There remains just three weeks left in the NFL regular season, and with those three weeks we’re seeing the level of competition elevate for a select few, while others have slipped down in the ranks.
I’ve compiled a list of 5 of the most potent teams that have proven to be worthy contenders for the Superbowl trophy.
5. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are currently tied with the Houston Texans at 11-2 for the best record in the League. So you may be wondering why they’ve been ranked just at number 5. The reason is simple: History. The Falcons with Matt Ryan under center have still not come to play in the big time, be it at home or on the road. When the playoffs were tailor made to go through their dome Aaron Rodgers came in and ate them alive. And I won’t even elaborate on their performance in last year’s playoffs vs the NY Giants.
But let’s focus on the here and the now. As of now, the Falcons are clearly a talented team with serious anger issues about not being taken serious as favorites. When you get to the bones of the matter what you have is a flat-out talented team that can only beat itself and stand in their own way of going to the Superbowl or not. The trio of Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White has made their offense lethal and one with great depth. The development of Matt Ryan continues to impress as he continues to show that he’s a born leader and knows how to blow games open.
But for the Falcons we will need to judge them solely off of production in the playoffs. And coupled with a bad loss against the Panthers, it’s left some sliver of doubts.
4. New England Patriots
The Patriots have been thrashing teams left and right as they stake their claim for the top seed in the AFC. Their dispatching of the Texans really opened up many eyes that the Pats are still the AFC team to be reckoned with. Brady has been his ever consistent and precise self, orchestrating clean passes down the field week after week.
The temptation to write off the Pats as early playoff exits have been thwarted by the tour-de-force effort they’ve given. The only lingering doubts with the Patriots going down the stretch is the question of Gronkowsky and the timeline of his injury as the playoffs inch closer and closer. The Pats have thrived off the duel tight end stratagem concocted by Belichick, which has breathed new life into the team. If Monday Night’s game was any indication, it’s that the Patriots haven’t gone anywhere.
3. Denver Broncos
The Broncos have swept in late to be many’s choice for the AFC team to beat, and rightly so. Initially there was skepticism of what Peyton Manning had to offer, if anything, coming off a string of neck surgeries and a Broncos team that had to rely on Tebow and his miracles to sneak into the playoffs. All that has changed now, I’m seeing the real Denver Broncos, and it took 14 weeks to realize it.
Manning has solidified his bid for MVP candidate (tied in my opinion with Vikings RB Adrian Peterson) by returning back to Peyton Manning elite status. His numbers of this season rival those of years past, his current QB rating of 82.36 is currently the second highest of his entire career. Not to mention, the Broncos have already clinched the AFC West handedly with a 10-3 record. The Broncos have the weapons to do damage in the playoffs with an offense and a defense that works in harmony. The only worrisome matter for the Broncos is the fear of Peyton having to face Tom Brady, who shows no fear (with good reason) of Manning and is capable of humiliating him. But the Broncos have become my black horse Super Bowl pick from the AFC.
2. New York Giants
The defending champions have to make a spot on this list, no? The Giants do their best work when their backs are against the wall and they have to earn their way to the playoffs or winning a division. I’d actually be way more concerned if the Giants were 11-2 instead of their current 8-5.
We know fully what the Giants are capable when they get on these long hot stretches where Eli morphs into Eli-te and takes over games like it’s nobody’s business–same script, same cast. The Giants only concerns would be to a) fix their division record and b) get Hakeem Nicks healthy. If the Giants can do ‘a)’ and win divisional games–the week 17 game vs the tanking Eagles, they will most likely have not only won the division easily, but get the right momentum going into playoffs as they prepare for their BYE. Hakeem Nicks is the Giants key, because he and Cruz together create one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL–a healthy Nicks and Cruz takes the Giants offense from good to deadly.
The game vs the Saints proved how scary Eli can be when allowed to do what he does best, pass deep to his key receivers for tons of yardage. The Giants season is going according to plan, just enough difficulty for them to feast happily. Can’t go wrong with the defending champs.
Unfortunately for Alex Smith he’s seems to have lost his starting job for good, but fortunately for the 49’ers Colin Kaepernick is like Alex Smith, but with more guts and more accuracy. I’m not scared of picking an unseasoned Kaepernick based off the outline that Smith drew up from last year. Smith went from 1st round bust, to out playing Drew Brees in a divisional playoff game, and he almost did the same to Eli Manning.
Long gone are the days were the All-American multiple MVP winning Quarterback with perfect mechanics takes the undefeated team to a Superbowl victory. No, today’s Superbowls play out like ‘General Hospital’ storylines with unpredictable plots, underdogs coming out of nowhere–and most importantly, the hotter team taking the prize.
The 49’ers on paper have the offensive and defensive weapons to take them to a Superbowl victory, now we just have to see the intangibles go to work. I think we are witnessing a team headed for years of noise making in the post season. The Kaepernick experiment is still in its infancy, but you’d never know it by how fast the team has adjusted and continue to work as one. Even I’m surprised by the latter. They stubbed their toes against a stubborn Rams team, that’s been giving them grief all year, but if the performances against the Bears, Saints and Dolphins taught us anything it’s that this offense has a bolstered confidence to it. A Quarterback who’s not afraid to throw long in tight coverage tends to have that effect.
The Ravens have the AFC North in their possesion, with the Steelers having completely halted any desire to vie for the spot. What has been impressive is Flacco’s coming of age in his progression as the Ravens move towards an offensive geared state of mind, as their defense wanes. The rough stretch that has hit the Ravens is quite unsurprising and started even before their mini-miracle in San Diego on that 4th 29 fiasco. I expect them to get their act together as Ray Lewis plans his return, but the question now is: Will it be enough to avenge last year’s bitter loss?
- Houston Texans:
The game vs the Patriots just nailed their coffin on just who they are. I think we were too haste to crown the Texans as the AFC team to beat, now granted, they have a plethora of injuries, they’ve played very sloppy down the stretch and because they lack the experience it raises doubts. Matt Schaub looked so out matched against Brady on Monday Night Football, it felt like a dream…or for Texans fans a nightmare.
- Greenbay Packers:
The Packers have been so frustratingly up and down all season. They came out shaky, and have since gotten their act together only to stumble and trip slightly soon after. The Packers are still my pick to win the AFC North, but as long as a team by the name Giants is in the playoffs the Packers don’t stand a chance. The mauling they took on Sunday Night spelled that they’ve got nothing in their possession to match up well against them. They barely got past the Lions, after 3 quarters of unremarkable play. This is a drastically different Packers team than the one who almost made history last year.