How many of the recent Super Bowl champions have surprised anyone? No one was shocked to see Tom Brady win Super Bowls 49 and 51, and few were surprised that Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos took home Super Bowl 50. Heck, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks were the consensus pick by many to be world champions, which they were. The 2012 Baltimore Ravens were also a trendy pick to win, although they did so in dramatic fashion.
So really, the last time we were surprised with a Super Bowl champion had to be the New York Giants in 2011. They remain the inspiration for underdog teams, proving that anything is possible and your team can win any given Sunday. Every year, we see a number of Super Bowl contenders fail to win the championship. From time-to-time, we also see a surprise team emerge to become a contender. But who should you be buying into, and who should you not be sold on?
Here are eight teams that could surprise us by winning a Super Bowl in the next eight years, and seven contenders who won’t.
15. Might Win: Los Angeles Chargers
Many of us have become accustomed to the Chargers underachieving every year. I mean, how did they not reach a Super Bowl with the likes of Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and LaDainian Tomlinson? The Chargers consistently field an elite offence and a respectable defence, but they always find ways to underperform.
However the Chargers might actually be a team that’s on their way to a Super Bowl run. With Rivers, they have a franchise quarterback. With Melvin Gordon, they have a star running back to build an offence around. They also have a stacked receiving core that consists of Travis Benjamin, Keenan Allen and Dontrelle Inman. San Diego also has a rising star in Joey Bosa, plus two elite corners in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. They have all the pieces to compete for a Super Bowl, now it’s just about putting it together now.
14. Won’t Win: Washington Redskins
The Robert Griffin III era ended abruptly for them, but the Redskins were fortunate enough to have a solid replacement in Kirk Cousins. With a dangerous offence that consisted of Cousins, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson and Alfred Morris, Washington captured the NFC East crown in 2015.
They went 8-7-1 in 2016, but fell just shy of reaching the playoffs. Many believe the Redskins can become a championship contender with the right moves, but this team has a very porous defence, and Garcon and Jackson were lost in free agency during the offseason. Cousins has limited weapons around him, and the ever-dangerous and unpredictable NFC East makes a playoff berth much harder to earn now. Truth be told, Washington has probably become the worst team in their division. So you can’t really expect a championship returning to the nation’s capital any time soon.
13. Might Win: Miami Dolphins
Miami is certainly not a playoff team after losing Ryan Tannehill for the entirety of 2017. With all due respect to Jay Cutler and Matt Moore, the Dolphins just aren’t the same team in the postseason. However, everything is in place for the Dolphins to actually challenge the New England Patriots for AFC East supremacy in 2018 and beyond. With Tannehill, running back Jay Ajayi and wide receiver Jarvis Landry, the Dolphins have one of the most electrifying triplets intact for the near future.
Throw in defensive talents like Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, Reshad Jones and Byron Maxwell, and you have to believe in the Dolphins as a contender down the road. When Tannehill returns in 2018, they will be a dark horse Super Bowl contender. You shouldn’t be very surprised if Tannehill does take Miami to the promised land.
12. Won’t Win: Houston Texans
The Texans have made the playoffs in four of the past six years, but that’s only because of the putrid AFC South. Houston has needed just nine wins to clinch the division in the last two years. Yes, they have an elite defence led by J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. But their offence is awful every year, despite having stars DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller.
Houston has used quarterback after quarterback: Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler. The Texans are hoping that 2017 first rounder Deshaun Watson can finally be the answer at quarterback. But it’s way too early to buy the hype in him. Sorry to disappoint, but the Texans are not actually a contender until they get half-decent quarterback. Even though they’re usually in the playoffs, they’re not a threat to play in February.
11. Might Win: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have arguably the NFL’s best defensive player in Aaron Donald, but new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is going to find ways to make L.A.’s defence even more ferocious. Just look what he was able to do with the Denver Broncos, who won Super Bowl 50 under his guidance.
Los Angeles also has Connor Barwin, Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn to help Donald out. But it’s not just the Rams defence that gives them promise; it’s also a solid-looking offence with running back Todd Gurley and flashy play-making receivers Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin. As long as quarterback Jared Goff can slowly take his game to the next level, there’s really nothing to dislike about this Rams team. They have so many playmakers all over the field, and they’re definitely an emerging championship contender.
10. Won’t Win: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals made the playoffs every year from 2011 to 2015. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have been one of the league’s top QB-WR tandems, and the ground game has always been solid under Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. However, the Bengals have found many creative ways to unravel in the playoffs time after time. Cincinnati also missed the playoffs in 2016, as the team just faltered at the wrong time and head coach Marvin Lewis somehow kept his job. With the Pittsburgh Steelers still an elite threat and the Baltimore Ravens an annual playoff contender, the Bengals are in a tough spot in the AFC North right now.
Even if the Bengals were to go 16-0 in the regular season in 2018 and 2019, few would pick them to even reach the Super Bowl. They don’t seem to have that “it” factor that you need to win a championship. Don’t buy the Bengals as a contender; their ship has sailed.
9. Might Win: Baltimore Ravens
Up until an injury to star cornerback Jimmy Smith in Week 14, the Ravens had the AFC North on cruise control in 2015. Yes, it was frustrating for fans to see them relinquish the division to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Ravens are always a threat in the AFC, and that won’t change under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Quarterback Joe Flacco is absolute money in the playoffs, as evidenced by his 10-5 playoff record and Super Bowl 47 MVP and championship win. The Ravens have a top-five defence in the NFL, fuelled by Terrell Suggs, Jimmy Smith and world class safety Eric Weddle. They have two quality receivers in Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace as well.
The Ravens are always scary in the playoffs. They’ve won playoff games in Kansas City, New England and Pittsburgh in the recent past. No one scares the Ravens, but they terrify all the AFC teams. A third Lombardi Trophy may not be that far off.
8. Won’t Win: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers went 15-1 two years ago, Cam Newton won the league MVP and looked poised to deliver the franchise their first Super Bowl. However, the Denver Broncos elite defence (namely Von Miller), completely shut down Carolina, who fell to 0-2 in Super Bowls. Carolina then struggled in 2016, finishing with a 6-10 record which placed them last in the NFC South. Newton has taken multiple head shots, and the loss of star corner Josh Norman can’t be emphasized enough. It also doesn’t help that tight end Greg Olsen is getting up there in age.
Throw in the rise of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South, and you can see where the troubles are beginning to emerge. As it stands, Carolina is nowhere close to topping NFC powerhouses like Dallas, Green Bay or Seattle. They had their chance in Super Bowl 50, but the Panthers are nowhere close to where they were right now.
7. Might Win: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have done a masterful job supplying quarterback Carson Wentz with the weapons he needs to be an effective quarterback. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is a game-changer, as is speedster Torrey Smith. The running back tandem of LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles is considered solid enough. Philly’s defence is also top-notch, led by ball-hawking safety Malcolm Jenkins and pass-rushing stars Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. The best part? All of these Eagles players are young and just entering their playing primes, if they aren’t there already.
Philadelphia has all the talent on both sides of the ball to win a title, and the front office has always been aggressive to add talent via trade or free agency. 2017 will be another year of rebuilding, but they’ll soon be a Super Bowl contender. It may not be long until they finally put an end to all the jokes about not being able to win the big game.
6. Won’t Win: Denver Broncos
I’m a huge Denver Broncos fan and was ultra-pleased to see them win Super Bowl 50. Although they have by far the NFL’s best defence, the lack of talent all over the place on offence is scary. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are no longer sure bets for 1,000 yards. They’re both inconsistent, and Denver lacks a third reliable option. Running back C.J. Anderson hasn’t taken his game to the next level after breaking out in 2014, and the Broncos offensive line is mediocre at best.
At quarterback? Trevor Siemian is solid, but not great. Brock Osweiler probably won’t be a starter again, and 2016 first rounder Paxton Lynch is far from ready for prime time. Throw in the fact that Kansas City and Oakland also play in the AFC West, and you can see how and where things get tough for the Broncos. There likely won’t be another Super Bowl in the Mile High City for the next three years.
5. Might win: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and the fans have impatiently awaited this team’s second Super Bowl championship. Their 9-7 record in 2016 suggests that the Buccaneers are finally on their way to being legitimate. Jameis Winston is one of the game’s top young quarterbacks, Mike Evans is a top-five receiver and running back Doug Martin is always a threat to take over games.
Tampa Bay has also built a solid all-around defence, which consists of linebacker Lavonte David and pass-rushers Noah Spence and Gerald McCoy. Unlike their NFC South foes, Tampa actually has a lot of talent on defence and should only get better with time. We already know what the offence is capable of, and it won’t be long before the Buccaneers become a force in the NFC; one that contends annually for the Super Bowl.
4. Won’t Win: Atlanta Falcons
Everything went right for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016…until the final 20 minutes of Super Bowl 51. Many believe that Matt Ryan and co. are set to avenge their historic collapse – one that cost them a chance of taking down arguably the greatest dynasty in North American sports. Well, part of why the Falcons got by Seattle and Green Bay in the 2016 playoffs was because both those teams were playing with beaten-up secondaries. Atlanta has since lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan after he became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Matt Ryan and the Falcons offence just won’t be the same again.
Atlanta also has a very suspect defence, one that Tom Brady carved up in Super Bowl 51. Do you really see them shutting down the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott and Jameis Winston from here on out? Atlanta had their shot at the Super Bowl and blew it. Fans will have to wait more than three years for another shot at redemption.
3. Might Win: Minnesota Vikings
Many expected the Vikings to reach Super Bowl contention in 2016 after taking home the NFC North crown, but a lot went wrong for them. Teddy Bridgewater missed the whole season after tearing his ACL, and running back Adrian Peterson barely played after suffering a torn meniscus. But don’t you dare be sour! Clap your hands for the 2015 NFC North champs! And feel…the power! It’s a new era, yes it is.
The Vikings look solid under quarterback Sam Bradford, and running back Dalvin Cook promises to be a huge weapon in the passing game. Receiver Stefon Diggs is just starting what will be a promising career, and their defence is a shoe-in for the top five. Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Anthony Barr and Everson Griffen form a championship-caliber unit. To be honest, it’s a matter of when — not if — the Vikings start winning themselves some NFC Championships.
2. Won’t Win: New England Patriots
Before you go crazy on me for putting the defending Super Bowl champions on here, please hear me out. Tom Brady is 40 years old, looked real shaky at times in the 2016 playoffs and simply can’t get better from here on out, although he can get worse. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is injury-prone, and it’s tough to see Julian Edelman coming back in elite form after tearing his ACL during preseason.
The Patriots also have a very leaky defence that tends to be exposed by top quarterbacks like Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and most recently Alex Smith. And finally, the AFC is not a joke for a change. Denver, Oakland, K.C., Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Miami all look like threats to the Patriots. Credit Brady for winning Super Bowl 51 as a 39 year old. But in his 40s? Not likely happening. The Patriots reign of success has to end eventually, and there’s little chance Tommy Terrific wins another championship.
1. Might Win: Tennessee Titans
The Titans haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, but everything is finally looking up for a franchise that’s endured so much mediocrity. Marcus Mariota could soon become a top-five quarterback in the NFL. There isn’t a single flaw in his game. He can run, he has a rocket arm and pin-point accuracy. Throw in an elite rusher in DeMarco Murray, a dangerous tight end in Delanie Walker and talented receivers Eric Decker, Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews and you have a very scary team.
Now consider that Tennessee also has one of the best offensive lines in all of football, and you see why this team will be a force for years to come. Tennessee also has some nice young talent on defence, including Wesley Woodyard and Brian Orakpo. They’re also in a very weak AFC South, so the division title is in reach for the next few years. The Titans have built a very solid foundation of young players and proven veterans. There isn’t much to dislike about this team, and they could definitely be holding up Super Bowl 53 or 54. This is a championship contender that’s just beginning its dominant reign.
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