Packers president Mark Murphy recently made a bold statement at the 2017 shareholders meeting, stating that “It’s going to be a lot of fun for all our fans to drive across the state when we’re in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis,” per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. It is one thing to instill confidence and predict a Super Bowl run for your team, but to conjure up such a bold claim against the house of your rival is utterly disrespectful—and I love it. Murphy claims it wasn’t a guarantee, but deep down he wants nothing more than to hoist the Lombardi trophy in Viking country. Here are the other contenders for the glory that comes with being a Super Bowl champion.
I firmly believe that the return of Earl Thomas will vault the Seahawks back into serious contention to reach Minneapolis in February. Prior to Thomas going down with a broken leg, the Seahawks racked up 10 interceptions—after his injury, they only managed one. Not only was he a force in the secondary, but he was the leader of that defense. Their schedule is relatively easy, which will allow them to compete for the ever-important homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, while also receiving the benefit of going to Green Bay, Dallas, and New York and being battle-tested in playoff-like atmospheres. Wilson and Lacy will make a great duo, and with another solid defense, Seattle will be right back in the thick of things.
Green Bay Packers
This is a quarterback-driven league, and the Packers have one of the best under center. It would be silly of me to sit here and try to force some false explanation that the defense will help Green Bay reach the promised land, because, well, it’s just not their strength (one year, the Packers defense will return to the former glory of the Lombardi days, but this year is not that year). Rodgers has taken criticism on various analysis shows for his “lack of postseason success” since the 2011 Super Bowl victory, but the Packers have been to two of the past three NFC Championships—yes, they’ve yet to get back over the hump, but to call that anything short of a “contender” is absurd. With the addition of Martellus Bennett, an emphasis on defense in the draft, the Packers should build on their recent success. And as long as Rodgers is their quarterback, Green Bay will contend.
The Falcons were fantastic last season, but nothing puts a team on a Super Bowl contenders list more than the will to avenge the greatest collapse in the history of the sport. If they haven’t yet, Vegas should place an over/under line on the number of times last year’s Super Bowl is mentioned over the course of the season. Atlanta’s offense was historically great, scoring 540 points last season, which was 71 more than the second-place team and tied for 7th on the all-time list. The scary part for NFL defenses: there’s no reason they can’t do it again. The two-headed monster in Freeman and Coleman remain in the backfield, and if Matt Ryan can repeat his MVP season, the Falcons will find themselves back in the playoffs, ready to cast off the demons of the past.
New York Giants
Yes, I have the Giants as Super Bowl contenders over the Cowboys. And no, it’s not as crazy as you may think. The Giants are taking back the NFC East for the first time since 2011, and they’re going to do it through the balance of a formidable offense and an elite defense. With the addition of Brandon Marshall, the Giants now have the best trio of receivers in the NFL, and Evan Engram will give Eli Manning a big target down the middle. There is one catch—Manning is now 36, and has always been a quarterback similar to Brett Favre in that he will either make these “what the hell are you doing” plays or lead incredible drives that leave you wondering how they could ever make such bonehead plays. He has the weapons around him, now it’s up to Manning to lead the Giants back to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots
It feels as though the Patriots have been on lists such as these for the past 15 years, and rightfully so. They’ve only managed one losing record in the new millennium, going 5-11 in 2000, Belicheck’s first year as head coach. Since then, they have gone on to miss the playoffs only twice, averaging over 12 wins per season. Though they’re aging, they still have the best quarterback and coach ever, and with the addition of Brandin Cooks, combined with the ever-stable defense, this team will always find itself on top of contention list as long as Brady is around.
The newest member of the Super Bowl contenders list, the Raiders are a team that is on a mission to bring the Lombardi back to Oakland one last time. Many believe this would have been feasible last season had Derek Carr not suffered a season-ending injury. They were able to keep most of the core from last season, and though the likes of Malcom Smith and Latavius Murray are gone, the Raiders brought in Jared Cook, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Marshawn Lynch to add to the plethora of weapons already surrounding Carr. We know the offense will be elite again, now it’s up to the defense to step up and vault Oakland to the next level.
The Steelers are very similar to the Packers in the sense that they are a team that I believe has the talent to reach the Super Bowl every season, but seems to come up short in the playoffs. However, over the past three seasons, Pittsburgh has lost in the Wild Card round, the Divisional round, and the AFC Championship. Next stop…the Super Bowl. They’re taking baby steps, but the fourth time really could be the charm for this Steelers team. Tomlin (finally) has Le’Veon Bell for a full season, who, despite missing three games last year to suspension, managed to finish in the top five in rushing yards and snagged 75 receptions (for PPR fantasy players, Bell is your guy). Big Ben is still a very solid quarterback, and with Antonio Brown lining up out wide, the Steelers will once again find themselves in the playoffs, ready to chase the franchise’s 7th Super Bowl title.
On the cusp
Do I believe they’ll be back in the playoffs? Absolutely. But I also believe that the Cowboys were a better team last season. Their offense will still be top-notch this season, and Dak should be even better in his sophomore season. But there are more negative factors that will stand in the way of Dallas reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995. The first is the brutal schedule—the NFC East is arguably the best division in football, so there’s automatically 6 difficult games. They must play 5 of the 7 teams on our Super Bowl contenders list, and have the pleasure of playing the Giants twice. So while they will certainly be battle-tested, they won’t have homefield advantage this season. The second factor is the defense—it lost a lot of contributors in the back end, and while defense was the focus in the draft, it won’t be enough to overcompensate for the missing pieces in year one. Dallas will take a step back this season.
No team has ever won the Super Bowl in its home stadium, and though it is unlikely to happen this season, the Vikings certainly have a shot. The defense is elite, and will be the factor that carries Minnesota back to the Super Bowl. We’ve seen teams with standout defenses win the title despite having suspect offenses—2015 Broncos, 2002 Buccaneers—but these Vikings just aren’t there yet. I’d put them in the “contenders of the future” category—if Dalvin Cook pans out in the manner most believe he will and the Vikings figure out their quarterback situation, this team will be elite in the years to come.
My favorite surprise team of the 2017 season, the Titans have made great strides to overtake the AFC South this season. Head coach Mike Mularkey and co. have given Mariota weapons to work with, now it’s up to the third-year quarterback to prove that his solid sophomore season was no fluke. Both the offense and defense are nothing spectacular, but I like this team to win the division this season and advance to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. The Titans won’t contend for a Super Bowl this season, but they are a team on the rise.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have all the pieces to contend for the title—with playmakers all over the field, their defense is up with the elite, and they have mismatches on the offensive side in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. It’s unfortunate to place the lack of further success on Alex Smith because the veteran has had a formidable career, but to only toss 15 touchdowns to 8 interceptions does not scream Super Bowl contender—they will have to wait another year.