Week five saw the final two undefeated teams – the Cardinals and the Bengals – fall. With these shiftings in the standings, let’s take a look at who the real contenders are and who are just wishful thinkers.
Contender: Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson and company proved to be the real deal when they won the Super Bowl last year, and they continue to impress, defeating Denver and Green Bay already this season. The offensive machine they have very rarely doesn’t work, and the defense is nearly impenetrable.
Marshawn Lynch has been running like an angry beast so far, and Percy Harvin has shown to be the offensive weapon they need. Smaller name guys like Ricardo Lockette, Jermaine Kearse, and Doug Baldwin have been getting the job done. K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Earl Thomas have continued to stand out as defensive stars.
It isn’t for lack of competition, but the Seahawks are the major favorites for the Super Bowl this year.
Pretender: Arizona Cardinals
Don’t get me wrong, the Cardinals have been a great football team so far this year and will continue to impress. Why is this team not a contender? Injuries.
Darnell Dockett. John Abraham. Carson Palmer. Now Calais Cambell. Not to mention the suspension of Daryl Washington for the year. These are impact players for this team, and without them, I can’t see them competing with the Seahawks or the Eagles in the NFC without these players.
Drew Stanton and the rest of the fill in guys have done an absolutely fantastic job, but I can’t see it keeping up. But hey, this cinderella squad may surprise me.
Contender: Denver Broncos
This one doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Denver still can’t seem to beat the ‘Hawks, but they can dismantle everyone else. Peyton Manning is shattering records and shattering secondaries, while Emmanuelle Sanders, Julius and DeMaryius Thomas, and Wes Welker all are catching touchdowns after touchdowns.
The defense’s new toys – DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib, and T.J. Ward – have been very beneficial, and Von Miller has been on a tear recently.
The Broncos are the AFC favorites for good reason, and a clash with Seattle in February again wouldn’t be a shock.
Pretender: San Francisco 49ers
These guys may have just slid by the Kansas City Chiefs, but they don’t really pose a threat to Seattle, Philly, or even Carolina. The quarterback situation may have gotten a PR bump with their victory over former niner Alex Smith this past week, but I am not sold it was the right choice.
Kap is struggling, and with the exception of Stevie Johnson, so are the rest of his receivers. The run game is strong so far, but the defense is not up to par of seasons past.
I don’t see the Niners making the playoffs if Arizona and Seattle keep up this rate of success.
Contender: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles may have dropped one to the above-mentioned 49ers, but that may be the only one they drop until December 7th, where they face off with the Seahawks. This team really has it going.
Shady McCoy isn’t the MVP like we all crowned him to be, but him and Darren Sproles make a near unstoppable running attack in the City of Brotherly Love. Foles has made his depleted receiver core of Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, and Jordan Matthews look like one of the better attacking groups in the league.
DeSean Jackson’s big play capabilities are missed, but these guys are doing just fine without him. Plus, with the way this defense is playing, this team could challenge the Seahawks both in December and in the playoffs.
Pretender: Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers can’t do it all. Nor can Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. These guys have been the only impact players for this team and, while they have experienced success so far, it won’t keep up.
The defense allowed 60 points in just the first two games of the season, but have slowed it down as of late.
The team faces up against a winnable Dolphin team this week, but after that, they have a tough four matches — Carolina, New Orleans, Chicago, and Philadelphia. I’d say they escape with one victory from that stretch.
The Packers are a good team, but they don’t have what it takes to win a Super Bowl.
Contender: New England Patriots
After a statement win versus the previously undefeated Cincinnati, the Pats are back in action. Tom Brady is a winner through and through, and he will continue to be the best competitor on the field. This team remains the only team in the AFC that I truly believe can challenge Denver.
The weapons on offense may not be there, but the coaching and the leadership is. Don’t look now, but a Brady-Manning square off may be in our playoff future.
Contender: San Diego Chargers
If beating the Seahawks isn’t enough, then I don’t know what is.
The Chargers are on a roll, despite severe injuries to their three main running backs. They keep finding ways to score on offense, and the defense is also on fire, most recently shutting out the Jets 31-0.
The Chargers are definitely the real deal this season, and the Broncos are staring them down the barrel in the race for the AFC West.
Contender: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have the highest scoring offense so far this year, and it’s hard to imagine them slowing down. Andrew Luck has put up a masterful performance so far this year with a limited run game to support him.
These guys are in a very easy division and only have to worry about Houston, which shouldn’t be too much to handle.
If they can kick it into overdrive, maybe they can challenge Denver, but I don’t know. They have a better shot than most, though.
Pretender: Atlanta Falcons
The high powered offense can’t lead this team to a playoff birth by itself. Unfortunately, that’s all it’s got. They only have two victories, and both came against mediocre NFC South opponents.
Matt Ryan has impressed, and Antone Smith is ridiculously fast, but that is about it so far.
Don’t buy into this refreshed Falcons team. They aren’t going anywhere.
Contender: Detroit Lions
Detroit let one slide against Buffalo this past week, but other than that, they can go ahead and call themselves elite. They are the only team in their division with a shot at a title.
The amazing play of the defense has been what separates this team from high powered offensive mediocrity to legitimate contender.
Matt Stafford is the sloppiest elite QB I have ever seen, but he is one. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell is the sloppiest run game in the league, but they get it done. Calvin Johnson, well, he ain’t sloppy at all.
This team is a ragtag bunch, but they are finally experiencing the success that their talent warrants.
Contender: Cincinnati Bengals
One loss doesn’t spell the end of their hype, and the Bengals will get back on track soon enough. I am not going to say they are Super Bowl favorites, because they aren’t, but I will say they have the fourth best shot in the AFC, behind Denver, New England, and Indy.
Andy Dalton is proving he is worth the money they gave him this offseason, and the offensive weapons are working out nicely. I see the Bengals having a very successful regular season, maybe 12-4, but going nowhere in the playoffs.
Pretender: Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo and anyone playing with or alongside him have never been this good. They won’t be ever again.
And they won’t continue to do so this season either. The Cowboys won’t even make the playoffs with the Eagles in the division, and even though they have the same record, they don’t have the same talent pool.
These guys will do what they always do – disappoint. No offense to them, I guess.