The NFL has perhaps the perfect balance of wide-openness yet competitiveness when it comes to who will be crowned champion.
The NFL Playoffs aren’t the complete crapshoot that is the MLB Playoffs in October, where just sneaking into the Wild Card can have you end up in the World Series a month later, but they also aren’t as predictable as the NBA Playoffs, where if the team you pick to win the Finals before the season doesn’t end up accomplishing that feat, then it’s likely your fault your pick was incorrect.
Those factors could make the NFL playoffs, and the Super Bowl Champion, the hardest to predict. It’s definitely worth it to try and make a prediction unlike baseball, but it’s not as easy as the NBA.
Then again, when we predict a World Series Champion, do we really get SEVEN different teams coming up in the conversation? Usually not.
That’s the beauty of the NFL.
With that, here are the seven teams I believe can be Super Bowl Champions (in no particular order).
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers biggest issue every season is that either injuries, boneheaded coaching decisions or disastrous kicking dash their hopes of ever making a deep playoff run. They’ve never lacked the talent.
So far, the injuries have already made their mark. Safety Derwin James, reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year nominee, suffered a broken foot and is expected to be out three months, or at least until Week 8 as the Chargers have placed him on IR.
James is a stud, but the Chargers do have some nice options to replace him back there. Second-round pick Nassir Adderaly was bit of a reach in the spot he was taken and has also been injured throughout training camp, but the high pick shows the Chargers have confidence in him.
Adrian Phillips occupies the other safety spot well, so whoever the fill-in option is, Adderaly or former Florida product Jaylen Watkins, will have decent company and a good shoulder to lean on.
The rest of the Chargers defense is filthy. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Brandon Mebane create a ferocious pass rush. Thomas Davis, though 36 (!!!), is still functional along with Denzel Perryman in the middle of the field.
Los Angeles lost wide receiver Tyrell Williams to the Oakland Raiders in free agency, but when he was your third receiver behind Mike Williams and Keenan Allen and was ahead of Dontrelle Inman, coupled with Hunter Henry at tight end, you’re probably going to be okay.
Melvin Gordon’s absence could make things not okay, though. It’s sounding likely that he’s willing to pull a Le’Veon Bell and miss games.
With or without Gordon, the Chargers skill positions are still loaded. But what makes them work is hinged on Phillip Rivers, who will be 38 by the time the playoffs come around.
Rivers hasn’t shown any true decay, which is miraculous for his age. Like the other GOATs QBs, we can’t really say much until it actually happens or we have evidence of decline (With Rodgers, Brady, Rivers, and to a point Brees, we’re looking at this season as if they’re still good. With Ben Rothlisberger? Maybe not so much.) Rivers should be able to take advantage of the weapons he has and be at least above-average with them. That is, if the offensive line can be decent (If everyone can get healthy, Russell Okung-Forrest Lamp-Mike Pouncey on one side is not terrible).
Gordon’s absence doesn’t give Rivers a work-horse running back to hand off to, though. Austin Ekeler has turned fantasy heads and works well as a nice secondary back who can catch passes out of the backfield, but he’s not someone who’s likely to get 20+ carries a game and make them effective. Justin Jackson could be that guy, but he lacks experience and would be thrown into a heavier workload out of the blew.
I don’t think Gordon’s absence is detrimental to the Chargers. It would obviously be nice to have him around, as his presence would help reduce the workload forced on Rivers. But could this be Rivers’ hail mary season where he does all himself? What if he’s unstoppable and torches everyone? Rivers being the same guy he’s been in the past makes this team good. If Gordon comes back, and James gets healthy, and the line is just decent, then the Chargers could be challenging the Chiefs long past the December division race.
Kansas City Chiefs
I was completely wrong on the Chiefs last season.
Mahomes legitimately cooked me. I feared for his accuracy and his youth despite his cannon arm. I didn’t trust Andy Reid (And maybe still don’t). I thought the Chiefs were just going to be OK last season.
Turns out, Mahomes didn’t need accuracy (He had it, by the way). When you had Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Sammy Watkins all at your disposal, it made life a bit easier.
One of those weapons is gone in Hunt. Hill should be gone, but that’s another issue. The Chiefs made it work without their work-horse running back, using speedster Damien Williams instead. He projects to have a larger role this season along with Darwin Thompson and now LeSean McCoy, who essentially replaced Carlos Hyde’s role in this offense.
McCoy, like Hyde, doesn’t exactly fit the Chiefs’ scheme of speed at all positions, but with Andy Reid, we could see McCoy be re-invigorated and turned back into his 2017-self, where he ran for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns.
With his age though, it’s more likely that McCoy is a third down back in this system.
Still, it’s another weapon for Mahomes, who should be the favorite for MVP. He’s my pick. The numbers from last year would be insane to replicate simply because of how gargantuan they were, but who’s to say he couldn’t? Mahomes might already be the most talented QB I’ve ever seen.
Kansas City’s biggest issue last season was their defense, which was ranked 26th by DVOA. They went out and made big time moves, swapping out Dee Ford for Frank Clark and signing Tyrann Mathieu to a large deal to help out the secondary.
I still worry a bit about the rush defense. Clark is pure pass-rusher, and a very good one at that. He got paid for that, not run defense. His tenaciousness and athleticism could allow him to shift inside, stuff the A-and-B gaps and still generate pass rush. Him and Chris Jones is a dynamic monster.
They’ll need that production up front, as the linebacking core is full of reclamation projects in Reggie Ragland and Darron Lee, both of whom I was high on in their respective draft classes. For a team that desperately needed run defense, they’re certainly betting on a lot of uncertainty in that department.
The Chiefs could easily win the Super Bowl. They have a top five player in football, a near impossible offense to contain and an improving defense that should be better. A better defense maybe gets the one critical stop against Tom Brady in last year’s AFC Championship Game. That might have been the one thing that stopped KC from winning it all last season.
This might be the most talented roster in football. We also said that last year.
It wasn’t necessarily the Eagles’ fault though. Carson Wentz was hurt at the beginning of the season and the end. Despite Nick Foles’ success, there’s a ceiling on how long a quarterback of his caliber can work for. It can get you to about 9-7, which is where the Eagles finished at last year.
Now, Wentz has had a full offseason to recover from an injury much less severe than a torn ACL. He should be 100% ready to go.
There’s no excuses this time. I’m a big Wentz supporter and believe that the Eagles made the right decision by letting Foles walk. But there’s also no doubt that Philly’s offense was more functional with Foles leading the way rather than Wentz. The ball moved more, and more efficiently downfield.
Perhaps Wentz never got his feet truly wet before being injured again. Now he’s going to be ready to go. No more settling in and not preforming, because this roster is too good for Wentz to be just fine or average.
I really think this Eagles season comes down to that. Can Wentz stay healthy? If he does, will he preform like he did his rookie year?
There’s hardly any other concerns on this Eagles roster. Their offensive line is one of the best in the league. They have a mass of weapons, including five running backs who will all likely have a role (Josh Adams and Wendall Smallwood, both good players, were the casualties of the backfield during cuts). Their secondary and defensive line are both stacked. I worry about their outside linebackers a bit, but with Nigel Bradham commanding the middle and the run defense being as good as it already is, they should be fine.
The Eagles have the talent. They should have the quarterback. They have the missing piece that a team like the Colts suddenly don’t have. Wentz’s performance is the key to whether the Eagles can get back to where they were two seasons ago.
New England Patriots
There isn’t much that needs to be said here.
Every concern about the Patriots is overblown until it actually becomes a concern. Tom Brady’s age? Not going to worry about it until there’s evidence that he’s really breaking down (There was evidence last regular season, but then the playoffs completely flipped that thinking around). The receiving core? Wait, why is a group consisting of Julian Edelman, undrafted phenom Jakobi Meyers, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas causing concern?
The biggest concern for the Patriots this season is simply how they match up with the Chiefs. That’s what will likely decide the AFC. Does Brady have the firepower to match Mahomes? Can the defensive line take pressure off the loaded secondary?
These are the concerns we should have about New England. Them coming to a head is a long way away. Until then, we can likely pencil the Patriots in for 11-5 or 12-4 again.
Los Angeles Rams
Putting the Rams on this list was actually a tad tough. There are some serious concerns with this team.
Todd Gurley’s knee issue which kept him practically inactive in the Super Bowl is still lingering around. The Rams drafted Darrell Henderson in the third round of the draft in April, which many saw as Gurley’s successor. They also have Malcolm Brown lined up behind him as well.
It’s likely this is one big overreaction, but if Gurley is going to be used the way he was in the last two rounds of the postseason, then the Rams are in serious trouble. It was reported that Gurley already has arthritis in his knee, meaning that it can bother him at any time, as it did late in last year’s postseason. Inconsistent or lack of production from Gurley puts much more pressure on Jared Goff to step up to a level that he’s maybe not capable of getting to.
Goff has been in a perfect situation the past two seasons: A genius coach, an awesome running back and good and deep-threat weapons surround him. Taking away the workhorse that is Gurley puts pressure on Goff to deliver big time throws. We saw the results of that scenario in the Super Bowl.
The interior of the offensive line is cause for some concern too. Starting center Brian Allen and left guard Joe Noteboom have just over 100 snaps of experience between the two of them. Whether it’s the younger backs they’re blocking for, Gurley or Goff, this isn’t the experienced and talented Rams offensive line we, or the running backs, have been used to.
McVay might be able to turn one of the two backups into Gurley 2.0 if his knee acts up, but that’s not the only issue with this team.
It felt like the Rams couldn’t cover anyone last season. Marcus Peters was a shell of himself, and LaMarcus Joyner was given the 28th highest graded safety in football last year by Pro Football Focus.
The Rams signed Eric Weddle to replace Joyner, who provides an upgrade at a much lower cost. They also have John Johnson III back there to help provide a blanket, and rookie Taylor Rapp, one of the many talented Washington defensive backs to enter the NFL over the past few years.
The defensive line will be fine. Despite the numbers, they still have the best player in football in Aaron Donald. They retained Dante Fowler Jr. and signed Clay Matthews for both run defense and pass rush. They still have the seldom-talked-about Samson Ebukam.
The Rams should be on this list because on paper, they’re one of the most talented teams in the NFL and they have one of the smartest people in the NFL coaching them. But a lot has to come together and go right for them to get back to the Super Bowl, or even win it. Gurley’s knee might be the biggest x-factor of this NFL season.
New Orleans Saints
This year might be the Saints’ last chance.
They’ve suffered two of the most heart-breaking losses in football history in back-to-back playoffs, and with Drew Brees now 40 years old and showing some signs of decline and a competitive division, this could be their true make it or break it season.
The Falcons were a near miss for this list. I projected them for 13-3 last season, believing in their weapons and young, talented defense.
I believe they can get to that level this year, but concerns about injuries and another season-from-hell are large factors in them not being included in this column.
I can trust New Orleans just a bit more.
It starts with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. The NFL hasn’t seen anyone like Kamara in a long time, with his rushing and receiving skills built into a body that fast and agile. He’s a top five running back in the league, and Brees having him to rely on along with one of the three best receivers in the league in Thomas makes the Saints still a super dangerous offensive team. Those two, along with Ted Ginn Jr. (who only the Saints can make effective) and new tight end Jared Cook (Who if healthy is still extremely effective), give Brees essentially the same weapons core he’s had the past two seasons. Mark Ingram is gone, but Latavius Murray is someone New Orleans can use to line Kamara up as a receiver in four wideouts sets. Murray won’t be getting 20+ carries a game, but will still force linebackers to cave in during play-action sets.
Despite a troubling linebacker core, the Saints defense is talented. Marcus Davenport, who the Saints traded an extra first-round and fifth-round pick to get in the 2018 Draft, should have a bigger role this season generating a pass rush with Cameron Jordan. Sheldon Rankins also figures to help create pressure despite his run-stuffing presence.
The most talented layer of the defense though is the secondary. Marshon Lattimore is an All-Pro caliber cornerback, and the Saints have two decent options behind him in Ken Crawley and PJ Williams. There’s also Eli Apple in the mix, who was the target of a panic trade by New Orleans in the middle of last season due to an injury to Patrick Robinson.
Robinson figures to be back and lining up along with Lattimore, giving New Orleans Crawley, Williams and Apple to use in nickel and dime packages. Apple wasn’t great last season, and needs to keep his head on straight, but perhaps his first full season with New Orleans could turn him around. Crawley almost didn’t make the Saints roster, but letting him go for free to another team might have been a mistake. He could help someone in desperate need.
The Saints also have Chauncey Garnder-Johnson at safety behind Vonn Bell, who was one of my favorite DBs in the 2019 Draft. His lengthy coverage skills could allow him to see snaps in those nickel and dime packages if Crawley or Apple don’t improve.
The Saints have the potential to be a lockdown secondary unit, have a good pass rush with Jordan and their other younger linemen, and be the explosive offense we’ve seen the past three seasons. Like the two other NFC teams on this list, it all comes down to the quarterback, and whether his production is enough to finally get New Orleans all the way.