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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ranking the top 12 Super Bowl contenders

Carson Wentz

6) New Orleans Saints

The Saints, who have never leaned heavily on the running game during the Sean Payton era, now have one. The emergence of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara has given New Orleans the third-most rush yards per game in the league. That has taken some pressure off Drew Brees, who isn’t the be-all end-all of the New Orleans offense anymore. With all that in mind, their 9-3 record is no surprise. The defense needs to be good enough, but the offense can win games on their own.

5) Los Angeles Rams

It’s safe to say the Rams have arrived much sooner than many would have expected them to. They boast an outstanding offense led by Jared Goff, who has really broken out this year. It’s supplemented by Todd Gurley, who has also bounced back from an underwhelming 2016. The defense is top ten as well, which means the Rams have a dangerous, well-rounded team. They haven’t faced a ton of quality opposition, though they did beat the Dallas Cowboys when they still had Ezekiel Elliott, as well as the Jaguars.

4) Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers will always be the Steelers. They’re strong on defense, which, as usual, will carry them in the playoffs. On offense, they have Ben Roethlisberger in charge of things, and he’s surrounded by two of the NFL’s elite weapons in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. It’s an extremely dangerous combination, and they’re playing amazing football right now. The team’s toughest remaining games — against Baltimore and New England — are both at home. That means there’s a very real possibility this team could enter the playoffs having not lost since the beginning of October.

3) Minnesota Vikings

People will continue to wonder whether Case Keenum is really this good, but the bottom line is that Keenum is playing like he’s this good. The Vikings’ solid offense has lots of playmakers around him, but the defense is the backbone of the team. This is a unit that has made the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams look extremely ordinary this season. Minnesota, more than any other team, has shown a proven ability to beat other quality teams. This is easily their best chance at a Super Bowl since Brett Favre was under center, and maybe even longer than that.

2) New England Patriots

The Patriots will always be there, and after a shaky start to the season, they appear to have ironed out a lot of flaws. The defense that struggled so mightily early on has improved tremendously. Since Oct. 1, no team has hung more than 17 points on them. Tom Brady is still playing as well as he ever has. It’s so difficult to bet against the Patriots once the playoffs roll around, and Bill Belichick looks like he has his team poised for another run toward the promised land. The Pats are playing great ball and have won eight straight.

1) Philadelphia Eagles

Is this the year? Doug Pederson has engineered a remarkably quick turnaround in the City of Brotherly Love. A lot of that comes down to Carson Wentz, the second-year quarterback who may well claim MVP honors when the season concludes. Their balanced rushing attack is led by LeGarrette Blount and the newly-acquired Jay Ajayi, while Wentz himself is a mobile threat. The defense has been great, having allowed the third-fewest yards in the league. Only the Ravens have more interceptions. The Eagles look like they could be the complete package, but they’re a bit untested in the playoffs, and their loss to Seattle has raised some questions.

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