It is never too early to start predicting the Super Bowl winner for next year. Is it? The Patriots came back from twenty five points down to stun the Falcons in Super Bowl LI., marking Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's fifth title together. Last season was one filled with new story lines. New franchise quarterbacks entered the league and playoff picture. The two members of the previous Super Bowl, the Broncos and the Panthers, failed to even make the post season. But then at the end of the day there was more of the same. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger took their usual spots in the Conference Championship games, while Matt Ryan finally pushed through to win the NFC.
So we haven't even had a chance to know who each team will add in the NFL Draft, but still we have a decent idea of who can be back in the picture to take home next year's Super Bowl trophy. And at the same time we know which teams were sputtering last year. Even if they add the correct piece, the quick turnaround is not a common occurrence in the NFL. If the Browns finally draft their quarterback, there may be some improvement shown but I don't think the dog pound is going to have a parade coming through Cleveland next year. Teams are dealing with another new face at head coach, and key players getting ready to head out of town. Certain teams will be fulfilling the role as the NFL basement dwellers.
Let's check out the eight teams that have a chance of reaching the NFL mountain top, and seven who will continue to flounder around the bottom at least for another season.
15 Could - Green Bay Packers
I think Aaron Rodgers proved yet again that as long as he is in a Green Bay Packers uniform they have a chance at making a run at winning the Super Bowl. In 2016, after a 4-2 start the Pack dropped four straight games, three of which were to non-playoff teams. But then Rodgers and the Packers ran off six straight to end the regular season before besting the the Giants and Cowboys during the first two rounds of the playoffs and eventually losing to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship.
Jordy Nelson was playing through injury in the playoffs and Eddie Lacy was sidelined for most of the year. Although Ty Montgomery did an admirable job filling in at running back, if the Packers are back to full strength they will again be making a run towards the Lombardi Trophy.
14 Won't - Los Angeles Chargers
It is not all about their terrible looking logo that looks like a cross between the hometown Dodgers and the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. The Chargers are going to fight an uphill battle all year playing in what looks like the best division in football. Matching up twice a year with the Broncos, Raiders, and Chiefs spells another non-playoff year for Philip Rivers and company. Despite another 30 touchdown year for Rivers, the team only managed a 5-11 record, and that is pretty much all that should be expected gain this year. Sprinkle in the hassle of moving cities and no true home field, the Chargers will pick atop the NFL Draft and hopefully get back to the days when Rivers was pairing up with LaDainian Tomlinson and a stellar defense. But for this year, no such luck.
13 Could - Kansas City Chiefs
Even dating back to his Philadelphia days, Andy Reid always seems just so close. And due to that fact we will keep he and the Chiefs as an option to win Super Bowl 52. With the emergence of dynamic play maker Tyreek Hill, and the continued dominance of the defense, Reid has the weapons in place to get to his second Super Bowl as a head coach. Alex Smith is now 32 years old, and although his reputation is to be more of a game manager, it may be time for Smith and Reid to unleash a more dynamic offense featuring the quarterback a bit more. It seems Jamal Charles may or may not still in KC, but the Chiefs made their run to the AFC second seed with reliable back Spencer Ware. With Travis Kelce and perhaps another weapon, if the Chiefs offense shows the ability to win games even when the defense occasionally struggles, they could be a tough team to beat.
12 Won't - New York Jets
The New York Jets quarterback situation just never seems right. In the last 20 years it has felt like a revolving door of Chad Pennington, Vinny Testaverde, Brett Favre, Mark Sanchez, and more recently Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick. I would imagine that Ryan Fitzpatrick is done in New York after a dismal 2016, but where do they go from there. In the past two seasons they have drafted Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, but despite the team's struggles last the two only combined to start four games. It is safe to say the Jets are not going to win the Super Bowl or even more games than they do losses this year.
This year will be an experimental phase, trying out their young quarterbacks to see who can actually make a mark on the NFL. Expect a tear down and rebuild possibly starting with the dynamic wide receiving core.
11 Could - Houston Texans
The Texans managed to win a playoff game despite the fact they were sporting a messy quarterback situation all season long. It even went as far as Brock Osweiler being benched in favor of former Rutgers University quarterback Tom Savage. Their spot on this list is not because we see one of the two improving their game enough to propel the team to the championship, but the fact that they could be in the running for quarterback Tony Romo. I know Tony Romo has not proven anything as far as winning playoff games or championships, but to put him out there with a Deandre Hopkins and a defensive that was able to carry last season's Texans to a 9-7 record and an AFC South Division Championship.
The Texans just need to look to not waste the dominant defense they are currently sporting out. Even adding an aging Romo to manage the game unlike anyone currently on the roster can could help get even further through the NFL Playoffs.
10 Won't - Jacksonville Jaguars
There was a bit of hype actually surrounding the Jaguars going into the 2016 season, but it never came together in the least bit. The team finished with a 3-13 record and head coach Gus Bradley was fired. The Jaguars will again start over at the coaching position. The Jaguars actually sport out an exciting offensive core of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Blake Bortles but due to inconsistent coaching it never got going last year. With another change coming, I wouldn't expect a playoff run any time soon.
The team has not made the playoffs since 2007 and has put up a record of 42 wins and 102 losses in the past nine seasons. We will see if Doug Marrone with the assistance of Tom Coughlin in the position of Execute Vice President of Football Operations can turn it around anytime soon. But for this year, don't expect the Jaguars to be filling in the role of Super Bowl contender.
9 Could - Dallas Cowboys
Jason Garrett has never taken the team to back to back playoff appearances and the franchise hasn't been since 2006 and 2007, but its hard to imagine this talented young roster can't get back in the championship picture again after a stunning 2016. With Offensive Rookie of the Year, Dak Prescott at the helm and Ezekiel Elliott's league leading 1631 rushing yards in the backfield once again, Dallas has a great duo standing behind the best offensive line in the National Football League. The times of Tony Romo and company blowing December games to miss out on the playoffs seem to be over.
The Cowboys struggled out of the gate against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round. If the team can add some defensive pieces the Cowboys should be able to overcome such obstacle next year and possibly get their hands back on the Lombardi Trophy for the first time since 1996. .
8 Won't - Los Angeles Rams
Jeff Fisher is finally fired and maybe the Rams can start to move into the right direction for the first time since a Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson led team won a playoff game in 2004. Long ago are the days of Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk bringing the "Greatest Show on Turf" to St Louis. In fact the Rams are now located in Los Angeles, and turning to their 2016 number 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff at quarterback. Goff did not show much in his first season, but maybe a change at head coach is the fresh start the team and Goff need to begin their own chapter.
Still the Rams will not be competing for a Super Bowl this season or even in the foreseeable future.
7 Could - Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have made five straight playoff appearances since drafting and starting Russell Wilson in 2012. The Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson led teams have combined to win eight playoff games, including at least one playoff round win per year, in addition to a Super Bowl win in 2013. The team may not have Marshawn Lynch in the back field anymore, and that may had slowed them down in the past year, but if they are able to get the back field going again, the Seahawks will always be in the mix for another Super Bowl run. Still showcasing a top defense, Wilson can manage a game unlike any other quarterback, while also taking over game with his unique skill set.
In a division that sports the lowly 49ers and Rams, including an underachieving Cardinals team in 2016, the Seahawks should find themselves back in the playoffs and revamped for a Super Bowl appearance.
6 Won't - Chicago Bears
Sitting with the number three pick in the 2017 NFL Draft following a dismal 3-13 season, the Bears are ready to move on from quarterback Jay Cutler. With him leaving town, Alshon Jeffery will probably look to find a new home as well. Add in the fact that the other three members of their division finished .500 or better in 2016, Chicago will spend the 2017 season searching for a new identity and any title aspirations will be waiting on the shelf for a few years to come
In 2017 the Bears' starting quarterback will either be a rookie or career back up Matt Barkley. And despite their lone bright spot in rookie running back Jordan Howard, it seems pretty safe to go ahead and scratch them off of the list of potential Super Bowl winners for this year.
5 Could - Atlanta Falcons
Although the loser of the Super Bowl as been known to have a somewhat "cursed" year following the appearance, I don't think the Falcons should be worried about falling into that category. The Falcons bring a high powered record setting offense to the table, in addition to a defense that bettered throughout the year (besides the second half of the Super Bowl). Matt Ryan and Julio Jones may be the best QB-WR duo in the league, and with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman coming out of the backfield, another run at division champion seems likely.
The Falcons will most likely see more of the same opposition throughout the playoffs. And if head coach Dan Quinn can out coach the opponent, the Falcons should find themselves getting another crack at bring the Super Bowl title to Atlanta.
4 Won't - San Francisco 49ers
Its crazy to think that the 49ers appeared in three straight NFC Championships dating back to only 2013, including a Super Bowl appearance. Now the 49ers are coming off a 2-14 season with Chip Kelly. That of course would be Chip's first and only season in San Francisco. So long are the days of the league's top line backing core and the dynamic play of Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is still on the roster, but between the NFL figuring out how to play him and a poor completion percentage he has all but played his way out of San Francisco at this point. The Niners hold the number two pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. It is assumed they would target a top quarterback, unless Kyle Shanahan is going to give Kaepernick one last try. Regardless, you will not be seeing Kaepernick or the 49ers fighting for this year's Super Bowl.
3 Could - Denver Broncos
The Super Bowl 50 Champions failed to reach the post season in 2016 after five straight appearances. The quarterback situation in Denver was a mess, and if we know John Elway, we know that he is going to change that. The team drafted Paxton Lynch in the first round of last years draft but decided to start former seventh round pick Trevor Siemian instead. The Denver defense carried Siemian to a 9-7 record. The biggest option teams like the Broncos or Texans are looking at is 36 year old Tony Romo. After another injury plagued season, Romo looks to be on his way out of Dallas and it doesn't seem like he wants to call it a career just yet. Plug him in on Denver's offense with Sanders and Thomas at receiver, and a top defense in the league, the Broncos will find themselves right back in the Super Bowl picture.
2 Won't - Cleveland Browns
To be fair, for the first time in a long time the Browns actually are in a better place than some of the other teams on this list. They currently have a ton of money to spend, a coach in Hugh Jackson and again are sitting with the number 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. But... This has been the case in the past and until the Browns prove they won't misuse all these resources, there is no reason to be convinced they will improve. The Browns again have a chance to land a franchise QB in the draft but there has been clamoring that the team's last years third round draft pick, Cody Kessler, is the teams quarterback of the future. Whichever they chose the Browns will not be traveling to Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52.
1 Could - New England Patriots
Take what we said about Aaron Rodgers and multiply it by five. As long as Tom Brady is standing behind center and Bill Belichick is on the sidelines, the New England Patriots have a chance at winning that year's Super Bowl. Super Bowl 52 will be no different. Vegas has already marked the Patriots as the favorite to win this years title. The championship hangover does not exist in New England, being that Brady and Belichick have already gone back to back in 2003 and 2004. The Patriots have made the playoffs in every year besides two since Tom Brady took over at quarterback for Drew Bledsoe. And one of those seasons Brady sat with an injury.
Love 'em or hate 'em, the New England Patriots will likely find themselves hoisting the Lombardi Trophy yet again in 2017.
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