The 2011 NFL contenders and pretenders


By Sam Hyman

Rookies are supposed to struggle. Rookie quarterbacks are really supposed to struggle. To this point, Cam Newton has not.

In just two games, the Carolina Panthers quarterback has shown the league exactly why he deserved to be the number one pick in the draft. After dominating the Southeastern Conference last season en route to becoming the third Heisman trophy winner in Auburn history, many expected Newton to rely heavily on his running ability to carry him through the early struggles. In his first game against the Cardinals, Newton did run for a touchdown; however, in passing for an NFL rookie record 422 yards, he proved that he might be further along than anyone expected.

Even with his expected struggles against the dominant Green Bay defense in Week 2, Cam Newton has already proven that he is for real.

One of biggest surprises coming out of Week 1 was the stellar play of Rex Grossman. Make no mistake about it, as much as Cam Newton is for real, Rex Grossman is not. When Redskins coach Mike Shanahan named Grossman his starting quarterback entering the season, most NFL fans were shocked. Through the first eight years of his career, the former first-round pick out of Florida had proven that he just did not have what it takes to succeed as an NFL quarterback. Despite his past failures, Grossman’s surprising opening day performance against the rival Giants forced on-lookers to turn their heads.

Even after following up his dominant Week 1 performance with a more typical Grossman-esque output against the Cardinals, Rex has successful steered the ‘Skins to a 2-0 record. If the speculation that Grossman may have finally figured it out continues, please consider that if eight seasons of evidence prove anything, it is clear that Rex Grossman’s early season performance is not for real.

The Lions are definitely for real.  A lot of people picked Detroit as a Wild-Card sleeper last season. Those hopes were derailed by injuries to multiple key players, including star quarterback Matthew Stafford. This season, with a healthy Stafford at the helm, Detroit is lighting it up.  After upsetting the Buccaneers in a close game Week 1, the Lions made the AFC West Champion Chiefs look foolish in a 48-3 stomping.

Aside from a 2-0 start to the season, there is plenty for Lions fans to be happy about. In a time when experts are busy trying to separate the contenders from the pretenders, Detroit’s well-rounded attack surely makes them a real threat. With a veteran presence in place to aid one of the strongest young cores in the game, the Lions have the ability to control the game on both offense and defense. With a core of Johnson, Stafford, and Suh, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Lions are no joke.

As controversial as it may sound, the New York Jets are not for real; at least not yet. Coming off of two consecutive AFC Championship game appearances, the Jets are currently sitting pretty at 2-0. At the end of the day, two wins are two wins; however, looking deeper, the two performances by the Jets may say more than the two outcomes.

In the season opener against the Cowboys, the Jets narrowly eked out a victory.  Anyone who watched that game could tell you that Dallas gave that game away much more than the Jets took it.  After trailing by 14 points less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the Jets proceeded to go on a 17-0 game-ending run. The three key plays for New York were a fumble recovery on their own 1-yard-line, a blocked punt return for a touchdown, and an interception leading to a game-winning field goal.  While the blocked punt was truly a solid clutch play, both of the other occurrences were such terrible plays by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo that they led to a week-long discussion on nearly every sports-talk radio show debating his competency as an NFL signal-caller. As much as Mike DeVito had to force the fumble and Darrelle Revis had to catch the interception, if not for two terrible and, more importantly, unforced errors by Romo, the Jets certainly would have began the season with a disappointing defeat.

Regardless of how impressive the Week 1 win over Dallas was, a 32-3 victory against the Jaguars this past Sunday was undeniably deserving. However, just because the victory deserved does not make it impressive in the long run.  Despite being 1-0 entering the game, the Jaguars were not, and are not a good football team.  Not only would the average NFL fan struggle to name five Jacksonville players, but even as a team, the Week 1 win over the Titans was inevitably overhyped.

For a Tennessee team with a new quarterback and a running back who missed the entire preseason, a slow start was to be expected.

For the Jets, a 2-0 start is nothing to be scoffed at. When the evidence is considered and the near future is examined, one victory that was handed to them and one decisive victory over a true cellar-dweller do not necessarily scream Super Bowl favorites.



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