Pretender or Contender? (After Week 10)

After realizing not much was changing every 2 weeks, I wanted to give some time for the NFL to really shape up and sort out the good and not so good teams. Now, with 6 more weeks of football played, the playoff outlook has drastically changed since I last assessed things. Let’s get back to it then:

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

Still a Contender: Of all the teams I saw as contenders after 4 weeks, here are the ones that still sit pretty on the list.

Bills: Buffalo has a very complete team and are in prime position to win the AFC East. With key wins against Seattle, NYJ, and New England– they are sitting with 7-2 record and are sitting in the 1st place throne in their division. However, a surprise team has been slowly creeping up and may just compete for the division title… Anyway, Josh Allen is still in MVP talks (to me anyway), the Buffalo defense is balanced and super solid as a unit, and they have finally acquired a superstar offensive skill guy in Stefon Diggs– so they stay on the contender list without a doubt.

Steelers: As the only undefeated team in football, can we really even make a case for Pittsburgh to NOT be on the contending list? Big Ben, despite my worries, has been rock solid all season and has proven himself once again as an elite QB in the league– despite his age and recent surgery. Plus, the Steelers boast one of the deepest receiving groups in the league. Outside Juju, both Dionate Johnson and Chase Claypool have been outstanding playmakers and have been putting up impressive stats over the past few games. Pile the explosive passing attack on to a team with a dominant, top 3 defense in the league– and you have a contender… maybe even the best team in the AFC.

Colts: Sitting at a solid 6-3, Indy has been one of the better overall teams in the league. I’d argue that the Colts have a top 3-5 defense in the league (they’ve certainly played that way thus far), but they are hindered by the offense. In their 3 losses, we have gotten the turnover heavy version of QB Phillip Rivers, where he’s had crucial, game changing miscues (talk about a Game Winning Turnover…) that have ended badly for the Colts. However, with the emergence of Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, and the steady improvement of the young receiving group (not to mention the fact that they have the best offensive line in the NFL), this team has all the makings of a contender– especially with a HUGE TNF win against division rival Tennessee to take the division lead.

Chiefs: You really can’t count out a team lead by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs after what we saw last season– especially as they sit atop their division at 8-1, and their only loss coming from a very competitive LV Raider team. I do have concerns about the offensive line and the depth on defense– but they were also the same concerns I had last year and we all know how their post season run went… Easily a contender still.

Packers: After an explosive 4-0 start, the Packers have dropped some very winnable games and they have sort of came back down to Earth. A blowout loss to an inconsistent Tampa and a crushing divisional loss to the (2-5) Vikings raised some concern, but I think they will be just fine. The trio of Rogers, Jones, and Adams has been exciting to watch, and the defense has continued it’s solid play from last season– making them a legitimate contender and all but a lock for the divisional title.

Seahawks: After a 5-0 start, Seattle has dropped to 6-3 and has a lot less momentum than they did since I last assessed them. 2 of those losses have been to the Rams and Cardinals– two highly competitive teams who are all tied in the division. However, losing those two games is a huge setback in a tight divisional race and a very competitive NFC conference… Even at, say, 10-6– this team could miss the playoffs. I’m keeping them as contenders for now, but they are on veryyyyy thin ice here with their divisional record.

Rams: The LA Rams are so inconsistent to me. They’ll have huge wins against very good teams, but then crap the bed against a team that they should have no problem handling. The LAR defense, between stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, is insanely talented and can be dominant at times– but the offense is very up and down– mostly due to the recent QB play. At this point, it is almost safe to say that Jared Goff is a bust. Not because he’s awful QB, but when you take a guy 1st overall– you expect much more dominant play, and I really believe that without an offensive genius as HC like Sean McVay, Goff would be on the bench or playing somewhere else by now. Even so, Goff has been super average– but they have gotten the job done. This past week’s win against Seattle was HUGE to keep them on my contender list. The next few weeks are pivotal however, and they need to keep earning divisional wins to keep up with the others in a tight NFC conference.

NEW Contenders:

Cardinals: I have known how sneaky talented the Cardinals have been since last year, but Kyler Murray has really surpassed my expectations and has grown steadily as an NFL QB. The team has really put Kyler in a position to grow, mature, and make big plays– especially with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. At the moment, Arizona sits atop the NFC West with an undefeated divisional record, and a huge win against a dominant Buffalo team this past week. I love the explosiveness of their offense, and the defense is sneaky good. As we know, hot teams like this usually have opportunity to make nice playoff runs (see last year’s Titans), and I have a shaky feeling Arizona could be that team this season… look out for it.

Raiders: I love the makeup of this football team, but I thought the core pieces on both sides of the ball were just a bit too young to start producing at a high rate just yet– however, the Raiders have seriously proven me wrong. LV has huge wins against Kansas City, Denver, and the Chargers– keeping them undefeated within the division and two games behind KC for first place. Gruden has really made scrappy group of young guys into a solid overall squad and could seriously contend for a division title or at the least a wild card spot. They get to take on Mahomes and Chiefs again this week, and this game could have HUGE implications for the playoff hopes for the Raiders. If they can pull out a win and stay hot, look out for them as underdogs to steal the AFC West.

Pretenders:

The Entire NFC East: At this point, it isn’t really worth making separate writing blocks for any of these squads. All of them are just flat out bad– especially when you look at some of the other NFC squads. Washington and Dallas have tremendous QB issues, New York lacks an offensive line and offensive weapons (remember Saquon is hurt), and I guess that leaves Philly– who at this point is the division leader and will probably be the winner in the end. However, I expect whoever wins this division to get smacked in the wildcard round quite honestly.

49ers: I was really hopeful for San Fran this season, but it has been an utter disaster for them. The once dominant defense is extremely injury plagued, Jimmy G is either hurt of playing awfully, and they have fallen far, far behind the rest of their divisional opponents in the race to earn a spot in the post season. Unfortunately, I don’t see their season turning around anytime soon. At least, for San Fran sports fans,

Dolphins: Now, the Dolphins have been extremely good over the past few weeks– much better than anyone probably imagined was possible at this point in their rebuild. They decided to bench Fitzmagic for their 1st round draft choice in Tua– a move that I questioned heavily at the time due to the hip injury Tua had been recovering from. However, he has been much more mobile and confident than I imagined, but he has not put up eye popping numbers or anything. What I love about Miami is their defense– which Brian Flores has really brought to life. Despite all the good, I don’t think they can grab a playoff spot without the Bills falling apart– even if that happens I don’t see them making any sort of spectacular run in the AFC. They do have room to move up on the list though, with huge games coming up against KC, Vegas, and the Bills.

Titans: After falling apart on TNF this past week, it’s hard to say that the Titans are going to go on a magical playoff run again. Unlike many more obvious contenders, Tennessee has only 1 impressive win, which was a blowout victory against Buffalo, but other than that they’ve grinded out narrow wins or lost. I think they’re a decent team with a dominant run game and underrated air attack, but the defense is up and down. Plus, the special teams has been more than inconsistent (especially when you look at the disaster of a second half they had against the Colts)– which has cost them heavily. They will continue to compete with Indy for the division title, and will probably steal a wildcard spot– but it won’t be easy and I haven’t seen enough dominant play for me to deem them a contender.

Saints: I have seen flashes of defensive dominance and excellence, but as I’ve said before, Drew Brees does not look the same after last year’s thumb injury. Also, Michael Thomas has never been able to get going and has been sidelined with injury much of the season. The offense seems out of sync to me– yet they are still in prime position to win the division… unless Drew Brees misses significant time with his rib injury from this weekend. The reason I list them here is because the NFC is tough and I just haven’t seen enough out them to list them as a legitimate Super Bowl squad. It can always change for them.

Buccaneers: Brady and the Bucs really started to get hot after a tricky start, but now they have lost both divisional matchups with the division leading Saints which puts them at a severe disadvantage. They do have a big shot to gain some ground over the Saints with Drew Brees being sidelined with an unknown return date. If they can get some big wins and take a dominant lead in the division– they could definitely move up.

Ravens: I’ve noted before that the Ravens need Lamar to be elite and on top of his game at all times for them to have a legitimate shot as contenders– and he still has been streaky. Before, Lamar was allowed to be streaky and the defense was good enough to keep them in complete control of the division– but now with their defense a bit weaker/older and the division becoming much more competitive he has minimal room for error. The Steelers hold a dominant lead for first, and the Browns are lurking right behind them. Right now I’m not convinced they can seriously push for a Super Bowl– let alone the fact that I don’t even know whether they’ll earn a post season spot.

Browns: The Browns are finally utilizing their super talented roster. Their offensive lines is probably top 5 in the league– which allows their dominant two headed backfield duo to run up and the down the field all game long. They also boast a top 15 defense in the league and have potential to sneak up on the Ravens as a wild card team. I need to see more consistency out of Baker Mayfield and a few more key wins for me to really be convinced to take them off this list though.

So, we have our verdict for the top teams in the league. There were some tough choices to be made, but at this point in the season and with what I have seen– these are my best assessments. After a few more weeks, I Imagine we will have a much clearer version of the playoff picture– which is where things will really start to get interesting

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