AFC Super Bowl chances...
Interesting Article on MSN:
1. TENNESSEE TITANS
Overall record: 13-3
W-L vs. playoff teams: 4-1
Best wins: Week 4 vs. MIN (30-17), Week 8 vs. IND (31-21), Week 16 vs. PIT (31-14)
Worst losses: Week 12 vs. NYJ (34-13)
WILL win Super Bowl because ... Throwing out the past few weeks played without star defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth (potential MVP candidate) and Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Titans field a top 2 or 3 defense. Knowing the Titans had a first-round bye secured by early December, head coach Jeff Fisher wisely shut down both injured studs to preserve them for the January playoff run. If they get healthy, the Titans are still the conference favorites.
WILL NOT win Super Bowl because ... While the Tennessee defense is very good, is it special enough to cover for this pedestrian offense? Sure, Kerry Collins played well enough to win most of his starts, albeit against a fairly easy slate. And this supposedly dominant running game seems to feast on the weaklings of the NFL: 81.6 rush yards per game against teams .500 or better, vs. 197.4 vs. teams worse than .500 (including 332 at KC, 292 at DET and 235 vs. CLE).
Titans DT Albert Haynesworth (Nick Laham / Getty Images)
2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Overall record: 12-4
W-L vs. playoff teams: 3-4
Best wins: Week 11 vs. SD (11-10), Week 13 at NE (33-10), Week 14 vs. DAL (20-13), Week 15 at BAL (13-9)
Worst losses: Week 10 vs. IND (24-20, blew 17-7 lead), Week 16 at TEN (31-14)
WILL win Super Bowl because ... The Steelers are never out of a game thanks to the NFL's top-ranked defense statistically, led by the league's best safety and possibly best defensive player, Troy Polamalu, plus a deadly duo of QB-crunching linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Throw in QB Ben Roethlisberger, who pulled out fourth-quarter comebacks in four of Pittsburgh's 12 wins this season, and the Steelers should be a very tough out this January.
WILL NOT win Super Bowl because ... The glaring hole in Pittsburgh is the shaky offensive line. After years of being a pillar of strength for teams built to run in cold Steeltown winters, this year's group deserved some homemade coal from the local mines this holiday season. Running backs Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore had little room to run, and Big Ben was often running for his life in the pocket.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)
3. MIAMI DOLPHINS
Overall record: 11-5
W-L vs. playoff teams: 1-2
Best wins: Week 3 at NE (38-13), Week 4 vs. SD (17-10), Week 17 at NYJ (24-17)
Worst losses: Week 2 at ARI (31-10), Week 7 vs. BAL (27-13), Week 12 vs. NE (48-28)
WILL win Super Bowl because ... They're the second-hottest team in football at the moment, and momentum matters in the NFL (see last year's Giants). After a 2-4 start, Miami went 9-1 the rest of the way in stealing the AFC East title and after the NFL's greatest one-season turnaround in history, this team believes anything is possible. Plus, the Dolphins avoid the big mistakes. Miami led the NFL in the underappreciated turnover margin category at +17, tying this year's Giants for the fewest turnovers in a 16-game schedule in NFL history (13).
WILL NOT win Super Bowl because ... The clock will strike midnight and the fairy tale will end. No offense to the Dolphins, but this is a pretty ordinary bunch on paper. Luckily for Bill Parcells, Tony Sparano et al, championships aren't won on paper. However, in their season's most difficult tests, the Dolphins often got pummeled by better competition.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano (Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images)
4. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Overall record: 8-8
W-L vs. playoff teams: 0-5
Best wins: Week 3 vs. NYJ (48-29), Week 6 vs. NE (30-10), Week 16 at TB (41-24), Week 17 vs. DEN (52-21)
Worst losses: Week 1 vs. CAR (26-24), Week 2 at DEN (39-38), Week 11 at PIT (11-10), Week 12 vs. IND (23-20) -- all lost in final seconds
WILL win Super Bowl because ... The Chargers got their power back on in December, and the preseason Super Bowl contenders suddenly have their swagger. After a wild final month that saw San Diego average 37.3 ppg over its season-saving four-game winning streak and finish as the NFL's second-highest scoring offense, the best news yet arrived in Week 17: LaDainian Tomlinson looked like the old LT vs. Denver, which could mean danger for the rest of the AFC field.
WILL NOT win Super Bowl because ... Yes, the Lightning Bolts can blow up at any time — San Diego won by an average on 20.7 in six double-digit victories. But the playoffs are often about close games against quality teams. This season, the Chargers went 2-7 in close games decided by a TD or less (with both wins by one point each against the 2-14 Chiefs) and 0-5 against the rest of the playoff field.
Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)
5. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Overall record: 12-4
W-L vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Best wins: Week 6 vs. BAL (31-3), Week 9 vs. NE (18-15), Week 10 at PIT (24-20), Week 12 at SD (23-20)
Worst losses: Week 1 vs. CHI (29-13), Week 7 at GB (34-14)
WILL win Super Bowl because ... Peyton Manning is playing MVP football at exactly the right time. It's scary to think where the Colts would be if he had an actual training camp like normal instead of rehabbing offseason knee surgery on the fly as the season began. In Manning's best clutch season of his career (six fourth-quarter comebacks), the Colts have rallied for an NFL-best nine straight wins entering the playoffs.
WILL NOT win Super Bowl because ... Manning may be at top form, but the Indy running game (31st in rush ypg, 32nd in rush ypc) has been absent all season long. The Colts ran for over 100 yards in only three games, and one was the season-ender against the Titans' backup squad. No quarterback has singlehandedly led his team to a Super Bowl title, and even the commercial king of the NFL isn't that good.
Colts QB Peyton Manning (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)
6. BALTIMORE RAVENS
Overall record: 11-5
W-L vs. playoff teams: 2-5
Best wins: Week 7 at MIA (27-13), Week 1 HOU (41-13), Week 12 vs. PHI (36-7), Week 16 at DAL (33-24)
Worst losses: Week 6 at IND (31-3), Week 11 at NYG (30-10)
WILL win Super Bowl because ... The league's second-best defense is powered by the most motivated man in football, linebacker legend Ray Lewis. Even at 33, Lewis is playing at a Pro Bowl level and leading the Baltimore defense both physically and emotionally. Overshadowed by Lewis is all-world safety Ed Reed, whose nine interceptions led the NFL and who seems to score a touchdown on defense every week.
WILL NOT win Super Bowl because ... Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has grown by leaps and bounds throughout the season. But the Ravens aren't getting enough offense against the better competition they'll face in the deep rounds of the playoffs if they beat Miami again at its South Beach pad. And the Ravens will go as Joe goes: Baltimore is 1-4 in games when Flacco has a QB rating under 60, but 10-1 otherwise. Say it ain't so.
Ravens LB Ray Lewis (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)