The Shek List: The NFL’s Thriving Middle Class

(Associated Press)

I have no idea if Obama or Romney will be living in the White House come next February. I do, however, know Rick Santorum, Herman Cain & Michelle Bachmann won’t be.

Same goes with the race for the Lombardi Trophy. I’m not sure which two teams will be playing in the Superdome on Feb. 3, but,  just over six weeks into the NFL’s primary season, I can say with a fair amount of certainty who won’t.

Just as I didn’t need to watch “Meet The Press” to know Tim Pawlenty had no chance of winning the Republican nomination, I don’t need help determining teams like the Browns, Panthers and Bucs are already finished. What’s more, there are all plenty of teams out there who — while compelling on some level — clearly don’t have the makeup to wind up at the top of the heap. In other words, there a lot of Ron Pauls out there.

While Democrats and Republicans alike lament the dwindling middle class, the National Football League’s middle class is positively thriving.

I know there are some nice stories this season, see: Ponder & the Vikes, Luck & the Colts, RGIII & the ‘Skins, Tannehill (aka RT1, as he’s been tabbed by Dave Dameshek regular Handsome Hank) & the Fins, the three NFC West teams not named ‘the Niners’ — but you don’t think any of them can actually win it all, do you?

Arizona, Dallas, New Orleans, Buffalo, Tennessee, Denver, San Diego & Oakland may or may not be good enough to deliver a season that ends with a wildcard or divisional-round playoff loss, but like Rick Santorum in a general election, none is good enough to take the whole thing.

The Jets, Detroit & KC are pro football’s Rick Perry, spiraling down in spectacular fashion for the amusement of the nation. And if Mike Vick and Tony Romo can’t figure out how to stop giving the ball to the other team, we can add their teams here, too.

The Bears? Yeah, they’re good… but Jay Cutler can’t go ten minutes without either moping in solitude or fighting with his linemen, his coordinator, or anyone else who dares come within ten yards of him (which I guess makes him football’s answer to Newt Gingrich… as do the multiple chins).

Then there are the Packers. Like John Kerry back in ’04, they are a respected candidate with an impressive body of work. But if their dreams of a top seed in the NFC playoffs weren’t swiftboated by a bad call in Seattle a couple Mondays back, their awful o-line and woeful defense is undermining the still-stellar play of Aaron Rodgers. Same goes for Ben Roethlisberger, whose place in the standings is suffering due to his banged-up running (& catching & blocking & tackling) mates.

The Giants will be a factor as long as Eli and that d-line are around, but a second straight term as King of the NFL is far more rare than a second term as President of the United States.

The Bengals have that nifty sophomore hookup between Dalton and Green, plus feature an underrated pass rush, but like a candidate with strong foreign policy credentials but no grasp of economy, Cincy’s lack of a running game is a problem that can’t be overcome.

The Falcons look like the real deal and — thanks to the lousy competition in the NFC South — should get at worst No. 2 seed. However, we still don’t know if Matt Ryan can raise his game in January, and we don’t know if the ATL D can stop the opposing QB from raising his.

As far as I can tell, the list of true contenders is very short. Here’s who I’ve got: Houston, New England, Baltimore, San Francisco, and… that’s it. Whether they know it or not, everyone else is already playing for draft position.

I’m Dave Dameshek, and I approve this message.

A few more thoughts:

» Cam Newton had the greatest rookie season in NFL history.  But after that season plus one month of this season, Newton’s losing ground to his fellow 2011 draftees: I doubt Cincy would give up Andy Dalton for him.  Ditto Minnesota and Christian Ponder. He’s got a lower passer rating than Jake Locker. He’s got one more rushing touchdown than Niners backup Colin Kaepernick. He’s played more than Ryan Mallett, but Mallett gets to stare at the dreamy Tom Brady in practice. On the bright side, Cam’s better than Blaine Gabbert, who’s very much like Samson in that both men were awful after getting their long hair cut. Then again, at least Samson was mighty before the haircut.

» Don’t know about you, but I’m thoroughly looking forward to November, when Greg McElroy takes over as the Jets’ starting QB.  Over/under on cutaways to Tebow & Sanchez on the sidelines: 492

» The Steelers are doomed by injury and defensive ineptitude, but Ben Roethlisberger is playing as well as any QB in the league.

» Steve Spurrier deserves some long overdue credit. Yes, his time with the Redskins was silly, but it’s been bookended by two terrific stops in the SEC. Winning a title at Florida was impressive, but building a contender in South Carolina is an even bigger feather in his cap. That said, I can’t see his Gamecocks beating LSU on Saturday.

» Gold Star of David Pick of the Week: Patriots over Seahawks, 30-10. Programming note: Adam Rank & I are 23-7 with our weekly ‘Shek to the Future’ picks. I encourage — nay, demand — you watch our Week Six picks here.

» Game That Will Prove You REALLY, REALLY Love Pro Football If You Can Sit Through The Whole Thing of the Week: KC at Tampa

» Note from the Uniform Monitor: I’m all for the NFL’s support of the fight against breast cancer, but all that pink is Technicolor eyesore. They couldn’t have gone with gray?

» Tweet of the Week (courtesy the now-deleted Twitter account of Ohio St. QB Cardale Jones): “Why should we have to go to classes if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come here to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS”. Please go to class, Cardale. At least until you learn the meaning of irony.

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