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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pretenders and Contenders

Now that week 4 is over, with the Pats slashing and dashing the Dolphins on MNF, I think it’s time to separate the contenders for the Super bowl and the pretenders. The contenders have proven that if they stay healthy and continue to play the way are now, that they will be there in the end. The pretenders look good one week and bad the next. They will show a flash of greatness one play only to be let down the next. So with that let’s detach the real from the fake.



Contenders



1. New York Jets – The Jets have already wiped the slate in the division with three straight wins over the Pats, Dolphins and Bills to take an early stranglehold on the AFC east. What is most impressive about that feat is that their best player Darelle Revis (Hamstring), best pass rusher Calvin Pace (foot) and best receiver Santonio Holmes (suspension) all have missed time this year. Mark Sanchez has come out of his shell and what I like most about him is that he is not making turnovers. So far this season Sanchez has 8 touchdown passes to zero picks, that will get it done. He seems to have a groove going with both Braylon Edwards and Dustin Keller. Now couple that with the powerful running attack that they employ and you have the makings of a dynamic offense. LT is back, averaging an eye-popping 6.1 yards a carry, so much for old legs. The 2nd year back Shonn Greene is no slouch either. And to top that off is Sexy Rexy’s defense that gives opposing quarterbacks headaches. This is a team that is capable of playing better now that it has all its parts back. They should only get stronger as the year progresses and maybe they can deliver on all of that Super bowl talk.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers – This was a team that was supposed to have won at the most two games without Big Ben, but have busted out the gates 3-1. It has to be nightmarish to face that defense, hell just ask Vince Young. Here are their defensive ranks: 12.5 points allowed (1st), 62.2 yards rushing allowed (1st) and 289 total yards a game (5th). Troy Polamalu brings a different level of play to that side of the ball for them. He is the MVP of this team, not Ben Rothelisberger. If your defense plays this good, it doesn’t really matter who the quarterback is. They could put Greg McIroy back there to manage the game and beat most teams. Now that Ben is back, the offense should return to its potent 2009 form. This is a team that averaged 23 points a game last year now imagine that kind of output with the play of the defense and it will be hard for any team to beat these guys.

3. Baltimore Ravens – The only team to blemish the Steelers record, the Ravens have all the pieces to make a deep run. In most years they are led by their physical defense featuring Ray Lewis. However this year they have a better offensive team than defensive. When you have Joe Flacco (I like to call him Joey Flac) and a plethora of receivers in Boldin, Housh, Mason and Heap than your suppose to be a good passing team. They have a good underrated back in Ray Rice and backup Willis Magahee has enough left in the legs. Ozzie Newsome and the front office deserve a lot of credit for designing this team. They have given Flacco all of the weapons he needs. If the defense can avoid injuries and sustain its level of play at least until Ed Reed comes in week 8, I see no reason this couldn’t be a Super bowl team.

4. Houston Texans – Yep that’s right the Houston Texans are Super bowl material this year. The offense is just sick. Matt Schaub is putting up MVP numbers throwing for 1,037 yards, 7 touchdowns and a 95.6 rating. He has been as consistent as they come for a Quarterback. Now when you combine that with their new found rushing attack featuring Arian Foster, the offense goes from good to great. In years past defenses could just expect big plays from the passing game with Andre Johnson. They would just use double coverage to negate Johnson and not worry about much of a run game. Foster has changed that and brings a physical brand to that side of the ball for them. It also opens the play action pass that Gary Kubiak loves so much being a disciple of Mike Shannahan. The only questionable thing about these guys is the defense. The return of ROY Brian Cushing will definitely bolster them in that department. I really think this is the year the Texans finally take the AFC south from Indianapolis and Tennessee.

5. New England Patriots – I hate this team so much but I respect them more than most teams. They will always have a good team as long as they roll out Tom Brady at the QB and Mr. Hoodie himself, Bill Belicheck at coach. They just have a scheme that works. Randy Moss and Wes Welker are two of the toughest receivers in the league to defend. They always seem to piece together a run game, and this year if that means starting Benjarvis Green-Ellis, than they will. If they have to use young defensive backs for their secondary they will. They are well ran organization from the top to the bottom and will always be a tough out.



Pretenders



1. Indianapolis Colts – Until they prove they can stop a team with a good run game, I just can’t group them with the contenders. Peyton Manning can only do so much even as great as he is and with the division being tougher than it has in years past, this could be a down year for the Colts. They are and will always be dynamic on offense with Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark but that’s not the problem. Most teams are figuring out if you can power run on them it allows for two things in your favor: 1. It keeps Manning off the field 2. The Colts have small but fast defensive players at most positions, so if you can use your power you can tire these guys out. In years past the Colts have figured it out but this year feels different to me, but with injuries to Melvin Bullitt and Bob Sanders (who didn’t see that coming) I just don’t see with that defense the Colts making it all the way.

2. Chicago Bears – Mike Martz is a QB killer. He lays his play callers out to dry, just ask Kurt Warner. Now when you couple that with a God awful offensive line and you get what happened to Cutler vs. the Giants. New York had 10 sacks that game and gave poor Cutler a concussion. And speaking of Cutler, He makes some of the dumbest throws I have ever seen. I’ve seen throws off his back foot into double coverage sometimes even triple coverage. He doesn’t mind to look off the safety or anything; he just lets it rip every time. I love watching him play, its must see T.V. When he squeezes the ball in everyone says he is great and when he squeezes a ball into coverage and it gets picked than he is the worst QB ever (I have a friend who is a Bears fan and this is what he is saying the entire game). He is just too risky at the most important position in the game for the Bears to have a legitimate chance.

3. Minnesota Vikings – I predicted that Brett Favre would regret coming back this season because of the simple fact that it would be hard to top his 2009 performance. Last year it all came together for the Vikings but this year it is all going wrong for them. Favre has something to do with when he kept flip-flopping and never coming into mini camp. Instead of developing the timing and chemistry with his own receivers, he decided to throw with the local high school kids and to an old tire swinging on a tree. Sidney Rice being out has also has hurt the Vikings ability to stretch the field. Who knows maybe when they come off the bye week they will get it together. Adrian Peterson still is one of, if not best running back in the game and can carry them until Brett finds his game. But the slate doesn’t do them any favors in facing the Jets next followed by the Cowboys, Packers, and the Pats. We’ll see what they are made of and where they are headed after this tough part of their schedule.

4. Cincinnati Bengals – When they picked up T.O the thinking was that this addition would make them one of the most explosive teams in the league right? Well actually it’s not. The passing game has looked to come alive over the past two weeks with big performance from Owens (10 catches 222 yards 1 Td) and Carson Palmer but now it’s the run game that has gone missing. The formula that they developed last year was for the run game to soften the defenders up and than lay it over the top to Chad Ochocinco. The defense was good enough to take care of the rest. It seems that with all of the additions on offense this year with Jermaine Gresham, Jordan Shipley and T.O that the team has lost its identity. Cedric Benson ran for 1251 yards last season and punished most teams into submission. This year thru four games he has 262 yards and the offensive line doesn’t seem to have the same mojo as it did last year. Until they can find out a proper balance they will continue to play inconsistently.

5. Tennessee Titans – When a player has a great season as Chris Johnson did last year everyone takes notice. The 2,000 season that he had was a gift and a curse. Teams are now designing their game plan just for him and why not? The Titans do not have any other offensive weapons besides him. Do you trust Kenny Brit, Justin Gage or Nate Washington to beat you? Neither do I. Denver basically kept a linebacker spy on him the whole game. When he did try to bounce it outside, the first defender made sure to keep him angled to the inside, making sure he doesn’t have a chance to get the edge. That is the perfect strategy for Johnson. It is well documented what will happen if he does get it to the outside but teams are prepared for him now. With his 19 carry 53 yard performance, he would have to average roughly 180 yards per game to make his prediction 2,500 yards come true. Vince Young is what he is. He will give you 150 to 200 yards passing a game and make a great run or two a game. The defense looks very solid even with all the departures and the occasional bird flip by DC Chuck Cecil. Bottom line with this team is that they need play makers and until they draft or get some via free agency they will be a fringe playoff team.

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