Tak’s Take: NFL Football

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The 91st season of the National Football League is in full swing by now and after five weeks of bone-crunching play; the identities of each team are beginning to take form.  Although the race for the playoffs is as tight as it has been in a long time (1970 was the last season that no NFL squad started the year undefeated through at least four games) the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders.  However, as it is sometimes in the NFL, the contenders are not always the ones that you would suspect.

AFC East

The AFC East division is one of the few that has panned out as expected so far this season.  The New York Jets became the darlings of the media over the summer with big-name acquisitions, big-name holdouts and a large amount of confidence for a team that was not notable last season until their postseason run to the conference title game.  But they have lived up to their potential, winning four of their first five and only losing to equally confident Baltimore.  A now Randy Moss-less New England Patriots showed they can still play without the superstar receiver (no catches in a 41-14 victory over Miami).  But an early-season loss to the Jets puts the defending division champs behind the eight-ball. 

AFC North

The AFC North currently contains a talented 4-1 Baltimore Ravens team that many experts predicted to go far in the playoffs as well as a Pittsburgh Steelers team that was able to go 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger due to impressive play of an always-tough defense.  Even though Pittsburgh is coming off a loss to the Ravens, Ben’s return will make a big impact on how opposing teams play defense against a team with several weapons.  The rematch between Baltimore and Pittsburgh in Week 13 will be an important game to deciding the division.

AFC South

After defeating the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, the Houston Texans looked like they were finally ready to win the division title that many projected them to win.  But two lack-luster performances against the Cowboys and the Giants have put the Texans at 3-2, with all of the other teams in the division.  But their two out-of-conference losses are less significant than the two losses that Indianapolis suffered against teams in their own division.  Each week, two of these teams look great and two do not.  But overall the Colts and the Texans are more talented teams than the Titans and the Jaguars.  The first two should be able to pull away from the others and their Monday night rematch in Week 8 should yield the favorite for the division title.

AFC West

Who would have thought that the Chiefs would be the last undefeated team in the NFL?  Maybe two people in Kansas City.  But now people are jumping on the bandwagon of the hottest team in this awful division.  The Raiders, Chargers, and the Broncos are all tied at 2-3.  The Chargers are undoubtedly the most disappointing team in the AFC; but I think they will somehow find their stride like they do every year.  Philip Rivers is leading the league in passing yards, so they should start winning when their defense gets consistent.  The loss of star receiver Vincent Jackson is really hurting.  However, I am still not ready to drink the Kansas City Kool Aid just yet.  I like what Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis are doing there (can’t believe I just said that), but they will be overtaken eventually by San Diego.

To get my insight on the NFC divisions and early-season playoff predictions go to highpostonline.com.

NFC East

This division has been completely flipped upside-down.  The Dallas Cowboys were predicted by many analysts to have a 14-win season, without the baggage and drama caused by Terrell Owens, and roll their way to the Super Bowl in their home stadium.  Instead, at 1-3, the Cowboys will be fighting for their playoff lives for the remainder of the season now that they are in the cellar of a tough division that has three other teams that are all over .500.  One of those teams are the Washington Redskins who, fresh off a horrible 4-win season last year, have already beat the Cowboys this season, as well as the Philadelphia Eagles and the talented Green Bay Packers.  This division is up for grabs by all teams except Dallas, who refuse to attempt to establish the running game, even though they have capable running backs.  At this point however, the New York Giants and quarterback Eli Manning are getting in a good groove.  They are my favorites to win the division.

NFC North

Brett Favre, Randy Moss, and the revamped offense of the Vikings are another surprising 1-3 team.  The chemistry in the passing game has been poor, resulting in teams being able to key in on the run and stop Adrian Peterson.  The Chicago Bears look god early in the season and were 3-0 until they ran until the hot defense of the New York Giants, but bounced back for a win against Carolina to improve to 4-1.  The Green Bay Packers are without their star running back Ryan Grant and are temporarily without their quarterback Aaron Rodgers due to injury.  Sitting at 3-2 right now, the Packers, projected to be the most talented team in this division, need to get healthy, but should be able to rebound to leap frog the Bears to the top of the division by the end of the year.

NFC South

The Atlanta Falcons look like they are the real deal.  After starting the year with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta has won four straight.  The offense, especially quarterback-wide receiver combo Matt Ryan and Roddy White is clicking right now.  On the flip side of the coin, the defending Super Bowl Champion, New Orleans Saints are struggling without running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas to bring defensive backs into the box to guard against the run to open up the passing game for Drew Brees.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are improved from last season’s 3-win season, but have had an easy schedule thus far and will fade as the opponents get more difficult.  When the Saints running backs return, they will be hard to stop but by then the Falcons will be far enough ahead that they may not be caught.  Week 16 holds a Monday night matchup between the two teams that could very well decide the division.

NFC West

The 2010 NFC West division may be the single worst division in NFL history.  The division is lead by the 3-2 Arizona Cardinals who have had trouble with quarterbacks (ex: Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson), but have recently found a slight spark in rookie Max Hall out of Brigham Young University.  The St. Louis Rams looked decent with fellow rookie Sam Bradford out of Oklahoma until his top two receivers, Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton went down due to injury. I still like the San Francisco 49ers and I think that they can come back from their 0-5 hole to contend for the division believe it or not, because the winner of this division could very well be 7-9, but Arizona’s win against New Orleans in Week 5 was impressive and they should be able to squeeze eight wins and a division title out of the season, even with a rookie quarterback.