NFL Pretenders Emerge in Week 10

Jordan Plaut and Albert Raminfard

Without a doubt, the beginning of the 2011 NFL season was extremely excit­ing. We saw a lot of interesting changes throughout the league, specifically the re­shaping of a few teams that have struggled in recent years. Obviously, it was great to see teams that have been non-factors for so long breakout and make something of themselves. Now, after more than half the season has passed, the majority of those teams that looked as though they were making strides to win their division handily have totally self-destructed.

The Buffalo Bills are a primary exam­ple of that exact type of collapse. Unfor­tunately for the Bills, the playoff picture is starting to look quite bleak. Their divi­sion is one of the toughest in the NFL, and the fact that the AFC North is just as competitive means that the wild card would be a tough catch. I don’t see the Bills going anywhere further than the Jets, Ravens or Bengals, and they most certainly won’t win the division. So, in the end, the 2011 Bills found some hope for the future, but this season is probably a lost cause.

The Detroit Lions are in a very simi­lar boat. The crushing loss to the Chicago Bears, unlike the dominant performance from the last time they met up, put the increasing weaknesses of this team on full display. The Lions lack consistency in the running game and in their secondary, areas where few teams can afford to struggle. These are huge issues since any lead they might potentially have is at risk when other teams can throw the ball and stop the run. They also have similar prob­lems to the Bills as they play in a very tough division, and face a very competi­tive wild card battle between them and at least three other teams.

Still, there are a few teams that are beginning to impress me by establishing themselves as legitimate contenders. One team that comes to mind is the Cinci­natti Bengals, who have been criticized for having a great record purely because of their easy schedule. This week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, Mar­vin Lewis’s squad showed that it can stay on par with an elite team. They played a hard-fought, competitive game and kept themselves in a decent position to win the whole way. I was surprised and happy to see this historically awful team take sig­nificant strides and progress, even in a tough loss.

Another team that is on a clear upswing is Dallas. The Cowboys have been playing great football in every facet of the game. Their offense has found a new dimension with inspired running from DeMarco Murray, and their pass game has become much more explosive because of it. Tight end Jason Witten has hit his stride and the defense is making clutch stops. With an incredibly favorable schedule over the next few weeks, look for the Cowboys to at least gain a share of the NFC East lead with the New York Giants. This is how the Cowboys have been expecting to play for the past few seasons, so their time may now finally be here.

While it is true that most fans would be happy to see the underdog Bills and Lions finally elevate themselves in their respective conferences, it doesn’t look too hopeful. Well, at least it doesn’t look good for this season. With quarterbacks who look like solid options going forward, these teams may very well be powerhouses in a few short years. One of them might just surprise everyone and make a run in 2011, but if I was a Lions or Bills fan, I would not hold my breath. Follow the Red Wings and Sabres in the mean time.

As for the Bengals and Cowboys, teams that have been disappointing and underperforming for the past few sea­sons, these teams could easily find them­selves in the postseason if their level of play remains consistent. Andy Dalton has exceeded any and all expectations and Tony Romo has played like an elite quarteraback. These guys are for real.

Contact Albert Raminfard at [email protected]

Contact Jordan Plaut at [email protected]