Super Bowl 2014: Power Ranking Final 4's Chances at Lombardi Trophy

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IJanuary 16, 2014

Oct 7, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) shakes hands with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) following the game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Broncos 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Ranking four NFL teams shouldn't be that difficult. For months, I've been ranking 32 teams. It should be easier to rank just four teams. 

Logic doesn't translate to the NFL field, however, and when I think about each team's chances of winning the Super Bowl, I find fatal flaws in each that rule them out of contention for being No. 1. 

One thing is for certain, however, two teams will win this weekend, and one team will win the Super Bowl. Wait, I guess that's three things. We're not here to discuss math, though. We're approaching championship Sunday! Let's talk football as I rank the teams in order of their potential to win the Super Bowl. 

First, have a look at the favorites to win the Super Bowl, according to Bovada, and then I'll tell you why the odds have it backwards. 

Odds to Win Super Bowl
Seattle Seahawks+200
Denver Broncos+210
San Francisco 49ers+275
New England Patriots+425


No. 1: New England Patriots

Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the sidelines during the second quarter of the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Webe
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Sealver SiligaChris Jones, Joe Vellano, Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher will likely get a ton of snaps in New England's front seven on Sunday. This is not how the Patriots penciled in their starting lineup at the start of the year, but injuries have forced this unheralded group into action. 

I look at this group, and then I look at the other three teams and see three good rushing attacks and think the Patriots have no shot. To say the Patriots have no shot isn't fair to the Patriots, however.

That fact plays into this quote from a quarterback who has had a few satisfying wins in his career: 

New England has been rocked by injuries this year, and this team is not just surviving them, but getting better. This is especially true on rush defense. New England has had more stability and success in pass defense this season, but rush defense has been another story. 

Last week, however, the Pats held the Colts to 69 rushing yards on 21 carries.

In particular, 6'2", 325-pound defensive tackle Siliga looked great while plugging the middle for the Pats. His presence in this overachieving group can solidify this rush defense going forward. 

All of this leads me to why the Patriots are No. 1. Their inability to stop the run was their biggest weakness, and if that isn't going to be a weakness, this is the most complete team. 

The Patriots offensive line and deep group of running backs have turned the Pats into a dominant rushing team. This has left Brady with the lightest workload of his career: 

Meanwhile, although Brady isn't working with much talent in the passing game, that passing game is also facing less defensive attention thanks to the running game, and Brady is enjoying time to throw the ball. Give Brady those two things and he will find a way to make plays when he has to.


No. 2: San Francisco 49ers 

Jan 12, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts during the third quarter of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are headed to Seattle for the NFC Championship Game. Trips to Seattle have not been good for the 49ers with Colin Kaepernick as starting quarterback. 

In Week 2, the 49ers were pounded in Seattle, 29-3. Last season, they fell 42-13 to the Seahawks in Seattle. In those games, Kaepernick combined to go 32-of-64 passing with 371 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. 

It's too easy to put all the blame on him though. The Seahawks like to play press coverage, and Kaepernick is at his best as a passer when he can get a quick and decisive read on his first option. 

The 49ers have struggled to get targets off the line, let alone open, and, consequently, Kaepernick has struggled. This is not as big of an issue for the 49ers right now. With both Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree in the lineup, Kaepernick is finding more open targets. 

Jan 12, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receivers Michael Crabtree (15) and Anquan Boldin (81) on the field during the third quarter of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donn
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

He is playing his best football of the season in the postseason and his playmaking skills are starting to shine. This has helped the 49ers find balance on offense and run off eight straight wins. 

Meanwhile, the defense looks as good as ever. The 49ers held the Green Bay Packers to just 281 yards in the Wild Card Round and then gave up just 10 points and 325 yards to the Carolina Panthers. 

The 49ers defense settled in that Carolina game and took over, and that included introducing a few new looks: 

That defense made a big difference: 

One area where the 49ers defense has struggled is that they've been allowing rushing touchdowns near the goal line. With that area appearing to be solved, the 49ers are going to be even tougher to score on. 


No. 3: Denver Broncos 

Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos coach John Fox during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot to like about the Denver Broncos right now. They've found a consistent running game with Knowshon Moreno and a good offensive line. That is on top of Peyton Manning and the record-breaking pass offense. 

Manning is coming off a season where he posted the second-highest quarterback rating of his spectacular career and set the single-season record for passing yards and touchdowns. This alone is enough of a reason to pick the Broncos. 

I have them third, however, because their defense is not good enough to get the job done and the offense won't be able to make up the difference. 

Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers receiver Keenan Allen (13) catches a touchdown pass in the third quarter against Denver Broncos cornerback Quentin Jammer (23) during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, the Broncos defense has looked resurgent. It closed out the regular season allowing just a combined 27 points over the final two games and then held the Chargers to just 259 total yards last week. 

Things are not as rosy as they seem, however. The final two regular season games came against the terrible Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders. 

Then, last week, the Broncos had another fourth-quarter meltdown that was reminiscent of last year's playoff collapse against the Baltimore Ravens. 

The Chargers tried for three quarters to run a bland run-heavy offense and were stonewalled, as they gained just 73 total offensive yards in the first three quarters. Once they opened up the offense, they sliced the Broncos pass defense. 

Veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer was not happy with the defensive performance because of that fact. Here is Jammer, as quoted by the Boston Globe's Ben Volin in the following tweet, "You’ve got to finish the game.”

I agree with Volin that the defense wasn't good enough.

The Patriots shredded the Broncos defense in a furious comeback the last time the two played, and that was despite Von Miller making eight tackles, two sacks, forcing a fumble and returning a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Miller has since gone on injured reserve.

On top of his absence, starting cornerback Chris Harris' injury is only going to weaken this defense even further: 

Manning gives this team a chance to outscore every other team, but the defense won't allow me to rank them higher than third. 


No. 4: Seattle Seahawks

Jan 11, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll celebrates after a play against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-US
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks have the lowest odds at Bovada, but they check in fourth in my power rankings due to a sinking offense. 

I will say that Marshawn Lynch and the running game looked rejuvenated last week. Depending on which source you believe for this unofficial stat, Lynch had somewhere between 10 and 174 broken tackles last week. 

Lynch wound up gaining 140 yards at an average of five yards per carry. That was the first time he topped the century mark since Week 10. 

Now, a lot of that had to do with a reduced workload, which was a smart idea for the 27-year-old back who has taken a lot of hits over his career. 

Last week, however, the Seahawks asked him to carry the rock 28 times, and now he is going to need to lead the offense against a brutal 49ers defense. Lynch will not be able to continue to carry the Seahawks, and with a eroding passing offense this will doom them. 

In his last five starts, Russell Wilson has posted five of his worst eight outings of the season in terms of QBR. That includes completing just 15-of-25 passes for 199 yards, one touchdown and one interception. 

That stat line could be worse, but even with Seattle's stout defense, it will not be enough to push this team over the top. Although, Wilson certainly doesn't seem worried about any of this: 

I see the 49ers edging out Seattle in Seattle, but even if the Seahawks win that game, they will face the balanced and dynamic offense of either the Patriots or Broncos. Those two teams will be able to beat the Legion of Boom and the rest of Seattle's defense for more points than the sinking Seahawks offense would be able to muster. 


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