Friday, October 22, 2010

Sleeping Giants of the NFL + Week 7 Picks

Some teams can't be counted out just yet...

Sometimes teams start off the year looking great - even unbeatable. Yet, a lot can change in an NFL season. A perfect example is last year's Denver Broncos. About this time last year, Denver was being viewed as one of the most dangerous teams in the league. After handedly beating division rival San Diego 34-23 on October 19th, the Broncos were undefeated heading into their bye week. Yet after that week off, the Broncos went 2-8 for the rest of the season - finishing 8-8. All the while, the Chargers never lost another game.

It just goes to show, no lead is safe in the NFL, whether on the scoreboard or within the division. Teams that look hot now may be out of the playoff discussion a month later. Similarly, there are some teams being dismissed right now that could be one of the best teams in the NFL come December.

Here are two teams that are last in their divisions that could be at the top of them in Week 17...

The San Diego Chargers (2-4):
It's hard to understand why there are still some who doubt the Chargers at this point of the season. Obviously, their 2-4 record is alarming and they're tied for last in the AFC West. Yet, history teaches us that their early season struggles are not the sign of an impending decline but rather it's just how the team seems to prefer to do things.

The Chargers have struggled in September and October in every single season under Norv Turner. In 2009 they started 2-3, in 2008 they started 3-5 and in 2007 they started 3-3. Yet every one of those years they ended up making the playoffs.

Last week's loss to the Rams was obviously a big surprise, in fact so have all their losses. The Chargers have yet to face an elite team this year. Based on the level they played at the end of last season, they should be rolling through the sub-par teams they've faced. But, while going through these early season slumps, the Chargers have been vulnerable to just about anyone. In 2008, they lost to the horrendous Bills 23-14. In 2007, they were embarrassed at home 30-16 by a Kansas City team that ended up winning only 4 games.

The major concern with the Chargers this year could be their injury report. To name a few - Malcolm Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Antonio Gates and Ryan Matthews are all hurting. However, none of the injuries are season ending and I'd still expect the Chargers to bounce back soon.

In the past four seasons they've turned it on right about the last week of October. So, Chargers fans shouldn't panic if they lose to the Patriots this week and head into Halloween at 2-5. If that is the case, I wouldn't be surprised to see them still finish 10-6 or even 11-5.

San Diego may not be at the top of the list as far as records go but they do hold the lead in nearly every statistical category. They currently lead the league in total offense (432.7 yds/g), passing offense (316.2 yds/g), total defense (255.2 yds/g), and passing defense (163.7 yds/g). It's evident watching them play that they are a top-tier team, yet they've somehow struggled to get victories.

The Chargers have lost their games mainly because of poor special teams play and costly turnovers. Both problems are fixable and their schedule should give them some breathing room to improve those areas.

After the Patriots, the best teams the Chargers will face are the Titans and Texans (both vulnerable) and the Colts (who they've historically dominated). San Diego isn't a stranger to winning streaks either. Just last year, after losing to the Broncos in week 6 they didn't lose another game until the post-season.

This team may be sleeping right now, but they usually wake up soon. When they do, expect some big results.

The San Francisco 49ers (1-5):
The 49ers were a popular pick to take the NFC West this year - more by default than anything else. With Kurt Warner gone from Arizona, the division was ripe for the taking. With so much talent on their roster, San Fransisco was seen as having the best opportunity to take advantage.

Unfortunately for the Niners, players like Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Patrick Willis haven't been enough to get the 49ers more than one win at this point. The team that once looked primed to dominate their division now find themselves in dead last.

It's been surprising but not completely shocking. There may be plenty of high draft picks on the team but they've got some big question marks at the two most important positions - Coach and Quarterback.

However, despite their struggles the 49ers still have a decent chance to make a run at the division. In my pre-season predictions, I had the 49ers being 3-3 at this point of the season. While it's not quite as awful as 1-5, it's not exactly great either.

With the parity in the NFC West, an 8-8 or even 7-9 record could win it. The 49ers have already faced the toughest part of their schedule and it only gets easier for them from here on out. Aside from games against Green Bay and San Diego, their upcoming slate is filled with winnable games. They face two of the three teams that appeared in my Worst Teams in the NFL column, one of which (Arizona) they'll see twice. I could envision the 49ers going 7-3 over this stretch, putting them at 8-8.

The 49ers need to wake up quickly but there's plenty of time for them to rise from first to last.

Wondering what team will make like the '09 Denver Broncos and fade away as the season goes on? Check back for a "Contenders and Pretenders" piece soon...

Week 7 Picks:
Bengals over Falcons (13-10)
Steelers over Dolphins (24-12)
Ravens over Bills (28-3)
Chiefs over Jaguars (21-6)
Saints over Browns (32-17)
Redskins over Bears (20-14)
49ers over Panthers (27-16)
Buccaneers over Rams (17-13)
Titans over Eagles (20-19)
Seahawks over Cardinals (35-10)
Patriots over Chargers (27-14)
Broncos over Raiders (45-12)
Vikings over Packers (31-28)
Dallas over Giants (27-21)

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