NFL 2021 Halfway Mark: Assessing the Leading Super Bowl Contenders

The extended season of the NFL has reached the halfway segment, with the trade deadline passed, long-term injuries taking hold, and teams’ qualities laid out for all to see. Coming into the season, it was all about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returning with their Super Bowl-winning roster, as well as the Kansas City Chiefs still being an almighty unit.

However, with several weeks of action in the books, the narrative has changed somewhat. New contenders have risen to the fore, others have clearly struggled, and the eventual winners of the Super Bowl looks to be anyone’s guess at this point.

Frontrunners for Super Bowl LVI

As is almost always the case – with the exceptions being when a team tears up the roster over the offseason – the reigning champions came into the 2021 NFL season as the frontrunners. After their showings so far this season, there’s little reason to doubt that this Buccaneers team can do it all over again. Better still, during their Week 10 Bye, quarterback Tom Brady got to sit back and watch the Cowboys, Packers, Rams, and Saints lose.

The Buccaneers do have quite the war the wage in the NFC South, with the New Orleans Saints taking a win from them, the Atlanta Falcons refusing to go away quietly, and the Carolina Panthers primed to improve with Christian McCaffery back. Still, with Brady, the superb offensive line, three top-class receivers, and perhaps the best linebacker duo in the NFL, the Bucs are set to take the divisional crown.

Where it gets a bit more interesting is in the case of Tampa Bay’s fellow favourites for Super Bowl LVI: the Buffalo Bills. They have an undisputedly talented roster, which is why they’re deservedly put down as the joint-favourites in the NFL betting at 6/1, alongside the Bucs. However, their 5-3 record says otherwise. In the AFC East, the Bills should still ease to the playoffs, but performances against the Jags and Dolphins are troubling.

Dark horse contenders looking better than the frontrunners

Undoubtedly, the most impressive team of the NFL season so far has been the Arizona Cardinals. With a high-powered offence and a menacing defence on the other side of the ball, the Cards are a real force this season. In fact, even when Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins missed their first games as Cardinals, along with AJ Green, Kevin Peterson, and James Wiggins, they still managed to thump the San Francisco 49ers 31-17.

While not quite to the same extent, the Los Angeles Rams have certainly thrown their hats into the equation on star power alone. A new-look offence backed up by some of the most renowned weapons on defence make the Rams automatic contenders. Matt Stafford and Cooper Kupp have become one of the best offensive duos in the NFL, while they added Von Miller to the likes of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey at the trade deadline.

Arizona and the LA Rams are currently within touching distance of the frontrunners, in terms of the ratings of the oddsmakers – at 8/1 and 9/1, respectively – but by Week 10, both had superior records to the Bucs and Bills. While there are wild-card places up for grabs, perhaps the biggest issue for them both is that they compete in the NFC West. The Cards won their first head-to-head, with the next being on 14 December.

Given the rosters at their disposal, the Bills and Bucs should be rated as highly as they are, but the Cardinals and Rams are certainly proving to be dark horse contenders at the halfway stage.