Separating contenders from pretenders at the halfway point of NFL season

John
John Turner
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After last week’s games, the NFL has reached the halfway point in the season for most teams, and there appears to be a number of clubs in each conference that are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

There are also other teams that are solid, but really are just pretenders. Unless they can turn things around, these teams won’t be playing in New Orleans in February.

This week, The Freak will examine the AFC. The Texans, Broncos, Patriots and Steelers are the real contenders, with the Ravens, Colts and Chargers the pretenders. Here is the breakdown:

Houston will be tough, especially if they get home-field advantage inside its dome. Even if they don’t, they have the running game and the defence that can win outdoors. When you have a game-breaker on offence in Arian Foster and one on defence in JJ Watt, you have a good chance of being great.

Peyton Manning has made the Broncos a contender after a slow start. The Freak underestimated his skills at the beginning of the season, but he looks like he is getting better with every week. The Broncos should get at least one playoff game at Mile High, which is tough place for any visiting team.

Could it be another Tom Brady and Peyton Manning showdown in the playoffs? 

With Aaron Hernandez slowly getting healthy, and when you line him up with Gronk and Wes Welker, they are tough to stop. However, one Achilles’ heel could be the Pats’ offensive line that has trouble pass blocking on a consistent basis.

The Freak wasn’t sold on the Steelers (5-3) until they played the Giants last week, and dominated with the run game and shut down the Gmen’s aerial attack. If they can run the ball and play defence like that, they will be playing deep into January. We all know Big Ben can win the big games as well.

Pretenders

The Ravens (6-2) may be on top of the AFC North, but The Freak wouldn’t bet a nickel that quarterback Joe Flacco can win a game in a big spot. In the past, they could just win with their great D and Ray Rice. Baltimore’s D is just average at best, and teams have been moving the ball on them all season with ease. Not a good sign as things don’t look promising with all the injuries on defence.

Probably the most surprising team in the AFC is definitely the Colts (5-3) with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. With head coach Chuck Pagano battling cancer, the team has been inspired, which has been a great story. However, as good as Luck has played, he is still a rookie. If the Colts had a solid running game they might have a chance to make some noise, but they don’t. The Colts and Luck will find out that throwing the ball that much outside the dome is not conducive to winning at this point in his career.

This is usually the time of the season the Chargers (4-4) start getting hot. But with no weapons on the outside this season, quarterback Phillip Rivers is forcing the football. This usually results in bad plays. San Diego will end up .500 at best.

The Miami Dolphins (4-4) are also a surprise as rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has played very well. With a couple of breaks here and there, they could be 6-2. However, that being said, the Dolphins just don’t have the firepower to play with the top four teams in the AFC. Wide receivers Davone Bess and Brian Hartline don’t really strike any fear into any defences, so good teams can sit on the run and stop Reggie Bush.

Stat of the week

Luck broke Cam Newton’s NFL record for most passing yards by a rookie quarterback with 433 yards against the Dolphins.

Pet peeve of the week

If you listen to Troy Aikman every week on Fox, there are only two good quarterbacks in the NFC – Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo.

Coach Parcells’ quote of the week

“Just get to the dance and see what happens.”

The sure thing

The Pats are coming off a bye, which means the return of Aaron Hernandez and another weapon for Mr. Brady. The Bills are struggling to score points, and they will need a pile if they hope to have any chance. Won’t happen, take New England.

St. Louis got pounded across the pond in London, and now will have to travel across country to play the 49ers. Unfortunately for the Rams, the same result – 49ers pound the Rams.

It’s one of the worst Monday night games in a longtime – Kansas City visiting the Steelers. The Freak won’t bother staying up for this one, and recommends that you get a good night sleep as well. Pittsburgh destroys the Chiefs in a yawner.

Don’t mortgage the house picks

The Seahawks are tough at home, and really the Jets are not a good road team with Mark Sanchez leading the way. The only positive for the Jets in this game will be Tim Tebow getting a few more snaps, and almost leading them back for a win. Now the quarterback controversy begins – ‘Hawks win.

For the loser of the Cowboys and Eagles’ game, it will mean playing for jobs next season. The losing team will fall to 3-6 and all but out of the playoff race. This has been a disappointing season for both teams, but you have to think that the great pass rush of the Cowboys should eat up and spit out the awful Eagles’ offensive line. Dallas wins, and Mike Vick will try to wash off the imprint of the No. “94” from his jersey.

The Lions look like they have turned things around while the Vikings are going in the opposite direction. With Minny’s best playmaker, Percy Harvin, probably out for the game, the Lions will shut down AP and Detroit moves above .500.

Upset special

The Falcons didn’t look great against the Cowboys, and luckily they weren’t playing a strong offensive team. 

On the other hand, the Saints ran the ball well versus the Eagles, which really gave Drew Brees opportunities down the field. 

This game will be an old-fashioned shootout in the “Big Easy.”

This game means more for the Saints if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. They will be partying out on Bourbon Street celebrating the Saints’ upset win over the previously-undefeated Falcons.

Last week: 5-for-7.

Season: 42-for-63.

John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to ssidespartansfootball@yahoo.ca.

Organizations: Steelers, Ravens, Chargers Giants Miami Dolphins Cowboys Jets Vikings Big Easy

Geographic location: New Orleans, Houston, Mile High Big Ben San Diego London Kansas City Pittsburgh Dallas Detroit Bourbon Street Summerside

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