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NFC Super Bowl Contenders

NFC Super Bowl Contenders

NFC Super Bowl Contenders
By Teddy Covers

It’s late November.  Thanksgiving is next week.  And that means it’s time for me to take a break from my typical team notes column that I’ve been writing here in the Vegas Wiseguy Report since the start of the NFL season.

It’s time to focus on the big boys – teams with playoff aspirations.  Who can get hot down the stretch and make us some money winning games and covering pointspreads?  Which squads are legitimate Super Bowl contenders; which are pretenders.  Let’s take look through the NFC this week, gauging which squads have ATS value moving forward, and which squads have already reached their zenith, poised to tumble back to earth down the stretch.

I did not include notes on Carolina (they don’t play till Monday Night) and Dallas (on bye this week) due to space limitations.  That leaves Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona to consider; all of whom remain live for the postseason as Week 12 approaches.

Serious Super Bowl Contenders

Seattle Seahawks -
I don’t think anyone is going to beat the Seahawks at Qwest Field, where Seattle has won 13 straight here in the regular season (10-3 ATS).  I like the character of this squad – loose but grounded, Pete Carroll’s winning formula from his days at USC.  Russell Wilson is a born leader who’s won wherever he’s been, dating back to his days at NC State and Wisconsin in college.  And now that Wilson has Percy Harvin to throw too…well, let me use quotes to tell the story of his two touches (one reception, one kick return) against the Vikings on Sunday.

WR Doug Baldwin: “The glimpse of us having the firepower all over the field, that's what we've been waiting on this whole season.”  Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald: “It was like magic watching that. That's the fastest guy I've ever seen on a football field." Safety Earl Thomas: “Man, that kickoff looked like everybody else was in slow motion except Percy.”  Russell Wilson: “The thing about Percy is he draws attention (double teams, opening things up for the supporting cast).  He's so fast. He can do it all. He just elevates our offense.”

New Orleans Saints - The Saints three point win over San Francisco on Sunday was every bit as impressive as their 32 point blowout over Dallas the previous week.  Against Dallas, we saw the Saints at their best; an offense that can’t be stopped against second tier defenses.  But the 49ers win proved that New Orleans could win a muck-it-up, grind-it-out kind of win that’s not generally their style.  And they did it despite three turnovers that were all extremely costly – two set up the 49ers for scores, and one was a fumble through the end zone costing New Orleans a sure touchdown.

These quotes tell the story of a very confident team at 8-2.  Drew Brees: “This game means more, the way that we won it. These are the ones that just sharpen you, just build confidence."   Fullback Jed Collins: “The defense has been playing unbelievable. Each week we gain more and more respect for them. They just keep proving they're not only here to benefit the offense, but they're here to win games.”  Running back Pierre Thomas: “We're just on a great level right now. We have a great attitude. And we're seeing what type of team we can be. And as long as we keep fighting and keep doing what we're doing in practice, we're gonna be a tough out."

San Francisco 49ers - Anquan Boldin has two touchdown catches this year.  Vernon Davis has seven.  No other receiver on the team has a single TD or more than 200 receiving yards.  Davis and Boldin have combined for 19 receptions of longer than 20 yards.  The rest of the team has five.  Right now Colin Kaepernick and the Niners passing game is a shell of what it was last year when this team went to the Super Bowl.

But help is on the way for San Francisco in the form of Michael Crabtree; potentially an impact player on this offense.  And there’s no question that this stop unit remains a Super Bowl caliber unit now that Alden Smith is back on the field – heck, they just contained Drew Brees in the Superdome, no easy task.

And I like Jim Harbaugh’s mentality following rare back-to-back losses for San Fran.  “The greater the challenge, the greater the glory.  That's the way I look at it. I'm proud of our guys for the way they fight, and if we continue to do that, we're going to win a lot of games."

Last year, the Niners had to win one road game to reach the Super Bowl.  This year, they’ll need to win three, because the loss to New Orleans essentially ended their chance to win the division

Green Bay Packers - Right now, I have the Packers power rated in the range of Houston, Atlanta, St Louis and Buffalo; a full ten points lower than it was a month ago.  But that’s going to change in a hurry once Aaron Rodgers returns to the lineup, probably in the next week or two.  One of Rodgers favorite downfield targets, Randall Cobb should be back shortly as well.

Linebacker AJ Hawk, following Sunday’s loss to the Giants: “Obviously this wasn’t what we had planned, this wasn’t what we had envisioned. But I think Coach always says everything’s out in front of us for us to take. To know we have a chance to get to where we want is something positive to take from it. We need to get back on track. Three-game losing streaks are not the norm around here, that’s for sure.”

It’s surely worth noting that last year’s Super Bowl champion Ravens lost three straight in December before getting hot in the playoffs.  And it’s also worth noting that when Aaron Rodgers guided this team to the Super Bowl only three years ago, the Packers won three straight on the road in the postseason.  If Green Bay can end their slide and reach the playoffs; they’re live to do some damage once they get there.

Not So Serious Contenders

Philadelphia Eagles -
If RG3 hadn’t thrown a miserable red zone interception off his back foot in the closing seconds at Philly on Sunday, the Eagles’ ten game home losing streak might well have become an eleven game home losing streak.  Now they’ve won three straight and taken over first place in the NFC East. But their non-division wins this year have come against Oakland, Green Bay with Tolzien at QB and Tampa. Chip Kelly’s offense reels off plenty of big plays, but they don’t grind clock well and have struggled in the red zone all year, ranked #28 in the NFL.  This defense has improved dramatically since their 1-3 start, but it’s just not a Super Bowl caliber stop unit.

Detroit Lions - The Lions are allowing six yards per play on defense.  Other teams in that range include Jacksonville, Atlanta and Washington.  Their defensive hinges on their line, but that supposedly elite unit has notched only 16 sacks all season.  Detroit has struggled to run the football and they still don’t have a ‘step-up’ receiver on the other side from Calvin Johnson.  The Lions last playoff win came back in 1991; and that’s their only postseason victory since 1957.  I’m not willing to call for multiple playoff wins this year.

Chicago Bears - Jay Cutler has a grand total of one playoff win in his career, and he can’t stay healthy.  Key defenders Charles Tillman, DJ Williams, Henry Melton, Kelvin Hayden and Nate Collins are all on injured reserve, out for the year.   Ray Rice just reached nearly half his season’s total yardage on the ground in one game against this Bears stop unit.  And they’ve only got two more games at Soldier Field, both tough ones: Dallas and Green Bay.  I like the direction of this franchise under Marc Trestman, but the Bears aren’t serious Super Bowl contenders, and they’ll be hard pressed to make the playoffs at all.

Arizona Cardinals - I’m a huge Bruce Arians fan, and the Cardinals 6-4 record includes signature wins over the Lions and Panthers. But Arizona’s other four wins came against teams with a combined 7-33 SU record (the Bucs, Falcons, Texans and Jaguars). They’ve been blown out by double digits in ‘step-up-in-class’ games against the 49ers, Seahawks and Saints.  Carson Palmer has thrown at least one interception in every game except this past week against hapless Jacksonville. And with the Colts, Eagles, Seahawks and 49ers still remaining on their slate, it’ll be a very tough stretch run for a decent, but not exceptional squad.

New York Giants - I know Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin have two Super Bowl rings; a coach and a quarterback with an impressive postseason track record. But even after four straight wins following their 0-6 start, the Giants remain a fundamentally flawed team.  And when we look at the four QB’s they’ve just beaten -- Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor and Scott Tolzien -- it tells us nothing about this suspect stop unit’s ability to contain the likes of Tony Romo, RG3, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford over their final six games.  Center Jim Cordle summed it up best: “We've kept the dream alive and got to the game next week.  But there is still a long way to go.”  A long, long way in my opinion.

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