Fantasy Football News

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Separating the Pretenders from the Contenders

By the time Week 9 is in the books, we usually start to figure out which teams will be making strong runs down the stretch, and who will be sitting at home in January/February.

With eight games remaining for most of these teams (minus the few that have already had their bye week), this could all change, of course. But for the most part, it would surely be tough for teams such as Indianapolis, Carolina, St. Louis and Minnesota to turn their misfortunes around.

This past weekend has left us with skepticism concerning a few teams. Ahem, I'm talking to you, Pennsylvania teams! Others have continued to impress and have yet to skip a beat in 2011.

Contenders:

Green Bay Packers

Do I really need to expand on this? The only team still undefeated despite a 30th overall defense and a 22nd-ranked run game. Most Valuable Player favorite Aaron Rodgers continued his tear against San Diego, throwing for 247 yards and four touchdowns, including two TD tosses in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach of Philip Rivers. They could make a run for 16-0.

New York Giants

Eli Manning continues to pull through and show he belongs in the talks of "elite quarterbacks in the NFL" by defeating future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and his New England Patriots. His TD toss with :15 to play in regulation gave the G-Men the lead for good, and allowed Tom Coughlin's Giants to improve to 6-2, extending its NFC East lead.

Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco showed up to play against Pittsburgh on Sunday night, and put together a 92-yard game-winning drive in which he threw a touchdown to rookie Torrey Smith with :08 to play. The drive put Flacco at 300 yards on the dot, and left him just three pass attempts shy of reaching 50 in one game for just the second time in his career. Flacco has finally stepped his game up and showed he has what it takes to put the team on his back and carry them, putting together two come-from-behind victories in back-to-back weeks.

San Francisco 49ers

You may argue that the Niners are in the weakest division in the league, and you would be correct in arguing that. But at 7-1, the Niners have done nothing but impress me, and only one of its eight games this season have been against a division opponent. A 4-0 road record is sure to impress even the strongest of critics, and Alex Smith is finally showing signs as to why he was picked first overall in the 2005 draft, putting up a 10/2 TD-to INT ratio with a 97.3 rating on the season.
Pittsburgh Steelers

All the loss to Baltimore shows is that Pittsburgh is no longer 'top dawg' in the AFC North. That doesn't, however, rule out the fact that Pittsburgh are still contenders and could still capture the division title despite being swept by Baltimore. Once Dick LeBeau's defense gets veteran James Farrior and AFC sack leader LaMarr Woodley back in the lineup and healthy, the defense should start forcing more turnovers and giving Ben Roethlisberger better field position on scoring drives. Don't forget, Pittsburgh had a great offensive day against Baltimore's defense, but Flacco just straight-up outperformed him that same night.

Houston Texans

The emergence of Houston's fearful running game is likely the key to Houston's 6-3 record. Well, that and the fact that the rest of the AFC South's competition looks to be a bit weak this season. Without Andre Johnson for the past five games, Houston's offense has put up 20 or more points on the scoreboard four out of those five games. If anything, I think it's Mario Williams' injury that has had the most impact on this team. Regardless, Houston will be a dangerous team down the stretch this season.

Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford has emerged as a rising star, finally looking healthy this season. But it isn't Stafford, or even one of the game's best wideouts Calvin Johnson (11 Rec. TDs this season) who has stolen the show. Rather it's fiery (or whiny? you decide) head coach Jim Schwartz and second-year defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh who has captured NFL headlines this fall with questionable play-style. Suh has already deemed the title as a dirty player by some of his peers and teams and fans alike have enjoyed rooting against the dirty defense. Either way, the 6-2 Lions will be in the middle of the wild card hunt. It's just too bad they have to share the same division as Green Bay.

Pretenders:

Buffalo Bills

Maybe it was just time for New York to breakout, or maybe Buffalo is just not ready to make a playoff run. I'm not sure which was the case this past weekend, but I don't think Buffalo's turnover tear will continue much longer (leads league with 20 forced turnovers). Fitzpatrick struggled to get anything going against the Jets all game, throwing two picks and was kept under 200 yards passing. The defense couldn't keep the Jet offense off the field and allowed the inconsistent Mark Sanchez to have a field day, completing 20 of 28 passes for 230 yards and a score. This doesn't quite look like a team ready to take the next step in to the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs

Matt Cassel has a couple of solid targets on the offensive side of the ball–Pro Bowl wideout Dwayne Bowe and breakout rookie Jonathan Baldwin–but the loss of running back Jamaal Charles will eventually catch up with this young team. Last season they relied on him carrying the ball 230 times for well over 1,400 yards. He only produced five rushing TDs, but added three through the air. Cassel no longer has Charles coming out of the backfield, and Kansas City is in the bottom five in rushing TDs. Having a formidable rushing attack is crucial in a late-season playoff push.
Philadelphia Eagles

Normally, I would say with a team of this caliber there is no way they are ruled out. But after last night's crushing loss to Chicago, Philly fell to 3-5 and third place in the East. To get to 10 wins, which is a respectable win total for a wild card berth, Andy Reid's Eagles would have to go 7-1 in the second half of the season. Possible? Yes. Plausible? Not quite. Eli's G-Men look well on their way to a 12-win season and division title. As for the wild card, Philly is competing with teams such as Detroit (6-2), Chicago (5-3), Atlanta (5-3), Tampa Bay (4-4) and Dallas (4-4). It will be a tough second half for Michael Vick in the city of Brotherly Love.

Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo has earned the title as a "choke artist" over the past few seasons in Dallas, and after falling to Philadelphia last week by the score of 34-7, I don't see this team going far in to December as a contender. Although the emergence of running back DeMarco Murray has been refreshing the last couple of weeks, the Cowboys will have a tough second half just like the Eagles. Dallas' last four games in order: New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and New York again. Good luck, Mr. Romo.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

At the beginning of the season I had Tampa Bay as one of my teams to beat down in the South, but since then the tides have turned. Rather than seeing a more matured Josh Freeman, he seems to be in the same, young form as last season, throwing 10 interceptions through Tampa Bay's first half of the season. Injuries have depleted the Bucs' rushing attack and age on the defensive side of the ball may have slowed them a bit. Either way, I still think the 48-3 defeat to the Niners is haunting the Bucs. If they didn't have to compete with the likes of New Orleans and Atlanta within their division, I probably wouldn't have listed them as a pretender.

Additional: 


TItans (4-4)--mediocrity from CJ2K has been slowing down Tennessee as of late.


Raiders (4-4)--still mourning the loss of owner Al Davis, not quite ready to take the next step with Carson Palmer under center.


Redskins (3-5)--there is still a huge quarterback concern in D.C.


Browns (3-5)--still love Colt McCoy, but Peyton Hillis has been a huge distraction.


Broncos (3-5)--To Tebow, or not to Tebow?

Still need to see more...

Cincinnati Bengals: Rookie Andy Dalton has really impressed me this season, and his 6-2 record has Cincy tied with Baltimore for the division lead. But I think we have to see how he fares against Baltimore and Pittsburgh before we fully judge his rookie campaign.

Chicago Bears: Chicago has some impressive victories over Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia on its resume, but there's still skepticism there with losses to New Orleans and two division foes Green Bay and Detroit.
Atlanta Falcons: How does Atlanta back up a 13-3 record and an early playoff exit in 2010? With a rocky 5-3 start, of course. A three-game win streak (Carolina, Detroit, Indianapolis) has me leaning towards contenders though.

New York Jets: If only Rex Ryan would learn to shut his damn mouth. New York sitting at 5-3 after eight games wouldn't be such a bad thing if the head coach would just stop all this "we're going to win the Super Bowl" talk. It gets old after you repeat it each season, Rex.

New England Patriots: Two straight losses from Bill Belichick's Patriots doesn't seem right. Against contenders such as Pittsburgh and New York (Giants) makes it seem a little more respectable, but it also appears as though defenses have finally figured out the perfect formula for disrupting Brady's rhythm. It only took three Super Bowl victories for it to be figured out..

San Diego Chargers: Rivers made a crucial mistake at the end of the overtime loss to Kansas City, and a tough game against defending champion Packers this past week has put them at 4-4. I don't think we'll figure the Chargers out until December rolls around, like usual.

The Rest...


Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6): Currently in the rebuilding process with rookie Blaine Gabbert doing the quarterbacking. I think Jack Del Rio's days may be numbered, it's time for a change.

Carolina Panthers (2-6): Rookie Cam Newton has done all he can to win games for Carolina, but the defense has taken too many hits to overcome in 2011. Newton has done nothing but impress, though, like I said.

Minnesota Vikings (2-6): Adrian Peterson has done nothing but produce top-notch quality for half a decade now.

Seattle Seahawks (2-6): Had an impressive 36-25 win over the Giants, but have since been on a three-game skid. Time to draft a franchise quarterback in April's draft?

Arizona Cardinals (2-6): Kevin Kolb, so far, has shown he was not worth the money. They actually beat St. Louis, 19-13, this past weekend without Kolb under center. Rather John Skelton subbed in and took over duties with Kolb out with an injury.
Hall of Shame

St. Louis Rams (1-7): St. Louis' lone win was apparently a fluke. A 31-21 victory over Drew Brees' Saints two weeks ago. Running back Steven Jackson had a solid game, but Sam Bradford has been battling injury and missed a few games. It may take a couple more seasons for Bradford to truly blossom as an NFL starter.

Miami Dolphins (1-7): Finally winless no more, Miami captured win No. 1 of the season on Sunday against Kansas City, 31-3. One of the reasons I have KC listed as a pretender.

Indianapolis Colts (0-9): This is why, aside from Rodgers, I wanna name Peyton Manning as my first half MVP. One player made a 9-win difference. If Manning was in the lineup you know for a fact they would have at least 7 or 8 wins at this point in the season. Come on, Curtis Painter!

Photo credit
Smith: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Chiefs: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Ryan/Peppers: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Peterson: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

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