With the end of the regular season fast approaching, fewer and fewer teams have any real shot of doing damage in the postseason. Thanks to injuries and weaknesses showing after a dozen or so games, there are really only six teams left with legitimate aspirations of making the Super Bowl–and it’s all about two key indicators: the quarterback position and point differential.
The obvious favorites are the Green Bay Packers. They have Aaron Rodgers, who happens to be in the middle of one of the best ever statistical seasons, posting a Quarterback Rating that would make Peyton Manning jealous. Oh, and they have a decent defense too and will almost certainly end up with the number one seed in the NFC. They have the best record and the best point differential, and face only two real potential challenges in their conference in the form of San Francisco and New Orleans. Both have impressive point differentials (second and third in the NFL, respectively), but the difference here is Drew Brees vs. Alex Smith. The rest of the pack in the NFC is relatively mediocre, and while it’s possible Dallas or the New York Giants could upset one of the top three, it’s almost unforeseeable that any lower-rung playoff seed will be able to win three times en route to the Super Bowl against such quality opponents.
In the AFC, things are a bit murkier. The Patriots have the second best point differential in the conference behind Houston, and have Tom Brady. But, the defense backing Brady up is subpar and erratic. Houston, one of the league’s best teams through this point in the season, is playing its third-string quarterback in T.J. Yates after multiple unfortunate injuries. Against Brady at home or either Pittsburgh or Baltimore, two dangerous rivals in the AFC North, Yates isn’t going to cut it. Pittsburgh has Ben Roethlisberger, always a threat, and a quality team otherwise, so just like every year, they’ll be a tough out. In Baltimore, it’s the same situation as the Ravens continue to sport perhaps the league’s best defense on an annual basis, but Joe Flacco isn’t quite on the same level as the top two quarterbacks in the conference.
Figuring out who will end up in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis remains a difficult task with a three weeks left in the season, but at least that task has been whittled down to six: Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans, New England, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. For the rest, there’s always next year.