Super bowl contenders:
The Super Bowl Contender list is intriguing for many reasons. First, the list heavily favors the AFC, which holds four of the six spots. The AFC features many top-tier teams, and many even compete in the same divisions. The Chargers and Chiefs, two teams on the list, play twice a season against each other. I believe the top AFC teams will be battle-tested all season long, and this will be beneficial in the playoffs. The two teams from the NFC both have recent track records of success. The Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018, and the Saints were a few plays away from a Super Bowl trip in 2019. These rankings show the eventual Super Bowl champion will have both a winning pedigree and have tasted recent success.
PLAYOFF TEAMS (AFC):
This row is small due to the large cluster of Super Bowl teams above it from the AFC. The Texans went into the playoffs last season with its best record since 2012; however, they lost badly against the Colts in the Wildcard round. Despite this flop last season, the Texans still boast one of the best offensive and defensive combinations in the league. Anchored defensively by J.J Watt and offensively by Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans will be looking to avenge last season’s heartbreaking defeat. The Steelers are an interesting pick in this row. They just lost their star receiver, Antonio Brown, and have other internal locker room issues. I believe it will be a coin-flip for the AFC North divisional crown, but I still trust in this unit. I think the Steelers have enough talent to sneak into the playoffs, but they won’t advance farther than that.
Playoff teams (nfc):
This row features two separate groups of two. The first group is the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams. These two teams have two things in common: recent Super Bowl and playoff experience and a plethora of talent. The Seahawks made the Super Bowl in 2014 and 2015, and the Rams made the Super Bowl just last year. Both rosters also have solid quarterbacks, a defined run game and great defenses to support them on the other side of the ball. The second group includes the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings. I have less confidence in this group than the first, and I think both of these teams are risks to miss the postseason potentially. The Falcons play in a difficult division against teams like the Panthers and Saints, while the Vikings will be battling the Packers all season to secure a playoff spot. The road to the playoffs is much harder for both of these teams, and they could get bumped out by a different division rival.
Borderline playoff teams:
This row also features two groups; however, there is some overlap this time. The first group is the teams who probably won’t win the division title but could steal a wildcard spot. These teams include the Panthers and Cowboys. The Panthers were 6-2 last season in their first eight games; however, they lost seven of eight to close the season and missed the playoffs. If the Panthers can get healthy, they could bump out its NFC South Division Rival, the Falcons, for a playoff spot. The Cowboys owned the NFC East title last season, and the only reason why I don’t have them repeating is that Carson Wentz returned for the Eagles. They still have a talented roster on both sides of the ball, and if they make the playoffs, it would not surprise me at all. The second group – comprised of the Packers, Bears, Cowboys, Browns and Ravens – are all teams vying for a potential divisional title. The NFC and NFC North are very much up for grabs this season. That is why I have so many borderline teams from these two divisions. While I chose the Vikings and Steelers to represent their divisions, I am not 100% sold on these teams. Under the right circumstances, any team on this row- outside of the Panthers- could win its division.
The teams in this row won’t make the playoffs, but they could become important down the line. If a team like the Titans can steal a game that they weren’t supposed to win, they could eliminate a team from playoff contention. These teams are the disruptors; they will alter the fates of other teams in the league, although it won’t ultimately mean success for themselves. A team from this row could be the reason why another team above it is watching the Super Bowl instead of playing in it. Most of these teams are ranked so low because of the difficulty of the division that they play in. For example, the Broncos must battle against the Chargers and Chiefs, and the 49ers must compete against the Rams and Seahawks. Don’t label them as nonfactors simply because they won’t be in the Super Bowl.
These teams won’t impact the league much this season. They may snag a game or two here or there, but that’s about it. Each will hold up the bottom of its division should start preparing now for the draft. Teams in this row both don’t have the talent and play against much better competition than they can handle. If I had to pick a sleeper team to do something productive, I’d pick either the Lions, simply because the division is still wide open, or the Giants- only because I believe in Saquon Barkley. Realistically, I can’t see any of these rosters playing a huge role in the NFL.