Arizona Cardinals and the 7 Flawed Teams Still in Serious Playoff Contention
Parity in the NFL can be a wonderful thing, and for these seven teams, it's what is keeping them in the playoff hunt.
The Arizona Cardinals are the best example of this: teams that are fatally flawed at one aspect of the game but still fighting for a playoff spot. Every season, we see at least five or six of these teams competing for the playoffs, yet you look at their play and wonder why?
Usually, they pull off upsets against teams they have no business beating. Sometimes, they manage to do one thing so well that it overshadows their flaw until it counts the most.
Then, there are times where the flaw doesn't get fatally exposed until they get to the playoffs. We may know what it is, but it is usually brushed aside because said team continues to win throughout the regular season.
Here's a look at seven teams fighting in the race to the playoffs, despite some rather egregious flaws.
New England Patriots
When you have a top-flight quarterback in Tom Brady, you're guaranteed at least eight wins in the NFL, unless you're New Orleans and have a Hall of Fame quarterback but then also have a historically horrendous defense.
Throw in a horrendously bad division that contains only one other serious playoff contender and the New England Patriots' path to the playoffs is an easy one.
This despite their continued lack of a pass rush (their main problem in the last five years) and a secondary that has proved this season that the prevent defense really does prevent you from winning.
The Patriots are still a true Super Bowl contender, but that's mainly because just about everyone is 100 percent convinced that they will go to the playoffs, aware of the weakness of the AFC and aware of the fact that, in the playoffs, anything could happen.
The road to New Orleans does cut through Houston, but if Brady can pick apart the Texans defense (we will get to see the first test of this in Week 14), then the question becomes more about whether the Texans offense can keep up with New England's.
But even if that does happen, New England's defense against the pass is enough to cause concern for the Patriots and enough to consider them fatally flawed. They will be in the playoffs, but how far they go will depend on how much magic Brady can do.
While it's nice to be able to count on a quarterback like that, that alone cannot bring a team to a Super Bowl.
If the New England Patriots are on this list, then the Miami Dolphins have to be on this list, too. I'm not complaining about Ryan Tannehill or the Dolphins offense (which improves every week), but I will say that if you could somehow combine the Patriots offense with the Dolphins defense, then you will have a complete Super Bowl-contending team.
Miami's offense hasn't been baTannehill's injury against the Jets (Dolphins fans on Twitter were considerably nervous) only showed how good this kid can be and how much he has improved.
But, the offense is also still a work-in-progress West Coast offense, one that has only taken on a first-class defense once all season and had embarrassing results (Week 1 against Houston). Thankfully enough for them, they will only face a top-10 defense two more times this season when they take on the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
Yet, if Miami can get wins against Buffalo (twice), Tennessee, Jacksonville and Indianapolis, then they can actually afford to lose those games against the Seahawks and 49ers and still finish 9-7 (that's assuming they get swept by the Patriots).
A 9-7 record can get into the postseason in the AFC in 2012. At least with the Dolphins, their flaws on offense can be partially developed out of the team by season's end, but their lack of a No. 1 receiver could be problematic against more superior teams, regardless of whether Ryan Tannehill or Matt Moore are under center.
Let's rewind that a bit, did someone say something about the Indianapolis Colts?
The Indianapolis Colts play the Miami Dolphins in Week 9, and who would've thought that, at the beginning of the season, there would be playoff implications?
Despite this, just remember that a lot of that has to do with how weak the AFC actually is (notice how there are more AFC teams than NFC teams).
While the Colts have been a great story this season, they are not without their flaws. The first one being their run defense.
It doesn't exist, not one bit. They're ranked 27th in the league in defending the running game, allowing 137.4 yards per game. Their pass defense is in the top 10, however, a lot of that is predicated on their schedule.
While they did do well against Aaron Rodgers when they pulled off their upset of the Packers in Week 5, their quarterback strength of schedule does leave much to be desired. Expect that ranking to drop as their schedule gets tougher, with games against Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady and Matt Schaub (who they have to play twice).
Also here's something else to think about, especially in comparison to their Week 9 opponents.
Miami was able to do alright with Tannehill hurt against the Jets. Matt Moore has proven himself to be a serviceable emergency quarterback when he's needed (he's 7-6 in two seasons with the Dolphins). And the Dolphins defense was able to dominate (it was the Jets, but still, it counts for something).
Who's Indianapolis' backup quarterback if, God forbid, Andrew Luck goes down with an injury?
Drew Stanton. That's not particularly bad, but it just goes to show that Luck needs to be protected. Indianapolis is pretty lucky that he hasn't gone down yet and better hope (much like Miami with Tannehill) that he doesn't hit a rookie wall sometime this season.
That's because, outside of Andrew Luck, the Colts really don't have much else going for them. As he goes, so goes the Colts.
Of any of the so-called elite teams, none are as weak as the Baltimore Ravens.
Where do you begin with them? Let's start on offense, where they have Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator. He continually forgets that his running back is Ray Rice. That right there is a glaring enough weakness for me to say that the Ravens are more pretenders than contenders. Case closed right?
Well no, their defense is, and this isn't easy for me to say, one of the worst in the NFL.
The Ravens are ranked 28th in total defense, allowing 400 yards per game. Against the run they've been terrible, allowing 142.9 yards per game, and their defense against the pass is also pushing towards the bottom, as they're ranked 24th, allowing 257.1 yards per game.
You could point to injuries to Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb as the reasons for their poor ranking, but while Suggs has missed the entire season, so far, Lewis and Webb were there for five of Baltimore's first six games.
Their record says they're elite, but their defense says they aren't. Add to that an offense that can't exactly be trusted right now, and you have a team that Pittsburgh is likely licking their chops at the prospects of playing come November and a team that could find themselves behind the Steelers at the end of the season in the AFC North.
This is one of those teams that, at first glance, doesn't seem to have many flaws. Quarterback Andy Dalton has been decent despite a sophomore slump, and their defense—at first glance—seems like a unit that should be alright.
But, they're not alright. The Bengals have done a great job beating the teams they're supposed to beat. They started 3-1 with their three victories coming against the Cleveland Browns at home, the Washington Redskins and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Since then, the Bengals have gone winless, losing to the Dolphins in Week 5, followed by a loss against a Browns team that felt they should've won their first meeting and was looking for revenge, then losing on Sunday Night Football to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now, after their bye week, the Bengals are 3-4, and it's only going to get tougher. Their placement in the AFC still gives them a shot at the postseason, and they do have two home games coming up. Now for the bad news: their two home games come against Peyton and Eli back-to-back. Cincinnati, thus far, has only won one game at home.
In two weeks, they won't be in the playoff race any longer. I can't really pick out their flaws on the surface, as this team should be good, but their defense does leave a lot to be desired.
Bleacher Report has granted me the power to use one bad pun per article, so here it is: let me Ponder the ways the Vikings are flawed, despite having a good shot at the playoffs.
Minnesota is 5-3 and has a dynamic running game, thanks to Adrian Peterson. Their defense is very good too, especially against the pass, while their run defense might not look so good yard-wise. I'm willing to pin the Doug Martin breakout game as more of a factor of how good Martin is and not an indictment of the Vikings run defense.
But then, there's Christian Ponder, who has showed his true colors with his turnover-prone ways. Most of this comes from being a sophomore quarterback in the NFL (this is part of the reason why the Dolphins and Colts are on this list remember), and there's a good shot that he's hit a wall.
The other big factors are more a product of their division. They have to fight with Green Bay and Chicago for the NFC North crown. Unless either team has a key injury, those are the top two in the NFC North. The Vikings have some of the pieces to compete, but until Ponder improves, he will remain a weakness that keeps this team from making the leap.
This photo sums up the Cardinals to a tee: see the Cards defender on the ground while Michael Crabtree runs away.
The Cardinals had a nice 4-0 run to start the season, but after that, the bottom dropped. Their main flaw was exposed for all to see during their Thursday Night Football contest against the St. Louis Rams in Week 5, when the Rams sacked Kevin Kolb nine times.
Since then, the word is out that it's open season on the Cardinals quarterbacks, and they haven't recovered since then. While they did win their first four games (and saw Kolb and Skelton get sacked a lot in those four victories), their smoke and mirrors magic was officially broken by the Rams.
Now, the Cardinals are a team with a decent enough defense (they're ranked fourth against the pass despite a big performance by Ryan Tannehill against them) and an offense that has the skill players to succeed but they lack the offensive line.
That's probably the most important part of a team after the quarterback. You could have Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger (wait bad example, the Steelers' line isn't exactly great) or any of the NFL's top quarterbacks under center, but you will have difficulty with a line that can not protect the quarterback.
That's Arizona's biggest weakness and the reason why this team is more likely to go 7-9 than 9-7 and on the outside looking into the playoffs.