NFL's Three First-Place Teams That Will Struggle Down the Stretch
Disclaimer: The is my first article, so don't grill me too hard! Now on with the show!
The first team that I believe will start to falter down the stretch is the New York Giants. Looking at their schedule, they play one team that currently has a losing record, the Minnesota Vikings (that game is in Week 17, so the Vikings could be fighting for a playoff spot by then).
I believe the Giants have had a pretty soft schedule so far this season. The only teams that they have played with a winning record in their first seven games are the Redskins and Steelers. I think it's just a matter of time before Eli reverts back to his old self and starts throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.
Eli faces some tough defenses down the stretch, such as Dallas (twice), Philly (twice), Washington, Baltimore, Carolina, and Minnesota. In case you were wondering, all of those defenses are currently ranked in the top 10, and the only team the Giants play that don't have a top 10 defense is the Cardinals, who are No. 13.
Everyone knows how hard the NFC East is anyway, so given their schedule and the on-going Plax saga, wins will be much tougher for the Giants in the second half of the season.
Another NFC team that will struggle in the second half is the Chicago Bears. I guess I just don't trust Kyle Orton yet, and their defense is a little banged up. Before their bye last week, the Bears gave up 41 points to the Vikings!? Gus Frerotte threw for almost 300 yards and Adrian Peterson ran for over 120.
That's not quite the Bears defense that we're all used to seeing. The Bears' running game with Matt Forte also worries me a bit. Forte hasn't run for over 100 yards since opening day and has only reached over 75 yards three times since. I'm worried that he will hit the "rookie wall" like Adrian Peterson did last year down the stretch.
The Bears will need to Forte to pick up the slack when the weather starts getting cold and snowy in Chicago, so that all the pressure isn't on Kyle Orton. The other thing that worries me about the Bears is that they don't really have a No. 1, go-to WR.
Matt Forte is their leading receiver with 29 catches, followed by TE Greg Olsen and WR Rashied Davis with 22 each. I feel like opposing defenses will start to stack the box and make Orton try to beat them, and I just don't have confidence in their WRs to do it.
The last first-place team that I see struggling to stay at the top is the Denver Broncos. Everyone has heard about how bad the Broncos' defense has been so far, and it won't get any better with Champ and Boss Bailey both out (Boss Bailey is done for the season).
The Broncos rank 30th in the league in total defense, which forces Jay Cutler and the offense to constantly score 30 points a game to win. I just don't see the Broncos being able to do that every game with no real running threat.
I mean, who is the Broncos' RB from week-to-week? Is it Michael Pittman, Selvin Young, Ryan Torain, or maybe Andre Hall? With no constant running threat, it puts even more pressure on Cutler to go out and be almost perfect every time.
I believe that most teams will start doubling Brandon Marshall, making it harder for Cutler to get a rhythm going on offense and making the Broncos run the ball more with one of their four running backs.
I also believe that the Chargers will turn their season around in the second half and will make things difficult for the Broncos. The Broncos' last three games are @ Carolina, Buffalo, and @ San Diego. All three of those teams will be fighting for playoff spots, making it hard for the Broncos to stay in first come the end of the season.
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