There are quite a few legitimate contenders to win the Super Bowl this year. The Philadelphia Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 9-1 and are on an eight-game winning streak. They are the second favorites to win the Super Bowl at 4-1, behind the New England Patriots at slightly over 3-1.
The Patriots have a much easier path to the Super Bowl as the AFC appears to be the weaker of the two conferences. The NFC is extraordinarily top-heavy this year and will be a gauntlet for whoever survives.
The Eagles made the Dallas Cowboys look very bad on Sunday Night and have won by double digits in 6 of their 9 victories. QB Carson Wentz is having an MVP season and their defense looks fast. Barring something unforeseen, Philadelphia will have home field throughout the playoffs and will be the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
The Minnesota Vikings are 8-2 after a huge home win over the Los Angeles Rams. Minnesota gave up an opening drive TD to the Rams and did not allow another point. This Rams team had scored 33 points or more six times so the defensive shutdown was not insignificant. The Vikings season will hinge on how they perform in the next three weeks. They play the Lions on Thanksgiving, the Falcons and the Panthers. All of these games are on the road and Minnesota could conceivably lose all three.
QB Case Keenum has been excellent filling in for Sam Bradford. The defense has held opponents to under 20 points eight times this year and that includes powerhouse offenses like the Saints and Rams. Given their schedule, that Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit could loom huge. If the Lions win, the Vikings would be just one in front but with two losses to Detroit.
New Orleans started the season 0-2 but has now rattled off eight consecutive wins. Their victories are looking less impressive as the weeks go by. The Saints beat Miami, Green Bay (without Aaron Rodgers), Chicago, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and needed a miracle Sunday to come back at home against the Redskins. Those six teams are a combined 25-35 with none over .500.
In my mind, the Carolina Panthers are going to win the NFC South. They are one game behind New Orleans and play them in two weeks. They play at the New York Jets this week. QB Cam Newton is starting to look like the 2015 version of himself and the Panthers are getting Christian McCaffrey more involved in the offense. If the Panthers can beat Minnesota at home in three weeks, they will be the No. 2 seed in the NFC. With their schedule, they would make a good bet at 22-1 to win the Super Bowl.
The remaining contenders in the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons all have concerns. The loser of the Monday Night game between Atlanta and Seattle might have a tough time making the playoffs at all.
Seattle has been decimated on defense with season-ending losses of Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. They would fall to the No. 8 seed with a loss to Atlanta on Monday Night. Atlanta would be 5-5 with a loss to Seattle and, despite their talent, would have a steep hill to climb.
Horse Play of the Week: Zia Park has an excellent stakes-laden card on Wednesday. The feature race is the $200,000 Zia Park Derby at 1M 1/16 on the dirt for three-year-olds. Steve Asmussen has favored Untrapped, fresh off his win in the Oklahoma Derby at 11-1. He looks very good considering the runner he beat, Battle of Midway, came back to win the BC Dirt Mile.
We’ll go looking for an upset in this race. No. 7 STEELY RESOLVE is a second time starter for Doug O’Neill. This $875,000 gelding won from off the pace in his debut as the 2-1 favorite. He opened up at 8-1 that day and stayed at 5-1 until one minute to post. At that time, big money came on him and he dropped all the way down to 8-5 before going off at 2-1.
Clearly, the connections knew they had something here and he won accordingly. O’Neill is no stranger to tossing debut maiden winners into tough spots. Recently the connections had Pavel go from maiden winner to the G2 Jim Dandy and he ran well. This is a pretty strong field but the thought is Steely Resolve will improve. At 8-1 morning line, he’s worth consideration in the exotics.
Post time for the 9th race at Zia Park on Wednesday is 2:46 PST.
Dave Valento has been involved in horse racing since 1986 and is author of the Track Phantom analysis sheets available for all Southern California live racing and many other major tracks. View a sample analysis sheet at http://www.trackphantom.com. Twitter: @trackphantom. Email: [email protected]