Every team—be it the 1-5 Kansas City Chiefs or 6-0 Atlanta Falcons—has something worth fearing each and every Sunday.
That doesn't make every team a contender, but no game is a gimme in the NFL. Squads must come to play, for fear that an opponent's one redeeming quality should strike them down at a crucial moment.
With seven weeks of the season in the book, strengths and weaknesses are more clearly defined than they were before.
Let's rank the NFL teams as they currently stand, pointing out one reason (some more in-depth than others) to fear each squad for the remainder of the season.
1. Atlanta Falcons
One of the league's most prolific passing attacks will win this team many more games this season.
2. Houston Texans
Do I have to name just one?
OK, fine, J.J. Watt. That is all.
3. New York Giants
Besides having one of the league's best winners in Eli Manning, New York's run offense is revitalized—currently No. 12 in the league.
4. San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco plays scary football from the yesteryear of the NFL.
Run the ball, play-action pass, dominate defensively and repeat. It's not always pretty, but it works.
5. Green Bay Packers
As long as Aaron Rodgers is behind center, this team is a sleeping giant. With a glutton of dangerous skill players, sleeping on this team would be very, very stupid.
6. Chicago Bears
Fear the Bears because of this:
It doesn't look like much, but associating Cutler with anything but the words sulk and interception hasn't been common in recent years.
Watching Cutler peel himself off the turf Monday night after being tossed like Raggedy Ann by Ndamukong Suh was inspiring, and it showed that Chicago is here to stay.
The Bears can win ugly, as usual, but Brandon Marshall gives their offense an added dimension. He can stretch the field vertically, and his comfort with Cutler makes him a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
Defensively, the Bears' formula remains the same. They get after the quarterback, make tackles and "Peanut" Tillman fills his role as one of the league's most underrated defenders.
In a stacked NFC North, it's tough to make a clear-cut pick, but picking against Chicago—the winners of four straight—would be unwise at this point.
7. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson's violent, explosive running style is back, and the Vikings are playing defense again. One of the league's biggest overachievers isn't going to go anywhere.
8. New England Patriots
New England has had a few hiccups this season, but who doesn't fear Tom Brady?
Bueller? Bueller? As long as Brady is commanding this offense, the Patriots are a major threat to anyone they play.
9. Baltimore Ravens
Cam Cameron tends to under-use Ray Rice, but that doesn't take away from his talent. He's arguably the league's best all-around back, supporting the still-inconsistent Joe Flacco.
10. Denver Broncos
If you watched Denver embarrass San Diego in Week 6, you don't need to read any further. If you didn't, just know that Peyton Manning is in the Mile High City, and he still likes to play heartbreaker in the fourth quarter.
11. Seattle Seahawks
Any team with a secondary that calls itself "The Legion of Boom" is scary enough for me, especially when they only allow around 212 yards through the air per game.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers can be feared until Ben Roethlisberger hangs up his spikes, and that's not going to happen for, at least, a little while yet.
Pittsburgh isn't the same team that it has been in recent years, but do not sleep on this squad. Big Ben leads the league's No. 6 passing attack, along with an extremely dangerous array of targets.
Defensively, the Steelers are quietly right near the top of the league again. As the No. 2 team against the pass, and No. 9 against the run, the Steel Curtain still has life, despite being the NFL's oldest defense.
The Steelers struggle to run the ball, and have lost two games due to late-game lapses, but sleeping on Pittsburgh is like picking Eli Manning to lose to Tom Brady in a Super Bowl. For some reason or another, the job gets done when it matters most.
With solid coaching and its normal veteran corps, Pittsburgh will be a tough out all season long.
13. Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III has wasted no time in establishing himself as the league's most exciting player and perhaps its best dual-threat quarterback, making the Redskins must-watch television at the same time.
14. St. Louis Rams
There's nothing spectacular about this team, but Jeff Fisher has them playing scrappy, run-first football. Also, Robert Quinn's seven sacks force teams to pay attention.
15. Miami Dolphins
Miami isn't going to beat New England out for the AFC East crown, but a nasty run defense and dangerous running-back duo already has this team playing more dangerous football than most expected.
16. Philadelphia Eagles
The only team that should fear the Eagles is the Eagles. Michael Vick 11 turnovers are a huge liability, often negating the obvious talent at nearly other position.
If Philadelphia can figure out its turnover issues, and Vick was doing that before throwing two against Detroit in Week 6, this squad has more than enough skill to win the NFC East.
Speed kills on offense, and Philadelphia has plenty of it. Jeremy Maclin finally appears healthy out there, Desean Jackson is still a big-play threat—despite only having one touchdown—and LeSean McCoy is the best pure runner in the NFL today.
The Eagles still lean on Vick too much, keeping McCoy tied down more than they should. If they can sort those issues out, this team still has a chance to recover from a 3-3 start.
No matter what their record is, this group has a very dangerous amount of talent on both sides of the ball.
17. New Orleans Saints
Uh oh, Drew Brees looks like Drew Brees again. After an 0-4 start, New Orleans has won two straight games, looking more and more like a contending team down south.
Defensively, this team still awful. There's no way around that. They're 31st against the run and 30th against the pass. That's going to lose them a fair amount of games, regardless of whatever magic Brees can conjure up.
Adding to their problems is the league's worst rushing offense. Without a clear No. 1 ball-carrier to rely on, the Saints struggle to gain progress on the ground.
Nonetheless, Brees isn't someone to second guess. If he gets time in the pocket, he will shock a few teams before the season is over.
A tough three game stretch against Denver, Philadelphia and Atlanta will provide the real test.
18. Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton has struggled at times this year, but you have to fear A.J. Green and this passing attack.
19. Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford still has a hose, and Calvin Johnson is still the closest thing to LeBron James' physique on a football field. Until that's no longer there, be prepared to play defense.
20. New York Jets
If you believe in Tim Tebow's holy powers, that's another thing entirely. But pride alone should make teams play the Jets with a bit of reluctance. Rex Ryan doesn't enjoy being the whipping boy, and that emotion alone makes the Jets a tough team.
21. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals look less scary after three consecutive losses, but Patrick Peterson still leads the NFL's No. 4 pass defense in a weak passing division.
22. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo doesn't scare anyone besides his coaches, but the league's No. 3 pass defense does.
23. San Diego Chargers
San Diego is still feeble-minded in big moments, but the league's best run defense will steal the Chargers a few games.
24. Buffalo Bills
Despite its horrendous defense, Buffalo still boasts one of the league's better running back duos in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
25. Indianapolis Colts
This team is extremely dangerous at anything that involves putting the ball in the air. Andrew Luck leads the league's No. 11 pass defense, and the Colts are seventh at defending the pass.
As Luck improves each week, look out.
26. Tennessee Titans
Chris Johnson's 195-yard game in Week 7 should scare opponents, but the rest of this team is still a mess. Without a capable quarterback or offensive line, a solid group of targets (Kendall Wright, Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Jared Cook) will go to waste.
27. Oakland Raiders
They don't always show it, but Oakland has weapons offensively. Darren McFadden is always a threat, and Carson Palmer has targets in Darius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore who can do damage down the field.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are extremely inconsistent elsewhere, but the league's third-best run defense has been steady all season long.
29. Carolina Panthers
Despite his incredible inconsistencies, Cam Newton's physical prowess makes this offense dangerous at all times. However, terrible play otherwise isn't going to translate to many wins this season.
30. Cleveland Browns
The Browns are the youngest team in the league and appear to be getting better. They haven't lost a game by more than 14 points all year (to the New York Giants), and Brandon Weeden is beginning to understand the offense.
In Weeden's last three games, he's completing nearly 61 percent of his passes, despite throwing to receivers who love to drop the football.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
Everyone laughed when Jacksonville drafted punter Bryan Anger in the third round of last year's NFL draft. Now, we can laugh at the fact that he's the Jags' best player. Anger leads the league in net punting average, which stands out on a team that can't run, pass, defend or really do much of anything.
So if long punts scare you, Jacksonville will scare as well.
32. Kansas City Chiefs
The words fear and Chiefs go together about as well as Romeo Crennel and head coaching do. Nonetheless, the league's No. 3 rushing attack, led by Jamal Charles, can beat any team asleep at the wheel up front.
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