We’re now into the month of December, which means it’s officially crunch time in the National Football League. The 14-team playoff picture — an expansion from the previous 12-team format — is forming its final shape. Not only for which teams get into the postseason, but in what seeds and who gets home-field advantage.
But let’s be real: there are only a few actual “contenders” that can win the championship. In fact, there are really only five in our book. Let’s take a look at these five front-runners:
Kansas City Chiefs
To be the champs, you have to beat the champs. And thus far, Kansas City has been beaten once (by the Raiders), so it’s no wonder why Las Vegas sportsbooks are pegging them as the odds-on favorites to win again in 2021.
Most teams suffer from a Super Bowl hangover, but the Chiefs have seemingly improved year-over-year. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is to credit for that jump. He’s on pace to top last year’s numbers across the board — passing yards, scores, turnovers (having less) — and will likely be named MVP by year’s end.
Moreover, the road to the Super Bowl could run through Kansas City. They’re currently tied with the Steelers for the AFC’s coveted one seed. Beware if the Chiefs win out and indeed earn home-field advantage.
Speaking of Pittsburgh, they just lost its first game of the season. But even at an astounding 11-1 record, many don’t seem to think they’re “for real.”
Most critics, fans, and Vegas bet-makers alike, point at the Steelers soft schedule. They’ve played cookie-cutter teams such as the entire NFC East, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Houston, among others.
Us, however, we believe their number-one-ranked scoring defense — allowing only 17.6 points per game — give them a real chance in the postseason. “Defense wins championships,” as the saying goes.
New Orleans Saints
Currently, the Saints hold a one-game lead in the NFC standings. Remember, only one team per conference, the top seed, earns a bye under the new playoff structure.
That might be a huge boost to the Saints, which are currently without quarterback Drew Brees. There’s still no timetable on his return from injury (broken ribs and a punctured lung), but given his almost 42 years of age, he’ll need the extra time to fully recover.
Let’s also not forget how close New Orleans has been to a title game in recent memory. What are the chances Bizzare incidents (e.g. Minneapolis Miracle and a blown pass interference call) rob them again this year?
Green Bay Packers
Using a first-round pick on signal-caller Jordan Love over the offseason sure fired up Aaron Rodgers. In year 16, Rodgers is statistically having the second-best year of his career. Here’s his eye-popping stat line: 3,395 yards throwing, 36 touchdowns, and a QB rating of 118.5.
With Rodgers, the Packers might have the best offensive trio in all of the NFL. First, there’s Aaron Jones, whose 5.2 yards per carry ranks sixth-best in the league this year. Second, there’s Davante Adams, who practically lives in the end zone. His 13 pass-catch TD’s is tied for first NFL-wide.
If Green Bay can leapfrog New Orleans in the NFC standings for the one seed, then watch out. Bitter cold games outside at Lambeau Field sets up perfectly for a deep playoff run by the Packers.
The choice of Buffalo here might surprise most folks. The vast majority believe teams like Seattle, Los Angeles Rams, and Tampa Bay are more worthy choices. Not us, though.
The emergence of Josh Allen has given us a lot of confidence in the Bills’ championship hopes. We just trust him more than Jared Goff (Rams) and an end-of-the-road Tom Brady (Buccaneers), though Russell Wilson (Seahawks) is superior to Allen, but his team’s terrible defense will be their undoing.
Allen can sling it and Buffalo’s defense isn’t too shabby either. When you look up and down the Bills roster, it doesn’t have any blatant holes. In other words, they’re mostly a complete squad.
So there you have it, five teams that can realistically “run the table” from here until the Super Bowl. We’re almost certain at least two from this list will meet each other come February 7.