NFL Contenders and Pretenders of Week 8

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIOctober 31, 2011

NFL Contenders and Pretenders of Week 8

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    As the eighth week of the 2011 NFL season comes down the home stretch, we'll look at six victors who could still make the playoffs and decide whether they are true contenders or just pretenders.

    The Cincinnati Bengals, the Buffalo Bills, the Baltimore Ravens, the Detroit Lions, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tennessee Titans all won today and are on the playoff bubble, but which teams are contenders and which are pretenders?

    Keep reading to find out.

Contender: Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions smashed the Denver Broncos 45-10 today, and they looked like playoff contenders doing it.

    At 6-2, they are still in good position to get the wild card bid despite playing second fiddle to the undefeated Green Bay Packers.

    Quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson have one of the best hookups in the NFL, and the salty Lions defense, led by Ndamukong Suh, will keep them in any and every game.

    Once Jahvid Best returns from a concussion, the Lions should get a boost in the running game, which seems to be their biggest weakness. This team will be hard to beat from here on out.

Pretender: Tennessee Titans

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    The Tennessee Titans' 27-10 win over the lowly Indianapolis Colts helped alleviate the pain from a 41-7 beating by the Houston Texans a week ago, and at 4-3, they are still alive in the playoff race.

    However, the loss to the division rival Texans dealt a serious blow to hopes that were once quite significant.

    The Titans are having big-time problems in the running game. Chris Johnson continues to toil in mediocrity after signing a contract fit for a king, and while Javon Ringer provides the team a steady option, they lack the big play threat from Johnson that practically replaced the deep passing game when he was actually motivated.

    It's pretty easy to see Matt Hasselbeck wear down as the season goes on, too, so after the big loss to Houston, Tennessee doesn't have much chance at the playoffs outside of a Texans mega-collapse.

Contender: Buffalo Bills

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    Despite being in the same conference as the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills have a very legitimate shot at winning their division.

    Once you get done wetting yourself from laughter, consider that after this week's games, the Bills have the lead in the division and still have teams such as the Miami Dolphins (twice), the Denver Broncos, the Dallas Cowboys, the San Diego Chargers and the Tennessee Titans on their schedule.

    If their defense continues to play well and their offense keeps putting up points like they have been, it wouldn't be crazy to see the Bills make the playoffs, even as a wild card.

Pretender: Philadelphia Eagles

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    With a big win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles did themselves a huge favor in their quest for the playoffs. Now at 3-4, the Eagles are in the thick of a very wide-open division.

    However, when it's all said and done, I don't think this team will be able to recover from their 1-4 start.

    The Eagles wouldn't have to go undefeated to win the division, but they'd have to get pretty darn close, and at this point I don't think they will do that.

    They still have a lot of questions to answer in the trenches and on defense in general. I see the New York Giants winning their division, and a wild card berth isn't a very good possibility.

Contender: Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens, who had a big comeback to beat the Arizona Cardinals 30-27 after being down 24-6 at halftime, have to be considered a contender.

    The Ravens own a win over division rival Pittsburgh, and their 5-2 record puts them in good position to make the playoffs one way or another.

    Baltimore has to get more consistent offensively and avoid costly losses like the one that came at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, but the comeback win may have given this team some confidence and life.

    Expect Ray Rice and the Ravens to be in the thick of it until the very end.

Pretender: Cincinnati Bengals

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    At 5-2, the Cincinnati Bengals are a dark horse playoff contender in a division that also features the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.

    For that reason, though, I have to think that the Bengals are pretenders.

    Cincinnati has had a great season so far, and rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green have developed a very nice rapport that was on display today in the Bengals' 34-12 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

    But I just don't think Cincinnati has any shot at upending both Baltimore and Pittsburgh for the division. Andy Dalton is going to be a good one and the Bengals are playing very well defensively, but the Ravens and the Steelers are going to make Cincinnati a pretender by default.