Every year, there are surprise teams that fans want to know if they are the real deal. The teams that can contend fro the Super Bowl are labeled contenders and teams that won't are labeled pretenders.
Using the NFL Power Rankings Week 6 by Brian Levenson, this article will go through the top 10 teams from that article and break down whether they are a pretender or contender. The question whether the Lions and Bills for real will be answered, along with eight other top 10 teams.
Will your favorite team be a pretender or contender?
The Chargers are currently 4-1 and sit alone atop the AFC West Division. Their passing offense is ranked sixth in the league, and their pass defense is ranked second in the league.
Although the statistics look good for the Chargers, let's look at it a bit deeper. The Chargers four wins come against teams with a combined record of 4-15, with three of them coming at home. All four wins are by 10 points or less and three of them within seven.
The Chargers also have not scored over 30 points on the season and looked very sloppy against New England in Week 2 in a 14-point loss despite having 470 yards of total offense.
Verdict: Pretender. After a wonderful year last year, Phillip Rivers is struggling against poor competition. He has a TD-INT ratio of 6-7, and come January, the Chargers won't have enough running ability to beat the AFC elites.
The Houston Texans are tied for first place in the AFC South with the Titans at 3-2. The Texans only losses come at the hands of fellow top ten teams, New Orleans and Oakland. Both games were extremely competitive, with the Texans losing by seven or less in both contests.
Don't forget that Houston was missing five-time Pro Bowl wideout Andre Johnson for the Oakland game and missing last year's leading rusher, Arian Foster, in the game against New Orleans.
Verdict: Contender. Houston ranks in the top 12 for passing yards, rushing yards, opponent's passing yards and opponent's rushing yards per game. Once Andre Johnson returns and the Texans get Arian Foster on the field more, look out. The Texans have a great run game and an exceptional quarterback, as well a a strong defense that can be a force in January and into February.
First in the NFC West with a 4-1 record, the San Fransisco 49ers are on fire right now. The Niners are coming of a 48-3 drubbing of the Buccaneers and are winners of three straight. Their only loss is to Dallas in overtime, who many pick to win the NFC East.
Alex Smith is starting to play up to his potential, notching two straight weeks of a passer rating over 100. Although ranked 23rd against the pass, the Niners rushing defense is fourth in the league, led by Patrick Willis. The run offense is really starting to get on a roll, averaging 160.5 yards per game in their last two contests.
Verdict: Contenders. San Fransisco has all the tools for postseason success. They have a good offensive line and Pro Bowl running, along with arguably the best front seven in the NFL. Don't sleep on Alex Smith's abilities, either. If he catches fire, San Fransisco could be playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
The second place team in the AFC West is the Oakland Raiders, who hold a 3-2 record. Oakland has a combined opponents record of 8-2 in their losses and have two key wins over the Jets and Texans.
Run DMC (Darren McFadden) is tearing up opposing run defenses and leading the league in rushing yards. Darrius Heyward Bey is starting to play like a top 10 draft pick, while Jason Campbell is proving to be a serviceable quarterback in the NFL.
Verdict: Pretender. Although the Raiders have the leading rusher and key wins against the Jets and Texans, the defense is a liability (29th against the pass, 22nd against the run). Against the Bills, the Raiders got exposed ,and the Patriots exploited it weeks later. Jason Campbell is not good enough for the Raiders to go deep into the playoffs, but the Raiders are on the right track.
The Bills are currently tied for first place in the AFC East at 4-1, but they hold the tiebreaker against the Patriots. The Bills have an opponents combined record of 10-10 in their wins and 3-2 in their only loss.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, or "The Amish Rifle," is great at recognising coverages and getting the ball out quickly, resulting in only four sacks through five games. Fred Jackson looks like a man among boys both rushing and running after the catch.
Verdict: Pretender. The Bills defense reminds me of the Patriots defense from a year ago. They both caused turnovers that led to their teams victories but gave up large mounts of yards. Like the Patriots a year ago, the Bills won't have enough defense to contend for a title despite a prolific offense.
Ray Rice is running strong and leads the ninth ranked rushing attack in the NFL. Joe Flacco isn't putting up the most prolific numbers, but he is doing enough while the defense stops opponents. The Ravens defense is ranked second against the run and ninth against the pass.
Prediction: Contender. Although the pass offense isn't the greatest, the Ravens run offense can take over playoff games. You know what they say, "Defense wins championships," and the Ravens have arguably the best defense in the league. With a dominating defense and exceptional run game, the Ravens have a great shot at the Super Bowl.
Currently 5-0 and tied atop the NFC North with the Green Bay Packers. As one of the surprise teams in the NFL, Detroit has a poor combined opponents' record of 10-14 and has had to make second-half comebacks against Dallas and Minnesota.
Matthew Stafford looks like a No. 1 overall pick and has kept healthy (yes, I knocked on wood, Lions fans). Also, Calvin Johnson is playing like the best receiver in the league, while the defensive line shreds opposing offensive lines.
Verdict: Pretender. The Cardiac Kids can't last forever. The Lions have started a bad trend of getting behind early in games. This is especially frightening because they have an inexperienced team that had 12 penalties on Monday. The Lions are yet to play a premier offense or defense, let alone a premier team. If the Lions go down by two scores against a contender, I don't think Matt Stafford has the experience to lead his team back.
The Saints are once again alone atop the NFC South with a 4-1 record. Their only loss is to Green Bay (5-0), and it was by eight due to a failed goal line run as time expired.
Drew Brees is once again playing like "DREW BREES!", and the Saints have another prolific offense under Sean Payton. New addition Darren Sproles has been a great fit in the offense, which is clicking better than ever.
Verdict: Contender. New Orleans has a team similar to their 2009 title team. The Saints have a great offense but that is not why they are a contender. Their defense is middle of the pack but is very serviceable. They are capable of getting the stops needed to get the offense the ball to win, just like in 2009.
The New England Patriots are tied for the AFC East, although the Bills currently hold the tiebreaker against them. Their only loss is to Buffalo and but hold key wins against the Jets and Raiders.
Tom Brady is having another MVP season, and most of his targets go to Wes Welker, who is one of the most dependable receivers in the NFL. Vince Wilfork has two interceptions while still reaping havoc on interior offensive linemen.
Verdict: Contender. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are together, the Patriots are going to contend for Super Bowls. The Patriots defense showed great strides by holding the Jets to a 3-for-11 conversion rate on third down.
The offensive line is better than ever with the additions of Brian Waters and standout rookie right tackle Nate Solder. The real bonus is that the Patriots have gotten more balanced leading to the breakout of Benjarvus Green-Ellis the "factor back" in the Patriots sixth ranked rushing attack.
The Green Bay Packers are tied with the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North. Winners of their last 11 games, including the postseason, the Packers look unstoppable right now.
Aaron Rodgers is playing like the best quarterback in the NFL. He throws deadly accurate passes about as accurately as anybody in the league. Although they have the 30th ranked pass defense, the defense's ability was on display in Atlanta when they held the Falcons to zero second half points.
Verdict: Contender. Even the most radical sports writers wouldn't call the Packers pretenders. Eleven games in a row and no signs of stopping, the Packers are poised for another title run. The Packers are second against the run, and although 22nd in rushing, James Starks will be hard to bring down in January. The Packers and Aaron Rodgers are very difficult to beat and are my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.