The Race to the Super Bowl

Jan 04, 2013
The Race to the Super Bowl

While the NFC playoff race appears to be wide open, as the Packers, 49ers, Falcons and Seahawks are all at 12:1 odds or better to win Super Bowl XLVII, the AFC seems to be a two team race between the Patriots and Broncos, both near 3-1 odds.

In the NFC, despite earning the top seed, the Falcons will have a difficult time making it to New Orleans for the big game. San Francisco, Green Bay and Seattle have all proven they can win in challenging environments and one of them will likely find a way to prevail in Atlanta. The Falcons finished eighth in total offense, but their defense may have a hard time slowing down opponents. Even though they gave up an average of just 18.7 points per game, the opportunistic D that forced 31 turnovers allowed over 365 yards per contest.
Things don’t look as complicated on the AFC side. With the Texans choking away not only the No. 1 seed, but also a first-round bye, it’s tough to imagine, if they survive Cincinnati, that they’ll be able to pull off an upset at New England – especially based on how poorly they looked at Foxborough just a month ago. Houston’s run game has been solid all season, but they’ll need to have more than just Arian Foster carrying them in the playoffs. Andre Johnson has been huge over the second half of the season, but Matt Schaub and the passing game is really limited in options after Johnson, especially with a banged up Owen Daniels. Like most NFL teams, the Texans played better at home this year, averaging 29.3 points compared to 22.7 on the road.
The Patriots had a chance to own the No. 1 seed, but a Week 15 home loss to the 49ers did them in. New England is still a force to be reckoned with, whether they play the AFC Championship at home or in Denver. The Pats led the NFL in yards and points, averaging nearly five points more than No. 2 Denver. Wes Welker was again the anchor of the passing game, collecting 118 receptions for more than 1,300 yards. And, Tom Brady got a nice holiday present with the return of Rob Gronkowski. Unlike recent years, New England had a more balanced attack with Steven Ridley rushing for over 1,200 yards. Outside of the loss to San Francisco, the Patriots had an early season eye-opening loss to the Cardinals (at home) and two one-point defeats at Baltimore and Seattle. While they haven’t been as hot as Denver, New England is 9-1 in its past 10 games.
The Broncos are riding an 11-game winning streak and really haven’t been tested since their second half rally at San Diego in Week 6. Not only is Peyton Manning on a roll, but the Denver defense finished second in total yards allowed and fourth in points against. Manning has been a better player at home as well, tossing 22 of his 37 TDs with only three INTs at Mile High. The Broncos had two WRs eclipse 1,000 yards this season and Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker also combined to find the end zone 23 times. While Willis McGahee will miss the Divisional round, he could be back for the AFC Championship game. Knowshon Moreno has done a good job filling in for McGahee, but getting the 31-year-old back will be an added bonus for the Broncos. In just over nine games in ’12, Wills ran for 731 yards and four scores – however, he did have a career-high five fumbles (four lost).
What does this all mean for picking your fantasy playoff team? If you’ve got a strong feeling for either the Patriots or Broncos, your best bet is to load up on their players with some sprinkling in of NFC players. Remember that the more games your players participate in, the better their numbers should be. So, while the AFC teams that win a Wild Card game may not be around after the second playoff week, NFC teams such as the Packers and Seahawks could wind up playing four contests if they make it all the way to Louisiana.
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