It’s hard to believe, but there are just four weeks left in the season. Games to remember happen in December, and I’m all here for it. As the season winds down, the playoff picture becomes clearer and we can start to hone in on the real Super Bowl contenders.
For this list, I included the teams I felt even had a shot, but the top six teams are the ones I feel best about.
Here’s my ranking of potential Super Bowl 54 contenders, in reverse order:
13 and 12. Dallas Cowboys/Philadelphia Eagles
My favorite part of this season is that 3-9 Washington is still in the playoff hunt. The NFC Least is the reason why. I guess someone has to win the division, though it’ll probably be Dallas or Philly.
The Cowboys didn’t bother to show up in Chicago Thursday night. They made Mitchell Trubisky look like an All-Pro. Offensively, they are a wreck. They need to fire Jason Garrett ASAP. His message isn’t working.
But an NFC East team will end up in the playoffs, and whoever it is will be a home underdog against the No. 5 seed on Wild Card Weekend.
11 and 10. Houston Texans/Tennessee Titans
One of these teams will win the AFC South and the other could get a wild card spot, but I don’t think either has a chance to win the Super Bowl. Outside of Deshaun Watson, which team has great players at impactful positions? And no, wide receivers don’t count as impactful in this conversation.
While the division winner will probably win a playoff game because of seeding, do you think either is going to New England or Baltimore and winning that game? Heck no.
The Bills are trending up right now, but they don’t have the offense to win multiple playoff games. Football Outsiders puts their offense at No. 19 and their yards per play is sitting at No. 18. They are league average on third down as well.
However, their defense is legit and that squad could win them a playoff game. As a Chiefs fan, I’m slightly afraid of the Bills coming to Arrowhead in a wild card matchup. That feels like a game the Chiefs would lose in the past.
The Packers are only here because of the threat of Aaron Rodgers. We know Rodgers has all-world talent, though he’s not playing at an all-world level this year. However, when you have a player of that caliber, you always hold out hope when it’s crunch time that he will step up.
That’s why I have the Packers in the No. 8 spot. Their offensive line is an outstanding pass-blocking unit. They’ve yet to allow a sack under 2.5 seconds, and they let Rodgers make those second and third window throws. The concern for the Packers, and it’s why they won’t come close to the Super Bowl, is their defense. It ranks 22nd at Football Outsiders and 29th in yards per play. The NFC is loaded with extremely good offenses, and the Green Bay defense won’t hold up.
The Vikings should be higher than seventh on the list. They are sixth on offense and 11th on defense, according to Football Outsiders — a balanced attack. But they are lower because of Kirk Cousins, who again, doesn’t win often in primetime. Cousins isn’t having a bad season. He’s playing well. But for whatever reason, his team often loses in night games.
After the Monday Night Football loss to the Seahawks, Cousins is now 7-14 in primetime and 2-8 on the road. While with the Vikings, he’s 3-10-1 against winning teams and only 1-8-1 on the road. How do you trust Cousins in the postseason?
6. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks should probably be higher than this because if they get homefield in the NFC, it’s so dang tough to win Seattle. Plus, Russell Wilson is amazing and I trust him in any situation. What I don’t trust is Pete Carroll and the pass rush. Carroll doesn’t manage a game that well. He’s super conservative and then he’s not. He seems to waste timeouts on bad challenges. And considering Seattle never plays a normal game, I’m not sure you can rely on the coach to make it right.
The Seahawks are lacking a good pass rush. PFF has them ranked 27th in pass rush success, and that worries me come playoff time.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are getting healthy, especially on the offensive line, which is hugely important. However, something just feels off about this offense. Patrick Mahomes is putting up ridiculous numbers this season, but he too often drifts out of the pocket when he doesn’t need to, and he ends up in a poor position to make throws. His arm strength and side arm slot can only go so far. The Kansas City OL being healthy should help with this pocket anxiety.
And if it does, watch out, because the Chiefs have sneakily been a great team against the pass. Football Outsiders has their pass defense rated at sixth in the NFL. I’m not sure many people realize they’ve been playing that well. Also, the Chiefs have beaten the Ravens this season, so they know how to attempt to stop their offense if they meet again in January.
Short and sweet for the Patriots. They are the Patriots. No one ever counts them out. Is their offense struggling? Yes. But they could flip the switch tomorrow and be fine. There are just some chemistry issues right now. The defense is elite, too. End of story.
The 49ers played a heck of a game against the Ravens in Week 13. I thought they were the better team but lost. Oh well, it happens. The problem with losing that game for the 49ers is it drops them out of homefield advantage for now. This is important because of the two teams they still have to play this month and could possibly play in the NFC Championship Game: The Seahawks and Saints. Russell Wilson is 5-0 in the postseason at home. Drew Brees is 6-1 at the Superdome in the playoffs.
While the Niners have the defense and run game to compete in the postseason, are they ready at quarterback for that run? The 49ers only have two players with extensive playoff experience (Joe Staley and Richard Sherman), and at the most important position, quarterback, they have none. I think you can make a strong case the Niners should win the NFC, but I don’t like their road through Seattle and their road through New Orleans.
Speaking of ...
2. New Orleans Saints
The only home playoff loss Brees has in his time with the Saints came in the NFC Championship Game last season to the Rams. You can argue without the help of a blown pass interference call, he should be 7-0. New Orleans has an elite offense paired with the best defense Brees has had in recent memory.
The Saints host the 49ers this weekend, and I think they win that game. That would give New Orleans the tiebreaker against both Seattle and the 49ers for that No. 1 seed. If the Saints can finish strong — after the Colts come town, they have a sneaky tough game at the Titans followed up with a trip to Carolina — they will get homefield throughout the playoffs. That makes them my favorite to win the NFC.
1. Baltimore Ravens
I was wrong about this team. They are balling. Lamar Jackson is doing his thing, and the defense is now one of the best units in the NFL. The Ravens almost never have to move off their gameplan of controlling the line of scrimmage and running downhill because they are never behind. This offense is so tough to stop because Jackson is just a different dude athletically. There’s no one like him. You can’t prepare.
I’m interested to see two teams, the Browns and Steelers, play the Ravens for the second time in the upcoming weeks. What adjustments will they make? Is it “easier” to see this offense a second time around? We will find out. Until then, they are the favorite to win the Super Bowl.