NFL contenders and pretenders

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:47 AM ET

TORONTO - Three weeks in and surprises abound in the NFL standings.

Leading the parade, of course, are the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, both teams undefeated at 3-0 and both in first place in their respective divisions.

But beyond the AFC East and the NFC North, surprises are found atop each and every division.

Hands up those who though the Cleveland Browns would be tied for first in the AFC North.

Bernie Kosar and Jim Brown, youíre excused.

Hands up those who thought the Tennessee Titans would be tied for first in the AFC South.

Jeff Fisher, quit crying.

Hands up those who thought the Oakland Raiders would be tied for first in the AFC West.

Al Davis, stop that breakdancing.

Hands up those who thought the Washington Redskins would be tied for first in the NFC East.

Michele Bachmann, that wonít win you votes.

Hands up those who thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be tied for first in the NFC South

Bubba The Love Sponge, give it a rest.

Hands up those who thought the San Francisco 49ers would be in first place in the NFC West.

No, Joe Montana has not made a comeback.

Toss in the undefeated Bills and Lions and even Kreskin couldnít have predicted the unlikely leaders of the pack after Week 3.

Itís tough trying to sift through the tea leaves of the NFL and determine the outcome of teams with obvious flaws and mediocre talent. Itís where the ďOn Any Given Sunday ...Ē NFL BS comes to the fore.

Still, of the eight teams mentioned above, weíll attempt to sort them into the following categories:

CONTENDERS

Detroit Lions: They top the list.

Last week the Lions looked as if they were reading their own press clippings as they came close to succumbing to the Minnesota Vikings, who built up a 20-0 lead at the half. But for the second consecutive weeks, the Vikings fell apart in the second half and the Lions eked out a 26-23 overtime victory. That should serve as a wake-up call for the Lions who have overall balance and big play personnel on both sides of the ball.

Including the pre-season, they have won 10 games in a row dating back to Dec. 19. Still, they have a tough road to hoe to get to 10 wins, the benchmark for the playoffs.

The key to their season will be in how they fare in their two games against Chicago as the Bears will likely be the team they need to beat out.

Buffalo Bills: The little engine that could.

The Bills have captured the hearts of all those who love Cinderella stories. Each year there seems to be one team that comes from nowhere to make it to the ball so why not the Bills this season?

You can make an easy case to say they have been fortunate in each of their past two games, but when destiny offered a lift, they climbed aboard. Tom Brady throws an interception about as often as George Clooney gets turned down for a date, but in their big comeback against the Patriots on Sunday, the Bills picked four. So maybe the football gods are riding with them.

The key for the Bills the rest of the season, besides the obvious injury factor, is not to have a letdown game against teams they should beat or are an equal to beginning with Sundayís game at Cincinnati. If the Bills can accomplish that feat and score one more upset, theyíll register 10 wins.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Riding momentum.

The Bucsí victory last Sunday against the Falcons can not be understated in its overall importance. Itís a game where they can springboard towards success.

Last year they achieved their goal of 10 wins and lost out to Green Bay on the tiebreaker. A repeat of 10 wins, though, should get them in this time. The Bucs should win their next two against the Colts at home and the 49ers on the road. Then come two big games that will be the key to their season as Oct. 16 they entertain the New Orleans Saints and the following week they play against the Bears at London in Wembley. If they go 4-0 in that stretch, they should be home free.

Either that or have the Falcons continue to underachieve.

San Francisco 49ers: On the fault line.

I know, I know, itís ridiculous to think San Francisco and playoffs but somebody has to win the weak NFC West and itís looking more and more like it wonít be the St. Louis Rams.

Reality, though, has hit the road in St. Louis and itís easy to see how they could start 0-7, which is too big a rock for them to overcome. Seattle? Forget it. So that leaves the 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals. It likely will come down to the two head-to-head matchups, the first a home date Nov. 20. Jim Harbaugh coach of the year?

PRETENDERS

Oakland Raiders: On a wild ride?

When you have a running back as good as Darren McFadden you are never out of any game. Still, the Raiders went 8-8 last year on the strength of a 6-0 record within their division. We donít see them rolling the Chargers twice. They also have to play better on the road ó see their loss in Buffalo in Week 2 as Example A.

Their season could come down to their final four when other than a road game against the Chiefs they have it tough as they are at Green Bay and home to Detroit and the Chargers. Not this year.

Washington Redskins: A Gross out?

Rex Grossman is their quarterback and on that basis we are not believers. They will need a better quarterback than that to put them among the top two in their competitive division. The key game for them could come down to how they fare against the Bills at Rogers Centre Oct. 30

Tennessee Titans: Too Britt-le

The Titans have lost star wide receiver Kenny Britt for the season and that says it all. And whatever became of Chris Johnson?

Cleveland Browns: Down memory lane.

So, the Browns are going to win 10 games and finish ahead of the Ravens and Steelers. Didnít think so.


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