As of Friday, we will be 100 days away from Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis. As we near the midpoint of the regular season, making it to the Super Bowl is still a theoretical possibility for most teams. But we’ve also learned enough to distinguish which teams we think — as of now — have the best chance of appearing at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4.
At this point, the realistic list includes eight teams — three from a top-heavy AFC and five from a more wide-open NFC. And yes, the Vikings are among those eight teams. Let’s take a quick spin through each one, starting with the AFC.
*Patriots: The defense had some early stumbles but has allowed just 38 points in its last three games. New England is the defending Super Bowl champion, owns a 5-2 record and still has Tom Brady as its quarterback. If there’s a true favorite, this is it. If the Patriots make it to Minneapolis … only Patriots fans will be happy.
*Chiefs: Kansas City started the year 5-0 before back-to-back losses slowed its momentum. Still, the Chiefs have a forgiving second-half schedule and look to be a legitimate threat with a much more dynamic offense than in years past. If the Chiefs make it to Minneapolis … Vikings fans will constantly be reminded about Super Bowl IV.
*Steelers: Pittsburgh is 5-2 with two puzzling losses (overtime at Chicago and a 30-9 rout at the hands of Jacksonville), but the last two weeks have re-established the Steelers as strong contenders despite the drama with wide receiver Martavis Bryant. If the Steelers make it to Minneapolis … get ready for Vikings fans to complain about letting Mike Tomlin get away a decade ago.
*Eagles: This is the trendy pick of the moment, given that Philadelphia is alone atop the NFL with a 6-1 record. Second-year QB Carson Wentz is playing brilliantly, and the defense is solid. Philadelphia will be tested with road games after the bye against the Cowboys, Rams and Seahawks. If the Eagles make it to Minneapolis … get ready for all of North Dakota to invade this state for a glimpse of Wentz.
*Seahawks: The offense looked broken early on, but Seattle has topped 400 yards in three of its past four games. The defense is still good enough to win a championship. It’s strangely tempting to overlook Seattle, but that would be a mistake. If the Seahawks make it to Minneapolis … expect to hear 97,000 times that Pete Carroll used to be a Vikings assistant coach.
*Saints: The inclusion of New Orleans on this list seemed improbable after an 0-2 start, but the Saints have won four straight since then while relying on a good mix of offense and defense. Drew Brees is still capable of carrying a team. If the Saints make it to Minneapolis … memories of the 2009 NFC title game will bring out a lot of local bitterness.
*Falcons: This is the only team among the eight that isn’t currently projected to win at least 10 games by fivethirtyeight.com, but the Falcons are the defending NFC champs. Despite their struggles this year, a very good and dangerous team is still lurking. If the Falcons make it to Minneapolis … memories of the 1998 NFC title game will bring out a lot of local bitterness.
*Vikings: You knew it was coming, right? And it’s legit. The Vikings have lost key offensive pieces and kept functioning, while the defense has graduated from very good to great. Their 5-2 record will be tested against better competition in the second half, but in a wide open conference they have a chance. If the Vikings make it to the Super Bowl … I can’t even imagine what would be like.