Week 14 in the NFL was a sobering one for Super Bowl contenders, serving to significantly winnow the field with the start of the playoffs still three weeks away. Losses by Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC, and Atlanta and Chicago in the NFC diminished the prospects of nearly half of the league's 12-team playoff bracket, at least as it is currently constituted.
By my clear-eyed assessment of the situation -- I'll pause here for my readers' punchlines -- only four teams escaped Week 14 looking built for the long haul that awaits in January and the first weekend of February: New England and Denver in the AFC, Green Bay and San Francisco in the NFC.
I guarantee the Super Bowl matchup comes out of that four-team pool, so write it down, chuck it in the vault, and seal it until the close of conference championship Sunday, when you are then free to remove it and reflect on my prescience. Or not. Either way, those are my new top four teams in this week's power rankings, and for good reason. They're potentially Super, and the other 28 teams are not.
Alas, things do have a habit of changing rapidly in the NFL pennant races. Although I think I see the way forward quite clearly now, I'm reminded that last year at this same point, the Giants were 7-6 and fighting for their playoff-contending lives, and the 2010 Packers were 8-5 through 13 games, trying to merely grab the last rung on the NFC playoff-field ladder. And honesty compels me to point out that New York and Green Bay each had another loss coming in Week 15, making their situations even more desperate.
But as I recall, circumstances worked out very nicely for both of those stragglers. So perhaps my 2012 final four isn't quite so final after all. Projections or not, we have three more weeks to see where this story goes next. Now on to this week's rankings...
NFL Power Rankings