2014 Super Bowl: Buying or Selling Title Chances for Sunday's Playoff Teams

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2014

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 29:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates their 21-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on December 29, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Is there a conference champion among Sunday's divisional-round teams?

While only time will tell whether or not the San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers or San Francisco 49ers will make the trip to MetLife Stadium, you can at least get a good idea of which teams are best positioned.

You could make the case for any of those four to be Super Bowl contenders, but in all reality, you have to acknowledge that the climb is much more uphill for some than it is for others.

Here's a Super Bowl stock report, based on each team's title chances:


Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 03:  Teammates  Greg Hardy #76 and Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers tackle Steven Jackson #39 of the Atlanta Falcons during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo b
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This was easily the toughest decision of the four divisional-round teams on Sunday.

The Carolina Panthers have lost once since Week 6, and it came on the road to the New Orleans Saints.

The defense is looking great, and Cam Newton is managing the game well. While his passing yardage total (3,379) is the lowest of his three-year career, he posted the highest QB rating and passed for the most touchdowns.

Head coach Ron Rivera also dismissed any sort of concern that Newton may not be prepared to handle the pressure cooker that is the postseason, per Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News:

"We've seen the guy that's grown in the last three seasons," Rivera said. "He's developed of lot of who he is in terms of our offense, and his learned a lot of things to help him deal with the media."


"He's been in big games, and he's won big games," Rivera said. "I'm not sure there's anything other than the Super Bowl that would be different."

Rivera is right. The Super Bowl is a completely different beast. Nothing can prepare you for it.

But Newton has won a national title in college and picked up plenty of key wins this season. He's not going to shy away from the spotlight in the NFL playoffs.

Verdict: Buying


San Francisco 49ers

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 05:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers runs with the ball after a catch against Morgan Burnett #42 of the Green Bay Packers during their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field on January 5, 2014 in Green Bay, Wis
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Neither the 49ers nor the Panthers will win any style points when the two face off on Sunday. Both teams are mirror images of one another, relying on stifling defense and an offense that moves the ball and winds the clock down.

Don't be surprised if both teams fail to eclipse 20 points.

The reason I'm selling the 49ers and buying the Panthers is that Carolina gets a home game before a date with the Seahawks.

Having Michael Crabtree around this time is a big boost, but don't forget that Carolina went into San Francisco and got a 10-9 win back in Week 10.

It will be hard enough for the Niners to get the win in Charlotte. As if that's not tough enough, they would also need to do the same in Seattle, which has been a fortress over the last few years.

Although Kaepernick and Co. have been there before, making it two years in a row seems unlikely.

Verdict: Selling


Denver Broncos

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos congratulates Eric Decker #87 after he threw him a pass for his first touchdown pass of their game against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on December 29, 2013 in Oakland, Californi
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

No player is under the microscope more in the divisional round than Peyton Manning.

As ESPN's Adam Schefter writes, for better or worse, no matter what actually happens during the game, much of the Denver Broncos' successes or failures will be credited to No. 18:

So when people are discussing Manning's 9-11 postseason record, they need to consider the full body of work, not just the final result. A few of these games, maybe more, easily could have gone the other way. For argument's sake, let's just say two had. Then, with a winning postseason record, the narrative about him is entirely different.


Yet we continue to constantly use broad brushstrokes to paint a picture that is completely misleading and thoroughly incomplete. Starting Sunday against San Diego and continuing for as long as this postseason lasts, Denver wins and loses as a team. But a win or loss will not be hung on anyone as much as it will be hung on Manning.

Only one team has beaten the Broncos in Denver this season: the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers players will have no problems when it comes to believing they can win on the road. They've done it before in Denver and seem to relish the underdog role.

However, the Broncos are the better team, and lightning isn't going to strike twice. As much as he's struggled at times in the playoffs, you don't bet against Manning when he's played as well as he has in 2013.

Having home-field advantage will be a huge boost for Denver, as well.

Verdict: Buying


San Diego Chargers

Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy (left) embraces offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt after the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As great as it would be to keep seeing bolo ties, San Diego's time in the playoffs will likely draw to a close on Sunday.

Sooner or later, you'd expect the Chargers' suspect defense to catch up to them.

San Diego played well against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round, but the AFC North champions were really, really bad. That was more a Bengals loss than it was a Chargers win.

In order to get to the Super Bowl, the Chargers would have to go through the Broncos and then the winner of the Indianapolis Colts/New England Patriots.

It will be extremely hard for the San Diego secondary to stop Peyton Manning and then immediately turn around and do the same to either Tom Brady or Andrew Luck.

Verdict: Selling