NFL Contenders and Pretenders of Week 11

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIINovember 21, 2011

NFL Contenders and Pretenders of Week 11

0 of 6

    With Week 11 of the 2011 NFL season wrapping up, let's take a look at a few of this week's teams still in contention for the playoffs and sort out the contenders and pretenders.

    The Atlanta Falcons are one group still hanging on to playoff hopes, but they have a lot of teams to compete with for a wild-card berth.

    Which teams on the bubble will end up making the playoffs?

Contender: Oakland Raiders

1 of 6

    With a 27-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings today, the Oakland Raiders improved to 6-4 and are a game up on the Denver Broncos, who they split the season series with this season.

    Quarterback Carson Palmer finally seems to be shaking off the rust. He threw for just 174 yards and one touchdown against the Vikings, but he completed 17-of-23 passes and didn't throw a single interception.

    Michael Bush continues to drive the running game in the absence of Darren McFadden, and once the former Razorback returns, the offense will have an added dimension that could really make their offense dangerous.

    Now at 6-4, they are on top of a very weak division and have a great chance of finishing in first place.

Pretender: Denver Broncos

2 of 6

    Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos are making waves in the AFC West and, with the upset win over the New York Jets, are 5-5 and just one game behind the Oakland Raiders.

    Through Denver's first five games, nobody would have guessed they'd be in the playoff discussion at any point this season. But the Broncos are 4-1 under Tebow, who has been on fire lately.

    With that being said—and I hate to say this—the Broncos don't have much of a chance at winning the division.

    The Broncos simply aren't a great team yet, and the Oakland Raiders are playing very good football behind veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. Already a game ahead, I think the Raiders take this division.

    It's rarely smart to count out Tim Tebow, and I hope he proves me wrong, but I don't think the Broncos are a good enough overall team to pass up the Raiders in this division.

Contender: Dallas Cowboys

3 of 6

    I originally had the Dallas Cowboys as a pretender, but after examining their remaining schedule against the New York Giants' remaining schedule, I'm convinced the Cowboys have a very good chance at winning the division.

    The Cowboys are playing pretty good football right now. They had to beat the Washington Redskins in overtime and got lucky with a missed field goal, but considering the Dallas/Washington rivalry is almost always a good game, it's easy to give the 'Boys a pass.

    Dallas' remaining schedule includes the Miami Dolphins, the Arizona Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while New York's remaining schedule includes the New Orleans Saints, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets.

    If the 'Boys can split the season series with the Giants, they stand a good chance of finishing the season in first place.

Pretender: Cincinnati Bengals

4 of 6

    It pains me to list the 6-4 Cincinnati Bengals as pretenders, but they simply don't have the firepower to make the playoffs in arguably the toughest division in the NFL.

    Cincinnati is a very good team, and in any division other than their own and the NFC North, they would probably be squarely in contention for the playoffs.

    But in a division with the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, even a team as good as the Bengals don't stand much chance.

    Cincinnati had back-to-back, hard-fought, one-touchdown losses to the Steelers and the Ravens, and now, there's very little chance they end up in the playoffs.

Contender: Atlanta Falcons

5 of 6

    The Atlanta Falcons have had a somewhat disappointing season, and at 6-4, they don't seem to stand much of a chance at making the playoffs at first glance.

    However, a look at their remaining schedule makes their chances look much more real.

    Down the stretch, Atlanta plays games against the Minnesota Vikings, the Houston Texans (absent Matt Schaub), the Carolina Panthers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Win five of their last six, and they would be sitting at 11-5. 

    They have a lot of competition for the playoffs, but if Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner keep playing well, they still have a shot.

Pretender: San Diego Chargers

6 of 6

    The San Diego Chargers lost their fifth straight game this week to the Chicago Bears, and now that they are two games back on the Raiders, they will need both the Raiders and the Broncos to collapse.

    And that's only if they start winning games.

    Quarterback Philip Rivers continues to play some of the worst football of his career, and turnovers continue to doom a very talented team.

    A schedule that includes the Bills, Ravens and Lions doesn't help their cause. Don't expect to see the Chargers in the playoffs this year.