It only seems like yesterday that the Denver Broncos captured Super Bowl 50 to win their first championship in 17 years. The defending champions will have a tough task of repeating, as the New England Patriots are the most recent team to do it (2003 and 2004). In other words, repeating is next-to-impossible.
As we look into the future, we can see which teams will still be dominant five years from now, which ones will have lost their championship window of opportunities, and other teams that'll probably be stuck in mediocrity for years to come.
There are a handful of teams that we expect to play for Super Bowl LI next year, but there are also some teams that you know will be contending for championships over the next five seasons. With the NFL season just weeks away, here is a look at my way-too-early predictions for the next five Super Bowl match-ups and champions.
15 2016 AFC Champion: Baltimore Ravens
Feel free to call this a questionable pick, but I'm fully confident with it.
Many forget just how much success Joe Flacco and Jim Harbaugh have had together in Baltimore: They've qualified for the playoffs in six of eight years together, posting a 10-5 postseason record while reaching three AFC Championships and winning Super Bowl XLVII.
They're coming off a disastrous 5-11 2015 season. Such is life when Terrell Suggs, Flacco, Justin Forsett, and Steve Smith Sr. all lost their seasons early due to injuries. Those core four are back, and the team added speedster Mike Wallace and All-Pro safety Eric Weddle. This team is dangerous when it comes to the postseason.
Factor in the fact they'll dedicate 2016 to Tray Walker, who died in a tragic motorcycle accident, and the Ravens will play hard to honour their teammate. Baltimore will get back to their second Super Bowl in five years.
14 2016 NFC Champion: Green Bay Packers
The Packers offence never got it going in 2015, because of Jordy Nelson's torn ACL in THE preseason and Eddie Lacy's weight issues that slowed down his production. Aaron Rodgers looked human, yet the Packers were oh-so-close to playing in their second consecutive NFC Championship.
With Nelson back and Lacy shredding plenty of pounds, Rodgers' two favourite playmakers will make him the MVP front runner in 2016. Throw in their defence that allowed just 20.2 points-per-game, and there is plenty of reason for optimism for the Cheesehead Nation.
Green Bay has only won a single NFC Championship in the Rodgers regime, but all the pieces are there for them to get back into action and win their first NFC title in six years.
13 Super Bowl LI Champion: Green Bay Packers
If you were to tell anyone that the Packers would have to wait six years between titles, they probably would have laughed at you. Hard to believe that Rodgers has only played in one Super Bowl through a marvellous eight-year career thus far, in which he has won two MVPs.
Well, all of the naysayers and Packer haters will have to see Rodgers win yet another championship as the Packers beat the Ravens in a thriller, 27-24.
Like we said, Green Bay has all of the strengths needed to be a champion: A great quarterback, a balanced offence, and a solid defence filled with playmakers like Sam Shields, Clay Matthews, and Julius Peppers, among others. It's simply time for Rodgers and the Pack to once again get over the top. He's going to be 33 in December and knows time isn't on his side. That motivates him to become a champion.
12 2017 AFC Champion: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1991. Andy Dalton is 0-4 in the playoffs and was absent for the team's crushing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of last postseason.
Well, they may not quite make the noise in 2016, but they are on the rise and should be going on a run any year now. Say what you want about him, but Dalton is one of the NFL's better quarterbacks. With A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, he has two elite pass-catchers as he continues to grow into an elite signal-caller.
The ground game has two studs in Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. So expect the balanced offence to do wonders. Their defence is not one to mess with: Adam Jones, Vontaze Burfict, Carlos Dunlap, and Geno Atkins give this team a championship-quality defensive group.
As Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger age, the Bengals will take advantage of a weak AFC in 2017, and Dalton finally proves the haters wrong by guiding the Bengals to the Super Bowl.
11 2017 NFC Champion: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers had one of the best seasons ever last year, going 15-1 while Cam Newton won the MVP. He destroyed the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs, but the Denver Broncos stout defence led by Von Miller was just too much.
Carolina is 0-2 in Super Bowls now, but there's no reason to think they won't win one in the Newton Era.
He's simply an unstoppable force (as long as he doesn't play Denver). Greg Olsen and the returning Kelvin Benjamin give him two elite weapons. But it's defence that wins championships, and that group did their job in Super Bowl 50.
Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Star Lotulelei give them a ferocious pass-rush that absolutely manhandled Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, and Peyton Manning in the playoffs. Carolina is so dangerous on both ends of the ball. Because I'm a firm believer in the Super Bowl hangover, the Panthers won't be NFC champions in 2016.
But the following year? It'll be their time again.
10 Super Bowl LII Champion: Carolina Panthers
About those heartbreaking Super Bowl losses year-after-year?
Well, it's done with. In two years. Cam Newton was drafted first-overall in 2011 to bring the Panthers out of a rut and into glory. He's already done that with three straight NFC South titles, but this team is built to win championships for the long term, and their time is coming right up.
In Super Bowl LII, you'll have the Panthers and Bengals. This promises to be an intriguing matchup, as one franchise will take home their first-ever Super Bowl. So why do I take Carolina over Cincinnati?
Well, you can figure that Dalton will be forced into mistakes with Carolina's heavy pass-rush. Furthermore, Newton really can't be contained unless he's facing the best defence ever, and he did against the 2015 Broncos. This is his time for redemption. Newton will have an MVP-like performance as the Panthers spoil the Bengals' 2017 party, winning their first-ever Super Bowl.
9 2018 AFC Champion: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers will have made their first Super Bowl in eight years by the time they win the 2018 AFC Championship game. Ben Roethlisberger will be geared up for one more big run at the Super Bowl, while Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and Le'Veon Bell stick together to keep this lethal offence in tact.
Their defence will have come together by then; Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, and Mike Mitchell are good foundation pieces to build around.
Fun fact, while we're at it: Since 2003, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl every year except 2012, when Joe Flacco's Baltimore Ravens emerged victorious to win the Super Bowl.
Well, Manning is now retired and Tom Brady will either be retired or well past-his-prime by 2018. That leaves Roethlisberger as the AFC's best quarterback, so the competition to get to the Super Bowl won't be all that fierce. Pittsburgh also makes some significant offseason additions in the next couple of years to give Big Ben one more shot at a third ring.
8 2018 NFC Champion: Seattle Seahawks
As we've seen through the first four years in the Russell Wilson Era, Seattle is simply a dangerous machine that can't be stopped. Wilson appears to be on the verge of a breakout season after making Doug Baldwin an elite receiver in the second half of last season. Finally, DangeRuss has a legitimate number one pass-catcher
The return of Jimmy Graham gives Wilson two elite weapons down the road. You know Seattle's ground game will always find a way to be dangerous. Now am I missing something about why Seattle is a championship-calibre team?
Right. That Legion of Boom defence. Hey, there's a reason that the Seahawks have led the NFL in scoring defence in each of the last four years. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor will only be in their early 30s by the time this matchup rolls around, so don't expect them to be washed up yet.
Seattle's defence carries them to their third NFC title under Pete Carroll. But do they win it all?
7 Super Bowl LIII Champion: Seattle Seahawks
And when all is said and done, the Seahawks will exact revenge on the team that ended their Super Bowl dreams via controversial officiating back in Super Bowl XL.
We saw these teams play in a Week 12 thriller last season, a 39-30 Seattle victory.
Assuming each team keeps their core in tact, you'll have Sherman vs. Brown and Chancellor-Thomas vs Bryant-Wheaton. Oh yeah, and Le'Veon Bell against Seattle's ferocious front seven. See where we are getting at? This is going to be a Super Bowl for the absolute ages. So why am I going with Seattle? Because defence wins championships, and there's no doubt in my mind that the Seahawks have the weapons to slow down Pittsburgh's offensive machine.
Many believe that the Seahawks could be a dynasty. That may be a bit of a stretch, but winning their second title with this core is a good start. Wilson and co. continue their greatness with a big Super Bowl win against a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
6 2019 AFC Champion: Indianapolis Colts
Realistically, the Colts could have easily been in the Super Bowl with Andrew Luck by now. But owner Jim Irsay keeps having faith that head coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson can work together. One of them really should be gone by now.
Any who, one of them is sure to get canned down the road, and maybe that's a reason why I have the Colts finally winning the AFC in the Andrew Luck Era once and for all. As we know it right now, Peyton Manning was a threat to them, but he's gone. Tom Brady will be retired by 2019, and Ben Roethlisberger will have seen better days.
Luck will undoubtedly be the best quarterback in the AFC by then, and the Colts window of opportunity will extend. T.Y. Hilton and Dontre Moncrief will remain key parts of the passing game, but I'm expecting a couple more solid draft picks to come in and round out the rest of this core by 2019. In other words, their current roster doesn't have what it takes to be a championship team.
But Luck is enough to keep them in the playoff hunt, and in four years, the Colts will have won their first AFC title with Luck.
5 2019 NFC Champion: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have the misfortunes of playing in arguably the most competitive time ever in the NFC. The Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers should be considered the top two favourites to win the Super Bowl next season. After that? The Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. In other words, the Vikings really don't have it easy in trying to stand out from the pack.
But by 2019, Carson Palmer will be retired, Aaron Rodgers will be aging and possibly slowing down. The Legion of Boom will also be older and you have to figure that the young Vikings will stand out from the rest of the NFC by then.
Adrian Peterson will be retired, but Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Rudolph, and Stefon Diggs give this offence some good playmakers. But again, defence wins championships, and Minny has that with Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Anthony Barr. We're talking about a defence that could be as dominant as Seattle's.
And with that, the Vikings win their first NFC Championship since 1976.
4 Super Bowl LIV Champion: Indianapolis Colts
It'll be deja vu all over again for Colts fans, as their legendary quarterback Andrew Luck finally defeats the narratives of "not being able to win the big one," something that stuck to Peyton Manning in Indy until he won it all in 2006.
You need a great quarterback most of the time to win a Super Bowl, and the Colts know they have that with Luck. I can't tell you exactly who wil be the key defensive players to lead this team, because they're waiting to be drafted in 2017, 2018, and 2019. But talk to most experts, and they'll tell you how Luck is on the verge of winning his first Super Bowl.
The Colts and Vikings will put on one of the most exciting quarterbacks duels in recent memory as Luck goes toe-to-toe with Bridgewater. But this game goes to the team with the better quarterback, and Luck finally finishes the job and brings Indy their first Super Bowl in nearly a decade-and-a-half.
3 2020 AFC Champion: Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have been one of the most laughed-at teams in the NFL since losing Super Bowl XXXVII, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers absolutely crushed them, 48-21. But Derek Carr has finally emerged as the quarterback this team's lacked for over a decade. It doesn't stop there.
Michael Crabtree has been a dangerous weapon, and Amari Cooper will be a top-five receiver in the NFL by the time 2020 rolls around. Maybe even sooner. Latavius Murray will also be a top running back for years. So, with Oakland's offence completely set, what's next?
Well, their defence has a real MVP candidate in the long-term future in Khalil Mack. Should they nail a couple more draft selections on the defensive side of the ball, then they'll be built to win the Super Bowl for years.
Carr will be an elite quarterback and Mack may just be the NFL's best defensive player by 2020. It's not hard to envision this team getting back to the big dance.
2 2020 NFC Champion: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You want it? You got it.
I'm talking to you, Raiders fans. You'll be getting your Super Bowl rematch nearly two decades after the crushing defeat that sent your team into turmoil for years. There won't be any Jon Gruden to captain either side this time around, but it will be a thrilling matchup between Carr and Jameis Winston, two of the NFL's current rising quarterbacks.
So Tampa Bay gets here because of how well their rebuilding project has become. Winston strongly impressed us all in his rookie year, and you figure already-strong chemistry with Doug Martin and Mike Evans will only get better. The Bucs defence is also one of the most underrated units in the NFL.
Like the Vikings, Tampa will be at an advantage over the current NFC powers: Those teams will see their best players declining and/or retiring. The Bucs are loaded with young talent, and it's bound to take them to a Super Bowl in the coming years.
2020, to be exact.
1 Super Bowl LV Champion: Oakland Raiders
And with that, one of the most disappointed NFL fan bases will get plenty to celebrate when their beloved Raiders win the Super Bowl after decades of misery. How sweet it'll feel.
Carr puts on a clinic for the ages and becomes the most beloved athlete in Oakland history when he guides his team to a Super Bowl championship over the team that ruined them in Super Bowl XXXVII. No, they probably won't win 48-21. But Carr and Winston will put on one of the most memorable quarterback duels in recent memory, while the better guy will win this one.
Mack will be a huge difference maker in this one, kind of like how Von Miller completely set the tone for Super Bowl 50. The Raiders are winning this one because of their talent on both sides of the ball making the difference. Carr and Mack become the most beloved men out of Oakland after winning it all.