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Saturday, December 03, 2022

Column: No frontrunners in Super Bowl race

We’re just past the halfway point in the 2014 NFL season, and absolutely no team has separated themselves from the rest of the pack as the bona fide Super Bowl favorite.

At this point, I’m confident in eliminating Chicago, Minnesota, both New York teams, Washington, St. Louis, the entire NFC South besides New Orleans, Tennessee, Oakland and Jacksonville from Super Bowl contention. If you have a problem with that, I’d love to point you to the nearest psych ward.

That gives us 20 teams whose Super Bowl chances I’m at least willing to consider. Let’s run through them all, lightning round style.

The fringe teams: Buffalo, Houston, Miami and San Diego

Do you really trust EJ Manuel, Ryan Mallett or Ryan Tannehill to make an illustrious run to the Super Bowl? Me neither.

Philip Rivers is at least capable, but what happened? The Chargers started 5-1 but have lost three straight, including a 37-0 blowout loss to Miami. Five of their seven remaining opponents are currently over .500. I doubt San Diego makes the playoffs.

What are we doing here? New Orleans and San Francisco

Two perpetual preseason playoff favorites for what seems like the past five years find themselves at 4-5 and 5-4, respectively. Drew Brees is starting to show his age ever so slightly, but the Saints are in a mockery of a division and thus should still make the playoffs.

The 49ers are about to get Aldon Smith back from suspension, and they did just beat the Saints on the road in overtime. I don’t really like either of these teams, but I can’t rule out either one simply because of their postseason experience.

The AFC North: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh

Name a truly impressive win for the Ravens this season. Maybe the 26-6 early season victory over the Steelers. Fine.

Cincinnati lost to New England and Indianapolis by a combined score of 70-17. Good to see the Bengals showing up against elite competition. The Browns lost to the Jaguars by 18 points, and the Steelers lost to both the Jets and the Buccaneers (commence laughter).

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Baltimore is the best of this bunch, but the division is a crapshoot, and I’m pretty convinced none of these teams are actually capable of making an extended playoff run.

The “Yeah, right” squad: Arizona, Detroit and Philadelphia

Arizona, with its NFL-best 8-1 record, just lost Carson Palmer for the season to a torn ACL. Is the ink on his massive contract extension dry yet? If Drew Stanton takes Arizona to the Super Bowl, he earns a permanent seat at the WTF? table with Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson.

The Lions are the Lions, so they’ll do something Lions-y and screw up. It’s bound to happen, just wait. And you know it’s coming, Detroit fans.

Nick Foles just broke his collarbone and there’s no definitive timetable for his return to the Eagles’ starting lineup. In comes Mark Sanchez! This is not a drill.

The second tier: Dallas and Kansas City

If you can promise me that Tony Romo’s back won’t disintegrate by the end of the season, then I feel more confident about the Cowboys’ chances. But just remember that Oakland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Tennessee all have more recent Super Bowl appearances than Dallas.

I like the Chiefs. Any team that rips the Patriots apart on Monday Night Football is a friend of mine. They have a really good defense, but with Alex Smith at the helm, Andy Reid will have to conjure the spirits of Dilfer and the 2000 Ravens.

The contenders, I guess: Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England and Seattle

Aaron Rodgers is a demigod, but the Packers still send out 11 tackling dummies when their opponents run the football. Also, Green Bay wouldn’t even be in the playoffs right now. So be cautious, cheeseheads.

Seattle and New England each stumbled out of the gate, but have since righted the ship. Still, both of these teams barely beat the Raiders at home, so I have my reservations.

I was all ready to label Denver as the Super Bowl frontrunner until the Broncos went and got walloped by New England. But they still have a strong resume beyond this, with wins over Indianapolis, Kansas City, Arizona and San Francisco.

The Colts were once 0-2, but have now won six of their past seven. Andrew Luck reportedly bought a pickaxe, threw Drew Brees over the Black Hills and began carving his own face into the Mount Rushmore of 21st century quarterbacks alongside Rodgers, Peyton and Brady.

The stage is set for this weekend’s Sunday night game: Colts versus Patriots. If Indy wins, they could conceivably win out to hit the playoffs having won 13 of 14, even with a mediocre defense that allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw for more than 500 yards Oct. 26.

But if I have to pick a Super Bowl winner, I’m going with the Colts, as Luck will throw for a bajillion yards and take home MVP honors.

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