On Thursday we presented our list of the 12 teams that could realistically win Super Bowl LV. The decision-making process was heavily weighted toward teams that had an established connection between their coach and quarterback, and defenses that might be able to take advantage of some especially sloppy play early in the season as teams try to get their bearings.
Now, for the other 18 teams, which we’ll divide into three categories: Those that barely missed the list, those that are firmly stuck in the middle and those that are very clearly not ready to enter into the conversation just yet. Again, this could be for myriad reasons. It could also be our own biases based on how we imagine a season taking place. We have, as a reminder, never seen anything like this in modern NFL history.
So join us for a quick rundown of the three tiers and a little about which teams were put in certain places and why.
ON THE CUSP
Buccaneers, Texans, Colts, Titans, Cardinals, Rams, Vikings, Falcons, Raiders
Tampa Bay was the most difficult team to leave off the list and not just because they added Tom Brady this offseason. The Buccaneers had one of the strongest defensive units in the NFL last year, including the best run defense in football. Todd Bowles is in his element and has the pieces to develop something Seahawk-ian. Buccaneers fans will look at the Super Bowl contenders page and point out that this team has all the things I liked about the Steelers—at least three elite offensive linemen, a fleet of solid pass rushers and sound cornerback play—plus Brady, plus Mike Evans, plus Chris Godwin, plus Rob Gronkowski. My only response, and it’s a bit of a hunch, is that it might be difficult to pull everything together without a formal offseason. We tend to become enamored with free agency before realizing that veterans were let go or unsigned for a reason. I learned this as:
• Kurt Warner went 8-18 over his first three seasons in Arizona
• Brett Favre went 21-11 over his first two seasons outside of Green Bay
• Drew Bledsoe went 14-18 over his first two seasons outside of New England
• Warren Moon went 21-18 over his first three years in Minnesota
I’m doing my best to explain that I’m just not comfortable falling in line with the hype just because of who is playing quarterback and who is coaching the team. Might it be ludicrous in the end? Sure.
The other two teams that were exceptionally hard to leave off the list: Houston, which was a ridiculous blown lead away from hosting the AFC championship game (but went ahead and traded DeAndre Hopkins this offseason) and Atlanta, a team that I think is fully capable of bouncing back after a strong finish in 2019, where they worked their way back to a middle-tier defense following a horrid start.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
Jets, Browns, Bears, Panthers, Dolphins, Broncos
All of these teams seem to be missing something foundational in order to earn them consideration as a Super Bowl contender, though all of their rosters are headed in the right direction.
The Jets got markedly better on offense this year, especially up front. A team that went 7-9 last year with no consistency at the quarterback position could theoretically work itself into contention over the next two seasons, depending on how they spend the haul from the Jamal Adams trade. The Dolphins are most interesting to me. Of all the recent complete teardown projects we’ve seen in the NFL, this one has the most promise. The roster is good enough to win seven or eight games. The team could be reminiscent of Tampa Bay a year ago: a standout, top-10 defense counterweighted by uncertainty at the quarterback position (only in this case, there’s a rookie to develop). The Broncos may have their quarterback of the future in Drew Lock, but a puzzling change at the coordinator spot leaves us wondering if Lock will be as effective without Rich Scangarello. The Bears could be bogged down by the uncomfortable nature of some remaining loyalty to a top-three draft pick and how to transition to Nick Foles.
Lions, Jaguars, Washington, Giants, Bengals
If you are a fan of one of these teams and are legitimately upset and bewildered at the idea that your team will not win the Super Bowl this year, please reach out. I have some exciting business opportunities for you.
Oddly, Washington is the team I see climbing out of this hole most quickly, assuming that Dwayne Haskins continues to develop. On paper, they have a top-flight defense that could, with one or two more drafts, develop into something similar to what we saw in San Francisco. They have a good enough offensive line and some ascending star position players. The Giants and Bengals have the arrow pointing upward, while the Lions and Jaguars appear to be ready to bottom out before what could end up being a coaching change in both places.
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