Now that more than half the 2016 NFL season in the books, a clear pecking order has emerged. We can take stock of every team’s standing and offer our picks for conference and Super Bowl champions.
These are our picks for such honors. All odds shown are Super Bowl chances, and they come courtesy of Bovada. And while both they and team records matter, they’re not everything. We’re interested only in singling out the teams most capable of representing their respective conference in the biggest games. Their record doesn’t matter, so long as they profile as a playoff team at all.
AFC Championship Game
New England Patriots (+200)
Were you expecting anyone else?
The New England Patriots are once again vying for the best record in the NFL. They have a top-six offense, even though quarterback Tom Brady missed the first four games of the season, and a top-two defense, even though they’re not especially skilled at forcing takeaways.
Simply put: There’s nothing not to like about this team.
More than that, there aren’t that many threats to this team’s reign.
No one in the AFC East, AFC North or AFC South comes close to matching the Patriots’ two-way firepower. They are undefeated on the road, and their lone loss at home came while they were depleted at the quarterback position. There isn’t, as such, a game circumstance they can’t handle.
Oakland Raiders (+1600)
The Oakland Raiders are in a five-way tie for the fourth-best Super Bowl odds.
What a time to be alive.
The offense is at the heart of their swift and decisive rise. The Raiders rank fifth in points scored per game and have shown that they can hang with a variety of styles. If they need to beat you in the air, low-key MVP candidate Derek Carr will spread the ball around, while still finding time to target wideouts Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper in volume. If they have to beat you on the ground, they’ll carve out holes for running back Latavius Murray and shove the ball down your throat.
Even the Raiders’ defense seems to be on the up and up. They hover near the bottom 10 of points allowed per game, but they’ve come up big in past weeks. Most recently, they shut down the reigning champion Denver Broncos, and while their offense isn’t anything special, that gutsy stand did put the Raiders in line for a first-round playoff buy. They are, as of now, the second-best team in the AFC, and there’s nothing to suggest that’ll change.
They’ve earned this spot.
NFC Championship Game
Seattle Seahawks (+800)
Despite seeing their offensive production fall off a cliff in the wake of Russell Wilson playing banged up and running back Thomas Rawls dealing with injury woes, the Seattle Seahawks are still the team to beat in the NFC.
And it’s all because of their defense.
The Seahawks rank third in points allowed per game. They do an outstanding job of preventing touchdowns in the air, and their ground defense is just good enough to force opponents to consider more throws, in hopes of getting lucky on some big plays, limiting the number of carries they see.
It will be easier to sell the Seahawks as absolute favorites if, and when, Wilson gets fully healthy and their passing attack approaches respectability. But that’s not absolutely necessary. Seattle, as currently playing, is doing more than enough to stake its claim in Super Bowl candidacy. Anything else they get from the offense—specifically the passing game—is just gravy at this point.
New York Giants (+2800)
Maybe you were expecting to see the Dallas Cowboys, who are contending with the Patriots for the league’s best record. Or maybe you assumed this spot would be long to the Atlanta Hawks, owners of the NFL’s top offense. Perhaps you even thought the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals or Carolina Panthers might get their act together in time earn an NFC championship bid.
Instead we have the New York Giants, a true underdog, but, based on what’s happened this season, a solid pick all the same.
The Giants’ main appeal is this: Their offense is, right now, their weakest link. They rank 24th in points scored per game, owing in large part to a cruddy offensive line that doesn’t allow the team to run the ball or give quarterback Eli Manning nearly enough time on a consistent basis.
And yet, you have to imagine the offense will figure it out, mostly because of Manning and his deep well of receivers, which includes Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shephard and Victory Cruz. And once the offense becomes more efficient, they’ll partner with a defense that ranks 10th in points allowed per game.
Given the declining state of teams like the Cardinals, Panthers, Packers and Vikings, plus the fact that only one of the Cowboys’ wins has come against a team that’s currently above .500, the Giants profile as a much better pick than most people realize.
AFC Champion: New England Patriots
NFC Champion: Seattle Seahawks
Super Bowl Champion: New England Patriots