8 Dark Horse NFL Teams Who Could Reach Super Bowl 53 And 8 'Contenders' Who Will Miss The Playoffs

Year after year, we try to predict which teams will make it to the Super Bowl way before the season begins. But instead of doing that, let’s look at some teams that could shock the world by making it, or some teams that are expected to make the playoffs, that will miss them. Recently, many of the Super Bowl winners have been teams that are expected to win. Except this past Super Bowl, when the Philadelphia Eagles won. The Eagles had yet to win a Super Bowl in franchise history, but with a franchise quarterback, they were able to take down Tom Brady.

Through the offseason, there have been some teams who missed the playoffs last season who made enough moves to possibly make a Super Bowl run this season. For once, it seems that nobody is without a quarterback going into the season, and a lot of teams added talent around their quarterback. But while some teams may advance on their roster, some teams were unable to keep up with their expectations. Some teams this offseason have changed their whole look, whether it be for the best or the worst. One thing we know, is that Super Bowl LIII is going to be a fun one.

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16 Super Bowl: Jacksonville Jaguars

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This may not come to a shock to some, but to many, last season’s success wasn’t enough to justify the Jacksonville Jaguars possibly making a Super Bowl run. In past seasons, the Jaguars were a team to make fun of, with Blake Bortles being the main target. But last season, that all changed. Bortles was more careful with the football, and the no. 1 ranked defense made it difficult for offenses to score on them. And oh, you could say drafting Leonard Fournette helped balance out this offense. And let’s not forget, if the officials made the change on the Myles Jack play, the Jaguars had a good chance at defeating the Patriots.

The only thing that would prevent them from missing the playoffs is the lack of options on the outside. They lost both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns this offseason, along with tight end Marcedes Lewis.

However, they bring in Donte Moncrief, and drafted D.J. Clark. The Jaguars also improved their defense this offseason, as they drafted Ronnie Harrison and Taven Bryan. For the most part, the Jaguars come back with an experienced secondary, despite losing Aaron Colvin. If this team can keep it together on offense, they can be a real threat for a Super Bowl.

15 Miss Playoffs: Buffalo Bills

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A miracle happened, which allowed the Buffalo Bills to make the playoffs last season for the first time in 18 years. It was an exciting time for Bills fans, until they lost in the first round 10-3 to the Jaguars. Because of how weak the AFC is, and a miracle for the Bengals to defeat the Ravens, the Bills just barely made their way into the playoffs. But really, they don’t have any great qualities that would make them a playoff team. As of right now, we aren’t even sure who their quarterback week one will be. Some analysts have actually predicted it will be Nathan Peterman, who threw five interceptions in his debut with the Bills. They have two valid options between A.J. McCarron and Josh Allen, but the question is if they want to start their young quarterback right off the bat.

And their lack of weapons on the outside is a concern for a young quarterback trying to make plays. The only thing that could really make this team compete would be their defense, but even that, this isn’t a defense filled with stars. The Bills found luck in 2017, but that luck will wash away in 2018.

14 Super Bowl: Los Angeles Rams

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Out of every team on this list, the Los Angeles Rams are the most realistic team to win the Super Bowl, or at least reach it. So how are they a dark horse team? No one last season gave them a shot to make the playoffs. Once they made the playoffs, nobody had them possibly winning the Super Bowl. But with an offseason like they had, that’s a real possibility.

The Rams didn’t have a first round draft pick this year after they made a surprising trade with the New England Patriots that landed them Brandin Cooks, who will replace the departed Tavon Austin. They also set out to make some impact moves in free agency. And, they definitely did. Some of the biggest names they acquired include Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters. Long story short, this team may have put together now one of the best defenses in the league, while having a young offense that can spread the ball through the air and on the ground.

Goff now has two years under his belt, which can only help him moving forward. And out of the three seasons he’s played with the Rams, this is the best team he’s been a part of. The Rams could make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001.

13 Miss Playoffs: Los Angeles Chargers

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We’re heading in a direction where many veterans are heading towards the end of their careers, and some of them are still without a Super Bowl ring on their finger. Unfortunately, like Tony Romo, Philip Rivers is also going to finish his career without a championship. Rivers has never been given the team that could compete to make the playoffs consistently, and things aren’t going to change now.

While many say that the Chargers have one of the best teams in Rivers’ career, it still may not be enough to be any more than a first round exit in the playoffs.

And with the loss of Hunter Henry, it makes it that much more difficult. Henry was tied for the second most touchdown catches, and third on the team in receiving yards.

The Chargers have trusted using their tight ends throughout the past to succeed, but they lose both Henry and Antonio Gates in 2018 (although a Gates reunion is possible). And really, the only two moves that were made this offseason that were impressive were signing Mike Pouncey, and drafting Derwin James. But like always, it just doesn’t seem like this Chargers team did enough this offseason to take advantage of an opportunity to make the playoffs, yet win a Super Bowl.

12 Super Bowl: Oakland Raiders

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Two years ago, would you have ever expected the Oakland Raiders to make the playoffs? Probably not. Well, they did, and then when everyone expected them to win the Super Bowl, they missed the playoffs. But this offseason they made a lot of noise, all beginning with signing Jon Gruden as the new head coach. Well, Gruden wasted no time to improve this team. Throughout the offseason, they brought in Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Ryan Switzer, Daryl Worley, and Doug Martin. The Raiders now help add more weapons for Carr, and use the draft to improve the offensive line and the defense.

Carr now has a whole offseason to get healthy, and has some help to do so. And with Gruden cutting Marquette King, it shows that he’s here for business. 2016 was the first time the Raiders have made the playoffs since they lost the Super Bowl in 2002, when they lost to Jon Gruden, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gruden hasn’t coached since 2008, but something about this team must have made him feel confident in wanting to get back into coaching. You add better coaching, along with a more talented roster, and you give the Raiders a real shot to win one more Super Bowl before they move out of Oakland.

11 Miss Playoffs: New York Giants

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Ever since the New York Giants selected Saquon Barkley with their first-round draft pick, everyone has the Giants making it back to the playoffs and possibly contending for the Super Bowl. It’s like once they made that draft pick, everything just changed for this team. Granted, this team made some improvements this offseason. The Giants improved the offensive line by adding Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh, as well as drafting one of the best guards in the draft in Will Hernandez. The weakness for this team has finally been addressed, but the question is, will they live up to their expectations? The second biggest need was running back, which the Giants addressed by adding Barkley and Jonathan Stewart.

But what about this defense that struggled in 2017? Or the passing game that just couldn’t get going all season? We’re not talking about a team that has a great quarterback with a lack of talent; Eli Manning is not a Hall of Fame quarterback. The only reason he gets put into those conversations is because of his two Super Bowl victories. Despite a few seasons throughout his career, he’s been a turnover machine. If Eli can be smart with the football, they have a better shot. But there’s some pretty good defenses in the NFC East that he’s going to have to go up against.

10 Super Bowl: Denver Broncos

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What helped get the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl a few years ago, was a good defense. While the departure of Aqib Talib was tough to swallow, this team was able to save money to bring in Case Keenum, and they lucked out as defensive end Bradley Chubb fell into their lap in the draft. The Broncos were able to improve their secondary after losing Talib, by adding Su’a Cravens. His commitment is definitely going to be questioned, but the talent is there. And then of course, the Broncos brought in Keenum.

In 2017, Keenum, a former third string quarterback, was able to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.

Well, the Broncos were committed to providing Keenum with enough talent to be successful. The second and third round draft picks were both offensively driven, as they drafted wide receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Royce Freeman. This Broncos team already has two of the best wide receivers with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but they haven’t been as productive playing with mediocre quarterbacks. With a talented quarterback with some playoff experience, Keenum should be able to give this team a shot to make it back to the Super Bowl.

9 Miss Playoffs: Kansas City Chiefs

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For the past three seasons, we have seen the Kansas City Chiefs make it to the playoffs with Alex Smith as their quarterback. The Chiefs finally decided to part ways with Smith, as they traded him to the Redskins for a third-round pick and cornerback, Kendall Fuller. After one season of sitting on the bench, Patrick Mahomes will take over this team in 2018. And Mahomes isn’t taking over any splashy playoff team. This Chiefs team is a team that has been one of the best in the AFC, but continues to fall apart in the playoffs.

During the offseason, the Chiefs did move on from Marcus Peters, which made acquiring Fuller from the Redskins even more important. The Chiefs also added Sammy Watkins, along with Anthony Hitchens. And this team made some moves in the draft to help improve their defense, which struggled throughout the 2017 season.

If the Chiefs are going to succeed in 2018, it’s going to be on Mahomes. He has a lot of potential, but this is basically a rookie quarterback playing in a tough AFC West. The Chargers always play the Chiefs tough, the Raiders look a lot better, and the Broncos look more talented. Two teams could make the playoffs from the AFC West, but the Chiefs won’t be one of them.

8 Super Bowl: Houston Texans

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Do you believe in the hype? Or was Deshaun Watson’s success as a rookie a fluke? Will Watson’s injury be a step backwards for him, or will it be motivation for him to come back stronger and better? All those questions will remain unanswered until the season begins, but one thing we can’t neglect, is Watson’s success before his injury. Before Watson’s season ended due to his ACL injury, he led the NFL in passing touchdowns with 19. And then once Watson’s season finished, the Texans season finished. It’s tough to argue against how important Watson is to this team.

Like some of the other teams on this list, the Texans had some moves that needed to be made. Some of the biggest moves that the Texans made this offseason include signing Aaron Colvin, Tyrann Mathieu, and Zach Fulton. With the AFC being so weak, Watson could dominant the air throughout the season and really take this team to the next level. His ability to use his legs and arm to make plays makes one of the scariest quarterbacks in the NFL. If Watson can continue the strong play from 2017 and carry it into this season, this team is going to be scary.

7 Miss Playoffs: Carolina Panthers

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Since 2012, the Panthers have had a losing season every other year. Well, this season would be the next year that the Panthers finish with a losing record. The Panthers need to get the running game going in order to get further than the first round, and they took a gamble by signing C.J. Anderson. Anderson had his first 1,000-yard season in 2017, So it will be interesting to see how Anderson does with a different team. The Panthers were also able to bring in Dontari Poe, and Torrey Smith. So, through free agency, this team did make some nice moves. The Panthers also helped boost this receiver corps in the first round by drafting D.J. Moore. All in all, this team looks like it improved from last season.

It just seems that after every good season, Newton struggles. And to bank on all new guys to live up to expectations in year one is unrealistic.

Both the Falcons and Saints come back with a more talented team. The talent in the NFC has improved, and the Panthers simply did not add enough talent to their roster to bypass some of these other dominant teams in NFC. The every other year theory for the Panthers will continue.

6 Super Bowl: Dallas Cowboys

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Yes, the Dallas Cowboys are going to end the trash talking. The memes are done, as the Cowboys come into 2018 with one of the most well-rounded rosters they have had in years. Many fans and analysts have spoken how they feel that the Cowboys moving forward, but this team has a ton of talent. Losing Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, and Anthony Hitchens sounds terrible. But this Cowboys team was able to add talent to replace all three of those guys through the draft. The Cowboys receiver corps improves as they add Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson and Cedrick Wilson. They also add to their strong suit, the offensive line, by drafting Connor Williams and moving him inside to guard.

The Eagles and Giants are the most frequently spoken about in the NFC East, but this Cowboys team now has a lot of depth, and added more talent. Having Ezekiel Elliott for the full season with no worries also helps. In All or Nothing, it was clear that Elliott was frustrated and could not concentrate at the beginning of the season, which just led to frustrations through this team. With a lot of new faces, this team could do a lot of different things to execute against other teams.

5 Miss Playoffs: Seattle Seahawks

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Out of all the teams who will shock you not to make the playoffs this season, the most obvious team is the Seattle Seahawks. You cannot expect to dismantle your whole team and make a playoff run. It just doesn’t work like that, especially when you don’t replace these players with quality talent.

The Seahawks said goodbye this offseason to many stars, some of which include Michael Bennett, Jimmy Graham, and Richard Sherman.

The Legion of Boom is no longer a thing, and the offense loses two out of their three best weapons. It’s just not going to work out in 2017. In 2017, the Seahawks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. And once again in 2018, Russell Wilson will see what it’s like to miss the playoffs again.

With how improved this division is after the offseason, the Seahawks could honestly see themselves finishing in last place. When you look at this roster, it lacks depth, it lacks leadership, and there’s worry for their future. Worry for Kam Chancellor’s future, worry that Earl Thomas may be in his last season with the Seahawks. There’s going to be a lot of questions throughout the season, that may cause the end of an era.

4 Win Super Bowl: Chicago Bears

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Now we move on to some of the real surprises. Yes, the Chicago Bears may actually be able to top Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins to make it to the Super Bowl. They had one of the best offseasons in the league, attacking all needs throughout the offseason. Mitchell Trubisky goes into his second season with a much better receiving corps, as they added Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, as well as a tight end in Trey Burton. They used the draft to also improve by adding wide receiver Anthony Miller, and one of the best college linebackers in recent memory, Roquan Smith.

Trubisky’s rookie season was quite the disappointment, and it’s often overlooked. Through 12 games, he went 4-8, throwing for 2,193 yards, along with seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He averaged less than one touchdown pass per game. This is a team that revolves around the run game, and they improved the offensive line, while adding help to the outside. If Trubisky can live up to expectations, this Bears front office gave him everything he needs to succeed through the air. And he’s going to do just that. The wide receiver group was one of the worst in the league this season, but looks much brighter in 2018.

3 Miss Playoffs: Green Bay Packers

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It’s always difficult to predict the success of a team when they lose their starting quarterback for the rest of the season to an injury. Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, which cut his season short. Rodgers may be the most talented quarterback in the NFL, but the Packers have failed year after year to put talent around him to compete for a Super Bowl. The lack of a run game, poor offensive line, and a struggling secondary. But the biggest bullet this Packers team took this offseason was losing Jordy Nelson.

It was bound to happen. The Packers simply couldn’t afford to keep him on the team, or so they say. Jimmy Graham was signed this offseason to a big deal, which maybe is supposed to take over as a reliable weapon for Rodgers. But clearly, Rodgers was not happy about Nelson’s departure, which will be a huge blow for this offense.

Besides signing Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson, this front office was pretty quiet throughout this offseason.

Like usual, this front office didn’t do enough to help Aaron Rodgers. They used two premium draft picks on cornerbacks, but it’s always a gamble when using the draft to improve the secondary.

2 Super Bowl: San Francisco 49ers

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It’s what the world wants to see. Jimmy Garoppolo has helped flipped the 49ers' future over, as he helped lead them to five consecutive wins to end the 2017 season. The trade that sent Garoppolo to San Francisco may be one of the best decisions the 49ers organization has made in years. And the good decisions continue to come, as this organization is motivated to provide Garoppolo was talent on both sides of the football. Some key additions this offseason include Richard Sherman and Jerick McKinnon. In the first round, the 49ers were committed to providing Garoppolo with protection on the offensive line, by adding Mike McGlinchey.

It seems that the 49ers are committed to winning with Garoppolo. This time last year, this organization seemed like a lost cause. No quarterback, National Anthem drama, and a big-time head coach that was failing. But once Garoppolo came in, everything seemed alright. The only threat to the 49ers will be the Los Angeles Rams, who look like the most dominant team in the league so far. But Garoppolo’s success in 2017 proves that nobody should count him out. Don’t be surprised if his visit in the Super Bowl is against former mentor, Tom Brady.

1 Miss Playoffs: Tennessee Titans

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Last season, the Tennessee Titans sneaked their way into the playoffs, as they went 9-7 and won one of the Wild Card seeds. Surprisingly, the Titans were actually able to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs on the road, but then lost in the divisional round against the New England Patriots. With the AFC being so weak last year, it gave this Titans team a chance to make some noise in the playoffs. But a lot of teams in the AFC improved, and the Titans weren’t one of them. They moved on from their starting running back, DeMarco Murray, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2016. They brought in Dion Lewis, a player who potential, but hasn’t completely proved himself in the league yet.

The success of this team really all comes down to Marcus Mariota. But he made a big step backwards last season, throwing only 13 touchdown passes to his 15 interceptions. With that type of play, the Titans aren’t going anywhere. The Jaguars come back with one of the best defenses in the league, and the Texans come back with DeShaun Watson. Both of those teams could potentially be playoff contenders, and the Titans won’t fit anywhere with them.

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