NFL Power Rankings Week 11: Who's a Contender, Who's a Pretender?

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistNovember 16, 2010

NFL Power Rankings Week 11: Who's a Contender, Who's a Pretender?

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    This NFL season started out with a few teams that we figured would be good, a few we figured would be not so good, and then the rest of the pack.

    Nobody stood out at the beginning of the season as clear favorites, and what little difference 10 weeks makes.

    We skittered through the first portion of the season and muddled through the bye weeks, only to emerge with a hefty majority of the league still looking like they have the ability to make the playoffs.

    In 10 weeks, at least seven teams have tried to make their case for being the best team in the NFL, and just as quickly as they emerge, they plummet back to the pack.

    We have a horse race where every horse is neck-and-neck coming around the final turn, and no horse is making a move for the front of the pack.

    So I want to help clear up this mess a bit. Here I have an analysis of each team and its shot at making the playoffs at the end of this turbulent season.

    Teams are in order of record.

The Miracle on Turf Group

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    I have taken the liberty of sorting out the bottom of the pack here, as they have little to no chance of overcoming their record to make a playoff run, eliminating teams with a record of 3-6 or worse, so long as they aren't in a division that ends in FC West.

    Biggest pretenders of the NFL:

    Buffalo Bills-1-8: They won a game! My, word they won a game! Thankfully they won this week, because had they lost to Detroit, they could easily have gone 0-16.

    Carolina Panthers-1-8: Breaking news from Merriam-Webster: both "Matt Moore" and "Jimmy Clausen" have officially been declared synonyms for the word "catastrophe."

    Cincinnati Bengals-2-7: Chad Ochocinco's boys would be hard pressed to get to even cinco wins, let alone ocho.

    Dallas Cowboys-2-7: If I see in the news come January "Jon Kitna Turns Cowboys Season Around, Earn Wildcard Spot at 9-7," I'll eat Alex Barron's jock strap.

    Detroit Lions-2-7: I'll bet if you told Lions fans a week before the season started that they would have the same record as the Cowboys by Week 10, they would have squealed with delight.

    Cleveland Browns-3-6: They have shown terrific improvement in recent weeks, and if they had pulled off a win this week it may have kept them from this slide.

    Minnesota Vikings-3-6: Brett Favre is already looking for an escape plan with an MRI on tap for his ailing shoulder.

The 'FC Westers

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    This here is a special group for those bottom of the barrel teams who are lucky enough to reside in the western quadrant of the country.

    If it weren't for geography, these guys would be out of the playoff race hands-down. Fortunately for them, they play in a division in which the leader is 5-4, and can easily be caught.

    Don't be surprised if one of these teams wins a few games and is instantly tied for first in its division.

    Denver Broncos-3-6: The least likely of the bunch, they have to climb over a surging Chargers team, a Kansas City team who is a monster at home, and a good team in Oakland. It almost feels like a sin to mention the words "good" and "Oakland" in the same sentence, unless the the sentence is "Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis is always good for a laugh come draft day."

    Contender or pretender? Pretender.

    Arizona Cardinals-3-6: The Cardinals rank near the bottom of the league in nearly every imaginable statistical category. They have done next to nothing better than their opponent this season. I am impressed that they have won a game.

    Contender or pretender? I say pretender, but with the amount of crazy in this team, and season altogether, they will probably win the Super Bowl.

    San Francisco 49ers-3-6: Sitting only two games behind Seattle and a home game left against the Seahawks, they have every chance of getting to the top of the NFC West. That, partnered with the fact that Frank Gore is still a great running back and Troy Smith is looking damned impressive quarterbacking this team, gives them a high ceiling for the rest of the season.

    Contender or pretender? Contender.

Houston Texans 4-5

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    The Texans opened the season with a punch to the nose of one of the best teams of the past decade, and looked like they would be the surprise team of the season.

    It seemed as if their high-powered offense, headlined by gunslinging Matt Schaub and the emerging Arian Foster would be enough to overcome their defense.

    Alas, they have been unable to keep teams out of the end zone as of late, losing three in a row, two of which were to divisional opponents.

    They gave up a combined 90 points in those three games.

    Contender or pretender? Pretender. They have run out of gas, and are pushing the car to the nearest station. Unfortunately, it is still miles away.

San Diego Chargers 4-5

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    Right on cue, the Chargers have dispatched their terrible start to get right back into the thick of the playoff race in the AFC West.

    San Diego baffled everyone by being one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the country, but running its record to 2-5 just a few weeks ago.

    Now the Chargers are on the right track, with wins against Houston and Tennessee in the past three weeks, and had the favorable late season bye week to get everyone back and healthy in preparation for a schedule that looks favorable, despite a trip to Indianapolis in a few weeks.

    Contender or pretender? As usual, the Chargers are an early-season pretender, late-season contender.

St. Louis Rams 4-5

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    Rookie quarterbacks have tended to do quite well in the past few seasons, with both Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan making the playoffs with their teams in 2008, and Ben Roethlisberger stepping in and going 13-0 with the Steelers back in 2004.

    The bad news, however, is the rest of the season is not favorable to young Sam Bradford and his Rams.

    The team is winless on the road, and has four of its last seven games on the road.

    The Rams also have the trouble of playing the soaring Atlanta Falcons this weekend at home, a game that they will have great difficulty winning.

    Contender or pretender? Pretender, but if they beat Atlanta, I may have to rethink things.

Wasington Redskins 4-5

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    The Redskins almost had me fooled that they were something more than just an average team.

    After laying a Volvo-sized egg at home against Philadelphia on Monday night, however, I think I can say for sure that average is their ceiling for the year.

    Their head coach is questioning the quarterback, and there is turbulence in many parts of their locker room.

    While they are a huge improvement over what they were a year ago, they are still not going to break into the top third of the league this season, and may have a few more years before that happens.

Jacksonville Jaguars 5-4

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    With David Garrard finally heating up and looking capable of taking this team farther than it seemed he would be able to at the beginning of the season, the Jaguars are looking to show the league that they mean business.

    They are as hot as any team in the league right now, but their schedule is not going to be easy the rest of the way.

    Two of their last three home games are ones that once seemed easily winnable, but now are not so easy. They host the Browns this weekend, who are out to shake off their AFC North whipping-boy role, and the Raiders the second week of December, who somehow look very good.

    That, along with games against the Giants, Titans, Colts, Redskins and Texans remaining, and the Jaguars have one of the toughest final six weeks. But if Garrard stays hot, it's not impossible.

    Contender or pretender? Contender.

Kansas City Cheifs 5-4

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    Kansas City is sitting tied for first in the AFC West, and seem to be fading fast.

    The Chiefs have lost games to divisional opponents two weeks in a row now, against Oakland in overtime last week, and lost in a drubbing at the hands of Denver this week.

    They have a quarterback who is improving, but remains unreliable and inconsistent, but have one of the best running games in the league with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones sharing carries.

    They are, however, a horribly streaky team, and are in the midst of a very bad streak right now, and will have to work hard to claw out of it.

    Contender or pretender? Pretender.

Oakland Raiders 5-4

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    Quite frankly, the Oakland Raiders are boggling my mind.

    They have taken a quarterback who looked as if he couldn't live up to NFL quarterback standards in Washington, a running back who seemingly was unable to live up to his own hype, started the season slow, and rebounded now to 5-4 with three straight wins.

    In the first two seasons of his career, Darren McFadden had one game of more than 100 yards rushing, his second game of his career with 164 yards.

    This season, he has four 100 yard games, including a 165 yarder and a 145 yarder, along with two more games in which he just missed 100 with 95 and 89 yards.

    Next you're gonna tell me that Al Davis is secretly a genius.

    Contender or pretender? Contender, and by golly it feels odd to write that.

Seattle Seahawks 5-4

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    Another thoroughly confusing team.

    The Seahawks are like the Cardinals, in that they don't do anything particularly well, but they are unlike the Cardinals because they actually look like a good football team when they are doing it.

    They are able to manage a game well, with veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and have a decent running attack that can get the job done when necessary.

    Plus, they are hanging out in the NFC West, so...

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

Tennessee Titans 5-4

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    They have a formidable defense and an excellent running game as long as Chris Johnson is involved, but their quarterback situation is uncomfortable at best.

    The constant wavering between Vince Young and Kerry Collins has made it so the passing game can find no rhythm, leaving it ranked ahead of only the Panthers in yards per game.

    They also have a daunting schedule the rest of the way, with contests against the Colts twice, the Texans twice, and the Jaguars once.

    Contenders or pretenders? Pretenders. The quarterback situation is just too much to overcome.

Miami Dolphins 5-4

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    If they played the rest of their games on the road, in which they are 4-1, then I would give them a much better chance.

    Their defense is good enough to keep them in games, but when they play truly good teams, they just can't pull it off.

    Their four losses have come to teams that have, at some point during the season, been considered the best in the league, with losses coming to the Jets, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens.

    With games against both emerging teams, and established teams still to play--they play Chicago this weekend, followed by Oakland, Cleveland, NY Jets, and then a season finale in New England, where there is sure to be two feet of snow--the rest of the season looks uncertain at best for Miami.

    Contenders or pretenders? Pretenders. Sorry dawg.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-3

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    Tampa Bay is a team that has become amazing at winning winnable games.

    The Buccaneers' losses have come to Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Atlanta, while they have beaten Cleveland, Carolina, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Arizona, and Carolina.

    While every game they have won haven't been cupcake games, they also haven't been extraordinarily difficult games either.

    They are poised for a breakout in the coming years, and should very well make the playoffs this season, but their Super Bowl hopes are almost non-existant.

    From here on out, most of the teams on the coming slides will be obvious playoff contenders, so the answer to the contender/pretender question will be whether they are contenders or pretenders when it comes to their chances of making the Super Bowl.

    Contender or pretender? Pretender.

Philadelphia Eagles 6-3

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    If I were to explain the word dominance to someone who had never heard the word before in their life, I would simply show them Michael Vick against the Washington Redskins on Monday night. The dude was magnificent.

    The Eagles showed on Monday night that they can be an absolutely dominating team, and have a killer mentality.

    We are quite possibly witnessing one of the most well-rounded Michael Vicks ever, and he has easily resurrected his career with this season.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

Pittsburgh Steelers 6-3

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    This is one of those teams which could play defense for the whole game and still have a good chance to win.

    Ben Roethlisberger is clearly getting back into stride, despite the team's loss against the Patriots on Sunday, when it had a rare game of less-than-stellar defense.

    The Steelers have a cake walk the rest of the way to the playoffs, with the only real question left being whether they will beat out the Ravens for the AFC North title or take a wild card spot.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders

Green Bay Packers 6-3

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    The Packers are making the faithful in Green Bay easily forget about that guy who was their quarterback for 15 years.

    They are getting the clutch performance experience that is needed come playoff time, as they have played in six games where the final score was less than a touchdown in differential.

    The Packers have lost three games, but those three games have been by a combined nine points, and two of them were on field goals in overtime.

    They have a tough road still ahead of them, but they appear to be the favorites in the NFC North race and look to rack up some more big-game experience with games left against Atlanta, New England, NY Giants and Chicago.

    Contender or pretender? Contender.

Chicago Bears 6-3

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    The Bears are one of the most surprising teams this season, by far.

    A season ago they finished with only seven wins, and they are only a win away from matching that total already.

    They seemed to have too many question marks.

    Jay Cutler has been inconsistent, Matt Forte is a good running back, but not great, they have no terrific deep threat, and their receivers are either too young, or just average receivers.

    However, they still have that cornerstone of the team, that consistently great Chicago defense.

    Nonetheless, it is not a defense great enough to carry them to a Super Bowl berth.

    Contenders or pretenders? Pretenders.

Indianapolis Colts 6-3

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    Peyton Manning has been Peyton Manning.

    That alone sums up the Colts season, and is the reason that they are sitting at 6-3.

    Luckily for Indy, their third worst run defense has been masked by a pretty good pass defense, and a majestic offense.

    They have put up points with ease, and Peyton Manning has had his best year in zeroing in on an opponent's weakness and exploiting it.

    He continues to make obscure receivers excellent, and is able to get by with a mediocre Joseph Addai as his running back.

    Peyton is putting together yet another MVP-type season.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

New Orleans Saints 6-3

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    The defending champions have been on a tear since losing to the Browns two weeks ago.

    They defeated the defensive monster in Pittsburgh, and is one of three teams to score 20 against them this season, and then they went on to dismantle the Panthers.

    They have a relatively easy month ahead of them, and then are given a three-week tuneup for the playoffs with games against Baltimore, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

    At one point, it looked like the champs had no chance of getting back to the peak and defending their title this year, but now I wouldn't bet against them.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

Baltimore Ravens 6-3

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    The Ravens are seemingly unbeatable at home, as they have only given up more than 17 points in the state of Maryland once this season.

    Quarterback Joe Flacco is putting up another season that shows he is mature beyond his years, and looks poised and calmer than ever throwing out of the pocket.

    They will be locked in a fierce battle for supremacy in the AFC North with the Steelers, and when they play in two weeks, we could see one of the hardest-hitting games in recent memory.

    The last time the two teams met, Baltimore won 17-14 in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger. This time it will be in Baltimore, with everyone, hopefully, healthy.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

New York Giants 6-3

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    A game looming a week from Sunday against Philadelphia will likely be the deciding factor in this NFC East race.

    Eli Manning is putting together one of his most productive seasons ever, the Giants' running game is immaculate, and their defense is downright nasty.

    The surprising slip up against Dallas on Sunday has many questioning the Giants, but it looks as though that game was a mere blip on the way to a fine season, and, as New Yorkers hope, a deep playoff run.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

New England Patriots 7-2

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    Another year, another season of Bill Belichick's team at the top of the NFL.

    Like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady is taking young, unproven receivers, giving them confidence and making them good football players.

    Little Danny Woodhead is one of the most exciting players in the NFL to watch, Deion Branch is picking up where he left off in New England, and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are looking like grizzled vets on the field.

    They have one of the best divisional races in the NFL going with the Jets right now, and both teams should be looking at playoff spots easily so long as their seasons continue they way they have started.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

Atlanta Falcons 7-2

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    The Falcons are a surprise to be atop the NFC South, but not a surprise to be a good team.

    The whole team is maturing ahead of schedule, with Matt Ryan being extremely efficient, Jason Snelling emerging as one of the best second-option running backs in the game, and Roddy White absolutely tearing up d-backs.

    With creampuff games left against Carolina twice in the final month of the season, the team should roll nicely into the playoffs with the chance of grabbing a first-round bye.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

New York Jets 7-2

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    This Jets team is absolutely dominating opponents regardless of where it plays.

    The Jets are 5-0 on the road, and their two home losses are by a combined 10 points.

    Rex Ryan has put together a team that is fast, strong, mean, smart, and tricky. I hate to say it, but he seems to be a genius.

    The only thing the big guy has to worry about from week to week right now is how to out-do himself at each successive press conference.

    The success of the Jets and Giants has the city of New York salivating over the idea of an all-New York Super Bowl.

    Contenders or pretenders? Contenders.

NFC Playoff Predictions

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    NFC East-New York Giants

    NFC North-Green Bay Packers

    NFC South-Atlanta Falcons

    NFC West-San Francisco 49ers (eenie meenie miney mo would probably work better than trying to analyze the NFC West, though)

    Wild Cards-New Orleans Saints & Philadelphia Eagles

    NFC Champion-Green Bay Packers

AFC Playoff Predictions

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    AFC East-New England Patriots

    AFC North-Pittsburgh Steelers

    AFC South-Indianapolis Colts

    AFC West-San Diego Chargers

    Wild Cards-Baltimore Ravens & New York Jets

    AFC Champions-New York Jets