Updated Look at the Top Playoff Contenders After Week 10
What a difference a week makes.
After Week 9, I wrote that the Chicago Bears were more playoff-ready than the Houston Texans.
Boy, was I wrong.
The Texans proved that not only are they ready to make a strong push to the 2012 NFL playoffs, but they also proved they might be the best team in the NFL right now.
The Bears, on the other hand, proved they can be exploited by a dominant defensive front, and their Week 11 matchup at Candlestick Park on Monday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers will be a season-defining game.
So, let's take a look at the top three teams from each conference after Week 10—the top playoff contenders ready to make a push to Super Bowl XLVII.
The Chicago Bears got punched in the mouth on national television by the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football, but this team is still one of the top three in the NFC.
Even though the Bears' offense was stymied in a major way, it's encouraging that their defense held the Texans to just 13 points. Even more impressive was the way the secondary shut down any semblance of a passing game, holding Matt Schaub to less than 100 yards and picking him off twice.
Tim Jennings and Charles "Peanut" Tillman form the best duo at the cornerback position in the NFL, the team's front four consistently brings heat to opposing quarterbacks and their linebacking corps is still one of the best in the league.
There aren't many front sevens like the one the Texans feature, and as long as Matt Forte stays healthy the Bears will have a chance to win every game they play.
The Denver Broncos are better suited for a playoff run than the New England Patriots.
I had to chose between one of these two teams for this list, and after careful consideration, the Broncos have a slight edge over the Pats.
Here's my reasoning:
- Quarterback play is dead even. Both are playing at All-Pro levels.
- The Pats have the edge in the running game, but the Broncos have the edge when it comes to receivers.
- The Broncos feature the NFL's No. 6-ranked defense, led by Von Miller and Champ Bailey.
- The Patriots feature the NFL's No. 24-ranked defense, due to the fact that they allow a ton of yards through the air.
Defense still wins championships, and the Broncos have a better defense.
Both offenses can put up points in a hurry, but when the game is on the line, I'll take the Broncos' defense to make the key plays when it matters over that of the Pats.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers' quarterback was taken out of the game against the St. Louis Rams with a concussion, but before he left he had completed seven-of-eight passes for 72 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Combined with his numbers in the team's previous game against the Arizona Cardinals, Smith has completed 25-of-27 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last four quarters of play.
This team will have its fair share of ups and downs, but when it's time for the playoffs, there aren't many teams more equipped than the 49ers to make a deep run.
I had been planning on putting the Pittsburgh Steelers ahead of the Baltimore Ravens this week, but after the way the Kansas City Chiefs took them to the brink on Monday Night Football, the Ravens got the nod.
John Harbaugh's team has fully embraced their new offense-first mindset, and though I'm not a big fan of this strategy—being that it's Joe Flacco doing the distributing—so far it's worked well.
The Ravens are 7-2 heading into Week 11, and their two losses were against talented teams on the road—the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 and the Houston Texans in Week 7, right after the team lost Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb for the season.
I'm still not 100-percent sold on the Ravens as a Super Bowl contender, given the team's inability to stop opponents' running games and given Flacco's tendency to lose his accuracy from time to time.
That said, the Ravens have proven they are the top dog in the AFC North through 10 weeks, and until they relinquish control of this division, I'm going to have them as the third-best team in the AFC.
I'm taking the Seattle Seahawks over the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants right now.
The Packers and Giants both have serious flaws.
Both teams have an offensive line that can't be counted on to produce in the running game, and both have been highly suspect in pass protection. Furthermore, both teams are struggling with key injuries, and right now, the Seahawks have the most complete team out of the three.
Russell Wilson has been exceptionally good the past three games. If you discount his hiccup in San Francisco in Week 7, he's been on fire for over a month, throwing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last five games.
The Seahawks can run the ball against any team in the NFL with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, as they proved against the 49ers, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, etc.
Furthermore, this team's defense continues to be the most underrated in the NFL. Never mind the fact that it is the No. 4-ranked unit in the NFL in terms of both total yardage and scoring.
Don't discount this team.
Houston Texans fans adamantly argued against my assertion last week that their team wasn't ready to be named among the top three in the AFC—an assertion I now publicly take back.
The Texans are the best team in the AFC—if not the entire NFL.
Arian Foster is such a consistent player. He hasn't failed to score in any game this season and, more often than not, he's over 100 all-purpose yards.
As long as Foster stays healthy, the Texans have a chance to win Super Bowl XLVII.
Furthermore, the defense has recovered nicely from losing Brian Cushing in Week 5. This unit is ranked No. 2 in yards per game and No. 3 in scoring defense. If not for the team's Week 6 game against the Green Bay Packers, the Texans would feature the undisputed No. 1 defense in the NFL.
Matt Schaub and the passing attack doesn't have to put up big numbers to keep things balanced on offense—much like what we've seen from the San Francisco 49ers the past two seasons—and the Texans are ready to take the next step in the playoffs in 2012.