Patriots Far From Super Bowl Favorites, But This Year's Lombardi Trophy Remains Up for GrabsThe Patriots didn’t look much like a Super Bowl-caliber team on Sunday. Then again, neither did the Bills, Steelers or Chargers. On some Sundays, there aren’t any teams in the entire league that look capable of winning in January.

That’s why, despite back-to-back losses in New England, it’s not time to abandon ship on the Patriots.

Still, there’s not a ton of reason for too much optimism. The Patriots are in a three-way tie with the Bills, to whom they lost, and the Jets, whom they’ll face Sunday night in a game that may well decide the season.

The biggest reason for hope lies outside of the Patriots’ locker room. It lies in the standings.

The AFC has four teams with 6-3 records, three teams with 5-3 records and four teams with 4-4 records. That’s 11 out of 16 teams that still have a real chance of earning the No. 1 seed in the conference. In three of the AFC’s four divisions, there are two three-way ties and another division in which the top two teams are 6-2 and the third-place team is 6-3.

The season is halfway over, but there is a ton of football to be played. The book on this season is not even close to being written.

In the NFC, it’s slightly different, as the defending-champion Packers are far and away the best football team in the world. They’re 8-0, have a plus-96 point differential and could sleepwalk their way to 12 wins from here on out.

The Packers are without question the favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February, but how often does the league’s best regular-season team actually go on to win the Super Bowl? Not very.

Check out how the best regular-season team in the league has fared in the playoffs since 2000.

Year Team Regular-Season Record Playoff Record
2010 Patriots 14-2 0-1
2009 Colts 14-2 2-1
2008 Titans 13-3 0-1
2007 Patriots 16-0 2-1
2006 Chargers 14-2 0-1
2005 Colts 14-2 0-1
2004 Steelers 15-1 1-1
2003 Patriots 14-2 3-0
2002 Eagles, Packers,
12-4 3-2
2001 Rams 14-2 2-1
2000 Titans 13-3 0-1

Just two teams — the ’03 Patriots and ’02 Buccaneers — went on to win the Super Bowl, and the Bucs weren’t the hands-down best team in football during the regular season that year. The 12-4 Eagles and Packers, by comparison, lost their only playoff games.

By that standard, an upset of the Packers in January seems almost inevitable. If that happens, who’s going to win it all?

The Niners are 7-1 out in the NFC West, but nobody wants to take them seriously. The Saints are 6-3 and are just a couple of seasons removed from their own championship, while the 6-2 Giants and Lions have proven capable of winning on any given Sunday. There are also dangerous teams lurking in the 3-4 Eagles and 5-3 Falcons, who could easily put together a little streak, both now and in January.

As it stands now, the Eagles have a chance to creep closer toward contention with a Monday night win. If they do, there will be 18 teams that can say they have a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl.

There will be a Jets-Patriots game next Sunday night, a Steelers-Bengals and Giants-Niners clash Sunday afternoon, and an Eagles-Giants matchup the following Sunday night. There’s a Niners-Ravens meeting on Thanksgiving night, a Patriots-Eagles game four days later, and a handful of games in the final four weeks of the season that will determine who the regular-season champ will be.

And come January, it won’t even matter.

The Super Bowl, right now, belongs to any team that wants it. As a Patriots fan — or a fan of the Cowboys, Lions, Jets, Bills, Steelers and so on — it might not be comforting, but as a football fan, you couldn’t ask for much more.