We are getting in to the home-stretch of the NFL season where the teams that can truly win under pressure separate themselves from the talented teams that can’t function under pressure (ahem, Dallas). With that said, if you are going to bet on Super Bowl futures, you can get some pretty good deals if you think you know which teams have the right make up to win in high-pressure situations.
In the NFC conference, there are seven teams with Super Bowl potential that should be considered as front runners to claim five playoff spots (I’m not counting the qualifier from the NFC West as having Super Bowl potential): the New York Giants (+800), Philadelphia Eagles (+800), Chicago Bears (+2500), Green Bay Packers (+900), Atlanta Falcons (+700), New Orleans Saints (+1000) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+10,000).
Looking at their schedules, the Giants have three tough games left (Eagles twice, Green Bay), the Eagles also have three (Giants twice and Bears), the Bears have four and I might have counted Miami until last week’s string of quarterback injuries (Eagles, Patriots, Jets, Packers), the Packers have four (Falcons, Patriots, Giants, Bears), the Falcons have three (Packers, Buccaneers, Saints), the Saints have three (Ravens, Falcons, Buccaneers), and the Buccaneers have three (Ravens, Falcons, Saints).
Based on the strength of their schedules, I don’t see the Buccaneers being worth a play even at +10,000 because they face two teams that have already beat them once this season in the Falcons and Saints which already puts them at five losses. The Bears and the Packers have the toughest schedules and you have to think that one of those two teams misses the playoffs. Even though I think the Bears will continue to improve as the season progresses, I just don’t see them beating out Green Bay or going all the way to the Super Bowl if they do.
That leaves us with the most obvious candidates, the Giants, Eagles, Packers, Falcons and Saints in the playoffs along with a lamb from the West to be sacrificed to a Wild Card entrant.
From this list, I think the Eagles are probably over-valued now after Vick’s big game. When he proves he can do it on a regular basis, then you should start believing in Philly, but the bandwagon is solidly on the Eagles side making them a bad choice.
The Packers have two over-time losses which is great when you want to feel good about a loss and even better if you’re trying to figure out which teams perform under pressure. As much as I like this team, stay away from Green Bay.
I don’t think the Saints would have lost to the Falcons had that game come later in the season. Garrett Hartley showed some early season rust when he missed the 29-yard field goal in overtime because he has already proven that he can perform under pressure. The Saints will also be getting some players back from injury and should be a better team in the post season than the regular season has so far shown. I’d take the Saints at +1000 over the Falcons at +700 simply because they have a better playoff pedigree.
The Giants have had a few games where it seemed like their minds had wandered off. I don’t see focus being a problem in the playoffs, however, and fully expect the Giants to be a worthwhile contender.
The AFC conference is like the NFC conference in that the qualifier from the West can’t really be considered a threat to win the Super Bowl. However, the eventual playoff qualifiers are a lot easier to predict with The AFC East likely sending the New York Jets (+800) and New England Patriots (+600). The Indianapolis Colts (+1000) should take the AFC South. And the only real question is whether the either the Tennessee Titans (+3000) or Jacksonville Jaguars (+12,000) can catch whichever of the Baltimore Ravens (+800) and Pittsburgh Steelers (+800) stumbles the most down the stretch.
Despite what the odds say, the Jaguars definitely have the better chance of the two to make the playoffs as the Titans appear to be coming unraveled and the Jaguars have a fairly easy schedule with the Giants and Colts being the only big tests. However, the Ravens and Steelers also have fairly easy schedules facing each other once and each drawing one other top-end team before the season ends and they both have better conference records which serve as the first tie-breaker.
While any of the top-five look like solid choices, the Colts at +1000 look to be the best choice simply because they have been there before and offer the best odds. Seeing what Manning did to the Jets defense last season, gives me plenty of confidence that he can do it again and knock off one of the biggest challengers. They have been hit hard by injuries, but the longer they play together, the better they will be at compensating for the losses.