Week 13 of the NFL season is here, and the Super Bowl just can’t seem to get here fast enough. With teams having worked out most of the kinks, we have a clearer picture of who will and won’t contend for the big game. Read on to be “Steere’d Straight” as to who the contenders for each conference are — as well as a sleeper pick.
Kansas City Chiefs: Posing perhaps the most talented offense in the NFL, the Chiefs are a lot of people’s favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, and for good reason. Second in the league in points per game (34.5) and third in yards per game (434.3), the Chiefs are ready to put points up.
In recent news, leading rusher Kareem Hunt has been charged with allegations of domestic violence. TMZ recently released a video showing the events that unfolded, with Hunt pushing and kicking a woman. Hunt was kicked off the team.
Led by Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, this should be little trouble to overcome since they’re nearly as talented as the next guy. With arguably the fastest man on the field, Tyreek Hill, and one of the best tight ends in the league in Travis Kelce, the Chiefs remain strong.. The list doesn’t end here. Receiver Sammy Watkins has proven to play a key role in the Chiefs offense, as well as role players such as Mike Conley and Spencer Ware, who will likely fill the void left by Hunt.
This offense is one of the most potent offenses we have seen in recent years. They lead the league in yards per play, with seven, and are top-five in almost every offensive category. This offense gets yards with such ease they punt the ball less than three times per game, trailing only the Rams and Saints.
On the defensive side of the ball is where the Chiefs struggles. While their offense is putting up points, the defense is allowing the other team to return the favor. The Chiefs allow 26.7 points per game, which puts them in the bottom five in the league. Not only are teams scoring at will, but they are moving the ball with ease, allowing 414 ypg, again in the bottom five.
Despite these staggering numbers, the Chiefs have a solid pass rush. The Chiefs average just over three sacks a game, putting them at the top with the Cardinals and Steelers. If the Chiefs can continue to get after to quarterback it will help their secondary and make for a deep playoff run. A team that gets after the quarterback is a team that causes problems.
New England Patriots: Like ever year since 1950 –at least it feels that way — the Patriots are a contender for the Super Bowl. They came out struggling, starting the season 1-2 and panic erupted around the league. They quickly got back to the Patriots’ way, winning the next seven of eight, with big wins over the Chiefs, Packers and Bears.
When watching the Patriots this year, yes they are winning, but they are winning a little differently offensively. They’re running the ball and doing it effectively behind rookie running back Sony Michel.
Michel has come in and perhaps prolonged Tom Brady’s career. When Michel carries the ball more than 20 times a game, he averages over 100 yards and at least one touchdown. In eight games (five starts) Michel averages 73.3 and 4.6 yards per carry, same as Saints RB Alvin Kamara.
Michel has totally changed how the Patriots work. The Patriots are seventh in total carries per game after finishing 15th last year.
Despite the success of the run game, Brady is still able to find a way to make things happen through the air. It could be partially due to the success of Josh Gordon, who was picked up this year from the Browns. He has filled the position of a deep threat with the loss of Brandin Cooks. When Gordon is healthy and has his head is in the game, he is one of the NFL’s most talented receivers. Brady will always be a threat passing the ball even when he’s 40 and his numbers are dropping.
Defensively, the Patriots are doing what the Patriots do. They aren’t going to kill you with flash, and often won’t even be the best defense in the league, but they execute when it matters most. On third downs they are stopping teams 43 percent of the time, putting them in the top 10. If they want to find success moving forward and into the playoffs, they are going to have to keep forcing teams to punt, especially with all these high powered offenses.
At the beginning of the season, the Texans were my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Three weeks into the season and the Texans were 0-3 and thing looked dim. Houston was able to turn its three-game losing streak into an eight- game winning streak. Going forward, the Texans have one of the easier schedules in the league, facing off against the Browns, Colts, Jets, Eagles, and Jaguars, three of which at home.
This team is loaded with multiple weapons on both sides of the ball.. On the defensive side, JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney Jonathon Joseph, Whitney Mercilus and the “Honey Badger,” Tyrann Mathieu. Despite coming off an injury, Watt is having a phenomenal year, leading the AFC in sacks.
Led by these stars, the Texans have found themselves in the top six in several defensive categories: total points allowed (222), yards per play (5.2) and first downs allowed (202).
On the offensive side, they could possibly be even more dangerous. In this tool shed, they have DeAndre Hopkins, DeShaun Watson, Lamar Miller, Demaryous Thomas and, when healthy, Will Fuller can really take the top off a defense. This offense can kill you in just about every way imaginable.
Deshaun Watson is one of the best young quarterbacks inside and outside of the pocket. He can sit in the pocket and torch you for four touchdowns and 300=plus yards, or turn on the burners and run for a touchdown or two. When you have a guy like DeAndre Hopkins, who can literally catch every ball thrown his way, it’s nice for a quarterback, but not all the credit goes to these two. They have found success running the ball with Lamar Miller, who has had three games over 100 yards in his last five games.
When this team is firing on all cylinders, it is extremely tough to beat. We saw this showcased on Monday Night Football when it faced off against the Titans. Marcus Mariota, the Titans’ quarterback had a career night and the Texans were still able to walk away with a solid win despite being down 10-0 early.
If the Texans are able to keep things rolling and get home field heading into the playoffs, look for them to make a deep run.
Los Angeles Rams: Possibly theo most talented team in the league when you look at personnel on offense, defense, special teams and coaching. The Rams finds themselves as the only team with one loss, with the Saints losing Thursday to the Cowboys.
Perhaps one of the best offensive minds in football, Sean McVay is leading the Rams and their offense to heights of the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Some are even calling them the “Greatest Show on Surf.” They are averaging 35 points per game, which is the first time since the “Greatest Show on Turf,” putting them in the top three in the league. Not only are they putting up points at a ridiculous rate, but yards as well, ranking second in the NFL with 448.6 ypg — 310 through the air and 138 on the ground.
The Rams offense has stars everywhere you look, from the sideline with McVay, and on the field with guys such as Jared Goff, who most people thought was a bust under coach Jeff Fisher. Running back Todd Gurley, who is up for MVP this year, could potentially break LaDainian Tomlinson’s touchdown record. During the off season, they acquired Cooks, who has helped take the top off teams, and have one of the better slot receivers in the league in Cooper Kupp, who recently went down with an injury.
When you look at the defense, the list of the starters doesn’t quite stop either. Up front you have perhaps the best defensive player in the league in Aaron Donald, and his next-door neighbor on the line just happens to be Ndamukong Suh. In the secondary they just got Aqib Talib back from injury, helping alleviate some of the damage corner Marcus Peters has created.
Despite the production of Donald and some of the Pro Bowl talent, the defense has had its fair share of lulls, allowing Kansas City to put up over 50 points. They allow over six yards per play putting them in the bottom five. Adding Talib back to the roster should help fix some of these issues, as Peters has been awful this year.
New Orleans Saints: Coming off a big loss Thursday to the Cowboys, the Saints still remain the best team in the NFL. Almost every year we see a team have a game or two where things just don’t go their way (the NBA’s Warriors get blown out by 30 in the regular season and still win championships). The Saints ran into a real defense in the Cowboys. There are not many nights that offense will only get one touchdown.
Offensively, this team could be the best in the league behind veteran quarterback Drew Brees an MVP frontrunner. Chiming in his headset, calling plays is another offensive guru, Sean Payton. These two guys make things happen, just the two of them, as they put on display when Brees threw four touchdowns against the Falcons, all going to guys who went undrafted.
Sadly for other teams, they are comprised of more than just guys who didn’t get drafted. They have weapons coming out of the backfield and at receiver. Even off the bench they have backup quarterback Taysom Hill, who is able to come in make things happen on ground in special play packages.
In the backfield, they possess the two-headed monster, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram, who both can explode for huge games on any given night. On the outside, they have one of the best receivers in the league in Michael Thomas. They are so good offensively even their backups can come in and do big things.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Saints are just as good when it comes to stopping the run. On Thursday, they held Ezekiel Elliott to 76 yards and only 3.3 yards per carry, a full yard and a half under his average of 4.8 per carry. When it comes to stopping the run, the Saints can compete with the best of them, but through the air is where this team struggles.
Through the air, the Saints allow 279 ypg, putting them in the bottom five. We saw them struggle to shut down QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs, when they went off for 48, and had over 400 yards through the air.
The offense has the ability to score with teams who can score on them, and if they can continue to stop the run it with help keep the ball in the offenses hands giving them a chance to make a deep run and perhaps to the Super Bowl.
Chicago Bears: A surprise around the league, except for maybe Chicago fans and a few outsiders, the Bears are 8-3 and leading the NFC North. They are led by perhaps what could be the best defense in the NFL.
Earlier in the season, the Bears acquired pass rusher Khalil Mack and it has certainly paid off. Mack forced a fumble in the first four games of the seaosn. Mack certainly isn’t the only guy up front getting it done, as he only added to what was a solid pass rush. Chicago gets after the quarterback, sacking him on average three times a game.
When it comes to defense, the Bears certainly do it right. They are in the top four in just about every major category: points per game allowed (19.2), yards per game allowed (316.1), yards per play allowed (4.9), first downs allowed per game (18.2), opponent third-down conversion percentage (35.1), rushing yards per game allowed (80.8), and turnover differential per game (+1.3).
Behind that defense, having an average offense would certainly do the trick, but the Bears choose to be better finding themselves among the top five in ppg, with 28.8 and are doing so without a lot of yards. They finish in the bottom third of the league in yards per game, but are top-five in points per play, meaning they are getting the most out of their time with the ball.
Some would look to QB Mitchell Trubisky as the leader of the offense, but really it’s head coach Matt Nagy. Nagy is most recently known for his stint in Kansas with Coach Andy Reid, starting as a quarterback coach and finishing as an offensive coordinator before getting the Bears head coaching job. Before Nagy left Reid gave him the play-calling rights to the offense for the final five games, where the offense averaged 28.6 points per game, just shy of what the Bears average now. Nagy doesn’t deserve all the credit, players do have to play, and they have certainly done so on both sides of the ball.
Before the season started, I pegged the Saints and Texans to face off in the Super Bowl. I’m sticking to it.