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Tom O'Leary

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Madison Doucette

Tom O'Leary

Madison Doucette

Madison Doucette

Tom O'Leary

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As the 2017 National Football League (NFL) season enters its final month, the ever-shifting playoff picture has begun to solidify. For those of you who tend to follow professional football peripherally, the NFL is divided into two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). From there each conference is further separated into four regional divisions. At the conclusion of the yearly 16 game schedule, the team with the best record in the eight total divisions are rewarded with a spot in the single elimination playoffs. In addition, the two teams with the best record in each conference who did not win their division are given a playoff slot known as the wild card.

Although there are always exceptions, like the nearly two-decade dominance of the New England Patriots, the NFL playoffs tend to provide yearly balance and parity to its fans. In a one-and-done tournament there is never a sure thing, as even the most dominant team can lose a game under the right circumstances. The drama of the unknown is what makes sports worth watching, and the NFL playoffs are the quintessential example.

Thus far in 2017, the AFC and NFC have been polar opposites. The AFC is dominated by a select few elite teams, with each division either a complete blowout or so terrible that a single team has been unable to distinguish themselves from their rivals. Meanwhile, the NFC has been highly competitive as a whole. Yes, two of the divisions have basically already been won, but the other two features three teams contending for their respective crowns, all of which are capable of advancing in the playoffs, even from a wild card position.

Let’s take a look at the primary contenders for the upcoming Super Bowl and their most recent odds to win the championship as determined by the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book.

Coming in as the favorite are the aforementioned New England Patriots at 2-1. After winning their fifth Super Bowl since 2001 thanks to a historic comeback versus the Atlanta Falcons, many pundits predicted an undefeated season. Instead the Patriots lost two of their first three games, causing those same pundits to question if it was finally the end of the dynasty led by coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. All they have done since is win eight straight games, returning to their usual perch high atop the AFC East after a brief respite, poised for yet another title run.

While Pittsburgh Steelers consistently fall short of the Patriots in the AFC championship game, they are usually the strongest competition. This trend appears likely to continue as the Steelers are sitting with the second-best odds of winning it all at 7-2. Nicknamed the “Killer B’s,” the trio of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, and wide receiver Antonio Brown have propelled the squad to seven consecutive victories, entrenching them above their rivals in the AFC North.

Slightly behind the Steelers are Pennsylvania’s other team, the Philadelphia Eagles, who lead the NFC with a Super Bowl victory probability of 9-2. The Eagles have already surpassed the expectations of most considering they opened the season with odds of 60-1 and were viewed as a rebuilding organization following a year in which they won only seven games and finished last in the NFC East. The second-year tandem of quarterback Carson Wentz and coach Doug Pederson along with a vastly improved supporting cast has thrusted them into the lead of both their conference and division.

The Minnesota Vikings rank as the fourth most likely to reign supreme over the NFL at 8-1. They are yet another team riding a lengthy win streak, having emerged victorious in eight games successively. With a record of 10 wins and two losses, the Vikings need just one more triumph to lock up the NFC North. The unexpected breakout of journeyman quarterback Case Keenum, paired with one of the sports best defenses has them in position to compete for the top seed in their conference and the advantage of playing on their home field throughout the playoffs, including the Super Bowl which will be held in Minnesota.

Next up is a tie between the New Orleans Saints and the Las Angeles Rams with the odds of 12-1, which is fitting because the teams have been in similar standing the past two seasons. Both resided in the basement of the NFC in 2016 before rapidly ascending to first place in the South and West divisions respectively. Despite their revitalization, each team holds the lead within their division tenuously as they are ahead by just one game with four remaining.

The top ten is rounded out by the Seattle Seahawks (14-1), Atlanta Falcons (16-1), Carolina Panthers (18-1), and Kansas City Chiefs (20-1).

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