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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Ranking the top 10 Super Bowl contenders

Patrick Mahomes

We’re over halfway through the NFL season, and a clear picture is developing regarding the league’s elite teams. Excitingly, there isn’t really one team that stands head and shoulders above their peers, ensuring what should be a very hotly-contested playoff that lacks a clear favorite. That lack of a singular standout team doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of quality; three teams are carrying just one loss, while four others have only lost twice.

So who might win the Super Bowl? Here are ten teams who have demonstrated that they may well have what it takes.

10) Houston Texans

It would be foolish to ignore the team that is currently one of the hottest in the NFL. The Texans have won six in a row on the strength of a solid defense and an offense that is slowly improving as Deshaun Watson gets progressively healthier. They now lead the AFC South, and their three division foes look too inconsistent to really push them. They lack the elite talent and depth of their peers, but a sturdy defense that doesn’t allow many points combined with the Watson-DeAndre Hopkins connection means they always have a chance.

9) Philadelphia Eagles

It’s safe to say that Philadelphia’s Super Bowl defense has been less-than-inspired, but it’s still too soon to count out the reigning champions. For all the frustration over their performances, only four teams have allowed fewer points this season. The offense has too often been a letdown, but there appears to be room to grow there. Carson Wentz doesn’t look like he’s experiencing any enduring impacts from his injury, and the addition of Golden Tate should only help the receiving corps. Their run game, however, needs to improve for them to reach the heights of 2017.

8) Pittsburgh Steelers

After a very shaky start to the season, the Steelers have rounded into form. They’ve won four in a row, and they’ve held three of their opponents during that span under 20 points. Perhaps more impressively, the offense hasn’t suffered that much during Le’Veon Bell’s extended absence, as Ben Roethlisberger continues to rack up the yardage. James Conner has ably stepped into the running back position and kept the team moving well. The fact that Bell’s return is still in doubt isn’t even bothering them much anymore.

7) Carolina Panthers

Unfortunately, the Panthers occupy the same division as the New Orleans Saints, which means a division title will take some real heavy lifting. Carolina still looks bound for a playoff spot, though, and they’ll be a big threat in the NFC once they get there. Cam Newton is performing well, and the threat of Christian McCaffrey in the backfield has helped diversify the offense. Add in the fact that they have a sound defense and this is a team that, while not elite, is well-rounded enough to make a playoff run.

6) Los Angeles Chargers

Despite the fact that Joey Bosa still hasn’t played this season, the Chargers are still in good shape for a playoff run. They’ve won five in a row behind generally strong offensive play, and no AFC West team has allowed fewer points than the Chargers have. Bosa is expected to return this season to provide an even bigger boost. Their December clash with the Kansas City Chiefs should be a marquee matchup that could ultimately decide the division.

5) Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have underperformed this year, but it’s easy to see where corrections have already taken place. A better kicking game would have gotten them a win at Green Bay instead of a tie, and their awful performance against the Buffalo Bills has to go down as a very baffling fluke at this point. They’ve played the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams tough on the road, but they’re not as good as either yet. They could be, particularly if their highly-touted defense comes together, as the Kirk Cousins-led passing offense has done as well as it was expected to.

4) New Orleans Saints

The Saints proved themselves with their win over the Los Angeles Rams, with their opponents proving unable to stop them when the ball was in Drew Brees’ hands. Only two teams have scored more points than the Saints this season, and their offense will be a massive challenge to whoever faces them in the playoffs. Concerns linger over their defense, which has shown itself to be vulnerable at various points and isn’t as good as it was last year. They may just be able to outscore their foes anyway.

3) New England Patriots

After a very shaky start to the season, nobody is doubting the Patriots anymore. Tom Brady is well on his way to another 30-touchdown season, and the offense has become a top five unit in terms of points scored. They’ve been able to win without Rob Gronkowski or Sony Michel healthy, so they could be a real force if those players regain top form. Concerns over the defense remain, but the unit has improved since having some real early-season problems. Wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers at home demonstrate just what these guys are capable of. Plus, no team has more playoff experience or a proven track record of postseason success.

2) Los Angeles Rams

Don’t let their loss at New Orleans fool you. The Rams fell well behind and fought back to make it a game that they very much could have won. The numbers bear out their dominance, as the Chiefs are the only team that have outscored them overall in 2018. Their defense is better than Kansas City’s, though, and while not elite, it doesn’t really have to be if the offense is clicking. They’ve seen off both the Chargers and Vikings at home, and are going to be an extremely formidable foe. Don’t expect a repeat of last year’s quick playoff exit.

1) Kansas City Chiefs

The adage may be that defense wins championships, but the Chiefs are looking to show that offense can do it too. Through nine games, they’re the only team with 300 points scored, and their only loss was plenty forgivable: a 43-40 defeat at New England. They’ve even won on the road against both the Steelers and the Chargers, and the sensational Patrick Mahomes is already on the verge of passing 3,000 passing yards. In a year of great offenses, Kansas City’s is the best, and they’re going to be enormously dangerous to anyone who faces them.

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