An in-depth look at the teams vying for a Super Bowl title next season.
The culmination of the annual NFL season is arguably one of the most bittersweet times of the year. On one hand, the season is an exciting culmination to the Super Bowl. On the other hand, the confetti falling symbolizes an end to another dramatic season and the start of a far less exciting and dramatic offseason. So to add some intrigue to the rather boring offseason, here’s a look at some of the teams that could be taking home the Lombardi trophy next season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-1 odds*)
Why they’ll win: The Steelers, led by Big Ben Roethlisberger, had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL last season, scoring 26.4 points per game on 395.4 yards per game, good for fifth and third, respectively. Wide receiver Antonio Brown netted 1,834 yards on a league leading 136 receptions in 2015, doing so with a combination of three different quarterbacks, according to NFL.com. Not only will Roethlisberger and Brown be reunited in 2016, but star running back Le’Veon Bell will return from a torn MCL suffered in Week 8 of last season. The three headed monster is arguably the best combination in all of football. With even more playmakers like Martavis Bryant, DeAngelo Williams and Marcus Wheaton returning, expect a strong season from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Why they won’t win: For starters, the team couldn’t stay healthy in 2015. Bell and Roethlisberger are essential to the success of the team and both missed substantial amounts of time last season. The Steelers also lay claim to the 21st ranked defense, giving up 363.1 yards per game last season. They have five defensive backs preparing for free agency, including two starters and two nickel corners. The lack of continuity will not fair well for the defense. Although the offense was explosive, two of the five starters on the offensive line will be free agents, creating uncertainty on that front with a limited amount of cap space available this offseason. Lastly and maybe most importantly, tight end Heath Miller announced his retirement at the end of the 2015 season. Miller is the franchise leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns by a tight end. Miller has been a consistent contributor since being drafted 30th overall in 2005. It will be awfully tough to replace the backbone of this Steelers team.
Carolina Panthers (10-1 odds)
Why they’ll win: Cam Newton. Superman single-handedly took control of a depleted Panthers offense, leading to 31.2 points per game and 366.9 yards per game, good for first and 11th overall. Newton earned 2015 MVP honors by throwing for 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while also rushing for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns, according to NFL.com. Looking ahead, the Panthers will retain most of their starting offense, while wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin will be back from injury. Although Newton stole the show last season, it was the play of the defense that propelled Carolina to a Super Bowl appearance. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis Sr. led a defense that ranked sixth in yards allowed and points allowed, as well as first in turnover ratio at +20. With strong showings from both sides of the ball, the Panthers will be hard to stop once again in 2016.
Why they won’t win: Although Newton shined last season, he did so with a poor offensive line. Super Bowl 50 was the stage in which the Denver Broncos had their way with Michael Oher and company. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller recorded 2.5 of the 7 total sacks for the Broncos. With that type of pressure, it’s hard to see Newton putting up those type of numbers again. Also, the Panthers have three defensive backs ready for free agency, including All-Pro Josh Norman. Although Norman is likely to receive the franchise tag, that salary will limit what the team can do in free agency. With two holes still in the secondary, offensive line and one on the defensive line with the retirement of Jared Allen, the Panthers have some offseason work to do.
Denver Broncos (14-1 odds)
Why they’ll win: The reigning Super Bowl champions have a great chance of defending their title next season. The Broncos ranked 1st in multiple defensive categories such as yards per game (283.1) and passing yards per game (199.6). Also, the defense only let up 18.5 points per game, good for fourth overall. Needless to say, the defense brought a title home to the Mile High City. Also, the popular opinion around the sports world is that quarterback Peyton Manning will retire.
NFL (@NFL) February 28, 2016
This move will allow the team to move forward with a younger, better quarterback. Although Manning is surely a first ballot Hall of Famer, the Broncos will benefit greatly with his departure. Continuing with the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos will return at least four of the starting five offensive lineman that helped lead the team to a Super Bowl championship. The line did a great job protecting Manning and Brock Osweiler, two quarterbacks with below average mobility. Counting out the defending champs next season would be a great mistake.
Why they won’t win: The defense of last season was the reason the Broncos were so successful. This coming offseason will be important for that defense, as the likes of Von Miller, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Shiloh Keo and other contributors are scheduled to be free agents along with key players on the other side of the ball. Reports say Miller will be franchised by the team, but limited cap space will prevent the team from handing out big pay days to these productive starters. Another offseason question mark for the team will be the quarterback position. With Manning likely to retire and Osweiler a free agent, the most important position on the field should be a focal point this offseason. Without decent quarterback play, it will be hard for the team to return to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots (8-1 odds)
Why they’ll win: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady always find a way to win. Belichick has made the playoffs in 12 of the 15 seasons as head coach of the Patriots, winning four Super Bowls in that span. The pair know how to win and seem to be in contention every season. Next year will be no different. With Brady coming off of one of the best seasons of his career and a majority of the starters returning, the Patriots will be a team contending for a title. If Brady’s weapons can stay healthy, the Patriots will play deep into January next season.
Why they won’t win: The lack of a first round draft pick this year hurts the team. With limited cap availability, the Patriots will need to look towards the draft to fill holes on the team. The team also must deal with the retirement of Jerod Mayo. The two time Pro Bowler’s retirement creates a void at linebacker for the defense. If this offseason is relatively quiet for the team, with no plan in place to add depth to an unhealthy group in 2015, the Patriots could be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Arizona Cardinals (10-1 odds)
Why they’ll win: Carson Palmer posted an MVP caliber season in 2015, throwing for 4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, according to NFL.com. The offense as a whole was dynamic, posting a league leading 408.3 yards per game. Not only did the offense dominate the league, but the defense ranked fifth, allowing only 321.7 yards per game. The Cardinals were a dominant two-way team in 2015, easily winning the NFC West. It will be hard to stop the team from doing the same next season.
Why they won’t win: Like many of the teams on this list, the Cardinals have limited cap space to deal with this offseason. With effective free agents ready to depart, the team will need to fill the holes created by their departures. Furthermore, age is not on the side of Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The window to win is closing for the Cardinals’ offense. Bruce Arians and co. will need to find a way to make it work before its too late.
With a bunch of teams expected to contend for a Super Bowl next season, here are some under the radar teams to watch out for.
Minnesota Vikings (20-1 odds)
Why they have a chance: Adrian Peterson has single-handedly brought the team to the playoffs and is very capable of doing it again. His 1,485 yards led the league last season and propelled the Vikings to the NFC North crown. The emergence of a number one receiving threat in Stefan Diggs as well as the growth of Teddy Bridgewater are positive signs for the offense. Furthermore, the defense is young and improving. The defense ranked 13th last season in yards per game and will be retaining a majority of its starters from last season including standout linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings are in a great position to repeat as NFC North champs and could do some damage deep into January.
Houston Texans (40-1 odds)
Why they have a chance: J.J. Watt and the Texans made a strong push late last season to win the AFC South but were knocked out early in the playoffs. This season could be different. The team has about $30 million in cap space to spend on a quarterback and other playmakers to pair with an already impressive group. Last season, the defense ranked third in yards per game (310.2) and dominated the league after a poor showing against the Miami Dolphins in Week 7. With the return of Watt’s league leading 17.5 sacks and a dominant defense, coupled with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins coming off a career year with four different quarterbacks, the Texans could surprise some teams next season.
Kansas City Chiefs (20-1 odds)
Why they have a chance: The Chiefs were arguably the best team down the stretch, winning 11 games in a row before losing to the Patriots in the playoffs. The team was firing on all cylinders during the win streak, carried by Eric Berry and the defense. Looking ahead to the offseason, the team has $32 million to work with, not including a pay day for Berry. The 2015 Comeback Player of the Year is a free agent and, as one of the top safeties in the league, will command top dollar from the organization. With Andy Reid ready to lead the team back to the playoffs and the return of Jamaal Charles from injury, watch out for the Chiefs.
*all odds according to Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas
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