Max Thompson

With week 10 in the books, we are well over halfway through the NFL regular season. Although it exists in the abyss of the COVID-19 era, this season has had a litany of fun surprises. Most of the world is glad that the Cowboys, the team with the sixth best odds to win the Super Bowl in September, are historically bad. Further, football fans everywhere have been treated to a buffet of fantastic quarterback play. From young stars like Josh Allen and Kyler Murray, to veteran resurgences like Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, this year has been the year of the QB.

With multiple months left until a socially-distanced Super Bowl Sunday, the average fan may think that this championship is still anyone’s game. Well, besides the New York Jets. Nobody thinks that when it comes to them.

As surprising as it may sound, the majority of the teams are very similar to the Jets as they are largely irrelevant in terms of competing for the Super Bowl. In all honesty, this Super Bowl is really just an eight man race.

“Oh wow, look at how bad the student writer sounds. No wonder he doesn’t get paid for these articles. There’s 12 teams in the NFL playoffs. How could only 8 of them actually have a chance?”

Good question hypothetical reader that I hope exists somewhere! The answer to that question lies in the NFL playoff structure. Teams that have to play in the wild card round tend to be worse than those that get bye weeks, they are already at a disadvantage. Further, they have to win an extra game just to get to the Super Bowl. Even if the Cardinals had a 50-50 shot of winning their wild card game, the existence of that game still cuts their chances of winning the Super Bowl in half.

The numbers back up this sentiment as well. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the top eight teams have a combined 91.7% chance of winning the Super Bowl. The entire rest of the league has a combined 8.3% chance of winning it all.

Is it possible that this article is going to be completely wrong? Well, yes, there is probably a one in ten shot that I am going to look horrible in a few months. However, if I can be 90% confident in something, that is a risk I am going to take. So, if you happen to stumble across these words again in February and they aged worse than Trump’s election night victory claim, just know that I warned you. Furthermore here is the “Elite Eight” of the NFL.

Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals

If a team outside of my elite eight wins the Super Bowl, it will probably be because of a combination of luck and likely be split between one of these two teams. As horrible as I would feel to be completely wrong, the NFL would win if we got to see either of these franchises take the Lombardi Trophy. A young star quarterback leading a historically bad franchise to the Super Bowl is a perfect story, and it could be accomplished by either of these rosters.

The Sleepers: Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams

While each team has had their share of the spotlight, none of these rosters are as star studded as the contenders. Nevertheless, these three teams cannot be counted out. ESPN has each of them with around a 5% chance to win the title and for good reason. Baltimore was the single most dominant regular season team last year and despite disappointing in the playoffs, have continued that trend. The Rams still have an offense filled with fireworks and a defense filled with, well, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. When it comes to Seattle, there is a reason why Russell Wilson is an MVP favorite, as he is currently having one of his single best seasons in his entire career. Their defense may be a poor shell of what it used to be, but that won't make a difference if DK Metcalf and Russ can score 40 a game.

The Contenders: New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers

Each one of these rosters sports a great defense, aging superstar quarterback and a great record. Further, each one of these teams has around a 10% chance of winning the Super Bowl. As far as who is superior, it is all a matter of preference. The Steelers have the best record in all of football, but a ridiculous amount of close games. The Saints just lost Drew Brees and haven’t exactly shined in the playoffs lately. Like I said previously, Tampa Bay is absolutely loaded. However, do we still trust Tom Brady? Also, Green Bay looks as great as they did last year, but will they get punched in the mouth in the playoffs again? This tier is just a matter of personal preference.

The Favorite: Kansas City Chiefs

To nobody’s surprise, the Chiefs top the list. They sit in a fantastic position atop the AFC West, in position for a bye week and with the leadership of none other than Mr. Patrick Mahomes. ESPN gives the Chiefs a 32% chance to win it all, which is more than twice as high as any other team in the entire league. It may not be ideal, but we are witnessing a potential dynasty being built. Can Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid storm the NFL and win another ring? Will they need to come back from three straight double-digit deficits again? Will I ever meet the hypothetical reader that I always quote? Find out next time on The Out Route.

Max Thompson is a sophomore majoring in business management and journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at sthomp92@vols.utk.edu. Follow @The_Out_Route on Twitter for high-quality NFL analysis!

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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