Patriots Among Contenders for Second-Best Team in NFL, As Playoff Picture Far From Settled


Patriots Among Contenders for Second-Best Team in NFL, As Playoff Picture Far From SettledIf we’re operating under the assumption that the best team in the NFL won’t win the Super Bowl, as has been the case for nine of the past 11 years, then you’d have just about as good a chance of picking the winning lottery numbers than you do of picking this year’s Super Bowl winner.

That might be an overstatement, sure, but the NFL, through most of Week 11, is as wide open as can be.

That’s not meant directly to disrespect the San Francisco 49ers, who are 9-1 and haven’t lost since Week 2. However, their nine wins have come against teams with a combined 41-49 record, and they’re 3-1 against teams with winning records. They’re legitimate contenders, to be sure, but the 9-1 record might be overinflated just a little bit.

And if the Niners were, say, 7-3, against some stiffer competition, they’d have plenty of company. The Lions, Bears, Saints, Ravens, Steelers and Texans are all 7-3, while it would take a minor miracle for Tyler Palko to stop the Patriots from reaching that same record by the end of Monday night. The Cowboys, Giants, Falcons, Bengals and Raiders are all right behind at 6-4.

The playoff picture at this very moment will almost certainly look very different in six weeks, when it’s all said and done. For one, the Texans and Bears are due for a near-guaranteed drop-off, thanks to injuries to Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler, respectively, and their replacements being Matt Leinart and Caleb Hanie, disrespectfully. The Raiders, too, have to deal with the surging Broncos (5-5), who might never lose again with Tim Tebow under center.

Meanwhile in New England, a cupcake schedule should have the Patriots finishing at 11-5 at the very worst. That looks like it’ll be enough for a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game, both of which the Patriots, with their CFL defense, will need to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy. The Steelers will struggle, at least a bit, as Ben Roethlisberger deals with a broken thumb, while the Ravens will have tough games against the 49ers, Chargers and Bengals, as the latter two will be fighting for their playoff lives.

In the NFC, the Packers’ only concern is whether “undefeated talk” starts to disrupt their focus. The Giants and Cowboys will fight for a playoff berth, while the NFC South might not be settled until the Monday night matchup of New Orleans and Atlanta.

If you look at Vegas, you’ve got the Packers (2-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl), then the Patriots (5-to-1), and then everyone else. San Francisco isn’t a bad bet at 8-to-1 odds, while taking the Giants at 40-to-1 or the Denver Tebows at 75-to-1 just seems too fun to resist. The Lions, at 30-to-1, aren’t the worst way to go, either.

What you’ll have by the end of it, provided San Francisco falters a bit and drops a couple of games down the stretch, is the NFL’s picture-perfect parity. When the playoffs kick off in January, it’s going to be anyone’s guess who will make it through to the end. Don’t forget to make your pick and buy your lottery ticket. You might end up winning one of them.

After the Packers, which is the best team in the NFL?

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