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NFL Contenders and Pretenders of Week 13

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIDecember 5, 2011

NFL Contenders and Pretenders of Week 13

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    As Week 13 of the 2011 NFL season winds down and things heat up as the playoffs draw near, let's take a look at this week's contenders and pretenders.

    All 10 of the teams on this list are still in the thick of the playoff race, but based on their current play and the outlook of their remaining schedules, some of them have much better playoff chances than others.

    Here are Week 13's playoff contenders and pretenders.

Contender: New York Giants

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    Despite the New York Giants' measly 6-6 record, they are still in contention for the playoffs.

    The Giants looked surprisingly good against the undefeated Green Bay Packers today, fighting all the way to the end before succumbing 38-35.

    It's hard to ask a defense to stop Aaron Rodgers and all those receivers, and the offense was able to keep it close all game anyway. Fortunately, the Dallas Cowboys gave the Giants a break by dropping a game to the Arizona Cardinals this week.

    The Giants have had a tough stretch of schedule, and the rest of their games seem winnable. If they can beat the Cowboys next week, things will get very interesting in that division.

Contender: Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons suffered a tough, 17-10 loss to the Houston Texans this week, but because of Chicago's and Detroit's recent struggles, they still have a legitimate shot at one of the NFC wild-card slots.

    Atlanta has three very winnable games and one more shot at the New Orleans Saints, who beat them by a field goal in overtime the last time they met.

    The Falcons have a very realistic shot at finishing 10-6, which might still be enough to sneak into the playoffs.

Contender: New York Jets

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    After improving to 7-5 this week with a 34-19 win over the Washington Redskins, the New York Jets are contenders by default.

    This game was much closer than the final score for most of the game, but with the way their schedule sets up, they have a better shot at sneaking into the second AFC wild-card spot than the Bengals, Titans or Raiders, which are the other three teams contending.

    The Jets play the Chiefs, Eagles, Giants and Dolphins, and if they can win three of those games, you have to think they would make the playoffs.

Contender: Denver Broncos

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    Tim Tebow keeps starting, and the Denver Broncos keep winning.

    Today it was another close one, a 35-32 win over a Minnesota Vikings team that is better than their 2-10 record suggests. Denver's defense did not play nearly as well as they have been for the last few weeks, but Tebow and running back Willis McGahee tore up the Vikings to keep the game close.

    Tebow keeps getting better, and with the exception of New England, the rest of the schedule looks doable. Now that they are tied for the lead in the division, they have the upper hand against Oakland, who has a tough remaining schedule.

Contender: Dallas Cowboys

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    Despite Dallas' painful loss to the Arizona Cardinals, they still sit at 7-5 and on top of the division.

    The Cowboys have two games against the Giants coming up, along with games against the Eagles and the Buccaneers. If the 'Boys can keep from collapsing yet again, they still have the upper hand on the Giants for the division crown.

    If the Cowboys split the two games with the Giants, chances are they would still finish in first.

Contender: Detroit Lions

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    The Detroit Lions have dropped five of their last seven games after starting 5-0, but they still have a good shot at the playoffs because of the way their schedule plays out.

    The Lions get very winnable games against the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers before attempting to redeem themselves against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17.

    The Lions played New Orleans tough despite losing 31-17, and if they can get out of their funk, they have a great chance at finishing 10-6.

Pretender: Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders' playoff chances took a huge hit with their 34-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins this week.

    Coupled with the Denver Broncos' dramatic win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Raiders suddenly don't have a good playoff outlook. Now sitting tied with Denver at 7-5, the Raiders have a tough schedule that includes the Packers and the Lions over the next two weeks.

    If the Raiders don't upset one of those teams, they don't have much chance at winning the division.

Pretender: Tennessee Titans

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    I hate to list the Titans as pretenders, but even after topping the Buffalo Bills to improve to 7-5 this week, the Titans' schedule does not set up well for them.

    Next week the Titans have to take on the New Orleans Saints (who have been playing lights out lately), and after games against the Colts and the Jaguars (both of which should be wins), the Titans have to take on the Texans in Week 17, a team that beat them to a pulp (41-7) the last time they played.

    Granted, the Texans had Matt Schaub in that game and Chris Johnson wasn't playing as well as he is now, but it's tough to see the Titans slipping in ahead of the Jets.

Pretender: Chicago Bears

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    It's crazy to think that the Chicago Bears are pretenders just two weeks after overtaking the Detroit Lions as a wild-card favorite. Losing starting quarterback Jay Cutler might have had something to do with that.

    Backup Caleb Hanie has played not played well in Cutler's place, but he really hasn't gotten much help from his receivers either. To make matters worse, star running back Matt Forte injured his knee in a 10-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

    The Bears have to travel to Denver to take on the Broncos next week and have Green Bay two weeks after that, sandwiched in between Seattle and Minnesota.

    Things do not look good for the once-promising Bears.

Pretender: Cincinnati Bengals

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    I had the Cincinnati Bengals as contenders last week, but after their 35-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, it's tough to see them making the playoffs this year.

    The rest of Cincinnati's schedule includes the Texans and Ravens, as well as an Arizona team that beat the Cowboys today.

    If Cincinnati upsets the Texans next week, things will get interesting for this team. But for now, they don't have a very good playoff outlook.

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