1 BRONCOS (2) Their NFL-high 42.9 points per game are at least 16 more than any remaining opponent. With so much firepower, they'll run the second-half table once again.
2 BENGALS (3) Four of their final six are at home, where they've allowed just three TDs, none in their last two games. Of their remaining foes, only the Chargers and the Colts are above .500.
3 COLTS (4) Reggie Wayne's season-ending ACL injury is an obstacle, but with only two more games against winning teams (at Cincy and K.C.), a 12--4 record seems about right.
4 PATRIOTS (1) They've had six games decided by a TD or less; there'll be more nail-biters down the stretch, especially given their injuries. Alas, they'll be saved by a weak East field.
5 CHIEFS (NA) Only one of their first nine opponents has a winning record; three of their last seven do. They'll drop at least one apiece to Denver and San Diego, and possibly to Indy.
6 JETS (NA) They've been the model of inconsistency, alternating wins and losses. But, with only one game left against a winning team, Rex Ryan will go from hot seat to contract extension.
1 SEAHAWKS (5) Two of their three tough second-half tests—the Saints and the Cardinals—are at CenturyLink Field, where Seattle has won 12 in a row, six by 20 or more points.
2 PACKERS (3) Rookie RB Eddie Lacy complements the lethal passing of Aaron Rodgers. Only a trip to Detroit looks menacing, but they've won six of their last seven in the Motor City.
3 SAINTS (6) The back end is a grind: home against the 49ers, a trip to Seattle and a pair of games against the surging Panthers, whom New Orleans will just stave off in the South.
4 COWBOYS (NA) Someone has to win the East, and Dallas, despite its weekly dramas, will do so with the most productive offense (28.6 points per game) of the four contenders.
5. 49ERS (1) They hope to welcome back WRs Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree. A good thing, given remaining tests against Carolina, New Orleans, Seattle and Arizona.
6 LIONS (NA) The Panthers will scratch for this spot, but Detroit gets the nod based on a schedule that includes the Steelers, Bucs, Giants and Vikings.
Picks from September preview issue in parentheses
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
SUPER BOWL XLVIII
DENVER 20, SEATTLE 17
For all his greatness Peyton Manning is only 1--1 in Super Bowls, with the same number of INTs as TDs (two). Against Seattle's press coverage he'll have opportunities for big passing plays to the likes of Demaryius Thomas (above), and he'll exploit just enough of them.