Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Super Bowl pick still alive as we offer playoff preview, season awards

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton accounted for 45 touchdowns (35 passing, 10 running) this season.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton accounted for 45 touchdowns (35 passing, 10 running) this season. AP

The good news: My preseason Super Bowl prediction in September was Packers over Patriots, so at least I’m alive. Both of my horses are still in the race. The bad news? Green Bay has lately been running like a haggard mule, and as the NFL playoffs begin, the Packers’ best bet to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy may be for Vince himself to arise from the dead and insist on handing it to his old team.

Without further ado let’s rank the 12 teams in the Super Bowl tournament, first to last, on the likelihood they’ll be champions come the night of Feb. 7:

1. Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is playing lights-out, the defense is as great as ever, now Marshawn Lynch is healthy. Oh, and their last two games against playoffs teams, both on the road, they beat the Vikings 38-7 and the Cardinals 36-6.

2. New England Patriots: It’s Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski against the world, because I think everybody else is injured. No matter. With those two and Bill Belichick, don’t bet against a repeat title.

3. Carolina Panthers: Great defense, big running, a fully bloomed Cam Newton and a 15-1 record. There isn’t much not to like.

4. Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer and his team have mostly been great, but they did just lose at home by 30 points to Seattle, right?

5. Denver Broncos: I am not counting on the latest comeback by Peyton Manning to carry Denver to the Super Bowl. But the AFC’s best defense has a chance to.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger can be erratic. The defense gives up a lot of yards. But the upside, if they catch a wave, is huge.

7. Green Bay Packers: Pack has been mediocre since a 6-0 start, and Aaron Rodgers is having his most mortal season in years.

8. Houston Texans: I know. They’re the betting long shot. But I think J.J. Watt’s defense and healthy Brian Hoyer make Houston better than most bettors do.

9. Kansas City Chiefs: Ten wins in a row says they should be slotted higher. But their playoff history makes them so due a fast stumble.

10. Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton could be back from injury next week, but I doubt A.J. McCarron can carry the season that far.

11. Washington Redskins: After great hesitancy, I’m finally buying Kirk Cousins. But Skins are still a 9-7 team with a 15th-ranked plus-9 on points.

12. Minnesota Vikings: They are not the worst of the playoff teams, no. But a brutal draw against Seattle makes them the least likely to advance.

ANNUAL AWARDS

Our King Sport 2015 season awards:

▪ MVP – Newton, Panthers QB: He has produced 45 touchdowns (35 passing, 10 running) for a 15-1 team. Any arguments?

▪ Offensive Player of Year – Wilson, Seahawks QB: Close (almost picked Antonio Brown), but Wilson led league in passer rating and was beyond terrific in leading team back from 2-4 start.

▪ Defensive POY – Watt, Texans DE: The guy relentlessly lives up to his reputation. Led league with 17 ½ sacks for a team that won on defense.

▪ Offensive rookie – Jameis Winston, Buccaneers QB: A crowded, talented field (Todd Gurley, Marcus Mariota, Amari Cooper), but Winston is why Tampa tripled its win total.

▪ Defensive rookie – Marcus Peters, Chiefs CB: A no-brainer. Peters’ league-leading eight interceptions help lead Kansas City’s turnaround from a 1-5 start.

▪ Coach of year – Ron Rivera, Panthers: Rule of thumb. When your team improves from 7-8-1 to 15-1, you’re the coach of the year.

▪ Dolphins MVP – Jarvis Landry, WR/returner: Not much went right this season for Miami but Landry did, with a team-record 110 catches and a spark whenever he touched the ball.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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