With over one-quarter of the NFL’s season in the books, let’s take a look at the teams from the NFL’s American Football Conference that have the best chance to make it to Super Bowl LIII. This list will cover the likely teams to play in the big game on February 3rd as well as a sleeper that under the right circumstances might just be able to sneak into the game for a chance to win it all.
Who could have predicted the Eagles historic run last year? There will always be teams at the top of the list to play in the Super Bowl every year but with parity in the league being the name of the game, sneaky teams get hot down the stretch and find a way in. This list starts with a team that most people expected to contend but won’t.
Jacksonville won’t be playing in the Super Bowl for one reason – Blake Bortles. It has been a series of ups and downs since Bortles entered the league in 2014. Growing pains are expected with young quarterbacks but for Bortles, he just hasn’t shown that he can consistently overcome them. Yes, they played New England tough in Foxboro in the AFC Championship game last season and they almost won. Bortles finished the season strong, playing perhaps the best football of his career – which isn’t saying much (9TD, 5 INT over the final five weeks in the regular season) and played mistake-free football in the playoffs. What he didn’t do is will his team to victory and that’s what it most often takes from a QB to make it to the Super Bowl.
Jacksonville sports arguably the most aggressive and stout defense in the league. They’re brash, physical and tough to play against. Defensively, they have the ability to win games – and they will win their fair share of them with low scoring games this season but they just won’t get the high quality, mistake-free football they will need from Bortles. He played the best game of his career against New England this season throwing 4 TD’s but followed the success up with just three touchdowns and five interceptions in the next three weeks.
The Jaguars will probably win a relatively weak AFC South but don’t expect them in the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots
Let’s just get the easy one out of the way. This team still has Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Those two are enough to get pretty much any team to the Super Bowl. Although this season has started out a little slow with two losses in their first five games, you can bet they’ll be in contention for another trip to the Super Bowl in January.
The defense has been downright awful some of the seasons but Belichick is a defensive wizard and will have things figured out by midseason, as always. The offense returns Julian Edelman after a four-game suspension was handed down over the summer, giving Brady his most reliable target. They made a low risk, Belichick-like trade early in the season to acquire one of the games most enigmatic wide receivers in Josh Gordon. If Gordon can stay healthy, learn the system and behave in the “Patriot way”, Gordon gives Brady his most explosive weapon ever and yes, we know he had Randy Moss.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have jumped out of the gate to a 5-0 start behind a young quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who came into this season with one career start only to set the league on fire throwing for the most touchdowns thrown in the first three weeks of an NFL season. Offensively, this team has been unstoppable this year with last years rookie running back phenom, Kareem Hunt and human joystick, WR Tyreek Hill lighting things up. They also bring one of the league’s best tight ends, Travis Kelce into the fold putting stress on each defensive coordinator they face.
Defensively, they traded away top cornerback Marcus Peters in the offseason but, it may have been addition by subtraction. The defense has struggled some at the start of the season, giving up 129 points in their first five games but they do create turnovers and have that offense behind them. If somehow, the Chiefs can keep pace and clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs, it’ll be tough for any team, even New England to come into Arrowhead stadium and knock out a good Chiefs team. This team is for real.
Another team you’ll find on these lists every year. They have the offensive pieces to compete with any team in the league. Quite possibly, they have the best wide receiver, Antonio Brown and best running back, Le’Veon Bell in the league. Bell currently is holding out for a contract that will pay him as the best running back in the league as well as a wide receiver. The Steelers made him an offer to be the highest paid running back but he turned the offer down. Rumor has it he will return in week seven, providing a huge boost to the Steelers chances.
Mike Tomlin continues to craft the Steelers defense and although it’s not what it has been in years past, this unit will come together as the season progresses – barring injuries.
What may be the Steelers downfall is overcoming the turmoil surrounding their team. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger never seemed to quite get along with previous offensive coordinator, Todd Haley who the Steelers cut ties with this offseason. They replaced him with Ben’s quarterback coach, Randy Fichtner who has battled with Antonio Brown early in the season. If the Bell holdout doesn’t end up finding a resolution, nix this team from the list.
Sleeper Alert: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have a stacked defense with two of the games best pass rushers, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They bring in a healthy offense with a lot of weapons and an experienced Philip Rivers looking to write the swan song of his career. If they can stay healthy and catch a few breaks, you just might see them in Atlanta in February.
Read Also: The NFC’s Best Super Bowl LIII Hopes