NFL Heads into Final Month: Contenders and Pretenders Pittsburgh and New Orleans Emerge as Top Teams, Tennessee and Atlanta Struggle

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Arguably the top wide receiver and running back combo in recent NFL history, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell have the Steelers atop the AFC North and primed for a deep playoff run. 

David Minster, Senior Sports Editor

As the NFL season winds down and division rivalries heat up, teams around the league are fighting to make the post-season.  A few teams are separating themselves are legitimate Super Bowl candidates. Meanwhile, despite boasting winning records and multiple Pro-Bowlers, similarly intriguing teams are merely pretenders and, in actuality, won’t make it far in the playoffs. Here we will examine which teams are Super Bowl

contenders and which are pretenders:

Contenders:

Pittsburgh Steelers: For as long as I can remember, the Pittsburgh Steelers have dominated the AFC North. In fact, the Steelers’ last season in which they were under .500 was 2003, which displays their constant superiority over the last decade and a half. Players like Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison bring valuable Super Bowl pedigree and leadership to a team with young stars ready to flourish in the post-season.

With a high-caliber offense in Big Ben, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and explosive rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers have been a nightmare for opposing defenses. Bell leads the NFL in rushing yards with 1,057, and Brown leads the NFL in receiving yards with 1,296. Aside from a few hiccups against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears, the Steelers defense has been formidable, especially with the addition of TJ Watt. 

The Steelers face a tough matchup against the New England Patriots in week 15, which is a possible preview of a playoff matchup.

 New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees is like a fine wine- he only gets better with age. In his 17th season, Brees is leading his team to a 9-2 record, sitting atop the NFC South after routing the Carolina Panthers 31-21. The Saints’ most dangerous weapon is their running game, headlined by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Ingram’s gritty, ground-and-pound running game combined with Kamara’s shifty, pass-catching game energizes the Saints offense and makes Drew Brees’ job significantly easier. 

With opposing defenses focused on stopping the running game, Brees picks apart defenses through the air, making for a Super Bowl-caliber offense.

Pretenders:

Tennessee Titans: To the two Titans fans reading this article: sorry, but your team is not winning the Super Bowl this year. 

The Titans have won six of their last seven games, but have not faced much competition in those games against the likes of the

Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts. 

Additionally, their offense has been sporadic this season, and they haven’t been producing at a Super Bowl level. Marcus Mariota needs to get on the same page as his young receivers because as of now the Titans offense is not clicking. 

Atlanta Falcons: Oh how the mighty have fallen. After blowing a 28-3 lead in last year’s Super Bowl, the Falcons just haven’t been the same. Sitting at 7-5, which is third in the NFC South, the Falcons are currently outside the playoff picture. 

Even though the Falcons brought back virtually the same team as last year, the team is clearly having different results. The Falcons defense is to blame for their lackluster season, letting up at least 20 points in nine of their twelve games this year.

It’s hard for any offense, even the Falcons, to put up 20+ points week in and week out, making their trip to the Super Bowl that much more difficult.

Contact David Minster at [email protected]