Know the score: The contenders

Jonathan Ferrey

It's never too early to take a look at the NFL playoffs, not even two weeks into the season. Using the latest Super Bowl odds, here's a look at the potential contenders.

The aftermath of Week 1 is Silly Season in the NFL world. Fans, media members and probably mascots are dancing in jubilation or beset with woe with a staggering one-sixteenth of the season in the books.

But you, the savvy SB Nation reader, are different. These half-cocked overreactions and wild surmisings based on a laughably incomplete set of data are not for you. In deference to your erudition, Know the Score has sensibly waited until TWO weeks were in the books to kick our knee-jerk reactions into high gear.

Seriously, we don’t know all that much two weeks in. But Vegas? Vegas knows LOTS. Let's evaluate our picks for a possible playoff lineup, with an eye toward which ones are playoff-ready and which teams still have work to do.

Thanks to Odds Shark for the numbers and to Pro Football Focus for advanced-stat geekery.

Miami Dolphins

Current Odds – 33/1.  Included because we needed two more AFC teams – seriously, folks, this conference is bad.


Playoff-Ready: The Dolphins' defensive front was going to land here until it put up a less-impressive showing than the Raiders did against Indy's suspect offensive line.

Show Me More: The Miami D as a whole lands here. It can earn more plaudits if it can disrupt the Saints and Falcons in the coming weeks. Not everybody can be Cameron Wake, but a couple of other Dolphins need to raise their games to prevent Wake from being the marked man in every protection scheme. It'll still take some doing to get the Miami passing game to the next level, but getting Mike Wallace loose downfield will be a step in the right direction.

Not Ready for Prime Time: A few good carries for Lamar Miller don't make up for the atrocity the Dolphins' line committed against Cleveland or the nine combined sacks and QB hits it surrendered to a lame Colts' defense. Ryan Tannehill needs some help up front if he's going to lead a remotely credible charge against New England for the division. Keeping him upright and making defenses respect play action would be a big step forward.

Know the Score Prediction: AFC Wildcard representative, out in Wildcard round.

Baltimore Ravens

Current Odds – 33/1. Included out of respect for their position as defending title holders and because we needed two more AFC teams.

Playoff-Ready: Denver treated the run game as an absolute afterthought as Peyton Manning wrought terrible vengeance on the defensive backs who defied him last January. Last week, the Ravens looked as stout as you’d expect in bludgeoning poor Trent Richardson. As long as Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs continue to take care of business, facing the Ravens means hard yards for opposing runners.

Show Me More: Guys like Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith have some skins on the wall in the secondary, and Daryl Smith was a great signing as one of the league's best coverage linebackers. After a Biblical deluge from the Denver passing game, though, this bunch has something to prove -- particularly Corey Graham and Michael Huff, who got barbecued by Manning. It's not easy to get barbecued in a deluge, but these guys found a way. Baltimore's run game has battled a pair of tough defensive fronts, but it needs to start producing at a higher level in support of a beleaguered Joe Flacco.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Flacco made a couple of mistakes against Denver but has made plenty of on-time and on-the-money throws in the young season. Unfortunately, Baltimore just has a dearth of pass-catching options outside of Torrey Smith and Ray Rice (whose hip got dinged up late against Cleveland). Progress from rookie Marlon Brown and more consistency from Ed Dickson could make the Ravens' air attack more threatening, but right now it is easy to defend.

Know the Score Prediction: AFC Wildcard representative, out in Wildcard round.

Chicago Bears

Super Bowl Odds: 20/1. Included because they’re 2-0 with two victories over 2012 playoff teams.

Playoff-Ready: They endured a couple of toastings from A.J. Green, but the Bears' back seven are up to their old tricks. Three picks for Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings and typically terrific coverage from Lance Briggs have shown that Lovie Smith didn't steal the Bears' defensive playmaking ability when he left town.

Show Me More: Despite names like Julius Peppers and Henry Melton dotting the defensive front, the Bears have struggled to put heat on opposing passers this season. The good news for Chicago is that opposing QBs aren't the only ones staying upright -- Jay Cutler is showing signs of shaking off battered-quarterback syndrome after getting legitimately solid blocking from the rebuilt Bears front. The Bears have allowed Cutler an average of 2.71 seconds to get his pass attempts off, which is right around the league average and a good showing considering the fronts they've faced. Simple, solid blocking could also set up a career year on the ground for Matt Forte.

Not Ready for Prime Time: The Bears haven't been sporting any glaring flaws just yet, but their highs probably aren't high enough to really challenge the league's elite.

Know the Score Prediction: NFC Wildcard representative, out in Wildcard round.

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NewDelphia CowSkins

Super Bowl Odds: Included because SOMEONE from the NFC East is making the playoffs, but God alone knows which team.

Playoff-Ready: Tony Romo to Dez Bryant, the Chip Kelly Tilt-a-Whirl, Brandon Myers in garbage time, Pierre Garcon, and Victor Cruz.

Show Me More: Good Eli pushing Bad Eli into a trash compactor Superman III-style, Philly's pass rush, Monte Kiffin's D against traditional offenses.

Not Ready for Prime Time: RGKnee, Brandon Myers out of garbage time, Philly's pass coverage, everyone not named Ryan Kerrigan on the Washington defense, Monte Kiffin's D against the read option, Dallas finding new and excruciating ways to lose games.

Know the Score Prediction: Somebody wins the NFC East, out in Wildcard round.

Cincinnati Bengals

Super Bowl Odds: 18/1

Playoff-Ready: Cincinnati's run defense hasn't exactly faced the '92 Cowboys in its first pair of contests, but has looked salty nonetheless. And while they're still pups, Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert have the look of plus weapons who can elevate the Bengals' offense to new heights ... or at least above the rest of the hardscrabble AFC North.

Show Me More: Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger are pinatas, waiting to be pummeled to spill out a bounty of delicious sacks and forced fumbles. You can't swing and miss as often as the Bengals' front did in their first two matchups, though you expect them to hit their 2012 form sooner rather than later. What's less certain is whether Andy Dalton can be Phil Simms on a defense-powered contender. He missed a number of throws against Pittsburgh that are absolute table stakes for contending quarterbacks.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Like their NFC doppelgangers the Bears, Cincinnati lacks a massive weakness as long as AJ Green is propping up Dalton. But Dalton has a lot to prove before this club has a real shot at the title.

Know the Score Prediction: AFC North division winner, out in Divisional round.

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(Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl Odds: 16/1

Playoff-Ready: Drew Brees is locked and loaded once again despite facing stronger resistance from the Falcons and Bucs than you'd expect. They aren't firing on all cylinders yet, but even at 80 percent Brees is too slick to stop with this many weapons.

Show Me More: You never know what's going to happen when the Rob Ryan wild-ass circus hits town, but the early returns aren't half bad. Ryan is coaxing some strong performances out of newer faces like Cam Jordan, John Jenkins, Kenny Vaccaro and Junior Gallette, as well as vets like David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton. An under-talented secondary might not have the horses to hold up for 16 games, but things already look much better than last season's post-Bountygate fiasco.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Once a potent force, the New Orleans run game is langushing as Sean Payton keeps wasting carries on Mark Ingram. More touches for Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles will kick the O into higher gear.

Know the Score Prediction: NFC South division winner, out in Divisional round.

Houston Texans

Super Bowl Odds: 12/1

Playoff-Ready: J.J. Watt remains the league's most destructive defensive lineman, and the return of Brian Cushing has been a boon to the run defense. He's stopped ball-carriers short of "success yardage" on an absurd 13 out of his 14 tackles so far. Andre Johnson is dominating per usual, and after he suffered a blow to the head against Tennessee, we all saw why DeAndre Hopkins was considered the 2013 draft's most pro-ready wideout.

Show Me More: It's been a patchy effort for the Texans' offensive line thus far. The run game has mixed some outside zone sweetness with blown blocks, and Matt Schaub has seen too many guys in his face. The pass defense also has a so-so look two games into the season. D.J. Swearinger is holding down the fort reasonably well until Ed Reed is good to go, but there have been too many holes in coverage and not enough pressure off the edge.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Houston has brought another well-rounded bunch to the 2013 season, but well-rounded isn't enough without a championship edge.

Know the Score Prediction: AFC South division winners, out in Divisional round.

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Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl Odds: 11/1

Playoff-Ready: RODGAAAAAHHHS!!! Green Bay's absurdly talented signal caller looks as good as ever, spreading the ball among a stout cast of weapons while burning good defenses and absolutely humiliating bad ones. The best 20 throws from every other QB in the league combined this season will be comparable to Rodgers' best 20 throws ... on the run.

Show Me More: One-hundred-plus on the ground for James Starks is a mirage, but Eddie Lacy showed enough in the preseason that the Packer run game could at least achieve credibility once he's back. GM Ted Thompson's work to amass a stable of pass rushers needs more of a return than 0 sacks, 0 hits and 11 pressures through two games for everyone not named Clay Matthews.

Not Ready for Prime Time: While Green Bay's defensive backfield is missing some key guys in Morgan Burnett and slot eraser Casey Hayward, 720 passing yards allowed through two games isn't what Dom Capers had in mind.

Know the Score Prediction: NFC North division winner, out in NFC Championship game.

New England Patriots

Super Bowl Odds: 11/1

Playoff-Ready: New England’s pass defense looks up to its old turnover-inducing tricks, albeit against a pair of overmatched rookie QBs. Devin McCourty is an excellent safety, and Aqib Talib may be ready to atone for last season’s second-half roastings. The Pats will need more heat from Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich to hold up over the long haul, but this bunch should provide plenty of game-turning turnovers even if it surrenders yardage to opponents in comeback mode.

Show Me More: Vince Wilfork looked surprisingly moveable against the Jets. Bilal Powell and Fred Jackson have found some room to operate against the New England front. The Pats' offensive line should be excellent once again. Outside of Shane Vereen's dashes against Buffalo, the New England ground game has looked ordinary and a tad fumble-prone so far. Vereen is gone, so it will be up to Stevan Ridley to make the most of his blocking and provide some ground support for Tom Brady.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Every receiving option not named Julian Edelman. It turns out that this whole "I’ve got four seconds to throw while all my receivers synchronize their patterns in mind-meld with me" is kind of important to Tom Brady’s otherworldly success. You could see the steam coming out of Brady’s ears as rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson dropped balls, botched routes and looked -- well, like rookies. A healthy Gronk and a healthy-as-he-ever-gets Danny Amendola will help get things squared away. For now, the Pats’ pass attack is discombobulated.

Know the Score Prediction: AFC East division winner, out in AFC Championship game

San Francisco 49ers

Super Bowl Odds: 8/1

Playoff-Ready: The 49ers defensive front once again looks like one of the league’s stoutest, bringing plenty of heat on Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. Marshawn Lynch Beast-Moded it a tad, but it still held the Seahawks to 3.7 yards per carry on the ground, and most opponents won’t run the ball on it 47 times in two games, let alone one. San Fran will need to prove that offseason attrition on the defensive line won’t preclude an able replacement for NT Ian Williams. With the overall quality of the depth there, the 49ers should be fine if they can avoid further injury.

Show Me More: Don’t read too much into Colin Kaepernick’s nightmare night at CenturyLink Field, but a passing game that ravaged the Packers suddenly seemed to have a massive lack of weapons. Harbaugh and company clearly need to get back to scheming free releases for Anquan Boldin while hoping for a quick and healthy return from Vernon Davis and a step-up from a youngster like Quinton Patton.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Two games in, the non Kaepernick-keeper aspects of the 49er ground game look to need work. Frank Gore hasn’t had much room to roam and hasn't shown a ton of burst on the occasions when he’s found daylight. The 49er front boasts quality players, but it needs to prove it can overcome the loss of Harbaugh’s favorite ground-game chess piece in Delanie Walker, and that success isn’t just built on Kaepernick-induced defensive hesitation.

Know the Score Prediction: NFC Wildcard representative, loss in Divisional round

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Seattle Seahawks

Super Bowl Odds: 11/2

Playoff-Ready: Actual hawks haven’t killed as many flying things as the Seahawks’ pass defense. This airtight bunch made a mockery of the same San Francisco passing attack that annihilated the Packers a week earlier. Scary thing is, Seattle did so WITHOUT the services of 6’4 superfreak corner Brandon Browner and its two most productive pass rushers from last season, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin. The addition of the versatile Michael Bennett has the Seattle defensive front playing outstanding two-way ball. Dismantling the 49er ground game is a great sign for a defense that was surprisingly just OK against the run last season. The Seahawks’ own ground game looks back to its punishing ways after a so-so start against Carolina, though you’d like to see the offensive line open a few more clean holes and reduce the dependency on heroics from Marshawn Lynch.

Show Me More: Russell Wilson was a revelation as a rookie passer in 2012, but aerial magic has been tougher to come by this season. He’s faced a pair of stout defensive fronts that have kept him on the run. Seattle needs more of the downfield dynamism he conjured down the stretch last season.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Right now, all systems are go. The one hole in this group’s resume is still a lack of big wins over tough opponents on the road. With a win over San Francisco in their pocket and an easier schedule, though, the Seahawks could be subjecting all their playoff opponents to the ear-shattering ministrations of the 12th Man.

Know the Score Prediction: NFC champs

Denver Broncos

Super Bowl Odds: 4/1

Playoff-Ready: It wasn't a record-tying aerial rout like the Broncos’ demolition of Baltimore, but Denver’s 41-23 victory in Manning Bowl III featured plenty of cool and clinical dissection from Manning the Elder. Only a case of the dropsies -- Denver’s receivers have dropped nine balls so far, tied for second in the league -- has marred the surgical showcase. The Broncos’ run defense also looks ready to rock and roll after getting the best of the Ravens’ high-quality OL and absolutely extinguishing hope against the Giants.

Show Me More: Denver’s pass defense hasn’t been airtight, but it’s performed well in the absence of its two most important players in Champ Bailey and Von Miller. DRC has been A-OK on the outside, and Chris Harris’ smothering slot coverage has already yielded a pair of picks – once Miller and Bailey are back in the fold, this should be one of the league’s best anti-air units. The ground game won’t turn heads, but it’s plenty capable of punishing dishonest fronts.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Ummm … performance in sub-20 degree weather outdoors with an older quarterback? Freezing temps and a late-game freeze-up from Rahim Moore conspired to keep the Broncos out of last year’s title game, but so far in 2013, they’re head and shoulders above everything else in the AFC.

Know the Score Prediction: AFC champs

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