With all the firings and movement throughout the league on Black Monday, it has been easy for the last few days to over look the fact that 12 teams have a chance to win a Super Bowl over the next month. Over the course of the last seven seasons every seed has won the Super Bowl with a 6th seed winning it twice. Over the last seven seasons the average seed of the Super Bowl Champion is 3.9. Good football teams have a better chance to win the Super Bowl, obviously, but seed coming into the playoffs has not been a predictor of which team will bring home the trophy in recent years. Knowing that seed is not as good of a predictor as it may seem, here is why each wild card team could have a chance to win it all.
Minnesota Vikings It seems to be that being a ‘hot team’ at the right time is more important than home field advantage when it comes to winning the Super Bowl. Over the last seven seasons, teams that have won the super bowl as a 4th seed or lower went a combined 13-3 in the last four games of the regular season. The last 5th seed and last two 6th seeds to win the Super Bowl ended their regular season on four, two, and four game winning streaks respectively. The Vikings are a 6th seed that ended their regular season with a four game winning streak. The Vikings fit the mold of a 6th seed making a run at a championship, except for one major difference. The star player leading their team to victory is not an elite quarterback heating up at the right time, but instead it is the most dominant running back in the NFL heating up. The question is, can a hot team win a Super Bowl on the road, riding a scolding hot running back instead of a QB? Is Adrian Peterson more dominant at running back than Aaron Rodgers was at QB in 2010-11?
Seattle Seahawks- The only thing scarier than relying on a Rookie quarter back in the playoffs is playing against a play-making QB in the playoffs. Russell Wilson is both. It would be easy to say that Seattle will go as Wilson goes, but the Seahawks chances for a Super Bowl go beyond that. In 2010, Pete Carroll made the playoffs with a sub .500 team, and his team won their wild card matchup. Marshawn Lynch, with his epic run, was a major help in that victory and he is still a beast and still carrying the ball for the Seahawks. When you look at the Seahawks chances for a Super Bowl, you need to look at what you have with Pete Carroll. Did Carroll win that playoff game because they had home field advantage as a division winner, or is he a coach that takes his team to the next level during the playoffs? He has playmakers on both sides of the ball, but can Carroll keep them all performing at an elite level? If he does, the Seahawks may bring the Lombardi Trophy home. Oh, and by the way the Seahawks fit the mold of a hot wild card team as well (see Vikings above) having ended their regular season on a five game winning streak outscoring their opponents 193-56.
Indianapolis Colts- It would be easy to look at the Colts season and think that the emotional return of Chuck Pagano could propel this team to a success in the playoffs. Unfortunately, feel good stories off of the field have little impact on the field in ‘win or go home’ situations. Fortunately a feel good story is not the only thin the Colts have going for them. The Colts won five of their last six games with their only loss coming at Houston. The return of coach Pagano has provided a lift but even more importantly the Colts now have two men on the sidelines in Pagano and former interim head coach Bruce Arians, who know how to coach this team to close wins. The Colts are 8-1 in games decided by six points or fewer, and playoff games tend to be close. Finally there is Andrew Luck. Much can be said about his season both positive and negative, but one fact remains, he won close football games. At every point in his career he wins and passes the eye test as a transcendent player. There is no proof that Luck will do something amazing in the playoffs this year or ever, but if I were a Colts fan, I sure would be excited to watch and find out.
Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals seem to be the team most overlooked in the AFC despite winning seven out of their last eight games. Yes, they fit the mold of a hot wild card team but the Bengals are also reminiscent of two pervious wild card Super Bowl winners. The Bengals as a 6th seed resemble the 6th seeded ‘05-’06 Steeler, and the 5th seeded ’07-’08 Giants. The Steelers had the 4th ranked defense in the NFL and an up and coming quarterback at that time. The Giants had the 7th ranked defense in the NFL with an up and coming quarter back at the time. Both teams had playmakers on offense. The Bengals have the 6th ranked defense in the NFL with an up and coming QB at the helm. Andy Dalton also has some an elite playmaker in A.J. Green and a pretty good running back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis. While playmakers can make the difference in a game, real success starts with coaching. It should be noted that both the Bengals’ offensive and defensive coordinators are being requested for head coaching interviews. However, the question remains, is a good defense with an up and coming QB really the right formula to win a Super Bowl?
The preceding has been the reasons that each wild card team has a claim to being a Super Bowl contender. Unfortunately, there are eight other teams with even more reason to believe this is their year.