But no Super Bowl contender is perfect. Let’s take a look at the biggest weaknesses for each of the top nine contenders.
Baltimore Ravens: They’re one of the hottest teams in the league, and no one has figured out how to stop quarterback Lamar Jackson. He crossed the 1,000-yard mark for rushing yards, and his ability to complete passes from the pocket continues to improve. He showed that again Sunday in a 24-17 win over a good Buffalo Bills team.
If there’s a weakness on this offense, it’s the wide receiver group. Rookie Marquise Brown leads with 39 catches for 518 yards. Baltimore leans more heavily on its tight ends than any team in the league, and team catch leader Mark Andrews left the Buffalo game with a knee injury and didn’t return, though it’s not believed to be serious. If the Ravens were to fall behind a team and need to catch up, they might not be able to do so with three-receiver sets.
On defense, the lack of a second pass rusher beyond Matthew Judon might be a problem in the postseason. But this is nonetheless one of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers: They went through a three-game stretch against very tough opponents and went 2-1, escaping New Orleans with a 48-46 victory over the Saints. At 11-2, they have a very real shot at earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
They did show some vulnerabilities during that stretch, mostly as a result of injuries. They’re fortunate tight end George Kittle, who made the clinching play in Sunday’s win and who leads the team with 60 catches for 754 yards, is back from injury. He and Emmanuel Sanders have anchored a young receiving corps. But Dee Ford and Richard Sherman — two key pieces of their defense — have both been banged up the past couple of weeks. With how competitive the top of the NFC is, the 49ers will need to be close to full strength at playoff time.
New Orleans Saints: They very nearly pulled off the win against San Francisco and are still in contention to earn a first-round bye with a 10-3 record and three winnable games remaining on the schedule.
This is a team with few weaknesses, although it was surprising to see the defense give up 48 points at home to the 49ers. The Saints still don’t have a clear-cut secondary target behind Michael Thomas, who is having another outstanding season, and running back Alvin Kamara has been banged up at times. Having now lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to San Francisco, their playoff run may have to take place mostly on the road. If the season ended today, the Saints would be the No. 3 seed.
New England Patriots: Their issues lie almost entirely on the offensive side of the ball. They’ve averaged just 17.6 points per game since Week 9, when their schedule got tougher. Sunday’s 23-16 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs put on display why the Patriots might not make the Super Bowl this season.
Julian Edelman is the only wide receiver who can get any separation, and Kansas City made a point of regularly double-teaming him. The tight ends haven’t produced anything. Tom Brady is completing just 60.5 percent of his throws (30th in the NFL).
What’s a shame is that this is one of the best defenses Bill Belichick has ever had. Maybe the Patriots will get things right, but the offense is going to have a tough time keeping pace with the better teams in the AFC.
Seattle Seahawks: Heading into the season, no one thought the Seahawks would be 10-3 and 6-1 on the road. They’ve been one of the better teams in the league, although Sunday night’s 28-12 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was a setback.
This team’s biggest weakness is its pass rush, which couldn’t get any pressure on Rams quarterback Jared Goff in the loss. The Seahawks have only 23 sacks for the season — only the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals have fewer — and they have no one on the teams with more than three sacks. They’ve had a hard time protecting Russell Wilson as well, allowing him to be sacked 40 times. When Seattle can’t run the ball efficiently, opposing teams can find success getting to Wilson.
Kansas City Chiefs: A year ago, the Chiefs looked like a Super Bowl team, only to be let down by their defense in a loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game.
Even though the Chiefs aren’t giving up as many points as last year, no one totally buys into their defense. Frank Clark and Chris Jones are starting to get the sacks, but they still aren’t great at cornerback. Can they hold up in the postseason against a good offensive team?
Green Bay Packers: Most things appear to be good for the 10-3 Packers. Aaron Rodgers is comfortable with the offense, and the line is holding up well lately in both pass protection and in fueling a strong running game. Free agent signings Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith have combined for 21½ sacks.
Their run defense is vulnerable, however, and they lack a second target after Davante Adams. Those flaws could matter in a playoff matchup against the Saints, 49ers or Seahawks.
Minnesota Vikings: Don’t count out the Vikings in the NFC North race. The only team with a winning record they face in the final three games is the Packers in Week 16, which could decide the division.
They are a balanced, talented team, and Kirk Cousins is having his best season while being helped by a strong running game. But they have an unexpected problem in the secondary. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes looks older than 29 and has struggled all year. On offense, the line is playing better than it did at the beginning of the season, but it can struggle if put in long-yardage situations.
Houston Texans: I have no idea why the Texans were so terrible Sunday in a 38-24 loss to the Denver Broncos. That might be more of an anomaly than anything else. But still, the team has reason to be worried.
The defense isn’t creating turnovers, with just seven interceptions on the season, and the Texans aren’t great at rushing the passer. On offense, the injury to wide receiver Will Fuller has hurt, and left tackle Laremy Tunsil had three false starts Sunday and now leads the league in penalties among offensive linemen. Tunsil is a great blocker, but the mistakes killed the offense Sunday.
Houston will have to fend off the Tennessee Titans, whom they play twice over the season’s final three weeks, to win the AFC South title.
Around the NFL
— The Titans deserve credit for unlocking Ryan Tannehill. The two sides have begun talks about a contract extension, and rightly so. Their 42-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday gives him a 6-1 record since replacing Marcus Mariota. He’s got them to the point where they are competing for a playoff spot. He’s their quarterback of the present and the future.
— What an incredible comeback for the AFC. After being dominated 16-8 in the first five weeks of inter-conference play, the AFC took at 27-26 lead with Sunday’s 23-17 win by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals. The NFC looked poised to dominate this year, but the AFC has won 19 of the last 29 inter-conference games. Amazing.
— Give Jameis Winston credit for forcing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into a tough decision. He’s a free agent this offseason, and while he hasn’t kicked his turnover habit, he has led an offense putting up more than 28 points per game for Bruce Arians. It’s a 50-50 decision as to whether the Bucs will keep him or let him go.