NFL Week 3: Separating Contenders From Pretenders

Alec Dopp@alecdoppCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2010

NFL Week 3: Separating Contenders From Pretenders

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    Favre's winless Vikings now find themselves tied with Detroit at the bottom of the NFC North at 0-2.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Crazy?  Unthinkable?  Disappointed?  Shocking?

    Yes, to be plain.

    It is safe to say that the first two weeks of the NFL season have come as a major surprise to many—if not all of us. 

    A few teams rose, and a few teams now find themselves in the cellar of their respectable divisions and now find themselves ready to hit the "panic" button just through two weeks of the NFL season.

    Only two teams scored a touchdown on their opening-day drive—the first time in a long time since that has happened.

    Teams with defenses that were supposed to dominate the opposing offenses didn't to say the least.  High-powered offenses that were designed to trample weaker defenses didn't get the job done.

    EIght teams are still able to call themselves undefeated, and eight teams now find themselves ready to implode.

    It is pretty safe to say that we can now call this one of the more unexpected starts to any NFL season.

    With so many teams off and running with a jump-started season, you have to find yourself wondering which teams are legit, and which teams are just fluking their way through the early parts of the season.

    Breaking down these teams carefully by classifying them as either "Contender" or "Pretender" is what we all really want to get to.

    Where does your team stand?

Chicago Bears

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Record: 2-0

    Coming off an surprising, yet impressive outing at an underachieving Dallas, you have to wonder if this Chicago team is the real thing.

    Under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the Chicago Bears' offense has flourished.

    Jay Cutler seems to be making sane, concise decisions at the QB position, and Matt Forte's obvious abilities only add more to this newly improved high-power offense.

    With a defense that seems to be back and possibly better than ever, the Chicago Bears organization as a whole is looking at a great opportunity to surprise numerous doubters by making a legitimate run at the playoffs.

    Looking Ahead

    [Vs. Green Bay, @ NY Giants, @ Carolina, Vs. Seattle]

    The Bears are owners of one of the more average schedules as far as difficulty goes, and nothing helps an organization more than a soft schedule.

    If Jay Cutler and Matt Forte can sustain a balanced attack of running and passing the football for the rest of the season, look for the Bears to be in consideration for a playoff run.

    Decision: Contender

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Record: 2-0

    "Hello, world!"

    That is exactly what Tampa Bay fans are saying thus far through the 2010 season, as they find themselves undefeated.  Yes, I said it, undefeated.

    With victories over Cleveland and ever-underachieving Carolina under their belt, one might be inclined to believe this team is the real deal, again.

    But then again, it's Cleveland and Carolina.  Two of the more "not so good" teams in the league.

    Through two weeks, this Tampa defense has really started to step it up, now owning the league's third best overall defense.

    Tampa fans have all the right in the world to be optimistic this season.

    Looking Ahead

    [Vs. Pittsburgh, @ Cincinatti, Vs. New Orleans, Vs. St. Louis]

    Although optimistic is good, the truth is the truth.

    This young Tampa team is, unfortunately, not ready to make a serious run at the playoffs.  Though a near playoff berth does seem imminent.

    Decision: Pretender

Houston Texans

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    Larry French/Getty Images

    Record: 2-0

    This is the season of self-redemption for the 2010 Houston Texans. 

    Starting off the season with an organizational-shifting win over the Indianapolis Colts in Houston was the best-case scenario for this Houston team. 

    With a proven and ready Matt Schaub at the helm for this Houston team along with a breakout Arian Foster and best-in-show Andre Johnson ready to catch everything, you'd better be ready for this Houston team.

    Nevertheless, every team has its weaknesses.  For Houston, it is defense—ranked as the NFL's 24th worst overall.  Even a slight improvement from Houston's defense will make all the difference in the world come game time.

    Looking Ahead

    [Vs. Dallas, @ Oakland, Vs. NY Giants, Vs. Kansas City]

    For this Houston team to fulfill this miracle season, they will have to heavily rely on their high powered first-ranked offense to carry the load.

    Decision: Contender

Miami Dolphins

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Record: 2-0

    I'm not quite sure if anybody knows these guys from South Beach.

    If that is the case, let me introduce you to the Miami Dolphins: Undefeated and atop the AFC East for the first time since 2008. This year they are out to keep it just that way.

    Defeating a Minnesota Vikings offense at home is a tremendous feat in itself, but doing it in a convincing manner makes for all the better.

    Week 1 at Buffalo was a gimme win, but proving they can beat the best in the business is extremely impressive coming from a team that underachieved last season.

    With the league's fifth-best defense keeping them in contention through the first two games of the season, you have to expect great things from them all season long.

    Chad Henne's performance hasn't been exactly impressive so far this season, as with RB Ronnie Brown, but give it a little time and they should be more than capable of contending in the AFC East.

    Looking Ahead

    [Vs. NY Jets, Vs. New England, @ Green Bay, Vs. Pittsburgh]

    2-0 always sounds good, but with a daunting schedule ahead of them, most of us might have some questions as to how much this team really is capable of competing for a playoff spot.

    The future does look bright for Miami, however.

    Decision: Pretenders

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Record: 2-0

    Without play from their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers now find themselves sitting at 2-0, with sole possession of first place in the AFC North.

    The best-case scenario for this team has just transpired for the black and gold, and once Big Ben returns, they should be a scary opponent for any team the rest of the way.

    But their way to the playoffs will be a sure-fire struggle considering they share the same division with Baltimore's loaded defense and Cincinnati's surprise offense.

    Consistent play from RB Rashard Mendenhall will be one of the big factors in the success of the Steelers this season.  If consistency on the offensive side of the ball collaborates with a stunning, fast defense, expect the Steelers to be right there in contention.

    Looking Ahead

    [@ Tampa Bay, Vs. Baltimore, Bye, Vs. Cleveland]

    With an average schedule in terms of strength, expecting nothing less than a Wild Card berth from this team would be a safe bet.

    Decision: Contenders.

Green Bay Packers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Record: 2-0

    There's not much more that we can say other than "utter dominance."

    Clay Matthews is playing like a stud, already collecting six sacks in two games (Matthews had 10 sacks last season to lead all NFL rookies) along with a stout defense ready to pounce on each offense it is presented.

    Aaron Rodgers showed us why he is in serious consideration for MVP against the Bills leading the Pack to a 34-7 win.

    Sitting at 2-0 is impressive to say the least.

    RB Ryan Grant is out for the season, which means Brandon Jackson will get a majority of the carries the rest of the way.  The Pack aren't going to let the loss of Grant affect how the season plays out—you can count on that.

    With a group of receivers that could each make the Pro Bowl if they were starters on other NFL teams, you have to give some credit to the man upstairs for making all those great draft choices.

    Looking Ahead

    [@ Chicago, Vs. Detroit, @ Washington, Vs. Miami]

    The rest of the Pack's schedule plays in favor of the green and gold—at least it seems that way for now.

    If Green Bay is truly the juggernaut we all expect them to be, they will handle a majority of the rest of their games with ease.

    Decision: Contenders.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Record: 2-0

    Oh boy, here we go.

    The powerhouse team we've all come to know over the years is finally back—or are they?

    With jump-start beginning to the 2010 season with a victory over San Diego, you have to think momentum is on Kansas City's side.

    Matt Cassel hasn't been what the Chiefs had hoped for, but it's been enough for an undefeated start. 

    The rushing abilities of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones are deadly—and a one-two punch is exactly the key for this team as they progress through the season. 

    Playmaker Dexter McCluster is, just, one of those guys.  One of those guys who can take over a game with a kick OR punt return as we noted in the Week 1 win over San Diego.

    Looking Ahead

    [Vs. San Fransisco, Bye, @ Indianapolis, @ Houston]

    This team is about to get some serious competition, and if they can come out of it at .500, they will have a great shot at winning the AFC West.

    Decision: Contenders.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Record: 1-1

    If consistency meant championships (like it does), then the Eagles wouldn't have much of a shot.

    But with the playmaking abilities of Michael Vick, you'd have to think that this Eagles team is an exception, right?

    Maybe.  That is to be determined on the field, and with a tough road ahead, this Eagles team has a lot to prove to a whole lot of people.  Do you think the Eagles can contend for a Super Bowl?  Think about it.

    DeSean Jackson has been lights out every time the ball is thrown his way, and LeSean McCoy is a rising star in the making.  Put that together with arguably the best rushing QB in NFL history, and you've got a true shot at unexpected greatness.

    With a less-than-average defense, this Eagles team has yet to be truly complete.

    Looking Ahead

    [@ Jacksonville, Vs. Washington, @ San Fransisco, Vs. Atlanta]

    The road to the playoffs isn't getting any easier for this Philly club, facing four potential playoff-bound teams in the next four weeks.  We'll find out what this team really is sooner than later.

    Consistency rules all.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Record: 0-2

    Trouble in the great lakes is brewing, and if the Vikings don't put together some quick spurts of success, the Minnesota Twins will get a considerable amount of new fans.

    Here's the trouble: Brett Favre and his turnover potential.

    Against the Saints, Favre had a costly turnover that eventually turned out to the a deciding factor in the outcome of their Week 1 game.  Yet again, in Week 2, Favre turned the football over three separate times (all interceptions) to the Saints.  The Vikings even outplayed the Dolphins in every offensive category, including time of possession.

    But the key to winning isn't just putting up big numbers for your team. It's about limiting the amount of times you give the other team a free pass with the ball.

    Adrian Peterson has been producing yards very efficiently this season, limiting his fumbles and helping out as a receiving back while Percy Harvin continues to have migraines.

    We all know this team is dangerous when applicable, so that means it is solely up to the consistent play of Brett Favre to carry this team.

    Looking Ahead

    [Vs. Detroit, @ NY Jets, Vs. Dallas, @ Green Bay]

    The road ahead isn't a promising one for this Vikings football team, especially is you find yourself questioning the playing abilities of your HOF Quarterback.

    If a visit from Detroit seems to be a cake walk, then the Vikings are in for disappointment.

    Decision: Pretenders.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Record: 0-2

    Same result, different season.

    What else can we say about the Cowboys and their outspoken owner Jerry Jones?  Not much to say the least.

    Tony Romo and company aren't hitting their cues in the first two weeks of the season, and there is much room for concern in Dallas.

    The passing and running game have not been what they are cracked up to be.

    There isn't much to be said other than that they must get back on track in doing what it is that they do.  Too much expectation?  Maybe.

    Looking Ahead

    [@ Houston, Vs. Tennessee, @ Minnesota, Vs. NY Giants]

    The road doesn't get any easier for this Dallas team, facing four potential playoff teams in the next four weeks.

    Getting back on track is what this Dallas team really needs.

    Decision: Pretenders.

San Fransisco 49ers

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Record: 0-2

    Tough luck, guys.

    There isn't much more that you can say other than that about these San Fransisco 49ers.

    Getting blown out by the Seahawks on the road, and losing a tight, well-fought game at home against the Saints.

    Turnovers need to stop in order for this team to reach its potential, and their potential is a whole lot greater than what some may see.

    Frank Gore makes for a perfect one-two punch with Alex Smith's speed and ability to get out of the pocket, along with Smith's much improved passing accuracy from last season.  Micheal Crabtree's skills are also shining and have 49ers fans both impressed, and excited.

    This team is on the up.

    Looking Ahead

    [@ Kansas City, @ Atlanta, Vs. Philadelphia, Vs. Oakland]

    The schedule plays in favor of San Fran, and they win take advantage of the opportunity.  Don't expect any more miscues from this highly touted offense and defense.

    The division also plays a huge role in the success of the 49ers.  This division is extremely weak, and will remain weak until someone steps up.  That someone is San Fransisco.

    Decision: Contenders.