By Dave Schwab of Doc’s Sports
We are 12 weeks into the NFL regular season, so the line between the contenders and the pretenders in the league has pretty much been set. What has yet to be determined is which of these contenders should truly be considered the best team in the NFL right now heading into the crucial month of December?
No.1 Houston Texans
Houston has to be extremely thankful to get out of Detroit last Thursday with a win, but in the NFL you take them any way you can. The reason that the Texans are at the top of our list is because of the versatility they have shown over the past few weeks. Everyone knew that they could grind it out on the ground while playing shut-down defense like they did a few weeks ago against Chicago, but in the past two games the offense has taken the lead by putting up a total of 77 points in wins over Jacksonville and the Lions. The betting public still likes Houston as it has been one Bovada’s favorites to win Super Bowl XLVII since day one. Its most recent odds are listed at 9/2. The Texans are six-point favorites on the road this week at Tennessee.
No.2 New England Patriots
The Patriots shocking 1-2 start is just a distant memory after hammering the New York Jets last Thursday night to post their fifth-straight victory and seventh in their last eight games. They are back in the driver’s seat for a top seed in the AFC, and under head coach Bill Belichick they have one of the best track records in the league at winning games down the stretch. The loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski is an immediate concern, but he is expected to be back when needed the most. There is also concern over a defense that is once again ranked near the bottom of the NFL in yards allowed, but there is no team in the league better at compensating for its weaknesses by outperforming itself in other phases of the game. New England is also listed at 9/2 among this year’s Super Bowl contenders.
No.3 Denver Broncos
Two words have the Broncos in this lofty position; “Peyton” and “Manning”. It is obvious that the revitalized signal caller is the main reason that Denver has ascended to the top of the list. He is not only carrying this team on his back through a stellar performance throwing the ball, but he is showing the true value of having a player-coach on the field. Just as he did for so many years in Indianapolis, Manning has the ability to get the best out of everyone around him. This has even rubbed off onto the defensive side of the ball with a unit that is ranked fourth in the NFL overall and eighth in points allowed. Since losing to New England in Week 5, the Broncos have reeled off six straight wins with four of them coming on the road. Much like Houston, they have shown the ability to win big and win ugly, with the key word here being win. Denver has been the mover and shaker on Bovada’s list and has settled in at 11/2 to win it all.
No.4 Atlanta Falcons
Past letdowns in the playoffs have made the Falcons the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL; getting no respect despite winning 10 of their first 11 games. Another knock has been Atlanta’s inability to consistently run the ball, but Matt Ryan’s performance throwing it to the likes of Julio Jones and Roddy White has been able to negate this liability. On paper, the Falcons’ defense does tend to give up its fair share of yards. However, where it matters the most, this unit is ranked sixth in the league in points allowed. The biggest reason they are fourth on this list and the top team in the NFC is the ability to avoid the multiple letdowns that have plagued all the other contenders in this conference. The Falcons odds to win the Super Bowl are currently 17/2.
No.5 San Francisco 49ers
What is the best way to rally your team for the stretch run of the regular season? Create a controversy with your starting quarterback. The result has been two impressive victories over Chicago and New Orleans with backup/starter Colin Kaepernick at the helm. As reported by Ricky Brisse in a piece for Sports Glory, tight end Vernon Davis has gone on record as saying that Alex Smith should be the starter if he is healthy enough to go. Head coach Jim Harbaugh continues to play it close to the vest by not announcing which player will be under center this Sunday against St. Louis. All this could end up blowing up in Harbaugh’s face, but you get the feeling that he knows exactly what he is doing. He is one of the main reasons that the 49ers rank so high on this list. Well, him and his team’s 8-2-1 record. San Francisco is Bovada’s third-favorite to win it all at 5/1.