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With the 2017 NFL season on its way it is hard to think in something else different from its beginning. How will rookies show themselves on the field at the pro level and which teams are the real contenders, among other issues. In fact, football fans turn their attention to a lot of things related to their teams and their rivals, but at the end, there is only one thing that really matters: win a Super Bowl. You can analyze and discuss about a lot of topics related to all NFL franchises (rookies, preseason, quarterbacks, possible MVPs), but the bottom line is that the main reason for all teams to play pro football is the Lombardi Trophy in the first Sunday of February.
However, to win a Super Bowl is not an easy accomplishment. Lift the Lombardi Trophy is something that only the real great teams can do, and the fact that only one of the 32 NFL franchises earns it annually illustrates it.
That may be the leading reason why 13 franchises have never won a Super Bowl. By the way, four teams have never played in the big game. The Falcons, one of last year’s finalists, were too close to get this drama to an end, but they were unlucky facing Tom Brady’s Patriots.
That Atlanta’s brilliant campaign (as the Panthers in 2015) real makes me thought about which team will be the first of the thirteens that will finally get the first ring. Because of that, I decided to separate these franchises in three groups, sorted by the distance they are from that glory, considering the 2016 season, the last free agency, and of course, the 2017 NFL Draft.
So, which team is closer (or less remote) to get there?
Their fans can (really) believe
Teams at the top: Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers
Teams at the bottom: Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals
The option for Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers here should not create a lot of discussion. I am talking about the last two teams that represented the NFC in last Super Bowls and have the past two Most Valuable Player of the regular season.
In Falcons’ case there is a huge argument that the team is even better this year, once Matt Ryan is the reign MVP, Devonta Freeman is becoming one of the best running backs in the league, Julio Jones is healthier and offensive line has no reason to recede. On the defensive side of the ball, we should expect a lot from Deion Jones and Keanu Neal getting into their second pro season; a solid pass rush with Vic Beasley (even better than last year, I think), now rookie Takkarist McKinley and Dontari Poe; and a secondary with the return of Desmond Trufant. Despite the fact that the Falcons do not have Kyle Shanahan anymore, there are no reasons not to believe on the Dirty Birds!
For the Panthers, the main goal is to get back on track after a disappointing 2016 season. Last year, Cam Newton saw an awful protection from his offensive linemen, his receivers simply weren’t able to make any difference on the field, and the defense was punished with a lot of injuries. However, now Newton seems to be in his MVP form, the offense should get a lot better with the additions of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, and the defense still has the best linebacker duo in the world. Carolina might not be one of the Top 3 powers of the National Conference, but the franchise deserves a real consideration here.
On the bottom of this group I include the Cincinnati Bengals and the Arizona Cardinals. You might argue how I could state the Bengals here, but one should not have only the last season in mind. In fact, Cincinnati’s campaign was very disappointing. Nevertheless, a solid group of blockers is still there, so does a receiver corp. Yeah, I am giving Andy Dalton another shot (it looks like to be the last one)!
Above Cincinnati (and under Carolina) I would add the Cardinals. I don’t know what exactly, but there is something in this team that keeps me expecting good results from it. David Johnson has been amazing and the defense just got even better after free agency and Draft. As well as Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer has a crucial season to play, and from what he showed, back in 2015, it seems fair to have faith on him.
Not too close (but not that far)
Teams at the top: Houston Texans and Detroit Lions
How far is the Houston Texans from winning a Super Bowl? The answer is… a solid-leader quarterback. I really like this Houston team with its great weapons on both sides of the ball. On offense, Texans have Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, a combination that few teams in the league hold right now. Defensively, it starts with J. J. Watt and finishes with Jonathan Joseph, and with Brian Cushing as the main linebacker. The franchise selected Deshaun Watson in this year’s Draft but he may need some time to be ready for the pro level. Being Watt, its biggest (and only hope), until there.
The Lions will go as far as Matthew Stafford can lead them. The former Georgia quarterback played like a MVP for some weeks last season and the team’s production was pretty good. I know it can be too much to put all the responsibility on Stafford’s shoulders, but he has proven himself as a competitive guy when it comes down to the postseason. Furthermore, not to be forgotten I am listing teams that neither have a Super Bowl tittle nor are favorite to win. It is a direct comparison among the thirteens franchise here, and Stafford is a top 3 quarterback in this discussion right now.
Teams at the bottom: Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles
What I like in Tennessee? The way Marcus Mariota is playing right now and the group that has been created around him. What I don’t like in Tennessee? Well, actually there is not a big thing that I dislike in Titans, but this team is still too young and unexperienced to get there. There are a few more steps above them.
What I like in Los Angeles? Philip Rivers. Even regarding the age and some interceptions, I continue linking Rivers and I think he can win big football games, especially with a talented group of receivers like the Chargers have right now. What I don’t in Los Angeles? The offensive line is not that reliable yet and defense easily disappears sometimes – that cannot happen in a winning team.
I almost drop the Philadelphia Eagles to the group below because it looks like it will need at least two more years to get close to a Super Bowl conversation. However, the 2017 offseason was great for the team and the way the franchise is creating its new team really makes me feel that future can be bright for Eagles’ fans. Carson Wentz probably got the right weapons to develop himself in a big time quarterback with the additions of Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, and Torrey Smith.
Still far away
Teams at the top: Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars
Teams at the bottom: Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns
Vikings’ defense is a real deal, but their offense has a lot to improve – and I don’t see this happening soon. Neither they have a trustworthy quarterback, nor a solid running game, nor a stable offensive line.
Talking about Jaguars, it is all about the quarterback position, and the reason why they are not in the group above is because we cannot guarantee anything from Blake Bortles. If he plays in a high level, than it is another narrative.
Moreover, everything is disorganized in Buffalo. Tyrod Taylor will be there for at least one more season but can he stay healthy? If the answer is positive, so it is time to ask whether or not his group will support him on the field. Considering what we saw in the past two seasons, it is hard to believe in drastic chances for the Bills.
If we create a discussion for the teams that would be on the top of the National Football League in 2027, the Cleveland Browns should be in a good position. In fact, the team made very good choices during the free agency and especially in the 2017 Draft. However, it should take a long time for all the weapons to get in the ideal form. Besides that, do not forget the Browns’ absence at quarterback – and they are about to start their 27th different name at the position, since 1999.
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