The 2012 NFL season has been thrilling to say the least. With this years cast of characters finally starting to reveal themselves, we’ll look at the contenders and pretenders for this years Super Bowl.

Contenders:

New England Patriots (8-3)- First place in the AFC East, the Patriots offense has out scored the next team in the NFL by 80 points (407 Points For). Despite missing TE Rob Gronkwonski, the Pats managed to put up 50 plus points for the third time this season on Thursday vs the Jets.
The Pats have two rookies starting on defense, there’s an old adage in football, for every rookie you start on defense, you can add one more loss to the schedule. After the surprise loss in Arizona (blame that on Chandler Jones) and Baltimore (blame that on Don’ta Hightower) the one real blemish is a road loss in Seattle. Many good teams have lost games in Seattle over the years as its one of the only true home-field advantages left. The Pats offense did enough to win the game but the defense couldn’t stop rookie Russell Wilson leading from a game winning drive.

New England have struggles stopping 4th quarter drives for years now (two Super Bowls and a fourth and two in Indy). With the Addition of Aqib Talib, the Pats D will definitely alleviate some of those concerns. Since Ty Law left, the Pats have struggled to cover the entire field in the two-minute defense when they can make limited to zero personal changes. Talib has the ability to line one on one and shutdown a third of the field. He can cover all types of receivers and be a shutdown corner-back, at 6’2, he can line up against big possession types like Plaxico Buress and he has lots experience lining up against physical types like Roddy White. This by far the most talented corner they have had in a while.

While New England’s offense has been scoring at prolific rates, they lacked a running back that has kept defenses honest. Nobody really feared the Pats on a 3rd and short while protecting the lead. Players like Kevin Faulk and Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis were good players that did certain thing very well but the combination of Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, and Brandon Bolden (suspended for 4 games) do everything really well. It doesn’t matter who’s back there teams can’t stop the Patriots more balanced attack.

With games against possible AFC championship preview Dec 10th vs Houston and a possible Super Bowl preview on Dec 16th vs the 49ers, those teams  should give to much away, cause the teams that play Bill Belichick twice in a season, hate it, just ask the Jets, Dolphins and Bills.

Denver Broncos (8-3)- It’s really worked out in every way possible for the two John’s in Denver. While Elway and Fox dreamed of a QB who could throw the ball, despite early scares in Atlanta and Houston, Peyton Manning has been everything as advertised. The Broncos are riding a six game winning streak that includes back to back road wins in Cincinnati and Carolina. When teams win back to back road games on the opposite coast, it shows this team is well prepared and should be taken seriously.

After winning six straight, Denver will play a tough Tampa squad at home but probably rout the Bucs after their tough division loss last week. Then a road win in Oakland would have them at 10-3 playing in Baltimore the next week than finishing up with Cleveland and Kansas City at home.

The Broncos probably finish the season at 12-4 and if Willis McGahee can get healthy and stay that way for the playoffs, there’s a very good possibility that Denver’s offense will be absolutely peaking come playoff time. With Von Miller rushing the passer and the emergence of Tony Carter opposite Champ Bailey, Denver could be singing the praises of Peyton all the way to Louisiana.

San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1)- The Niners continue to go against the grain and conventional wisdom choosing second year Colin Kaepernick, the starter over veteran Alex Smith. This was a real sink or swim move on coach Jim Harbaugh’s behalf, with the Saints playing better of late and making his second start in a front of a packed Superdome on national TV could have gone either way. Had San Fran struggled last night and waited too long to replace Kaepernick, it could have caused a serious fraction in the locker room. Harbaugh’s gamble looks like its going to pay off big time with Kaerpernick looking like a the explosive Cam Newton of last season.

While Alex Smith did not play his way out of his job, his coaches clearly saw an offense ranked 27th in the passing game, that plus struggles on third down and decided they can be that with or without Smith at quarterback. The Niners already led the league in rushing yards per game adding Kaerpernick’s speed gives another dimension that opponents they didn’t have to prepare for (214 yards, 6.9 yards per carry and 4 TDs in limited action).  Last night Vernon Davis was so shocked to see the ball delivered on time with accuracy, he dropped an easy first down.

San Francisco already had the Super Bowl defense in place, holding opponent s to 187 passing yards per game (2nd) and 91.1 rushing yards a game (4th). The offense line is loaded with former first and second round picks and leads the league with 163.4 rushing yards a game. With games with the Rams, Dolphins, Seahawks (without two of their starting corner backs) and Cardinals sill on the schedule , Kaepernick should have plenty of time to shake out some of the kinks and bone headed errors you make from lack of playing time.

The element the Niners lacked was an ability to play from behind if they were down early. Alex Smith didn’t have the confidence to throw the team on his back and win when it mattered. He wasn’t going to scare anyone with his deep ball and sometime poor decision-making. If the Niners can use the 2005  Pittsburgh Steelers template, they could easily run their way to a title in the new pass happy NFL.

Pretenders coming soon……

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