It was almost unimaginable at the beginning of the year, but the 2016 NFL season could come down to the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. Two of football’s most popular teams sit atop their respective conferences with a legitimate chance to win Super Bowl LI.
Oakland and Dallas solidified themselves as top title contenders with big wins in Week 12. The Cowboys virtually eliminated the Washington Redskins as a threat to win the NFC East by defeating their rivals on Thanksgiving, and the Raiders maintained their AFC West lead by defeating the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Sunday’s victory all but guaranteed the Raiders will end the NFL’s second-longest playoff drought. Oakland hasn’t been to the postseason in 14 years, and they last had a winning record in 2002. Their win over the Panthers put them at 9-2 on the season, tying them with the New England Patriots for the best record in the AFC.
While the Cowboys have had much more success than the Raiders in recent years, their rise to the top of the NFL might be even more unlikely. Dallas’ chances of being a contender seemingly ended when Tony Romo suffered an injury in the preseason, but rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has exceeded all expectations. Leading the Cowboys to an NFL-best 10-1 record heading into Week 13, Prescott is one of the top MVP candidates.
Dallas has become the clear favorite in the NFC. The Seattle Seahawks are their biggest competition, but a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday dropped them to 2.5 games behind the Cowboys for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The New York Giants are two games behind Dallas, but the Cowboys have been much more impressive with less than one-third of the regular season left to be played.
The Cowboys have the best odds of any NFC team to reach the 2017 Super Bowl at +180, via Sportsbook.ag. Seattle is behind them at +250, followed by the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons at +600. New York, holding the NFC’s No. 5 seed, has +1000 odds to win the conference.
In the AFC, New England is still considered to be the heavy favorite with +110 odds. The Patriots have the tiebreaker that gives them the AFC’s No. 1 seed heading into Week 13, and getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs could be key in helping the Raiders get back to the Super Bowl. Oakland is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for +600 odds to win the conference.
New England has +280 odds to win Super Bowl LI, followed by Dallas (+400), who hasn’t been to the championship game since 1996. Oakland reached the Super Bowl in their last playoff appearance, and they have +1500 odds to win the title game for the first time since the 1983 season.