The Contender: 5 NFL Super Bowl Candidates
We are eleven weeks into the season and we are starting to see some separation between the contenders and the rest of the league. In part 1 of our “The Contender” series, we will discuss five NFL teams with the best chance to bring home the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 50.
- New England Patriots (10-0)-Here is your typical chalk pick to win this year’s Super Bowl. The Pats have won four championships under Brady and Belichick and it is no surprise that they are here again. Brady has come back with a vengeance after winning his appeal against the NFL over the Deflate-Gate Scandal and is my lock for this year’s NFL MVP. Although losing Julian Edelman will hurt, I wouldn’t be surprised if Danny Amendola steps up and lives up to the Wes Welker comparisons we all heard a few years ago. The only thing that really scares me about this team is how poor the secondary has been. Besides Malcolm Butler, the Patriots don’t have a true shut down corner. The NFL has been more dependent on the pass this season and the Patriots weak secondary could lead to their downfall.
- Cincinnati Bengals (8-2)-The last two weeks have not been ideal for Cincy, but two poor performances are not going to keep me from making this pick. The Bengals started the season 8-0 and Andy Dalton has turned into a legitimate franchise quarterback and leader. Dalton’s biggest improvement can be seen in his deep ball accuracy. On throws made between 21-40 yards down the field, Dalton has a 62% completion percentage, 20 percentage points higher than last year. The Bengals offense has a lot of weapons and can be explosive at times. With A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu on the outside, Dalton has plenty of targets to hit down the field. In addition, emerging tight end Tyler Eifert has been very good in the middle of the field. The pass offense is balanced with the Bengals’ running back tandem of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. The Bengals’ start to the season has been strong, but the team has had one of the easiest schedules in all of football. We should see if they are up to the task as they look to finish the season strong.
- Carolina Panthers (10-0)-How did this happen? I had projected that the Panthers would be in the 5-7 win range this season and they hit that mark about a month ago. Cam Newton lost two of his main offensive weapons in the offseason, losing Kelvin Benjamin to injury and the franchise’s leading rusher DeAngelo Williams to free agency. Benjamin played a huge role, hauling in nine touchdowns in an overly impressive freshman season. Without many weapons, a decline was evident for Cam Newton. However, he has continued to persevere and has had a strong season, thus far. Newton has also become a leader on and off the field for the Panthers. Two seasons ago, the Panthers defense was incredible. After last year’s regression, they have come back strong thanks to the emergence of young shut down corner Josh Norman. The Panthers rank 11th in pass yards allowed per game despite facing the likes of Andrew Luck, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. The Panthers have a nice balance of offense and defense that could allow them to make a title run come February.
- Arizona Cardinals (8-2)-Another surprise pick here. Carson Palmer did not play well in the preseason and it appeared as if he wasn’t going to play like he was before he was injured last year. However, Palmer has shocked us again, performing as one of the best quarterbacks in the league this year. What was expected was a breakout from second year wide reciever John Brown, who has surpassed Michael Floyd on the Cardinals’ depth chart. Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald are still playing really well and has helped advance Bruce Arians’ offense in its second year. The Cardinals have a three-headed monster at the backfield in Andre Ellington, David Johnson, and Chris Johnson. Each back adds their own dimension to this offense that keeps the defense on their feet. The Cardinals’ strong suit is their defense. Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu are playing at a whole new level and has taken pressure off the pass rush.
- Dark Horse: Minnesota Vikings (7-3)-I know. I know. More surprises. I don’t know how this happened either, but the Vikings have found a way to win tough ball games this year. They have racked up 5 consecutive wins and sit alone at the top of the NFC North. Despite inconsistent quarterback play, the Vikings have found a way to win football games. Adrian Peterson has returned with a chip on his shoulder after sitting out last season on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. He has average 106.8 rush yards per game, his third highest average in his storied career. Rookie Stefon Diggs has emerged as Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target, surpassing 87 yards in four of six games in a featured role. He has passed Cordarelle Patterson and Charles Johnson and looks to be a serious part of the Vikings passing games for years to come. The real star of this team has been their defense. They are second in points allowed, trailing the Bengals by a mere 0.2 points per game. Led by second year linebacker Anthony Barr and young stud Harrison Smith, the Vikings have allowed less than 20 points for six of the last seven game. If the Vikings get in the playoffs, they will need Bridgewater to show some poise and tap into his potential. Don’t be surprised if they make a deep playoff run.