When the NFL season moves past Thanksgiving, the five to eight teams that have legitimate chances to win a Super Bowl start to separate from the pack. Injuries are part of it. So are circumstances and the good fortune of scheduling and divisions. Heck, the Atlanta Falcons are a Thursday night win away from locking up a playoff spot before December.
As we start to turn an eye toward potential playoff posturing, there are a couple of teams on this list that need home-field environment more than others (we're talking to you, Atlanta) and there are a couple that benefit more by a legit home-field edge (Patriots, Chicago and Denver come to mind). Let's get to the poll, with an added bonus of the odds of each team winning the Super Bowl, according to betvega.com:
1) Atlanta (9-to-1): Close wins in the NFL are exactly that -- wins. The late addition of Jacquizz Rodgers to this offense has been a nice piece. (Side note: Who's the No. 1 overall pick in the name draft between Jacquizz, Barkevious and Jadeveon?)
2) Houston (5-to-1): Houston won back-to-back overtime games in a span of roughly 90 hours and now gets an extra three days to rest before coming to Nashville this week. That said, the injuries are starting to mount in the linebacking corps with Brooks Reed suffering a serious groin injury. Not that it matters against the Titans, who not surprisingly fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer this week. Wow, shocker. So you're telling us that a guy who was stolen from the Hartford Colonials of the UFL couldn't cut it in (cue Ron Jaworski) THE National Football League. That's crazy talk. Next you're going to try to tell me that rejected officials from the Lingerie Bowl would embarrass themselves on "Monday Night Football." Oh, wait.
3) San Francisco (13-to-2): If Colin Kaepernick continues to deliver these highlight-reel moments -- and it will be tougher now that the league has tape on him and can scout him -- the 49ers are the most complete team in the league. That said, it's tough to put all your football eggs in a basket of a guy who is named Colin and looks like Humpty-Hump from Digital Underground.
4) Denver (11-to-2): Want to know how back Peyton Manning is? He's starting to pop back up in every third commercial on Sunday afternoons. "Tune in XM 60, Outlaw." And how great of a PR trade was swapping the image nightmare that was Tiger Woods for the feel-good story of the year in Peyton Manning? Well played, Buick; well played indeed.
5) New England (11-to-2): Hey, is that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? We thought those guys had hung it up. Well, just about the time we thought they were done, the Patriots lead (cue Ron Jaworski) THE National Football League in scoring margin at an eye-popping plus-163, and there is no team headed to the dance that has more playoff experience than the one with Brady and Belichick at the controls.