Can Any of the Wild Card Winners Win the Super Bowl
Now that Wildcard Weekend is in the books, it's time to turn our attention forward to see if any week one winners have a legitimate shot to go the distance and win the Super Bowl. You can make good money on futures prices or on a game-to-game basis if you can recognize the early chapters of a new Cinderella story.
TENNESSEE: It's very hard seeing this team hanging close to New England, let alone beating New England, Pittsburgh, and then an NFC team in succession. Though, I was impressed by the second half the Titans played in Kansas City Saturday afternoon, you have to assume they would have lost the game if Travis Kelce hadn't been injured. Virtually NO CHANCE the Titans are worth thinking about on futures prices. They might offer value as a big dog that stays under the number this coming Saturday. That's it.
ATLANTA: Hey, they made it to the Super Bowl last year, and got a lucky draw with an inexperienced opposing quarterback in the first round, and then a backup quarterback in the second of this year's NFC brackets. Trusting Steve Sarkisian as an offensive coordinator to take you the distance seems dicey. But, this is a loaded Wildcard team...and we've seen teams like that run the table before (like the NY Giants and Eli Manning). This team is clearly in play.
JACKSONVILLE: Well, the defense is definitely Super Bowl caliber, but the offense isn't. The Denver Broncos made it to a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning with a similar situation not too long ago. And, whatever you think about Blake Bortles, he is currently more dynamic than the aging, injured Peyton Manning was that season. If this defense can turn upcoming games into coin flips...then all you're asking for is that the Jags' side of the coin comes up three times in a row. Not out of the realm of possibility. That's another angle that points more to Atlanta than Jacksonville.
NEW ORLEANS: The Saints definitely have an offense that can go all the way, and are hopefully more balanced this year than they have been in the past. Unfortunately, they didn't show that balance in a game they almost lost to Carolina. Now, they have to go to a tough home site in Minnesota to beat the Vikings. Even if you think New Orleans is better than Atlanta head-to-head, you have to admit that beating Philadelphia is easier than beating Minnesota right now. That makes Atlanta the most likely team to pull a January surprise, with New Orleans only taking the reigns if they can score a shocker this Sunday.
The order is pretty obvious to me...Atlanta, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Tennessee in terms of one of this past weekend's winners earning the Lombardi Trophy. With the Titans a distant fourth.
What about underdog "cover" chances for this coming weekend?
*Philadelphia (+) vs. Atlanta (Saturday's early game): the Eagles will have to lift their game significantly from the awful showings since Carson Wentz got hurt. I watched a lot of the games vs. the NY Giants and Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia wasn't "playoff caliber" in either, let alone championship caliber.
*Tennessee (+) at New England (Saturday's late game): drawing a night game in potentially cold weather doesn't help, because Tom Brady is very experienced in cold weather. Nothing is impossible in the NFL, particularly when a star player can go down with an injury at the drop of a hat. Cover potential is more likely at this huge line than upset potential.
*Jacksonville (+) at Pittsburgh (Sunday's early game): the Jaguars won big on this field early in the season thanks to a 5-1 edge in turnovers. If they can keep picking off Ben Roethlisberger and cashing in field position points, then a replay is possible. Pittsburgh will be better prepared this time, and much more rested. But, Super Bowl caliber defenses like Jacksonville should never be counted out when talking upsets. The Jags defense could win this game by themselves.
*New Orleans (+) at Minnesota (Sunday's late game): nobody's going to say Drew Brees can't win this one outright as only a four-point underdog...particularly when matched up against an unknown playoff quantity like Case Keenum. But, I was disappointed with New Orleans this past Sunday against Carolina. They weren't as good as I thought they were. Makes it tougher to just assume a win against a potential "team of destiny" that's hoping to be the first ever Super Bowl team to play on its home field.