With four weeks remaining in the regular season, there’s still much to be decided. The games are getting bigger and the weather is getting worse, but separation of true contenders from the rest of the field won’t happen for another month.
After the Seahawks dismantled the Saints on Monday night, they look like the favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII. But who’s to say the Saints won’t get a first-round bye and host the NFC Championship game after Seattle is upset in the divisional round?
That’s not far-fetched. It’s NFL Week 14 and so many scenarios can still unfold. Buckle your seat belts – odds are it’s going to get fast and furious!
In the AFC, the Broncos have the best record. However they’ve already lost to 2nd and 3rd seeds (New England, Indianapolis), so they’ll likely have to win out to maintain their top spot.
In other words, even for the favorites, the pressure is still on.
Speaking of favorites, as we sit at NFL Week 14, here are my current choices to win the major yearly awards:
• MVP: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
• Offensive Player of the Year: Peyton Manning
• Defensive Player of the Year: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, N.Y. Jets
• Comeback Player of the Year: Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
• Coach of the Year: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
While there’s only a quarter of the season left, we have some idea of which teams will make a deep playoff run.
You might not agree with the order, but I believe these five teams are playing the best football now and have the best chance to be the best on February 2, 2014.
1. Seattle Seahawks (11-1, clinched playoff spot)
The Seahawks were not kind hosts to the Saints. Seattle rudely awakened New Orleans and put a stake in the NFC landscape, stating the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle.
They have offense, defense, special teams, chemistry and talent. The Seahawks have it all—except for experience. Russell Wilson has been outstanding so far, but they will only go as far as he takes them.
I don’t doubt Wilson, but I haven’t seen him pass a big test in the playoffs yet.
2. Denver Broncos (10-2)
Manning’s 2013 season is eclipsing his own record-setting seasons of years past. Von Miller is back at it as maybe the best pass-rusher in football and Knowshon Moreno is getting better as the season gets longer.
Denver’s two losses have both been on the road by a combined nine points (Indianapolis, New England).
3. Carolina Panthers (9-3)
Heading into NFL Week 14 the Panthers are on pace to allow 210 points this season (13.1 point per game). If they keep that up, they will have the best scoring defense since 2006, when the Ravens allowed 201 points in the regular season.
Baltimore went 13-3 that year and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion (Colts).
4. New England Patriots (9-3)
Obviously the Patriots would like to not have given up 31 points to Case Keenum and the Texans, but they did what they do best: win.
There may not be a better second half player than Tom Brady. You can just sense he’s going to will his players to go down the field and score as many times as they need to.
Just think how much better they’d be if they hadn’t lost eight fumbles through these 12 games.
5. New Orleans Saints (9-3)
We all know Monday Night in Seattle was a failure. Not much if anything was accomplished. The Saints ran into a buzz saw and never sustained (or even established) momentum.
That said, they’re still led by an elite head coach/quarterback combo and are still in line for a first-round bye and at least one home game.
If there’s a worse place for a visiting team to play than CenturyLink Field, it’s the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
I think the Saints will be just fine.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Panthers at Saints, Sunday December 8 at 8:30 P.M. on NBC. The winner claims first place in the NFC South and the NFC’s No. 2 seed with three games left in the season.
RAVENS POSTSEASON PICTURE
The Ravens are currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC. While they are two games back of the No. 3 seed (Indianapolis), Baltimore is only two games ahead of eight other AFC teams vying for that final playoff spot. You can keep abreast of all playoff scenarios with ESPN’s Playoff Machine.
The combined record of Baltimore’s remaining opponents: 27-20-1. According to The Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec, that’s the toughest remaining schedule of all the teams competing for an AFC wild card spot.