Updated Super Bowl Odds for Every NFL Team Heading into Week 16

Nick Kostos@@thekostosContributor IDecember 18, 2013

Updated Super Bowl Odds for Every NFL Team Heading into Week 16

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    Only two weeks remain in the 2013 NFL season, and it's shaping up to be one of the most compelling final stretches in recent memory.

    Playoff spots are on the line, and teams are starting to round into Super Bowl form. It's around this time that true contenders separate themselves from the pretenders and catch fire heading into January.

    Here are the updated Super Bowl odds for every NFL team heading into Week 16, courtesy of Bovada.

Houston Texans

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    For the Houston Texans, the first game under interim coach Wade Phillips went exactly as the last 11 had under dismissed coach Gary Kubiak: as a loss.

    The Texans were blown out by the Colts, sending the team spiraling to its 12th consecutive defeat. It seems impossible to believe that a team with the talent of the Texans could end up with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but that's likely to happen.

    Phillips would love to have the interim tag removed from his title, but that's not likely to happen. Owner Bob McNair and general manager Rick Smith will have to decide on a new head coach and a new quarterback this offseason. Case Keenum hasn't shown enough at the position to earn the starting job heading into 2014.

    The Texans are staring down the barrel of a 2-14 finish, with a blowout surely on the horizon this Sunday in Denver.

    Next Game: vs. Broncos

Washington Redskins

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    The Mike Shanahan era in Washington is slowly and painfully drawing toward an end, with the team suffering a close loss in Atlanta to drop its record to 3-11.

    The loss served as a microcosm for the Redskins' dreadful season, as they committed seven (seven!!!) turnovers and couldn't finish in the waning moments. While backup quarterback Kirk Cousins played reasonably well, it wasn't enough to push the Redskins over the hump and get a win.

    There's a better chance of me appearing as Beyonce's love interest in her next video than Shanahan returning as the Redskins head coach, and franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III also believes Shanahan is a goner, according to NFL.com.

    Owner Daniel Snyder currently presides over a disaster of an organization. The defense stinks, and the handling of Griffin in the wake of his ACL injury was (and is) laughable. The Redskins desperately need a new coach, a new energy and a new direction.

    The problem is, Snyder has yet to show that he has the acumen to hire the right men to turn his team into a perennial contender.

    Next Game: vs. Dallas

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    The Jacksonville Jaguars' three-game win streak ended with a loss against Buffalo, but the fact that the team has already banked four wins is a major credit to coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell.

    The Jaguars possess one of the worst 53-man rosters in the NFL but have been competitive in every game following their Week 9 bye. Despite injuries to players like running back Maurice Jones-Drew and receiver Cecil Shorts, the team almost upset the Bills this past Sunday.

    While losing is never a good thing, it will help the Jaguars in terms of the draft order. Bradley and Caldwell desperately need to inject the roster with talent, particularly at the quarterback position. While Chad Henne has played reasonably well this season, he's not the kind of guy you want starting 16 games for your franchise.

    The goal over the last two weeks of the season is to garner positive momentum heading into the offseason.

    Next Game: vs. Tennessee

Oakland Raiders

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    According to this report from NFL.com's Michael Silver, the final two games of the season for the Oakland Raiders will go a long way toward determining the short-term future of the franchise.

    General manager Reggie McKenzie is reportedly safe, and given the salary-cap mess he inherited two years ago, that's a fair decision. McKenzie deserves the opportunity to play with a full deck, and he'll get that chance this offseason when the Raiders have nearly $70 million to lavish on free agents.

    But coach Dennis Allen doesn't appear to be receiving the benefit of the doubt. Allen's record sits at 8-22, which obviously isn't good, but the fact of the matter is the Raiders have arguably the least talented roster in the league. That Oakland was 3-4 is a minor miracle, and its current 4-10 record is a lot more representative of its collective skill.

    Despite the lack of talent, the Raiders haven't been competitive in recent weeks, likely drawing the ire of owner Mark Davis. The defense has allowed 124 points over the past three games, including 56 to the Chiefs on Sunday.

    For Allen to secure a third year in charge of the Silver and Black, his team must be competitive over the final two games against San Diego and Denver. 

    If it isn't, McKenzie will need to choose a head coach to go along with a host of new players.

    Next Game: at San Diego

Cleveland Browns

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    It seems like eons ago that the Cleveland Browns were 4-5 and flashing the look of a wild-card contender, but five consecutive losses have knocked the star-crossed franchise out of playoff contention once again.

    Despite the poor record, the Browns are a team on the upswing. There is talent throughout the roster, particularly on defense, and receiver Josh Gordon is among the best players in football regardless of position. 

    The Browns are a franchise quarterback away from being a perennial contender in the AFC. Look for coach Rob Chudzinski and general manager Mike Lombardi to be aggressive in upgrading the position this offseason.

    Next Game: at NY Jets

Atlanta Falcons

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    When the 2013 NFL schedule was released, the Atlanta Falcons surely circled Week 16's Monday night affair in San Francisco on their calendar. After all, the 49ers beat the Falcons in last season's NFC title game, and Atlanta surely relished the opportunity to best its rivals in another matchup of NFC heavyweights.

    Well, Atlanta still might be able to exact a measure of revenge, but it won't be in the way it originally envisioned it, as its record sits at a putrid 4-10. For a team that entered the season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, it's been a stunning fall from grace.

    In the offseason, general manager Thomas Dimitroff must upgrade the offensive line and defense. If that objective can be accomplished, Atlanta will find itself back among the ranks of playoff contenders in the NFC.

    Next Game: at San Francisco (Monday Night Football)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were bludgeoned by the 49ers in Week 15, and while some, including B/R's Matt Miller, are down on the team, I refuse to stress anything but the positive for coach Greg Schiano's club.

    The 49ers represented a step up in class and are playing tremendous football, and the Bucs were never going to win or contend in that game. But the bottom line is that Tampa Bay has won four of its last six games after an 0-8 start and has gotten terrific play at the quarterback position from rookie Mike Glennon.

    Glennon's development is the biggest reason why Schiano deserves to come back in 2014. Glennon has tossed 17 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions and has given the franchise reason to believe he is its signal-caller of the future. Another offseason in Schiano's program could have Glennon ready to ascend to the next level.

    But Schiano isn't off the hot seat yet. The Bucs need to put forth competitive efforts in the final two games to ensure their coach returns for a third season.

    Next Game: at St. Louis

Minnesota Vikings

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    The Minnesota Vikings continue to play hard for coach Leslie Frazier, upsetting the favored Eagles in impressive fashion last Sunday. But even with the victory over Philadelphia, it's been a disappointing season for the Vikings, who will miss the postseason after being a surprise entrant in 2012.

    Ultimately, the albatross around the team's collective neck has been the quarterback position, with Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman all starting games. While Cassel has played well as of late, he's not the long-term answer. General manager Rick Spielman must upgrade the position in the offseason.

    The question now becomes if Frazier can save his job. His team has a golden opportunity to play spoiler with games remaining against Cincinnati and Detroit. If the Vikings can win both games, Frazier has a great chance of returning in 2014.

    Next Game: at Cincinnati

Tennessee Titans

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    The Tennessee Titans nearly completed a massive comeback against the Cardinals in Week 15 but couldn't finish the job and ultimately fell in overtime, dropping their record to 5-9 and ensuring a fifth consecutive season without postseason play.

    That should be enough to cost coach Mike Munchak his job. With new team president and CEO Tommy Smith recently telling The Tennessean that "(the Titans) aren't in the losing business," it looks like the writing is on the wall for Munchak's eventual dismissal on Black Monday.

    The Titans couldn't sustain the momentum garnered from their 3-1 start. There's no question that the injuries suffered by quarterback Jake Locker have factored into the team's 2-8 mark over the last 10 games, but the results still haven't been good enough.

    The next coach will have to determine whether Locker will remain the team's quarterback heading into 2014. If the team decides to keep him, it will have to pick up a $15 million option before the draft, making it a titanic decision that could shape the short-term future of the franchise. 

    Next Game: at Jacksonville

Buffalo Bills

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    The Buffalo Bills got back on track in Week 15, snapping a two-game losing streak by beating the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

    It was a much-needed win for coach Doug Marrone's team and should give the Bills a confidence boost headed into the final two games of the season. While the Bills will miss the postseason for the 14th consecutive year, they can play spoiler with contests remaining against division rivals Miami and New England.

    Despite another losing campaign, there is reason for hope in Western New York. The Bills have a tremendous nucleus of young talent, led by rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley knocked their first draft out of the park, and another successful one this upcoming April will set the Bills up to contend in the AFC for years to come.

    Next Game: vs. Miami

New York Giants

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    It's hard to believe that under two calendar years ago, the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. This current iteration couldn't possibly be farther away from 2011's championship club.

    Simply put: The Giants stink. Their offensive line stinks. The run game stinks. The defense stinks. And most importantly, the quarterback stinks.

    Eli Manning has had a dreadful season. He threw five interceptions in Week 15's loss to Seattle, pushing his season-high total to 25. It's been an inexplicably poor campaign for the two-time Super Bowl MVP, who must bounce back in a major way in 2014 for the Giants to return to contention.

    Coach Tom Coughlin may or may not return, but the onus is on general manager Jerry Reese to improve the talent across the board. If the roster isn't upgraded in a major way, it wouldn't matter if Coughlin, Bill Walsh or Vince Lombardi were coaching the team: The Giants would be awful yet again.

    Next Game: at Detroit 

New York Jets

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    The New York Jets were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Baltimore's victory over Detroit on Monday night, making it three consecutive seasons out of the tournament for coach Rex Ryan's team.

    It's been a strange season for Gang Green. Despite an awful 53-man roster that is a total embarrassment at the skill positions, the Jets managed to remain in playoff contention until the middle of December. But the team's 1-4 mark over its last five games means that Ryan's seat is getting warmer.

    General manager John Idzik didn't hire Ryan, which means he is significantly less inclined to keep him around. The Jets must perform well in the final two games if Ryan is to return in 2014. Also up in the air is the future of rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who hasn't played well enough to lock up the starting job heading into the offseason.

    Next Game: vs. Cleveland

St. Louis Rams

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    Eliminated From Playoffs

    The St. Louis Rams pulled off a major upset in Week 15, crushing the favored Saints to improve their record to 6-8.

    Coach Jeff Fisher has done a phenomenal job rallying his team after the season-ending injury suffered by quarterback Sam Bradford. Defensive end Robert Quinn is an absolute beast and legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate with 15 sacks and seven forced fumbles, and there is other young talent strewn throughout the roster.

    Making things even rosier for the Rams is the fact that they own the Redskins' first-round pick in April's draft, which is currently second overall, giving them two selections in the top 20. 

    The Rams must figure out what they're doing at the quarterback position. Bradford is not a lock to return in 2014, and with two first-round picks, general manager Les Snead has the ammunition to potentially make a move for a new signal-caller.

    Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Odds: 300/1

    Although their record sits at a disappointing 6-8, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still alive for the postseason and thus garner Super Bowl odds.

    But anyone suggesting the Steelers are an elite team would be mistaken. Blowing out a fraudulent Bengals team doesn't change that notion. What that win did show is what might have been for coach Mike Tomlin's team. If the Steelers could have sustained that level of play all season, they might have found themselves in the postseason instead of a long shot to qualify.

    Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown have developed an incredible rapport, and rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is coming on after being injured to start the year. But it's likely too little, too late for the Steelers.

    General manager Kevin Colbert must improve the offensive line and aging defense in the offseason if the Steelers are to return to the tournament in 2014.

    Next Game: at Green Bay

San Diego Chargers

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    Odds: 75/1

    Coming into the season, it didn't appear as if the San Diego Chargers would be a factor as the calendar turned toward Christmas. But coach Mike McCoy's team sits at 7-7 following a huge upset victory at Denver.

    If it weren't for a few late-game collapses—Houston, Tennessee and Washington come to mind—the Chargers could find themselves holding down a wild-card spot. But they'll need to win out and get some help to make the playoffs.

    Even if the Chargers don't make the postseason, it's been a tremendous inaugural season for McCoy and general manager Tom Telesco. Quarterback Philip Rivers is playing inspired football, and rookies Keenan Allen and D.J. Fluker have sparkled. 

    Don't be shocked if the Chargers win out and finish 9-7.

    Next Game: vs. Oakland

Arizona Cardinals

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    Odds: 75/1

    The Arizona Cardinals clinched a winning season by holding on to beat the Titans in Week 15, a major credit to coach Bruce Arians, who is in his first year in Arizona, and rookie general manager Steve Keim.

    Quarterback Carson Palmer has exceeded expectations and has been buoyed by the play of receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Plus, the defense has been fantastic all season.

    But the Cardinals play in the super-tough NFC, where even 11 wins might not be enough to qualify for the playoffs. Arizona is one game behind both San Francisco and Carolina and doesn't control its own destiny. The Cardinals did beat the Panthers earlier in the year and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

    If the Cardinals are to qualify for the postseason, a win in Seattle this Sunday is essential. And that could be an issue, considering the Seahawks haven't lost at home since 2011.

    Next Game: at Seattle

Detroit Lions

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    Odds: 66/1

    Monday night's shocking setback to the Ravens might have been the most awful Detroit Lions loss in the history of the Detroit Lions.

    Seriously. It was a total embarrassment. Coach Jim Schwartz was clueless in not using his timeouts before the Ravens attempted what proved to be the game-winning field goal. His postgame comments, basically calling the loss a fluke, were even more ridiculous. Schwartz doesn't get it. He's not a good enough coach to win consistently at the NFL level. 

    Quarterback Matthew Stafford was also disappointing. There's no doubting his physical attributes, but his mechanics are profoundly flawed. His decision to throw some passes side-armed is maddening. Receiver Calvin Johnson also played a poor game (by his standards). The team continues to play undisciplined football, a hallmark of the Schwartz era.

    This is a season where the NFC North was practically gift-wrapped for the Lions with injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, but they find themselves in third place with two games remaining and are no longer in control of their own destiny. Given the talent level throughout the team, that's inexcusable.

    Even if the Lions somehow manage to qualify for the postseason, Schwartz should be a goner. Whether it was the fake field-goal attempt against Pittsburgh or not having his team ready to play against Tampa, this much is clear: The Lions will never win it all with him as their head coach.

    Next Game: vs. NY Giants

Dallas Cowboys

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    Odds: 66/1

    You've got to give the Dallas Cowboys credit: No team self-destructs in the spectacular fashion like they do.

    Dallas led Green Bay 26-3 at halftime, and it looked as if it were heading toward a huge win. But the wheels totally came off in the second half, and it somehow managed to drop a 37-36 decision.

    The defense was atrocious yet again, with 248-year-old defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin once again powerless to stop his unit from being eviscerated. It marked the second consecutive week that a backup quarterback shredded the defense, as it made Matt Flynn look like a combination of Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

    Then, there's the play-calling from offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and coach Jason Garrett. Their inexplicable decision to not run the football with an effective DeMarco Murray is mind-numbing. 

    Quarterback Tony Romo takes much of the heat for his late interceptions, but he should be last on the list of people to blame. Romo's offense played well enough to win. It's not his job to prevent Matt Flynn from putting the ball in the end zone.

    And there isn't enough space here to talk about how poorly Jerry Jones runs the team's football operations.

    Garrett's decision to blame Romo after the game for changing a play that led to Sam Shields' interception was laughable. A true leader points the finger at himself, not at others. Garrett is clueless and needs to be fired, regardless of whether Dallas qualifies for the postseason.

    And even if they do make the playoffs, the Cowboys will get blown out by either San Francisco, Carolina or New Orleans.

    Next Game: at Washington

Miami Dolphins

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    Odds: 50/1

    The Miami Dolphins earned the biggest win of the coach Joe Philbin era, downing the Patriots to move to 8-6 and in a position where they control their own playoff destiny.

    Quarterback Ryan Tannehill deserves to be lavished with praise for his performance, as he went 25-of-37 for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Tannehill rallied his team after the Patriots went ahead late and drove for the winning touchdown in the waning moments. It was a big-boy drive for Tannehill, who is proving that he's going to be a big-time player in the NFL.

    Philbin also deserves a boatload of credit for rallying his team in the wake of the Bullygate scandal. It's crazy to think that the Dolphins are in position to qualify for the postseason after all they've been through this year.

    The Dolphins have winnable games remaining against the Bills and Jets. If they can finish the job, don't discount their ability to make noise in January.

    Next Game: at Buffalo

Chicago Bears

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    Odds: 40/1

    Coach Marc Trestman's decision to reinsert Jay Cutler as his starting quarterback came up aces, as Cutler threw for three touchdowns to lead Chicago to a huge Week 15 victory in Cleveland. The win moved the Bears to 8-6 and into a position where they control their own destiny in the NFC North.

    The run defense, which has been shoddy all season, would receive a major lift if linebacker Lance Briggs returns to the lineup in time for Sunday night's tilt in Philadelphia. 

    The Bears need Cutler to play at his best over the final two weeks if they're to make the playoffs. Losing on Sunday night would be a big blow to their playoffs chances if the Lions win earlier in the day.

    Next Game: at Philadelphia (Sunday Night Football)

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Odds: 33/1

    The Philadelphia Eagles had a golden opportunity to distance themselves from the Cowboys in the NFC East but instead were upset by the Vikings. 

    The defense had been playing better but was shredded by Minnesota, which has to be disconcerting for coach Chip Kelly. But it ultimately didn't hurt their chances, as Dallas lost to Green Bay.

    The Eagles can win the NFC East with a victory over the Bears on Sunday night and a Cowboys loss in Washington, but it's more likely that their Week 17 matchup in Dallas will decide the division title.

    At this point, quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles have to be considered the favorites to win the division.

    Next Game: vs. Chicago (Sunday Night Football)

Indianapolis Colts

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    Odds: 33/1

    The Indianapolis Colts may have already clinched the AFC South but have failed to distinguish themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

    After defeating powerhouses Denver, Seattle and San Francisco in the first half of the season, the Colts have fallen off. Quarterback Andrew Luck is clearly not as comfortable without receiver Reggie Wayne, who's lost for the season with a torn ACL.

    But the defense played very well in Week 15's victory over Houston, and the team's previously moribund ground game showed some life, with maligned running back Trent Richardson putting up over 100 yards of total offense and scoring on a reception.

    The Colts are guaranteed a home playoff game, and in all likelihood, it will come against their opponent this week, the Kansas City Chiefs, which lends added importance to the contest.

    Right now, it doesn't look as if the Colts are good enough to knock off either New England or Denver, and perhaps not Kansas City either.

    Next Game: at Kansas City

Baltimore Ravens

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    Odds: 33/1

    It's happening again, people. The Baltimore Ravens are getting hot when it matters most and look like a team destined to qualify for the tournament.

    Monday night's win over the Lions exemplified what the Ravens have been about in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era. They're tough, resilient and believe in each other. They've rattled off four straight wins after a 4-6 start and control their own destiny.

    Kicker Justin Tucker is emerging as the best young leg in the game, and his 61-yard game-winning field goal to beat Detroit will go down as one of the most clutch kicks in the history of the regular season.

    The defense is rounding into form, and Flacco just wins football games. The defending Super Bowl champions are not to be trifled with. Bet against them at your own risk. The Ravens are the team no one wants to play in January.

    Next Game: vs. New England

Green Bay Packers

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    Odds: 25/1

    Just a few short weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers appeared to be dead. But backup quarterback Matt Flynn has led the team's Lazarus-like resurrection, as the Packers control their own destiny for the NFC North title.

    Flynn led the team to a major comeback victory in Dallas, which is all the more impressive when you consider the fact that he was cut by a quarterback-needy Raiders team and released by the Bills in favor of undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel earlier this year. He's been terrific over the past two games, both come-from-behind wins for Green Bay.

    Running back Eddie Lacy is the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and receiver Jordy Nelson is an absolute stud.

    Though quarterback Aaron Rodgers has not been medically cleared, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, the Packers have to be feeling good about their chances. A victory over the Steelers this Sunday means they would be able to win the NFC North with a victory in Week 17 over the Bears.

    Next Game: vs. Pittsburgh 

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Odds: 18/1

    The Kansas City Chiefs' three-game losing streak has been emphatically put to bed thanks to the contributions of star running back Jamaal Charles, who led the team to a blowout victory over the Raiders in Week 15. 

    Charles scored five touchdowns against Oakland and is having a season for the ages. He leads the team in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. There's no doubt that he's a bona fide MVP candidate.

    Coach Andy Reid's team is now 11-3 and has clinched a postseason berth, and the AFC West title isn't out of reach, either. It's been a stunning turnaround from last year's 2-14 campaign and one that should be good enough to win Reid the Coach of the Year award.

    The Chiefs' opponent this weekend, the Colts, will likely be their matchup in Round 1 of the postseason, bringing added importance to their game on Sunday.

    Next Game: vs. Indianapolis

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Odds: 18/1

    The Cincinnati Bengals had a major opportunity to move into the second spot in the AFC playoffs but laid an egg on national television, getting blown out by an inferior Steelers team on Sunday night.

    The loss was made even worse by Baltimore's Monday night win. If the Ravens beat the Patriots on Sunday, Week 17's matchup between the Bengals and Ravens will be for the AFC North championship, which is the last thing coach Marvin Lewis wants to happen.

    If quarterback Andy Dalton and Lewis want to silence the critics (for at least a week anyway), they need to go out and beat the Vikings on Sunday. No excuses. It's time for Cincinnati to put up or shut up.

    Next Game: vs. Minnesota

New Orleans Saints

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    Odds: 14/1

    Despite what quarterback Drew Brees says, the New Orleans Saints are clearly a different team on the road than they are in the friendly confines of the Superdome.

    That fact was proven yet again in Week 15, as the favored Saints were pasted by the Rams in St. Louis. Star tight end Jimmy Graham was a total non-factor, and the Saints were out of sorts from the opening kickoff. It was a massively disappointing effort for coach Sean Payton's club.

    Now, the 10-4 Saints find themselves in a dogfight for the NFC South title, with a game looming at the 10-4 Panthers. With the way the Saints have played on the road, how could anyone pick them to win in Carolina?

    The Saints will likely qualify for the playoffs, but it's difficult to imagine them winning multiple games on the road, especially if one is in Seattle, to reach the Super Bowl.

    Next Game: at Carolina

New England Patriots

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    Odds: 14/1

    The first game since star tight end Rob Gronkowski was lost for the season ended on a sour note for the New England Patriots, as they dropped a close decision in Miami. The loss was doubly painful because the Patriots lost an opportunity to both clinch the AFC East title and leapfrog the Broncos for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

    But it's worth noting that receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson both didn't play for the Patriots, which limited their offensive options. 

    Still, the loss to Miami had to sting. With Gronkowski, the Patriots looked capable of beating the Broncos in Denver in the AFC title game. Now, it remains to be seen if they can hang with the elite teams in the AFC.

    We'll have a much better idea of their ability to do so after this Sunday's game at red-hot Baltimore.

    Next Game: at Baltimore

Carolina Panthers

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    Odds: 12/1

    This past Sunday was a great day for the Carolina Panthers. Not only did they win in impressive fashion over the Jets, but division-rival New Orleans lost, meaning both teams have identical 10-4 records.

    The Panthers host the Saints on Sunday, and winning would not only put them in the driver's seat to clinch the NFC South, but they would also be in position for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and the first-round bye that comes with it. Not bad for a team that started 1-3.

    The defense has been fantastic all season, and quarterback Cam Newton is playing the best football of his career.

    Carolina absolutely looms as a Super Bowl contender.

    Next Game: vs. New Orleans

San Francisco 49ers

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    Odds: 15/2

    Although they likely won't win their own division, the San Francisco 49ers loom large as a Super Bowl contender.

    Coach Jim Harbaugh's team is peaking at the right time, which is bad news for the rest of the NFC. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick looks to be in total command of the offense, and his immense physical talents are rising to the forefront. The return of receiver Michael Crabtree has been huge.

    The team should crush Atlanta this Monday night, setting up a big Week 17 matchup in Arizona. Expect San Francisco to make the playoffs as a wild-card team and slip nicely into the role of the team that no one wants to see in January, including the Seahawks. 

    Next Game: vs. Atlanta (Monday Night Football)

Denver Broncos

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    Odds: 3/1

    While the Denver Broncos lost in stunning fashion to the Chargers in Week 15, the sky is not falling. The Broncos are still the class of the AFC and the best bet to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVIII.

    Denver definitely feels better about itself with the Patriots having lost in Week 15, as it remains in pole position for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The team still has quarterback Peyton Manning, who should win the MVP award, and an easy closing schedule, with games against bottom-feeders Houston and Oakland left.

    The team must get receiver Wes Welker healthy for the playoffs and take care of business to earn the AFC's No. 1 seed. If that happens, Denver is the clear-cut favorite to win the conference.

    Next Game: at Houston

Seattle Seahawks

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    Odds: 5/2

    The Seattle Seahawks just keep on keeping on, thoroughly dominating the Giants at MetLife Stadium to improve to an NFL-best 12-2.

    The Seahawks are solid at every level, which is a credit to the roster assembled by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. Their depth is incredible, especially in the salary-cap era.

    Quarterback Russell Wilson is silky smooth and so much fun to watch, and he rarely makes a boneheaded mistake. Plus, he's never lost at CenturyLink Field, and the Seahawks are on the cusp of wrapping up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

    If that happens, then Week 15's win over the Giants will likely not be the Seahawks' last game at MetLife Stadium this season. 

    Next Game: vs. Arizona