Looking at the state of the NFL after week 12 has us wondering who can be considered Super Bowl contenders right now? SO far, I can narrow down the 32 teams to a group of 6: The New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos.
Before we look a bit deeper into each team, what about those we forgot about? Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions. Well, each team has a flaw: The Raiders defense is an issue. The Chiefs can’t play from behind. The Steelers struggle when they don’t have a wide open field and their defense is suspect. The Dolphins aren’t there yet. The Redskins don’t have the defense. The Falcons are in the same area, plus being incredibly predictable. The Lions are difficult to explain. Call it a gut feeling, and a history of never making it to the Super Bowl.
So after we’re done with those who can’t, let us talk about those who might.
New England Patriots
Despite their two losses, both stunningly at home, there’s nothing to really worry about. The only team they actually worry about meeting on the road are the Denver Broncos. The Pats might not finish as the #1 seed in the AFC while the Raiders keep winning, but New England won’t need to play in Denver. Tom Brady is playing the best football of his career outside of 2007, he has a long list of fantastic receivers. The defense is the only thing the Patriots need to worry about but it seems that only two or three teams can actually pose a serious threat.
The only against the Cowboys is the rookie factor. Dak Prescott isn’t playing like one, but he has never been to the postseason, which has to have some effect. However, the Cowboys have the best record in the NFL, and if it stays that way, their massive offensive line along with Ezekiel Elliott, a legitimate MVP candidate, can play the postseason at home, which makes things a lot easier for Prescott. He didn’t seem to mind the record ratings during Thanksgiving.
A perplexing team. Their offensive line is a mess, their running game is inconsistent and they just lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But they have an All-Pro quarterback in Russell Wilson who is healthy, and the best defense (giving up only 17 points per game) in the NFL. They’ve done it before, and they don’t mind doing it on the road, as they’ve shown in their win against the Patriots in Foxboro. A 7-3-1 team shouldn’t be considered better than a 10-1 team (Cowboys), but there’s something about the Seahawks that forces you to take them seriously.
If the season ended today, the Broncos don’t even make the playoffs. However, five games is a lot of time, and I think the Broncos realize they should let Trevor Siemian a bit more credit and freedom to run the offense. Assuming they do make it in the postseason, they have a defense that gives them a shot against anyone. It’ll be interesting to see what the situation will be when they face the Patriots on the final week of the season, and how important it’ll be for New England to win that game.
Like the Broncos, it’s all about the defense. The Ravens always stay close, never seem to freak out, and have a superior kicker in Justin Tucker, who along with Dan Bailey and Stephen Gostkowski (although he’s struggling this season) is one of the few kickers who actually gives his team a certain type of edge. Their 6-5 record doesn’t seem all that impressive, and it’s a fine line in the AFC North, but out of all the teams in the AFC, the Ravens is the one team the Patriots wouldn’t like to play, even in Foxboro.
New York Giants
Steadily, the Giants have won six in a row. Five of their win were a one possession game, and even against the Cleveland Browns (27-13) they ran into some problems. But Eli Manning is taking more risks compared to the efficient, boring Eli from last season, and it’s paying off. The Giants have a defense good enough to deal with the mistakes he’ll make, 5th in the NFL. Add that to the Super Bowl pedigree some players on this team have, and it’s another one of those teams no one wants to face in the playoffs. Remember, they’re also the only team that beat the Cowboys so far.