Finishing Off The Teams That Probably Can’t Win The Super Bowl

This column serves as part three of the NFL preview. Yes, we’re once again a day behind, but both the Cowboys and Buccaneers have been covered.

Now to finish off the rest of the league: the remaining teams that have a case to win the Super Bowl. Again, these teams are listed in no particular order.


The reason they can: Whatever he may be now, Lamar Jackson was and maybe still is an MVP, and now he’s got three legitimate weapons in Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman (who will be out to begin the season just like every other Raven, it seems). The defense, despite the loss of Marcus Peters, is still stacked at every level, with the front seven being the highlight.  Baltimore needs to rekindle some spark to get there, but if it can, they’re right at the top of teams to look out for.

The reason they can’t: There’s now been some foresight bought by publishing this post-Thursday, which saw Baltimore’s already ammargoden-like offseason only get worse.  The Ravens have lost three running backs (including their No. 1 starter and his replacement) and their top cornerback to torn ACLs, and now have to operate with two washed-up veterans in Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. Latavius Murray’s presence should help, as he’s not as ineffective as the other two have been, but is ultimately not someone who is getting 20 carries a game at this stage of his career. The losses at running back put a huge burden on Jackson, whose shine as a passer could have been a one-year fluke during his MVP season.  With receivers now in haul, it’s on Jackson to return to form, or else Baltimore may be a team fighting for the playoffs while being carried by its defense.


The reason they can: They shouldn’t have the injury year they did in 2020, plain and simple.  And San Francisco now has an upgrade at quarterback if they need it.  The rest of the roster is stacked, just as it was when the 49ers made the Super Bowl in 2019-20.  If Trey Lance is truly not ready for NFL regular season snaps, the defense (which is among the best in football aside from some once again shaky cornerback play) can carry Jimmy Garoppolo and company, and Kyle Shahanan can make due just as he did two years ago with Garrapolo’s averageness throwing the ball.

The reason they can’t: It wasn’t enough two years ago to win it all, the NFC West is a hellscape and the book is out on Garoppolo, even if Shanahan can work some magic.  While the upside in Lance exists, he’s still a wild unknown and could be completely overwhelmed if inserted in as San Francisco’s starter.  Also, the 49ers’ safety play should help, but their cornerbacks have serious burn potential on a game-to-game basis.


The reason they can: Cleveland’s roster is another that easily ranks among the top ten in the league, and is perhaps one of the best.  The Browns have incredible one-two punches at running back and wide receiver, with football’s best offensive line in the middle.  All of that, in addition to a defense that could carry any average offense to the playoffs, should be more than enough for Baker Mayfield to succeed.  If he can elevate his play just a tad higher, and breach the elite boundary, Cleveland should win the AFC North with ease.

The reason they can’t: Can Mayfield really do it?  Is the Cleveland Browns franchise legally allowed to win a title?  Are the Browns really better than the Chiefs or Bills?  Cleveland is set up for perhaps its most successful season ever in 2020-21.  At the same time, it’s understandable as to why the Browns front office is holding out on giving Mayfield an extension.  The passing game should not be as flaccid as it is given the weapons on hand.  Health from everyone is needed, but Mayfield should be able to make due.  Until he elevates even a smidge, he’s going to be the loser in a duel between him and Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen.


The reason they can: Justin Herbert looks on-pace to be one of the best quarterbacks in football after an explosive rookie season, and Los Angeles is doing the opposite of not giving him enough weapons with Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Jared Cook all to play with.  LA’s biggest controllable holes have been fixed – the offensive line is the best it has been in years (with the guard spots still a little iffy, but alas) and Anthony Lynn is no longer in charge.  The Chargers’ defense should be one of the best in football, with a wealth of talent at almost every position group.  The Chiefs being in the division is a problem, but if things break right, LA should be right among the top teams in the loaded AFC.

The reason they can’t: Because they’re the Chargers and can’t stay healthy, can’t make kicks and can’t execute when it matters, for whatever reason.  Maybe it was Lynn’s lack of preparedness for late-game situations, or a slew of bad luck, but there’s no way to be certain that the Chargers won’t Charger this season, even with a bit of a culture change in place.  Constant injury issues also won’t be rerouted by Brandon Staley’s presence, nor will a change in kicker performance.  It’s in the Football Gods’ hands, and who knows what wrath they will lay down this year.

Washington Football Team

The reason they can: This is, essentially, the blueprint for the Broncos of this year and of 2015-16: a very average, mediocre or worse quarterback held up by a fierce defense and plenty of weapons on the offensive end.  The defense will need to do a lot, but with perhaps the best defensive line in football and reliable defenders elsewhere, all Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to do is not have them on the field the entire time.  That should be viable, as Antonio Gibson is primed for a breakout season at running back and four-to-five viable pass-catchers exist for Fitzpatrick when the team is at full strength.  It’s unlikely, but similar things have happened recently – the parallels to the 49ers in 2019-20 are strong.

The reason they can’t: In no way is it conceivable that Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to win the Super Bowl.  The Nick Foles case exists, but at least he had shown multiple flashes at multiple points of his career.  In addition, Fitzpatrick is not along the lines of “knowing of what you’re getting” average – he’s actually the complete opposite, where four touchdowns in a game is just as likely as three back-breaking interceptions.  The variance is just too tough to bet on, and the loss of Curtis Samuel to short-term IR hurts deep.


The reason they can: With a fixed offensive line and good core of weapons, Joe Burrow should be ready for ascension, and that ceiling is limitless.  Burrow was the revelation we expected him to be before a devastating knee injury last November ended his season. He was on pace for a season – and projected ceiling – as good as Herbert’s.  If he can come back from it with no hiccups, then anything is possible for Burrow and the Bengals.

The reason they can’t: The defense is nowhere near good enough – with linebacker needing a complete overhaul – and issues still exist offensively with JaMarr Chase seemingly struggling to adjust to the NFL’s level of play and the offensive line still dealing with holes.  The AFC North is pretty open, but a lot else needs to go right for Cincinnati aside from Burrow being Burrow.


The reason they can: Like Cincinnati, this is an upside play.  Jacksonville has a generational quarterback at the helm of its offense, and with that, anything is possible.  Trevor Lawrence walks into a better situation than given credit for with the Jaguars.  Despite the loss of fellow Clemson rookie Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville has a reliable running back in James Robinson, whose presence made the original drafting of Etienne Jr. a little confusing.  Jacksonville has given Lawrence weapons to work with up front in his career – D.J. Chark Jr. finally has a quarterback, Marvin Jones Jr. is a steady-eddy and Laviska Sheanault Jr. is a complete wild card in the best sense possible.  The offensive line has struggled but has some talent, and the Jaguars’ defense has a lot of versatile talent in the front seven, which will help make up for a questionable secondary.

The reason they can’t: It’s just a lot to ask for from a rookie quarterback – even one as decorated and seemingly destined for as Lawrence is.  Peyton Manning’s rookie season tells us all we need to know – even for the greats and the highly-anticipated ones, it takes time.  The culture in Jacksonville already seems certainly shaky, which is not ideal for a rookie quarterback.  It was never going to be about whether Urban Meyer can coach, it was always going to be about whether he could lead.  High-end success for him and the Jaguars would be quite a turnaround in a short amount of time.


The reason they can: It’s the Patriots, who have completely reloaded, solved all their problems except one, and still have the best coach in football at the helm in Bill Belichick.  Absolutely nobody should be surprised if this happens.  New England gets back a lot of personnel that opted out in 2020, including stud linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who leads a stacked group in the middle.  The secondary is great, and that’s even without Stephon Gilmore, who will miss the beginning of the season and could see himself traded afterwards.  Additions were made up front too, with Matt Judon leading a stout defensive line.  The Patriots finally invested in the wide receivers Tom Brady begged them too – rookie Mac Jones now has four reliable targets and plenty of depth behind them in addition to a talented backfield.  The offensive line is loaded too, and as we’ve learned over the years, roster holes are almost non-existent with Belichick in charge.

The reason they can’t: They’re going to be starting a rookie quarterback who projects to be just average, not only this season but in the future as well.  That’s putting a lot of pressure on the other parts of the defense – a la what’s happening in Denver, Minnesota, Miami and Washington this season (among other teams).  Jones simply has to not suck for the Patriots to be successful this year – assuming Belichick’s heavy spending offensively pays off.  For all the talk about New England’s mediocre pass-catchers, they sure didn’t upgrade as significantly as one would hope.  A lot of money went to injury-prone, drop-heavy players.  Jones should love Jonnu Smith though – the ceiling of that duo, in addition to Damien Harris’ running ability, might be what New England’s success hinges on this season.


The reason they can:  For all the issues, turnover and drama, there’s still a lot of talent on this roster.  The defense, outside of linebacker, is a formidable group that needs the secondary to play up to its potential.  The offensive line still has four solid starters, and two competent depth options in Andre Dillard and Landon Dickerson.  In terms of scoring, Philadelphia has revamped its attack, with Carson Wentz out the door for Jalen Hurts.  Hurts had his struggles late last season, but there was a sense of rejoice and freshness breathed into the Eagles offense.  Now, with rookie DeVonta Smith in the fold and Jalen Reagor having a full offseason to get up to speed, Hurts has legitimate weapons around him, not to mention the tight end duo of Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz.  Miles Sanders can help balance things out, especially if concerns about Hurts’ arm come to fruition.  It would be wild to see Hurts’ rise in such dramatic fashion, but don’t underestimate the power of a new face.

The reason they can’t: Like Atlanta and the Chargers, the Eagles just seem to have bad things happen to them every season when it comes to injuries, and it usually happens to a degree that it decimates the roster. If injuries occur, it could devastate certain weak areas of the roster – linebacker is banking on being supported by the rest of the squad, and cornerback is already a little suspect.  The same can be said for Hurts’ receivers, as demonstrated the past two seasons.  Additionally, counting on Hurts’ to deliver in a big way is a tough bet.  While he semi-ignited the show last year, Hurts wasn’t a first-rounder for a reason, and needs a serious boost from his supporting cast to produce this year.


The reason they can: The roster – outside of the offensive line and quarterback (which are admittingly important) – is loaded.  Pittsburgh’s defense is the type that can carry an average offense (which might describe the Steelers’ this year), with impressive linebackers, a ferocious pass rush and a talented secondary.  If Ben Roethlisberger can just hang in, his weapons and defense might be able to take care of him.

The reason they can’t: Roethlisberger was simply bad last year, and there is a shell of an offensive line to protect him this season.  Even with Najee Harris in the fold, the combination of Roethlisberger’s deficiencies and the lack of help up front could very well make the offense even worse than it was last year.


The reason they can: The Titans added the firepower they desperately needed to their supposed Derrick Henry-led offense, although that could change now that former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is the head coach in Atlanta.  Julio Jones’ addition becomes even more impactful if the Titans rely less on Henry and let Tannehill air it out more – it’s a shift that could probably be used given that the Titans have still felt short of destiny the past two years.  The defense is surprisingly talented, and aside from Jonnu Smith, there were no big losses anywhere aside from the coaching staff.

The reason they can’t: A potentially new offense that relies on Tannehill more and Henry less may not be something that Tannehill is equipped for, as we’ve seen dating back to his Miami days.  Additionally, there is not much depth at receiver if either Jones or AJ Brown go down, and cornerback is a little suspicious.  It still seems like it’d be asking a lot of Tannehill to take the Titans this far.


The reason they can: Jameis Winston got a change of scenery and eye surgery.  It’s as simple as that.  If he can just be average, and not mess things up to the degree that he was used to doing in his career, the Saints have a chance – the defense is good enough to pull of a carry-job.  Wide receiver is obviously very suspect, which is not something that bodes for helping out a quarterback who needs every ounce of support he can get, but New Orleans always is able to seemingly pump guys out of their system and turn them into reliable players.

The reason they can’t: It’s Jameis Winston, and everything that comes with that.  The perfect situation doesn’t exactly exist with this roster, thanks to just a steaming pile of uncertainty at pass-catcher.  Winston could even have the best situation possible and still not produce to an acceptable level – Tampa Bay is almost proof of that.  It is more likely that not that the Saints will be looking for their next franchise quarterback after this season – Winston is more likely to tell them that than the Saints deciding it for themselves.

The 6 Teams That Can Absolutely Win The Super Bowl

This column serves as part two of the NFL preview. Yes, we’re a day behind, but both the Cowboys and Bucanneers have been covered. Look out for part three either Friday or Saturday.

Now for part two: the real contenders.


The reason they can: It’s almost easier to just discuss why they may not.  The Chiefs fixed what they needed to this offseason: the offensive line, which arguably single-handedly cost them back-to-back Super Bowl wins when they lost to Tampa Bay in February.  Even though some youth exists, all projected contributors were good players in college, and veteran help will come if needed in Kyle Long, Andrew Wyile and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff.

The reason they may not: The pass-catching talent outside of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill is extremely problematic.  If one of those two go down for a significant amount of time, the Chiefs may be in serious trouble even with Patrick Mahomes under center.  Additionally, the interior defensive line is a little weak, and cornerback has zero depth.  Kansas City has four playable safeties, so that could allow it to get creative with its packages, but playing nickel with an extra corner might be a scary proposition. 


The reason they can: Like the Chiefs, it might just be easier to say why they may not.  Also, they did so last year, and quite literally everyone that made it happen is back.

The reason they may not: Tom Brady is 44 years old and at some point this nonsense has to come to an end?  Because Aaron Rodges is extremely pissed off?  Because Sean McVay finally has a quarterback?  In all seriousness, it’d be surprising if the reason the Bucs don’t repeat came off of this roster, because a lack of cornerback depth does not matter for Tampa Bay this year.  The Buccaneers still have the best roster in football and it’s not close.  The only way this is truly their fault is if Brady is not the same player, which should not be surprising whenever that time comes. 


The reason they can: They have Aaron Rodgers, who is even more pissed off than he was last season, when he won MVP.  He’s throwing to one of the best wide receivers in football in Davante Adams, and can rely on a very good running back in Aaron Jones.  Green Bay also has a stacked defensive line and secondary, although that side of the ball has given them more problems that one would think the past couple years.

The reason they may not: This exact formula hasn’t worked for years, and Rodgers knows it.  While Green Bay did finally draft another wide receiver and traded for Randall Cobb to help Rodgers out, Amari Rodgers doesn’t move the needle like a Tee Higgins or Chase Claypool in 2020 or a Rondale Moore – per se – in April’s draft would have.  Rodgers has a foot out the door, and it’s fair to wonder if he mails it in considering the current state of affairs between him and the franchise.  Additionally, linebacker is a massive problem, and the offensive line is the worst Rodgers has had in front of him in years thanks to the loss of Corey Linsley in free agency and David Bakhtiari’s injury.


The reason they can: The Bills might have the second-best roster in football.  The defense could be the best in the league, as Buffalo, like the Chiefs, fixed the one thing they desperately needed to in the offseason: the pass rush.  The Bills have a group of five defensive ends they can rotate in and out on downs, including rookies Carlos (Boogie) Basham Jr. and Greg Rousseau and second-year player AJ Epenesa.  The back seven is loaded, the offensive line is great and Josh Allen still has plenty of weapons.

The reason they may not: Can Allen really do it?  Even though he broke out onto the scene last year and was in the MVP conversation, it still feels like he has to take another step forward.  Whether it’s the sometimes bone-headed decisions or the high variance of relying on downfield throws, the high-end side of his game still doesn’t feel possible.  The Bills really have no weaknesses aside from a questionable run game – how much that should be relied on could come to the forefront this season.


The reason they can: Sean McVay has a real quarterback now, and it could be scary hours for the rest of the league because of that.  The loss of Cam Akers hurts when it comes to making this offense a balanced, cataclysmic threat.  But it could also lead to the Rams to airing it out at an unprecedented rate, and subsequently unleashing holy hell on opposing secondaries.  The defense has arguably the two best defensive players in football and a dynamite secondary to help keep things in front of it.

The reason they may not: This is not exactly last year’s defense.  Even with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, holes exist in the front seven.  The line probably doesn’t need help with Donald, but an extra edge rusher wouldn’t hurt.  Linebacker is relying on a couple unknown guys, although Donald should plug up the run and the secondary should have their back.  Additionally, the defensive coordinator who made it all work last year is now the Chargers’ head coach.  Offensively, this is the time for Stafford to show who he truly is.  Are we sure he just needed a better support system?  McVay and Co. will be the ultimate test.


The reason they can: Seattle is probably the biggest surprise in this top category of teams.  A lot of it has to do with the Seahawks, like Buffalo and Kansas City, fixing their two or so biggest problems over the offseason.  The offensive line is the best it has been in years, with Gabe Jackson’s addition at guard likely to do wonders.  Damien Lewis is a young, talented player opposite of him, and Duane Brown is a stable hoss.  That’s at least three quality linemen, and in a new offensive scheme, Russell Wilson should have to do less while getting beat up less as well.  Seattle’s defense features two awesome safeties and Bobby Wagner in the middle – giving them an impressive array of athletes to send flying all over the field.  Other areas are a little suspect, but if the o-line holds up, there’s no reason the Seahawks’ offense shouldn’t look like it did to begin 2020.

The reason they may not: A lot rests on Wagner and those safeties’ shoulders.  Cornerback is a weak, depth-lacking position.  The pass rush and defensive line is still quite bad.  The offensive line also has its holes despite upgrades.  Wilson strangely declined even after regressing back to the mean from the hot start last year.  Hopefully Seattle’s new offensive coordinator draws up advanced protections and quick, easy throws for Wilson, or else there might be another scare of the quarterback wanting to play elsewhere again this offseason.

The 8 Teams That Can’t Win The Super Bowl, And 6 More Who Probably Can’t

Welcome to the Hub’s 2021-22 NFL season preview. To preview the upcoming year, we’re breaking all 32 NFL teams down into three categories: those that can’t win the Super Bowl, those that probably can’t get there and those that absolutely can.

To start, let’s kick it off with the eight teams who don’t have any shot at winning Super Bowl 56, with reasoning to follow. Note: The following teams are listed in no particular order.


The reason they can’t:  While the Colts have overcome their preseason injury bug to a degree, there’s still not enough talent here overall.  Indianapolis’ offense and coaching is an upgrade from what Carson Wentz had in Philadelphia, but with T.Y. Hilton out, the Colts really lack a true No. 1 wide receiver that Wentz can rely on.  Additionally, left tackle is a big question mark with Eric Fisher out for part of the season and Sam Tevi out for the year.  Those two question marks do not bode well for a quarterback whose ability to handle pressure has seemingly fallen off a cliff in recent years.

The defense has holes at every level – most notably at linebacker, where Darius Leonard has a lot on his shoulders.  It’s not a group that’s going to carry the offense, even if Jonathan Taylor and Marlon Mack are the best backfield in football.


The reason they can’t: It was tough to not elevate the Bears into the next category, just because their ceiling with Justin Fields under center is so much higher than it is with Andy Dalton.  But there’s no way to know when that day will come – it certainly won’t be Sunday, at least to start out.

In addition, even with Fields in the mix, problems are present.  The offensive line on paper may not look like a disaster, but the center position is a question mark, and Germain Ifedi was let go by the Seahawks of all teams for a reason.  Even with Fields’ running ability and some underrated weapons, rookie QBs should be as comfortable as possible.  Chicago will not make Fields feel that way.

In years past, this was a defense that could overcome the troubles of the offense – specifically quarterback play.  It’s how the Bears went 12-4 and made the playoffs in 2018-19.  This group isn’t quite as ferocious, though.  Cornerback is an extremely thin position, and the talent is concerning behind Jaylon Johnson.  A lot rests on Roquan Smith at linebacker, although the fearsomeness of the defensive line still exists with Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.  Even so, Smith and Chicago’s safeties – Eddie Jackson (who oddly declined last year) and Tashaun Gipson Jr. (who’s kind of been a journeyman himself since the year he led the league in interceptions) – have a lot to make up for, and that’s just on their side of the ball.


The reason they can’t: It would simply be too much of a step up to expect Daniel Jones to make this year.  Elevating from a well-below average quarterback to an above-average quarterback, which is what would be necessary given New York’s good-but-not-great defense, is almost unprecedented in NFL history (Yes, Josh Allen is a very recent example, but one could debate how below average he truly was before last year), and Jones has shown zero flashes that suggest he could do that (Unlike Allen, who was initially seen as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2018 Draft).

That said, Jones should be better this season.  The Giants invested heavily in weapons over the offseason.  Aside from a still shaky offensive line, there’s no more excuses for Jones.  If he still struggles, the Giants are looking at a player who needs a near perfect situation, on both sides of the ball, to succeed.  Better QBs, and therefore easier tasks for a front office, can be found.


The reason they can’t: It’s hard to slam the Jets for their defense, but some of it was avoidable.

Season-ending injuries to Carl Lawson and Jarrad Davis are brutal, but cornerback was the team’s second-biggest weakness entering the offseason, and not much was done to correct it.  New York has good safety play in stud Marcus Maye and LaMarcus Joyner, but there will be a lot of responsibility on those two, especially with CJ Mosley being more of a run-stuffing presence than a cover linebacker.

The offense comes down to how much one believes in Zach Wilson.  The offensive line is as good as it has been in years, and the weapons core is better than former quarterback Sam Darnold ever had it.  But there’s no clear No. 1 option in the pass-catching corps, and Wilson being totally overmatched as a pro shouldn’t come as surprising.


The reason they can’t: This roster makes it quite clear how the Lions feel about Jared Goff as their starting quarterback long-term.

There is just no real support system for him here, which is what he will need to be successful.  Detroit’s receivers are awful.  The defense, especially the secondary, has many holes.  It’s not a group that is strong enough to carry a bad offense to .500 (or, now with 17 games, around .500) or the playoffs.  Goff’s offensive line is quite good, which could lead to a productive season for D’Andre Swift and the rest of the Lions’ young running backs.  But we’ve seen Goff flame out in the past in a scheme built around a strong running game and play action.  In his favor then was a much better head coach, and one of the league’s best defenses.  The Lions don’t possess either of those.


The reason they can’t: Not going to lie about it – the Texans received consideration for the next group of teams up.  

In no way are the Texans Super Bowl – let alone playoff – contenders.  But Houston doesn’t have the worst roster in football, and in that particular superlative, they aren’t even close.  

The offensive line is the best it has been in years.  With whatever underwhelming quarterback they throw out there in DeShaun Watson’s absence, that will pay dividends. To help overcome QB deficiencies, the Texans have two solid lead running backs in Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay, a third in David Johnson if he’s healthy, and a perfect complimentary back in Rex Burkhead.  At the worst, one of those four can be flipped at the trade deadline for a late-round pick.

The defense is not very good, with holes aplenty.  The biggest reason why there’s no case for the Texans to be in the next bunch is because their quarterback will likely be career backup Tyrod Taylor or rookie third-rounder Davis Mills throughout the season.  But while Houston should be picking in the top five of 2022’s draft, it wouldn’t be shocking if they were closer to No. 10 than No. 1.


The reason they can’t: This Panthers field the best surrounding roster Darnold has had in his NFL career.  That doesn’t mean he’ll take advantage of it, or that it will be enough.

While he has a weapons core that has high potential, the line in front of Darnold is still suspect.  Matt Paradis and Taylor Moton are the only starters who can be penciled in to hold their own.  The rest of the line is filled with journeymen and low-end starters.  That’s bad news for Darnold, who already struggles to make decisions even with a clean pocket.  A flustered Darnold, even with better weapons, will not lead to less turnovers.

Carolina’s defense is good, especially up front.  The defensive line will have to make up for the presence of only one true linebacker, and the secondary has some holes as well.  It could be a good defense that gets Carolina to the playoffs, but that’s an iffy bet, and with Darnold being a complete unknown, it’s hard to make a case for Carolina being a contender.


The reason they can’t: It was a surprise to place Atlanta in this group of teams. It has been a sneaky sleeper team since the drafting of Kyle Pitts, which was for seemingly good reason.  But it’s not the offense that’s the issue, it’s the defense.

The secondary is a mess, with Duron Harmon probably slotting in as the only projected average player in the group.  Deion Jones is Atlanta’s only bankable linebacker, and his health is a massive wild card every season (as is everyone’s on this Atlanta team).  The line is perhaps the defense’s best position group, but there’s no dominant pass-rusher who can single-handedly wreck games.

The Falcons are going to score a lot of points.  A key stop that they will need here and there though may be hard to come by.

Now, let’s partially dive into the next category: Teams that probably won’t win Super Bowl 56, but have a case that could be made for them to do so. Again, these six teams are listed in no particular order. Note: Part 2 of this category will be released tomorrow, and the final category will be released on Thursday.


The reason they can: This was arguably the most unstoppable offense in football in 2020 before Dak Prescott’s horrible, gruesome ankle injury.  If Ezekiel Elliot is still ‘Zeke’ and Prescott is the same player, then they should be able to outscore anyone – other issues be damned.  There’s no better trio of wide receivers in football with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, and the offensive line still has two studs in Zack Martin (who will be out in Week 1 due to a breakthrough positive COVID-19 case) and Tyron Smith.

The reason they can’t: Well, it’s the Cowboys.  Mike McCarthy had his issues early last season, and his ability to guide an elite offense still seems suspect.  Prescott had his ankle pointing the other direction less than a year ago, and it’s fair to wonder whether that should be talked about more.  He also has what’s been described as a “baseball-style” injury somewhere in his upper-body.  Elliot has teetered on the elite label the past two seasons, and the defense, particularly the secondary, has numerous holes.  Dallas might also be giving up bomb after bomb down the field. Case in point: It’s the Cowboys.


The reason they can: This season and situation is going to be the tell-all test for Teddy Bridgewater and what his status and legacy really means.  How far can situation and non-below-average quarterback play get you?  Well, this year’s Broncos will be the answer. 

The Broncos did it before, when Peyton Manning was on his last legs in 2015-16.  There was no way Denver got as far as it did without the defense and weapons core it had in place – Manning was arguably below average that year.  Denver’s defense this season is one of the best units in the league, with a front that can wreck teams’ offenses.  Bridgewater has a good offensive line in front of him and more weapons than he seemingly needs.  Every piece is in place for Denver to make a miracle run.  It just comes down to whether Bridgewater is the guy we think he is or not.

The reason they can’t: The defense isn’t perfect, which is what it might take.  Linebacker isn’t very talented nor is it deep – Denver will be relying on rookie Baron Browning heavily at that spot.  The secondary and front will have his back, but most dynamic defenses have at least one stud in the middle.  Even with the offense being set up the way it is, asking Bridgewater to do enough to win the Super Bowl (versus making the playoffs) is a whole different ball-game, and Denver may need a more offensive-minded head coach to get them there.


The reason they can: The offense had its moments last year, with Henry Ruggs III occasionally looking like Tyreek Hill when he was healthy and forcing Derek Carr to throw the ball deep.  In a perfect world, Carr has two high-impact targets in Ruggs III and tight end Darren Waller, with plenty of depth behind them in Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones and Willie Snead IV.  Josh Jacobs also exists, which gives Las Vegas a potentially lethal attack offensively.

The reason they can’t: The other end of the ball, which has plagued Las Vegas for years no matter what it looks like on paper.  This is perhaps their best unit in that regard, with the back seven hole-free.  But the Raiders’ secondary has been a turnstyle year after year, and the defensive line needs a couple different players – most notably Yannick Ngakoue and Gerald McCoy – to step up. Additionally, Carr turning into an elite quarterback seems like a stretch at this point in his career, which lowers the Raiders’ ceiling and puts even more pressure on a defense that’s shown no evidence that it can handle it.


The reason they can: It’s simply about Tua Tagovailoa and whether he’s the guy we thought he was out of college or not.  That player was someone who could make any throw within 25 yards thanks to pristine accuracy and awareness in addition to having the ability to make plays with his legs.  Last year, Tagovailoa was coming off of a devastating hip injury, a subdued training camp and no preseason all while playing in an offense that was designed specifically for Ryan Fitzpatrick and not him.  The offensive line is a little suspect, but Miami has one of the deepest receiver rooms in football.  Tagovailoa should be able to elevate them, and if he can’t, then they can do the reverse instead.

The reason they can’t: The defense just may not be good enough if Tagovailoa is the type of quarterback who needs substantial help.  The Dolphins have one of the best secondaries in football, but the front seven is young and only possesses one or two impact guys (that’s including rookie Jaelen Phillips, who is hard to bet on because of his youth).  Additionally, expecting Tagovailoa to emerge as an above-average-to-elite QB might be unreasonable – even with his injury and all the other complications he faced, his lows were quite low last year.


The reason they can: The defense should be a lot better, with the potential to be a load-carrying group if Kirk Cousins is the reason the offense is held back.  If he can be average or better, then the Vikings should score plenty.  Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook is about as good of a one back, two receiver set up that a team could ask for.  The offensive line has gotten better, although right tackle and center are both still a big question mark.  Minnesota has the potential on both sides of the ball.  On the margins is where concern lies.

The reason they can’t: If Kirk Cousins is in his best form, is that enough?  Or what if he is and the line sucks?  If he’s worse than his best, it’s over for Minnesota.  Additionally, the defense isn’t as loaded as you’d like it to be – cornerback has no one guaranteed to be successful as it’s a group of flyers.  The safeties help, but there’s also a hole at one of the linebacker positions.  Cousins is just a little tough to bet on after such a large lack of improvement last decade, and even if Minnesota is serious about putting pressure on his starting role, all Kellen Mond did in college at Texas A&M was underwhelm.


The reason they can:  The offense has the chance to be special.  Arizona alleviated any concerns about not having enough wide receivers by adding AJ Green and Rondale Moore over the offseason.  They pivoted full-time to Chase Edmonds as the starter at running back instead of relying on underqualified or washed up players to assume a high-volume starting role.  That would lead one to believe that the Cardinals are ready to air it out this season, and put head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense on full display with perhaps the largest dose of Kyler Murray’s legs we’ve ever seen, because when he runs, the Cardinals’ offense clicks.

The reason they can’t: As smart as Kingsbury is, the stars just haven’t aligned for him quite yet as he enters his third season at the helm, and if they don’t this year, then he’ll be out of excuses for the reasons above.  Additionally, cornerback is a complete mess for Arizona, with Malcolm Butler’s surprise retirement putting them in a tough spot less than two weeks before the season-opener.  Jordan Phillips to the IR hurts as well, although the Cardinals have gotten used to him not being available as his free agent signing looks like a total disaster.  Arizona also plays in a division that has at least two contenders, if not three.  The Cardinals are trying to be the fourth, and that will not come easy.