We are now eleven weeks into the 2012 NFL regular season and it has been a surprising season up to this point among contenders and pretenders based on seasons’ past. It seems that the “bounty-gate” debacle has affected the New Orleans Saints more than perhaps even “expert analysts” have anticipated. The Arizona Cardinals jumped out to an early 4-0 lead among the NFC West and the New York Jets look like the preseason named “circus” after all, winning and losing by large deficits week by week. However, I believe we as fans can start to pin-point those teams who will be automatic locks in the playoffs and the potential Super Bowl XLVII contenders!
We will now take a quick look into the future and some of the teams that might be playing in the big game.
Right now the Houston Texans look to have the easiest road to a playoff bye week and home field advantage among the AFC. They have a complete team both on offense and defense with elite offensive weapons in Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub to along with defensive swat man J.J. Watt. They also have by far the easiest division having to face the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans, and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The only thing that will stop the Houston Texans from getting to the playoffs will be injuries to key players such as Brian Cushing. The Texans have also only made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season with a rookie quarterback leading the way. With experience and healthy players, the Texans could potentially see themselves representing the AFC in New Orleans.
We all know that Atlanta had a pretty decent team when they drafted Matt Ryan to take over at quarterback. Matty “Ice” has made the playoffs each of his five seasons in the league but has failed to make it anywhere close to the Super Bowl. The Atlanta Falcons were able to put all their eggs in one basket a year ago by giving up a ton of draft picks to select Julio Jones last year and we are now seeing those dividends as Jones is quickly becoming an elite wide receiver in the league alongside perhaps the best wide receiver duo in Roddy White. The reason the Falcons are one of the top teams in the league this year is because of their defense. Trading for Asante Samuel in the offseason and the emergence of William Moore and Thomas DeCoud in the deep secondary has made the Falcons able to pass rush the quarterback, something they have unable to do in past seasons. What looks like to be the “turning point” for Matt Ryan could result in a Super Bowl appearance by representing the NFC.
SAN FRANSISCO 49ERS
The San Fransisco 49ers came out of the gate blazing last season, ultimately claiming the second best record and a first round bye week in the playoffs. They were bested by the hot New York Giants and a few special team plays in the NFC title game to end their season. This year they have focused on improving the offense as the defense is still tops in the league. The 49ers were able to lure in two Giants in Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs as well as retired Randy Moss to bolster the bench. Under the lead of head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have returned to the dominant days of the 1980s only this time around the defense is doing the dominating. Alex Smith is finally starting to shape into what was once the number one overall pick out of Utah having the same offensive playbook in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career. If Smith can overcome his concussion suffered a few weeks ago, the 49ers should be able to secure a playoff spot and hopefully go beyond the outcome of last year and into the Super Bowl.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The New England Patriots are the current AFC champions and they still have all their offensive weapons with a much improved defense from a year ago. Despite some early losses, I believe that Tom Brady and company will be able to right the ship and sail into the playoffs perhaps with a first round bye. The main reason I believe they have yet another legitimate chance at a Super Bowl run is because of its young defense. The Patriots were able to draft a slew of young defensive players including the likes of Chandler Jones, Donta’ Hightower, and Tavon Wilson to play along with guys like Devin McCourty and Jerrod Mayo. No matter what though, the ultimate reason the Patriots are always a Super Bowl contender is because of #12, Tom Brady. Brady has led his team to 5 Super Bowls in his career, he can do it again.
Although Ray Lewis and LaDarrius Webb are out for the season I still have the Baltimore Ravens playoff bound and as a potential Super Bowl contender. The Ravens have a great defense and a great offense. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan are almost mirror images of each other, both having made the playoffs every year in their career but never having made it to the Super Bowl although Flacco has come much closer than Ryan. You can almost sense that both of these guys have finally “figured it out” and are having monster years on offense running his respective team to the top of their divisions and conferences. Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta are also much improved weapons at Flacco’s disposal and I expect the Raven’s backup players on defense to fill in the hole that Lewis and Webb left fluidly. With the Steelers having to deal with major injury issues and the Bengals still young and inexperienced, the Ravens should be able to win the AFC North easily and make a strong push toward Super Bowl XLVII.