Contenders or Pretenders – Which Super Bowl Threats are for real in 2021?

As we enter Week 15’s slate of games, no NFL team has clinched a playoff spot yet. Not one! Of course, there are elite teams scattered throughout the league that are on the verge of securing their place in postseason action, but some are there to simply make up the numbers. With one month remaining, which Super Bowl threats are the real deal?

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Not going to happen

Cleveland Browns
Indianapolis Colts
Washington Football Team
San Francisco 49ers
Philadelphia Eagles
Denver Broncos
Cincinnati Bengals

While these seven NFL teams may still cement themselves into the playoff picture, I can’t see them making a ton of noise throughout the postseason. The Eagles, Browns, Broncos and Bengals are all currently sitting outside the postseason picture and there’s no certainty that Washington will hold onto their seeding either. The 49ers and Colts loom as the biggest threats from this group, but I can’t see them winning multiple games and going on a remarkable run.

Dallas Cowboys (9-4)

Their record suggests Dallas is an elite team; however, I can’t full endorse them as a Super Bowl threat this season. Their high octane offence is one of the best on-paper units in the league with stars like Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Ezekiel Elliott helping the Cowboys average the second-most yards (409.1) and points (29.2) per game. On the other side of the ball, the likes of Trevon Diggs and rookie sensation Micah Parsons are giving Dallas faithful confidence, and yet, my gut tells me they are destined to come up short prior to Super Bowl LVI. Their fate still lies in the hands of Dak Prescott and his inconsistent play could see them catch lightning in a bottle, but I’m predicting it’ll be their eventual undoing.
Verdict: Pretenders

Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

Speaking of talented on-paper outfits, the L.A. Rams have once again stuck to their ethos of acquiring established stars to fuel a potential run at the Lombardi trophy. Odell Beckham Jr’s arrival won’t solve all their issues and the Rams have spluttered at times in the last month or so, leading to some ugly losses and understandable questions around the franchises’ potential. However, their most recent triumph vs. Arizona gave us an insight into what they’re capable of when they’re up and about and with Sean McVay calling the shots, I’m backing Los Angeles to be at the peak of their powers when the games really count.
Verdict: Contenders

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Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)

While I’m high on the potential for one Los Angeles franchise, I don’t have the same optimism for their cross-town pals. In the early portion of the season, Justin Herbert looked like he had talked another leap towards superstardom, although some inconsistent performances have led to the Chargers dropping winnable games against Denver and Minnesota recently. Don’t get me wrong, this franchise has all the tools to evolve into a contender for years to come, but it might be a task too tall to expect them to live up to the hype in 2022.
Verdict: Pretenders

Green Bay Packers (10-3)

Your new top seed in the NFC and my preseason Super Bowl pick are looking every bit like a legitimate title threat – mainly thanks to the play of their polarizing QB. The reigning MVP hasn’t lost a step despite the hysteria that he caused in the offseason, with Aaron Rodgers squarely in a position to contend for the league’s highest individual honour once again. More importantly, the Packers will likely get key contributors David Bakhtiari and Jaire Alexander healthy by the end of the regular season and if Rodgers can push through the pain of his toe injury, there’s no reason why Green Bay won’t be competing for the franchise’s 5th Super Bowl.
Verdict: Contenders

Buffalo Bills (7-6)

I wasn’t extremely high on the Bills’ chances of contending prior to their clash with the Bucs, and an overtime loss may have sealed their fate. Things have been unravelling since star CB Tre’Davious White tore his ACL on Thanksgiving with their inconsistent running game also raising serious questions – despite Josh Allen’s dual-threat ability n offence. If you need any more proof as to why Buffalo is simply making up the numbers in this postseason race, they own a depressing 1-5 win-loss ledger against teams with a winning record, with that one victory coming against a very different Chiefs outfit back in Week 5.
Verdict: Pretenders

Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

I went out on a limb to declare that Baltimore would miss the playoffs this season and that ship hasn’t completely sailed yet. While the Ravens are still residing atop the AFC North standings, another Lamar Jackson injury setback casts more doubt over their potential with some daunting opponents still on the slate. Only the Panthers and Steelers have a tougher remaining strength of the schedule and there wouldn’t be too much optimism around Baltimore’s chances if they have to rely on Tyler Huntley for a stretch of games. If he’s healthy though, a fired-up Jackson could prove me wrong and drive this Ravens team through the postseason.
Verdict: Pretenders

Arizona Cardinals (10-3)

Arizona has all the traits of a team that can contend for a Super Bowl, and yet, over the season thus far I haven’t been able to fully buy in. They own an impressive 7-0 record on the road with all of those victories coming by double digits, and the Cards have even proved they can survive without Kyler Murray under center. A budding defence that ranks top-5 in forced turnovers and a versatile offence that can score points in the air or via the ground has the Cardinals shaping up as a true title threat, even if I’m pessimistic about their chances.
Verdict: Contenders

Kansas City Cheifs (9-4)

There was a moment in time when we were unsure if Kansas City was even going to make the playoffs, let alone make another run at the Super Bowl! Last year’s AFC champs have now found their mojo to the tune of six consecutive wins, sitting second in that span for average margin of victory (16.4). More impressively from a Chiefs perspective, their defence has come to the party, with KC’s opponents scoring just 10.8 PPG on average during their win streak; compared to 29.0 PPG from their first seven contests. If they can keep generating stops on defence, then Patrick Mahomes is bound to put enough points on the board and steer them towards an appearance at SoFi Stadium in February.
Verdict: Contenders

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New England Patriots (9-4)

Are we even surprised? It didn’t take long for coach of the year frontrunner Bill Belichick to establish another powerhouse in New England, with rookie Mac Jones helping them reel off a league-best seven straight W’s. A juggernaut defensive unit has equally boosted the Patriots as they reaffirm themselves in the title race, ranking in the top handful for most of the important defensive metrics, including conceding the fewest rushing touchdowns (6) in the NFL. With so many different ways they can beat you, don’t be shocked if this Patriots team continues to surge deep through the playoffs.
Verdict: Contenders

Tennessee Titans (9-4)

Things are trending upwards for the Titans with Derrick Henry reportedly nearing full strength after undergoing surgery on his foot six weeks ago. Since then, Tennessee has managed to stay afloat by registering a 3-2 record but make no mistake, they’re a shell of themselves without “King Henry” in uniform. He’s not the only Titan nursing an injury issue with Julio Jones missing a big chunk of time and A.J Brown still sitting on IR. Without his main weapons, Ryan Tannehill’s play has been a glaring weakness and even if their stars return in time for the postseason, I can’t see this Titans team hanging around for long.
Verdict: Pretenders

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

This one is obvious, even before I point out that the Buccaneers face the easiest strength of schedule in their remaining four games. Tampa Bay is the best offensive team in football through 13 weeks, pacing the NFL in total yards, total points and first downs – with their 44-year old quarterback the main reason for their success. The Bucs have shown their versatility on offence (see Leonard Fournette vs. the Colts) while being able to quell opposing rushing attacks in the process. Expect to see the most recent NFC champ in the mix for another conference title and a run at consecutive Super Bowl victories.
Verdict: Contenders

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