From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:
Five weeks ago, I produced my first draft of the NFL’s seven main contenders to be Super Bowl 56 champion.
Now, there’s a shake-up, most primarily in the AFC, three would-bes (Chiefs, Patriots and Cardinals) have emerged while three teams (Bills, Titans and Ravens) have fallen out of the Super Seven.
Let’s take a look at the new list in no particular order:
n 1. Chiefs (10-4) — The league’s hottest team with seven straight victories went from being out of the playoff picture to No. 1 seed in the conference. The defense has been the reason for the meteoric rise in the AFC. QB Patrick Mahomes is only having a so-so season, but TE Travis Kelce is monster catching and then running with the ball.
n 2. Patriots (9-5) — Just had their seven-game winning streak ended by the Colts. They are not fancy, just run the ball, have QB Mac Jones be smart with the ball, and the defense comes up with big plays. A huge game with the Bills is on tap Sunday.
n 3. Cowboys (10-4) — QB Dak Prescott really hasn’t played well over the past six weeks but has been effective enough. LB Micah Parsons is a cinch to be Rookie of the Year, but also a solid Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Dallas, the NFC’s No. 2 seed, will be a handful in the playoffs.
n 4. Packers (11-3) — They own the NFL’s best record and if they don’t slip up over the final three weeks, they will be home throughout the NFC postseason. Numerous injuries to the O-line have been prevalent all season but QB Aaron Rodgers has overcome that. Two-headed run game with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon is a big-time plus.
n 5. Buccaneers (10-4) — They had another hiccup against their recent nemesis, the Saints, on Sunday night, getting blanked at home. They have the league’s easiest schedule in the final three weeks and just need to get healthy for the playoffs with QB Tom Brady at the controls.
n 6. Rams (9-4) — They are a Jekyll-and-Hyde team, looking great in wins vs. the Bucs and the Cardinals, and also showing spotty performances in a three-game losing skid. Their playoff fate may be dependent on their foe’s skill factor and physicality or there lack of.
n 7. Cardinals (10-4) — This is my shakiest team in the Super Seven. QB Kyler Murray is not fully healthy after injury and WR De’Andre Hopkins is out for the year. Still they feature a great collection of athletes, but Sunday’s loss to the Lions was mind-boggling.
n There’s Still Time to Crash the Party and Go on a Run— Bills (8-6), Titans (9-5), Colts (8-6) and 49ers (8-6).
Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at email@example.com