Fantasy Football News

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Contenders or Pretenders: Week 8 Edition

As we approach Week 8, we begin to decipher the playoff contenders from the "pretenders."

Now, this should come as somewhat self-explanatory but, just in case you were born yesterday, the teams labeled below as "pretenders" are teams that appear to be teams that we compete for a playoff spot this season but aren't quite as good as they appear to be.

We'll start off with the obvious contenders:

Houston Texans 6-1

As if the Texans couldn't look any more impressive, they went out and destroyed the AFC's second-best team in Baltimore this past Sunday. It wasn't just a victory, it was a clinic that Houston put on Baltimore's depleted, aging defense. Before Sunday's win, the Texans were the scariest team in the AFC. The 43-13 onslaught just makes J.J. Watt & Co. look even more superhuman(ish).

Baltimore Ravens 5-2

With Hall of Fame-bound linebacker Ray Lewis and Pro Bowl cornerback Lardarius Webb lost for the season, Baltimore's defense showed major weakness against Houston. But a returning Terrell Suggs should assist the Ravens in re-gaining that on-field energy. As for the offense, the success is riding on the right arm of Joe Flacco. I have them as viable contenders to win the North, but Flacco will need to put the offense on his back and carry them the rest of the way.

New England Patriots 4-3

Though the Patriots are currently sitting at 4-3, I list them under the obvious contenders for a couple of reasons. 1) They are the Patriots and, under HC Bill Belichick, have reached the postseason 9 times out of the last 11 seasons. 2) Tom Brady has been putting up his normal, stunning passing numbers, plus the Patriots now have the league's 4th-ranked rushing offense. Deadly combination. 3) And lastly, who else is really going to compete for the division title in the AFC East? Exactly.

Atlanta Falcons 6-0

The only remaining undefeated squad in the entire league, Matt Ryan has surely made his case for MVP (minus his 3-interception performance against Oakland) early on. Atlanta's No. 4 overall defense has kept the offense in games and has forced at least one turnover in each of the six games. With both sides of the team in tip-top shape, Atlanta is one of the more balanced teams, hence the 6-0 record.
San Francisco 49ers 5-2

The No. 2 scoring defense hasn't quite put up the defensive numbers as they did in 2011, but there's no doubt they're still top-tier material. On offense, the league's second-best run game is what's putting points on the board and allowing the Niners to come away with close victories. Alex Smith isn't lighting up any stat sheets, but his performance has been solid enough to get them by in close games with dangerous teams such as Green Bay, Detroit and Seattle. San Fran's two losses came against Minnesota and the New York Giants, who have a combined record of 10-4 this season.

New York Giants 5-2

Eli Manning continued what he did last season, proving to everyone he's a force to be reckoned with when it comes time for the fourth quarter of play. Lets face it, the Giants fall behind early in games but, in the end, put points up in the fourth quarter and prevail. After destroying opponents with 15 4th quarter TDs last season, Eli has already racked up 5 4th quarter TDs this season and has posted a QB rating of 107.2. After watching Eli's 80-yard game-winning hook-up with Victor Cruz on Sunday, it's clear that having the youngest Manning on the field with two minutes to play gives New York the advantage in close games.

Chicago Bears 5-1

The lone loss for these Chicago Bears came against division-rival and pre-season NFC North favorite Green Bay Packers. Jay Cutler has been a bit of a hit-or-miss thus far, but his offense has produced 40-plus points on two different occasions this season and the Bears have the No. 1 overall defense through seven weeks. The Bears are one of the top teams in the NFC alongside Atlanta.

The not-so-obvious contenders:

Denver Broncos 3-3

At 3-3, Denver's season could clearly go any direction at this point in time. But, with Peyton Manning orchestrating the Bronco offense, there's no way the Broncos aren't in the race for the AFC West by season's end. With each passing game, Manning seems to get more and more comfortable in John Fox's system. With 35 unanswered points against San Diego two Monday night's ago, the Broncos' offense has shown it can keep up with just about any offense in the game right now.

Pittsburgh Steelers 3-3

Without Troy Polamalu on the field, Pittsburgh's usually stingy defense has been lacking fire this season, but they've managed to hold their own despite this. The offense is what people should be worried about. Sure, Ben Roethlisberger is in total command of this offense, and is throwing the ball more than ever, and had arguably one of the best games of his career earlier this season––in a losing effort. But the Steelers are dead-last in yards per carry and has run for just 3 TDs. Injuries to Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman have depleted the backfield, but Jonathan Dwyer's 122 yards in his first career start this past weekend gives Pittsburgh some hope.

Tennessee Titans 3-4

Sophomore quarterback Jake Locker was supposed to come out this season, more matured, and tear up opposing offenses. And he did just that in his first couple of games, throwing for 781 yards and 4 TDs through the first four games. Though the Titans were 1-3 over that span, Locker held his own (90.2 QB rating) but just lacked run support from a struggling Chris Johnson. Since Locker's shoulder in a Week 4 loss to Houston, veteran Matt Hasselbeck has taken over and Tennessee has gone 2-1 with him as starter. Locker is set to miss his fourth consecutive game this weekend, but Chris Johnson seems to be out of his slump following his 195-yard performance in a 35-34 victory over Buffalo.

Seattle Seahawks 4-3

One game above .500 in the NFC West would, in season's past, warrant a division title. Ever since last season, however, we figured it'd take a little more than that. But last Thursday it was discovered that Seattle is not far behind San Francisco. Average quarterback (rookie Russell Wilson), excellent running game (Marshawn Lynch) and a defense capable of getting the job done––3rd in points allowed, have yet to allow any more than 23 points all season. Upsets over New England and Green Bay (though that one was controversial) have turned heads. Falling just 7 points shy of upsetting San Fran, the Seahawks are a force in the West.
New Orleans Saints 2-4

There's no way they'd beat out Matty Ice in Atlanta, but never count Drew Brees and his Saints out of it, even if they are without head coach Sean Payton and (were) without middle linebacker and captain Jonathan Vilma. New Orleans started the season 0-4, but have since won two consecutive and they haven't lost a game by more than 8 points. Brees' numbers have been there and the Saints are still No. 2 in passing offense, so nothing has changed there. A slight boost in the run game (currently ranked last in NFL) and the return of Vilma this Sunday should help put the Saints back on the map.

Green Bay Packers 4-3

Did anyone see Aaron Rodgers on Sunday? Yeah, he's officially back to his 2011 form. You know, when the Packers went 15-1 last season while lighting up scoreboards all over the country. Rodgers was nearly perfect, completing 30 of his 37 pass attempts for 342 yards and 3 TDs. Rodgers seems to be at his best when the Packers don't have a running game (26 carries, 70 yards, 0 TDs vs. St. Louis), which is rather strange. But hey, whatever helps him post a 132.2 QB rating, right?

Philadelphia Eagles 3-3

Turnovers. Yes, turnovers are the problem in Philly. This may not come as much of a surprise to many, but the Eagles could be sitting atop the East with New York at 5-2 had they reduced the mistakes (penalties have been a problem, too). Currently on a two-game losing streak, all of the Eagles' problems are fixable. Which is the lone reason why they are listed under contenders. Two of Philly's three losses have been by three or less points (to Pittsburgh and Detroit in OT). Careless mistakes can kill a team, and that's exactly what has happened to Mike Vick's Eagles. Oh, and Andy Reid should also be using LeSean McCoy a little more often as well.

Others: Bengals, Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals

...And now the pretenders:

New York Jets 3-4

I'm not sure that this one really comes as a surprise. Is there really anyone––other than Rex Ryan––who believes that the Jets' two-headed monster at quarterback is really going to work out in New York? That is, of course, if you can even call it a "monster." Losing Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes for the season was a huge blow and, considering the Jets' three wins came against teams with a combined record of 9-10, I don't see them beating out the Patriots for the East.

Indianapolis Colts 3-3

Andrew Luck has looked brilliant, at times, this season in his rookie campaign. They have come away with a couple of close victories against Minnesota, Green Bay and Cleveland, but losses to Jacksonville and New York (Jets) tarnishes their 3-3 record. Injuries, much like numerous other teams in the league, have ravished their current 3-3 record. With Houston winning the South, the Colts would have to beat out Pittsburgh and Tennessee for a Wild Card spot. I don't see it happening, at least not this season.

San Diego Chargers 3-3

The Bolts finished 8-8 last season, just missing out on the postseason as Denver, also 8-8, held the tiebreaker between the two. We obviously have not yet hit December yet, so it's tough to completely give up on the Chargers considering Philip Rivers has made it a yearly occasion to over-perform in the final month of the season. But as the Broncos gain momentum and strength, it's tough to stick with the struggling Rivers, who blew a 24-point halftime lead to Peyton's Broncos just two weeks ago.
Minnesota Vikings 5-2

I'm not completely sold on the Vikings despite Christian Ponder's early sophomore-season success (5-2 record, 67 comp %, 1,492 yards, 9 TD, 6 INT, 87.6 rating) and the healthy return of All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson. The Vikes can surely put up double-digit wins this season, but that doesn't mean they will be playoff-bound, considering they share the NFC North with Chicago and Green Bay. The offense just doesn't have the fire-power to keep up with Cutler and Rodgers.

Detroit Lions 2-4

One season after breaking 5,000 yards passing, signal-caller Matt Stafford has shone a slow start to the 2012 campaign. Stafford and Megatron have yet to link up for a touchdown pass this season (Johnson's one TD was thrown by Shaun Hill) after a career-high 16 last year. Detroit's slow start, which has seen just two wins over St. Louis and Philadelphia, can be overcome but it will take more than just a couple of Stafford/Johnson touchdowns. With teams such as Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay (2), Houston, Chicago and Atlanta, I just don't see the Lions coming out with a second straight postseason berth.

Dallas Cowboys 3-3

This has nothing to do with Tony Romo. I think he's an above-average quarterback and doesn't deserve all the backlash he often receives. The lack of weapons this offense has is a much larger problem to me. It's not really a concern of whether they have the talent, but whether they have the ability to play as a team for a full 4 quarters. At times they have shown brilliance, but they've become much too inconsistent to be a force coming out of the East.

Others: Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, Chiefs, Bucs, Panthers, Rams

Photo credit
Julio Jones: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images North America
Russell Wilson: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America
Shaun Phillips: Donald Miralle/Getty Images North America

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