By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The 16-game NFL season often leads to instant reactions. Once a team plays two or three games, you tend to jump to conclusions about your team.
The five-game mark is a much more reasonable time to draw conclusions. For example, after five games the Bears have probably exceeded expectations and they have a chance to be one of the elite teams in the NFC. They appear to have a reasonable chance of supplanting the Green Bay Packers and winning the NFC North.
But other teams may not have a developed picture of where they will end up. A good start does not always mean a strong finish and an early hole is not always impossible to get out of.
Here’s a look at six teams that may not finish the season the way they started it:
On the rise
Denver Broncos (2-3) – The Broncos are a game behind the San Diego Chargers through the first five weeks of the season, but with each week it seems that Peyton Manning is becoming more comfortable with his role as the lead man in the Denver offense. Manning is not the quarterback he was in his prime with the Colts. He seems to have a hard time getting his grip on the football. However, his confidence is much greater and the Broncos offense is getting better each week. The other area that will assure the Broncos a strong finish is just a bit of improvement from the defense. That was the strength of this team last year and look for linebacker Von Miller to dominate the rest of the way. Look for the Broncos to win the division.
Washington Redskins (2-3) – The Redskins got the news they wanted earlier this week when they found out that Robert Griffin III was able to return to practice following a concussion he absorbed last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Griffin and Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck have both more than lived up to the hype and are exceptional rookie quarterbacks. RGIII expects to play this week against the Vikings and that gives the Redskins explosiveness on offense. However, more than his athleticism, arm strength or quick release, RGIII understands what it takes to compete when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans Saints (1-4) – It’s been a miserable start for the Saints and they are not going to catch the Atlanta Falcons (5-0) no matter what they do the rest of the season. The Saints have significant defensive problems. They are giving up a league-worst 456.0 yards per game. However, the Saints are still explosive on offense thanks to Drew Brees and the receiving crew. With just a little bit more from their running game, the Saints will end up with a winning record, and they may challenge for a wild-card spot at the end of the season.
Arizona Cardinals (4-1) – The Cardinals get the most out of everything they have. They are a pretty decent defensive team – fifth in points allowed and tied for 11th in total yards – and they have one of the most explosive players in the league in Patrick Peterson. When he gets his hands on the ball as a result of an interception, fumble recovery or punt return, he is a threat to go all the way. However, the Cardinals are miserable on offense. Kevin Kolb is a fraud at quarterback and the running game is invisible. The Cardinals rank 31st in rushing yards at 63.4 per game and they will sink in the NFC West. The Cardinals will not be a .500 team at the end of the season.
Minnesota Vikings (4-1) – The Vikings have been one of the top stories in the league through the first five weeks and they opened eyes around the league in their Week 3 win over the 49ers. They earned that win because they outhit and out-muscled the 49ers. The Viking defense is playing much better than expected. However, Christian Ponder is just a game manager at quarterback who has gotten by to this point because he doesn’t make mistakes. Opponents are about to put the pressure on by dialing up the pass rush. Ponder threw his first two interceptions of the season last week against the Tennessee Titans and those turnovers will pile up from this point forward. The Vikings will fall below the .500 mark by the end of the season.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) – Consider yourself warned if you are a Bengals backer. They dropped a horrendous game at home in Week 5 to the Miami Dolphins and you just don’t lose a home game to Miami if you are a good team. When expectations are high, Marvin Lewis and the Bengals fall apart. They have the talent to remain in contention, but the Bengals lack the confidence to overcome such a bad loss. They will not make the playoffs and they will have a losing record at the end of the season.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.