It is the most frequently asked question in sports: who will win the Super Bowl? After seven weeks the betting favorite is Houston. New England, San Francisco, Atlanta, Green Bay, Denver, Chicago, and the New York Giants are all well supported in Las Vegas and give their fans reason for optimism. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are not without a chance. It would be shocking if the champ came from outside that pretty clear group of 10 best teams. Interestingly, three months before they tee it up in New Orleans, half of them can be eliminated because of just one vital player on their roster.
The importance of an elite quarterback is unquestioned. With the notable exceptions of Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, during the last 20 years, every other Super Bowl winning trigger man is either in the Hall of Fame or has a great chance to make it. In recent years, this has become that much more important and obvious.
Offensive football has reached new heights the last three years. Unbreakable records have been shattered. This has magnified the importance of the quarterback. Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees are the last three quarterbacks to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Not surprisingly each of them was also named Super Bowl MVP. This trio shares a common bond that can help us predict this year's champion.
During their Super Bowl seasons, Manning, Rodgers, and Brees ranked in the top seven among all quarterbacks in both touchdown passes and QB Ranking. This year five players meet that criteria. In a shocker to nobody, Peyton Manning's Broncos, Tom Brady's Patriots, the Falcons with Matt Ryan, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, and Rodgers with the Packers have combined to go 24-12. Equally as interesting, those who failed to meet the criteria.
Besides undefeated Atlanta, the next five best teams in the league by record are absent from our list of contenders. It may not astound you that the 49ers Alex Smith and Chicago's Jay Cutler failed to make the cut. It's not out of the realm of belief that Joe Flacco of Baltimore or Matt Schaub of the Texans aren't going to Disneyland. But no Eli Manning? No back-to-back titles for the Giants? This group of start-making-plans-for-vacation-in-early-February teams are a combined 29-8. They also will be watching when somebody else celebrates a title.
Of course the next nine weeks give those on the outside-looking-in a chance to improve their statistics. None of the QB's we have counted out are more than five touchdown passes outside of the top seven. Only Cutler and Flacco need to improve significantly in order to rank high enough in QB rating. Eli is currently tenth in TD's tossed and eleventh in QB ranking. That being said, Peyton, Rodgers, Ryan, and Brady all rank among the top five in both categories. I'll take that quartet, you can have the field.