At the halfway point, we take a look at the teams most likely to hoist up the Lombardi trophy in Tampa Bay.
Kansas City Chiefs
The defending Super Bowl champions are in a prime position to repeat as world champions. The Chiefs were able to keep their championship core from last year around for this season.
General manager Brett Veach has played a large part in keeping this unit around. With the extensions of tight end Travis Kelce and defensive lineman Chris Jones along with short-term deals for other impact players on the roster.
Wide receivers Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins both signed one-year contracts in pursuit of back-to-back titles. With them resigned, the receiving core is one of the most complete in the NFL.
Combined with running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell, the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball have been essential for their championship success. Add that with the 2018 MVP and it’s one of the most talented offenses in NFL history.
On the defensive side of the ball, All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu has nurtured the secondary into a very successful unit. Especially at the safety position, which also consists of second-year stud Juan Thornhill and Daniel Sorensen.
The defensive line has been upgraded with former first-round pick Taco Charlton. That signing, along with defensive end Frank Clark and the extension of Jones makes this defense one to watch out for come playoff time.
A couple of years removed from the Antonio Brown and Bell saga, the Steelers are the only undefeated team left in the NFL. Their biggest reason for this quick turnaround has been their incredible defense headlined by two young superstars.
Defensive end T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have been sensational since last season. Fitzpatrick was traded to Pittsburgh from the Miami Dolphins and has been a key piece to one of the best defenses in the NFL.
The defense is headlined by their front four that has caused offenses problems all season. The combination of Watt, with Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt has resulted in 20 sacks among them this season.
Their secondary has veterans to nurture Fitzpatrick, and it has worked thus far. Defensive backs Steven Nelson and Joe Haden have been nice pickups for the Steelers as they have rebuilt their team. It’s important to note that Nelson came from Kansas City, and could help Pittsburgh with scheming for the AFC favorites.
Their offense has looked more normal now that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned from his elbow tear last season. Last season, quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges struggled when they got their opportunities, as the team fell to 8-8.
Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers pose the biggest threat to the Chiefs in the AFC. Especially considering his 5-2 record against Chiefs head coach Andy Reid all-time. With the Steelers undefeated streak, they pose as one of the biggest threats to win the Super Bowl.
After an AFC Championship appearance last season, the Titans are in a much better place than they were at this time last season.
After starting 2-4, the Titans benched quarterback Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. They finished the season 7-3 along with two playoff victories. Tannehill threw 22 touchdowns on just six interceptions last regular season, according to Sports Reference.
This season, they have started 5-2 and are looking better than before. One key reason for their success has been their ability to utilize their best players effectively.
The quarterback success wouldn’t be possible without arguably the best running back in football. Tennessee has that with 6’3″, 247 lb running back Derrick Henry.
Last season, Henry won the rushing yards title with 1,540 yards and is currently the leading rusher this season as well. Henry has 775 yards thus far and would be the first running back with back-to-back rushing titles since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2007.
The Titans will look to use Henry, along with the play-action to get wide receivers Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, and Adam Humphries to keep defenses honest. Expect the Titans to possibly make another run at the Lamar Hunt trophy come early 2021.
Last season, the Baltimore Ravens finished with the best record in the AFC at 14-2. However, that regular-season success was short lived after a divisional-round loss to the Titans, 28-12.
A big reason for their success was quarterback Lamar Jackson, who broke the single-season rushing yards record for a quarterback, previously held by Michael Vick. Jackson rushed for 1,206 rushing yards to win the 2019 MVP.
The Ravens drafted another running back to elevate their running game even further. The second round saw Baltimore draft J.K. Dobbins out of Ohio State University. To add him alongside Mark Ingram gives them plenty of options in the running game.
The biggest headline for the Ravens defense was the release of safety Earl Thomas. However, their secondary is underrated with Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, and Marlon Humphrey. Add them with veteran Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue on the line make the Ravens an underrated defense to face.
The Seahawks have been able to compete in the NFC since the ‘Legion of Boom’ days because of one franchise piece. That piece has been Russell Wilson, who has continued to get better every season.
Despite the lack of production at offensive line, Wilson has been able to utilize the bright spots on the offensive side. Wide receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf have both been pieces Wilson has relied on and they have delivered.
Running back Chris Carson has been serviceable and useful since his arrival in 2017. Even with the addition of Carlos Hyde, the Seahawks fall short of other running back rooms on this list.
The Seahawks defense has been awful this season. They give up 28.4 points per game, according to ESPN. Wilson and the offensive must put up 30 points at least most nights to win.
Come playoff team, that is going to be a tall order for the offensive side of the ball. However, they have been able to win as they are currently 6-1 and hold the top spot in the NFC.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This offseason, quarterback Tom Brady left the New England Patriots to join head coach Bruce Arians and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With Brady came a ton of offensive firepower at his disposal.
At wide receiver, the Buccaneers are the only team comparable to the Chiefs depth. With their newest addition of Antonio Brown, they may better adding him with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Their running game has been helped significantly by Ronald Jones Jr., who is currently fifth in the league in rushing yards. On third downs, they bring in running back Leonard Fournette, who when healthy can positively impact any running back room with his talent and athleticism.
Brady with weapons is a dangerous combination. With home teams hosting a Super Bowl has jinxed teams in the past, Brady has always defied the odds with his championship success of six rings and his age-defying performances at 43-years-old.
Green Bay Packers
After a 13-3 season and an NFC Championship game appearance, the Packers look to take that next step this season.
Still led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have continued to remain competitive with playoff berths and winning records. But it has not been enough to get them over the hump.
Since their Super Bowl victory in 2011, the Packers have yet to return to the big game. With second-year head coach Matt LaFleur, there is new optimism that could change.
Though Rodgers may not have the weapons of Mahomes or Brady, he has been able to produce great numbers with wide receiver Devante Adams and running back Aaron Jones to lean on.
Last season, the Packers struggled heavily against run-heavy style offensives, especially the San Francisco 49ers. But when looking at the NFC landscape, the best teams are pass-heavy. That playstyle favors a player like Rodgers and the Packers as a whole.