Ranking NFL Playoff Teams on Their Super Bowl Title Chances
Heading into Week 17 of the 2012 NFL season, a significant amount of the NFL postseason picture is still completely up in the air.
The six playoff teams in the AFC have already been determined, but the seeding for the top three teams has not. The Houston Texans, currently the top seed in the AFC, could drop as low as three if they lose to the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots win on Sunday.
In the NFC, five teams are fighting for the final two postseason spots. The Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys play for the NFC East division title on Sunday night, while the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and New York Giants are competing for the final wild-card spot (although technically the Redskins could also earn the final wild-card spot).
The following slides will rank the teams in order of their chances of winning the Super Bowl. I do take into account a team's uphill battle to even make the postseason in the first place, like the Giants.
15. Minnesota Vikings
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First of all, the Minnesota Vikings need to defeat the Green Bay Packers, winners of eight of their last nine games, to even reach the playoffs. That's not going to be an easy task at all, as the Packers have a lot to play for in the final week. If they lose and the San Francisco 49ers win, the Packers will finish as the No. 3 instead of the No. 2 seed, costing them a week of rest in the playoffs.
Second, the Vikings would need to win three road games, plus the Super Bowl, with one of the league's bottom 10 starting quarterbacks in Christian Ponder. The Vikings' only offensive weapon is Adrian Peterson, and while he has been an absolute freak of nature in the 2012 season, no team will win a Super Bowl in this era without at least an average starting quarterback.
The days of Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson riding great defenses to championships are long gone. The last 10 Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks who will be elected into the Hall of Fame one day, and the final five Super Bowls have come down to a final do-or-die drive.
Sorry, Vikings. The absolute ceiling for this team is the NFC divisional round. But I expect them to miss the postseason.
14. Indianapolis Colts
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There is no bigger fan of the Indianapolis Colts and their rookie quarterback than me. I picked the Colts to reach the playoffs this season as the AFC's No. 6 seed, and they've actually exceeded my expectations for them. With a 10-5 record heading into the season finale, the Colts have the top wild-card spot locked up, meaning they will travel to Baltimore for their first playoff game.
I don't see them winning that game. If they do, they're not getting past the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos or New England Patriots in the AFC. If they somehow did, they'd be underdogs against any NFC team they faced in the Super Bowl, perhaps even the Minnesota Vikings.
The Colts really aren't a good football team. Take away Luck, and they're one of the league's worst teams. They're ranked 21st in point differential, 28th in turnover differential, and last in run defense (yards per carry).
Just reaching the playoffs was an incredible achievement for a team that could easily see the combination of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians win the NFL Coach of the Year honors. But they're a one-and-done team to me.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
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I really like the makeup of this Cincinnati Bengals team. It's led by a trio of young players: quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver AJ Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins. It's one of the hottest teams in the NFL, despite not much publicity, winning six of its last seven games. The only loss came on a walk off field goal to an equally hot Dallas Cowboys team.
But the Bengals don't have the build for a deep postseason run. They haven't beaten a single playoff team during the whole 2012 season (which could change if the Washington Redskins or New York Giants reach the playoffs).
Oh, and here's their likely postseason schedule, assuming they keep winning: at New England, at Houston, at Denver, vs NFC team. Do you see Marvin Lewis and company winning four games against top opponents? Neither do I.
The Bengals were a great story again this season. But they're a week away from dropping to 0-4 in the playoffs during the Lewis era.
12. Dallas Cowboys
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Right now, the Dallas Cowboys just need to focus on getting into the playoffs. They travel to Washington on Sunday Night Football, a winner-take-all game to determine the NFC East division title. This will be the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Cowboys have been involved in a regular season finale with major playoff implications. So far, Dallas is 1-2, with a pair of pretty ugly defeats.
I actually think they'll win tomorrow, but I do not see them surviving the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card Round.
Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and company have been playing pretty well recently, overcoming a 3-5 start with victories in five of their last seven games. This has included a trio of late game dramatic wins, games in which the Cowboys usually lose (see the Pittsburgh Steelers game).
But Romo's 1-3 career postseason record and 2-5 record in his seven biggest games does not indicate that he can lead Dallas on a Super Bowl run. A playoff victory wouldn't surprise me, but the Atlanta Falcons (or whomever Dallas faces in the divisional round) will likely end Dallas' season.
11. Chicago Bears
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The Chicago Bears were being mentioned in the same breath as the 1985 team following a 7-1 start that included incredible play from cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
But they've since stumbled, dropping five of their last seven games. With a 9-6 record, they need to defeat the Detroit Lions on the road, plus have the Green Bay Packers win in Minnesota, to qualify as the NFC's final wild-card team. According to Sports Club Stats, they have a 41.1 percent chance of reaching the playoffs.
If they get in, I don't see them winning their first game, which will likely be in San Francisco. Jay Cutler is one of the streakier quarterbacks in the league but he hasn't been able to beat the better teams in the league. The Bears are 0-4 against NFC playoff teams this year, including a 32-7 loss to the 49ers.
If they even get in the playoffs, expect their season to end in the Wild Card Round.
10. Washington Redskins
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The Washington Redskins have been the talk of the National Football League in recent weeks. Whether you believe that Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson should be the Offensive Rookie of the Year, there's no denying that RGIII has exceeded all expectations after the Redskins traded three first-round draft picks for him.
The Redskins still need to defeat the Dallas Cowboys at home to win the division title, which won't be an easy task. They can still reach the playoffs if they lose, though, but the difference between the No. 4 and the No. 6 seed will be huge.
If the Redskins make the playoffs, there's no telling what will happen. They've already won six in a row and they've shown that their offense ranks among the best in the league. Besides RGIII, rookie Alfred Morris has quietly put together one of the best years by any running back in the NFL.
But it won't be easy for the Redskins to overcome the Seahawks in the Wild Card Round, let alone two more NFC powerhouses and the remaining team from the AFC. I expect RGIII to win a Super Bowl one day, but not this year.
9. New York Giants
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The New York Giants have just an 8.3 percent chance of even reaching the playoffs, according to Sports Club Stats. But something tells me that everything could fall into place for the G-Men on Sunday, and if it does, look out.
Sure, the Giants have been streaky and inconsistent, and they have a poor run defense and an awful pass defense. But they've shown a tendency for January heroics, winning a pair of Super Bowls in the past five seasons. Five of those eight victories, including both conference championship games and both Super Bowls, came down to the final seconds.
The reason for putting them ahead of more likely playoff teams like the Redskins, Cowboys and Bears is because I really don't think any of these teams has a legitimate chance of winning the Super Bowl. But if one of them got hot, I would expect it to be the Giants. Doing it twice shows that it wasn't a fluke the first time.
8. Baltimore Ravens
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It's tough to know what these Baltimore Ravens are made of in 2012. Almost everyone counted them out after cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Ray Lewis suffered major injuries in October. But the Ravens rallied to start the season 9-2.
Then everything fell apart, with quarterback Joe Flacco right in the middle of the mess, and the Ravens fell to 9-5. They're 10-5 now, with the division title locked up, and a home playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts looming.
I think they'll win that game because rookie quarterbacks generally do not fare well in the postseason. But I don't see Joe Flacco and company outlasting the AFC powerhouses, let alone winning the Super Bowl.
I would be surprised if this team was not eliminated in the divisional round.
7. Houston Texans
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I think the Houston Texans are as big of frauds as you can get for a 12-3 team. I think they're a very good team but not a great team.
They're seventh in point differential and they haven't even been able to compete with, let alone beat, the great teams in the league. They allowed 84 points and 10 touchdown passes in blowout losses to the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. That's not a good sign.
They did beat Peyton Manning's Broncos, but that was before Denver started clicking as a team. And victories against teams like the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears don't show that a team is on the verge of a Super Bowl run.
I think they'll actually advance to the AFC championship game because they'll be able to defeat the Ravens in the divisional round, but the Patriots or Broncos should handle them pretty easily in the AFC championship.
6. Seattle Seahawks
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I couldn't be more of a fan of the way the Seattle Seahawks play football. They may not have a single player in the top 25 individual players in the league, yet they have the No. 1 scoring defense and the No. 2 point differential. They're the hottest team in the game right now, and nobody is going to want to face them in the postseason.
However, they're going to have to win three road playoff games just to reach the playoffs. While I think it's a possibility, I can't put their odds higher than the top three teams in the NFC, especially with a rookie quarterback.
Then again, I wouldn't be stunned if it happened. Russell Wilson bested Aaron Rodgers with a walk off touchdown. He defeated Tom Brady with a last-minute touchdown. And he led the Seahawks to 150 points in the last three games, including 42 in a beatdown of the division rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football.
5. San Francisco 49ers
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For almost the entire 2012 season, I've had the San Francisco 49ers representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. That changed last week when the Seattle Seahawks put a beatdown on the 49ers on Sunday Night Football.
No, I'm not picking the Seahawks to advance to the Super Bowl. I don't think they have quite the firepower to win three road playoff games. But I don't think the 49ers, who will now likely have to play in the Wild Card Round, will advance to the Super Bowl either.
The 49ers don't have a winning streak longer than two games all year. They've been outscored 73-23 in the last six quarters of play.
I think they match up well with the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons, but I won't be picking them on the road, and I wouldn't trust Colin Kaepernick to lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory over one of the big three AFC teams (Houston, Denver, New England).
4. Atlanta Falcons
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I'm not a believer of the Atlanta Falcons as a potential Super Bowl champion. I wouldn't be stunned if they won it all, but I'm more expecting them to lose in the NFC championship game.
Let's look at this team closely. The Falcons are 13-2, and that's tied for the best record in the league. They crushed the New York Giants 34-0 when many thought the Giants were on the verge of another late-season playoff run.
But they've beaten just two playoff teams all season (the Denver Broncos, and whichever NFC East team reaches the playoffs). Is it their fault that they haven't faced the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots or Houston Texans? No, it's not. But that's one of the reasons why I doubt them.
I'm just not convinced Matt Ryan and the Falcons could win a shootout with an experienced postseason team like the Patriots or Packers.
3. Green Bay Packers
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I still can't figure out this Green Bay Packers team. They're definitely not as dominant as they were last season, but that could also be the result of Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson missing significant time due to injuries. With all three back, the Packers will be a dangerous team.
But they'll likely host the 49ers in the divisional round, and San Francisco was one of their losses from earlier this season. I think they have the ability to go on a run. After all, Aaron Rodgers has quietly turned in an MVP-caliber season.
The lack of a running game could hurt them in the later postseason rounds, though. I also don't think they're as complete of a football team as the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
2. New England Patriots
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The New England Patriots are the best team in the National Football League. They have the most explosive offense in the game and the top point differential in the game. They're led by quarterback Tom Brady, the best player in the game, and they have arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick.
So why are they not the No. 1 team in my rankings?
It's simple. They're going to (likely) begin the postseason in the Wild Card Round, meaning they'll have to win three games, possibly two on the road, just to reach the Super Bowl. And their likely opponent in the divisional round?
That would be the Denver Broncos, the hottest team in the league.
1. Denver Broncos
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There is no team in the league playing better football over the past few months than the Denver Broncos.
Led by quarterback Peyton Manning, one of the top MVP candidates this season, the Broncos offense ranks second in the league. Led by linebacker Von Miller, one of the top Defensive Player of the Year candidates this season, the Broncos defense ranks fifth in the league.
They'll likely have a home game in the divisional round against the Patriots, which will probably be their toughest game throughout the postseason, and traveling to Houston in the AFC championship (if all goes as expected) won't be an easy game. Neither will the Super Bowl, against the Packers, 49ers, Falcons or whoever represents the NFC.
But the Broncos have the offense, the defense and the coaching to win it all.