| Fri 22/12/2017 - 11:20 EST

      NFL Futures: Separating the Contenders from Pretenders

      NFL Futures: Separating the Contenders from Pretenders

      NFL Playoffs are Just Around the Corner

      With 14 games in the books, this NFL season just flew by. Only five teams have clinched playoff spots but the picture is looking clear. To no one's surprise, the New England Patriots are still the favourites and look to be in a class of their own. With that said, and if the standings hold, we could see up to eight new playoff teams come January.

      Surprising teams include the Jacksonville Jaguars of the AFC and the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings of the NFC. These teams seemingly came out of nowhere thanks to elevated plays from their defence. We break down five of the most intriguing playoff teams and determine if they are a team worth betting on or avoiding.

      *All odds courtesy of SportsInteraction.

      New England Patriots (Contender)

      • AFC Championship Odds: -111 
      • Super Bowl LII Odds: +240

      Let's just get the obvious out of the way. Even if their defence allows the fourth-most yards per game (377.4), they are still in the top-six in allowing scoring (19.6). This bend-don't-break style of defence comes in handy during the playoffs where this clutch defence has been a catalyst.

      Ageless Tom Brady yet is also balling out this season at age 40: 4,163 passing yards (first), 28 touchdowns (third) and a 104 passer rating (2nd). Even better: he's undefeated in the playoffs against every team in the AFC playoff picture save for the Ravens.

      The Pats are runaway favourites to win the Super Bowl.

      Philadelphia Eagles (Pretender)

      • NFC Championship Odds: +400
      • Super Bowl LII Odds: +900

      Even with Carson Wentz, the Eagles would still be classified as pretenders. For one, they've played a soft schedule and only three of their 12 victories have come against teams with a winning record. Secondly, the Eagles are undisciplined and only Kansas City has accumulated more penalties in yards among playoff teams.

      Quarterback Nick Foles isn't exactly what you'd call "safe" either. While a capable quarterback, Foles is injury prone and will be going against the beastly defences of the NFC. Their defence hasn't looked that hot either having allowed 88 points in their last three games. 

      Carolina Panthers (Contender)

      • NFC Championship Odds: +850
      • Super Bowl LII Odds: +1800

      The Panthers remain one of the NFL's toughest teams to predict. Just when everyone writes them off, they come out of nowhere. This is largely still the same unit that went to the Super Bowl in 2015. The defence is top-five in yards allowed (307.9) and still has a dangerous quarterback in Cam Newton.

      The controversial Newton is having an off-year and seems to be struggling with his range but part of this is playing four games against three of the NFL's best passing defences. But even with Newton's struggles, the Panthers are 12th in scoring (23.6) and fourth in rushing yards (135.7).

      Carolina is a dark horse in the NFC playoff picture.

      Pittsburgh Steelers (Pretender)

      • AFC Championship Odds: +275
      • Super Bowl LII Odds: +600

      This could've been Pittsburgh's year but they lost their MVP, wide receiver Antonio Brown to an injury. Brown accounted for 39 per cent of their passing yards and 34.6 per cent of their passing touchdowns. But the Steelers have so many weapons on offence they could probably roll without him and their defence is ranked in the top-ten in most major categories. 

      What really makes Pittsburgh "pretenders" are their struggles against the Patriots. The Steelers are 0-3 against Tom Brady in the postseason and have lost their last five meetings. Overall, they are 3-11 against the Brady-Bellichick combo and without their best receiver, it could soon be 3-12.

      Minnesota Vikings (Contender)

      • NFC Championship Odds+250
      • Super Bowl LII Odds+650

      It would take Minnesota winning the Super Bowl over the Patriots for people to finally recognize how excellent they have been. Ranked in the top-three in most major defensive categories, what makes the Vikings impressive is how they helped turn journeyman Case Keenum into a legitimate quarterback.

      The 29-year-old signal caller is second in the NFL with a 67.9 completion percentage among QBs who have thrown over 400 passes, second only to Drew Brees. A big part of this is the Vikings' linemen, who should be recognized for both the passing and running game. 

      Keenum may not be "elite" status but with a defence this good, he doesn't need to be.

      Other Contenders: Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints.

      Other Pretenders: Atlanta Hawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens.

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