6 Teams on the Verge of a Super Bowl Run in the Near Future
Better yet, to win one.
We are preparing for a Super Bowl rematch, something not seen since Super Bowl XXX with the Cowboys and Steelers. Despite this being a rematch, it is something that seems to be more rare in today's NFL and that got me to thinking.
Since 2000, there have been 15 teams to enter the world's greatest football stage. In the 1990s, there were 10 different teams go to the Super Bowl. Teams now have the capability of getting to the Super Bowl more so now than in years past.
Let me state up front: I have left off some teams who have been steady playoff contenders in the past few years like the Ravens, Jets, Chargers and Eagles. This is based on new face-type teams who in the last year or two have emerged as possible Super Bowl contenders.
Here are six teams that I believe could make a Super Bowl run next year, or the year after that. (I do not want to project any further than that. I am simply looking at the potential of the next two years.)
If you disagree, please be civil in your opposition, and perhaps reinforce it with statistics or evidence. This is simply one man's thoughts in a sea of opinions.
No. 6: Whichever Team Lands Peyton Manning
I know, it's not exactly one team, but here is the justification.
Much to the disappointment of many Colts fans, including my son, Peyton Manning's chances of returning to Indianapolis are now less than 50 percent. But the man still wants to play, and I believe if he is healthy, he will play.
The question is, for who?
Manning brings a team at least 10 wins, and that bodes well for a team trying to get to the postseason. I wrote an article about four possible destinations for Manning, and I have since ruled one of those teams out, the Dolphins.
With Joe Philbin as head coach, there will be a push for the Dolphins to bring in Matt Flynn as a free agent.
The teams in the running are:
If they can bring in another wide receiver and add a few players at defensive back, the Redskins with Manning will instantly challenge for the NFC East, and how cool would it be to see the Manning brothers face each other twice a year?
Hang on, hang on, hear me out! This would be a great PR move as well as a wonderful story.
The Broncos fans love Tebow, but there is a reality facing the Broncos, of which they are treading very carefully. Now, if you bring in Manning, arguably one of the top three quarterbacks the last 15 years, you are almost guaranteed a playoff spot in the topsy turvy AFC West.
Tim Tebow would probably gush at the idea of learning behind Manning, and this would ease the Broncos dilemma of what to do with Tebow moving forward, because it would likely allow Tebow to sit for two more years, and they could really evaluate what they have in him.
The Broncos have a strong running game, and with one more legitimate wide receiver and a decent pass catching tight end, the Broncos offense would be dangerous. And, with a stout defense that should improve even more under Jack Del Rio, I would put the Broncos in the top three or four teams in the AFC.
The big question would be Elway's ego. Could he bring in a quarterback who is a first ballot Hall of Fame QB and would take the focus off him?
Some Cardinals fans balked at my idea of Manning going to Arizona, but I spell out in my article the justification for Manning and the Kolb situation.
Manning would have one of the league's top receivers, a decent running game (if Ryan Williams comes back from q season-ending injury he will be a factor) and a defense that improved greatly toward the end of the year.
People have mentioned the 49ers and Manning, but I am not sure the 49ers want to upset that chemistry. I'm not saying Manning would do that, it's just that Harbaugh looks to be in it for the long haul, not some fly-by-night, open window situation.
No. 5: San Francisco 49ers
These are sequenced according to the team nickname and not according ranking teams from worst to best.
Since 49ers is a number-oriented nickname, they're up first.
The 49ers saw the playoffs this year for the first time since 2003, and it is highly likely there will not be another eight-year drought for the Niners as long as Harbaugh is there.
I like the way the 49ers play, and isn't it nice to see that what's old is new again? I can foresee the NFL moving back in time despite the free for all play of quarterbacks. With the re-emergence of the tight end and defenses still winning championships, the 49ers are in that mold.
Don't buy into the idea that the Niners can't win with Alex Smith. It wasn't his best game, but it was his first playoff game, and look what the Giants did to Aaron Rodgers the week before, Matt Ryan the week before that and so on.
I am sure that five or six years ago people said the Giants couldn't win with Eli Manning. As long as Harbaugh believes, so should the fans.
There is a new mantra, "This team is built for the playoffs," and that means as long as the 49ers stay within the scope of what got them there this year, they will be a perennial playoff team for years to come.
No. 4: Cincinnati Bengals
I have to admit, I have been a Bengals basher for several years—mostly because of ownership, the whole Carson Palmer mess, etc.—but when they drafted A.J. Green and Andy "Big Red" Dalton, I was intrigued to see what Marvin Lewis could do with this team.
This is going to be a bold prediction, but the Bengals could be the team to beat next year in the AFC North, and here's why. Even though the Steelers are recent Super Bowl winners and the Ravens are perennial playoff contenders, I believe those teams are on the wrong side of youth and there needs to be some re-tooling.
I am sure Steelers and Ravens fans will actually ally together to agree to disagree with me, but that's cool, this is what I feel.
Back to the Bengals, if they can make some improvements on the defensive side of the ball, and with the continued maturity of the offense, the Bengals could be a team to reckon with for years to come.
No. 3: Atlanta Falcons
Yes, the Falcons have been to the playoffs the last two years, but I included them because they are new to the playoffs in recent years.
There's an old saying for most teams that goes, "This team only goes as far as (insert QB name here) takes them." And for most teams that statement is legitimate, especially in the case of the Atlanta Falcons.
I am not shy of making bold statements, so here goes another one: Matt Ryan is an early version of Peyton Manning.
Peyton lost his first three playoff games before beating the Broncos in 2004. Matt Ryan has lost his first three playoff games. Also, Eli Manning lost his first two playoff games, so don't sell Ryan short. He's got the tools, smarts and ability to get his team to the next level.
One area the Falcons need to shore up is their defense. They had some decent stats and hovered in the teens in yardage and points allowed, but their sack total was only 33, and they gave up big plays at inopportune times.
They paid a lot of money to some free agents who didn't pay dividends. The big prize, Ray Edwards, only had 3.5 sacks, whereas oft-injured John Abraham had 9.5.
With that said, I see the Falcons more as a finesse team, but in order to take the next step, they are going to have to "up" their game.
No. 2: Detroit Lions
Wow, I didn't see this one coming. Actually, that's a joke.
As a NFC North guy, it's about time the Lions were able to put all those early-round picks together to have a team that should be on the radar for years to come.
I am sure most would agree, and even though we sound redundant in doing so, the team relied on the right arm of Matt Stafford, and boy did he produce. I also believe the Lions play a tough brand of football, and that will help them go a long way in scaring teams.
The obvious weakness is on defense, but let's be realistic; there is no way you can field a Top Five offense as well as a Top Five defense. You have to pick your strength and at least try to validate the other side.
Also, it's about getting hot, healthy, lucky or on a roll come playoff time. And most times, it always comes down to turnovers.
The Lions surely have a team built for the playoffs and if they can put it together and find a way to get past the Packers, they might be frequent guests and host for playoff games in the future.
No. 1: Houston Texans
If you had asked me this question last year, I would have said the Texans need to just get to the playoffs first before we mention them for anything beyond that. Oh, what a year can do for a team—or perhaps a coach and a few players, I should say.
I believe that had the Texans not had the rash of injuries, they would have beaten the Ravens and would have had a very good shot at beating the Patriots. But they didn't, and there be no revisionist history here, mate.
Offensively, the Texans have a very potent team. It's important they keep that chemistry together.
Defensively, they surprised a lot of people. Now, can they repeat that effort moving forward?
On paper, the Texans have to be a prohibitive favorite going into next year as representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. I believe there is a subtle shift taking place in the NFL. There are new dynamics being brought to the game and there are many exciting young players out there that can help turn around a team quickly.
We've seen it time and time again, and it could happen again next year. Who will be next year's San Francisco 49ers? Could it be Carolina, Miami or maybe even Buffalo?
Only time will tell.