The Patriots just won their fourth Super Bowl in the last 14 years, an amazing number considering 13 of the league’s franchises have yet to win their first. With Super Bowl 50 set to be played in Santa Clara, Calif., those unlucky 13 are all desperately seeking to avoid an 0-50 start in their pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy.
Which teams have the best chance of getting off the Super Bowl schneid? We rank all 13 teams based on who has the best chance of winning the Big Game this upcoming season. The record next to each team’s name indicates that franchise’s all-time record in Super Bowls, with NB indicating the never-beens.
1. Cincinnati Bengals (0-2)
The Bengals have been to the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, winning the AFC North twice during that stretch. Even though Cincinnati has not been able to extend that success into the postseason, it is only a matter of time before all of that playoff experience pays dividends.
The focus has been on Andy Dalton and his inability to rise to the occasion, but the streaky quarterback is good enough to lead the Bengals past any opponent if he gets sufficient help. With a running game driven by Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard and a slew of strong pass catchers led by A.J. Green, Dalton has all the pieces he needs to author a deep postseason run. The key is for the Bengals to stay healthy and hopefully get a favorable matchup or two once they get into the tournament.
Also, look for Cincinnati to improve on defense with the return of Vontaze Burfict and the improved health of Geno Atkins.
2. Arizona Cardinals (0-1)
The Cardinals were arguably playing better than anybody in the league last season until Carson Palmer tore his ACL in Week 10. The team battled admirably to the bitter end, but Arizona had no chance in the playoffs with a third string quarterback under center.
Palmer is expected to be healthy in time for training camp and Drew Stanton returns, as well. The offense will also get a much needed boost from the return of RB Andre Ellington, who was never truly healthy last season.
The calvary is coming on defense, as well, where Darnell Dockett will return after missing all of last season with an ACL injury. Daryl Washington could be back, too, although he may be suspended for the first six games.
Bruce Arians, the reigning Coach of the Year, is an elite motivator. Barring another massive rash of injuries, he should finally have enough talent to go toe to toe with any team in the league.
3. Carolina Panthers (0-1)
The Panthers are coming off a second consecutive NFC South championship, although it happened with an underwhelming 7-8-1 record. But this team went undefeated in the month of December and even won a playoff game, so it heads into the offseason with some positive mojo.
Mojo is nice, but money is more important. And unlike last offseason, the Panthers have some space under the salary cap to shore up their biggest needs (offensive line, defensive end and secondary).
Cam Newton is entering the final season of his contract and — if an extension is not worked out before the season begins — will be more motivated than ever to deliver a fantastic season. Helping that cause will be Kelvin Benjamin, an elite young receiver who should be even better in his second season, and Pro Bowl TE Greg Olsen.
Carolina also catches a break next season in that its inter-conference games come against the AFC South, which is far and away the worst division in the AFC.
4. San Diego Chargers (0-1)
The Chargers posted winning records in each of their first two seasons under the new leadership tandem of GM Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy. In the third season of their ongoing rebuild, the goal is go from competing for a wild-card berth to fighting for the division title and possibly a first-round bye.
San Diego’s biggest advantage is at quarterback, as Philip Rivers is better than any other quarterback whose team appears on this list. There are also some other blue-chip players on the roster, including Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Corey Liuget and Eric Weddle. The problem is San Diego still lacks depth at some key positions and has been unable to avoid the injury bug over the last … well, ever.
The Chargers will get two big players back from injury: Danny Woodhead and Jason Verrett. It is not an overstatement to say those two alone are worth a couple victories. San Diego will also be active in the free agent market, as some of the terrible contracts given out by former GM A.J. Smith have finally come off the books.
The pressure is on the Chargers to win now, as several of the team’s cornerstone veterans are nearing the end of their careers. A Super Bowl victory would not only be the franchise’s first; it would also be enough to catapult Rivers into the Hall of Fame and to ensure Gates gets inducted in his first year of eligibility.
5. Detroit Lions (NB)
Who knows how far the Lions would have advanced last season if not for the controversial (i.e. terrible) officiating in Detroit’s playoff loss to the Cowboys? What we do know is the team responded well to new head coach Jim Caldwell, winning 11 games for the first time since 1991.
The Lions won a lot of of close, toss-up games in 2014; statistically, that makes them a prime candidate for a drop-off in 2015 (basically, the odds are against so many things breaking in their favor two seasons in a row). But there is too much talent in Detroit for this team to drop all the way out of playoff contention.
Calvin Johnson should be better after playing through an ankle injury for much of last season. If he and Reggie Bush can stay healthy, Detroit’s offense may better complement one of the league’s dominant defenses. There is still much to be settled on that side of the ball — namely, the contracts of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairely — but you have to like the direction that unit is heading.
Detroit’s biggest obstacle may be the fierce competition in the NFC North, where the Packers are perennial contenders and the Vikings are coming on strong (sorry, Chicago, you’re still terrible).
6. Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)
The Phoenix Suns of the NFL are trying to do what the NBA’s Suns never could … win a championship.
It was a disappointing second season for coach Chip Kelly, who saw Nick Foles regress and go down with an injury before Mark Sanchez stepped in and did what he’s always done — give the ball away early and often. How the Eagles address the quarterback position will be one of the offseason’s biggest stories, especially if they look to make a big splash and trade up for QB Marcus Mariota.
While Kelly’s offense will always get the headlines, his defense also needs a lot of work. Philadelphia must remake its entire secondary and improve at outside linebacker, as well, if it hopes to get back into the playoffs and make a legitimate pursuit of the franchise’s first Super Bowl triumph.
7. Houston Texans (NB)
The Texans made huge strides under first-year head coach Bill O’Brien, going from a two-win season in 2013 to a winning record in 2014. What made this turnaround so impressive is Houston did it despite mostly shoddy play from the quarterback position. If you look up the phrase “just a quarterback away,” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of the Texans logo.
O’Brien has already said the quarterback position will be open to competition in 2015. The team plans to re-sign free agent Ryan Mallet and allow him to compete with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum. The best-case scenario for the Texans is Mallet wins the job and plays up to his immense potential. If that happens, Houston can legitimately challenge the Colts for the AFC South title.
It may be farfetched to believe the Texans can win the Super Bowl in O’Brien’s second season. But after watching some of the unbelievable things Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt accomplished last season, I would put no limit on how far he might be able to carry this team.
8. Minnesota Vikings (0-4)
The Vikings solved their two most important problems last season: they found their coach and they found their quarterback. Mike Zimmer brought a new sense of accountability, while Teddy Bridgewater proved to be the league’s most productive rookie quarterback.
Much of the focus in Minnesota this offseason will be on Adrian Peterson, whose future is still very much up in the air despite the organization’s higher-ups gushing about how much they want him to return (or, as we call it in the business, reestablishing his trade value).
The Vikings still face a lot of questions outside of Peterson’s situation. Will the light finally go on for Cordarrelle Patterson? Can they find another strong cornerback to pair with Xavier Rhodes? Can they fare better against their division rivals (just 1-5 in 2014)? It may be a lot to ask, but if everything breaks Minnesota’s way, an NFC North championship is not out of the question.
9. Buffalo Bills (0-4)
While the Texans may be the league’s official “just a quarterback away” team, the Bills are right there in the conversation. I believe E.J. Manuel can exceed expectations under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman (a sentence my editor will probably strike from this story), but it is clear that if the Bills are going to win it will be because of their running game and defense.
Fortunately for the Bills, new head coach Rex Ryan is very familiar with that blueprint. He also has the personnel to make it happen, led by running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller and the league’s best pass-rushing defense. And while the Bills figure to throw on an as-needed basis, they do have a couple of nice targets in Sammy Watkins and Scott Chandler.
The biggest obstacle facing the Bills is that they share a division with the reigning Super Bowls champions. In all likelihood, that means the Bills and Dolphins will once again be left to jockey for one of the AFC’s two wild-card spots. It is almost impossible to imagine the Bills getting off the Super Bowl schneid this season, but if they can snap the league’s longest playoff drought, that will be more than enough to set off a celebration in Buffalo.
10. Tennessee Titans (0-1)
If these rankings were a wrestling match, these final four teams would be introduced by Vince McMahon’s “No Chance in Hell” music. The Titans, who only missed out on the No. 1 overall pick because of some aggressive tanking by the Buccaneers, must first become competitive again before they can even think about chasing championships.
There are a few things working in Tennessee’s favor (and these are the reasons I rank them ahead of the Falcons). Firstly, I believe in head coach Ken Whisenhunt. He is an creative play-caller and the kind of coach players rally around. His biggest flaw is his inability to execute his offense without the benefit of an elite quarterback, which brings me to my next point: the Titans are in position to draft an elite quarterback, as they figure to select either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota (whoever the Bucs pass on).
If Whisenhunt’s offense takes hold in his second season, and new associate head coach Dick LeBeau successfully puts his thumbprint on the defense, the Titans will be pointed squarely in the right direction.
11. Atlanta Falcons (0-1)
It is hard to describe just how badly they Falcons underachieved last season. They won just one game outside of their pitiful division, a home victory over an injury-ravaged Cardinals team. The fact that Atlanta lost a win-or-go-home game in Week 17 by 31 points shows just how heartless this team truly is.
New head coach Dan Quinn will be charged with bringing the fight back to the Falcons. That project will start on the defensive side of the ball, where Atlanta gave up more yards last season than any other team. Quinn will certainly bring about improvements on that side of the ball, but unless he can get out onto the field and make tackles himself, it is hard to see Atlanta’s defense being up to snuff in 2015.
The Falcons are fortunate to have Matt Ryan, who along with Julio Jones provides a nucleus for their full-scale rebuild. But from the top down this might be the worst roster in the NFC South, a division that includes the Buccaneers. That’s really saying something.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (NB)
An NFL insider whose opinion I trust implicitly tells me the Jaguars only have 30 NFL-quality players on their entire roster. Even if the Jaguars add eight more such players through free agency and the draft, that is not enough to complete for a playoff spot, let alone a Super Bowl (especially once injuries inevitably take their toll).
There are plenty of reasons for hope in Jacksonville. Blake Bortles looks like he may be the answer at quarterback, although we won’t know for sure until the Jaguars provide him with better protection and surround him with some more dynamic weapons. Also, head coach Gus Bradley has been impressive. His defense really came on over the second half of last season and should help the team be much more competitive in 2015.
The Jaguars are not even thinking about the Super Bowl at this point. This rebuild has been long and slow by design, but the foundation appears to be taking shape. When we redo these rankings again next offseason, the Jaguars will surely rank much higher.
13. Cleveland Browns (NB)
This was the easiest team to place in these rankings. The offseason doesn’t officially begin until March 10 and already the Browns have seen their quarterback check himself into rehab; their No. 1 receiver get suspended for all of next season; and their general manager admit to illegal game-day communications.
Browns fans may hate this ranking, especially after their team surprised and won seven games, but that number was inflated by a cake schedule that pitted Cleveland against the league’s two worst divisions (the NFC South and AFC South). Next season, those games will be against the NFC West and AFC West, divisions that had just one losing team apiece in 2014.
There is no chance the Browns win their first Super Bowl next season. However, their odds of winning the first overall pick in the 2016 draft are getting better by the week.
Buccaneers admit mistake, boot Aguayo
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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Did Bucs put too much pressure on Aguayo?
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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Broncos holding their breath on Derek Wolfe
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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