The NFL regular season is coming down the stretch, and it is becoming clearer who the real threats to win the Super Bowl are.
Following the blowout on Monday night, the New Orleans Saints remain unbeaten and should be considered the clear-cut favorite to win it all.
Yes I know that the Indianapolis Colts are also undefeated, and have also beaten New England this year. However, it took an amazing 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback along with a questionable call from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for that to happen.
The Saints, on the other hand, were completely dominant Monday night. Their offense moved the ball at will all game long. They finished with 480 yards of offense and Drew Brees threw for five touchdowns.
It was the first time a Belichick-coached team had given up five touchdown passes to any quarterback in a single game.
It is also the first time in league history that there are two 11-0 teams. Just two years ago, the Pats became the first team to finish the regular season 16-0. Now it is possible we might have two in the same season.
The Saints only have two losable games remaining on their schedule. In two weeks, they travel to Atlanta. The Falcons are fighting for their playoff lives and will need this game badly.
The only other challenge is at home against Dallas the following week. The Saints will need to be careful, as the Minnesota Vikings are right on their heels for home field advantage in the playoffs.
The Vikings are 10-1 and have looked extremely impressive as of late. Despite losing a game, some experts consider them to be the best team in the NFL.
They arguably have the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson, along with a future hall of fame quarterback, Brett Favre.
Favre is having one of the best seasons of his career. He is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns.
It is not only Peterson and Favre that stand out on this team. The defense has been efficient all year. The defensive line is the best in all of football, led by All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen and the two truck stoppers Pat and Kevin Williams.
Unfortunately for Minnesota they have a difficult schedule remaining, with games against Arizona, Cincinnati and the Giants. Therefore, the Saints will probably end up with home field.
The rest of the NFC does not compare to these two teams and have no shot at getting to the Super Bowl. I do not see any way in which these two teams do not meet in the NFC Championship game.
The AFC is very different; it is wide open. The Colts are 11-0, but they have looked very vulnerable the last month and a half. In their last five games, they have had to come from behind in the fourth quarter of each game.
This does help build character and prepare them for tight games in the playoffs. But it does not make them an overwhelming favorite to reach football’s biggest stage.
They all but have home field advantage locked up in the AFC, with a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way. But as we saw in the New England game, they are not very dominant at home this year.
Quietly, the San Diego Chargers have won six games in a row in impressive fashion, outscoring their opponents 188-83. Their offense has been unstoppable, and LaDainian Tomlinson is scoring in the red zone again.
The Chargers are 8-3 and two weeks from Sunday will play in their biggest game of the year at home against the 8-3 Cincinnati Bengals.
The winner of this game will probably get the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and receive the first-round bye with the Colts. The loser will have to play in the wild card round against the likes of Pittsburgh or Denver; quite a difference.
We can not forget the New England Patriots. They are 7-4 and are coming off the whooping they received at the hands of the Saints. They play some mediocre teams the rest of the way and will more than likely end up the No. 4 seed.
This is not the same team that went 18-0 in 2007, before losing the Super Bowl to the Giants, nor is it the team that won three Super Bowls in four years in the early part of this decade. However, they still have Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, that same offensive line and some of the best receivers in the NFL in Wes Welker and Randy Moss. I do not think anyone will overlook them.
If Ben Roethlisberger comes back from his concussion and safety Troy Polamalu’s knee regains strength, the Pittsburgh Steelers cannot be counted out either.
So there are seven teams in the NFL with a legitimate shot at winning the title: New Orleans, Minnesota, Indianapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, New England and Pittsburgh.
Despite the depth in the AFC, the level that New Orleans and Minnesota are playing at right now is above and beyond. They will play for the right to reach the big game and the winner will ride that wave into the Super Bowl and capture that organizations first championship.