In order, here are the teams who have the best chance at Super Bowl glory.
- New England Patriots (12-4)- I have been saying it all season long, If the Patriots are in the playoffs, they are my pick. History is on my side. No team has gone to the Super Bowl more than the Patriots since Tom Brady has been under center. The run game is weak and the defense is not what it once was but this is the Tom Brady we are talking about. With a full season of building chemistry with his receivers and a healthy Rob Gronkowski find me a team you think is better than the Patriots. Of course that have been beaten by teams this season, some are even in this very tournament, but can you honestly tell me you believe you would pick anyone over the Patriots? I certainly can’t.
- Carolina Panthers (15-1)- Many players and fans of the Panthers are frustrated at the lack of respect Carolina has gotten this season. I can’t blame them. This is a team that has hit a milestone only a percentage of the teams to ever play this game has hit. They are one of four teams to start a season 14-0 before finally losing a game to the Atlanta Falcons in an away game. Now that they will get every game at home during the playoffs (until the Super Bowl obviously) they have to be a clear favorite in the NFC. With the explosive play style from Cam Newton and a defense that can keep up with any offensive output this may be the most difficult team in the post season to prepare for.
- Seattle Seahawks (10-6)- I am not trying to be edgy by putting the sixth seed of the NFC as the third best team in the post season. I think that despite their record they are better than most of the division champions. Russell Wilson has perfected the style Cam Newton has put forth and if you need evidence of how strong of a player he is I implore you to watch Wilson’s performance in the 2014 Super Bowl where he tore apart the Denver defense. With Marshawn Lynch getting ready to go this Sunday the offense may be back to full power. Maybe even better than full power now that Wilson has trusted receivers to throw too. Of course you can’t ignore the Seahawks defense which has shut down a number of strong quarterbacks ever since Pete Carroll has been able to mold them into a near perfect wall. I have no problem in saying I will pick whoever wins between Seattle and Carolina to go the Super Bowl.
- Arizona Cardinals (13-3)- For a long time the Cardinals had everything going for them. The offense flowed like a gentle stream and the defense was getting comparisons to some of the best defenses over the years. That was until the last week of the season when the Seahawks embarrassed the Cardinals on their own turf. Over the course of the season, they were blown out once at the end of the year. They still beat the Seahawks earlier in the year but if you ask me now which team is better, just look at the rankings. Carson Palmer is being considered for MVP and they have no shortage of running backs that can run for big gains. Palmer has the type of chemistry you see from the likes of Manning/Harrison or Roethlisberger/Ward. The type of chemistry you can’t defend no matter what player you put on them. If for some reason the Seahawks and Panthers get knocked out before they play the Cardinals, this will be your NFC representative.
- Denver Broncos (12-4)- Denver gets this spot for a couple of different reasons, for one, they never have to go on the road. Second, it seems Peyton Manning will be under center the remainder of the season. Brock Osweiler would not be able to beat the Patriots again and honestly I don’t even think Manning will be able too. But that is the type of scenario P. Manning lives for. He enjoys being told he can’t do something.
- Minnesota Vikings (11-5)- For the first time in four years the Packers failed to win the NFC North. The Vikings went unnoticed for a large part of the first half of the season because the Packers started 6-0. It wasn’t until teams starting figuring out Green Bay did people begin to realize Minnesota is playing some of the best ball of the season. What scares me about the Vikings is I feel they are still missing key pieces to really make a strong case for being one of the best. Teddy Bridgewater is not a field general but when the box is stacked it is easy to find open receivers. Their defense on the other hand has played well all season but the real test now will be how to defend against Russell Wilson. The Seahawks have already beat the Vikings once this season. Has Mike Zimmer learned from those mistakes? And even if he had was it enough to slow down a quarterback who has had arguably one of the best second halves of the season.
- Green Bay Packers (10-6)- After starting the season at a strong 6-0 the Packers fell off the back half of the season losing to division rivals and strong playoff contenders put them in a hole to allow the Viking to overtake them the last game of the season. Aaron Rodgers is not looking comfortable behind his offensive line and without such a strong first half this team may not even be in the playoffs right now. There is a bit or irony in them playing Washington wildcard weekend. I don’t put much stock in either one of them making it very fair, whoever comes away with the win is just delaying the inevitable because they won’t make it past Carolina or Arizona.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)- For many weeks I thought Pittsburgh would be able to waltz into the playoffs considering they were playing teams struggling all season while the Jets had to take on the Patriots and surging Bills. The Jets tried to snag the last spot but ultimately failed to do so allowing the Steelers to pick up the last seed in the AFC. I would imagine that without the injuries to Big Ben and Le’veon Bell kept them out of the hunt for the AFC North. Their offense is one of the best in the league, ranked third in passing yards, third in overall yards and fifth in points. The defense is something to be desired but if they can avoid playing Andy Dalton this week, I like their chances.
- Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)- The Cinderella story of the Chiefs is sitting on borrowed time. They only have two wins against teams over .500 and they both come against backup quarterbacks. Luckily the Texans are the weakest team in the playoffs this year and they get them in the first round. After that, they are in a lot of trouble. Maybe they can knock off the Broncos again but much like the Patriots, if Manning is playing can you reasonably pick against him?
- Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)- This ranking is passed off the idea Andy Dalton is out this weekend. With AJ McCarron I can’t trust the Bengals to beat the Steelers without Dalton calling the shots. I would imagine that McCarron gets caught up in the pressure of the playoffs and fall to a more experienced Steelers team. The offense is average at best eve with Dalton. I just feel Roethlisberger is to strong and talented of a quarterback to get overwhelmed like McCarron will be. The only answer is for Andy Dalton to play, without him there is no hope of this team advancing.
- Washington Redskins (9-7)- A month ago this team was sitting in third place in the division only a game out of first. They wrapped up the division two weeks ago. Washington won four straight games to end the season and going into the playoffs that momentum could prove to be the difference between getting knocked out of the first round or second round. Most give the Packers an easy pass but those people aren’t paying attention. Kirk Cousins has become a strong quarterback who found the chemistry required to lead a winning team.
- Houston Texans (9-7)- Some might say the only reason the Texans are in the playoffs this year is because the Colts fell apart. Looking at their trajectory, neither one of those two teams started off particularly strong. Both lost their first two games. The real difference between the two records comes down to their week 15 match up. If the Colts win that game, they are in the playoffs instead. It is hard to trust a team moving forward who had to use four different starting quarterbacks in a season. The front office is clearly not comfortable with anyone to take the snaps under center. They may have pieces of a great offense but without the main component, the defense will need to keep the score low, which should not be a problem. If there is one factor to why the Texans even make this list it is because the Houston defense has played just as tough as any other in the league. They are a top ranked pass rush defense that has to make any quarterback nervous. They may be the least likely to make the Super Bowl but with a defense being captained by JJ Watt I can’t completely count them out yet.
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