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Super Bowl Predictions: Who's Going to Win? Top-Five Dark Horse Contenders

Tom Brady - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

With the final regular season game of the 2022 NFL season now in the books, the playoff picture is clear.

While we are all aware of the list of current Super Bowl favorites that includes teams that both pass the eye test and have terrific records like the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Philadelphia Eagles, it’s fun to wonder who are the teams that are a bit out of the picture at the moment but could potentially make a deep run come playoff time.

We’ll rank those potential spoilers here, as we dive into the top-five dark horse Super Bowl contenders!

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#1. Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

Although they are perhaps the most well-known and popular team in the NFL, I’m bestowing the Cowboys the top  “dark horse” status for a couple of reasons. They closed the year with a strong 12-5 record but – despite their impressive championship history – they haven’t actually been to a Super Bowl since 1996.

This could be the year the ‘Boys find their way back to the big dance, as they currently possess a weapon that they have been missing for a long time…a good defense. 

Yes, we all know about Dallas’ impressive offensive arsenal that includes a now-healthy Dak Prescott, a finally-unleashed Tony Pollard, and blossoming superstar receiver CeeDee Lamb. However, it’s defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s swarming unit, led by current Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Micah Parsons, that has the Cowboys truly built for the long haul.

Quinn’s defense currently ranks sixth in the NFL in points allowed per game – just 20.2 – and is relinquishing just 202.5 passing yards per game - which is the ninth-best mark in the league.  With this legit defense and an offense that’s finding a nice groove since Prescott’s return from an injury absence, the Cowboys look primed to make a run in an NFC conference that seems to be down in 2022 and appears wide open.

 

#2. San Francisco 49ers (13-4)

Can we consider an 11-4 squad a "dark horse"? It seems fair when we consider that the San Francisco 49ers are on their third starting quarterback of the season.

It makes things even more interesting when that third-stringer is none other than the official "Mr. Irrelevant" of the 2022 NFL Draft, rookie Brock Purdy. Even with the inexperienced Purdy at the helm since Jimmy Garoppolo went down in Week 13, San Fran has won now won a total of 10 straight games behind a ferocious defense that is unquestionably the best unit in the league. The 49ers rank first in Total Defense DVOA and are allowing the fewest total yards (305.6) and points (15.0) per game.

The organization's mid-season acquisition of Christian McCaffrey has paid huge dividends, as CMC currently stands as the overall fantasy RB3. As for Mr. Irrelevant? Well, Brock Purdy has handled himself and this Niners offense just fine. Since entering the lineup for an injured Jimmy G, the rookie has thrown for 1,308 passing yards and 13 TDs to just four INTs.

 

#3. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)

After making a surprising Super Bowl run last year, the Cincinnati Bengals opened the 2022 season with a classic “Super Bowl hangover” by going 0-2 out of the gate. The Bengals have overcome injuries to stars such as Ja'Marr Chase and Joe Mixon to win eight games in a row and the young squad is primed for yet another postseason run.

With Chase and Mixon now healthy, as well as an overhauled offensive line that’s finally beginning to gel, the Bengals' offense has clicked beautifully with franchise quarterback Joe Burrow at the helm. 

Though they’ve been uneven at times over the course of the season, this Burrow-led offense is undoubtedly explosive. Cincinnati ranks third in the NFL in scoring at 26.5 points per game and their average of 388.6 total yards per game is the fifth-highest in the league.

 

#4. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)

Standing at just 5-5 at one point, the Chargers have consistently underperformed this season. We can attribute a large portion of the blame to just plain bad injury luck. 

L.A.’s dangerous passing attack has been without star wideout Keenan Allen for seven games and Mike Williams for two full games and a large portion of another, while QB Justin Herbert battled a painful rib injury for several weeks earlier this year and his playing without the protection of all-world left tackle Rashawn Slater since Week 3.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers’ game-disrupting pass rusher Joey Bosa played just three games before a groin tear that required surgery and J.C. Jackson will be absent from the secondary for the remainder of the year. 

Despite all the injuries, L.A. continues to hang around. This is a talented and dangerous team that draws a very winnable opening-round playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

#5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)

Let’s get really dark! By almost any measure, the Tampa Bay Bucs have been an unmitigated disaster this season.  Despite a roundly horrible 2022 to this point, the Bucs have captured the NFC South with their worse-than-.500 record and have locked up a home playoff game thanks to the horrible division they are in. 

Tom Brady’s struggles – both on and off the field – have been highly publicized this season, but we’ve seen the GOAT left for dead in the past, only to come roaring back to life.  The Bucs' defense has remained solid, if unspectacular this year, currently standing eighth in the NFL in Total Defense DVOA and allowing just 18.0 points per game on average. 

We saw some flashes two weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers, and if Brady can get this talented Tampa offense – that still includes weapons such as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin – going, this is a team that has loads of postseason experience and is still capable of making a run.



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