This may come as a surprise to some of you, but not every team can win the Super Bowl every year. There are teams that are perpetually in contention, teams that are perpetually middling and teams that, for some reason or another, are perpetually lost in the cyclical churn of coaches and quarterbacks hoping for the best. Some middling teams spend a lot to try and reach the upper tier. Some upper-tier teams don’t spend, hoping that they can still win and avoid the middle tier. And so on, and so on.
Should we have a 2020 season, it would seem like the upper tier would be slightly more closed off when discussing which teams actually have a chance of winning the Super Bowl. Talent aside, a new coaching staff is at an extreme disadvantage. Same for a new quarterback. Same for teams that recently decided to go young and are relying on a horde of unproven players who have not had time to acclimate to the NFL.
On the other hand, we’re in a fairly steady time in league history. There are a lot of teams with continuity at both the quarterback and head coaching position. And, given the complete lack of an offseason, the field widens based solely on the fact that we have no idea how these coaches have handled the unprecedented offseason. Someone could have had a brilliant idea. Someone could be wonderful at developing emergency plans. During the lockout, how many teams were busy getting to work and how many were terrified of what Bill Belichick might be doing?
With that in mind, here is our list of teams that can win Super Bowl LV.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
It’s not brave or exciting to say that the Chiefs could take advantage of a nonexistent offseason and sprint to the finish line again. Without offseason media access it’s difficult to determine nebulous factors like complacency, but the roster did a fine job of solidifying itself in the offseason and adding a top-flight running back who could diversify the scheme in rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. When you have a coach/quarterback combination like Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes it’s difficult to project a plateauing given one’s ability (and willingness) to create and one’s ability to embody those advancements.
2. New England Patriots
Yes, Tom Brady is gone, but the best head coach in the league is still there. So is a motivated Cam Newton. It will be interesting to see New England’s receiving corps develop with a player who can elevate a play in the typical progression as well as a longer progression created through pocket mobility. Could it open up a version of New England’s offense that we have not seen before? Could it open up a version of Newton we have not seen before?
3. San Francisco 49ers
Outside of the Ravens in Baltimore, the Steelers in Pittsburgh and the Patriots in New England, San Francisco may have the most sustainable front office/ownership/coaching structure in the league as it stands right now. That helps during a pandemic. So, too, does having one of the brightest offensive minds in the sport in head coach Kyle Shanahan with a pair of first-round draft picks at his disposal. Questions about the validity of Jimmy Garoppolo will remain, but if he can elevate himself behind a diverse, punishing running game, there is no doubt the 49ers can return to the Super Bowl and win it this time.
4. New Orleans Saints
Across the board, the Saints have the most talented roster in the league. But for the last two years, talent has not been at the forefront of their struggles to maximize their roster goldmine. An arduous schedule does not help (I debated also putting the Falcons on this list), but it may be now or never for the Payton/Brees ticket.
5. Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson remains the most consistently underrated player in football. Seattle’s roster has done its typical churn and arrives in 2020 with a defense that should be closer in spirit to the unit we saw deified in the early 2010s before falling off in recent years. Last year, the Seahawks were second in football in offensive play success rate, and they still don’t play to their strengths as often as they should.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore is an obvious choice here given their offensive scheme, which hosted by far the most efficient passing and rushing offense in the league last year. Lamar Jackson will only get better as a passer (and he was certainly good enough a year ago). A gigantic built-in advantage for Baltimore was the way they padded an already solid defense with talented veterans like Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, who, regardless of how their defensive draft picks shake out, should elevate a unit that was fourth in DVOA a year ago.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Yes, the Chargers. Yes, with Tyrod Taylor under center. L.A. finished 10th in weighted offense last year, which measures how much better a team is getting over the course of the season. They were surprisingly in the mix among the top offenses in the league. Taylor’s DVOA rankings as a full-time starter in Buffalo: eighth in 2015 (ahead of Matt Stafford, Alex Smith, Derek Carr, Matt Ryan, Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers), 19th and 22nd. Josh Allen was 28th a year ago and still got the Bills to the playoffs. Tom Brady was 16th and Carson Wentz was 20th. The point is that Taylor can play and he can be good enough to lift his team into the tournament. On the flip side, that defense is scary loaded and much like the 49ers’ defense, which had been building a reputation on paper for years before finally spilling over into a dominant force, the Chargers may be primed for a similar ascension.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
I don’t think you can count out the Eagles, who have a veteran roster and strong foundation at the quarterback position. Before sustaining a concussion in a playoff loss to the Seahawks last year, Carson Wentz had a defining moment as he pushed an injury-ravaged roster into the playoffs amid an ugly race with the Cowboys for first place in the division. This roster has some serious holes, most notably at cornerback. But if they can experience the flip side of the awful luck they’ve sustained in previous years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them in the playoffs making a run.
9. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are here because of Dak Prescott, period. The most efficient quarterback in the NFL last year returns with his offensive coordinator and an upgraded weapon set, which now includes Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. Dallas is replacement level on the back end of their defense and could still use some pass rushing help, which is why Jerry Jones seems to continue to take wild swings at upgrading the position. Still, a fresh take on a reliably good offense from new head coach Mike McCarthy could make the difference.
10. Green Bay Packers
This is a team I hesitated to include but ultimately decided to put here based solely on the fact that Aaron Rodgers is good, he has top-five players at wide receiver and running back, and a mostly excellent offensive line. The team was exposed mightily in the playoffs a year ago, bullied by the 49ers on the road, and while we can use that as an entry point into why they should have done this or that in the offseason, the reality is that you cannot get that much better in this short of a time frame with no on-field presence and a late first-round pick.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Tomlin has still never had a losing record as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and gets back a theoretically cleansed roster this year. The familiarity of the coaching staff and some minor offensive upgrades could be enough to push Pittsburgh in as a wild-card contender (or as a legitimate challenger to the Ravens). It is ridiculous to count out a team that has (depending on how you look at it) three or four elite players rushing toward the passer on every snap and (depending on how you look at it) four or five elite players protecting the passer on every snap. The secondary is good. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a budding star and allows for some versatility. They could take the league by surprise in 2020.
12. Buffalo Bills
Why not? I think about some of the better defense-forward teams of the last 10 years who have stumbled into the playoffs with less raw power on offense than the Bills. This defense is seriously good, finishing second in DVOA behind only the Patriots in 2020. Their corner play is strong, their offensive line is developing and, maybe, perhaps, Josh Allen molds into something more than a player who needs to be game-planned around. We’ve seen quarterbacks with similarly raw skill sets take a big jump from year two to three. What if Allen follows suit?
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