February 3, 2013. New Orleans, Louisiana.
Every team hopes to be playing in Super Bowl XLVII, but—as is the case every season—there are only a select number of teams that have a legitimate chance at representing their conferences in the biggest sporting event of the year.
In my opinion, these are the five teams with the best odds of making their way to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
5. Houston Texans
Why they will make it to the Super Bowl: The Texans are built around arguably the strongest running game in the league and one of the top defenses in football.
With a healthy Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, the Texans passing game offers enough of a threat to keep defenses honest, and with two running backs capable of leading an offense, Houston should be able to score enough to force teams to throw frequently against a defense that is best at getting to the quarterback.
Though teams like the Patriots and Packers have made Super Bowl appearances in recent years, the old-school philosophy of powerful running games and the ability to pressure the passer still is a successful playoff formula.
Houston is the clear favorite in the AFC South and once they're in the playoffs, they are more than capable of making a run.
Why they won't make it to the Super Bowl: The top concern for the Texans continues to be injuries. Throughout his career in Houston, Matt Schaub has struggled to be under center for 16 games and as his career has gone on, Andre Johnson has begun to succumb to injuries throughout recent seasons.
On defense, they will have to avoid the classic Wade Phillips flop, where his units struggle to match the production of his first year on a coaching staff.
Though he was injured most of last season, overcoming the loss of Mario Williams will still provide a solid test for Phillips and company.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Why they will make it to the Super Bowl: The 49ers are built very similarly to the Texans. A strong running game, a quarterback who rarely turns the ball over and a great defense that can torment a quarterback. Following a 13-3 season under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers will look to earn a first-week bye in the playoff for a second straight year.
San Francisco plays in one of the weakest divisions in football, and their style of play lends itself to a quality record in the NFC West. Barring a significant step backwards by Alex Smith and/or Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco looks to be one of the few locks to make the postseason.
Why they won't make it to the Super Bowl: Quarterback play and the lack of a deep passing game is the number one concern for San Francisco. They brought in a number of wide receivers to help alleviate that problem, but unless Alex Smith is able to make another jump, which is a definite possibility, their passing game will continue to rest in the bottom half of the NFL.
The overall talent of the roster, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, is unquestioned; however it took a lot of things going right for this team to win 13 games last season, and they will need continued success from some of their surprise players if they want to make a run in the postseason.
3. New England Patriots
Besides the head coach and the quarterback, the targets that the Patriots front office has surrounded Brady with makes this one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Newly-signed Brandon Lloyd joins Wes Welker and two of the best pass-catching tight ends in football in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Though they lack an elite running game, they have enough depth at the position to utilize their backs as both runners and pass-catchers. Any team that is capable of scoring 40-plus against any team has the chance to get hot and win a championship.
Why they won't make it to the Super Bowl: Much like the top reason that they will make the Super Bowl, the main reason why they won't is also simple. Their defense. Though they have some young talent on that side of the ball, they're coming off of a year in which they allowed the second-most yards in all of football during the regular season.
Obviously a Brady injury would derail the season, but an increasingly difficult AFC East may put more pressure on the Patriots than usual simply to make the playoffs. For a team that will rely on simply outscoring their opponents, they will need Brady to come out on fire throughout the regular season and postseason—which is a lot to ask of any quarterback, even one of the best of all time.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Why they will make it to the Super Bowl: Dynasty. The Dream Team. Call them whatever you want, but the pure talent on this roster makes them a threat to win the NFC East and the NFC as a whole. With dynamic playmakers across the offense and a defense that will now have had a full offseason to gel, the team may be able to come together in a way they really failed to do last season.
Michael Vick continues to take steps forward as a passer and as he develops chemistry with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, their passing game may live up to the strength of their run game.
On defense, Jim Washburn will have had another season to work with the defensive line, and the secondary should be able to take advantage of an improved pass rush.
Why they won't make it to the Super Bowl: First and foremost, they will need to rely on Michael Vick staying healthy—one of the biggest risks that any team has on this list. For a second straight season, Philadelphia will feel the pressure of the dynasty label that Vick has thrown out and will need to live up to the expectations that surrounded the team in 2011.
The linebacker and safety play will remain a question until they take the field and will need to match what the defensive line is capable of if they hope to not get exploited up the middle for the second year in a row.
The talent is there, but whether or not they are willing to put the work in is the biggest question mark when it comes to the Eagles.
1. Green Bay Packers
Why they will make it to the Super Bowl: The Packers boast possibly the most potent passing attack in all of football. In a league that is being built more and more around quarterbacks, Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers—the best quarterback in the NFL—throwing to Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Donald Driver.
Despite finishing last in the league in yards allowed, the Packers still managed to post a 15-1 record in 2011. With Tramon Williams getting healthy, Charles Woodson transitioning to safety and Ted Thompson spending a number of draft picks on the defense, Green Bay has the potential to have even more talent than last year.
Why they will not make it to the Super Bowl: Whereas the first two teams on my list were built around strong defenses and running games, the Packers are built in almost a completely opposite fashion. If Green Bay is asked to grind out a win in a playoff game—much like they were against the Giants in 2011–they may fall short once again.
With that said, their offense is good enough to carry the defense on a week-to-week basis and their weakness is certainly one that can be overcome.
Any questions about this article—or if you just want to know where I have your team finishing this season—either post in the comment section or hit me up on twitter @QuinnCretton and I will shoot you an answer as quick as possible