Despite looking like the favorite to reach and ultimately win Super Bowl XLVII in early December, the Houston Texans are taking a standing eight count after having been knocked down three times in their last four regular-season games.
In the process, Houston has surrendered a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Given the state of the Texans entering January, it's nearly impossible to view them as a significant threat to the Lombardi Trophy. However, that doesn't mean there aren't some other surging teams in solid position to reach this year's big game.
Here, we'll break down the top Super Bowl contenders' chances of reaching New Orleans in February.
Here we go again. The Atlanta Falcons have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the second time in three seasons, meaning the road to Super Bowl XLVII in the NFC goes through Mike Smith's Dirty Birds in the Georgia Dome.
However, just like in 2010, it's difficult to trust the Falcons. They are 0-3 in playoff games during the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era.
This very well could be the year that Smith and Ryan break through in the postseason, but with proven and more complete championship-caliber teams like the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers chasing after it, Atlanta's playoff run could end sooner than anticipated.
Chances: 20 percent
Peyton Manning and company will only need to win two games in order to secure a berth in the Super Bowl, but one of those two games could be against the reigning conference champion New England Patriots, who have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl five times since 2001 (the most of any team over the last 11 seasons).
With that being said, a potential Broncos-Patriots clash would take place in the Mile-High City.
Playing at home, with No. 18 under center and a Top-Five defense on the other side of the ball, the edge has to go to the top-seeded Broncos. For now, they are the favorite to reach Super Bowl XLVII from the AFC.
Chances: 40 percent
Green Bay Packers
The road back to the Super Bowl will be a challenging one for the Green Bay Packers, but not nearly as tough as it was in 2010, when they won three road games as an NFC Wild Card to win the conference and advance to Super Bowl XLV.
Green Bay will open the playoffs at home, which increases its chances of making a deep run. Plus, the Packers could potentially host the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau, depending on what happens over the next two weeks.
Either way, this team has proved in the past that it can beat anyone, anywhere.
Chances: 20 percent
New England Patriots
Which of the AFC's top two seeds has the best shot to reach Super Bowl XLVII?
The Houston Texans' late-season slip-up certainly boosts the Patriots chances of returning to the Super Bowl for the second straight year, as now they will only have to win two games instead of three in order to accomplish their goal.
New England's suspect secondary has to be a major concern, though. The Pats ranked 29th defending the pass in 2012 and would be in for a long day against a quarterback like Peyton Manning in a potential AFC title game showdown on the road.
Given how well Denver has played as of late, winning 11 straight games to end the regular season, New England can only be seen as second-best in the AFC for now.
Chances: 25 percent
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco was a few mistakes away from representing the NFC in the Super Bowl last season, and will have the best shot of the conference's six playoff teams this year to reach the title game, if you ask me.
The Niners not only boast a Top-Five defense coming into January, but also the league's fourth-best rushing attack, led by 1,200-yard rusher Frank Gore and dynamic quarterback Colin Kaepernick. When you throw in the fact that Jim Harbaugh's club ranks second in the NFC in fewest giveaways this season (16), it's hard to deny San Francisco's strong odds.
The presence of other major contenders in the NFC playoffs reduces the 49ers' chances, however.
Chances: 25 percent
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