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NFL season is separated by contenders, pretenders

Opinion Column: The Morant

We are more than one-fourth of the way through the NFL season and still have six unbeaten teams: the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals. When you have so many undefeated teams, you wonder if they can keep up their great play and make a run in the playoffs? It’s hard to tell. The schedule really dictates where some of the teams are right now.

Let’s start with the pretenders on this list. By pretender, these are the teams I don’t count as Super Bowl contenders. The Carolina Panthers are pretenders. Cam Newton is a great quarterback, but the weapons around him are beyond lackluster with the exception of tight end Greg Olsen. Their offensive line is arguably the worst in the NFL, as is their receiving core. They can’t run the ball either. Why are they 4-0? Because they’ve played four of the worst teams in the NFL that have a combined 5-14 record. The schedule has been in their favor. With a tough schedule coming up though, they will fall back to reality.

The Atlanta Falcons have gotten off to a great start under new head coach Dan Quinn, but they too are pretenders. Devonta Freeman has been a great story dominating games, as has Julio Jones but once again, who have they played? They’ve played the entire “NFC Least” and the awful Texans. They will probably win the NFC South because their schedule is a joke but come playoffs, I can’t see their porous defense holding up with its lack of pass rush and impact on the field.

The Cincinnati Bengals look great out there especially after that comeback victory over the Seahawks last Sunday. They have one of the most talented rosters from top to bottom. The one issue I have is: Are we sold on Andy Dalton leading this team in the playoffs? The Bengals have made the playoffs for four straight seasons since Dalton entered the league, and they have lost every single one of those games. It’s definitely possible they end that streak but I don’t think I can see them making it much further. I’ve never been a fan of Marvin Lewis because I think he’s a mediocre coach and it reflects his team. I think that remains the case until he is gone.

Contenders time!

The reigning Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots will always be a contender so long as quarterback Tom Brady is on the field and head coach Bill Belichick is on the sidelines. Their defense took a huge hit this offseason losing Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner but with how this offense has been producing, all the defense needs to do is get stops. They aren’t in the same boat as the Broncos, where they have to be the difference maker. With the combination of wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski, along with the many other weapons at their disposal, it’s hard to stop a Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels run offense.

The Green Bay Packers were one onside kick recovery away from a Super Bowl last season. They went in to Seattle, a hard place to win, and dominated but unfortunately luck was on Seattle’s side. Before the regular season kicked off, they were dealt a huge blow when Jordy Nelson, one of the best receivers in the league tore his ACL in a preseason game. Luckily, they hit gold resigning James Jones after a year away in Oakland and they have arguably the best quarterback in the game, Aaron Rodgers — a genius at the helm. You put a wide receiver that can catch the ball and run the routes correctly, Rodgers will find him. The same can be said for Brady. Their defense is much improved, which they have going their way, and they are nearly unbeatable at Lambeau Field. With great coaching and a great quarterback, Green Bay is definitely a contender in the NFC.

The last team, the Denver Broncos, is a cautious contender for one simple reason, their defense. It’s not like most years where Peyton Manning kept this team competitive. The defense can rush the passer, cover well in the secondary and stop the run. That’s why they are the number one defense in the NFL and have single handedly played a huge role in winning all of Denver’s game, with only one game winning by double digits.

I never thought I would see the day where Peyton Manning was finished as a quarterback in the NFL, but that day has come. He has played horrendously all season. He has no zip on the ball and throws meatballs up in the air for anyone to catch. He’s even doing a poor job, not reading defenses. On top of that, the Broncos are the third worst running the ball in the NFL. A once dynamic offense is now a huge liability for this team. They’ll rely on the defense to take them to the promise land.

With 12 weeks of football left, there’s a whole lot that can change and I can’t wait to see the developments made. Buckle up.

Ryan Moran is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and economics. His column, “The Morant,” runs on alternate Fridays.

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