Michael Lombardi: The five teams that can win the Super Bowl

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Which teams have a shot at winning the Super Bowl?

It has been fun and rewarding watching the NFL for the past five weeks.  Being on the side of the public in bets has proved profitable. Going into last weekend, the public — which constitutes any team that receives 51% of the bets or higher — is 33-24-3 ATS.  This is the third-most profitable four-week start for the public in the last 20 years (2020 and 2009).  When the public wins, everyone is happy. Let’s hope the trend continues. 

Through five weeks, we have learned a great deal about some of the teams.  We know some teams have no chance of winning the Super Bowl, some have a slight chance to make the playoffs, and some are for real.  Borrowing a line from the great Phil Leotardo of Sopranos’ fame, “Let me tell you a couple of three things.” 

The First: For all the talk about the AFC being loaded with great teams and great quarterbacking, that hasn’t been the case.  Who is the best team in the AFC?  Before flying to London, the easy answer was Buffalo.  But losing star linebacker Matt Milano and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones to potentially season-ending injuries, I am not sure the Bills are still the best. 

The Bills seemed tired and sluggish in their game last week against the Jags, taking time to get their offense in gear.  That’s not what concerns me.  When they lost Milano and Jones, their defense didn’t have the same explosive movement and ability to make plays on key downs. 

If you study the Miami game, two players shut down Miami’s offense—Milano and Jones.  Jones was dominating inside, getting pressure in Tua’s face, and Milano was all over the field making space tackles and creating turnovers.  These two players will be hard for the Bills to replace.  Yes, the Bills are still good on offense, and Josh Allen is playing at an MVP level, but their defense is now wounded.  They are still one of the best teams in the AFC.  Just not sure they can win the title losing the core of their defense. 

What about Kansas City?  Are they the best?  Perhaps.  But they don’t look the same on offense.  For all the talk about the greatness of Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ defense is the strength of the team.  The defense can dominate games, and by the time they play Miami on November 5th at Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt, Germany, the Chiefs could be 7-1, with wins over Denver twice and the Chargers. 

Mahomes is at his career low in touchdown percentage (5.4).   He also has his highest interception percentage of his career (2.2), his lowest yards per attempt by a wide margin (7.0 to his career 8.0), and his lowest passing yards per game (257.4 to his career average 300.3).  Now, this might change, but their offensive line is not the same, and their receivers are less than last year. 

What about Miami?  Miami can move the ball on anyone, but in the last two weeks, they have turned the ball over, now ranking 20th in offensive turnovers.  They are fun to watch moving the ball up and down the field with incredible speed.  Their offensive line is still a big problem, and when they face a good defense, they might not be as explosive.  For all the yards gained against the Giants, they only scored 31 points.  When Miami faces good defensive coordinators, like Bill Belichick, Sean McDermott and Wink Martindale, they average 25 points per game.  The Vic Fangio Miami defense hasn’t played to the expected level, ranking 22nd in EPA. That’s slightly above Minnesota, who many believe are not good on defense. 

What about the Browns?  They have the best defense in the AFC, but questions about their offense keep them from being a serious Super Bowl team.  If the playoffs started today, the Browns wouldn’t qualify. 

The Ravens are always a tough team to beat, playing in close games and have overcome some early injuries to starters.  Losing in Pittsburgh was a costly error especially when you study the game tape and notice how many dropped passes and big plays the Ravens offense left on the field.  Any team from the AFC North has the potential to make the playoffs.  Do any of them have that Super Bowl look?  Not yet, and for a reminder, the Steelers are in first place in the North and have done nothing on offense all year.  Remarkable. 

For all the talk about the fight for the AFC, it seems pretty clear they all have some concerns, and there is no dominating team—yet. 

The Second: The two undefeated teams in the NFC are the best teams.  Both San Francisco and Philadelphia are winning without playing their best football.  Last week in Los Angeles, the 2022 version of the Eagles arrived, and they dominated the game from start to finish. Don’t let the scoreboard fool you. That game wasn’t close, as the Eagles controlled the ball for 19 minutes in the second half and could do anything they wanted to the Rams’ defense. 

The 49ers played their best game of the year by dominating the Cowboys, proving that there is a gap between Philadelphia and the rest of the NFC.  Both teams will win their division barring injuries, and few NFC teams have closed the gap on them.  That includes Dallas which currently is the seventh seed in the NFC standings.  The NFC might have three of the best teams in the entire league or at least three teams that have the least areas of weakness. 

The Third: I admit I have not been a huge fan of Lions head coach Dan Campbell’s approach of biting knee-caps motivation—it was too high schoolish for me.  I prefer the more intellectual approach of reaching the players.  But I was wrong. 

What I’ve learned in the last year and a half is Campbell and his staff can do both.  They can play chess with their game plans and still get the players to play their best, which is the ultimate challenge.  Since the start of November 2022, the Lions are 12-3 and improving. 

They have a defensive front that can take over games—something they didn’t have last season.  They are fun to watch. They have a winning formula similar to the 49ers on offense, which is set up by their run game, which leads into their play-action pass game.  Last week, without their two best offensive players, they dominated the Panthers, and the 9.5 closing number was never in doubt. 

Their defense can complement their offense with their ability to rush the passer and extend leads.  Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson can create havoc for the opposing tackles with his skill combined with his relentless effort.  The Lions team dominating isn’t a fluke.  They are for real and are one of the few teams that have a legitimate chance to play in a Super Bowl for the first time in their franchise history. 

Right now, I have five teams that can win a Super Bowl.