• Dylan Fadden

Contenders or Pretenders?

As we head into week 10 of the season I take a look at some of the contenders and pretenders of the playoff bunch. The contenders include teams of which i believe have a legitimate shot at winning it all and the pretenders are teams that while they may be good enough to make the playoffs, don't prove to be a real threat to winning the Super Bowl.


Contenders:


1. Patriots 8-1

This should come as no surprise. The Patriots are head and toes above everyone else. However, this time? it's a bit scarier. Instead of Tom being the face of the team, I'd argue it's the defense. Through the first 8 weeks, the Patriots have dominated their competition outscoring them 250-61, allowing 7.6 PPG. Pairing up the greatest quarterback of all time with the best defense in todays current NFL is deadly. The only argument here is the fact that Patriots first half schedule was laughable. During this stretch of games their opponents combined record was an unimpressive 12-26, I don't think this means much because well, it's the Bill and Tom, it doesn't really matter who they are playing. We've seen the Patriots play one solid team this year and they struggled early on in the game. This doesn't worry me too much because when it comes down to the playoffs I don't see them losing that game. I am excited to see how the Patriots defense holds up in their next stretch of games when they have to play competent offenses such as the Cowboys, Texans, and Chiefs. That will tell us just exactly how good this defense really is. Nevertheless, I would be shocked if this dominant team does not make it to the Super Bowl much less win it for the seventh time in this duos career together.



2. 49ers 8-0

What the hell. The 49ers are undefeated through the first 9 weeks of the season. Is this real? When I first started planning out this article I had the 49ers listed as a pretender but after seeing the dominant performance against the Panthers a couple weekends ago I felt like I had no choice but to move them up. The biggest thing about the Niners and where they have won there football games has been in the trenches. They are running the ball at an impressive 4.5 YPC and 171.1 YPG. It really doesn't matter if it's Coleman, Brieda, Mostert, or Wilson carrying the rock, they are incredibly productive. Pairing that up with the Tom Brady prodigy, Jimmy Garoppolo, you are sure to find success. Garoppolo hasn't put up crazy numbers by any means but he has been incredibly consistent and makes all the right throws. The lack of weapons at WR is a bit concerning but adding Emmanuel Sanders does help. Then you swing it around to the defensive side and you have one of the best and young defensive lines in the league. Nick Bosa has proved that he was worth the number 2 overall pick, and then you have other previous first round picks in Solomon Thomas, Deforest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford, that is scary. It's no shock that the Niners are good when they dominate both sides of the trenches. I'm not sure how long this fairytale story will last but it'd be disrespectful to leave them off of here after they have dominated the first half of the season.



3. Chiefs 6-3

Come playoff time, the Chiefs seem as if they are the only real threat to beat the defending Super Bowl champs in the AFC side. So far, the Chiefs have been injury riddled for the most part of the year, missing guys like Chris Jones, Patrick Mahomes, Erik Fisher, Tyreek Hill, Andrew Wylie, and Sammy Watkins. All of these players are vital for the Chiefs to win football games. With these injuries they look incredibly vulnerable and struggle with mediocre teams much less teams competing for a Super Bowl. With a healthy Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs offense makes them one of the best teams in all of football. With Matt Moore at QB they are barely an above .500 team. The health of Patrick Mahomes is absolutely the most important factor for the Chiefs to make a Super Bowl run, for now it seems as if there is no doubt that they will make the playoffs but Mahomes health is definitely something to watch out for. With the Chiefs at full strength they can easily make a run and seem to be the biggest threat to win an AFC championship game in Foxborough. I so desperately hope that we get another highly anticipated matchup between Bill Belichick/Andy Reid and Brady/Mahomes. Could this be the year the Chiefs overcome their playoff woes and make it to the Super Bowl?



4. Saints 7-1

Does it even matter who's at QB? Im obviously kidding, Drew Brees is light years ahead of Bridgewater in terms of playoff experience and adds a veteran presence but either one of these guys should be able to lead this team deep into the playoffs. With playmakers in Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and a solid defense this team continues to prove that they are an elite bunch. This Saints team has gone 3-1 against teams currently holding a playoff position, one of which Drew Brees was injured in and a fumble blown dead that should have resulted in a TD. After that win, the Saints rattled off 6 straight wins and with dominating performances against the Cardinals and Bears. The NFC is wide open for the taking and so far this Saints team has looked like they have a solid chance to win it all. Im expecting the Saints to make some noise in the playoffs and get redemption on their previous playoff hiccups of the Minneapolis Miracle and the blown pass interference call in last years NFC championship game.



5. Seahawks 7-2

One name, Russell Wilson. Since entering the league Russell Wilson has been one of the most consistent QB's in the league. Currently he is the front runner for the MVP, leading the league in touchdowns(22), least amount of INTs(1), and QBR(118.2). If Wilson can continue to play at this level he will not only win the MVP but lead the Seahawks to the playoffs and potentially more. The Seahawks style resembles that of the other great football teams in the National Football League. They run the ball exceptionally well and have a superstar QB that makes all the right throws. Chris Carson has now established himself as a well known name, and a consistent back in the run game for this Seahawks team. Their defense hasn't been as good as years pasts but the acquisitions of Quandre Diggs and Jadeveon Clowney should prove useful later on in the season. While they are currently sitting at number 2 in the NFC West, I like their chances to make a run due to their veteran experience with Pete Carrol and Russell Wilson.



6. Packers 7-2

The NFC North is looked at as one of the best and most competitive divisions in the NFL. As of now the Packers currently hold a 3-0 record against the Bears, Lions, and Vikings. Those 3 division wins are HUGE and are the reason they have pretty much locked up a playoff spot already. I think this is largely due to their offseason acquisitions. In a fairly similar situation in New England, the Packers were able to form one of the better defenses in the NFL this off-season. They added Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos through free agency and Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage through the draft. These were able to bolster up their defensive unit and help out a team that has always relied heavily on Rodgers. Pairing up a mean defense with one of the greatest QB's of all time is never a bad thing and it could prove to be well worth it this year if they are able to bring the Lombardi back home. Any time you have a veteran QB with a solid defense you are a threat to win it all, the Packers should end up winning the NFC North and if they do, don't be surprised if they make a run.



7. Ravens 6-2

I absolutely love what the Ravens have done with remodeling their offense to suit the strong points of Lamar Jackson. They knew they wanted to up their run game and use it to dominate opponents so they went out during the offseason and acquired Mark Ingram. The Ravens currently average the most rushing yards per game at 204.9, and this is a large part of their success. This new offensive scheme has proved be extremely beneficial as Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram have been dominating the run game and are a deadly duo in the backfield. Jackson sits at 79.6 and Ingram at 73.1 rush yards per game, this force allows the Ravens to dominate the TOP(Time of Possession) and wear down defenses. In an NFL that idolizes the passing game, running the ball effectively and efficiently is an extremely underrated method to winning, and winning a lot. It still proves to be the most common way to take down opponents and this is why the Ravens have been so effective this year. Lamar Jackson is a game changer and has proven all of his doubters wrong up to this point in the season. Besides the Chiefs and Patriots, I like the Ravens to make some noise. After a impressive win against the Patriots, the Ravens look as if they have the potential to beat anyone. Im excited to see how they fair against elite teams in the playoffs.



8. Rams 5-3

Despite what people may think, the Rams are still very solid football team. The offensive line is worse than a season ago but they still have virtually all of the same weapons and Gurley is starting to be used more. On the defensive side of the ball they are a little more depleted as well but they made a move to get the best corner in the NFL, and new players like Taylor Rapp and Eric Weddle have played well up to this point. If the Rams do end up getting one of the wild card spots there is a chance that they can make a run. For this to happen though, they need to see their defense mesh and run game be better. While this team has some new faces, the core and face of this team remains the same. Donald is a game changer and McVay remains one of the best coaches in the league, I wouldn't count them out if they find themselves with a playoff spot.



Pretenders:


1. Bills 6-2

The Bills are an interesting team, I have been trying to figure out what their identity is and I just cant seem to figure it out. They play good defense and run a generic scheme on offense that always some how manages to barely pull out the win. Josh Allen has been mediocre at best, but again there is just something about him where he does just enough to win the game. As of now they sit at 6-2 but they have played primarily against weak opponents with the exception of the Patriots and Eagles(being generous with the last one). In the second half of their schedule, I can easily see this team dropping some games against teams like the Ravens, Cowboys, and Patriots. Fortunately for the Bills besides the 3 teams I mentioned in their remaining schedule, they do not play another team above .500. This team should easily make the playoffs but do not expect them to make a run by any means this year. Their offense is not explosive enough to edge out any of the the other AFC opponents.



2. Texans 6-3

This Texans team had a couple of concerns heading into the 2019 season, the two biggest ones being a horrible pass protection and a weak pass defense. Both of which they addressed this offseason. During the NFL draft they added Tytus Howard, and Max Scharping. Through free agency they added DB's Bradley Roby and Tashaun Gipson. So far they have seen little improvement in these areas but adding these pieces is a step in the right direction for this team. Deshaun Watson is playing at an MVP caliber level this year and yet again proving that he is one of the best and young promising QB's in the league. However, Watson can't do everything for them. The Texans are already missing a defensive game changer in JJ Watt and to see them make a series run their defensive backs need to improve a LOT in the next 8 weeks. No matter how good Watson plays he cannot make up for the lack of Watt and horrid pass defense. The Texans have solid players and their franchise quarterback but overall as a team they just simply have too many flaws to be a contender right now.



3. Vikings 6-3

Do I have to say anything other than Kirk Cousins is the reason why? Yes I know their defense has been great so far, Yes I know Eric Kendricks has had a great season, and Yes I know Dalvin Cook has been one of the best RB's as well but it's Kirk Cousins! When it comes down to it, the Quarterback is the most important position on the field. You cannot tell me that Kirk Cousins in the playoffs can compete with the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. It's just not possible. The Vikings have played good football up to this point but they just don't have that extra factor to send them all the way. They need that extra umph and excellent play from Cousins to get them there. Sure Kirk Cousins might prove me wrong but I feel so confident that I'm willing to say it: The Vikings will not make a playoff run due to Kirk Cousins inability to perform in the spotlight and on the biggest stage.



4. Colts 5-3

Most people wrote off the Colts as soon as Andrew Luck announced his retirement. They were wrong. The Colts are still a very good football team and aren't defined by the Quarterback position. Jacoby Brissett has stepped in and has looked phenomenal, exceeding all expectations (not that they were high to begin with but still). In fact, they probably should be 7-1 if it weren't for their once dominate kicker. Vinatieri missed two field goals in the season opener that eventually went to overtime and saw Austin Ekeler scamper into the end zone to put them away. Last week, Vinatieri missed a game winner from 43 yards out that would've won the game. As a bears fan I do understand the importance of kicking and how it is part of the game but if Vinatieri makes 2 field goals they are likely 7-1 and holding more than a 1 game lead in the AFC south. The Colts are a good football team and they play good football. They consistently win the trenches on both sides of the ball and wear down teams with the 8th most TOP. Darius Leonard is a stud, and then you add Malik Hooker and Justin Houston, that is a solid defense. However, their one flaw continues to remain the same, they lack in playmakers. T.Y. Hilton has been hurt for what looks like a majority of the year, Devin Funchess has been hurt literally the entire year and they are left up to Zach Pascal, Chester Rodgers, and Parris Campbell to make plays. This bunch has been able to hold it's own for now but without a legitimate threat in the receiving game I don't see this team dismantling some of the juggernauts in the AFC. The Colts are a great football team and I do think they are deserving of a playoff spot, I just can't imagine them being able to generate enough on offense to compete with teams such as the Patriots or Chiefs.



5. Cowboys 5-3

The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best young cores in all of football. Between Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jaylon Smith they have the ability to dominate the NFC east for the foreseeable future. That is of course, if they are able to pay all of them. Besides those issues there seems to be something else hurting them, the team started out hot against the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins but then saw 3 straight losses against the Saints, Packers, and Jets. The Jets loss is incredibly inexcusable. A team that is *supposed* to have the potential to be able to bring a ring back to Dallas cannot lose to a winless team, a team that just beat the Dolphins. Again, this can't be because of the players, its gotta be something else. People might not think very highly of Dak but I actually do think he is capable of taking them the distance. In Dak's career he has had 14 game winning drives and 8 fourth quarter comebacks. Proving that he doesn't get fazed in crunch time and is capable of putting games away or winning them for that matter. I don't even need to tell you about how good Zeke is, he continues to be one of the best true runners in the NFL, and Amari? they were able to take a player on the verge of being a bust and reinvent himself into a true WR1. Defensively, their front 7 is stellar, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith clean up the middle with Lawerence coming off the edge. The only part of their team that can be critiqued is the secondary and while its not great, its not terrible. This Cowboys team has the players and play style to be able to make a push but something internally is just fundamentally wrong right now and until they figure it out they won't be a real threat to anyone in this current playoff scenario.

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