The Westfield Voice

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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

NFL: The Legit Contenders

The NFL season has passed Week 9 and every team has playedat least 8 games. It has become clear who is out of the picture (Raiders,Giants, Browns, etc.) But the best part of the season is just getting started.It is time to see who the legit contenders for the Super Bowl really are overthis eight week stretch.

  1. New Orleans Saints (7-1)

The Saints ended the Rams hopes for a perfect season and have now usurped them as the best team in football. This offense is flat out explosive. They have Top 5 players at the wide receiver, running back, and the quarterback position. Michael Thomas has become a superstar and people need to start realizing how good he is. On 79 targets this season he has 70 receptions. The man is a force to be reckoned with, and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees cannot get enough of him. Second year back, Alvin Kamara, is lethal as receiver and very problematic on handoffs. With the third most touchdowns in football this year, Kamara’s dynamic play does not go unnoticed. Of course, the legendary Brees continues to be special leading the league in completion percentage and also has a TD to INT ratio of 18:1. Throw in the fact he has been sacked the least amongst starting quarterbacks, and this offense is unstoppable. The defense isn’t anything to brag about as they are 27th in scoring but they seem to step up when needed. Add in head coach Sean Payton’s ingenuity and you have the best team in football.

2. New England Patriots (7-2)

People believe the Kansas City Chiefs are the best team in the AFC mainly due to one of the best offenses in the NFL, but the second you take your eyes off the boys from Foxborough is when you get yourself in trouble. The Brady and Belichick duo have dealt with worse in their time and as long as they’re together, they should be the favorites. Brady is playing great and the addition of Josh Gordon for a fifth rounder is looking better and better by the day. Captain James White continues to put up historic numbers for receiving backs and rookie Sony Michel was crushing it up until his injury. Once he returns, along with Gronk, this offense will be the best in football from a personnel standpoint. It also helps when you’ve got the NFL’s #11 ranked scoring defense, that is also improving by the week. The secondary has been great this year led by star cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the McCourty twins, and Duron Harmon. Trey Flowers and Dont’a Hightower lead the front seven which has gotten some great play from Lawrence Guy and Kyle Van Noy as well. This team has won 6 in a row and people can keep sleeping on them, but that is when they hit you hardest.

3. Los Angeles Rams (8-1)

The Rams perfect season ended in New Orleans following a poor defensive showing by what was one of the top 10 defenses in the league before the game. This team will continue to dominate their weak division and the rest of their schedule. Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers are three-headed monster that no team wants to deal with on the defensive line. The offense is also not too shabby. They have MVP candidate and the NFL’s leading touchdown machine Todd Gurley, who has now scored a TD in 12 straight games dating back to last year. Gurley alone should make an offense elite, but the receiving core is also one of the best in the league. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are good receivers but they’re relationship with the young Jared Goff makes them special. The addition of deep threat Brandin Cooks has been seamless as he has put up 757 yards receiving along with 3 TDs. Sean McVay’s has a star studded offense and Wade Phillips has great talent on the line and the secondary. The Rams are still one of the best in the sport, but this week’s loss to New Orleans shows their vulnerability and that the veteran combination of Drew Brees and Sean Payton will be too much for the younger duo of Jared Goff and Sean McVay.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)

Side note to start: Cards on the table, I’m not sold on Patrick Mahomes. We keep hearing that he is the new face of the NFL and he’s elite and what not. I’m not taking anything away from him this season but we have seen this story in more than a dozen ways over the past decade (see Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Andy Dalton, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr,  Blake Bortles, and Carson Wentz). I don’t see why he is an exception to this trend of young quarterbacks who have MVP seasons, promising seasons, or they have a string of playoff wins. He could be different but I expect more of the same trend. I think he’ll be good but not in the same breath as Brees, Brady, and Rodgers.

With that said, this kid is balling this year. He leads the NFL in touchdowns, granted he has some of the best playmakers in the sport, and this offense is dynamic. Kareem Hunt has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, scoring 13 touchdowns so far. Tyreek Hill is the most explosive receiver in football right now and Kelce has been the best tight end in football this season. Yet, this team has some serious concerns on the defensive side of the ball that need to be addressed. They have allowed the second most yards per game in the league this year. They will get Eric Berry and Justin Houston back which will certainly help, but Andy Reid has never had a ton of playoff success, making only one Super Bowl Appearance and is 11-13 overall in the postseason. This offense is special but the defense is alarming. I usually try to be lenient with defenses, like the Saints, but this team has not really improved this year and they don’t seem to step up when it matters most. That is mostly due to the fact they are in a lot of blowout games, but the Patriots game is a good idea of what they show in close games. And come playoff time, they will be in close games.

The following teams are the teams to watch down the stretch of the season as they have not cemented themselves as legit contenders but they are absolutely in the mix.

Carolina Panthers (6-2)

Cam Newton is playing well and Christian McCaffrey is a yardage machine. Throw in the big play value of rookie DJ Moore and second year gadget Curtis Samuel, and there is a lot of surprises this team can show. They also have the best linebacker in the game, Luke Kuechly.

Los Angeles Chargers (6-2)

Philip Rivers has his best offensive weapons since his day with the great LaDainian Tomlinson. Melvin Gordon is not talked about enough and the wideout core of Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Mike Williams is fun to watch. The defense is stout and will improve with the addition of edge rusher Joey Bosa.

Houston Texans (6-3)

Winners of 6 in a row and looking to be the first 0-3 team to make it to the playoffs, the Houston Texans are hot. Deshaun Watson looks good, JJ Watt is back and better than ever, Jadeveon Clowney is balling in his final year of his contract, and DeAndre Hopkins is a Top 5 WR. They just added Demaryius Thomas to replace Will Fuller so watch out for Houston.

Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1)

They have the most complete roster in football. The injury bug hit them hard at the beginning of the year but they are gaining crucial pieces back down the stretch. Give Kirk Cousins a RB duo of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray and watch what happens. When shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes returns, this team won’t allow people to move the ball.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1)

This was an ugly start to the season but they are putting it together at the right time. The Le’Veon drama is almost over and James Conner has played very well in his absence. The defense is showing up too, ranking 12th in yards per game allowed. Big Ben and Antonio Brown are always problematic. Watch out for the Steelers.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)

The Eagles are not interesting this year. The defense is fine but the offense is boring. They added Golden Tate to a group of receivers that includes Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Zach Ertz. They do not have a running game because of the Ajayi injury, and Wentz has underperformed but this team is better than current division leader Washington.

Atlanta Falcons (4-4)

This team has no defense, they are riddled with injuries, and their superstar wide receiver has one touchdown on the year (he scored it last week). Yet, somehow Matt Ryan is making it work. He is playing great, Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith have stepped up in Devonta Freeman’s absence, and rookie Calvin Ridley is playing great too. Winners of three straight, this team could sneak in as a wildcard team.

The teams above are the teams to watch for but there are others who can still make the playoffs, I just do not see them competing like this group above. They have significant holes that cannot be ignored. Tennessee, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Seattle, Dallas, Washington, Green Bay, and Chicago are just not good enough comparatively speaking. Some of these will provide problems for the real playoff contenders, but their inconsistencies are now glaring problems such as weak QB play, injuries, lack of talent around a QB (GB and Seattle), or poor coaching.

My prediction for the end of the year, is that you will be seeing Brady and Brees finally meeting up for a Super Bowl. I believe it will be Patriots and Saints, with New England getting it’s 6th title.

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