By Steve Silverman
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The halfway point of the season has been reached by all NFL teams, and some have started the journey home.

You can look at the standings and get a pretty good read on the teams that are going to be in the playoffs at the conclusion of the year.

But several of those teams still have a lot to prove. If you are looking at teams like the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers and think they are going to roll the rest of the way, it’s time to think again.

They are flawed teams and they have quite a bit of company.

Take the Falcons. They are the best team in the league through the first half of the season and they have plenty to recommend, including wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. This could very well be the best wide receiver duo in the NFL.

Their quarterback is one of the leading Most Valuable Player candidates. But don’t bet on Matt Ryan completing the season the way he has started it.

This is not a criticism of Ryan. He’s got major offensive line problems. Ryan has been under the gun in at least four of the Falcons’ wins and head coach Mike Smith has been trying to find a protection scheme that keeps him protected. He’s not likely to find it. Todd McClure is a very solid blocker at the center position, and he is the line’s anchor.

However, both tackles are concerns. Sam Baker at left tackle and Tyson Clabo at right tackle are both vulnerable. You might be able to cover for one tackle with a weakness — but not two.

The Texans are clearly the best team in the AFC through the first half of the season. The AFC is the weaker conference, so Houston has a chance to make a long run. However, the Texans are not going to be able to hang with the likes of the Steelers, the Broncos and perhaps the Patriots once the season gets nasty.

The Texans don’t seem to have the viciousness needed to play rough in the big games. Nobody’s saying that the Steelers, Broncos and the best NFC teams break the rules on a regular basis, but there has to be a slew of players with the Neanderthal gene who enjoy inflicting pain.

The Texans don’t have that. They are skilled technicians and they are quality players, but there comes a point in important football games where you have to smash the other guy in the jaw.

The Steelers certainly have it and the Ravens used to, but the Texans don’t. J.J. Watt is a sacking and pass-deflecting monster. However, his teammates don’t support him with the requisite amount of mayhem.

The Giants are very familiar with the 49ers, having beaten them in their home stadium in last year’s NFC Championship and in Week 6 of this season.

The 49ers don’t have the quarterback to beat the best teams in the NFC. They play exceptional defense and Frank Gore is a sensational running back who will run over linebackers. However, Alex Smith is not the kind of quarterback who will win games.

The Giants will focus in on Gore and they won’t let him beat them. They will make Smith beat them with his arms. He is good enough to beat bad teams and mediocre teams. He is not good enough to beat the best teams.

The Ravens have lost their defensive mojo without Ray Lewis. The Bears still have much to prove with a substandard offensive line. The Patriots defend the pass like a high school team and the Cowboys have too much Jerry Jones.

The Giants are right where they need to be at the halfway point. The Packers are rounding into shape. The Steelers are getting better each week. The Broncos are the surprise team of the year.

One of those four teams are likely to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February. It takes a lot more than a good first half of the season to get there, and those are the teams capable of getting much better from this point forward.

Which teams do you think will end up looking more like pretenders than contenders when the season is over? Let us know in the comments section below…


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