NFL Week 8: Ranking the Top 10 Most Likely Super Bowl Matchups
Top 10 most likely Super Bowl matchups:
We're nearing the halfway mark of the 2010 NFL season. Several teams are looking like Super Bowl contenders, while others are major disappointments: talking 'bout you Cowboys, Vikings.
Still, it's not too early for an underdog who started the season slowly to rebound and sneak in, then make a serious postseason run.
Here are 10 of the most likely Super Bowl XLV matchups.
No. 10: Seattle Seahawks Vs. Kansas City Chiefs
(To be honest, I don't see any chance either of these teams wins a single playoff game. Just so no one claims "east coast bias!!!!!" I'll humor you.)
Why The Seahawks Will Get There: Marshawn Lynch is the backfield threat they've sorely missed. And last week, he even made Justin Forsett seem a better back than he has been in the first month-and-a-half. The defense is very, very good, especially against the run and they have a quarterback who has been here before. Plus the NFC West is not good.
Why The Chiefs Will Get There: Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles are a great one-two punch and their defense has shown an ability to stop potent passing games like the Colts. That is vital in the AFC playoffs. They'll get a home playoff game because they'll easily lock up the AFC West and that's a major step toward reaching the Super Bowl.
An Exciting Matchup?: No.....sorry. Football fans will still watch, but Matt Cassel and Matt Hasselbeck don't excite the national press. Neither does the rest of the roster. The two head coaches would be the most interesting story for non-football fans.
Prediction: The Seahawks are a better team, even though a Chiefs team that comes out of the stronger AFC would be quite a surprise. Seattle 23, Kansas City 10.
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Golden Tate is someone who can draw attention away from Mike Williams. He would find spots in the KC secondary.
No. 9: Green Bay Packers Vs. New England Patriots
Why The Packers Will Get There: The only season ending injury (as far as we know) was suffered by Ryan Grant and Nick Barnett, so there is a good chance that all the weapons will be ready for the playoffs. And because they are playing in the pretty miserable NFC North, if they put together a good November, they will lock up the division and have at least one homefield playoff game,
Why The Packers Will Get There: They still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. That alone makes them a viable Super Bowl candidate. But Brady hasn't been terribly sharp through the first six games of the season, and neither has the young, somewhat-revamped defense, and they are still 5-1. If they start to play a full 60 minutes on both sides of the ball, they are very dangerous.
An Exciting Matchup?: It's a nice rematch of Super Bowl XXXI so that's a start. And the quarterback showdown of "Past" vs. "Future" stars in Brady vs. Rodgers is a nice story. Still, even though the Patriots would be playing for their fourth Super Bowl title in the span of 10 years, the main story would be the post-Favre Green Bay team and Rodgers trying to "get the monkey off his back" a la Steve Young in 1994.
Prediction: The Patriots partially redeem themselves for the slip up against the Giants: New England 30, Green Bay 20
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Deion Branch becomes the first non-quarterback to win two Super Bowl MVPs.
No. 8: New Orleans Saints Vs. Houston Texans
Why The Saints Will Get There: They must have gotten their atrocious, un-Champion play out against Cleveland, right? The defense will never collect gobs of turnovers like they did last year, but they will shore up the problems that ailed them in the first half. And after his five turnovers last week, expect Drew Brees to be fantastic in the second half.
Why The Texans Will Get There: Houston's offense is too talented to miss out on the playoffs, despite the two major obstacles in their division. Even as a six-seed, that running game and Andre Johnson can score points. And defensive lines like the Texans travel well in the playoffs: see the 2007 Giants.
An Exciting Matchup?: Although the Saints were the darlings last season, this isn't a terribly high-profile game for the television ratings: really the only "household name" is Brees. So outside of the Texas/Gulf coast, not many non-football fans would be intrigued. Football fans, however know that the Saints offense is always worth watching.
Prediction: The Texans come up short in one of the greatest Super Bowl shootouts of all time: New Orleans 44, Houston 40.
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Reggie Bush is a Heisman winning first round pick, but he's kind of a mediocre pro: overcoming a broken leg to score three touchdowns (one on special teams) makes him an unlikely hero.
No. 7: Minnesota Vikings Vs. Tennessee Titans
Why The Vikings Will Get There: Because the NFL has a 16-game schedule, not a seven-game schedule. There is absolutely no reason why the Vikings won't finish 10-6 and still claim the NFC North. That means a home playoff game and a somewhat easier trip to Dallas in February. It won't be easy but with a great defense and offensive firepower galore, no one wants to play them in December and January.
Why The Titans Will Get There: Chris Johnson has been so good with so little help. Now Kenny Britt has emerged as a promising receiver, and should Vince Young falter, Kerry Collins has proven more than capable. And despite no "stars" the defense has been tremendous nearly every week.
An Exciting Matchup?: Brett Favre in the Super Bowl is the only storyline necessary. Everyone would tune in for that. The game would be a pretty interesting matchup all around, but Chris Johnson vs. the Minnesota front-seven is all that matters.
Prediction: With Chris Johnson bottled up Vince Young can't score enough points: it would hardly be the second coming of the 2005 Rose Bowl. And we finally see the last game of Brett Favre's career. Minnesota 31, Tennessee 14.
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Visanthe Schiancoe. Randy Moss, Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson do the heavy lifting, but Schiancoe scores a pair of redzone touchdowns.
No. 6: Atlanta Falcons Vs. New York Jets
Why The Falcons Will Get There: No team in the NFC has been more consistent than the Falcons. Even in their lone loss since Week 1, Atlanta remained in contention because of their excellent offense. And the Falcons beat New Orleans....before they embarrassed themselves against Arizona and Cleveland. They're the type of "new" face that once in a while makes a Super Bowl run.
Why The Jets Will Get There: As of this week, there isn't a flaw with the Jets. Even if they suffered an injury to one of their stars, they have pretty good reserves at several spots. And although they are young at most spots, they shouldn't have "playoff nerves" having won two road games last postseason.
An Exciting Matchup?: The Jets naturally make the game newsworthy, but the game itself would be the real story. Atlanta's offense could be the best in the NFC: No team other than the Falcons has the type of wide receiver-tight end duo of Roddy White-Tony Gonzalez: that is a great threat to the Jets well-publicized defense.
Prediction: The Falcons will score plenty, by they just can't limit what the Jets do. Jets 33, Atlanta 21
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Dustin Keller has been a big contributor in the multi-talented offense: he'll be a backup option for Mark Sanchez and catch eight passes.
No. 5: Philadelphia Eagles Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Why The Eagles Will Get There: Michael Vick will once again spark the 2010 Eagles and because the entire NFC is fairly wide open they remain a threat to win 12 games and earn a top seed. The stars on the offensive side of the ball are all capable of putting up 35 points each week, but the defense--while wildly inconsistent, like against the Titans--is solid.
Why The A Will Get There: They have a top 3 defense, an All-Pro candidate at running back, perhaps the best pure deep threat in the NFL (Mike Wallace), and a two-time Super Bowl winner under center. All the pieces are there. The only thing standing in their way is the offensive line.
An Exciting Matchup?: The Keystone State Super Bowl that we almost got in 2004 finally comes to fruiting. But the real story line here is the matchup of law-breaking, now redeemed quarterbacks. As far as the actual game, the Steelers defense vs. Michael Vick (who twice throttled Pittsburgh while a Falcon), LeSean McCoy, and the speed demon receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson is one of the better matchups in recent Super Bowl history.
Prediction: Doesn't defense win championships? Pittsburgh 24, Philadelphia 17
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Brett Keisel, benefitting from the attention given to James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, Keisel grabs three sacks of Vick.
No. 4: New York Giants Vs. Indianapolis Colts
Why The Giants Will Get There: They have the best defense in the NFC. That can get them out of the NFC, where defense is at a premium. The inconsistencies within their three Eastern division rivals, will open the door for them to take the division and earn a two seed. And since much of their 2007 team is still in place, so they are very capable of a road playoff upset in the NFC Title Game.
Why The Colts Will Get There: Peyton Manning gives them a chance in every game and since they have far more experience than the Titans and Texans, they should still be the favorite in the AFC South. And since they "got over the hump" of the Patriots, once already, they could do so again. They'd catch a break if those Pats ousted Pittsburgh or the Jets.
An Exciting Matchup?: It's a great matchup all around. Still, Peyton vs. Eli gets all the attention.....well, if you discount the 200 interviews with Archie and Cooper.
Prediction: Little brother finally shines brighter than older brother, Giants 42, Indianapolis 33
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Brandon Jacobs. He'll score big: in the game and on the open market this offseason.
No. 3: Philadelphia Eagles Vs. Baltimore Ravens
Why The Ravens Will Get There: Not looking sharp in the past two weeks has caused them to fall to Pittsburgh and the Jets in the favorites-race in the AFC. Both those teams have one loss apiece: to who? Baltimore. They may play down to their competition (see the Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Cleveland games), but that won't be an issue in the playoffs.
Why The Eagles Will Get There: There isn't a better ground game in the NFL than the potential pairing of Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy. It's not unrealistic to expect 200 yards from them combined. That, combined with the catch-and-run abilities of Maclin and Jackson, will compensate for some of the poor defense they might show in a playoff game.
An Exciting Matchup?: Michael Vick would make any Super Bowl a must-see. And although it's terribly cliched and old news, pitting him against Ray Lewis makes for the "Felon Bowl" an angle for TV. Smarter people would be excited and tune in for the matchup of a great Eagles offense vs. a great Ravens defense.
Prediction: On paper, the Ravens are the better team. Vick's brand of playmaking ability is, however, something never seen before in the Super Bowl. Exactly half-a-century after their last NFL title, the Eagles win another. Philadelphia 31, Baltimore 28.
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Asante Samuel has two rings already and knows what it takes to play great defense in a Super Bowl. He may not be the MVP but he bottles up Anquan Boldin, taking away a major element of the Ravens offense.
No. 2: New York Giants Vs. New York Jets
Why The Giants Will Get There: The NFC is a crap shoot. No one can be dubbed a favorite, so whoever gets in has a good shot of going through the conference, on the road or at home. Eli Manning has a trio of excellent wide receivers and no defense can be counted on stopping them in any round of the playoffs....except Super Bowl Sunday.
Why The Jets Will Get There: Although their styles are very different, the only thing that separates the Jets and the Steelers is the offensive line. New York won't have an easy time protecting the quarterback against the Steel Curtain, but they'll do a better job than Pittsburgh's depleted group: Ben Roethlisberger is a major target in their AFC Championship Game collision course. That's how the Jets reach Super Bowl XLV.
An Exciting Matchup?: Two New York teams? Enough said. Highest television ratings of all time.
Prediction: For the second time in four years the underdog Giants upset their heavily favored, high profile AFC East counterpart in a thrilling game.....although hardly the defensive struggle we saw in Super Bowl XLII. Giants 37, Jets 34.
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Brad Smith is the type of returner who can break a game wide open and he gets all the pregame attention on special teams. But Giants returner Darius Reynaud returns the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown and joins Desmond Howard as the only special teamers to claim the MVP.
No. 1: Atlanta Falcons Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Why The Falcons Will Get There: The defense is largely overshadowed by their high-powered offense, but they've come up with some big plays when they needed to. Against Cleveland, San Francisco and New Orleans, they don't win without big stops on third down. That will help them topple the other premier teams in the NFC.
Why The Steelers Will Get There: The 5-1 start will save them during the very tough run of games that are to follow in November and December. A loss or two to New England and the Jets, won't cost them a bye in the playoffs, provided they can go to Baltimore and even the season-series. And they have shown an ability to go on the road and win against quality teams (Tennessee and Miami), should they have to play the title game away from Heinz Field.
An Exciting Matchup?: It would be a great story to have the first and last game of the season be between the same two teams. And the Steelers always draw a great television rating. But the Falcons aren't quite as "sexy" as a few of their NFC East counterparts, so people in the press would rather see the Giants, Vikings, Eagles, Saints even Green Bay. Still, as we saw in their opening day overtime matchup, these two teams would give a great, brutally physical show.
Prediction: The Steelers did it once before, and without their star quarterback. This time around, a similar, low scoring, defensive affair produces the same outcome. Pittsburgh 20, Atlanta 17.
Likely Super Bowl Hero: Ike Taylor, the Steelers oft-maligned cornerback, has his hands full with Roddy White. But Taylor's size helps level the playing field and limits the All Pro to just a few catches, none for touchdowns.