It's too early to make Super Bowl predictions, especially when only six teams have clinched spots and 18 others are still in the hunt after Week 15, but here's one anyway: the AFC team will win in a rout.
The AFC seems as dominant now as the NFC was in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Super Bowl was more of a coronation than a competition for teams like the Redskins, Giants, Bears and Cowboys and 49ers.
The Bears appear to be the NFC's best hope, and the way they have been playing lately, that's not overly encouraging.
Rex Grossman played well Sunday as the Bears nipped the lowly Buccaneers in overtime to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But an depleted defense allowed backup quarterback Tim Rattay to come off the bench and throw for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase a 21-point lead.
The Bears will try to get healthy while playing meaningless games they next two weeks, but they won't get defensive tackle Tommie Harris back and they might not want troubled tackle Tank Johnson back after he was at a nightclub where his friend was shot to death some 12 hours after he was arrested for the third time in 18 months after police raided his home.
It's not as if the Bears are unbeatable at home. The Carolina Panthers knocked them out of the playoffs with a convincing win at Soldier Field last year. It's not as if they excel on sloppy fields and in cold weather. This is a team, especially defensively, that is built on quickness. Negate their first step, and that's often what happens in cold-weather games, and it robs them of their greatest strength.
That said, expect the Bears to emerge from the mediocre NFC. The Chargers are the favorite in the much deeper AFC. Assuming the Chargers and Bears survive, here's another Super Bowl prediction based on how these teams look at this moment: Chargers 27, Bears 13.
Here are the 10 Super Bowl contenders heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Virtually all the pieces are in place from last year’s NFC champions. That’s what makes how poorly they have played in back-to-back losses to the Cardinals and 49ers so puzzling. If they can get on a roll they can still be dangerous. They better do it soon. They are running out of time.
Just when you think this is the last team anybody wants to meet in the playoffs because of their stingy defense and running tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew they allow three defensive touchdowns in a loss to the Titans. If the Jags put it together they can be dominant. But can they?
The Bengals were doing what every team wants to do this time of year. They were playing their best football before looking ordinary in a lopsided loss to the Colts on Monday night. Where do they go from here? To Denver before finishing up at home against the rival Steelers. Tough road.
Indianapolis’ once-potent offense had failed to score more than 17 points in four of the last five games before Peyton Manning carved up the Bengals’ secondary on Monday night. This team is flawed. Everybody realizes that. But Manning gives them a chance in every game.
Tony Romo has stabilized the offense but now the defense is a concern. The Cowboys are giving up too many big plays in the passing game are struggling on third down. That needs to change if Bill Parcells is going to take Dallas on an extended playoff run.
Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing game is deadly when it’s been on, and it’s been on for virtually the entire season, at least until Sunday’s loss to the Redskins. But can that attack be effective when it’s four degrees and the wind is howling at Soldier Field? That’s the question the Saints must answer.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
If Steve McNair’s hand injury is serious the Ravens will tumble down this list. Kyle Boller got the job done against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but they’re going to need McNair if they are to make a Super Bowl run. Defensively, they’ve got all they need.
It may sound tired but it’s true. It takes a great coach and a great quarterback to consistently win in the playoffs. The Patriots have both. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are wearing red, white and blue, overlook the Patriots at you own risk.
They’ve got the best combination of offense and defense in the league and have clearly established themselves as the NFL’s best team. As long as LaDainian Tomlinson stays healthy and Philip Rivers doesn’t short circuit, as he almost did against the Chiefs on Sunday night, they should be Super Bowl bound.
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