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NFL Contenders and Pretenders: Week 4

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Raise your hand if you thought DeMarco Murray would be a poor fit for the Eagles system, struggle early, and generally not live up to the $40 million valuation handed to him by Philly.

Okay, there’s a decent number of you if that’s what you thought. Personally, I thought he’d be a stud this year. Initially, that seems to be incorrect.

Now raise your hand if you thought the Cardinals would be a solid playoff team this year and not regress from last year’s 11-5 campaign, which earned them a wild card spot.

Even more of you got this one right than the last one! I thought Arizona’s Pythagorean wins number last year was alarming, they were bound to get worse this year, and Larry Fitzgerald would not be playing like 2012 Megatron. All of these predictions were incorrect.

How many of you thought that the Dolphins overpaid for Ndamukong Suh this offseason (6 yrs/$114 million) and were going to continue stealing the “Cowboys Award” given to the team that can manage the most consecutive 8-8 and 9-7 records?

A lot of you, I see! I thought it was a great signing, my Dolphins were going to take the next step forward and seize the division from the evil empire known as the Patriots. This prediction is also looking flawed.

Now, how many of you thought DeMarco Murray would have 11 rushing yards through two games amidst his sideline tirades that get him so heated up that he felt the need to stare through Sam Bradford’s soul, the Cardinals would be posting one of the most prolific post-merger offenses in the league’s history, and the Jets and Bills would be tearing the league to shreds, leaving the Dolphins in last place in the division?

*Excited hands are slowly lowered*

That’s what I suspected. My main point here, other than providing examples explaining why my football wisdom cannot be trusted, is that the NFL season gets hectic fast. Even yesterday, we saw the Bears offer up a miniature fire sale, sending Jared Allen to the Panthers and Jonathan Bostic to the Patriots in exchange for two sixth round picks. Teams are overperforming and underperforming, and it’s time to sort out whether or not to believe what you’re seeing.

Contender or Pretender: the 3-0’s

New England Patriots
Contender

No shock here. The Patriots are once again making the league look like a bunch of idiots – which is becoming increasingly easy these days – en route to three non-stressful wins over the Steelers, Bills, and Jaguars. Shockingly, Brady seems to be hitting his prime at age 38, Gronk is healthy, the secondary is managing well despite the loss of Darrelle Revis, and the Pats are in full-on ‘F-you’ mode to the league. Right now, they’re the best team on the gridiron.

Cincinnati Bengals
Pretender

The Bengals are a very good team, but we’ve seen this from Andy Dalton and co. before. What do we get from them? An 0-4 playoff record since 2011, with Dalton failing to throw a single touchdown pass in all but one of those games. Every game except 2012 versus the Texans has been lost by more than 15 points. Also, their schedule hasn’t been a total cakewalk, but wins against the Raiders, Ravens, and Chargers aren’t as impressive as they would have seemed in Week 1.

Denver Broncos
Pretender

If the Broncos’ offensive line can improve, they creep into contender territory. However, the team is currently averaging 2.6 yards per rushing play this season (T-last in the league) with 8 sacks allowed to their 39-year-old quarterback (T-6th most). Their offensive line is the main reason they look like the least impressive 3-0 team thus far. Their defense looks good, so if their offense can get up to speed, Denver will be a dangerous team.

Green Bay Packers
Contender

The Pack lit up Kansas City last night on Monday Night, with Rodgers connecting with his receivers for five touchdowns. They have the third most points in the league so far, behind New England and Arizona, and their double-digit win over Seattle was extremely impressive. The James Jones re-addition this preseason gave the team an extra receiving weapon, and he’s caught four touchdowns in three games. They seem extremely motivated after having the Super Bowl stolen from underneath them by Seattle last season, and Rodgers is making his opponents pay.

Carolina Panthers
Pretender

So far, the Panthers have defeated the football juggernauts from Houston, Jacksonville, and New Orleans. That is not very impressive. Cam Newton has had a surprisingly good season and the defense has allowed the second fewest points in the league (again, to Blake Bortles, Brian Hoyer, and a struggling Brees with no weapons). In such a weak division, they may actually compete for a Wild Card spot, rather than the division, which will be going to….

Atlanta Falcons
Contender

They won their first two games by a combined six points against the terrible Eagles and the sometimes terrible Giants, then won a second half shootout against the always terrible Brandon Weeden who actually wasn’t terrible that day. Why do I think this team actually has a shot to make it to the big game? They have a franchise quarterback that’s playing at the top of his game, the best receiver in the league to accompany him, and a defensive mastermind in Dan Quinn to help fix last season’s worst defensive unit. There’s some talent on that side, especially Paul Worrilow in the middle. Quinn should be able to mold them into a somewhat competent defense (which will be a great feat by itself) and Ryan and Julio will carry their own weight.

Arizona Cardinals
Contender

Carson Palmer has accompanied Brady and Rodgers in the three-man top tier of quarterbacks this season, and Larry Fitzgerald has had a resurgence, catching 23 balls for 333 yards and a league-leading five touchdowns so far this season. They have the most offensive points and fewest defensive points allowed, giving them an astounding 26-point average margin of victory against the Saints, Bears, and Rams. Right now, they’re in a race with Green Bay to establish dominance in the NFC. They are 9-0 in their last nine games with Carson Palmer at the helm, who has redefined his career in ‘Zona.

Other Contenders (Note: Not saying the Giants have a better chance at winning it all than Denver, these are merely other teams that have a realistic chance at the Super Bowl)

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) *
Dallas Cowboys (2-1) *
Buffalo Bills (2-1)
Seattle Seahawks (1-2)
New York Giants (1-2)
Indianapolis Colts (1-2)

*Contingent on being in playoff contention when their quarterbacks get healthy

 


Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Sean Gallipo

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