With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas anear, the unholiest of NFL seasons in recent memory is mercifully approaching the finish line. Twelve face-palming weeks in the books; five left to play.
The lowlights of 2017’s iteration of pro football are well documented: Ezekiel Elliott’s seesaw suspension saga; Donald Trump’s objectionable foray into the national anthem debate; Colin Kaepernick remaining unsigned while Brock Osweiler has started three games at quarterback; significant injuries to Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Odell Beckham, and, now, Seattle’s Legion of Boom; Jerry Jones vs. Roger Goodell; and the bloated Jay Cutler and Mike Glennon contracts.
But hey, the playoffs are in spitting distance and the lawlessness of the regular season portends a chaotic, unpredictable march to Super Bowl LII. When nobody’s good, everything’s in play. (The Lombardi Trophy should be awarded to the fans for putting up with an unconscionable amount of nonsense and a weekly dosage of scab-level quarterbacks.)
There’s ample reason to distrust every contender, even the Pats and Eagles. So, without further ado, here’s why your favorite team will not win the Super Bowl.
Cleveland Browns (0-11)
They’re 1-26 under the stewardship of coach Hue Jackson and executive vice president Sashi Brown, and 4-38 since the start of 2015. Only the return of Josh Gordon - who hasn’t played a regular-season game since December 2014 - can save this sad-sack franchise from an ignominious 0-16 season.
San Francisco 49ers (1-10)
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett was amazed tickets to the San Francisco-Seattle game could be had for a measly $17. Obviously he hasn’t watched a ton of 49ers football. This team clearly has a knack for losing, including five straight by a combined 13 points from Weeks 2 to 6. Jimmy Garoppolo is here, but the defense ranks fourth-worst by DVOA.
New York Giants (2-9)
A trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, the godawful G-Men can’t score (15.6 PTS/G - 31st) or defend (389.9 YDS/G - 31st). And they’re unofficially banned from Thanksgiving after gaining only 47 yards and one first down in the second half of an impossible-to-watch 20-10 loss to Washington. Who knew Geno Smith was still in the league?
Denver Broncos (3-8)
Vance Joseph could be one-and-done, Aqib Talib’s chain-snatching antics are inarguably a distraction, and they’ve been outscored 206-99 over an ugly seven-game losing streak. Jettisoning offensive coordinator Mike McCoy didn’t stop the bleeding, which is unfortunate considering the sorry state of the AFC West. After Paxton Lynch’s latest injury, Trevor Siemian is back up in Denver’s QB carousel - he’s been bad by any metric you can think of.
Chicago Bears (3-8)
Da Bears generally get pass because A) They were expected to stink B) They’re starting a “project” rookie quarterback. But John Fox’s seat is white hot with Chicago losing 31 of 43 games, including a 31-3 beatdown from the Eagles last Sunday. Mitchell Trubisky’s completion percentage (52.8) is worse than DeShone Kizer’s (53.0).
Indianapolis Colts (3-8)
It’s never a good thing when your owner believes his star quarterback’s shoulder injury is “inside his head.” Andrew Luck would disagree, as he reportedly sought out a mystery treatment in Europe for the labrum tear he had surgically repaired in the offseason. Jacoby Brissett has been serviceable in relief, but nine touchdown passes in 11 games doesn’t cut the mustard. Too bad because the AFC South is a veritable cesspool.
Houston Texans (4-7)
Poor Bill O’Brien. He loses defensive stalwarts J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus and rookie sensation Watson for the season. Jadeveon Clowney is a force to be reckoned with (nine sacks), but as now-starting QB Tom Savage recently admitted, there’s no duplicating Watson’s magic. Savage helped seal Houston’s playoff-less fate with two picks and a costly fumble in a loss to Baltimore on Monday.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
A popular playoff pick before the season, Tampa is the only NFC South team currently outside the postseason bubble. They’re also 0-3 in games played within the division, so we can safely stick a fork in ‘em. The pass defense is a glaring weakness, sitting dead last with 284.6 yards and 24.3 completions per game. Also, is Jameis Winston, 26th in Total QBR (39.9), any good? Asking for a friend.
Miami Dolphins (4-7)
The $10-million Jay Cutler Hail Mary failed miserably. The Fish were back to starting Matt Moore with Cutler concussed, but he'll return this week (not sure they're better off). While the AFC wild-card race is shaping up to be a dogfight, Miami has lost five straight and has New England, Kansas City, and a home-and-home with Buffalo as part of its stretch run. A little discipline might help, as the Dolphins rank 31st in penalties (8.2), and they couldn’t stop a Pop Warner team in the red zone.
New York Jets (4-7)
Todd Bowles’ job security is in doubt, and finishing the season with a miraculous five-game win streak is about as likely as the team holding on to a fourth-quarter lead. Josh McCown owns a 6-27 record over his last 33 games, but could really use some better protection - the Jets rank 31st in Adjusted Sack Rate (10 percent).
We’ll always have this play, though:
Arizona Cardinals (5-6)
Winners of the Blaine Gabbert Revenge Game, the Cards have managed to eke out five wins with six starters on injured reserve, including consensus No. 1 fantasy draft pick David Johnson. Those wins, however, include two over the hapless 49ers, in addition to the Colts and Bucs. The Rams, Titans, and Redskins are on deck. Even Adrian Peterson can’t solve the league’s worst rushing offense (72.8 YDS/G).
Washington Redskins (5-6)
Thursday’s matchup with the 5-6 Cowboys is the football equivalent of a loser-leaves-town match. The good news: Samaje Perine has come alive in the run game (two straight 100-yard outings), and left tackle Trent Williams could return from a knee injury. What’s more, Cowboys defensive anchor Sean Lee isn’t expected to suit up. The bad news: the Redskins are wearing all-burgundy uniforms, which are unquestionably cursed following “Swinging Gate.”
Oakland Raiders (5-6)
With Super Bowl aspirations out the window, Raiders fans would be thrilled if they could somehow wriggle their way into the playoffs. But the schedule won’t do them any favors with road games upcoming against the Chiefs, Eagles, and Chargers. Michael Crabtree will return after the Giants game, but Amari Cooper remains in concussion protocol (and apparently tweaked an ankle). A nightmarish pass defense is allowing opponents to complete over 70 percent of their passes, with a league-low one interception. Not a contender.
Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
Points scored in the last three games - all losses - without Elliott: 7, 9, and 6. The workhorse back returns Week 16, by which point America’s Team should be toast. And without the aforementioned Lee, Dallas’ defense stinks like Swiss cheese.
Philly has sown up the NFC East and, as the Sporting News points out, the Cowboys already lost to two of the four teams (Green Bay and Atlanta) they need to leapfrog for the second wild card.
Los Angeles Chargers (5-6)
The Chargers are aiming to become just the second team in history to make the playoffs following an 0-4 start - the other: the ‘92 Chargers! With five wins in seven weeks, L.A. is firmly in the AFC playoff hunt and a layup win over the Browns awaits (however, they did lose to Cleveland last year). Should they pull it off, they’ll get walloped come Wild Card Weekend. They’ve feasted on soft-touch QBs (Blake Bortles, Nathan Peterman, and Siemian) and Melvin Gordon still can’t crack 4.0 yards per carry.
Green Bay Packers (5-6)
Mathematically, the Packers are still alive, and the fan base is holding out hope Rodgers can return from a broken collarbone (he's apparently throwing). He's eligible to play Week 15 at Carolina; however, it's no guarantee the Pack can take advantage of cupcake opponents Tampa and Cleveland over the next two weeks, as Brett Hundley has accounted for minus-5.9 points added in Rodgers’ stead. After Carolina comes Minnesota and Detroit. They're not getting in.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
After a dreadful 0-3 start, the Bengals are somehow just one game back of a wild-card slot. Such is life in the horrific AFC this season. Cincinnati fans are probably quietly hoping they won’t make the playoffs, a result that will almost surely lead to the firing of Marvin Lewis. Don’t be fooled by the five-win total, as those victories have come against the Bills, Colts, Broncos, and Browns (twice). Combined record of those teams? 12-32.
Detroit Lions (6-5)
The Vikings should win the NFC North, but Detroit has a fairly favorable schedule for landing a wild-card spot: at Baltimore, at Tampa, Chicago, at Cincinnati, Green Bay. But everyone knows the Lions can’t run the ball, as evidenced by their 15-carry, 53-yard debacle in a Thanksgiving loss to Minnesota. In fact, the Lions haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush (117 yards) on Nov. 28, 2013. That’s not a joke.
Buffalo Bills (6-5)
Win the Super Bowl? Bills Mafia would settle for a merciful end to their 17-year playoff drought. Unfortunately for them, Sean McDermott's audible for Peterman resulted in a five-pick performance that could see the Bills fall one win shy of the postseason. Life is cruel. In other words, it's been a typical season in Western New York.
Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
The statue formerly known as Joe Flacco is not winning the Super Bowl … again. He’s last in yards per attempt (5.34), appearing totally disinterested in throwing the ball downfield. Punter Sam Koch is more likely to air it out.
A team ranked 32nd in pass yards per game (164) can’t win the Big Game in a passing league. Calling it now - they lose at Cleveland in Week 15.
Kansas City Chiefs (6-5)
The Chiefs are in danger of blowing their once-comfy AFC West lead with five losses in six games, but a playoff spot still appears likely. To reach the Super Bowl, though, they’d have to contend with the Steelers and Patriots. They're 0-3 in their last three meetings with Pittsburgh and lost their only postseason meeting with New England (2015 divisional round). Even after Buffalo’s Peterman debacle, K.C. fans are clamoring for rookie Patrick Mahomes II to replace veteran Alex Smith. One TD in nine quarters will do that.
Tennessee Titans (7-4)
Incredibly, the 7-4 Titans sport a minus-27 point differential (in line with 5-6 territory). That's what happens when you enter a season with the league’s second-easiest schedule. Things will be a lot tougher come playoff time, and as long as DeMarco Murray continues to rob Derrick Henry of carries and Marcus Mariota keeps throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, this team won't sniff a Lombardi Trophy.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4)
The positive spin for Jacksonville fans is that the defense is absolutely terrifying and the run game, starring Leonard Fournette, leads the league at 154.3 YPG. But as long as Bortles is tossing passes for the Jags, they won't be reaching the Super Bowl. Qualifying for the playoffs would be considered a win in Jacksonville (no appearances since 2007), and is likely thanks to the trash can that is the AFC South.
Seattle Seahawks (7-4)
Injuries have ravaged the historically-dominant Seahawks defense, and Russell Wilson is being asked to carry an impossible load to keep the team afloat. The fearsome Eagles and Rams come to town down the stretch, and CenturyLink Field isn't the fortress of doom it once was - especially with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor watching from the sidelines. It's gonna be tough just to get in, and the Falcons own a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Carolina Panthers (8-3)
Four straight wins is nothing to sneeze at, but they’ll be tested with three division games and the Vikings left on the docket. Week 17 at the Falcons should be oodles of fun. Here’s the rub: Cam Newton can’t be trusted, and not solely at the postgame presser. He threw for only 211 yards with two picks in a 17-3 loss to the Bears. Newton ranks 19th in Total QBR and 22nd in DVOA. He’s also apparently nursing a wonky thumb on his throwing hand.
Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
Suddenly a Super Bowl rematch doesn’t seem so far-fetched. The streaking Falcons have won four of five, and have four games left to play within the crowded NFC South. It’s imperative they win the division, and a loss Sunday to the Vikings would be a setback. Devonta Freeman is expected to return this week from another concussion and this team can put up points on anyone. However, come Super Bowl week, the Falcons would be peppered non-stop with questions about the mental stain of blowing a 25-point lead against the Pats. That dark cloud won’t pass.
New Orleans Saints (8-3)
That eight-game win streak was convincing. And the excuse for losing to the Rams was that cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley didn’t play. The Saints have a dangerous, balanced offense (second in passing yards, third in rushing). They’re good, but not elite - how else to explain losses to their three toughest opponents (Vikings, Patriots, and Rams). The NFC playoffs are going to be grueling, and New Orleans will likely have to win at least two road games. The 2010 Packers are the last team to win a Super Bowl without playing at least one home game.
Minnesota Vikings (9-2)
It’s not smoke and mirrors. Undrafted quarterback Case Keenum, believe it or not, is the game’s top passer by DVOA, and second behind only the Texans’ Watson by Total QBR. Minnesota has won seven straight with Keenum throwing darts to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. But the Vikings choke in the playoffs and have never won the Super Bowl, losing IV, VIII, IX, and XI. They’re cursed. Even the 15-1 Vikings couldn’t get it done in ‘98 after Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a field goal all season, shanked a 38-yarder late in the fourth quarter.
Los Angeles Rams (8-3)
The Rams are on pace to jump from the league's worst scoring offense to its best in just one season, but the root of their success was recently exposed by NFL Films to be the debatably-shady coaching antics of one Sean McVay. It seems the first-year head coach is calling out audibles to QB Jared Goff through their headset up until the 15-second mark of the play clock, when communication automatically cuts off. It’s not cheating per se, but it’s fishy. Karma.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2)
The AFC North has lost its reputation as the league’s toughest division in embarrassing fashion, with Pittsburgh feasting on its hapless rivals. Six wins in a row is nice, but losses to the Bears and Jaguars are hard to explain away - and they barely squeaked by the Hundley-led Packers. The AFC is shameful, but the Patriots still stand between Big Ben and a third ring. They haven’t beaten New England since 2011 and last year’s AFC Championship game wasn’t particularly competitive.
New England Patriots (9-2)
The last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls was the 2003-04 Patriots. That 2004 team was led by a 27-year-old Tom Brady and backed by an all-star defense comprised of Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinest, Asante Samuel, and Richard Seymour. Brady's now 40 years old and his defense ranks 30th in yards per game. The lowest ranking in total defense by a Super Bowl champion is 27th (2011 Giants). The average NFL defensive rank for an eventual Super Bowl champion is seventh.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)
Steamrolling through the NFC East, the Birds are flying high - nine straight wins and a league-best 351 points scored. The defense has been sharp, too, ranking sixth at 291.6 yards surrendered per game. Carson Wentz is on pace to be the first Eagles player to win league MVP since 1960 (Norm Van Brocklin). And arguing that a sophomore QB is unlikely to win the Super Bowl won’t hold any water. So, why can't they pull it off? Because it's the Eagles, who always blow it come playoff time, which includes losing three straight conference championship games from '01-'03, then the Super Bowl in '04.