Photo via Bleacher Report
There are 32 teams in the NFL. And by my count, there are at least 11 teams that have a chance to win the Super Bowl. Now, I don’t study the NFL for a living or crunch the numbers on a daily basis, but I’ve seen my fair share of quality football and have a pretty good feeling about this season.
Heading into week 11 and based on what I’ve seen, here are the 11 teams I think have a shot at getting to the Super Bowl:
(Just missing my cut are the newly revamped Indianapolis Colts, the resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the surprising Minnesota Vikings.)
Before we get there, Eric Berry is afraid of horses y’all!
Point differential: +30
Big question: Can they stay healthy?
This isn’t a dominating Steelers team of old, but they can still get it done with their defense and Ben Roethlisberger is having a fantastic season without a ton of weapons. He’s thrown just 4 interceptions all season long and partly because of him, they pull out close games. If they could get anything from their running game and stay healthy (which just seems like it won’t happen), they have a shot. But even Roethlisberger has come down with a freaky rib injury that has him sidelined this weekend in a big game against Baltimore.
10. Seattle Seahawks
Point differential: +37
Big question: Can they win with a rookie quarterback?
Their physical defense allows the 4th least points per game and has given up the 4th least yards per game as well. And their offense looks to be coming alive of late as they’ve scored over 20 points four out of their last five weeks after only doing so once in the first five. Marshawn Lynch is the workhorse type back who can extend drives and keep the clock moving. What will hold them back is if Russell Wilson can’t make third down plays.
9. New York Giants
Point differential: +51
Big question: Can they stop anyone?
I think it’s fair to say that this is part of the Giants’ normal swoon that happens every year. They usually have a bad string of games in a row and people count them out. Tom Coughlin can use the “nobody believes in us” on them and they come back and win big games in December and January. If you’re worried about them, it should be because they can’t stop anyone. They’ve only held two teams under ten points (San Francisco and Carolina) and in the other eight games, have given up an average of 26 points. Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown together have been very good and I don’t think they miss Brandon Jacobs who is sitting the bench for the 49ers. Eli Manning has thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns, but he’s just waiting until December.
8. Green Bay Packers
Point differential: +52
Big question: Can they win their division after their slow start?
The Packers started out slowly, going 3-3 out of the gate, losing games to hard-nosed teams like San Francisco and Seattle. And in the games they won, they just didn’t look to be hitting on all cylinders. But in the last four games, the Packers as we know them are back. Though they’re still giving up too many points, the defense looks to be improved from last year. It’s the offense that had taken a step back. Without a dependable running back, they are one of the worst teams rushing the football, but thanks to Aaron Rodgers, it doesn’t hurt them that much. Rodgers may be getting sacked more often then they’d like, but he’s having another excellent season, leading the league in touchdown passes. I’m not sure they won’t have the same issues in the playoffs as last season, but with Rodgers, they always have a chance to do damage.
7. Denver Broncos
Point differential: +82
Big question: Can they continue to ride Peyton Manning to the promise land?
Without knowing the Denver Broncos inside and out, it seems the only difference between this version of the Denver Broncos and last year’s version of the Denver Broncos is Peyton Manning.
Check out these Manning numbers:
QB Rating: 108 (1st)
QBR: 84.8 (1st)
Passing yards: 2705 (5th)
Passing TDs: 21 (3rd)
Add the fact that Denver gets to the QB and Manning is rarely sacked and that Denver’s defense sits right around the top 10 in most defensive categories. This team has a real shot.
6. New England Patriots
Point differential: +98
Big question: Can they stop the pass?
The Patriots are the top scoring team in football with a rejuvenated running game thanks to Stevan Ridley. Tom Brady is having yet another excellent year throwing the football and that’s without Aaron Hernandez for most of the year and not being in sync with Brandon Lloyd quite yet. But their secondary is killing them. They give up over 285 yards per game through the air and opposing QBs have a 97.3 QB rating against them. Some of this is because they get out to such big leads (Green Bay last year was the worst at this), but I don’t know that Patriots fans are comfortable holding a lead with their second rate secondary.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Point differential: +58
Big question: Can they rely on their defense in big games?
Their once dominant defense isn’t dominant anymore. And it’s old. They rank in the bottom half of the league when it comes to yards against the pass and run. And they aren’t taking the ball away like they used to. Ray Rice is having his normal solid year and Joe Flacco is getting it done. Maybe the most interesting thing about the Ravens is that they don’t jump out in any way. They’ve also had a fairly easy schedule so far. They are going to have to rely on their pedigree. We’ll see if that’s enough since their defense isn’t helping matters this season.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Point differential: +86
Big question: Can they comeback if they get behind?
The 49ers are my team and I know them well. They do a few things very well which help them win football games. They generally win the field position battle because of their secret weapon Andy Lee. They run the football extremely well which shortens the game for them. And they dominate the line of scrimmage on the defensive side. What do they not do well? Their secondary is above average, but they have trouble covering the slot receiver as Danny Amendola showed last weekend. And they don’t come from behind well. If their defense doesn’t hold strong, they have difficulty making big yardage gains in a short amount of time. They need to get ahead and if they do, they hold on well.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Point differential: +73
Big question: Can they play tough enough?
The Atlanta Falcons have had one issue for the last two years. They haven’t been able to play tough enough in the trenches to beat the really good teams. Whether or not that’s been fixed is to be determined. They’ve played one too many close games against teams that you wouldn’t expect them to allow to stick around. They don’t have a tough schedule and really only have one impressive looking win on paper, which was against Denver. I don’t think we’ll find out how tough they are until they win a big game in the playoffs. Until then, no matter what their record is, I can’t sit them higher than number three (and I think the 49ers would beat them).
2. Chicago Bears
Point differential: +109
Big question: Can they continue to win the turnover battle?
Corner Tim Jennings has eight interceptions. As a team, they have seven defensive touchdowns, which is almost one per game. They have more defensive touchdowns than Matt Cassel has touchdown passes. If the Bears do one thing better than anyone this season, it’s create turnovers and turn them into defensive touchdowns. Can you keep something like that up? There’s some luck involved, but it’s also contagious, and part of creating turnovers is putting the offense into dire spots. Offensively, Jay Cutler has been good, but not great. He still gives the ball to the other team a lot, which is his kryptonite. It’s something that could hurt them in the postseason. Matt Forte needs to get back to being Matt Forte in order to give them another great weapon to go alongside Brandon Marshall who is having a tremendous season. Their fate may lie with the turnover.
1. Houston Texans
Point differential: +107
Big question: Can they be stopped?
Outside of one slip up against Green Bay, the Texans have been the best team in the NFL. They take the football away, don’t give it up often, have a strong running game, a smart passing game, they get the quarterback, and don’t allow theirs to get got. So far, they’re the most evenly good team all the way around. JJ Wyatt may be the defensive player of the year before it’s all said and done. Their biggest flaw may be the lack of game breaker in the wide receiving corps, but at some point, Andre Johnson will have an Andre Johnson game or two. They may have been the best team in football last year too if Matt Schaub didn’t get hurt.