In recent years, the NFL has experienced more parity than nearly every other professional sport. Teams that are Super Bowl contenders one year are also run the next, and vice versa. The hard salary cap and rampant free agency have created a level playing field for all teams. Add in the national TV contract, and there’s no such thing as large and small market teams in the NFL. They are all on equal footing.
While it’s easy each week to check the NFL odds and see who is favored every week and anoint them as Super Bowl contenders, it is more of a puzzle to discern who among the lower-tier playoff teams has a shot at playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
This year, the game will be contested in Glendale, Arizona, a few steps away from a national holiday in America. As such, the interest in who will be there is beginning to reach a fever pitch as the weeks dwindle down in the regular season, and terms such as “home field advantage,” “top seed,” and “division champ” are bandied about.
In this piece, we will focus on a few NFC teams that may not be considered favorites to advance to the desert the first week in February but certainly can make it there.
Top of the Market
A team that has garnered a ton of respect in the markets is the Philadelphia Eagles. They began the season at 15-1 to win the conference and are now the favorite at + 230. Interestingly enough, the San Francisco 49ers, a team that in recent years has gained a bit of postseason pedigree, is right behind Philly at + 240.
Another team that has been getting some love atop the board is the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas has shown to be a solid squad but has been bitten somewhat by the injury bug and has not produced stellar playoff results in recent years. America’s team opened the season at 9-1, priced at + 350.
Show a Little Respect
A team that has not been getting respect is the Minnesota Vikings, who opened at 20-1 and now sits at 6.5-1. That is tremendous value on a squad that figures to get one or two home playoff games and is 9-2 through its first 11 games. The question those who make Vegas NFL odds have about the team is its quarterback, Kirk Cousins, who is not exactly a model of consistency and success in the postseason, and its coach Kevin O’Connell.
While Cousins has some playoff experience, going a combined 3-3 with the Commanders and Vikings, O’Connell is a rookie head coach with only three years of NFL coordinator experience. As a player, O’Connell was a career backup and, in fact, only attempted 6 passes in his entire NFL career.
The teams’ stats show an average squad sitting outside the NFL’s top 10 in nearly every major statistical metric. This is especially true on defense, where they rank second-to-last in yards allowed and dead-last in rushing yards surrendered through 12 weeks.
However, the one thing we fancy about this team is its ability to win close games. While the stat sheet and NFL lines account for many factors, even more so today than in the past with the proliferation of analytics, one thing they don’t consider is the heart and a will to win.
While the numbers don’t scream dominance, we just have a feeling about the Vikings, and there’s something to be said for a team with a comfortable division lead (every other team in NFC North is at least 3 games under .500 through Week 12).
O’Connell seeks to become the third rookie coach in the league’s history to win a Super Bowl joining the Baltimore Colts Don McCafferty and San Francisco’s defensive wizard George Siefert.