It’s football time again and there is hope all over the country that the local team can bring home a Super Bowl trophy. For some teams that hope is justified and could become a reality. But for some that hope is nothing more than a trip to fantasy land.
Teams make improvements every offseason so they can win more games the next year. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Some teams are just so bad that it doesn’t matter what you add to them.
Today we will take a look at the “Contenders” for the 2016 Super Bowl and also the “Pretenders.” You’ll find out who is just about a shoo-in for the big game, which team’s hope will fade near the end of the season, and who has absolutely no shot at all.
15 CONTENDER: New England Patriots
Never mind that Tom Brady is going to miss the first four games of the season. There will still be twelve games left that he can play in and find a way to cheat. That alone makes the New England Patriots contenders. But when you factor in the rest of the team, all you Patriots haters out there are going to be disappointed because they will once again contend for a Super Bowl appearance.
While they may not be as strong as they once were, they still have enough tools to be one of the top teams in the AFC. Brady will do anything he can to continue to be one of the top quarterbacks in the game and he has arguably the best wide receiver corps in the National Football League to throw the ball to. That coupled with a top secondary will give the Patriots another successful season in 2016.
The only thing that they have to worry about is their defense against the run. They are also not going to get a lot of pressure against opposing quarterbacks, but with their secondary they might be able to get away with that. But if opponents take to the ground game it will exploit a weakness in the Patriots defense. They will only be average against the run this season but it will be enough to get them into the playoffs again.
14 PRETENDER: Houston Texans
The Houston Texans made a good run at the end of last season and they made some moves in the offseason to make the team stronger, but that isn’t going to translate into success this season. While on paper they may look like a decent team, that’s not the reality that’s going to happen in Houston this year.
Brock Osweiler bolted to Houston from the Denver Broncos and he got the big payday, but that won't translate to wins.
He had a great supporting cast in Denver but those are missing with the Texans. The offensive line is average and his receivers are not very good. DeAndre Hopkins is a potential All-Pro but after that their receivers are young and unestablished. The Texans have a decent running game with the addition of Lamar Miller but it won’t be enough to find Osweiler the time that he will need to complete big passes.
The Houston defense is very solid and it will keep the team in many games, but Osweiler won’t be able to put enough points on the board to gather a lot of victories. The Texans may make a run for the postseason but they will fall short.
13 CONTENDER: Pittsburgh Steelers
As usual, the Pittsburgh Steelers will give the New England Patriots some tough competition for the top spot in the AFC this season. But they will do it with their offense, as their defense this season will be suspect at best.
No matter how their defense pans out (not looking great!) with Ben Roethlisberger leading the way on offense, they should easily be able to score more points than the defense gives up.
The Steelers backfield has Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams which is probably the best running back combination in the NFL this year. Bell will miss the first three games of the season because of a suspension stemming from him missing a mandatory drug test. The suspension was just reduced from four games to three, but Williams should fill in nicely for him during his absence.
Antonio Brown is one of the best receivers in the games and Roethlisberger will spend a lot of time looking for him in the passing game. After Brown, they are a little weak at the position but with the strong running game, the Steelers should be able to hide their shortcomings at the receiver position.
Pittsburgh will be near the top of the points given up category this year but they will also be near the top of the points scored category. That will be just good enough to get them into the postseason.
12 PRETENDER: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars are getting close to playoff contention again but they aren’t quite there yet. They went 5-11 last season and the improvements that they made in the offseason will only equate to two or three more wins this year. The team has had a top five draft pick for the last five seasons and they are definitely on the rise, but they still have a lot of work to do.
The additions of Chris Ivory from the Jets, Malik Jackson from the Broncos, Tashaun Gipson from Cleveland, Prince Amukamara from the Giants and Kelvin Beachum from Pittsburgh has the city once again excited about their football team. But their defense is going to let them down.
Blake Bortles continues to grow into one of the top quarterbacks in the league and with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns he has plenty of weapons to throw the ball to. Having Ivory in the backfield makes their offense pretty well balanced now. But they won’t be able to generate enough points to overcome the shortcoming of their defense. Once again they will have problems stopping opponents from running up and down the field and the team is looking at an 8-8 season at the very best. By Jacksonville standards that is a very good year, but it won’t be enough to get them into the postseason.
11 CONTENDER: Denver Broncos
Your defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos will once again be in contention for the championship but they will do it a different way this season. Over the past few years, they have found success with a good combination of strong offense and stellar defense. The strong offense is now gone as Peyton Manning has retired and Brock Osweiler chased a huge payday in Houston.
Denver has a decent set of wide receivers but the huge questions are who is going to be throwing the passes to them, and can they do so with any consistency? Mark Sanchez is penciled in to be the starter right now. After he found success in his first two NFL seasons, he has been borderline horrible since. Denver also has first round draft pick Paxton Lynch and another quarterback option in Trevor Siemian, but Sanchez will get the bulk of the snaps.
Fans in Denver will see a lot of low-scoring games this year as their defense is one of the best in the game. They can shut down both the pass and the run and opposing teams will have trouble moving the ball. As bad as Sanchez is, he should still be able to put enough points on the board for a lot of victories, thanks to their great defense.
Think of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens team that won it all with just defense. This year’s Broncos team could be a repeat of that Baltimore squad.
10 PRETENDER: New York Jets
If the Jets could have beaten the Buffalo Bills both times they played last season they would have been the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Rex Ryan got his revenge on his former team and it will continue this season. New York isn’t as strong as they were last season, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to be bad.
The biggest problem they faced in the offseason was an unconfirmed future with some of their top players. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was involved in the most publicized of those and he finally rejoined the team with a new deal recently. But he missed all of the offseason activities and the odds are against him that he can reproduce the magic that he weaved on the field last season. If he fails, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty are waiting in the wings to take over.
New York is hoping that their wide receivers and defensive line will lead the team to plenty of wins in 2016. If Fitzpatrick can get some protection he will have a lot of success throwing the ball. Fitzpatrick is not the most mobile quarterback in the league and if they cannot find success at O-Line, it'll be a long season for the Gang Green; especially after losing Chris Ivory.
The rest of the Jets defense is pretty much average now and while they will probably make the playoffs, this isn’t a Super Bowl contending team.
9 CONTENDER: Oakland Raiders
Yes, the Oakland Raiders will be contenders to come out of the AFC this season. I know those are words that haven’t been spoken in several years but it’s time for the silver and black to return to the top of the conference. Head Coach Jack Del Rio took the team to a 7-9 record last year and the improvement will continue this year as the team finally grabbed up some pieces to help them get over the hump.
Derek Carr is still not one of the best quarterbacks in the league but he showed a lot of improvement last season and that will continue this year. Now don’t get me wrong, the Raiders offense is still average at best but they now have a great defense that will keep them in most of their games. The offensive line is drastically improved and that will allow Carr to stand up long enough to complete just enough passes for success. He should be good enough to outscore what the defense gives up and that will put the Raiders into the postseason in 2016.
The Oakland defense will be a force this season and teams will have problems if they try to stick with a ground game against them. When they shut down the run and force opponents to throw the ball, the Raiders secondary should be up to the task and they will perform well.
Oakland won’t make the Super Bowl this year but they will be in the playoffs and give it a good shot.
8 PRETENDER: Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs went on an unbelievable run into the playoffs last season. After starting the year at 1-5 they won ten straight games and then one in the playoffs. But that magic won’t carry over into the 2016 season.
They have one of the best running attacks in the National Football League and their defensive line is pretty decent but it’s not enough. Their entire offense is based on the run because their wide receivers are just plain bad and Alex Smith is not one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The offensive line is average and that’s not going to give Smith enough time to throw the ball to his receivers, who would probably drop it anyway.
The defense will keep them in a lot of games based on the pressure they will get on opposing quarterbacks and the success they will have stopping the run. The secondary is average, but it’s good enough to keep games close.
There is a lot of hope in Kansas City this year that is based on last season, but fans should prepare for another 1-5 start to the year. Only this time, they shouldn’t expect a ten game winning streak to follow. The Chiefs get close to the postseason in 2016 but they will fall short of making it.
7 CONTENDER: Green Bay Packers
Whenever you have the very best quarterback in the game leading your offense, you can consider yourself a strong contender for a Super Bowl title, and they have that in Aaron Rodgers.
With Jordy Nelson, Eddie Lacy and Jared Cook, the Packers will once again score a ton of points this season while giving up far less. Their offensive line is one of the best in the NFL and when you give Rodgers time to look over a defense, well that’s just a recipe for disaster for opponents.
The only weakness in Green Bay this season may be against the run. They will do just fine against the pass but in a division where running the ball is a major part of success, Green Bay might find themselves in a bit of trouble from time to time. But when you have Aaron Rodgers coming back on the field your team is never out of a game.
The best quarterback in the game will be enough to offset any shortcomings that the defense has against the run and the Packers should be playing football in January.
6 PRETENDER: Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams are an improved football team. Los Angeles is so happy to have pro football back in the city that they have blinders on. They think that the Rams are a Super Bowl contender. But the reality is that they aren’t even close. Are they improved? Absolutely. Enough to be a playoff team? Absolutely not.
The Rams' entire offense revolves around Todd Gurley. If he can stay healthy he will put on quite a show this year for the fans in LA. But they have no quarterback and no wide receivers. That spells a very long season for Gurley who will probably take serious abuse as opposing defenses key in on him all season. It’s easy to defend a team when you know what’s coming.
LA has a pretty good defensive line, but their secondary is as bad as their overall offense is and they are going to give up a lot of points in 2016. They may be able to stop a running attack but they will offer no resistance against a decent passing game.
Fans in Los Angeles should enjoy their excitement while they can, because by about four weeks into the season nobody will be talking about the Rams anymore. They aren’t even close to a playoff team.
5 CONTENDER: Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals won a franchise record 13 games last season but fell one game shy of the Super Bowl. They will be back with a chip on their shoulder this season and they will be looking to get past where they failed last year.
Their core players are back and with the additions of Chandler Jones from the Patriots, Evan Mathis from the Broncos and Robert Nkemdiche from the draft, look for Arizona to once again be playing football deep into the playoffs.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is still one of the top eight quarterbacks in the league and David Johnson is going to take over the reins at the running back position this season. When you add in the fact that the Cardinals have one of the top receiving units in the NFC you see why they will put up a lot of points this year.
Their defense is only average against a strong running game, but they are one of the best against the pass. This will lead to another season of double-digit wins for Arizona as long as Palmer can stay healthy. But even if he doesn’t, the offense is still good enough to have success. The success that Johnson should find this year will open up the passing game for whoever is calling the signals on offense.
4 PRETENDER: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a new head coach this season, again. This team goes through head coaches like Charlie Sheen goes through women. The good news for the team is that Jameis Winston isn’t in jail. Yet. His day is still coming but it isn’t here quite yet so he will still be running the offense in Tampa.
He had a very good year last season and he has some great weapons around him. One of the best backfields in the National Football League coupled with a top tier wide receiving core will see even more success for Winston this year.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the NFL allows both teams on the field to have possession of the football. And Tampa’s defense is horrible, and that's putting it nicely. They won’t get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they won’t stop the run and they won’t stop the pass. Their defense is clearly the worst in the entire National Football League.
Over the last several years the Bucs have been on the wrong end of several complete blowouts. That is a trend that will continue this season. They may score a few more points as the offense continues to improve, but it won’t stop them from giving up the most points in the league.
Fans in Tampa are hopeful because of their offense, but that will wear off quickly as soon as the other team gets the ball on opening week. This defense will give up 50 or more points at least three times this year. Tampa is still a long, long way from making the post season.
3 CONTENDER: Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are looking to prove that their Super Bowl loss last season was nothing more than a fluke. As long as they have a healthy Cam Newton leading the offense, there is a lot of hope in Charlotte for the team to return to playing football in the postseason. The only thing that could stop that from happening is if they don’t improve their defense against the pass.
Offensively they are an explosive bunch, and against the run they match up quite well with any team in the National Football League. But the scary fact is that they are going to be horrible against the pass. If they come up against Aaron Rodgers in the post season he may just rip them apart.
Cam Newton is a lot of fun to watch and he will lead an offense that is going to score a lot of points. Defenses have had a hard time stopping him since he came into the league and this season will be no different. But if Carolina can't cover for their defensive woes, Newton will have to be at the top of his game on every single play to keep the Panthers afloat. Look for a lot of high scoring games involving the Panthers this season, but they should be able to win enough of them to go deep into the NFC playoffs.
2 PRETENDER: San Francisco 49ers
Someone needs to tell the people of San Francisco that it’s football season again because chances are that they have all but forgotten they have a team. The 49ers went to the NFC Championship game three consecutive years and even went to the Super Bowl one time recently. That great run was only a few years ago. Now it’s like it never even happened. If it wasn’t for the 49ers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the worst team in the NFL.
Calling the 49ers a pretender is probably the best compliment that they will get this season. The only thing that they will be contending for is the #1 overall draft pick in the next draft. They have no quarterback, they have no wide receivers, and their running game is average at the very best. There are going to be a lot of zeroes on the scoreboard for San Francisco this year.
Their defense is just as bad, but they aren’t as bad as Tampa Bay's. A defense that is going to give up a lot of points coupled with an offense that can’t score any gives 49er fans no hope at all for the upcoming season.
Some people say that the team won’t even sniff the playoffs this season. I agree, but to take it one step further, they might not even sniff the end zone either. This squad has a very good chance to equal the Detroit Lions' dubious distinction for having the only winless season in the history of the NFL.
1 CONTENDER: Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks have been one of the top teams in the NFC for several years now and that should continue again in 2016. Russell Wilson led the squad to a Super Bowl victory and they came within a single play of winning a second in a row. This season he will be one of the top quarterbacks in the game again, but it won’t be easy. The Seattle offensive line is just horrible and Wilson will spend a lot of time on the run. Luckily he has a strong set of receivers that he can throw the ball to if he can find the time to do so. Their running game is average and will definitely suffer at the hands of their weak offensive line. But the ground game should be just good enough to keep defenses honest.
The Seahawks defense is what will lead them this year. They will be strong against the run and will put a lot of opposing quarterbacks on their back. If they don’t get to the QB and he gets off a few passes their secondary is more than able to handle it.
They will still be in the playoffs this year but they will do it with their defense. Wilson will be very solid again, but his lack of protection will cause his stats to not be as strong as they have been.