NFL Contenders and Pretenders After Week 6
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The 2012-13 NFL season has been anything but predictable. Former basement dwellers are recording wins against perennial contenders and there are multiple logjams atop the divisions.
While fanbases that have been dormant are coming out in force, they might not want to jump on the bandwagon too quickly.
Here are the NFL's contenders and pretenders after Week 6.
Pretender: San Diego Chargers (3-3), Tied for 1st in AFC West
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Week 6 came to an end in thrilling fashion when Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos stormed back on Monday Night Football to shock the San Diego Chargers, 35-24. The Chargers managed to blow a 24-point halftime lead as Philip Rivers and the rest of the Chargers imploded in front of their home crowd.
The Chargers came into the game as the leader in the AFC West, but after the team's Monday night collapse they may not regain that position this season.
Before their Week 6 debacle the Chargers were unproven. They beat bad Oakland, Tennessee and Kansas City teams and gave the New Orleans Saints their first win of the season.
The Chargers are a two-faced team and Monday night was a shining example of that. They can be the team that they were in the first half, that pressures the quarterback and forces interceptions, or they can be the team that they were in the second half, that allowed the largest comeback in Monday Night Football history.
Norv Turner's days as the Chargers head coach are numbered. The team has never played consistent during his time at the helm and a change is needed in San Diego.
The Chargers have a bye in Week 7 and play Cleveland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay the following three weeks—games they should win.
San Diego's real test comes in the weeks that follow when it plays four consecutive playoff teams from a year ago in Denver, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Chargers would be lucky to escape those four games with a 2-2 record.
San Diego is a pretender. It will beat the teams it should beat but cannot compete with the top half of the NFL's teams.
Projected record: 8-8
Contender: Atlanta Falcons (6-0), 1st in NFC South
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Going 6-0 is no easy task in this day and age of the NFL, no matter whom you have played.
The Falcons have been living in the shadow of the New Orleans Saints for years in the NFC South, but now the spotlight is theirs. With their perfect record the Falcons already have a 3.5-game lead in the division and could lock up a playoff spot very early.
The one-two punch of Julio Jones and Roddy White is the best in the league. Either receiver has the ability to put up huge numbers any given week. It also doesn't hurt to have a future Hall of Famer at tight end. Tony Gonzalez is playing like he did during his days in Kansas City, already recording 430 receiving yards and four touchdowns through six weeks.
Matt Ryan has played at an MVP level under center—at least before his dismal performance this weekend against the Raiders (24-for-37, 1 TD, 3 INT, 59 passer rating). In a season where no offensive player has truly stood out, "Matty Ice" may take home the MVP trophy by leading his Falcons to the league's best record.
The Falcons haven't faced a single team with a winning record this season, but they have beaten the teams that have been put in front of them.
After the Falcons' bye in Week 7 things will get treacherous for the only undefeated team left in the NFL. They play Philadelphia, Dallas, New Orleans and Arizona in consecutive weeks. This string of games should tell us a lot about the Falcons and show what they are really made of.
The Falcons probably won't finish the season unscathed, but are already well on their way to a playoff berth.
Projected record: 13-3
Pretender: Minnesota Vikings (4-2), 2nd in NFC North
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The Vikings shocked the NFL when they knocked off the 49ers 24-13 in Week 3. They rode that momentum into the next two weeks, beating both Detroit and Tennessee.
Minnesota came back to Earth this week after Robert Griffin III did his best impression of a human highlight reel in his return from a concussion and led his Redskins to a 38-26 victory over the Vikings.
Before their Week 3 win against the 49ers, the Vikings let the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars stick around, and they lost to the Indianapolis Colts.
Adrian Peterson has been stellar in his return from a gruesome ACL injury and Percy Harvin has been Mr. Do-it-all, but the duo will not be able to will the team to victory against the NFL's better defenses.
It also seems like Christian Ponder's magic and luck have run out. Now the young Vikings quarterback has to regroup after two straight weeks of bad play.
On top of that, the Vikes still have four games left against the Packers and Bears. The Bears defense is among the best in the league and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are finally hitting their stride.
Tampa Bay and Detroit are the only teams left on the Vikings' schedule with losing records. It is a tough road ahead for Minnesota.
Projected record: 8-8
Contender: Seattle Seahawks (4-2), Tied for 1st in NFC West
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The Seahawks have beaten the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, but dropped a gimme-game against the Rams and nearly lost to the 1-4 Panthers—hardly the sign of a consistent team.
However, Seattle has the tools and talent necessary to be among the contenders in the NFL. Its defense ranks in the top five in points allowed (15.5) and yards allowed (224.7), and it boasts three Pro Bowlers in the secondary.
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has not been great, but he has done enough to win games and has continued to improve every week. Wilson's 293-yard, three-touchdown performance is a testament to that.
Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch has carried the load on the ground for the Seahawks. The sixth-year running back is on pace to go well over 1,000 yards and continues to strike fear into the hearts of defenders.
The NFC West has been the laughingstock of the league for years, but this season it's the NFL's black and blue division.
The Seahawks may have to rely on a wild-card berth to get into the playoffs, competing with the Cardinals and 49ers for the division crown, but by the time the playoffs roll around they will be hard to beat.
Expect to see a giddy Pete Carroll along the sideline many more times this season.
Projected record: 10-6
Pretenders: New York Jets (3-3), Tied for 1st in AFC East
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They have been called a circus by the local New York media and rightly so. The Jets cannot be taken seriously.
They dominated the Bills and squeaked out a win against the Dolphins in overtime, but have looked awful in their losses against the Steelers and 49ers.
In the Jets' Week 6 victory they got huge contributions from their run game, but the conditions were so that they could stick with that game plan. Shonn Greene and the running back corps carried the ball 40-plus times Sunday, something that the Jets could not do if they are forced to play from behind.
Then there is the issue of Mark Sanchez. He has been heavily scrutinized this season for his lackluster play and the Tim Tebow supporters have been growing by the week. Sanchez seems to have staved off some of the critics with an 82-yard, 11-18 performance in Week 6 against the Colts, but the quarterback issue will rear its ugly head again, probably sooner rather than later.
Rex Ryan can promise the Super Bowl every year, but with the Jets' best defensive and offensive players sidelined with injuries, the likeliness that the Jets make the postseason is slim.
Remember, the Jets are tied for first in their division, but also for last.
Projected record: 7-9
Contenders: New England Patriots (3-3), Tied for 1st in AFC East
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The Patriots' loss to the Seahawks in Week 6 would have been a major shocker if it had been in Week 1, but Seattle's defense has given every offense it has played this season fits.
If you had a four-way tie for the division lead in the AFC East after Week 6, hats off to you. The Patriots may have the same record as the Jets, Bills and Dolphins, but they have two things those teams don't have—Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
The Patriots will make the playoffs and win their division.
Belichick, Brady and the rest of the Patriots will figure out the kinks in the next few weeks and the team will be firmly in the playoff picture once again.
Brady said it best in an interview with ESPNBoston.com:
We’re 3-3 so we’ve got 10 games to determine the fate of our season, and really it’s a matter of us getting better. I don’t think anything’s decided here in the sixth week of the year, or how capable you are of winning big games. That’s to be determined in January and it’s only October, so we’re just going to keep trying to get better.
Projected record: 11-5
Pretender: Philadelphia Eagles (3-3), Tied for 2nd in NFC East
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The Eagles' three wins have come by a combined four points and have been outscored 103-125 by their opponents.
Michael Vick also has 13 turnovers. That is more than any team in the NFC.
Philly's Week 6 loss will be a lasting memory. The Eagles blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead and let the Lions escape with an overtime victory.
The game plan was to blame. Vick threw 41 times, while LeSean McCoy, arguably one of the NFL's best backs, had only 14 carries. Since 2009, the Eagles are 10-1 when McCoy receives 20-plus touches in a game. Why stray away from this?
Andy Reid has been the face of the franchise is Philadelphia since 1999, but it may be time for a change. Both Reid and Vick will be playing for their jobs after the bye week.
Projected record: 8-8
Contender: Green Bay Packers (3-3), 3rd in NFC North
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The Packers and reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers sit at .500 and third in their division, but are better than their record indicates.
Green Bay gave the Texans their first loss of the season in Week 6, and have been the only team to beat the Bears as well.
The Packers were also on the losing end of one of the worst calls in the history of the NFL in their loss against Seattle on Monday Night Football in Week 3.
While the loss to the Indianapolis Colts was a tough one to swallow, it is safe to say that the Pack bounced back with their win the following week against the Texans. Rodgers' six-touchdown performance was a statement that teams across the NFL received. The potent Green Bay offense is back on track.
The Packers' next two games are against the St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars, games they should win handily. If they can win at home against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9, the Pack will enter their bye week at 6-3 and on the right track.
The Bears are another team that are playing well, but it is more than likely that one of the wild-card teams will come from the NFC North.
Projected record: 10-6
What do you think? Who are some of the pretenders and contenders in the NFL? Let us know in the comments below.