With the NFL approaching the halfway point in the season, it is time to separate the pretenders from the contenders. Here is a look at who some of the Collegian staff members consider a legit contender.
Mark Kern, sports editor: San Francisco 49ers
Despite getting blown out by the New York Giants two weeks ago, the 49ers are still in first place in the NFC West and in contention for home-field advantage.
It does not matter whom the 49ers are playing, they are going to have the best defense on the field. Led by Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, the 49ers are flat-out nasty on the defensive side of the ball. Running the ball is nearly impossible against them, and with Smith coming off the end, quarterbacks have to get the ball out in a hurry to avoid a sack.
While the offense is struggling, there are plenty of weapons on that side as well. With Frank Gore, you have a running back that is able to run the ball 25 to 30 yards and wear out a defense while helping set up the play action game for quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith has great playmakers with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, and Davis is able to control the middle of the field.
The key for the 49ers is to play the same type of football they did last year. Too many times this season, they have tried to get cute and make plays that aren’t needed when you have a powerful rushing attack like they do.
In the end, Jim Harbaugh is too good of a coach not to make the proper adjustments. With a win over the Green Bay Packers on the road, they showed they can go anywhere and get the win. Look for the 49ers to get rolling in the second part of the season and make a trip to the Super Bowl.
John Zetmeir, staff writer: New York Giants
It is not very common for a team to win back-to-back Super Bowls — it has happened eight times to be exact — but I’m a believer that it will happen this season. Until week six, I was all in on the San Francisco 49ers, but not any longer.
Eli Manning is clearly an elite quarterback. He is one of the few quarterbacks of all time with multiple Super Bowl championships, but he is still criticized constantly.
Last season, the Giants went on a run late in the season, winning six of their last eight regular season games, and ran through the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl victory as the wild card team. This year, the Giants are on a mission.
In the last two weeks, New York has blown out the 49ers and used a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Washington Redskins. This weekend they have a chance at redemption against the Dallas Cowboys, who beat the Giants in week one.
When you look at the Giants, it all starts with the pass attack. Victor Cruz has emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Cruz already has more than 600 receiving yards and seven touchdowns through six games. The duo of Manning and Cruz is a big reason why the Giants have the No. 3 passing offense in all of football.
The Giants also have a very effective running game. Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown have more than 700 combined rushing yards and eight touchdowns. The only question I have for the Giants is, will the defense be able to hold their weight?
In both the Giants Super Bowl victories in the last five years, it was the defense that anchored the team. This year, however, the Giants rank 21st in passing yards allowed and 23rd in rushing yards allowed.
The season is still young and I believe that New York has too much talent on the defensive side of the ball to continue struggling the way that they are. But after six games, they look like a serious Super Bowl contender to me.
Andy Rao, editor-in-chief: Houston Texans
As the old saying goes, “Defense wins championships.”
Other than the six-touchdown debacle that the Texans gave up to the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 14, this defense has suffocated their opponents with a relentless pass rush from the likes of NFL sack leader defensive end J.J. Watt and has also shut down receivers with their elite group of defensive backs.
This defense, which is in the top 10 in the NFL in total defense, sacks, interceptions and third-down conversions allowed, has led this team to an AFC-best 6-1 record.
What’s more is that on the other side of the ball, the Texans also have a scary good offensive unit that can put points up in a hurry.
Quarterback Matt Schaub, whose QB rating sits at a solid 93.1, is a field general for the Texans, while star running back Arian Foster leads the league in rushing (again).
Throw in other names like Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter who anchor the perimeter, and you have an extremely potent offense that can score at will.
The only thing that may hold the Texans back is inexperience; last season was the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs, in which they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Look out for the Texans, though. What they lack in experience, they more than make up for with their explosiveness, energy and tenacity.
I’d be shocked if this team does not make it deep into the playoffs, if not bring home the Lombardi Trophy to their loyal fans in Houston.