By Steve Silverman
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Part of the reason for the NFL’s popularity is the ability for many teams to climb the ladder quickly.
Look at the Indianapolis Colts, who appeared to be headed to a long, downward cycle when Peyton Manning couldn’t play last year because of his neck injury.
The Colts fell to the bottom of the league, ended up with the No. 1 draft choice and they selected a quarterback in Andrew Luck who was able to step in and play right away at a high level.
Luck and a new coaching staff have helped the Colts become playoff contenders as the season hits the homestretch.
What also helps the Colts is that the best teams in the league at this point in the season are good – but not great.
The dominant teams in the league have all but disappeared. Every team has a weakness or two and that allows any team that is .500 or better at this point the opportunity to make a legitimate run at the postseason.
Here’s a look at the weaknesses of several of the teams that have the best chance of making a run at the Super Bowl this season.
Houston – The Texans continue to win nearly every week and they rank among the league’s elite on both sides of the ball. However, while Matt Schaub can carry the team when he has to – he threw for 527 yards and five touchdowns vs. Jacksonville in Week 11 – the default mode for the Texans is conservative football. This creates the wrong mindset when they play upper-echelon teams in the playoffs. The Texans could put themselves at a major disadvantage when playing explosive offensive teams with that mindset as they fall behind and are forced to play catch-up football.
New York Giants – Anyone watching the Giants over the last month of the season knows that Eli Manning has not been throwing the ball the way he can when he is on his game. The best clutch quarterback in the NFL has looked ordinary and confused. The other issue is a defensive line that is loaded with talent has not performed as expected this season.
Atlanta – The Falcons have surged to the top of the NFC North this year, but few scouts think this team will continue to have an easy time. They have one of the best quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and outstanding wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, but the Falcons have holes on their offensive line. How are the Falcons going to hold off teams with outstanding pass rushers? They couldn’t in Week 11 vs. the Cardinals and it will only get worse against contenders.
New England – Give credit to New England for bringing in cornerback Aqib Talib and changing their personnel in the secondary. Earlier in the season, the Patriots’ pass coverage was the worst in football. They are somewhat better now, but they still have little chance of holding down the league’s better receivers.
Baltimore – The Ravens have had one of the league’s most intimidating defenses for years and the offense has struggled to keep up. The offense stepped up last year and is even better this year with Joe Flacco throwing the ball downfield with ease. However, the signature defense is vulnerable against the run and the pass defense has been ordinary.
San Francisco – Despite their loss to the Giants, the 49ers probably have been the best team in the NFL to this point. However, head coach Jim Harbaugh has started a quarterback controversy by giving the starting position to Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith after one good game. Yes, that was a gutsy move, but was there enough evidence to say Kaepernick was good enough to become the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl contender?
Chicago – The Bears have had a remarkable season on the defensive side of the ball, but the 49ers pushed them all over the field in Week 11. The Bears defense excels at taking the ball away and scoring on those plays, but when they don’t do that, they appear vulnerable. The offense has not hit its stride when Jay Cutler is in the lineup and it is awful when he cannot play. The offensive line has at least three major holes.
Green Bay – The Packers are the most one-dimensional team in the league. They probably can handle it because Aaron Rodgers is so talented at throwing the football, but the Packers have no credible threat running the football. While establishing a high-powered passing attack is one of the big keys to winning in the NFL, you handicap that part of your game when you can’t run at all. The Packers can’t run.
Denver - The Broncos have been one of the best stories in the league this year and Peyton Manning has been consistent every week. However, the Broncos offense suffered a major blow when Willis McGahee suffered a knee injury. He gives the Broncos incredible toughness and they will be tested severely without him.
Pittsburgh – The Steelers would have been near the top of this list if Ben Roethlisberger was healthy. However, they are down to their No. 3 quarterback and that’s not going to allow them to have a real shot against the better teams in the league.
What do you think is the biggest weakness of all these teams listed? Share your thoughts below.