No NFL team can expect an easy path to the Super Bowl. With so much parity in the league, every game becomes a test of preparation, execution and will.
Only eight teams remain in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy, and while hope is still alive for each team in the race, only two will earn a trip to New Orleans on February 3.
Anything can happen in the playoffs. All it takes is one big play to change a game—and a team’s playoff fate.
But there are a number of teams with the odds stacked in their favor. Here are the top candidates poised for a deep playoff push and a Super Bowl appearance.
Super Bowl odds were obtained from VegasInsider.com.
Green Bay Packers: 8/1
The Packers righted the ship against the Vikings on Saturday, but they were also facing a team led by Joe Webb. Still, they held Adrian Peterson under 100 yards after surrendering 409 yards to him in the regular season, and Green Bay looks like a team poised for a deep playoff push.
The road to the Super Bowl will lead through a fresh San Francisco team coming off a bye week, so the Packers will need to play their best football against a team that bested them in their first matchup of the season.
It’s hard to count out a team led by a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers’ caliber, and the Packers have shown in the past what they can do in the playoffs. Rodgers may be the best quarterback in the league, and he’ll show it this postseason.
San Francisco 49ers: 4/1
The 49ers boast one of the most dominant defenses in the league, led by a linebacking corps with some of the most talented young players in the NFL. If it’s true what they say about defense winning championships, San Francisco has a pretty good shot.
However, inexperience may show for the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick has only started for half the season, and while he’s played well and provided a spark for San Francisco’s offense, he hasn’t played experienced NFL playoff football yet.
The 49ers added some impressive wins to their résumé this year, including victories over Green Bay, Chicago and New England. San Francisco didn’t play its best football to end the year, though, and the 49ers will face an especially tough test in the Packers next weekend.
New England Patriots: 5/2
The Patriots are perennial Super Bowl contenders, and this year will be no different.
Tom Brady is having a remarkable season, despite not getting much recognition for the league MVP award. He’s as good as ever.
The Patriots face a Houston Texans squad that ran out of steam at the end of the regular season, and while the Texans are coming off a tough win against the Bengals on Saturday, the Patriots have had a week to rest and prepare for next week’s matchup.
The Patriots are in good shape to move on to the AFC Championship game, but they may be faced with a huge obstacle to overcome.
Denver Broncos: 2/1
All signs point to a Peyton Manning Super Bowl appearance. The Broncos have been on a tear since starting the year 2-3. They haven’t lost a game since October 7.
That loss came at the hands of the Patriots, though, and it’s likely those two teams will match up again in the AFC Championship game.
Denver will have to focus on its divisional round matchup first, but the Broncos are playing too well to be stopped in the second round. In their last three games of the regular season, the Broncos outscored their opponents 106-32, and with a week of rest, Denver should be ready for a Super Bowl run.
The Broncos feature the No. 4 offense and No. 2 defense in the league, and if they can continue to play as dominantly as they did for most of the season, they will represent the AFC in New Orleans on February 3.