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What’s Wrong With The NFL’s Best Teams?

We start by taking a close look at the top five NFL teams in our model: This week, they are the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers. They’re an odd bunch. While there have been some murmurs about the Chiefs regressing from their top form last year, Patrick Mahomes and Co. may actually be getting better. So they remain favorites. But none of the rest of the top teams are fully shoo-ins to go all the way. The Steelers’ 8-0 record is a little bit lucky, based on how their offense has performed. While the Saints absolutely dismantled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, they had been short on truly convincing wins this season, and the arm strength of Drew Brees continues to be a concern. The Ravens got an important win against a tough Colts team, but we’re afraid that opposing defenses have gotten better at containing Lamar Jackson. And in Green Bay, defensive troubles might make it tough on the offense — even an offense led by a resurgent Aaron Rodgers. All told, it wouldn’t surprise us to see any of these teams in the Super Bowl. But it also wouldn’t really shock us if any of them — except perhaps the Chiefs — blows their shot.

Next, we move to college football, in anticipation of the first rankings from the College Football Playoff committee. Notre Dame’s upset of Clemson (albeit a Clemson sans star quarterback Trevor Lawrence) stirs the pot and makes an all-SEC/ACC playoff this year at least possible. But several dominos have to fall for that to happen. It also doesn’t feel as exciting as it might, given that this was the year the committee really could have expanded the playoffs and chalked up the experiment (and the obvious opportunity to make more money) to the pandemic. They’d still likely find a way to keep Group of Five schools out, much to the chagrin of what looks to be a very good Cincinnati team and an at-least-passable BYU team that hasn’t had the chance to prove itself, given how many big schools stuck to all-conference schedules. College football is so often underscored by the chance to argue over scenarios that can’t really be proved one way or the other, and in this one respect, the 2020 season is no exception.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil expands on a fascinating Twitter thread about Mahomes’s bid to pass Rodgers in all-time passer rating. How long will Mahomes stay at the top of that list?

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.