Normally at this time of year, we have a really good idea of who will make it to the Super Bowl. Out of the AFC, the Patriots are usually the heavy favorites. In the NFC, it’s not always as clear and it changed quite a bit over the years but there is typically a clear favorite.
This year is wide open on both sides. The favorites have shifted frequently over the course of the long, grueling season. At the beginning of the year, the Patriots were expected to figure it out and the Chiefs were the team to beat. It has gotten a little foggy as of late. The Patriots lost two in a row in December for the first time since 2002. It’s also the first time they will fail to reach 12 wins in 8 years. They are currently seeded 3rd. The Chiefs have shown they are not invincible, regardless of how well Patrick Mahomes plays. Their defense is giving up 409.4 yards per game, which ranks 31st in the league. They are also giving up 27.1 points per game, ranking 28th in the league. Championship teams require a good defense and the stats say the Chiefs do not have one. But they still hold the top seed in the AFC.
While they sit in the top wild-card spot, I’d argue that the Chargers should be favorited right now to come out of the AFC. Philip Rivers is playing at an MVP level and their defense has been stout, giving up 329.1 yards per game. That ranks 8th in the league.
In the NFC, the Rams were the clear-cut favorites. They’re exciting to watch and everyone in the media was trying to see who could be the next Sean McVay. McVay is a wunderkind and there probably isn’t going to be someone like him for a while. He’s an outlier. Then the Saints took them down and took the favorite crown. A few weeks later, the Cowboys upset the Saints on Thursday Night Football and the Saints haven’t looked the same since.
Could the Bears be considered favorites? They seem to have a formula that works for them and could work in the playoffs. They have the best defense in the league and Matt Nagy has installed creative schemes that fit the mold of their explosive playmakers. And Mitchell Trubisky isn’t asked to carry the load, which takes pressure off of him.
The Steelers should not be overlooked either. They just took down the Patriots in primetime after a 3 game skid. They have the playmakers on offense and pass rush to get it done. They will live or die based on how well Ben Roethlisberger plays.
While they currently don’t hold a playoff spot, the Colts are very capable of making noise if they crash the playoff party. Their defense has been outstanding after their 1-5 start and Andrew Luck is back playing at an elite level. Frank Reich has the team playing hard and they will be tough to beat if they get hot.
That’s not to say any of the other teams do not have a chance. This year feels as wide open as ever. The only teams currently seeded unlikely to make the Super Bowl are the Ravens and Cowboys.
The Ravens have a good defense and running game but Lamar Jackson has only started 5 games. It’s a lot to ask for a rookie quarterback with 5 starts under his belt to lead his team to the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys have a similar issue except Dak Prescott isn’t a rookie. Prescott is a decent player but his accuracy issues and tendency to fumble limit the Cowboys’ chances.
Featured image via AF.mil