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The Weaknesses of the NFL's Elite

   by Al McMordie - 10/11/2006

We’ve played a third of the season and several NFL teams have emerged as frontrunners for the title. Some were expected to be very good (Colts, Patriots, Seahawks) while others have been surprises (Saints, Rams, Ravens). Here’s a look at some of the teams that have a good shot at winning the Super Bowl, yet there are weaknesses that need to be addressed, or opponents will look to exploit them.

Colts: Here they go again, off to another 5-0 start. Even without Edgerrin James, the offense is one of the top scoring teams in the league. They are a threat to go all the way in January, especially if they get home field advantage. However, one major weakness is run defense. Tony Dungy said before the season that they have gotten smaller and faster on defense. Which begs the question, how will they fare against power running teams? After all, the Steelers exploited that weakness in their 21-18 playoff upset.

Indy has a major flaw on the defensive line. They are allowing 167 yards rushing per game, second worst in the NFL. That was noticeable again on Sunday when, as an 18-point favorite, the Colts needed a fourth quarter rally to win 14-13. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher decided to play it safe by attacking the Colts' porous defense by running inside. By grinding out 214 yards rushing, Peyton Manning spent much of the game on the sideline. RB Travis Henry carried 19 times for 123 yards. The Colts are a team that could use a Keith Traylor or Grady Jackson up front, a veteran specialist who can stuff the run. A fierce pass rush is great, which the Colts have, but that isn’t a weapon when the other team runs the ball all the time, and runs it successfully. What will happen in January if the Colts face a power running team like the Chargers, Steelers or Patriots?

Patriots: Despite losing many of their wide receivers, the Pats are 11th in scoring at 21 ppg. They have a far more balanced offense with a deadly power running game behind a healthy Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney. One concern is pass defense, their major weakness last season (second worst). It has been better, but they still have given up some big plays. In addition, they are still one of the weakest defenses at forcing turnovers. That was a huge asset when they won back to back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004, but that was absent last season when they slipped to 11-7. This year’s team isn’t forcing that many, either.

Steelers: Despite a tough start (and tough schedule), it’s not fair to overlook the defending champs. The Steelers defense has been strong and their run defense is in the Top 5. The biggest concern is at quarterback, as Ben Roethlisberger has been plagued with bad luck on the injury front. He had that awful motorcycle accident in June and an appendectomy in late August. It’s been a traumatic year for the young man, and he does play the most important position in football. The schedule, too, seems to have conspired against them, and they still have games against Baltimore (twice), at Atlanta, Denver, at Carolina and at Cincinnati.

Falcons: This is an interesting team, as they are so deadly on the ground (again tops in the NFL) and have upgraded the defense with NT Grady Jackson, DE John Abraham and S Lawyer Milloy. However, they are still one-dimensional on offense. Sure, they are hard to beat with a lead because of that ground game, but what happens if they fall behind? QB Michael Vick is a poor passer and decision-maker. We already saw them fall behind on Monday night at New Orleans and Vick was awful at trying to bring them back. You can’t be one-dimensional and expect to win a Super Bowl, let alone get there. Can you picture this team playing in January in the cold of Chicago? The Bears' run defense could take away Atlanta’s weapons on offense, which would force them to pass, which they can’t do (currently the second worst passing team).

Bears: It’s tough to find things wrong with a team that is beating its opponents by a 31-7 average. And I can’t! The defense is No. 4 in the NFL. The passing game used to be a weak spot, but now they are fifth overall, with QB Rex Grossman gaining experience and very good wideout targets in Muhammad and Berrian. The only fault I can find is the schedule, which has been relatively easy. Let’s wait until November to better assess this team, with road games at the Giants and Patriots. The Bears used to be a great team to bet 'under' the total, but no more with this improved passing game: Chicago is 3-0-1 'over' the total the last 4 games! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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