Last week was, to put it mildly, a weird week for simulations to try to comb through. The Ravens lost to the Chiefs for their first "L" in four weeks, but it wasn't a "bad" loss per se. The Patriots lost on a miracle lateral that works one out of 100,000 times. The Saints beat the Buccaneers but didn't look particularly clean in doing so. And the Rams lost to the Bears in a game that their offense would undoubtedly very much like to forget.
And those are just some of the contenders. Beyond that, the Texans had their winning streak snapped, the Chargers had a less-than-emphatic win over the Bengals, and the Steelers and Panthers both continued their respective slides.
As such, the Saints saw a significant jump in their percentages, almost by default. It took them a half to get going against the Bucs, but a win is a win. The Rams took a hit to their simulation odds, as did the Patriots, but as always it's looking like a four-team race, with the Saints, Rams, Chiefs and Patriots being the teams to beat. Add up their odds and one of those four teams are winning it all in about 77 percent of SportsLine's simulations heading into Week 15.
Super Bowl LIII odds
|New Orleans Saints||7/4||26.23%||44.79%||100%||100%|
|New England Patriots||6/1||17.58%||32.98%||99.9%||100%|
|Kansas City Chiefs||9/2||17.44%||33.98%||91.5%||100%|
|Los Angeles Rams||7/2||15.69%||32%||100%||100%|
|Los Angeles Chargers||8/1||5.92%||12.64%||8.5%||100%|
|Green Bay Packers||300/1||0.03%||0.16%||0%||4.6%|
|New York Giants||1,000/1||0.01%||0.01%||0%||0.6%|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||OFF||0%||0%||0%||0%|
|New York Jets||OFF||0%||0%||0%||0%|
|San Francisco 49ers||OFF||0%||0%||0%||0%|
The Saints only extended their lead in simulation odds with a win over the Buccaneers as the Chiefs and Rams stumbled. The win put them back on top of the NFC, and as has been well-documented, if the road to the Super Bowl goes through the Superdome in the NFC it's tough to imagine anyone unseating them in the conference. The next three weeks will be big for the Saints, as they play the Panthers twice with the Steelers in between.
Now that they've clinched the NFC South and it looks like they may end up with a first-round bye, all they can do is take things a week at a time. The Bears did the Saints a huge favor with their win over the Rams, but the rest of the Rams' schedule is less than intimidating. They're in the driver's seat for the NFC, but what they do for the rest of the season is entirely on them.
The other contenders
The way the playoff picture figures, there are three other title contenders (or teams with more than a 10 percent shot of winning the Super Bowl), and as it happens they're all teams that could end up getting a bye week in the playoffs. The Chiefs and the Patriots figure to be the teams to beat in the AFC, while the Rams are the team most likely to knock the Saints off in the NFC.
For the Chiefs, last week's win against the Ravens came down to a gutty overtime performance from MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes has been nothing short of brilliant, and he orchestrated a fantastic drive to keep the Chiefs alive against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, featuring a throw on fourth down that we may see a lot more of if he wins MVP. With Eric Berry returning on Thursday, the Chiefs got just a little better.
The Patriots, meanwhile, aren't a Patriots team that we're used to. They look clunky, and at times they've looked downright ugly. Every time it looks like they're really hitting the jets, they hit a roadblock like the Titans or the Dolphins. They lost last Sunday on a miracle touchdown lateral that saw Rob Gronkowski summing up the game by stumbling desperately to a faceplant as Kenyan Drake crossed the goal line. It figures that they'll kick it into high gear eventually, but even as the No. 2 team in our power rankings, it's the most trepidation we've seen from a Patriots team in a long time.
The Rams were completely thwarted by the Bears on Sunday night, as the defense proved to be outrageously stingy against one of the best offenses in football. Jared Goff threw the ball 44 times, including four picks, as the Rams picked up just six points. Todd Gurley was held to 28 yards on the ground, and the Rams just weren't able to find any rhythm all game. The Bears once again showed how difficult Soldier Field can be to visitors in December, and their defense was up for anything the Rams offense threw at them. The Rams will try to right the ship against the injury-ravaged Eagles this week, and now they'll certainly be watching Saints scores out of the corners of their eyes.
Still in the mix
The Bears and Cowboys both have come on in a big way. The Bears bounced back from their humiliating loss to the Giants as the Cowboys won their third straight, and both teams have shown that they can beat the best the NFC has to offer. Mitchell Trubisky has quite a bit of work to do, but the Bears' defense can more than pick up the slack. For the Cowboys, Amari Cooper is proving that all you need sometimes is a change of scenery. He's been shredding it for Dallas since he being traded, and they seem to be picking up a full head of steam at just the right time.
Just below the division leaders, the Seahawks look like they could make some waves all of a sudden. They've won four straight since they were barely edged out by the Rams, and although you can't overlook anyone, they have to be eyeing their Week 16 matchup in which they'll host the Chiefs. That game will be a great litmus test for the Seahawks, but having just beaten a potential wild-card rival in the Vikings, they have to be feeling good. They're 4-3 on the road this season, and after their game against the 49ers next Sunday they'll close out the season at home. You have to imagine they'd feel better playing a road playoff game at 5-3 than 4-4. It's a small psychological difference, but it matters.
In the AFC, the Texans were beaten up by the Colts, but they still have a good hold on the AFC South and it's not even unreasonable for them to be eyeing the Patriots for the No. 2 seed. With both teams at 9-4 and on the road this week and considering the Texans are much bigger favorites to win their game, the Texans could be sitting in the No. 2 seed by this time next week, and with games against the Jets, Eagles and Jaguars left, winning out is a big possibility for them. With that being said, as of today the Cowboys are the only playoff team the Texans have beaten, and that was back in October. They'll have to start punching above their weight if they're going to host a playoff game and win.
The Chargers are still cruising this season, this time getting an ugly win against the Bengals. They're now 5-1 on the road this season, and Philip Rivers is having an MVP-caliber year himself. They've been overshadowed by both the Rams and the Chiefs, but with an AFC West title still possible, the Chargers are getting harder and harder to ignore.
Then, of course, there are the Ravens, who proved on Sunday they can run with anyone. They may have ultimately lost to the Chiefs, but Jackson is looking better week in and week out. John Harbaugh might be coaching for his job right now, and if they end up catching up to the Steelers and hosting a wild card game, we might end up seeing this team playing in the divisional round.
The long shots
It's probably time to panic in Pittsburgh, with the Steelers losing to the lowly Raiders. The offense has looked completely out of whack, and with upcoming games against the Patriots and Saints, they're hitting a particularly toothy part of the schedule. I mentioned the possibility of the Ravens catching them, but the Steelers need to figure out a way to pull themselves together as the season winds down or they could miss the postseason entirely.
The Vikings are another team that just can't put together any consistency. Kirk Cousins laid another egg against the Seahawks in a 21-7 loss, and for a team with all the talent in the world, they simply look bad. Now, it's more about holding onto a wild card spot than chasing the Bears in the North. Perhaps the firing on John DeFilippo will jumpstart the offense, but their game against the Dolphins on Sunday could be big if they want to stave off a horde of teams hovering just below .500.