After an exciting weekend of action in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, a lone four teams remain in the hunt for the Super Bowl’s Lombardi Trophy. To get to a conference championship takes a team that is committed to the one common goal, coaches who aren’t afraid to take risks, and a little bit of luck (of course). With that being said, making it to the NFL’s semifinal round is something many players never experience in their careers.
Certainly, it is no fluke that the Carolina Panther, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, and New England Patriots have made it to this point. Each team has superstar, game-changing players and have been consistent all season long (the four teams held the best four records in the NFL this season, which is a rare occurrence for the league’s final four). What’s certain is that each of these teams can legitimately win the Super Bowl, regardless of what anybody says. Frankly, as we have seen this postseason, you just never know what will happen in the playoffs.
Who is the Super Bowl favorite, though? Well, it depends on who you listen to, of course, but many tab the Panthers and Patriots as co-favorites to win it all entering Conference Championship weekend. We wanted to weigh in on the debate too, though, so we have our rankings of the four contenders for the Lombardi Trophy along with the odds that each team has to capture the title.
4. Denver Broncos
Yes, the Denver Broncos are the least likely contenders to win the Super Bowl among the remaining teams. Even though they have home-field advantage in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots, you can’t ignore the issues that the top-seeded Broncos have had this season. They’ve gotten by with an offense that has been inconsistent thanks to injuries to Peyton Manning and play-calling issues.
While their defense is potentially the best in the league, Denver could be doomed in the conference title game if they can’t keep up with Tom Brady and the newly healthy Pats. Even if they get by New England, a powerful Carolina team or a strong Arizona team would await them in the Super Bowl. With all that said, it would be a mistake to discount the Broncos. They’ve proven time and time again that they can win close games, which is critical in the playoffs (as they showed against Pittsburgh in the Divisional Round).
They still have playmakers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and with Manning healthy, their passing attack could get going at any moment. Their running game has also been a strength at times, supporting their great defense. At the end of the day, it’s that defense and that defense alone that give the Broncos any shot.
3. New England Patriots
Prior to their divisional round contest against the Kansas City Chiefs, questions abounded concerning the Patriots’ health and ability to compete for another Super Bowl title. They answered those questions with a noteworthy victory over the hottest team in the league. Brady had a near-full arsenal on hand in that contest; everyone from Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to Rob Gronkowski took the field. With all of those weapons on offense and a defense that is underrated in the public eye, New England is once again in a favorable position to win the title.
Traveling on the road to play their budding rival Broncos will be no easy task. Denver has a great defense and they also beat New England earlier this season (also in Denver). Further, Brady has struggled to beat the Broncos in the Mile High City throughout his career, as he owns a 2-6 record in the city over the course of his career. Despite all that, the Patriots deserve to be the favorites and probably should advance to the Super Bowl for a second straight season. We think this is the NFC’s season to take the title, however, which puts the Patriots third in our rankings.
2. Carolina Panthers
For much of the season, the Panthers have been the team to beat. A 15-1 season earned them the top seed in the NFC playoffs and the home-field advantage that comes with it. That advantage came into play in the Divisional Round, where the Panthers hung on to beat the two-time defending conference champion Seattle Seahawks.
That win against Seattle took a big weight off Carolina’s shoulders, which should have them focused for the conference championship game against the Arizona Cardinals. Picking the NFC Championship game is tough. The Cardinals and the Panthers are likely the two best teams in the NFL, which could make their matchup more exciting than the actual Super Bowl. For Carolina, Cam Newton and their running game will give Arizona fits.
Their defense is also more than capable of making game-changing plays and preserving wins late, which is a great characteristic for any championship-worthy team. However, we feel the Cardinals have the edge, even on the road. It’s really almost a toss up, and the team that wins should capture the Super Bowl title, but we have Carolina as the team with a second-best chance to win it all thanks to this difficult game.
1. Arizona Cardinals
They may not have looked like the best team in their tight Divisional Round victory over Green Bay last weekend, but given their full body of work, we think the Arizona Cardinals deserve to be Super Bowl favorites at this point. A balanced roster led the Cardinals to one of their best seasons in franchise history, and they have everything it takes to win a title. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are leading a high-flying offense; Calais Campbell is one of many great players on their defense; and head coach Bruce Arians has pushed the right buttons all season long.
This is a scary team that can beat anyone on any field. The game against the Panthers for the NFC title could produce an instant classic and could easily cause Arizona to miss the Super Bowl altogether, but if they survive, they are well-suited to defeat whichever AFC foe they would face. It won’t be easy, of course, but the Lombardi Trophy could call the desert home for the first time ever, when all is said and done.