The 5 Biggest Pretenders in the NFL
Every NFL season, a number of teams shoot out of the gates as unstoppable forces. Fans, writers and analysts alike quickly jump the bandwagon, hyping their every move. Before long, they are at the bottom of the standings where they belong.
This season is no different, showcasing some of the most surprising turnarounds in a long time.
Teams who have spent time as the worst of the worst for years—such as the Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, and San Francisco 49ers—are suddenly the cream of the crop.
Soon, many of the teams hovering around playoff contention will start to fall off, proving themselves to be nothing more than pretenders playing above their heads. Here’s a look at the five biggest pretenders in the NFL right now.
Division Rank: Second in the AFC North
The Cincinnati Bengals have surprised a lot of people with their play this season, especially that of rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. The defense has been something to boast, but the schedule they have played thus far certainly is not.
With their biggest victory being a 23-20 nail-biter against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4, there is still a long road in front of the Bengals. That road includes four games against two of the best defensive teams in the league—the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals will continue with some good success during the season, but the holes in their offense will show down the line.
Those holes will force them to head home early. There will not be playoff football in Cincinnati this season.
Division Rank: First in the AFC East
The Buffalo Bills currently sit atop the AFC East. Though they are far from the best team in the division, let alone the state of New York.
Despite thrashing the Washington Redskins this past Sunday and their surprisingly impressive record, the Bills are not who they appear to be. Their test this Sunday vs. the New York Jets will show that to be true.
The Bills field an impressive running game—and that’s it. As good as Ryan Fitzpatrick has been, the Bills’ pass attack is nothing to gloat about.
Their 27-24 loss against the New York Giants revealed an alarming amount of concerns—chiefly on the defensive side of the ball—that are certain to appear in forthcoming games against the Jets, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots in the final week of the season.
The Buffalo Bills are much better than they have been in years, but they’re still not good enough for a playoff birth—yet.
San Diego Chargers
Division Rank: Tied for first in AFC West
They have struggled early, but the San Diego Chargers are still in playoff contention.
With an elite QB and a usually stout defense, the Chargers were an easy pick to win the AFC West for many. They have yet to play as such. Despite this, the Chargers boast a 4-3 record.
The Chargers are arguably one of the best teams in the NFL year in and year out. But not this year. With the disappearance of Antonio Gates in the offense, quarterback Philip Rivers has looked sub-par in comparison to past seasons.
The defense has faltered and the Chargers have succumbed to defeat in consecutive collapses against the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.
Don't forget a near-collapse against the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos, too.
The Chargers appear to be on the ropes and with games against the Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens and defending-champion Green Bay Packers, the Chargers are primed for a knockout.
Division Rank: Second in AFC South
The Tennessee Titans have been a pleasant surprise this 2011 season.
After a few seasons, it appeared the longtime Seattle Seahawks QB, Matt Hasselbeck’s career was finished. This season, it appears Hasselbeck has revived his career with efficient and effective play for the Titans.
But how long can that last?
As long as Chris Johnson continues to struggle to make a positive impact in the running game, it is hard to believe in the Tennessee Titans. Johnson, one of the best backs in the league, appears to be a shell of his former self, rushing for a career-low 2.8 yards per carry on the season.
Hasselbeck has been able to carry the offense, but sooner or later Hasselbeck’s solid play is going to need a run game to aid it. Right now that just seems unlikely.
Add one of the NFL’s worst defenses (17th vs. the pass, 24th vs. the run) and a schedule only the New York Giants can envy, and it doesn’t look like a pretty finish for the Tennessee Titans.
Division Rank: Second in the NFC North
It appears everyone is buying into the shockingly—though not so shockingly—good Detroit Lions. Don’t.
There’s no doubting how outstanding the Detroit Lions have looked on both sides of the ball. Ndamukong Suh is a quarterback’s worst nightmare. Calvin Johnson is quarterback Matthew Stafford’s dream.
The Lions have quickly evolved into an exciting highlight reel that NFL fans cannot take their eyes off of. Their two losses have come in close games against good teams. So what’s the gripe?
Whether the league wishes to believe it or not, the NFL still relies heavily on the run for success. The Detroit Lions are inept in the run game on both sides of the ball.
Running back Jahvid Best started out hot, but his second concussion in two months has his future in doubt. Maurice Morris has been a good No. 2 to Best, but he’s not the man to carry the whole load for the Lions.
The Lions’ passing attack can certainly light up the scoreboard, but with much of their remaining schedule boasting some of the NFL’s premier pass defenses, Stafford’s going to need some help from his running backs and O-line if he wishes to lead the Lions to the playoffs.
Detroit’s 30th-ranked run defense does not foretell a promising future for the Lions either.
Every single remaining game on the Lions’ schedule, outside of the San Diego Chargers, presents at least one dangerous rushing threat. The Lions will need to tighten up on the 137.6 yards per game they have allowed on the ground thus far or it could be a long second half.
For the first time in years, the Detroit Lions are good. They are fun to watch and put a lot of talent on the field. Unfortunately, the Lions still are not quite there.
Maybe next year, Detroit.