Steelers have the talent to be biggest threat to Patriots
In-form Pittsburgh tick every box
It has taken 256 matches to whittle the race for the Super Bowl down to 12 competitors from 32 and recent history suggests New England will be playing Dallas in the Super Bowl on February 5.
Denver’s success over Carolina last year was the third successive showpiece between the number one seeds of the AFC and NFC, and 24 of the last 34 teams to battle it out for the Vince Lombardi Trophy had wildcard weekend off.
But a lot can happen in the next four weeks, so who are their nearest challengers?
The 12 teams enter the playoffs in various states of disrepair.
It’s arguable that Oakland’s chances have been sunk already after quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg a fortnight ago.
Houston, who host next month’s showpiece, have their own problems in that key position while Detroit would probably have loved the playoffs to have started a month ago, before they lost three games on the bounce.
There are plenty of experienced performers still eyeing the big prize, none more so than at New England, where Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are going for their fifth Super Bowl success.
It is no surprise to see them favourites to claim the big prize – there will be plenty of pressure on Dallas and particularly rookie quarterback Dak Prescott – but the Patriots look short enough and favourites have a dismal record at this stage.
Just one favourite at this stage since 2007 – Seattle in 2014 – have won the Super Bowl, so it could be prudent to investigate alternatives.
The winners of tomorrow’s Green Bay-New York Giants clash have a great chance of going deep into the post-season, but now could be the time to back Pittsburgh, who have won their last seven matches.
The Steelers have one of the strongest offences in the league and while the old adage is that it is defences that win championships, they look like the only team in the AFC who can realistically keep up with the Patriots.
They tick every box. They head into the playoffs with a succession of good wins under their belt, they are a threat in the rushing and passing game and have the experience of having done it all before.
Tomorrow’s opportunity to gain a revenge win over Miami is likely to be taken, particularly as the game will be played in freezing temperatures, and a trip to Kansas City next week should not scare the AFC’s third seeds.
In the other half, Atlanta’s defence is a worry, so the Packers, selected at the start of the season, can build on their decent form.
1pt 17-2 Betfair, Paddy Power
2pts 8-1 general
1pt each-way 33-1 general