Super Bowl Contenders
Editor’s Note: This article was written before Sunday’s (week 17) games were played. Some teams mentioned may have been eliminated. We will give you a full in-depth analysis once the playoff match-ups are determined. This list, in no particular order, is just a short summation of the things we like and don’t like about the possible playoff teams.
First of all, here is the general set of criteria I use to evaluate possible Super Bowl contenders:
- Two legitimate threats at wide receiver and top tight end or slot receiver.
- Experienced, top-notch quarterback.
- Ability to rush the passer from both sides.
- Competent pass protection, including running backs.
- Ability to stop the run when necessary; a team that can’t be simply overpowered.
- Coaching competence.
- Competitive attitude and team chemistry.
Denver Broncos: One team that really meets my criteria are the Broncos with two great pass rushers and two big, dangerous wideouts.
New England Patriots: The Patriots qualify by being good enough at tight end and in the slot, to make up for what they lack at wideout. Although Chandler Jones has frequent moments, the pass rush question is the biggest for the Pats.
Green Bay Packers: Green Bay is a lot like New England. They have great passing targets. The question is whether they can rush the QB on the side opposite of Matthews?
San Francisco 49ers: The Niners are loaded on defense, and have a great, diversified pass rush. I’ve been a big fan of this team for three years but I question them going all the way with a rookie QB. In fact, I might like their chances better if they had stayed with Alex Smith.
Houston Texans: With Houston, the pass rush is there in a variety of ways and is led by the most dangerous defensive player in the NFC — J.J. Watt. They don’t have the plethora of receivers you’d like, but with they way they use their running backs and tight end, I can make an exception. One question for me is Matt Schaub’s athleticism. That deficiency may show up when, with a more pedestrian than last year’s OL, they play a team that really brings the pass rush (like the Giants, Niners, Steelers, and Denver). I think this makes the Texans, a highly talented team, into questionable contenders.
Seattle Seahawks: The ‘Hawks are loaded with talent. Russell Wilson has been a revelation at QB and RB Lynch can pound the ball. Wilson, however, is limited by his relative lack of experience, height, and perhaps the ability to throw the deep out. Much of the Seahawks’ offensive success, it seems to me, could be taken away by a great defense with strong defensive coaching. The Seahawks’ offense with so many QB runs seems a little gimmicky and limited to go all the way.
Washington Redskins: When it comes to Robert Griffin III I’m not ready to say anything is out of reach. I was a huge fan of his in college and he only seems to improve. However, despite the dramatic resurgence of Santana Moss*, he lacks great receivers. The Redskins’ pass rush is also too iffy, despite Kerrigan’s* abilities. Count me out on this one.
New York Giants: The Giants team of week 15 seems to lack contender status. Look at the offensive line which has been so destroyed by injury that if a couple of guys cited as questionable (especially Baas at center) can’t play, they will be playing guys who are complete question marks. On the other hand, if pass rushers Paul, Tuck, Umenyiora, Kiwanuka, et. al. are healthy, this team’s a definite contender. All that plus a healthy OL is possible for them, but they must make the playoffs to even have a chance of that happening. A healthy Amukamara would also seem necessary.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have some holes, but with a healthy rotation of Freeney, Mathis, and Hughes, coming from the edges, I wouldn’t sleep on them. Sure the defense has some holes but QB Luck, just like the above mentioned RG3, can’t be written off as Rookie QBs, and with Wayne,, Collie, Fleener, et.al, he’s got some legitimate targets. Colts must improve at OL, whether it’s Satele, Justice, or Linkenbach, to compete. There is also some danger of Colts’ defense being overpowered, as they have run and hit linebackers who can be defeated by great, hard-nosed rushing attacks.
Dallas Cowboys: Yes, I believe Romo is a top-notch QB and Anthony Spencer has started to get pressure on QB. However, this team’s defense is dependent on the health of Demarcus Ware. He has obviously been playing hurt, and this has showed up in his performance. Without Ware, this defense is in trouble. Also worrisome is Dez Bryant’s ability to play with a broken finger throughout. This is a talented team but I think they have poor Super Bowl chances this year.
Chicago Bears: Yes, Julius Peppers has looked good enough to lead a harassing Bears’ pass rush, and Henry Melton also helps get pressure from DL. Unfortunately, Peppers seems to have moments rather than consistent dominance of games, and Melton is hurt. Cutler is topnotch, but he doesn’t have enough targets yet. WR Jefferys’ physicality, if he improves down the stretch, would make the Bears a true contender. They should be out of contention after recent losing ways, but their schedule may allow them to make playoffs. They also have OL problems to work out and questions regarding whether MLB Urlacher can return and play effectively.
Cincinnati Bengals: This is a team like Seattle — chock full of largely unknown talent. Pass rush from potentially dominant DE Dunap plus already great DT Geno Atkins, plus a very deep and talented DL really helps. On offense, A.J. Green may be the best weapon in the NFC. I thought the loss of Mohamad Sanu would hurt, but Marvin Johnson has been great and slot receiver Hawkins has become a consistent weapon. They are generally a tough defensive team. My key question is whether a relatively short and inconsistent QB Dalton can lead throughout tough playoff games. His intangibles are there but he’s occasionally turnover prone. The health of hurting LT Whitworth is also a key issue. If you’ve never heard of undrafted rookie LB Burfict, take notice.
Atlanta Falcons: Falcons are a fine team and true contender as proven by their season record. I, unlike most of the world, remain unsold on Matt Ryan. He’s a proven QB, but whether he’s ready to take the ultimate step and lead his team the Super Bowl, is to me, cloudy. He certainly has the weapons to do so with plenty of top-notch receivers, a bruising running back in Michael Turner, and a dangerous scatback in Jacquizz Rodgers. The Falcons also boast a way above average offensive line. Defensively, what gives me cause to doubt Atlanta is a combination of the lack of a consistent pass rush and vulnerability to the run as they employ run and hit type linebackers. From what I have seen this year, John Abraham looks past his prime but with Jerry and Babineaux both penetrators in the middle, and Biermann an affective grinder type pass rushing DE, they may have enough. I also have some concern about depth problems at CB.
Baltimore Ravens: Since the Bears acquired Jay Cutler and the Ravens got Joe Flacco, I have blamed both teams’ offensive coordinators for their lack of effectiveness. I believe that while Tice is an improvement over Martz, he will ultimately never bring out the best in Cutler. On the other hand, I thought Cam Cameron did a terrible job of coaching Flacco but I believe new OC Jim Caldwell will turn Flacco into a complete and elite QB. The problem is I don’t know that he can effect the necessary improvement in the short time he has before this year’s playoffs. The Ravens’ receivers, when healthy, are perfectly adequate to run a high-octane passing game in conjunction with Ray Rice’s continually excellent production. On defense, I still have some suspicion about their pass rush (as Suggs only seems to flash occasionally rather than consistently throughout game), but there is no question that unless there are major injuries, the Ravens defense will live up to their formidable tradition.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings have some tremendous players on defense. Jared Allen is always a threat, and Kevin Williams consistently penetrates from the inside. On top of that, rookie Harrison Smith is even better than they could have hoped for. Winfield and Greenway are also standout players, and the rest of the defense is very solid. I tend to go wit the theory that Adrian Peterson is human and thus not unstoppable. However, some very good rushing teams have provided evidence to the contrary. Also, I would keep a watch on Peterson’s health as he’s taking a lot of hard hits and has already been listed with sore ribs. the Vikings’ WRs are better than most people think. Jerome Simpson (while he looks to me to still be improving even after lots of NFL experience) is a legitimate threat and Jarius Wright seems like he may become also. Still, I find it extremely hard to believe that a team quarterbacked by Christian Ponder can achieve Super Bowl status.