Polian's playoff contenders

Why Pats are again Super Bowl hopefuls, while Chiefs are on the rise

Updated: September 4, 2013, 11:44 AM ET
By Bill Polian | ESPN Insider

Tom BradyJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesTom Brady and the New England Patriots should be in the playoff hunt once again.

I've learned over many years in the NFL that there are too many vagaries in a season to be confident making any preseason predictions. One change over the stretch of 16 games and you miss the mark. And this is particularly true with regard to a constant reality in the NFL -- injuries.

Two years ago last Saturday, I thought our Colts team was poised to challenge for another Super Bowl. That day I found out Peyton Manning would be out for the year. Instead of contending for a Super Bowl, we went 2-14 and we all lost our jobs. Whether it's a quarterback, a running back, a pass-rusher -- any major impact player -- if they go down, there's an impact for sure. And it's never good.

To that end, I don't really make preseason picks. Instead, I'll do here what I did as a GM -- analyze each team and designate for each a status based on all the analysis we've seen to this point.

In Week 4 or thereabouts we'll start to have a better feel for where every team in the league is truly heading, and we'll have a very good idea by Week 6. Anything before that is guessing, and I don't like guessing.

As I survey the league ahead of the 2013 season, I see 15 teams with at least some semblance of a title contender. I'll break them into three groups: legitimate contenders, question marks and risers.

Let's start with the five teams most likely to succeed in the coming season.

Legitimate contenders