Three of the best teams in the NFL are currently under .500 through the first five weeks of the 2012 season.
While their records may not show it, all of these teams still have the potential to reach the playoffs this season.
The Saints (1-4), Packers (2-3) and Dolphins (2-3) have all been plagued by tough losses and/or come-from-behind defeats early in the year.
In one case, one team even lost on a blown last-second touchdown call.
However, the beginning of the season has not been a true testament of these teams’ capabilities.
Here is why.
New Orleans (1-4)
I don’t think anyone expected what has happened in New Orleans thus far this season.
After starting the year 0-4, the Saints finally won their first game in Week 5 with a fourth-quarter comeback against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.
Now with a win under their belt, New Orleans will likely turn the page on their early-season woes.
It won’t be easy, though, as the Saints need to make some major changes on defense.
New Orleans ranks last in the NFL in total defense and rushing yards allowed per game.
The good news for the Saints is their offense is strong enough to pull out wins on their own.
Drew Brees and New Orleans average 326.8 passing yards per game—which leads the NFL— and they have scored over 24 points in each of their first five games.
It does help having one of the league’s premier receivers, Marques Colston, and possibly the league’s best tight end, Jimmy Graham, hauling in passes for you, but regardless, the offensive weapons are there.
If the defense is able to step up even in the slightest, getting to opposing quarterbacks or causing a few turnovers here and there, the Saints will continue to have a chance to win every game they play.
The 0-4 start may have hurt their chances of taking the NFC South with how well the Falcons are playing right now, but the Saints are still an extremely viable NFC playoff contender.
Green Bay (2-3)
The Green Bay Packers are not the same 15-1 team that they were in 2011. Their offense has not been gelling like they had thought it would, and they continue to struggle on defense.
Since starting out 13-0 in 2011, Green Bay has played just 4-5 football.
In this span of nine games, the Packers have seen their points per game drop from 35.8 to 25.1 and points allowed increase from 21.4 to 25.4.
If Green Bay hopes to reach the playoffs this year, they will need to ride on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers and the offensive line.
Despite some questionable throws and decisions early this season, Rodgers remains one of the most consistent and poised quarterbacks in the NFL. His offensive line, though, has not helped him out.
Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a total of 21 times through the first five weeks of the season—second most to only Kevin Kolb of the Arizona Cardinals.
To put this in perspective, he has been sacked more times than fellow NFC North quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Christian Ponder combined.
The Packers defense has also lost its early-season luster. The Packers rank 20th in total defense and gave up the game to the Colts last Sunday.
However, the Packers offense will always keep them in the game.
The Packers have the weapons on both sides of the ball to make a push for the playoffs this season; it is just a matter of time before everything starts clicking in Green Bay.
Miami might be the most underrated team in the AFC, but at 2-3, people won’t give them too much credit.
They probably will soon.
In the past four weeks, the Dolphins could have gone 4-0.
In Week 3, Dolphins’ kicker Dan Carpenter missed the potential game-winning field goal against the Jets, and in Week 4, Miami blew a second-half lead and eventually lost in overtime.
The keys to the Dolphins' success lies in the emergence of Reggie Bush, and the Miami rush defense.
Bush and the Dolphins running game have been a huge surprise—not that Bush didn’t have the potential to break out, just not many people expected what he has done this season.
Bush ranks fourth among AFC running backs with 417 yards and three touchdowns despite leaving a game early with a knee injury. His electric cuts and explosive speed remind us all why we loved him so much coming out of USC.
Miami also has the best rush defense through the first part of the season. Through five games, the Dolphins have allowed just 307 yards on 115 carries— which according to my math adds up to just 2.7 yards per carry.
Breakout receiver Brian Hartline will also been integral in the Dolphins’ success. He now leads the NFL in receiving yards with 514 and has helped rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill adjust to the league immensely.
In the next few weeks, Miami has a chance to show the NFL that they are no longer a laughing matter.
They face an improved St. Louis team this weekend heading into a bye in Week 7. They will then travel up to the Meadowlands to face the “Revisless” Jets and then fly over to Lucas Oil Stadium to meet Andrew Luck and the Colts.
If things continue going the way they are for the Dolphins, you may see them hanging around come playoff season.