Week 14 is nearly complete and the playoff races are heating up in the NFL. Every game from here on out could determine who gets a shot at the Lombardi Trophy and which teams get sent home early. After weeks of writing about who is up and who is down in the NFL, let’s have some fun here and take a look at the 10 teams who have pulled away from the pack as possible Super Bowl contenders.
For discussion purposes, I placed these teams into different categories (including some videos of the teams’ past Super Bowl appearances); at the bottom, I’ve ranked them in order of who I think might be winning it all this year. — Michael Rosenblum for Hulu
And a Quarterback Shall Lead Them: The Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers
At 8-5, the Packers sit on the playoff bubble right now, and face a potentially devastating situation with QB Aaron Rodgers undergoing evaluation after sustaining his second concussion of the season. The Eagles are a little better off at 9-4, though it took some big-play magic to take care of business against a tough Cowboys team last week.
It’s possible that one (or both) could miss the playoffs. If they make it, however, it could be a scary proposition for the team facing them: Both teams have looked dominant at times this year, thanks largely in part to the play of their likely Pro Bowl-bound quarterbacks — Rodgers and Michael Vick for the Eagles. When these two guys are on their game, they can will their teams to a win against anyone.
Birds of Prey: The Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens
These two teams are bound to be linked when talking about their respective chances at winning the Super Bowl. Just like last year, the discussion centers around their young quarterbacks, Joe Flacco (Baltimore) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta). Now that they’re both in their third years, the “inexperienced young QB” discussion is out the window. These two guys have been in playoff games before and know what it takes to win. Both teams were able to keep their core roster intact from last season, while making key additions in the off-season (most notably Baltimore’s addition of the dynamic Anquan Boldin ). Given the talent these two teams have, and the year they’ve each had to grow as a team, you could be looking at the Super Bowl match up right here.
These Guys Are Awesome … Maybe: The Chicago Bears and the New York Jets
When it comes to these teams, one week you’re on the bandwagon, the next week you’re off. Sure, they both have great records at 9-4, but they’re still surrounded by questions about their abilities to get it done against an equally talented team. I would say that more questions surround the Bears at this point, especially since they are not a lock to make the playoffs. Though the Jets have some major problems of their own right now — see this week’s lackluster performance against the Dolphins — they have feasted on the weak in eight of their nine wins this year, and have lost to three other teams on this list. And despite the drubbing they received from New England last Monday, they do own a victory over the Patriots this season.
The Jets quieted the naysayers last year when they fought their way into the AFC Championship game. The Bears did the same when they reached the Super Bowl three years ago. Whether they can repeat that playoff success remains to be seen.
Been There, Done That: The New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers
Not much to say about these two teams except that they are your past two Super Bowl winners. These teams have been there before, they know what it takes to win it all, and they are peaking at the right time this year. There is little reason to assume that either of these teams couldn’t get back to the Big Game again in February.
The Big Blue Dark Horse: The New York Giants
In the spirit of complete candor, I am a Giants fan, so one might expect me to give them an optimistic outlook. Having said that, I can’t help but notice the similarities between this year’s team, and the ‘07-’08 team that won the Super Bowl. After a rough start to the season under a new defensive system, the team began to put it together. In the middle of the season the team endured a couple of rocky games and everyone questioned their ability. Then, as the season nears its conclusion, the team has started to put all the pieces together: a dominant defense, a dynamic running game, and a never-say-die offense led by Eli Manning. They got hot at the right time and before you know it, they could be on the way to the Super Bowl. Oh, and did I mention they’ve won a number of their games this year with limited personnel due to injuries, but they’re all back in the next two weeks? In short, healthy players + team getting hot at the right time = Super Bowl dark horse.
The Elite: The New England Patriots
What else can you say about these guys? They have been the best team over the past decade. They have the best quarterback and best coach in the league. They find ways to win even when they don’t have the personnel. And they too are getting white hot at the right time. They own victories over three teams on this list, as well as wins over the San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts, two teams who could be on this list by the end of the season.
On the heels of their 45-3 demolition of the 9-2 New York Jets, and their 36-7 beat-down of the Bears, it’s safe to say that this team has separated itself from the pack as the elite option to win this year’s Super Bowl.
The Final Ranking
1) New England
2) Atlanta Falcons
3) New Orleans Saints
4) New York Giants
5) Pittsburgh Steelers
6) Baltimore Ravens
7) Philadelphia Eagles
8) New York Jets
9) Chicago Bears
10) Green Bay Packers