The dust has settled, and he Tampa Bay Buccaneers have defeated the Kansas City Chiefs to earn the Super Bowl 55 title. With impending retirements, the 2021 NFL Draft, trades […]
The dust has settled, and he Tampa Bay Buccaneers have defeated the Kansas City Chiefs to earn the Super Bowl 55 title. With impending retirements, the 2021 NFL Draft, trades yet to be made, and the free agency period yet to begin, there’s plenty that can and will change between now and the start of the 2021-22 NFL season.
Surely that means it’s too early to predict the top contenders to win next year’s Super Bowl… right? Well we’re here to do it any way: count down the teams with the best chance to win Super Bowl 56 as currently constructed. With changes yet to be made, the majority of teams made the postseason in 2020-21, but will look to push even further next season. While we don’t know what each team’s roster will really look like in September, we can still speculate potential growth as well as the prospect of using the draft and free agency to address key concerns.
Will Tom Brady and the Buccaneers repeat as Super Bowl champions? Will Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs earn the title back? Will a veteran quarterback like Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers lead their squad to a second Super Bowl title in their tenure with their team? Or will a new winner, like Lamar Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens, Josh Allen’s Buffalo Bills, or Baker Mayfield’s Cleveland Browns rise to the occasion?
- Tennessee Titans: The Titans reached the AFC Championship two seasons ago, and won the AFC South this past season. While it’s too early to tell if this Titans team reached their ceiling, it certainly doesn’t seem like their window has closed just yet. With Derrick Henry flourishing at running back, the Titans should continue to be a threat next season. The only question is if they can get through the likes of the Bills, Ravens, and Chiefs in the postseason.
- San Francisco 49ers: Last season’s defending NFC champions never really got a chance to get the ball rolling. San Francisco’s roster was decimated by injuries to key players, with defensive star Joey Bosa and quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo headlining the bunch. With a healthier roster in 2021-22, the 49ers should have their eyes on a run back to the postseason. They will face the challenge of a crowded and competitive NFC West field.
- Los Angeles Rams: Also competing in that NFC West field, also representing the NFC in the Super Bowl in the past three seasons, and also (but to a lesser extent and later in the season) suffering from key injuries are the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams prospects are unique: with shiny new toy Matthew Stafford at quarterback. I don’t think Stafford makes the Rams a Super Bowl contender overnight, leaving them right outside the Top 10. But for a team that already made the playoffs last season, it’s certainly a possibility.
- Dallas Cowboys: I wanted to put the Dallas Cowboys in my Top Ten, but there were just too many solid contenders. Dak Prescott was playing at an unprecedented level before his early season-ending injury. If he can come even close to that pace of play in 2021-22, the Cowboys could be a scary team. At the same time, Dallas’ defense did a horrible job converting Prescott’s aerial success in to wins, so perhaps the Cowboys wouldn’t be able to make a deep postseason run.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the last undefeated team in the NFL last season, with an impressive 11-0 start. Pittsburgh stumbled to the finish at 12-4 and promptly dropped their Wildcard matchup with the Cleveland Browns. There was definitely a turning point in Pittsburgh’s season after their first loss, and we’re still left to wonder what the Steelers team of the season’s first half could have done in the playoffs.
Ben Roethlisberger might not have too much left in the tank, but if the Steelers can hit their stride at the end of the 2021-22 season, instead of the beginning, we could potentially see a version of that 11-0 Steelers team in next year’s playoffs.
Pittsburgh was favored to make a deep playoff run after their 11-0 start, and barring a collapse even further, the Steelers should be competitive again next season. The odds makers have the Steelers as the 17th-most likely team to win Super Bowl 56, which feels pretty low to me.
9. Cleveland Browns
Throughout my 2020-21 NFL Power Rankings, I wasn’t too high on the Cleveland Browns despite their strong record. But they proved me wrong when playoff time rolled around, first defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 and then losing 22-17 to the Chiefs in a closer than expected game.
This was all in Kevin Stefanski’s first season as head coach (despite his unavailability for the Browns playoff win over Pittsburgh) and with star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. sidelined for the season. Add in the fact Baker Mayfield has gotten better each of his first three seasons in the NFL, and the Browns could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
After the NFC West (which has been mentioned and will be mentioned again,) the AFC North may be the next most competitive division in the NFL. If Cleveland can get through Baltimore and Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Kansas City may still stand in the way of the Browns and an elusive Super Bowl title.
Personally, I think the Browns could be a couple seasons away, but they’re still my ninth-most likely team to win Super Bowl 56. It’s spot-on with DraftKing’s odds, which place the Browns ninth in the NFL at +2200 odds.
8. Seattle Seahawks
In the Pete Carroll-era in Seattle (pre-dated only a season by the Russell Wilson era at quarterback) the Seahawks have made the playoffs nine times (missing them just twice,) won at least one playoff game seven times, and reached the Super Bowl twice. Though a smaller and more recent sample size of the past four seasons shows just one playoff win, Seattle is still a force to be reckoned with in the NFC.
The Seahawks were my pick to win the NFC in both my preseason and midseason 2020-21 NFL predictions. Their high-flying offense, led by the electric passing of Russell Wilson, looked liked it could be the best in the NFL. But Seattle’s defense was historically bad, even with the addition of former New York Jets safety Jamal Adams. When the offense dried up even just a tad, Seattle’s defense had a hard time hanging on to leads.
I still like Wilson, Carroll, and the Seahawks to make the postseason for the fourth year in a row. Seattle has already increased their win total by one per year in each of the last four seasons, rising from 9-7 in 2017 to 12-4 in 2020.
The odds have Seattle has the 10th-most likely team to win Super Bowl 56 at +2200, a mark that makes them only the third-most likely team in the NFC West.
7. Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals are the only team in my Top Ten that didn’t make the playoffs in the 2020-21 NFL season. But with the last three NFC winners (the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) all ascending to the Super Bowl from a non-playoff position the season before, the Cardinals could be in good company.
When everything is clicking, the ceiling is so high for Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and the Cardinals. With this high ceiling, I place Arizona above more established teams like Seattle, Tennesee, and Pittsburgh on this list. Murray is an incredible dual-threat quarterback who has mostly gotten better over the course of his career, even if he’s still prone to up-and-down play from week-to-week.
The Cardinals will have to fight through a crowded NFC West field, as well as overcome obstacles like the Packers, Buccaneers, Saints, or once again their NFC foes in the postseason. The oddsmakers give the Cardinals the 20th-best odds to win Super Bowl 56 at +5000, so it’s fair to say I’m going on a little bit of a limb ranking Arizona this high.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens weren’t as consistently dominant in 2020 as they were in 2019, but they were still pretty darn good. Baltimore’s 14-2 regular season record from two seasons ago slipped to 11-5 this year, and the Ravens ended both seasons in the divisional round of the playoffs.
However, Jackson did earn his first playoff victory last month, avenging 2020’s loss to the Tennessee Titans. There’s no reason to think Baltimore won’t be in playoff position again in the 2021-22 season. The Ravens will have to get through the Bills and Chiefs in order to reach the Super Bowl, hampering their overall standing on this list.
The odds have the Ravens tied with the Bills for the fourth-best odds at +1200.
5. New Orleans Saints
This prediction largely relies on the assumption Drew Brees might return for one more season at quarterback. He hasn’t retired yet, though his contract shift to the veteran’s minimum sends mixed signals about the quarterback’s commitment to playing in 2021-22.
I don’t really need to spell out why the Saints would be contenders with Brees. New Orleans has dominated the regular season for the past five seasons, though the franchise has often fell short in the playoffs. But simply getting to the postseason, especially with homefield advantage, makes the Saints a dangerous team every year, regardless of previous results.
While I don’t see Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston leading the Saints to Super Bowl 56, New Orleans roster is solid all-around. The Saints might still be a playoff team even if Brees does indeed retire. For this reason, I’ll leave the Saints in the mix for now. Perhaps Brees doesn’t retire. Perhaps Hill or Winston flourish, or the Saints find a different fill-in at quarterback.
Despite the uncertainty, Vegas sees potential in the Saints as well, with the eighth-best odds to win Super Bowl 56 at +1700.
4. Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers playoff exit at Lambeau Field, at the hands of Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, was disappointing. But the Packers are right on the cusp of breaking through to the Super Bowl after back-to-back NFC Championship Game appearances. They suffered a blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January 2020, so their narrow defeat in 2021 is actually forward progress for the franchise, despite obvious frustration from fans.
So long as Aaron Rodgers is the Packers quarterback, Green Bay will be squarely in the mix for Super Bowl 56 next postseason. Green Bay has gone 13-3 each of the past two seasons, tying for or outright earning the best record in the NFC both seasons. The Packers wasted, in my opinion, a first round draft pick last season on a developmental quarterback instead of instantly improving their Super Bowl-ready team. They can’t do that two seasons in a row, so there should be some incoming rookie talent to help nudge Green Bay over the edge. The Packers could also explore free agent upgrades to make the most of their final years with Rodgers.
The odds have the Packers tied as the second-most favored team to win Super Bowl 56, at +900 odds.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This year’s Super Bowl winners are my pick to win the NFC again in 2021-22, and my third most likely team to win next year’s Super Bowl. Here’s the thing: I don’t think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the best team in the NFC this season, and certainly not the NFL. I’m not saying they got lucky, but rather rose to the circumstances when it mattered most. Having Tom Brady at quarterback in the playoffs is also a huge mental advantage, even if the 43-year old quarterback has had much better postseasons statistically speaking.
My point is, the Buccaneers actually have some room to grow, and that’s should scare the NFL. This year’s product merged a strong young core with some veteran influxes through trades and free agency. With a year of chemistry under their belts, as well as some possible free agent additions this offseason, Tampa Bay should be locked and loaded for another Super Bowl run in 2021-22.
This time, it won’t be from an underdog role. The Buccaneers are tied, with the Packers, for the second-best Super Bowl 56 odds at +900.
2. Buffalo Bills
For the Buffalo Bills to advance to Super Bowl 56, they will likely have to dethrone Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, who have won the AFC for two straight seasons. If Josh Allen and the Bills can do that, they will have officially elevated themselves to the status of an elite team.
Potentially facing Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Russell Wilson in the Super Bowl would be no small task. But after defeating the Chiefs, any NFC opponent after that should be, theoretically, easier to beat. That’s why I have the Bills at #2, ahead of NFC teams like the Buccaneers and Packers. While Tampa Bay and Green Bay might have a better chance to reach the Super Bowl (due to Buffalo’s AFC roadblock in Kansas City,) the Bills are my second pick to actually win Super Bowl 56.
Vegas has Buffalo with considerably lower odds, at +1200, tied for the fifth-best odds in the NFL.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs may have fell short in Super Bowl 55, but Kansas City has still been the most consistently good team in the NFL over the past three seasons. With an AFC Championship Game loss, Super Bowl win, and Super Bowl loss ending the Chiefs’ last three seasons, there’s a good chance Kansas City will make another deep run in the 2020-21 season.
Including the postseason, the Chiefs have gone 46-10 over the past three years. With Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs are the odds-on favorite in virtually every game they play in. Kansas City is also the Las Vegas betting favorite to win the Super Bowl, with +550 odds.
There are plenty of good teams that could get even better in 2021, and the Chiefs are far from a flawed team. But with so many variables between today and Super Bowl 56, the only team I’m comfortable putting at the top is the Chiefs. As long as Mahomes is healthy at quarterback, Kansas City has the best chance to win the Super Bowl next season.
Header Photo: Via NFL.com
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