2023 NFL playoff picture: Specific team strengths that legitimize Super Bowl aspirations for contenders

As an NFL season progresses, a straightforward but important question is often posed — which teams can actually win the Super Bowl? 

Often it’s answered with a small collection of, like, six to eight teams without much justification. That will not be the case here. I have pinpointed the super-specific, possibly obscure — well beyond “they have a good offense” — reasons why the genuine Super Bowl contenders have emerged as those teams this season that can win it all in February. 

As I pointed out right before the season began, nine of the last 10 Super Bowl winners finished in the top six in point differential during the regular season. Because of that, I’ve included the top-six teams in point differential entering Week 17.

(Teams are listed by point differential, in descending order.)

Copy and paste here, essentially. Kyle Shanahan is the NFL’s premier YAC schemer, and as per usual, his 49ers are leading the NFL in yards-after-the-catch-per-reception. San Francisco has averaged the most YAC per grab in each of the five seasons (!). Six in a row would be quite the feat. 

Of course, the players make Shanahan’s play-design brilliance come to life. Without the likes of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings and Christian McCaffrey, the 49ers wouldn’t be as dynamic after the catch. Fact is, though, that collection of skill-position weapons is healthy and thriving. 

When the playoffs arrive, YAC is vital. It travels. It’s mostly immune to weather. This unequivocally is the 49ers’ calling card. Every defense knows it’s what Shanahan and Brock Purdy will accentuate but rarely can it be stopped. Even against the Ravens, the 49ers were close to their average with 6.5 YAC per reception. 

Baltimore Ravens: Pass rush

The Ravens enter Week 17 with the most sacks in football (54) and are tied for sixth in pressure rate at 40.5%. In short, Baltimore’s pass rush really brings…


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