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THE TOP 10 SUPER BOWL CONTENDERS

Steelers

There are a lot of ways to judge the success of an NFL season, and it doesn't have to just be "winning a championship." For many franchises, the goal could be to win six games, or to get above .500, or to get to the postseason. Of course, a championship would be ideal, but it's not always going to be realistic.

However, for these 10 teams, the Super Bowl championship window is open right now. And certainly for a few of them, not many believed that this would be a season in which winning the Super Bowl seemed possible. It is now.

Just missing the cut are the Titans, Cowboys and Lions. The reasons for why they won't win a championship are simply much more abundant than the reasons they could.

So, these are the top 10 teams, ranked by how unstoppable they look after 10 weeks:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs, 6-3

Unstoppable because: The Jags and Chiefs have the easiest remaining schedules, which could help either of them get a key first-round bye and home game. Kareem Hunt never looked like a "fluke" on film, so it's OK to assume that his recent lack of production won't last. Alex Smith has an 18 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio, making him like the football version of Cliff Lee.

Stoppable because: Well, we're currently witnessing how stoppable the Chiefs can be, having lost three of their past four games. They're saved by the fact that the rest of the AFC West is a mess. For that reason, Kansas City could rebound to finish 12-4. But are the Chiefs going to be nearly as good as the team that beat the Patriots and Eagles to open the year? The defense doesn't look good enough.

  1. Carolina Panthers, 7-3

Unstoppable because: The Panthers have a lot of players and personnel remaining from the 2015 squad that went 15-1 and nearly won the Super Bowl. That includes Cam Newton, who flashes dominance, even if it's inconsistent. If Newton catches fire in January, Carolina will be tough to beat, especially because the star of the Panthers is not Newton, it's the defense. Carolina ranks first in yards allowed, third in points allowed and second in rushing yards allowed. It has held three teams to three points this season, dominating every average-to-below-average team it faces.

Stoppable because: The Panthers have also struggled against some good teams, including a 34-13 loss to the Saints and a 17-3 loss against the Bears, who are decidedly not a good team. Yes, they beat the Patriots, but the offense is not talented enough to keep up with any playoff opponent that can manage to score 20 points. They can't run with Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey, and there's a lot of pressure on Devin Funchess now that he's the only viable wide receiver.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars, 6-3

Unstoppable because: There isn't a better defense in the NFL, and they just added one of the best DTs in the league in Marcell Dareus. The Jaguars are first in points allowed, first in passing yards allowed, first in yards per pass attempt allowed and first in rushing yards. That's the type of offensive/defensive balance that you typically see in Super Bowl teams. And defensively, just read the names: Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Dareus, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler, Myles Jack, Barry Church, Telvin Smith, Tashaun Gipson. What's a good argument for why we won't be comparing this defense to the 2000 Baltimore Ravens? Is Blake Bortles worse than Trent Dilfer?

Stoppable because: Well, because the answer to that last question is: "Maybe." Bortles remains one of the league's worst quarterbacks, ranking 27th in passer rating, 24th in yards per attempt and 31st in completion percentage. The defense may need to hold playoff opponents to 10 points or fewer to win (they've already done that five times this season), which is possible, but not ideal because of quarterback play. Bortles' weapons are also pretty lackluster after losing Allen Robinson.

  1. Seattle Seahawks, 6-3

Unstoppable because: Russell Wilson has had his struggles this season (more overthrown passes and poor decisions than usual), but he may also still be the MVP. Dealing with injuries to Seattle's starting left tackle, left guard and running back, Wilson has 19 touchdowns and two game-winning drives, and he leads the Seahawks in rushing. This is especially important because Wilson has always been much better in the second half of every season. Defensively, it's a lot of the same story. They're fifth in points allowed despite injuries to Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson and Malik McDowell. They may have much better depth by December.

Stoppable because: Seattle's identity as a rushing team is finished. Though rookie Chris Carson was exciting prior to breaking his ankle (Carson may return in December), the same can't be said for Thomas Rawls (2.6 YPC) and Eddie Lacy (2.7). As good as Wilson is, the offense has been wildly inconsistent, scoring 16 or less in four of their nine games. The injuries piling up is a problem and losing Sherman for the rest of the year has unimaginable consequences; Sherman has been the best corner in the NFL over the past 5-6 years and hasn't missed any time, so it's hard to know how bad this could get. Without Thomas for the second half last year, the secondary was considerably worse.

  1. Minnesota Vikings, 7-2

Unstoppable because: The most remarkable thing about the Vikings' season isn't Everson Griffen's 10 sacks, Harrison Smith having an All-Pro season or Adam Thielen being on pace for 1,400 yards. It's the fact that Case Keenum has been sacked five times in eight games. Sam Bradford was sacked 37 times in 15 games last year. Minnesota's signings of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers seemed desperate, but they've clearly paid off, as has drafting center Pat Elflein in the third round.

Stoppable because: The loss of Dalvin Cook doesn't get as much attention in a year full of unfortunate superstar losses, but it may prove to be one of the most important injuries of the season. Cook was averaging 4.8 yards per carry before tearing his ACL, and replacement Latavius Murray is only gaining 3.3 since taking over. It's the difference between dynamic and ordinary. It's hard to imagine Keenum winning a big playoff game, and it's still hard to imagine Teddy Bridgewater playing at all. He's active, but how much rust is on the gears should he be pressed into duty?

  1. Los Angeles Rams, 7-2

Unstoppable because: Sean McVay has the Rams first in scoring and third in points allowed. They've won their past three games by a combined score of 117-24. Jared Goff leads the NFL in yards per attempt. Between Goff and Todd Gurley, Los Angeles may have the offensive player of the year, and Aaron Donald could also win defensive player of the year. Andrew Whitworth has transformed the offensive line, helping guard Rodger Saffold have the best season of his career.

Stoppable because: Ultimately, it's still hard to ignore that these are the Rams, a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2004. And while Goff's having a good season, he's not having a Kurt Warner 1999 season. Los Angeles has put up a lot of points, but it's 0-2 when scoring 20 or fewer points. Against the defense of Philly, Seattle, New Orleans, Minnesota or Carolina in the playoffs, will Goff, Gurley and Robert Woods be as effective as they need to be?

  1. New England Patriots, 7-2

Unstoppable because: Five Super Bowl championships and seven Super Bowl appearances under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. To drag out an explanation of what makes the Patriots dangerous at this point seems unnecessary. Brady has thrown four interceptions over his past 775 attempts dating back to the start of 2016.

Stoppable because: The Patriots rank last in total yards allowed, their worst mark on defense since finishing 31st in 2011. Of course, those Patriots went 13-3 and nearly won the Super Bowl. Belichick's offseason additions (Mike Gillislee, Dwayne Allen, Stephon Gilmore, Phillip Dorsett, Rex Burkhead) don't seem brilliant, and even Brandin Cooks (three touchdowns in nine games) has been a little underwhelming, considering the cost of sending a first-round pick to the Saints. It will be hard to slow down Brady in a postseason game, but this is arguably one of the least talented teams that Belichick has had in the last decade.

  1. New Orleans Saints, 7-2

Unstoppable because: I can't apply everything about Tom Brady to Brees because Brady has won a lot more playoffs games, but the truth is that Brees might still be the better quarterback. He doesn't get enough attention when talking about "Who is the best QB of all time?" A seven-time passing yards leader, Brees changed the way professional football is played. And he's still leading the NFL in completion percentage this year at age 38. The rushing game has also been about twice as productive since left tackle Terron Armstead returned five games ago. But the best news is that the Saints are fifth in points allowed and are fourth in pass defense DVOA. A major reason for that is the addition of Marshon Lattimore, who might be the best rookie cornerback since Richard Sherman in 2011. They're the best team in the best division.

Stoppable because: New Orleans still struggles against the run, and its ability to win in spite of that might not help against playoff teams. In their past four wins, the Saints have faced Brett Hundley, Mitch Trubisky, Ryan Fitzpatrick (for a half) and Tyrod Taylor. They've turned the ball over 10 times in the past five games, and winning at a rate like this with that many turnovers is just not sustainable.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles, 8-1

Unstoppable because: The Eagles don't own the NFL's best record by accident; they've swept Washington, beaten the Panthers and Chargers on the road and blown out the Broncos and Cardinals. By most accounts, Carson Wentz would be the MVP if the season ended today, as he's currently on pace for 41 touchdowns, which would be tied with Kurt Warner (1999) for the second-most ever by a quarterback who is technically in his second season. Warner won MVP and the Super Bowl that season, and the only player who had more was Dan Marino in 1984, when he had 48 touchdowns en route to MVP and the Dolphins appearing in the Super Bowl.

Wentz could have a better supporting cast on offense than Marino had and maybe a better defense than Warner had. None of Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor may top 1,000 yards, but they could all finish with double-digit touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount (4.6 yards per carry) is now sharing the load with Jay Ajayi, who had 88 yards and a touchdown in his Eagles debut. Defensively, they have an elite defensive line with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, the recently-extended Timmy Jernigan and Vinny Curry, ranking first in rushing yards allowed. The secondary is a tier below that in talent, but Philly's 11 interceptions are the third-most in the league.

Stoppable because: The Eagles are sort of the masters of none in the league, which speaks to the fact that the NFL does not have a single dominating force to be feared; the Eagles may be the best team, but they're not a juggernaut. The Eagles rank third in DVOA, but they aren't in the top four on offense, defense or special teams. If you're betting on a championship team, are you betting on a team that satisfies you in a lot of areas but doesn't wow you in any of them? Philly has to play four of its next five games on the road, including at the Cowboys, Seahawks and Rams. Plus, Jason Peters may have been the best player on the roster, and he's out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL and MCL. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks has also hit IR, and the drop-off from him to Joe Walker could be significant.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-2

Unstoppable because: The Steelers decided to start playing defense again. After losing that identity and instead focusing on the B's (Ben, Bell, Brown) instead of the D, Pittsburgh finished 30th in defensive DVOA in 2014. The Steelers improved to 11th in both 2015 and '16. This season, they're back to being a top-five unit and could finish the year as the best defense in the NFL. The Steelers are second in yards and points allowed, and they're 7-0 when allowing fewer than 20 points. Plus, they still have the three B's. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner. Le'Veon Bell is first in rushing yards. Antonio Brown is first in receiving yards. Yeah, they're good.

Stoppable because: In both of their losses, the Steelers allowed more than 200 rushing yards; they haven't allowed more than 91 rushing yards in any other game. So if in the playoffs they have to face a team like Jacksonville (the Jaguars beat them 30-9), or the Titans, or the Chiefs (Pittsburgh actually held Kansas City to 28 rushing yards), will that ultimately do them in? A Steelers-Patriots AFC championship game may be inevitable, and Pittsburgh is a lot more capable of toppling Brady than it was in the last AFC Championship.

Kenneth Arthur
SportsonEarth.com

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