The 2021 NFL season is nine weeks old, and the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. The AFC may be a lot wilder than the NFC, but one thing fans can see clearly are the top Super Bowl contenders.
The following five teams remain clear contenders as the NFL season is at its midway point.
5 Super Bowl contenders after Week 9 of 2021 NFL season
#5 - Green Bay Packers
It would be easy to write off the Green Bay Packers after their ugly Week 9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but they make this list because of the performance of the defense.
The Packers defense held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense to 13 total points. Tyreek Hill was also held in check and did not run wild through the secondary. This came on the road in one of the toughest environments for an opposing NFL team.
The top storyline here was the absence of Aaron Rodgers. If he had played in this one, the Packers likely would have won with ease. The loss only drops the team to 7-2, and as long as Rodgers can return Sunday, there is no need to get hung up Jordan Love's performance. That is a problem for 2022 and beyond.
#4 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not even play in Week 9 and remain a top contender. Other NFC teams faltering only made the Bucs' case stronger.
The Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints are a few teams in the NFC alone that took a step back in Week 9. Tampa sits at 6-2 heading into Week 10, and their latest loss against New Orleans featured a rare pick-six from Tom Brady.
The team is off to a much better start than it was in 2020, and last year resulted in a Super Bowl victory. Brady is second in the NFL in passing yards, and the offense is leading the NFL in scoring. One tough loss to New Orleans does not change their contender status, and a bye week for Brady should only mean he comes back stronger.
#3 - Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens simply cannot be counted out as NFL contenders as long as Lamar Jackson is healthy. The dynamic quarterback not only threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns in Week 9, but also ran for 120 yards in the Ravens' victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
He is carrying the running game on his back and also got some nice contributions from both Devonta Freeman and Le'Veon Bell on Sunday. The trio combined for 245 yards, wiping away preseason concerns about the state of the running back position in Baltimore.
The win gets Baltimore to 6-2 with a game against Miami in Week 10. The AFC North may be stacked, but the Ravens remain the clear favorite.
#2 - Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans lost Derrick Henry to an injury, yet they sit atop the AFC through Week 9. The Titans defense stepped up Sunday to shut down the Rams offense, flipping the narrative of who was the real Super Bowl contender in that matchup.
The signing of Adrian Peterson was a big one for Tennessee. His performance on Sunday proved he was still getting back into NFL shape, but he should improve with time. Having him on goal-line situations does not replace Henry, but it is still a great consolation.
The Titans already hold a three-game lead in the AFC South, and now the focus is on fighting for the lone bye in the conference come January.
#1 - Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals were without key players all over the field in Week 9 against the San Francisco 49ers. That did not seem to matter as Colt McCoy guided the team to a win in a game that saw James Conner finish with a total of three touchdowns.
The Cardinals are deep in talent, and the way they embarrassed the 49ers proves they are on another level in 2021. Imagine what the score would have been if Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins had been healthy.
The Rams are Arizona's top competition in the NFC West, and Week 9 saw both teams go in opposite directions. If the Cardinals are winning with McCoy, having Murray healthy slots them in as the top Super Bowl favorite at 8-1 this season.