It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s the hap, happiest season of all! Christmas, New Year’s, Bowl Games, NBA in full swing, and the NFL Playoffs!
** Leaving as originally written on Sunday afternoon, but want to acknowledge here on Monday night that the Bengals proved me wrong and beat the Broncos when I didn’t give them much of a chance to. Honestly though, it doesn’t change my opinion on either team come playoff time.**
As we near the end of the regular season, I give my list of the true Contenders to win Super Bowl XLIX (that’s 49 for those of you wondering) and the Pretenders (written before Seahawks @ Cardinals on SNF and Broncos @ Bengals on MNF, but I’m already giving victories to the road teams in both cases). Here they are by conference. Let me know your thoughts in the comments and the poll question below!
Seattle Seahawks (11-4) – The defending champs are healthy and peaking at just the right time. LOB, K.J. Wright and the rest of the defense are even stronger now than they ever were last season. If the Hawks secure home field throughout, look out!
Green Bay Packers (11-4) – Aaron Rodgers is the MVP of the league in my opinion. No other quarterback should strike more fear into the hearts of an opposing defense than Rodgers–I include Peyton and Brady in that. Lambeau Field is as much a safe-haven for the Pack as CenturyLink is for Seattle. Whoever steals the NFC home field advantage from Arizona will find themselves in the Super Bowl.
Arizona Cardinals (11-4) – Bruce Arian should win coach of the year, but his Cardinals, despite their great record, don’t stand much of a chance come playoff time. Their defense is solid, but they lack big game playoff experience as a whole and solid play at quarterback since Carson Palmer went down. Too bad too, because the Super Bowl is at their house this year.
Dallas Cowboys (11-4) – Let’s be real, it’s the Cowboys. This is pretty typical. Great regular season, only to be followed by a major playoff letdown. I don’t foresee that changing this year.
Detroit Lions (11-4) – They have the playmakers on both sides of the ball, but inconsistency from Stafford at QB and a lack of that “killer instinct” you see in guys like Aaron Rodgers and the Seattle defense will do them in.
New England Patriots (12-3) – Any surprise here? It’s the Patriots. It’s Bill Belichick. It’s Tom Brady. Who in their right mind could count the Pats out?
Denver Broncos (12-3) – Is this Peyton’s final stand? Probably not, he’ll be back next year. But at his age, each passing year is a missed opportunity, while the likes of Andrew Luck get better and better, ready to rip the torch from Peyton’s hands. Can Manning win the big game one more time? He’ll definitely be right in the mix. Facing Tom Brady and the Pats in New England is something the Broncos want to avoid by stealing home field advantage, but a win in Foxborough, followed by a win in Super Bowl XLIX would cement Peyton as the greatest of all time in many people’s minds (or at least those who really want to put him there regardless).
Indianapolis Colts (10-5) – Andrew Luck and the Colts are improving and they’ll get there, but not this year. T.Y. Hilton is a stud and Chuck Pagano has proven to be a great head coach. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lombardi Trophy return to Indianapolis within the next 2-3 years, but there’s too much firepower and experience on the Pats and Broncos that Indy won’t be able to get past either of them in the Playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) – They are the 6-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and they have had a great second half of the season, but this is a team that seems past it’s prime in leadership and just a bit young and inexperienced at other positions. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Bryant are both young beasts–I know from experience in getting beat by them in Fantasy this year–but this team just doesn’t have the swagger of the ’05 and ’08 Super Bowl Champion teams. My good friend Ron knows more about the Steelers than Mike Tomlin himself, and he assures me they’ll be back soon!
So who will win Super Bowl XLIX? Great question. I’ll answer that once home field advantage is determined. I do know this though, it will be Packers vs. Seahawks in the NFC and Broncos vs. Patriots rematch in the AFC.