Week six is fast approaching, and with some big games coming up, the league is starting to separate the contenders from the pretenders. There are plenty of teams that have played what I refer to as “over their heads” for the first five weeks, and there are some teams that I still think despite somewhat slow starts, are going to get hot in the last 10 weeks of the season and make a run at the playoffs. I still think as well we are going to see some teams start to tweak the roster and get some players in and out of the lineup that are going to make an impact in the second half of the season. Here are some teams that I think are going to come crashing down to earth here as we start already to look ahead to the halfway point of the 2006 season:
Baltimore (4-1) – Despite getting off to a fast start, I think the clock is going to strike midnight for the Ravens before too long. Things started to get shaky three weeks ago when they had to rally for 12 fourth quarter points to beat the Browns. Steve McNair is starting to show some wear as well, throwing three picks on Monday night. With the next six games against the Panthers, Saints, Bengals, Titans, Falcons and Steelers on tap, we’ll see fast if this team is for real.
New Orleans (4-1) – This team has become America’s sweetheart, and rightfully so based on what it had to endure last season. Despite that, I think that life is about to get tough for the Cinderella Saints. Their schedule over the next few weeks is highlighted by a visit from the Eagles, then one from the Ravens, followed by roadies to Tampa and Pittsburgh. Then a trip from the Bengals on 11/19 before going to Atlanta. They are playing a lot of young players, and one has to wonder if fatigue is going to become a factor before too long. They also just lost rookie safety Roman Harper for the season with a torn ACL.
Indianapolis (5-0) – I realize that most of you are saying WHAT?! as you read this, but hear me out before you come to any conclusions about this years version of the Colts. While this team is sitting at 5-0, and the offense is averaging 27 points a game, I still think there are some chinks in the armor that is going to catch up with this team if they don’t start to get some things corrected. First off, what Super Bowl contender allows 166 yards per game rushing, and wins in January? Not many. Actually – none. The defense, which was a strong point through most of 2005, has taken a step backwards this year. With no Corey Simon, the team is allowing 325 yards per game, 20 points per contest, and way too many yards on the ground. They survived scares from the Jets and Titans, but will need much better efforts to get past the Redskins, at Denver, at New England, at Dallas and Philly in six of the next seven weeks.
Now for some teams that I think are going to make some noise after a slow start:
Kansas City (2-2) – They began the season 0-2, but Damon Huard has begun to get more steady with the offense, and despite the scary injury to Larry Johnson, he should be well enough to play this week at Pittsburgh. After they head to Pittsburgh, they host the Chargers and Seahawks, two tough games but with both at home, winnable games. Their last five games are at Cleveland, vs Baltimore, at SD, at Oakland and vs Jacksonville. I think if the cards fall right, they could still end the year 10-6.
Washington (2-3) – The Redskins survived the injury to Clinton Portis, and have won two of three to erase an early 0-2 start. Problem is they are 0-2 in the NFC East, and have to start playing better in their division. The offense is taking shape, averaging 132 yards on the ground and 330 overall. The defense has got to improve though, as they are still allowing over 235 yards per game in the air. They have a shot to be in the race with three straight at home 11/26 through 12/10.
Carolina (3-2) – This is a no-brainer based on the fact the team has taken an 0-2 start and already is 3-2 with no signs of slowing down. Think Steve Smith isn’t valuable to this team? How about 0-2 without him – 3-0 with him. The offense still needs to pick it up a bit, but are in good hands as long as Smith is healthy and Jake Delhomme (4 TD’s – 1 interception) stays up and on his feet. They have a tough next three games at Baltimore and at Cincy, followed by a Sunday night visit from T.O. and the Cowboys.