In 2012, there were a lot of teams that had chances of making it to the Super Bowl. In 2013, that's not completely true.
The San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens all have good chances at winning the Super Bowl in 2013, as all of these teams made the divisional round of the playoffs and are manned by powerful quarterbacks. However, it's going to be hard for some of the teams listed to win playoff games.
Why? Because the best teams in the NFL are unbelievably good.
San Francisco, Seattle and Denver all had top-five defenses in 2012.
The 49ers and Seahawks both made great moves in the offseason, as the Seahawks brought in Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and the 49ers added Anquan Boldin, Nnamdi Asomugha and Eric Reid. The two teams both did very well in 2012, and both are poised for big years in 2013.
In the AFC, the Broncos and Patriots appear to be the top two teams.
Denver had a top-four offense and defense in 2012, and the team made noticeable improvements to bolster the defensive line, the wide receiving corps, the secondary and the offensive line during the offseason. Denver also has Peyton Manning.
The Patriots have Tom Brady as their signal-caller. New England hasn't won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, but with a defense that forces turnovers and Brady manning the offense, they will contend.
While Matt Ryan's Falcons and Aaron Rodgers' Packers will be in the mix, and while Joe Flacco's Ravens are coming off of a Super Bowl triumph, I expect the 49ers, Broncos, Seahawks and Patriots to be the last four teams standing. Denver is as hungry as ever following a heartbreaking postseason exit in 2012, and with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Tavarres King catching passes from one of the best quarterbacks of all time, it's reasonable to expect Denver to be in the AFC Championship
The Broncos won 11 consecutive games by at least eight points to conclude the 2012 regular season. Manning finished the season with a 3.44 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio.
With the addition of Louis Vasquez, who allowed just two sacks in 2012, and other small moves, Denver will be even better. The Broncos definitely could have represented the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII, and they will have a great chance in 2013 as well.
New England's turnover differential was an astounding plus-25, which was more than twice as much as the AFC's second-best team. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen opened up more possibilities for the passing game with stellar running, and Brady was only intercepted eight times in 2012.
In 2012, the two teams clashed at Gillette Stadium. With the crowd at their backs and the Broncos still settling in, the Patriots managed a 31-21 win. However, Manning was sharp, and the Broncos had chances to win in that game.
The Patriots lost Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd to free agency, and they didn't make tons of offseason improvements.
While the Patriots are definitely one of the AFC's best teams, the Broncos appear to be ahead of New England right now.
In the NFC, the 49ers and Seahawks will be going at it all year long. The two teams are very similar, as both have stars and a ton of depth.
NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are the cornerstone defensive pieces in San Francisco. The secondary and pass rush—two units that struggled mightily in the playoffs—have been upgraded, so the 49ers should be better in 2013.
Richard Sherman anchors Seattle's defense. The Seahawks surrendered a mere 15.3 points per game in 2012, while the 49ers only allowed 17.1. The Seahawks lost Chris Clemons to an ACL tear, but they should be fine with Avril and Bennett.
On offense, the two teams are also very similar. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are two young, dynamic quarterbacks with the potential to take their teams to the Super Bowl multiple times over their careers.
Both teams have great receivers, as Boldin, Quinton Patton, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis (San Francisco) and Harvin, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate (Seattle) are all playmakers. At running back, Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch are both hard to bring down.
However, if it came down to the 49ers and Seahawks in the playoffs, I would go with the 49ers. They have more experience, a better offensive line, a better offense and a better defense. Seattle's pass rush isn't great, while the 49ers are loaded with depth on defense (and offense).
In addition, the Seahawks went 4-6 on the road in 2012 (including the playoffs), so a game at Candlestick Park would be hard for them to win.
Both the 49ers and Seahawks are tremendous teams with lots of depth and talent, and no one would be surprised to see either in the Super Bowl. I think the 49ers and Broncos will be in the Super Bowl, because those are the two most talented teams in the league. Both teams have depth, experience and no glaring weaknesses, and that's going to carry them far.
The NFL is a sport where teams that get hot at the right time can go on a run (the last three Super Bowl champions have failed to win 11 regular-season games), but in 2013, expect the best teams to stay alive until the end.
The best teams in the league have pushed all the right buttons, and as a result, there is a select group leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else. The Broncos, 49ers, Patriots and Seahawks are all in that group, and all will definitely be in contention. Most expect two of those four teams to be in the Super Bowl, but then again, upsets happen.
Unfortunately for upset-minded teams, it's going to be harder than ever to take down the top teams. In other words, expect the favorites to actually make it through to the Super Bowl this year.