Who Are This Year's Early Super Bowl Favorites?

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2018

Who Are This Year's Early Super Bowl Favorites?

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    Week 3 became an upset special with underdogs knocking off heavy favorites—some of them potential Super Bowl contenders.

    The Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots lost to the winless Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, respectively. Still feeling the effects from a nerve issue in his arm, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota helped lead his team to victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.

    The 2007 Patriots were the last team to reach the Super Bowl undefeated. So, we can expect this year's top two teams to lose before the championship matchup. Three clubs head into Week 4 with 3-0 records, but have they done enough to earn spots among the early favorites for a title? 

    The selections below should be considered favorites based on their three-week resumes and performance trajectories for the season. 

         

Los Angeles Rams

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    It's fair to question the Los Angeles Rams' first two victories over the winless Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals, but both contests resulted in decisive outcomes. Unlike a few top-notch squads in the league, this club doesn't play down to the competition.

    In Week 3, the Rams faced a tougher opponent in the Los Angeles Chargers and clearly finished as the better team with a double-digit win.

    Last year, the Rams fielded the No. 1 scoring offense. Through three weeks, play-caller Wade Phillips has the No. 1 defense. He's incorporated newcomers Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to form a top-notch group that's generated six turnovers so far this season.

    Peters suffered a calf strain, but he's only expected to miss two-to-four weeks, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Head coach Sean McVay told reporters Talib is scheduled for ankle surgery Thursday. Cornerback Sam Shields, who's played well in coverage over the last two weeks, will likely take on a larger role. 

    With a defense generating turnovers, the offense doesn't have to score nearly 30 points per game, as it did last season. But the unit is still lighting up the scoreboard. Los Angeles averages 34 points per contest, tied for third with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    In the NFC West, the Cardinals will likely start rookie signal-caller Josh Rosen for the remainder of the season. The San Francisco 49ers lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the year with a torn ACL. The Seattle Seahawks are off to a 1-2 start and look nothing like the team of years past. The Rams should win the division and push for a Super Bowl LIII appearance in Atlanta.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Quarterback Carson Wentz returned to action from last season's torn ACL against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles came away with a 20-16 victory at Lincoln Financial Field, but it's more important to look at the circumstances.

    Wentz completed 25 of 37 pass attempts for 255 yards, one touchdown and an interception. While his stat line doesn't look that impressive, he played well in his first game back without top wideout Alshon Jeffery and lead running back Jay Ajayi. 

    The third-year signal-caller made do with tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert as his primary options in the passing attack, with the latter in his rookie season. As expected, Wentz isn't in MVP form yet, but the offense should improve when Jeffery and Ajayi return. 

    The Eagles can force a team to become one-dimensional with their No. 1 run defense (61.7 yards allowed per game). Overall, play-caller Jim Schwartz's unit ranks eighth with the Chicago Bears in points allowed. 

    With an offense primed to improve and a stifling defense, Philadelphia may have an opportunity to defend its title in Super Bowl LIII.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jaguars experienced a letdown in a 9-6 loss to the Titans after a big Week 2 victory over the Patriots. Tennessee has had Jacksonville's number of late, winning four out of the last five meetings.

    Looking at the Jaguars roster and its pathway to the postseason, the team should remain one of the best behind an elite defense.

    Jacksonville is tied for second in points surrendered (14.7 per game) and is fourth in yards allowed (286.3 per game). When the offense sputters, as it did Sunday, the club can remain competitive. Through three weeks, opponents have scored three offensive touchdowns against its defense. 

    The offense isn't likely to score in bunches like the Rams and Eagles, but quarterback Blake Bortles does just enough with his arm and his legs to keep the opposition honest in coverage.

    The Jaguars lost wideout Marqise Lee during the preseason because of knee ligament damage, but Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook have emerged as solid pass-catchers on the perimeter. Once running back Leonard Fournette recovers from his hamstring injury, we'll see play-caller Nathaniel Hackett's group in full force. 

    Watch out for Jacksonville, which could take another step in the postseason following last year's trip to the AFC Championship Game.

Minnesota Vikings

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    In Week 3, the Vikings didn't show up against a team they should've lapped in the first half. A 27-6 loss to the Bills at home will cause some people to question this club as a Super Bowl favorite. However, it's too early to bail on the reigning NFC North champions.

    Though left tackle Riley Reiff and right guard Mike Remmers have struggled to fend off pocket pressure, quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown for 965 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions while being sacked nine times. He's tied with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for most pass attempts (139), which should prompt the coaching staff to balance the offense with a stronger commitment to the ground attack. 

    As the season progresses, expect to see steady improvements behind Cousins' budding connection with Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph. A complementary ground attack featuring Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray potentially puts this offense in top-10 scoring territory.

    Even though the Vikings rank 17th in points allowed (24 per game), they have a stout unit that'll keep them in most games throughout the season. The Vikings have surrendered just five touchdowns so far (three passing and two on the ground to Bills rookie signal-caller Josh Allen).

    With Cook healthy in the backfield and a defense that's accumulated 10 sacks in three games, Minnesota should be in the thick of this year's title hunt.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Kansas City Chiefs have a glaring flaw on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 30th in points allowed (30.7 per game). However, their passing offense has produced at a historic pace.

    Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown 13 touchdown passes in three weeks, which is an NFL record. He's yet to toss an interception, and the Chiefs have the No. 1 scoring offense (39.3 points per game). 

    At some point, Mahomes will hit a speed bump; the defense will need to pull its weight, but there's reason to expect improvement.

    The Chiefs have struggled to defend tight ends and running backs in the passing game. According to Football Outsiders, Kansas City allows a combined average of 238.5 receiving yards to those positions. Eric Berry's ability to cover the middle of the field and the seam should strengthen coverage in those weak areas. He's yet to play a down because of an Achilles injury suffered last year.

    Despite the defensive question marks, it's hard to ignore the best offense as it moves the ball at a remarkable rate. With an impressive three-week resume, Kansas City beat a popular offseason favorite in the Chargers, an offensive powerhouse Steelers team on the road and an upstart 49ers squad with Garoppolo on the field for most of the contest.

    Despite the stiff competition, the Chiefs have prevailed with an offense capable of breaking more regular-season records.

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