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Givens could be key to Rams making post season

7:37 AM, Nov 7, 2012   |    comments
St. Louis Rams wide receiver Chris Givens (13) points to the fans after the Rams 19-13 victory against the Seattle Seahawks at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-US PRESSWIRE
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Tyler Dunne, USA TODAY Sports

In the modern-day NFL, with the parity created by the salary cap and free agency, there are no more than five elite teams and fewer than five pathetic teams. And then there's everybody in between. This is a glance at the teams in the middle of that middle.

This is a look at the teams in the middle of that middle, the shocking contenders that are the rookie-quarterbacked Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, the disappointing Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles, the early-rising-but-now-falling Arizona Cardinals, the struggling-as-expected St. Louis Rams and the bounty-affected New Orleans Saints.

Teams that are 4-4 have a shot: Since 1990, 45 of 132 teams who started 4-4 made the playoffs and five reached a conference championship game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. But for those at 3-5, the challenge is daunting: Since 1990, only seven of 121 teams who have started 3-5 have reached the postseason.

The last two Super Bowl champs - the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers - were slightly better than mediocre at this point in the season. So there's hope. One or two might make a run into January and perhaps February. Which are contenders, which are pretenders? Let's take a look:

St. Louis Rams (3-5)

Remaining opponents: 36-31

Pretender: Trading away that No. 2 pick could pay long-term dividends. This remains a young team in transition.

X factor: Chris Givens can fly. The rookie from Wake Forest is averaging 25.6 yards a reception. The Rams don't have much at receiver, but Givens has been a home-run hitter.

Miami Dolphins (4-4)

Remaining opponents: 31-35

Contender: This past weekend's game against the Indianapolis Colts and Andrew Luck showed that having a rookie quarterback doesn't mean you can't contend. Miami has been in contention in seven of its eight games. They're realistically a handful of plays away from being 7-1.

X factor: Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill must carry an offense still hurting for playmakers on the outside.

Detroit Lions (4-4)

Remaining opponents: 48-19

Contender: QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson are getting their groove back. Megatron caught seven passes for 129 yards Sunday. No team has a better QB/WR connection.

X factor: With games against the Green Bay Packers (twice), Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears on tap, the Lions will need to run the ball effectively. Mikel Leshoure is averaging 4.7 yards a carry his last four games.

Arizona Cardinals (4-5)

Remaining opponents: 36-21

Pretender: Through five consecutive losses, the Cardinals have revealed their true colors. This a roster with mediocre talent. And with Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, whoever is quarterback, it's hard to imagine the Cardinals being a player come January.

X factor: Arizona is averaging 10.6 points a game through its losing streak, but Patrick Peterson remains one of the league's most dangerous punt returners. He'll need to break free more.

Buffalo Bills (3-5)

Remaining opponents: 30-35

Pretender: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick catches a lot of heat, but defense has been the letdown this season. Massive investments have not panned out.

X factor: RB C.J. Spiller is one of the most dynamic players in the game, but the Bills too often fail to use him properly. To climb back, Spiller needs the ball. Despite sharing the load, Spiller has 798 total yards.

New York Jets (3-5)

MOST OVERRATED COACH: Hint: It starts with R-e-x

Remaining opponents: 28-39

Contender: They've been teetering on the edge of disaster and went into the bye week hearing fans boo Mark Sanchez. Sunday's matchup against the Seattle Seahawks is a must-winas it gets for Rex Ryan's bunch.

X factor: Not Tim Tebow. RB Shonn Greene must be a melt-the-clock back for the Jets.

Cincinnati Bengals (3-5)

Remaining opponents: 31-34

Pretender: Cincinnati has been in a free fall with four losses in a row. Marvin Lewis' two-year contract extension isn't looking so hot.And frankly, it didn't in the summer when he signed it, either.

X factor: WR A.J. Green is one of the best playmakers in the game. The Bengals must go vertical.

Oakland Raiders (3-5)

Remaining opponents: 26-39

Pretender: Any defense that surrenders 251 rushing yards to a player will not be a factor in the postseason. This will be a rebuilding project.

X factor: The injury bug continues to bite RB Darren McFadden (ankle sprain), who has not produced this season. McFadden is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry.

Dallas Cowboys (3-5)

Remaining opponents: 25-42

Contender: The Cowboys are better than their record indicates and have a fairly vanilla schedule. Beleaguered QB Tony Romo needs help, and this team needs to figure out how to finish games.

X factor: Someone with WR Dez Bryant's talent and athleticism should be averaging more than 12<TH>yards a reception.

New Orleans Saints (3-5)

Remaining opponents: 40-25

Contender: Drew Brees is arguably the best quarterback in the game. No matter how many points the defense gives up, New Orleans can stay in any game.

X factor: Banned defensive coordinator Gregg Williams helped the Saints overcome a lot of problems with his innovative pressure schemes. It's incumbent upon new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to get something from the NFL's last-ranked unit. Turnovers must mask the problems.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)

REID TO VICK: Get rid of the ball!

Remaining opponents: 27-40

Pretender: The offensive line can't protect, and QB Michael Vick is a disaster when he moves his feet. Meanwhile, coach Andy Reid is hanging by a thread. This could get ugly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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