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The Schein Nine

Eagles, Jaguars, Titans most likely first-time Super Bowl winners

Thirteen NFL teams have never won the Super Bowl, but it looks like this season's playoffs will be littered with Lombardi-less franchises. In fact, if the regular season ended today, such squads would make up half the postseason field.

So, is this the year for a first-time Super Bowl winner? And if so, who?

Let's rank the most likely candidates, Schein Nine style! (Sorry Chargers, Browns, Bengals and Texans fans -- this isn't your year.)

1) Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia is, bar none, the team to beat in the NFC. And after the Jay Ajayi trade, I believe Doug Pederson's bunch deserves to be considered the best team in football. Here's the beauty of the league-pacing 8-1 record: I'd make the case the Eagles can play even better in the second half.

Carson Wentz is special. The second-year quarterback gives Philadelphia a sensational opportunity to win the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy. Still just 24, this cat gets better with each passing start. And he's the comfortable front-runner to receive my AP vote for MVP. The Eagles were on a bye this past week, but I'm still buzzing about Wentz's four-touchdown masterpiece in Week 9. During the Eagles' seven-game win streak, Wentz owns a 19:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 110.1 passer rating. Ajayi's presence (and increased comfort in the offense) going forward will only help Philly's young signal caller. As will the continued growth of Nelson Agholor.

On defense, the Eagles are getting back CB Ronald Darby, who's been out since Week 1 with an ankle injury. That's a nice boost for a defense that already ranks 10th in total defense and points allowed. With the coverage uptick provided by Darby, the ferocious Philly D-line's gonna EAT.

Philadelphia's heading toward home-field advantage. I love this team. And I love thinking about a potential Super Bowl title for this rabid fanbase.

2) Jacksonville Jaguars

Yes, thoseJacksonville Jaguars. Major credit to Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin.

Now, let me be clear: I think the problem with Blake Bortles is he's not very good at football. The end of regulation against the Chargers this past weekend was a microcosm of everything. Bortles threw two -- TWO!!! -- gruesome picks in the final two minutes. And the defense bailed him out, allowing the Jags to improve to 6-3.

That defense -- specifically, that defense's ability to overcome horrendous quarterback play -- is the reason Jacksonville sits at No. 2 here. The unit is special, allowing a league-low 14.9 points per game. And it's no wonder the Jags boast the NFL's No. 1 pass defense. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye not only comprise the best cornerback duo in the league -- I'd argue they're the two best cornerbacks in the game this season. Combining those two cover men with Jacksonville's front seven is almost unfair. The D-line -- headlined by Calais Campbell, a free agency masterstroke by Jags brass -- is nightmare fuel for opposing offensive coordinators. With an NFL-best 35 sacks, the Jaguars have already eclipsed their total from last season (33).

With that kind of defense, Jacksonville just needs a smidgen of offense to have a chance in most games. And hey, rookie Leonard Fournette is a fine running back, last week (17 carries for 33 yards) notwithstanding. Also, Marqise Lee is developing into a fine playmaker -- when Bortles can get him the ball.

I like the Jaguars to win the AFC South. And with a ground-and-pound + defense formula, they should be a tough out in January. As long as Bortles doesn't foul it up. Heck, they've already won in Pittsburgh this year. By three touchdowns, in fact.

3) Tennessee Titans

Don't worry: I remembered the Titans. Despite all the Jags love just above, Tennessee is vastly superior at quarterback with Marcus Mariota. Yeah, his performance on Sunday was a bit uneven. But did you see what the third-year signal caller did when the Titans absolutely needed a scoring drive? He produced a scoring drive. This is something Mariota does with increasing frequency.

The Titans (6-3) are a pretty solid all-around team. As I've written before, I like both AFC South clubs to make the playoffs. And both are capable of doing some damage in the postseason. I just think that the Jags' defense -- the best single unit on either team -- gives Jacksonville more upside. But the Titans are a complete team, even if they don't always win in the most attractive manner.

4) Minnesota Vikings

I love Teddy Bridgewater and respect the hell out of him for the grueling rehab it took to get back on the active roster. He's an extremely likable guy, as you can tell from how highly all of his teammates speak of him.

That said, Mike Zimmer cannot mess with success. Case Keenum needs to keep his job. The Vikings are 7-2. Keenum is playing well, having just thrown four touchdown passes in an inspired road win over the Redskins. Zimmer should infuse the quarterback with confidence, not look to send him back to the bench. I wondered about the offense after the injury to running back Dalvin Cook, but Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have provided something in relief. And it sure doesn't hurt that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have emerged as an unstoppable receiving duo.

I haven't even mentioned Minnesota's defense yet. This is clearly the Vikings' strength -- a playmaking, run-stuffing, game-changing unit. It's this side of the ball that could really carry Minnesota when the season truly shifts to winter.

Oh, and does anyone happen to know where this season's Super Bowl will be played? Ah, yes: U.S. Bank Stadium. You know, the one in Minneapolis.

5) Carolina Panthers

You saw it in Monday night's thrashing of the Dolphins. Carolina plays legit defense. And Cam Newton still has the ability to just completely own a game. When everything's clicking, Ron Rivera's 7-3 group is quite dangerous.

Now, in general, I'd love if the receivers were more consistent. I'd love it if the offensive line and the offensive coordinator were better. But overall, Carolina has the tools to forge a playoff run.

The Panthers rank first in total defense and third in points allowed. On offense, I think Christian McCaffrey's impact will continue to grow. If Carolina does indeed make a run in the postseason, the rookie running back will be the X-factor many envisioned in the preseason.

6) Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta (5-4) showed heart and toughness for the first time all season, pouncing on the wounded Cowboys with a 27-7 beatdown. Goes without saying that Adrian Clayborn enjoyed the game of his life with six sacks. (Not a typo.) Don't think we'll see that again, but it spoke to Atlanta's sudden liveliness. Now it's time for the Falcons to carry that over into this week's trip to Seattle ...

Yes, the Monday nighter's a spotlight game in the NFL's most hostile road environment. So what? These Falcons ooze talent. Time to live up to the billing. The Seahawks just lost Richard Sherman for the season, and their offensive line's a sieve. Seattle's vulnerable. It's time for Atlanta to really kick things into gear. Tevin Coleman filled in nicely for Devonta Freeman on Sunday. Now do it again. The Falcons told us they wouldn't suffer from a Super Bowl hangover. Prove it.

7) Buffalo Bills

What has happened to the Bills?! The last two weeks have been beyond alarming -- losing to the Jets and getting bludgeoned by the Saints while giving up a grand total of 81 points and 813 yards of offense.

My guy Tyrod Taylor was awful on Sunday. But I'm not completely giving up hope. Buffalo (5-4) still has a great coach in Sean McDermott. And this is currently a playoff team. Sweeping Miami, beating the Chargers in L.A. and taking care of business against the Colts would put the Bills at nine wins. It's possible.

8) Detroit Lions

Detroit's remaining schedule is quite manageable:

Week 11:at Chicago
Week 12:vs. Minnesota
Week 13:at Baltimore
Week 14:at Tampa Bay
Week 15:vs. Chicago
Week 16:at Cincinnati
Week 17:vs. Green Bay

Do you view Detroit as the underdog in any of those games? Maybe at Baltimore?

Matthew Stafford is playing at a fantastic level of late. But do you trust the offensive line? The run game? Red-zone offense? Defense? Jim Caldwell? Me neither.

Playoffs are likely, given the quarterback and the schedule. A deep January run is not.

9) Arizona Cardinals

My last name rhymes with nine, not eight.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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