Ranking the NFL's Top Super Bowl Contenders as Playoffs Near
As the 2013 NFL playoffs approach, there is much shuffling going on throughout the conference seedings. The biggest potential shift will be addressed this Sunday, when the New Orleans Saints will play on the road against the Carolina Panthers for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Another key divisional matchup will take place in Week 17, as the Philadelphia Eagles will try to secure the NFC East title against the Dallas Cowboys.
There are a ton of tiebreakers and loads of luck needed for some of the teams toward the bottom of the totem pole, but for the teams near the top, a steady path with minimal mistakes is all that will be needed for a Super Bowl berth.
It's hard to determine which teams are most poised for a Super Bowl run because, let's face it, there is always that "any given Sunday" dynamic. But when you break down each squad, it's not hard to see which teams are the most prepared.
*All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.
6. Philadelphia Eagles, Current No. 3 Seed in the NFC
Raise your hand if you thought the Philadelphia Eagles would rally behind Nick Foles and (probably) win the NFC East.
No one? I thought so.
Foles has emerged from the depths as a top talent in this league and is leading his team as good as any other quarterback. The Eagles passing attack is the most dangerous it has been in years, as the team can now score at any time.
Needless to say, LeSean McCoy is having one helluva season (leads the NFL in rushing with 1,343 yards), too, and he is a big reason why this offense moves as well as it does. McCoy has easily been this team's MVP, as he can run and also catch the ball extremely well (45 catches for 507 yards).
If this defense can just hold up—not even excel, just hold up—then they will be in great shape when the playoffs officially arrive.
5. New England Patriots, Current No. 2 Seed in the AFC
The New England Patriots deserve a pat on the back. They've been able to overcome several key injuries and a sputtering offense early on in the season en route to positioning themselves for another playoff berth.
Bill Belichick has done a masterful job of dealing with the adversity and, for a while there, actually had more of a defensive team than an offensive team—go figure.
Tom Brady has done a great job bringing along his rookie receivers and making due with what he has. However, recent inconsistencies have plagued the Patriots, and they struggled a bit against the Miami Dolphins last weekend.
If they can get things back on track in time for the playoffs, then they could get hot and make a serious run at the championship.
4. New Orleans Saints, Current No. 2 Seed in the NFC
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints' success in the playoffs will greatly hinge upon whether or not they can maintain the second seed in the NFC.
All of their losses this season have come on the road, most recently in the form of a 27-16 dismantling at the hands of the St. Louis Rams this past Sunday.
Drew Brees has been a tremendous quarterback, per usual, and the Saints had a pretty solid running game for a few weeks. They've since strayed away from the run and are back to the pass-heavy, unbalanced offense that, while effective most times, can be a downfall in bad weather games or defensive battles.
Even so, the Saints are just fine more often than not, and they will not be an easy task for anyone when the playoffs start.
3. Carolina Panthers, Current No. 5 Seed in the NFC
The Carolina Panthers are the highest-ranked (and only) wild-card team on this list, and for good reason. Carolina had an incredible eight-game winning streak after starting the season 1-3, and they will look to get on another hot streak as the playoffs start.
Their next game comes against New Orleans, a game that will determine control of the NFC South division and the No. 2 seed in the NFC. If they win, then their stock as a playoff team will go way up.
This team is very hard to beat when they're at home, and if they can obtain home-field advantage in the playoffs, it will greatly aid them in getting to the Super Bowl.
The Panthers have as good of a chance as most to make a run in the playoffs, largely because of their budding offense and gritty defense.
Watch out for the Panthers.
2. Denver Broncos, Current No. 1 Seed in the AFC
The Denver Broncos have been a consistent force all year, but a loss to the San Diego Chargers in the Thursday Night Football finale knocks them down to No. 2 in the rankings. That being said, records are out the window when the playoffs come around and everything is on the line, and the Broncos are a damn good team.
Peyton Manning has been nothing but prolific this season, and he is the glue that holds this entire team together. That's not to say that there isn't talent throughout the roster, but without Manning, the Broncos would clearly be a lesser team. However, they aren't without Manning and currently have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Similar to other teams on this list, the Broncos play well on both offense and defense, and they will be tough to take down in the wintry conditions at Mile High Stadium.
1. Seattle Seahawks, Current No. 1 in the NFC
The Seattle Seahawks are the most complete team in the NFL. Through the maturity of Russell Wilson, they've been able to balance out their offense and can play at a high level against any team—any time and in any weather.
Marshawn Lynch has been the workhorse running back that this offense needed, as he has totaled 1,089 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns this season.
Lynch and Wilson complement each other's styles well, and the potent running game opens up the playbook for Seattle's coaches.
Although their offense is feared, it's their defense that really takes the cake. The Seahawks defense hasn't skipped a beat since their defensively dominant year in 2012.
Overall, Seattle is the most complete team in the NFL, and the fact that they will most likely play at home for a month-and-a-half straight will be a great advantage for them.