Week 13 in the NFL has come and gone, and now its time to take a long look at the scrambled playoff picture and see who’s got the inside track to win it all.
According to the 2015 NFL Predictions done by FiveThirtyEight, the New England Patriots remain the best team in the NFL, despite a rough outing versus the Philadelphia Eagles. By the numbers, the Patriots narrowly edged out the Carolina Panthers.
Three weeks ago, the Patriots and Panthers teams were the favorites for the Lombardi Trophy, and according to the numbers, that still reigns true. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Carolina Panthers possess a league leading 21% chance of hoisting the trophy come February, followed by the Patriots at 19% and the Cardinals, Broncos, and Bengals round out the top 5. To give ourselves a better picture of the true contenders, we need to look at conference standings.
At first glance when examining the conference standings, it is easy to identify 5 teams as the aforementioned frontrunners to win the Super Bowl. But while the numbers give merit to these teams claims as the NFL’s best, it’s still too soon to invest in plane tickets to Santa Clara.
Let us start with the undefeated Carolina Panthers. They have yet to lose a single game this season, but have been a beneficiary of an easy schedule. Their strength of schedule ranks at -3.3, putting them well below the average of 0. While the statistics are distorted slightly by their less than stellar opponents, they should garner some credit for ranking within the top 5 of some crucial statistics. This relaxed regular season schedule could come back to hurt them as they will face other NFC elite come January.
The New England Patriots find themselves in a precarious situation. After starting the season 10-0, they have dropped their last two match ups and are reeling from a growing list of injuries. Although, this past week saw the return of Danny Amendola, the receiving core continues to struggle. Through all the adversity, the Patriots offense finds a way to produce, placing them within the top 5 of all major offensive statistics despite such injuries and may be a team to watch if and when they get healthy.
Potentially the most explosive offensive team in the NFC are the Arizona Cardinals. They have the best chance at dethroning the Panthers for the NFC crown. As December football heats up, the Cardinals running game should become more prominent. But for them to make a deep run into the playoffs, rookie running back David Johnson will need to continue to make explosive, impactful plays to alleviate the pressure on Carson Palmer and his offense.
The Denver Broncos have surged for three straight wins thanks to a suffocating defense and a Brock Osweiler led offense. The engine that drives the Bronco’s playoff hopes is their defense, and if they can produce in a similar fashion to their first 8 weeks, they should be able to rival New England for the right to play in February. On the offensive side of the ball, a renewed commitment to running the football should help Osweiler find success.
Lastly is the Cincinnati Bengals. This team continues to prove it is the real deal in terms of all around play. On both sides of the ball, they are able to play at a high enough level to put them in contention to win every time they suit up. A major factor for their success is the general health the team has had this season, and the amount of depth on the 53 man roster. Their offense has looked stale at times, specifically against the Houston Texans defense in week 10, but their ability to deliver knockout blows on offense and absorb shots on defense puts them in the thick of Super Bowl contention.
No one team holds a substantial advantage over the others when it comes to determining who reigns supreme in the NFL. Of the 5 favorites to win it all, arguably the Panthers and the Patriots hold the best chances to meet in the championship. It is possible for any of these 5 teams, or potentially any of the other 27, to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. Any given Sunday one of these powerhouses could be taken out, the tables turned, and a new favorite be poised to take home the hardware. For those reasons, we all should wait for January 24th, 2016 before we make plans for Santa Clara.
Statistics and Rankings Courtesy of: http://www.pro-football-reference.com