Through five weeks of the 2011 NFL season, some of the big story lines include the undefeated Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, the unexpectedly 4-1 San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, and the Oakland Raiders playing inspired football following the passing of Al Davis. Divisional races are already starting to heat up and it could be a wild finish to the 2011 season.
And yet, arguably the biggest story line heading into the heart of the season remains the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. Luck, the Stanford QB, remains the grand prize of this year's draft and through five weeks, serious contenders and intriguing dark horses are emerging. We had our first bye week of the sweepstakes, which gave two of our front runners a chance to regroup and reassess their current strategy. Will they find news ways to play some inspired bad football? Or do they think they can get back into the thick of their respective division race?
After five games, here are the current winless and one-win teams:
1. Indianapolis Colts - 0-5
2. Miami Dolphins - 0-4
3. St. Louis Rams - 0-4
4. Carolina Panthers - 1-4
5. Denver Broncos - 1-4
6. Minnesota Vikings - 1-4
7. Arizona Cardinals - 1-4
8. Jacksonville Jaguars - 1-4
9. Philadelphia Eagles - 1-4
As we head into week six, we have had some shuffling in our cast of favorites and dark horses, with one particular team emerging as the overall favorite:
Fate's Favorite: Indianapolis Colts
At this point does anybody actually think the Colts do not end up with the number one pick and Andrew Luck? We've actually reached the point where Jim Irsay has even addressed the topic of Andrew Luck in interviews. He avoided any sort of tampering charge there, but even he cannot deny that the Colts are in the thick of this thing. More importantly for purposes of fate, the Colts are still giving a good faith effort in their games. They have hung close and had some chances to win, but come up on the short end of the stick. Fate likes a good faith effort.
Fated To Come Up Just Short: Miami Dolphins
This season has been disastrous for the Miami Dolphins, and yet it might not be enough for Luck. The Dolphins are playing some poor football, but they do not have fate on their side quite like the Colts. At the same time, if they can somehow overcome the fate of the Colts, an argument can be made that the Dolphins are much worse than them. While Curtis Painter is starting to look like a decent quarterback, the Dolphins are likely going to shuffle through quarterbacks like crazy now that Chad Henne is finished. They are bad enough to win this thing, but bad enough might not quite be enough.
NFC West Stunted: St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals
The Rams are into year two of the Sam Bradford era but things have not gone quite as smoothly as expected. I have no reason to think the Rams are still not high on Bradford, but if they were in a position to draft Luck, do they deal the pick or do they deal Bradford? Or given the new rookie salary cap, do they take Luck and keep Bradford? The real problem for them is the fact that they play in the NFC West. There are at least two wins and maybe more that other teams don't quite have locked up. That could be enough to push them out of this thing if the Colts and Dolphins finish what could be epically awful seasons.
The Arizona Cardinals are sitting at 1-4 as well having just invested a whole lot of money into Kevin Kolb. And yet, it has not been enough to see their season get off to an abysmal start, capped by their week five blowout loss to the Minnesota Vikings. They would seemingly deal away the pick or go with somebody else at number one, but like the Rams they find themselves in an NFC West that has wins available.
Darkhorses: Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings
The Chiefs have managed a pair of wins, but when they come against the Colts and Vikings, it is hard to consider them completely out of the running for the number one pick. Those wins could be enough to remove them from the sweepstakes, but with enough losses left on the table, they are still a viable candidate.
The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert this past offseason so it is tough to see them taking Luck, but every candidate for that number one pick has something to gain from it. The Jaguars are not a good team. They are looking at a top ten and possibly top five or better pick as they slog their way a fairly difficult schedule. If Blaine Gabbert is their long term plan, they'll likely be in a position to surround him with some significant talent next year.
The Vikings got off the schneid with their first win of the season over Arizona, but the Vikings do remain a wildcard for Luck. Donovan McNabb is on his last legs but does have Adrian Peterson to potentially carry him to a few more victories. The Vikings are not a good team, but they have enough talent that it is hard to see them getting the requisite number of losses. They have a shot, but I still think Peterson and company are a little too much talent for this particular race.
Proof God Has A Sense Of Humor: Philadelphia Eagles
Speaking of too much talent. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 Philadelphia Eagles. Somehow, in spite of adding a truckload of talent this offseason, the Eagles are off to a nightmare start. One would think eventually they would turn it around, but could they actually be the team fated to finish with that number one pick? I highly doubt it, but it is still amusing to consider given all the Dream Team talk of the offseason. They are going to win more games, but for now it is way too much fun to include them in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
Projected 2012 NFL Draft Top Five Picks
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Denver Broncos
4. St. Louis Rams
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 6 Andrew Luck Sweepstakes Schedule
Indianapolis Colts @ Cincinnati Bengals
St. Louis Rams @ Green Bay Packers
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins
Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears
Miami Dolphins @ NY Jets
The Andrew Luck Sweepstakes go on the road this week with all the favorites playing on the road and likely to be underdogs. We could see everybody hold serve, or we could see one team be so bold as to actually win a game this week. Someone's candidacy could take a sizable hit in week six.