With training camp already underway and the preseason just around the corner, it’s hard to truly tell which teams are serious contenders and which teams are just pretenders. However, there are really only a handful of teams in the NFL with serious hopes of contending for a Super Bowl.
Here are the five teams who could potentially hoist the Lombardi trophy this February:
5. Oakland Raiders
As was established time and time again last year, the Oakland Raiders offense is elite. Derek Carr really rounded into form and was the most surprising star to emerge last year. However, although Carr was amazing last year, there are many questions about whether or not he can repeat that production coming off a broken leg.
Despite the concern about Carr, the main question surrounding this Oakland team during training camp is whether or not their defense will be able to improve enough to make them a serious contender. Although the Raiders went 12-4 last year, that was mainly due to their downright dominance on offense. Their defense was a major issue which ranked 20th in the NFL allowing 24.2 points per game. Without Khalil Mack being an absolute force all year long and Bruce Irvin being a consistent presence rushing the passer, their defense might have been dead last.
So for a team fighting for a title they need substantial improvement. The Raiders themselves obviously see this as they added the best corner in this years draft in Gareon Conley along with signing Jelani Jenkins, who should sure up the secondary for the time being. The players weren’t the only problem for the Raiders on defense. Last year time and time again we’d sit there wondering what the game plan on defense was as it was very poorly planned and inconsistent during the game. Thankfully for Raiders fans the addition of John Pagano to the coaching staff should put in an end to all these questions. Pagano is very clever on the defensive side of the ball and should be able to capitalize on the young talent that the Raiders defense consists of.
But the Raiders didn’t just sit on their offense leaving the pieces they had in place. They actually improved their already explosive offense by adding Marshawn Lynch to the running game. If Lynch has any gas left in the tank he could be a great add for the Raiders since his pounding running style would give opposing defenses something else to worry. That would allow more room for Carr to make plays down the field. They also signed Jared Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson. Cook should be able to provide some depth at tight end and be a solid receiver when needed to be. While Patterson is more of a one trick pony, he is an extremely explosive return man which could prove valuable in setting up field position for the Raiders offense.
This Raiders team is a young team and a tough one at that. They aren’t afraid to get in a dog fight and they can certainly match any team in a shootout. So while they face a mountain of an obstacles in teams such as the Patriots, they could make the race for home field advantage interesting at least.
4. New York Giants
Personally, this is the hardest team to get a feel for. The talent was there last year for this team to make a run and they most likely should’ve beaten the Rodgers led Packers. They would’ve easily been the toughest opponent for the Patriots in the Super Bowl as we all know Brady doesn’t fair well against the Giants in the big game.
My main concern about this Giants team is the mindset. There is always some sort of drama surrounding this team whether it’s Beckham Jr. fighting on the field or a defensive end blowing his fingers off.
Despite that concern, last year the Giants defense proved so many of us wrong and showed they are legit. The Giants secondary may be the best in the NFL right now and there’s a pretty clear reason why. This defense has slowly stated to look like the Seattle defense of a couple years ago, with Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, and others locking down teams top threats and making the quarterback look at his third and fourth read. If you can get a quarterback to his third read you are most likely going to be able to get pressure on him, but with the Giants pass rush sometimes opposing quarterbacks can’t even get to their second read. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon dominating the line of scrimmage and Damon Harrison being a road block in the running game, this defense can downright take over games when they need to.
The problems for the Giants weren’t the defense as many people expected it to be, but instead it was their offense. All year long the Giants offense was just way to predictable and bland. Along with the fact that Eli Manning was a lot worse than many even realize they just couldn’t move the call consistently enough when they needed to which put a ton of pressure on their defense. The Giants attempted to correct both of these problems by adding Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall to an already deep receiving core. They also added a solid running back in Perkins and bolstered the offensive line with the addition of Fluker which should allow Manning to have some more time in the pocket.
Too many times last year the Giants would depend on Beckham to carry their offense. Although Beckham may be the most talented receiver in the NFL, it just became way to obvious and easy for opposing defenses to cover. With the addition of Marshall and a hopefully improved running game the Giants should be able to share the ball more and allow Beckham to get some one on one matchups and exploit them.
Looking up and down this Giants team, there really aren’t many holes. As long as Manning can return to form then this team should be able to contend for a playoff spot and maybe even beat out the Cowboys for the division. Plus, as Eli has proving before, once he’s in the playoffs it’s a whole new game.
3. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys off season has been disappointing to say the least. They lost Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne who were both really solid players who contributed to last years team. Also they most likely are going to be without Elliot for the first few games of the year filling an off season jam packed with controversy. So a step back seems all but guaranteed.
Thankfully for the Cowboys, although Elliot is fantastic, they should be able to get by until he is able to return. Mainly due to the fact that their offensive line is stupid good. Having a good offensive line is the greatest benefit in all of football as it impacts every other part of the game in someway. It helps the quarterback have a more time and make better decisions, it allows the running game to get nice and easy yards on early downs, and it also allows the defense to spend less time on the field keeping them from getting burnt out.
Dak Prescott should be able to manage with a couple backup running backs through the early part of the season. But will Dak be able to repeat what he did a year ago? It’s hard to believe that there won’t be any type of sophmore slump. How Prescott is able to handle the failure will show us his true potential as a quarterback.
Although the Cowboys defense wasn’t a force last year, it was a lot better than many thought. Ranking 5th in points allowed per game (how much time they were able to get to rest can’t be stressed enough) their defense was a timely one making big plays when needed the most. The Cowboys did suffer some losses on the defensive side of the ball however, they added some really talented young players (mainly Taco Charlton) who can be a three down force right out of the gate.
The Cowboys have obviously built their team around their offensive line and controlling the pace of the game. As long as the Cowboys can make enough big time plays they could ride their offensive line all the way to the Super Bowl.
2. Seattle Seahawks
When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl a few years ago they did it with a suffocating defense and a dominating running game. Now the Seahawks win football games with explosive offensive plays and the reason for the change is because of Russell Wilson. Wilson has matured as a leader and a passer which allows the Seahawks to utilize his underrated arm.
Let’s not pretend like this defense is still the defense that made the record setting Denver Broncos offense look incapable. However, the core of the defense is still in tact Sherman, Chancellor, and Thomas. They are still elite defenders and can lead a Super Bowl winning defense.
The main thing that has plagued this team over the past couple seasons has been the offensive line. It’s been downright putrid at points. Seattle’s attempt to piece together an offensive line has really cost them chances to get back to the Super Bowl. Also, it has really put Wilson in a bad position, too many brutal hits for a guy his size start to add up quickly. But recently, the Seahawks have put a lot more work into their line adding Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi this off season to provide solid starters for Wilson while George Fant and Germain Ifedi have some needed experience under their belts, which might allow them to blossom into capable starters this year.
This defense although not the once vaunted, is certainly a top ten defense in the NFL. Along with the fact that the Seahawks have been pilling young talent up and down their roster the past few seasons. This team is a really dynamic one. Of course Graham and Baldwin are the first names to pop into mind when thinking about the Seahawks offense, but there is some really good depth with the likes of Tyler Lockett, who is a really explosive young player, Luke Wilson, Paul Richardson, and Jermaine Kearse. Wilson has plenty of options. The addition of Eddie Lacy this off season could also be very helpful as he runs like Lynch used to. As long as he can keep his weight under control the Seahawks are going to be a hard team to stop.
Yes, the Seahawks have a top ten defense and a top five quarterback, both things that make you a true contender in the NFL. But one thing that can’t be drafted and should never be counted out is experience, and this Seahawks team has plenty of it. When the playoffs roll around no team wants to see that they’re facing Seattle because you can’t teach the things that you learn from experience. Despite the competition in the NFC, the Seahawks should come out on top and have a chance at redemption.
1. New England Patriots
Okay let’s be real for a minute. If the Patriots don’t win the Super Bowl this year, then it’s a major disappointment. Yeah. That’s how good this team is and for the second time in the Brady era I expect the Patriots to win three out of four Super Bowls.
Three words come to mind when thinking about the Patriots chances at success: “Brady and Belichick.” Brady may have cemented himself as the greatest quarterback to ever live and maybe even the greatest football player ever. Belichick is just so much different from a normal coach that it’s hard to believe that it could work but the results show that it has worked quite well for him to put it lightly. Belichick’s ability to motivate players is also amazing. He always seems to get the very most out of just about every single player and may be the most underrated aspect about his coaching.
Despite all the success that the duo has enjoyed, they have not let it change their ways at all. Brady still plays like he is a sixth round pick fighting for a roster spot. While Belichick will cut a proven player in place of a rookie purely because he earned the job that year no matter the repercussions that come along with the move. So those two alone make the Patriots a favorite to win the Super Bowl every single season.
But what’s different about this team is the level of talent around them. Despite the fact that they just won another Super Bowl. the Patriots weren’t content just sitting on their hands during the off season. They added Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks, Lawrence Guy, Dwayne Allen, Mike Gillislee and Kony Ealy. These aren’t just roster fillers, these are some real play makers. Cooks is a really underrated receiver who can play the slot or outside and his speed should really open up the field for the Patriots slot receivers. Allen is a replacement for Bennett and some insurance in case Gronk gets banged up during the season. Gilmore was originally thought to be Butlers replacement, but now it seems as both corners are going to be here for the upcoming season and that spells trouble for opposing offenses.
The Patriots are all in to win a title this year and rightfully so. Although it seems like Brady is going to play forever, he isn’t. Eventually he will retire. So while he is still around they should try and win as many titles as possible.
Finding a hole on this years Patriots team is like finding a needle in a haystack…good luck. The Patriots have to be a lock to win the AFC and are well on their way to winning their SIXTH title since 2004.
Green Bay Packers
It’s hard to say a team with a player as talented as Aaron Rodgers is not a Super Bowl contender, especially considering that the Packers make the playoffs on a consistent basis. However, the Packers greatest weapon has actually become one of their greatest weaknesses.
Aaron Rodgers is so talented it’s hard not to sit back and watch him lead the team, but at some point you can’t depend on a single player (no matter how great) to make up for all the flaws of a 53 man roster. The Packers have become way too reliant on Rodgers the past couple seasons and as we noticed last year, when Rodgers slumps the Packers are an 8-8 team at best.
There’s also the fact that the Packers allowed 25.1 points per game last year which ranked 25th in the NFL. You don’t usually see those kind of numbers for a team”contending” for a title. Yes, the Packers added some talent to their secondary in the draft, but although talented, they are still young and need to prove they can make a major impact immediately.
If the Packers defense can show us that they can consistently make stops in key spots, then the narrative may change. After all as long as Aaron Rodgers is on your team there is always a chance.
The Atlanta Falcons roster is flooded with fast and talented players. That talent lead them all the way to a 28-3 lead at halftime of the Super Bowl (we all know how that ended).
So why would this team not be right back in it after keeping the core of the team together?
The absolute soul crushing way that the Falcons lost that Super Bowl sticks with you as both a fan and a player. Plus this Falcons team seems to be soft despite their talent. They just don’t seem to have the mental toughness to overcome such a mental obstacle.
There’s also the fact that the biggest lost suffered by Atlanta this off season was the departure of their offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. What Shanahan did last season was well documented and for good reason. He really made Matt Ryan comfortable and exploited his strengths which lead to the Falcons having the best offense in the NFL by far. So with a new offensive coordinator and a new system it’s hard not expect a step back by Ryan and the rest of the offense.
The Falcons have more than enough skill to comeback and finish the job this year. However, as has happened in Seattle a team never seems to feel the same after letting one slip through their hands like that.