It’s around this time every year that we decide the New England Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl again.
We always try to downplay the probability of it – we dissect their roster from head to toe, find the weak spot(s) and say that’s where teams will exploit them.
Except, they never seem to manage it.
As week 10 has passed us by, the contenders are starting to separate from the pack and the air of inevitability is only contested by the air of optimism around certain franchises who haven’t hit these dazzling heights in years.
Ladies and gentlemen, here are the teams who are capable of winning the Super Bowl this year and the ones who absolutely aren’t despite the hype.
I’m sorry to report this, but I’ve made this mistake in five of the last six years and it will not be happening again.
Yes, I enjoyed a wry smile telling everyone I knew Philly would beat New England, but I more resemble a broken clock than I do a genius when it comes to Robert Kraft’s baby.
Brady’s decline is slight – and slight enough that it’s more than adequate to land another Vince Lombardi.
The emphasis on the multi-faceted run game is testament to just how much pressure Belichick wants to take off Brady’s shoulders.
And it’s their blueprint to success now.
Verdict: Of course they can!
Again, like above, if you took their roster and compared it against everyone else’s, they probably wouldn’t be in the top half of the merit table.
That’s the funny thing, you know – the more the NFL moves on, the more you realise it comes down to having a franchise quarterback and shrewd coaching.
This is another case of such – where Pete Carroll meets Russell Wilson and many dreams are hatched. They’re the only team capable of toppling the 49ers in the NFC, as displayed last night.
Verdict: A contender
The best-coached team in the NFL is the San Francisco 49ers and they can design their way to a Super Bowl, much like Sean McVay almost did last year.
DC Robert Saleh is going to walk into a big job next year, so this is very much their window now to focus in on winning a Super Bowl.
George Kittle is a franchise talent – the best in his position in the entire league, while Kyle Shanahan’s blackboard more than compensates for the average skill position players around them.
But their quarterback just cannot produce in key moments.
Their first big test this season was against Seattle on Monday night in a pressured environment and he choked. Stuff of nightmares.
Verdict: Falling short
They can outscore anyone, but they really lack that big-game mentality. If you think back to their key moments over the last number of years, they’ve not produced when the expectation is on them.
In many ways, they’ve benefitted from a Chargers team in their division who are likely the only side to possess a bigger bottlers tag, but at least their shortcomings can be attributed to injuries.
Beat the Chargers last year to clinch the division? No.
Beat the Seahawks last year to clinch the division? No.
Beat New England to finally break the wait for a Super Bowl appearance? No.
Verdict: Back to the drawing board
Yep, this one’s going to ruffle some feathers.
But, if you think back to the miracle against New Orleans, then you’ll see that come big moments, this group have something about them.
They may well be beaten by a better team on the day, but they have everything they need to lift the biggest prize of all come February because they know how to control time of possession.
The key to doing so is being able to run the ball and having a mismatch on third down when you’re typically handed man coverage. Kyle Rudolph flashed this week that he’s more than capable of being that safety blanket.
Verdict: Darkhorse potential
The focal point of this offence is Alvin Kamara and he looks like he won’t be firing again this year based on his lethargic route-running and limited touches.
Yes, Michael Thomas is balling out but a lack of secondary receivers is a concern on third down, especially as that offensive line is adjusting from a mobile quarterback to a bloke who’s strapped up for the entire season.
I’m sure they’ll try something funky with Taysom Hill in a postseason game that could get them to a Championship game, and they don’t have to face New England prior to a potential Super Bowl appearance, but there isn’t firepower in this unit to dabble with much more balanced NFC opponents.
Verdict: Not enough firepower
I do not care what you say, Lamar Jackson is not rushing his way to Championship success. Come playoff time, teams will play contain against him, roll in a spy and play zone coverage in behind.
That way, he’ll have to wait inside a breaking pocket and throw into accurate, tight windows rather than tossing up jump balls for Mark Andrews or downfield shots to Hollywood Brown.
Right now, teams are respecting his supposed passing ability by dropping too many in behind and bringing blitzes. They’ll soon see that the way to combat him is to contain his legs and let his brainfarts do the rest for you.