Is there a true clear-cut favorite to win Super Bowl LVII?
Our thoughts and prayers are with Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin as he continues to recover from the cardiac arrest he suffered during Monday night’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals.
During most NFL seasons, there seem to be one or two teams who emerge as obvious favorites to reach the Super Bowl. The 2022 NFL season does not seem to be one of them.
Super Bowl LVII is scheduled to take place on Sunday, February 12, 2023, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. There seem to be more questions with contending teams than answers heading into the season's final week. The parody among NFL contenders is good for business. It creates excitement for its fans. Of the 14 available playoff berths, 11 have already been clinched. Two AFC berths are still up for grabs. One spot in the NFC is still open. There is plenty to play for in the final week of this year’s NFL regular season.
Let’s try to make sense of the remaining open playoff berths and which teams have a shot at clinching them. Get whatever you take for headaches ready.
The Seattle Seahawks (8-8) currently hold the 7th and final playoff berth in the NFC. Oddly enough, it’s a team who is currently the conference’s 9th seed and controls its own destiny. Two NFC North rivals with identical 8-8 records are breathing down the Seahawks’ necks: the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. The 9-seed Packers own the tiebreaker with the Seahawks. Green Bay owns a better record against NFC teams. Confused? If so, you are not alone. My question is, why wouldn’t the Packers be in the 7 spot now? Allow me to simplify the situation.
The Seahawks make the playoffs if: They beat the 5-11 Los Angeles Rams, AND the Packers lose next week against the Lions.
The Lions make the playoffs if: They beat the Packers next week, AND the Seahawks lose. Detroit lost to Seattle back in Week 4.
The Packers make the playoffs if: They beat the Detroit Lions next week.
Three teams are competing for one spot. Who will clinch the NFC’s final playoff berth? Both the Seahawks and Lions have surprised this season. If you predicted that Geno Smith would be selected for the Pro Bowl this year, you’re lying. The Packers have become hot at the right time. They have won four games in a row and seem to have gotten themselves in a rhythm as they’ve welcomed back key players back from injuries. Oh, and they have that Aaron Rodgers guy at quarterback. One would think of these three teams, the Packers would be the favorite to clinch, especially since they control their own destiny. We shall see what happens on Sunday.
If you thought the playoff picture in the NFC was interesting, it’s slightly more chaotic in the AFC. There are two playoff berths remaining to be clinched. One of those two berths belongs to the AFC South Division winner, which has come down to the 8-8 Jacksonville Jaguars of all teams and the reeling 7-9 Tennessee Titans. The Jaguars happen to be hosting the Titans next week in a winner-take-all matchup for the AFC South and a playoff berth.
The race for the AFC’s third and final Wild Card berth is down to three teams with identical 8-8 records: The New England Patriots, the Miami Dolphins, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Patriots make the playoffs if: They follow the motto coined by the late Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just Win, Baby.” If the Pats defeat the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo next week, they’re in.
The Dolphins make the playoffs if: They beat the New York Jets next week, AND the Bills beat the Patriots.
The Steelers make the playoffs if: They beat the Cleveland Browns next week, AND both the Patriots and Dolphins lose.
The Patriots have the simplest path to clinching the last Wild Card berth in the AFC. That should make them the favorites to sneak into the AFC Playoffs by default. New England will battle the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The Bills will still have playoff seeding to play for. Who has the Patriots in an upset of the Bills in that game?
The Dolphins looked like shoo-ins for the playoffs five weeks ago. Then they lost five games in a row. It’s still unclear if Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa will be able to play against the Jets on Sunday after suffering another concussion. Teddy Bridgewater is beyond a capable backup. Can he be Miami’s hero with a little help from the Bills?
Then there’s the Steelers. Somehow, someway Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike Tomlin has rallied his troops. He may avoid posting his first losing season. It may not be enough for the Steelers to make the playoffs, though. They need more help than I did in Calculus back in the day. That’s a lot of help.
Those are just the teams fighting to MAKE the playoffs. What about the teams that have already punched their tickets to the NFL Postseason? Is there truly a Super Bowl favorite among them? Is there even a favorite in each conference to make it to Super Bowl LVII? The odds makers in Vegas may think so. Me? Not so much.
Let’s assume the Jaguars, Packers, and Patriots clinch playoff berths next weekend to round out the field of 14. Do any of those teams really scream “Super Bowl Favorite?” The Jaguars are a young, talented, and inexperienced team. The Patriots are coached by the great Bill Belichick, but Tom Brady isn’t his quarterback anymore. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers could make some noise in the playoffs. Green Bay’s QB has certainly been there before and is still good enough to will his team to victory. Can he do that FOUR times with a young receiving group and without a home game at Lambeau Field?
It's not easy to figure out the favorites this year, is it?
The Philadelphia Eagles looked like the NFC’s favorite to make it to Arizona in early February. The Eagles have tightly griped the conference’s #1 seed. Then, Jalen Hurts got hurt, and Philly now needs to beat the Giants next week to clinch that one-seed and a first-round bye. If that happens, it will give Hurts extra time to heal, and the Eagles will still be the NFC favorites. How often have we seen a team with a bye lose its rhythm, come out flat, and get upset? Could that happen to the Eagles in a couple of weeks? Maybe.
The #1 Defense in the NFC belongs to the San Francisco 49ers. They are currently the conference’s #2 seed and still have a chance at the #1 seed. This is a really good football team who happens to be on their third-string quarterback. Rookie QB Brock Purdy has played well since being forced into action in Week 13 when Jimmy Garoppolo fell victim to injury. This year’s Mr. Irrelevant has been anything but, having thrown for 10 touchdowns versus 3 interceptions over the past five games – all 49ers wins. Can Purdy lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl? Stranger things have happened in the NFL, but how can you not have doubts about the 49ers heading into the playoffs?
Then there are the Cardiac Kids, the Minnesota Vikings, who currently own a record of 12-4. Eleven, I repeat, ELEVEN of those twelve victories have come in one-score games. How many years have the Vikings shaven of their fans’ lives this season? Kirk Cousins has been steady at quarterback, and Justin Jefferson is arguably the best receiver in the league. Offense isn’t this team’s problem. They have given up more points than they’ve scored this season. Those eleven one-score games could have gone either way. Is this team for real, or is it just plain luck? Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, though.
I’m not sure what to make of the New York Giants. Give credit to first-year Head Coach Brian Daboll and the Giants new front office. They’ve done a great job turning the franchise’s fortunes around quickly. If there’s one thing, these Giants can do well, it’s run the football. Saquon Barkley has had a great bounce-back season. QB Daniel Jones is a better runner than a passer. Other than that, this is an average football team. Average doesn’t clinch you a spot in the Super Bowl. Who has the Giants in the big game?
When was the last time the Dallas Cowboys proved they can win a single playoff game, let alone make a Super Bowl run? Until that happens, expect “America’s Team” to bow out in the opening round. Again.
Who wants to face Tom Brady in a playoff game? The great TB12 has managed to lead a mediocre Tampa Bay Buccaneers team back to the playoffs. Brady has posted his worst statistical season since 2019. Then again, a bad season for Brady would be a legendary season for any Chicago Bears quarterback. The Bucs have a top-10 defense. Surprisingly the offense, more so their league-worst rushing attack, has been this team’s weakness. I have a hard time ever betting against Tom Brady in a playoff game. This could be the year I actually do it.
The Baltimore Ravens perennially possess one of the league’s best defenses and running games. This season is no different. However, Ravens franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson is still nursing a knee injury he suffered a couple of weeks ago. Jackson is expected to be back for the playoffs, but the Ravens will only go as far as he takes them, a bum knee or not.
Once again, one of the two Los Angeles teams has qualified for the playoffs. This time it’s not the defending Super Bowl Champion Rams. It’s the Chargers. Their passing game, led by QB Justin Herbert is among the league’s best. Their defense and running game are a different story. So are the playoffs. The Chargers will need to stop high-octane offenses like the Bengals, Bills, and Chiefs. Can I get a show of hands of who expects the Chargers to make a playoff run? That’s what I figured.
And then there were three left. These are the teams to watch out for, in my opinion. Of all the teams in this season’s NFL Playoffs, the top three squads in the AFC have the best chance at not only representing the AFC in the Super Bowl but winning it as well.
The Bengals narrowly lost Super Bowl LVI to the Rams last year. This squad has made a playoff run, has Super Bowl experience, and has proven that they can beat the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium – in a playoff game. The Bengals are the hottest team in the league, having won seven games in a row. There’s a lot to like about Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
There’s a lot to like about Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills too. Don’t think they’ve forgotten about that heartbreaking loss to Kansas City in last year’s playoffs. The Bills have been on a mission, and they’re hot, too, having won their sixth game in a row themselves. Buffalo possesses both a top-5 offense AND defense! Bills Mafia will be ready, and so will their Bills. They also could be inspired to play for the injured Damar Hamlin. Can Allen and the Bills finally get the postseason monkey off their backs and make it to the Super Bowl?
Not if the Kansas City Chiefs have anything to say about it. The Chiefs are also on a roll, having won four in a row heading into Week 18. They still have Patrick Mahomes putting up video game-like numbers. More importantly, this squad has Super Bowl experience. They’ve won the big game and lost the big game. However, these Chiefs don’t seem as invincible as in recent years, despite their record and the league’s best offense. Kansas City will be a tough out in the playoffs, especially if they clinch the AFC’s one-seed. Then again, the Chiefs had a home-field advantage last year and watched the Super Bowl from home.
In my mind, there isn’t a clear-cut favorite in either conference this season. I don’t like to dabble in the prediction business. Here’s why.
My head says that the Philadelphia Eagles will meet the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII, with Besides, I don’t have a horse in the race. My Bears aren’t even close to sniffing mediocrity these days.
Who do you have making it to and winning the Super Bowl this year? Get your Magic 8-ball ready. Whoever you pick this year will be an honest guess.
Photo Credit: NFL