability to tear defenses apart, and Jared Goff is good enough to get the job done in the passing game. However, even with all this, they couldn’t beat the New Orleans Saints. Even with a poor defense, Drew Brees and the offense are just too good. Especially with the defense getting better and starting to cause turnovers that the offense can turn into points, they are really looking like the strongest team in the NFL right now. In the first few games of the season when the defense was hardly any help, they were still finding ways to win, which shows championship level determination and a “bend don’t break” mindset that the whole team possesses. So, in conclusion, all three of these teams are similar as far as offensive production and defensive power go, but looking at what each team has had to face throughout the season, the Saints have showed the most resilience, and that is why I believe they have earned the title of best team in the league. We will see what happens as the season goes on, but as long as nothing drastic changes, the New Orleans Saints should remain on top, and perhaps are championship bound.

Follow Ethan Monjure on Twitter: @emonj98