By Week 9, the NFL begins to sort out its contenders and pretenders. The axis of power has shifted to the AFC this year and with the New England Patriots’ 43-21 statement victory over the Denver Broncos it could be a return to glory for thrice-decorated Super Bowl hero Tom Brady once February rolls around.
While most teams still have eight games remaining on their schedule, the playoff picture is starting to come into focus just a bit as October fades into the rearview.
Let’s look at the teams that are trending up and down in each Conference after Week 9.
— The MMQB (@theMMQB) November 4, 2014
New England (7-2): The Patriots soundly defeated the Broncos in Week 9 and safely reclaimed their elite status after their 2-2 start to the season—the win was NE’s fifth straight. VegasInsider’s updated Super Bowl odds now list the Patriots at 6-1 to win it all. Only the Broncos have better odds at 18-5.
Pittsburgh (6-3): Like the Patriots, the Steelers rebounded from a lukewarm opening act (3-3) and have posted three straight wins including lopsided results over Indianapolis in Week 8 (51-34) and division rival Baltimore in Week 9 (43-23). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger set an NFL record for touchdown passes (12) in consecutive games.
Miami (5-3): The Dolphins embarrassed early season pretenders San Diego in Week 9 to the tune of 37-0. The Fins look like the real deal with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and their balanced offensive approach and stingy defense. Miami has won three straight and four of five since starting the season at 2-3.
The best of the rest: Indianapolis (6-3) leads this group fresh off their 40-24 shellacking of the Giants and will eventually run away with the AFC South. Kansas City (5-3) has won three in a row and Cincinnati (5-2-1, AFC North leaders), Cleveland (5-3) and Buffalo (5-3) have all won two straight.
San Diego (5-4): The wheels are coming off as they tend to do for Philip Rivers and the Chargers. After a 5-1 start, the Bolts look less like paper tigers and more like kindling each week (three straight losses).
Baltimore (5-4): The Ravens did well to attend to their on-field business in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal through Week 7 (5-2), but now have dropped two straight in their division to Cincy and Pittsburgh.
Also of note: While one loss will not derail Denver’s (6-2) season, they looked anything like the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl in Week 9.
Arizona Cardinals (7-1): At the end of Week 9, there’s only one team that looks like a world-beater in the NFC and that’s the unassuming Cardinals. AZ has won four straight since a tough 41-20 loss at Denver on October 5.
Detroit Lions (6-2): Returning from a bye week but the Lions are in good shape coming off back-to-back comeback 1-point wins.
Seattle (5-3): The Seahawks remain in the conversation as evidenced by VegasInsider’s listing of them as 17/2 odds to win the Vince Lombardi trophy. Pete Carroll’s squad has righted the ship after a 3-3 start. They might not have the mojo to return for Super Bowl Sunday 2015, but they are still The Champs.
Best of the rest: Philadelphia (6-2) is in a curious situation forced to go with notorious buttfumbler Mark Sanchez at QB after Nick Foles cracked his clavicle. Foles will be out 6-8 weeks as reported by ESPN, but Sanchez was admirable in relief in the Eagles’ 31-21 win over Houston in Week 9.
New Orleans (4-4): The Saints looked dead in the water after their Week 7 tank job against Detroit. But Drew Brees as co. have posted back-to-back wins over Green Bay and Carolina, and they play in the NFC South which stinks to high hell.
San Francisco (4-4) looks cooked after fumbling away victory against St. Louis. Dallas (6-2) could be ready to implode if Tony Romo doesn’t get healthy quickly.
Week 9 Super Bowl prediction: New England Patriots 34, Arizona Cardinals 27
Featured image courtesy of Boston.com