Pretenders:

Atlanta Falcons (10-1)- When coach Mike Smith took over the Atlanta Falcons, running the football was the key to their initial success. Signing Michael Turner away from San Diego allowed the Falcons, despite a shaky offensive line and rookie QB from Boston College to start building a winner. Soon, 300 plus carry seasons were the norm for Turner who seemingly allowed Atlanta to set and forget their running back position for years.

Well it seems like the flames have finally went out on Michael “the Burner” Turner. Turner, after a career 1585 carries in 9 seasons (a majority coming in the last five seasons) has only three carries for over 20 yards this year, with two of those in the first few weeks.

There has been two direct results of the Falcons being woefully under-prepared for their 29 year old running back falling apart. First, QB Matt Ryan, who was always known for his ability to take what the defense gives him and call the game accordingly (game manager), Atlanta now has Ryan playing like he’s leading the 2007 Patriots. In 11 games, Ryan is averaging 39 pass attempts per game (4 more than his career high), he has 3,425 passing yards (3rd highest of his career), and his 429 pass attempts is more then he threw in 16 games in 2008 and 14 game in 2009.  Ryan has also been sacked 21 times this season (4 off his career high), his offensive line does not have a ton of overly athletic players and was not built to drop back 40-50 times a game. Teams like the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers have defensive ends that will make life very difficult on Atlanta’s tackles come playoff time.

Secondly, the Falcons have begun more and more to rely on the diminutive Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers will forever be remembered by college football fans for when he ran all over the Southern Cal team with four NFL linebackers and the Trojans had no answer for him. But putting your faith in a player who’s 5’6, 196 pounds without Barry Sanders speed can be a scary proposition.

Atlanta has also had the luxury of having one of the easier schedules in the league. The Falcons have wins over KC, Denver (Peyton had half an arm at the time), SD, Carolina, Dallas, Oakland, Philly, Arizona, Washington, and Tampa Bay. They really struggled for wins against ‘Zona, Oakland and Dallas. Their one loss came against the New Orleans Saints (31-27 in New Orleans), who have a replacement head coach! With upcoming games against the Saints again, the Giants, and Tampa it’s entirely possible the Falcons lose three of the next five games and lose their bye week and are playing on wild card weekend.

Chicago Bears (8-3)- Da Bears are another team that have been getting a lot of help from their schedule this season. Their only win against a playoff team came in Week One versus Indy (Andrew Luck was making his first career start). All the other games versus playoff teams against Houston, Green Bay and San Francisco, the Bears barely made it interesting.

If Matt Forte has to miss any significant amount of time, Chicago is in serious trouble. Putting more pressure on Jay Cutler and the 32nd ranked passing offense just simply is not an option. Cutler has some how been held to eye popping 177.2 yards per game. In the era of the 5,000 yard passers are the norm, Cutler has somehow erased all memory of playing with any receiver not named Brandon Marshall, targeting Marshall 124 times to the next Bears receiver in Earl Bennett’s 40.

If there was ever an outlier stat that shows the inmates are running the asylum, this is it! I don’t think there’s a coach out there that would go in to the season thinking “If i can get my receiver the ball 300 times, despite constant double teams and the opposition knowing our quarterback doesn’t go anywhere else, we’re gonna win this thing baby!”. Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman have more interceptions for touchdowns (5) than Earl Bennett, Devin Hestor and Kellen Davis have receiving touchdowns (4).

The teams that make the playoffs are the ones that don’t turn the ball over often. Expecting the Bears defense to create those same opportunities in the playoffs will be much harder to come by. If the Bears have to play from behind, teams are going to double down on Marshall and force Cutler to throw to players he either has no trust in or has a real disdain for.

The Bears offensive line has allowed Cutler to get sacked 26 times already, missing a start and parts of games already, they haven’t done a good job protecting the quarterback and we have seen teams like Houston (13-6) and San Fran (32-7) grind Chicago’s offense to a halt. Don’t have faith in Chicago, I mean there quarterback barely does.

Indianapolis Colts (7-4)- Every season usually has some story about a tragedy that happens in one of the organizations that bands them together and putting trivial personal achievements aside for a bigger goal. See saw this a few seasons ago in Cinncy, when defensive coordinators Mike Zimmer’s wife passed away and Cinncy played all out for a grieving coach.  Another example, how the passing of Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s wife helped bring both sides together to end the lockout last year. Sometimes a tragedy can put thing in prospective for a greater good.

This is clearly the case going on in Indy. Colts coach Chuck Pagano has given his team a reason beyond playing personal accolades and try to bring joy to a man that had to fight for his life. Having the a quarterback mature beyond his years has helped a bit too. The Colts are 7-4 despite giving up 273 points against and only scoring 230 points.

Next week they play Detroit, which is a game that could go either way, same with the Titans game, then probably lose to Houston. After the next three weeks they could be sitting at 8-6 or 7-7 then play KC and probably Houston’s second unit to lock up the wild card at 9-7 or 10-6.

The love affair with Andrew Luck will be in full force wild card weekend, where every analyst will be none stop hammering his story on us, turning the Colts into a title contender rather then what they’re, a team that never thought they’d be in this position and lacking experience in a lot of important positions. Indy will have to play either in Baltimore, In Denver versus Peyton Manning and all the drama that goes with that or in New England who dropped 59 on them two weeks ago. Don’t buy into Indy being this season New York Giants as all the talking heads will want you to believe.

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