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Best chances to win Super Bowl LII: Eagles, Patriots look strong

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With the playoff picture taking shape across the NFL, I thought I'd cast an eye a little further down the road and list the teams with the best chances, as I see it right now, of winning Super Bowl LII. Yes, it's early -- but as teams vie for divisional titles, playoff seeding and wild-card berths, this list should provide a snapshot of where the contenders stand in terms of being able to win it all.

To put the top eight together, I looked at a variety of factors, ranking quarterbacks, point differential, sack differential, offensive and defensive rankings and turnover differential. Some surprises resulted, as you can see below (with teams presented in reverse order):

8) Carolina Panthers

The Panthers' stifling defense -- which ranks second overall, third against the run, sixth against the pass and eighth in points allowed -- makes them a legitimate threat. That said, the inconsistency on offense is an issue. I'm a big Cam Newton fan, and he is playing better than he did last season, especially on the ground, but for every game in which he posts a passer rating of plus-100, there's one in which he fails to reach the upper 50s. The lack of established playmakers is also a concern. I could see this team going all the way -- or losing in the Wild Card Round.

7) Atlanta Falcons

The offense is starting to round back into the Super Bowl-caliber form we saw last season, with the Falcons averaging 31.7 points during their current three-game winning streak. After a slow start to the year, that unit -- which ranks sixth overall -- looks capable of driving a title push. The questions I have are about the defense. The sack differential (plus-14) is a strong point, but the turnover differential (minus-3) is a red flag, especially compared to 2016's much stronger mark (plus-11). Look for second-year pro Keanu Neal to potentially provide a spark at safety down the stretch.

6) Los Angeles Rams

The Rams are rolling, with Todd Gurley and Jared Goff driving an offense that ranks fourth overall, second in scoring, sixth in passing and ninth in rushing. Los Angeles is strong in point differential (plus-123), turnover differential (plus-9) and sack differential (plus-12). Sean McVay is proving himself to be a gem of a coach -- offensively, I don't think he ever does the same thing twice in one game. My concern is about the quarterback position, as well as Goff is playing. It's clear he's going to be very good for a very long time. But as of right now, the difference between Goff and Carson Wentz is considerable. Wentz brings a different element to the field, an attitude that says I know I'm going to get the job done. He's so much surer of what he's doing. I'm not sure Goff has the same kind of conviction, and I have a hard time envisioning him as a Super Bowl quarterback in Year 2.

5) New Orleans Saints

The defense is finally good enough to complement an offense that gives opponents fits -- and the run game is finally good enough to take a hefty share of the burden off Drew Brees and the passing attack. Yes, Brees is on track to post his lowest yardage total since 2009 and his lowest touchdown total since 2003, but that's more a result of the conscious effort to run (and shorten the time that New Orleans' defense has to be on the field) than anything else. The offense is more balanced than it's ever been. This is a pretty potent team that has a chance to make some noise in January and February. (And yes, I realize the Saints just lost to the Rams, but New Orleans is more experienced.)

4) Minnesota Vikings

The defense is absolutely championship-caliber, as the Vikings showed in Week 11's big win over the Rams, when Los Angeles was held below 300 yards for just the second time this year while posting a season-low rushing total (45 yards). Minnesota ranks fifth in scoring defense, fifth in overall defense, 11th against the pass and second against the run, with a sack differential of plus-18. The fifth-ranked offense is also humming, while the team seems to have good chemistry. The Vikings' season comes down to this: How far can Case Keenum take you? Though his pro career has been a mixed bag, Keenum does have a history of succeeding at previous levels, and he's playing very well (66.1 percent completion rate, 14 TDs, five INTs and a 96.2 passer rating). Only time will tell, but at this point, I'd rather have Keenum at quarterback than Jared Goff heading into the 2017 playoffs, which is one factor separating these two teams here. (The fact that the Super Bowl will be played in Minnesota doesn't hurt the Vikings' chances, should they make it that far.)

3) Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger is having a down year, but the Steelers still have the NFL's best set of triplets, between Big Ben, Le'Veon Bell (the NFL's leading rusher) and Antonio Brown (the NFL's leading receiver). The Steelers have been a bit inconsistent, with three of their wins over teams that are currently sub-.500 (against the Browns, Colts and Packers) coming by just three points. They don't quite measure up to the Patriots, with a lesser point differential and turnover differential. But Pittsburgh's sack differential -- a very important stat -- is a robust plus-23. The Steelers will enhance their chances if they can secure home-field advantage in the AFC, which could come down to the Week 15 game with New England. That contest, it should be noted, will be the final game in a three-game stretch on the road for the Pats.

2) New England Patriots

This might not be the best Patriots team we've ever seen, knocked down a peg by a worrisome sack differential (they've given up 24 sacks and made 24) and their 30th-ranked defense. But they still have Tom Brady dominating at quarterback (his passer rating of 111.7 is tops in the NFL). And they still have Bill Belichick pulling the strings. We know that, thanks to Belichick's outstanding coaching, New England will not make the kinds of costly mistakes one must avoid to have playoff success. And the Patriots are unbelievable at home in the postseason, having accumulated a 17-3 record in home playoff games during the Belichick era. Landing home-field advantage in the AFC is key.

1) Philadelphia Eagles

When was the last time we saw a second-year pro play quarterback in the NFL as well as Carson Wentz (who has a league-high 28 touchdown passes) is playing it? I think you'd have to go back to 1984, when Dan Marino threw for 48 touchdowns and 5,084 yards before taking the Dolphins to Super Bowl XIX. The Eagles dominate on offense (ranking third overall, first in scoring, second in rushing and 15th in passing) and defense (sixth overall, third in scoring, first against the run and 16th against the pass). Philadelphia has a turnover differential of plus-9 and a sack differential of plus-6. It might be surprising, but when you add it all up, the numbers say the Eagles are a more complete team than the perennial title contenders in New England, with a slightly better chance of winning Super Bowl LII.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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