The 2011 NFL season has been an amazing roller coaster ride. With passing records being broken, comeback wins occurring, injuries, and fantasy thrillers, we as fans can only hope for more of the same in upcoming weeks.
Yet after four weeks of football, there is a group of teams that have stood out the most. In particular, teams who have struggled to win games in the past. However, these teams have shown in 2011 that they can compete with the elites in the NFL.
Instead of ranking teams, the goal is to illustrate which teams have proven they are contenders in their respective divisions and can compete on a weekly basis.
The Detroit Lions should not be a surprise to anyone. At the end of the 2010 season, the Lions won four consecutive games.
This season the Lions seem to continue that pace with QB Matthew Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson, and the attacking offense the Lions have.
The Lions are 4-0 with seven remaining home games. If they continue to play with that offense, and the defense keeps improving, the Lions have a great chance in making the playoffs and competing in the NFC.
Although the Texans have had great success in the past, it is this year in which the opportunity has arisen. With the Indianapolis Colts struggling, the dominance in the AFC South is over and the division is wide open.
On Sunday the Texans demonstrate another step forward in being an elite team by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If RB Arian Foster returns to form as he did this past week and the team stays healthy, the Texans have a great shot at representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
The city of Buffalo should be excited. Perhaps the sleeper team in the NFL, the Bills have shown they are the real deal.
Coming back from two deficits, the Bills could have gone 4-0 if it weren't for the Cincinnati Bengals. However, going into Week 5, the Bills are clear contenders in the AFC East and may steal a Wildcard spot come January.
Although the schedule seems harsh, the Bills can have a great campaign in 2011 if they continue to run their offense.
Similar to the Texans, the Colts struggles without Peyton Manning has given the Titans a shot at winning the division.
If RB Chris Johnson can mimic his game from last year, the Titans hold a great balance on offense. The schedule seems fair for a great season and the match-ups against the Texans may determine who represents the AFC South in the playoffs.
Another surprising team in the NFL is the Washington Redskins. Who would have thought after four weeks that the Redskins would be tied for the division lead in the NFC East? Apparently QB Rex Grossman and the Washington fans did.
The team has shown that they can compete both at home and on the road by staying in games with their defense. Having a top 10 defense in allowing the fewest rushing and passing yards, the Redskins have the luxury of not scoring many points, and still having a chance to win games.
The Redskins do have a struggling schedule ahead having to face the AFC East and their division, but ultimately can stay in games for four quarters thanks to the much improved defense that coach Mike Shanahan has developed.
On Monday Night Football the Bucs showed that they are committed to running the ball with RB LaGarrette Blount as the focal point in their offense. At the same time, QB Josh Freeman is continuing to grow as an elite quarterback in this league and shows a lot of promise in the future for the fans in Tampa Bay.
If the Bucs can split their division games with the Saints and beat the Falcons one more time, then the team has a great shot at grabbing a Wildcard spot in the AFC.
Since the 2002 season, the Raiders have been a laughing stock in the NFL. Bad management has led the team to consecutive losing seasons. Yet, the 2011 season has brought life back to the Black Hole in Oakland.
With the number one rushing offense in the league, the Raiders have found a superstar in RB Darren McFadden that can carry the load. At the same time, QB Jason Campbell has rejuvenated his career with new head coach Hue Jackson by staying consistent and efficient in the offense.
With the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos struggling this season, it is clear that the Raiders are the only legitimate team in the AFC West to compete against the San Diego Chargers. Expect the Raiders to compete in 2011 and try to repeat the 6-0 record they had last year in the AFC West.
With new head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have shifted their ability to play close games and compete with little mistakes. At the same time, QB Alex Smith has enjoyed the coming of Harbaugh, showing great poise in the pocket and making good decisions.
In a division where any team has a shot to represent the NFC West, the 49ers are the clear favorites to reach the playoffs and compete against any elite team.
The Bengals have had a struggle in the AFC North over the years. However, last Sunday showed a promising future for Bengal fans when they beat the Buffalo Bills.
With QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green as the young prospects in the team, the Bengals demonstrated they are a team that can compete each week.
The Bengals hold a top three defense in passing yards allowed, while also having a top 10 defense in the run game. Although the schedule is harsh for the Bengals, the fans in Cincinnati must be excited for the seasons to come.
We all knew last year that the Carolina Panthers were bad. But did we ever expect that QB Cam Newton would make such a big difference? Apparently the owners for the Panthers did.
Not only has Newton brought excitement to Carolina but he is also showing his skills on the field. Yes the Panthers are 1-3, but sometimes stats and numbers do not tell the story. In fact the Panthers competed with the Packers and the Bears, which was quite a shocker.
If Newton continues to grow at this rate, the Panthers will have to be dealt with in upcoming seasons. As for now, teams who believe they would have an easy time with Carolina must consider how to stop Newton and his revived passing offensive.