Contenders, pretenders still a mystery

Posted Oct. 16, 2012 @ 11:46 a.m.
Posted By Hub Arkush

Normally as we head into Week Seven of an NFL regular season, we’re starting to get a pretty good idea of who the best teams in the league are. Recent history has shown that information bears little relevance to who the eventual Super Bowl champion might be — that’s all about the teams that get hot around Weeks 11, 12 or 13 — but it does give us a pretty good idea who the top seeds will be in the playoffs. This 2012 campaign, though, is different. Right now, I have no idea who’s for real and who the pretenders are.

The Texans are a very good football team, but after the pounding they took at home from the Packers, they still have quite a bit to learn. We will find out a lot more about them this Sunday as the Ravens come to town with a strong claim on the AFC’s No. 1 seed going to the winner of that game. But it’s also hard not to doubt Baltimore following season-ending injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb in Week Six and having seen how fortunate they have been in wins over New England and Dallas.

Is there anybody else in the AFC who scares/impresses you right now? I thought the Patriots were the best team in the AFC until they gave away another gift in Seattle last Sunday. The Pats should be 6-0 right now but they’re not, and at 3-3 due far more to their shortcomings than their opponents’ strengths, how can you trust them? I guess San Diego and Denver are the best of the rest right now and how sad is that?

Clearly the NFC is where the strength is this year and at 6-0, it seems the Falcons are the best team in the NFL today, but do we really believe it? Over the past three weeks Atlanta has tried hard to lose to Carolina, Washington and Oakland in that order, but has not gotten the job done. Atlanta’s six opponents are a combined 12-22, and not one has posted a winning record through Week Six. However, with only Philadelphia at 3-3 and the Giants and Cardinals above .500 of their remaining 10 opponents, it’s hard not to imagine the Falcons being the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

My instinct after this past weekend is that the defending world-champion Giants are the best team in the NFL right now after their pasting of the 49ers. While they laid an egg on opening night at home against Dallas, their only other loss was at Philadelphia in an extremely hard-fought and well–played game that could have gone either way, and they didn’t just beat the 49ers in a game I thought they couldn’t win; they buried them.

I was convinced San Francisco was the best team in the league until last Sunday, and they still very well might be the best come playoff time, but following the embarrassment to the Giants, like Lucy, Jim Harbaugh and the fellas have a lot of explainin’ to do. I love them on paper but you have to wonder how they completely disappear every once in a while.

The Bears are impressive at 4-1, particularly with their newfound offensive explosiveness. But in their four wins over the Colts, Rams, Cowboys and Jaguars (a combined record of 8-13), they were less than average in the first half against all but Dallas and their one loss to Green Bay was a real stinker. It won’t get much harder for a while with Detroit, Carolina and Tennessee up next, so we will just have to wait and see on them.

Unlike the AFC, there is at least some real depth in the NFC. It’s impossible to ignore the Packers after their thrashing of Houston, and it’s just too early to write off the Eagles and Lions. The Seahawks are a puzzle because as good as their defense is, they clearly didn’t beat the Packers and with the potential short TD pass to a wide-open receiver that Cam Newton turfed at the end of that game, and the field goal that Tom Brady gave away at the end of the first half Sunday, the ’Hawks probably should be 1-5.

I can say confidently that the Vikings and Cardinals do not fit with the rest of these NFC clubs.

About the only thing I am relatively certain of is my preseason AFC Super Bowl pick, the Chiefs, should probably be thinking about next year.