That is the beauty of the playoff system: No matter what your record is when finishing the regular season, the Lombardi Trophy is up for grabs. The Giants proved that to us last season. We will go through five teams that have a good chance at bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to their hometown.
At the beginning of each season, everyone has their favorites to win it all. Let’s look at some teams that might be overlooked this preseason.
This season the Bears look to rebound and seem to be ready. In the offseason, the Bears acquired Brandon Marshall, one of Jay Cutler’s favorite targets from when they played together for the Denver Broncos. Also, the Bears drafted former Boise State star Shea McClellin with their first pick of the 2012 NFL draft.
Matt Forte is ready to go after his season-ending injury last year. Over the past couple of seasons, Matt Forte has accounted for over half of the Bears offense—but with Brandon Marshall as a new addition, Matt Forte's role could change a little bit. Instead of being the only option, he now will need to pass block a bit more.
Yes, the offense looks good and could be explosive with a high-profile running back and the addition of Brandon Marshall, but let’s not forget they have another option for receiver in Alshon Jeffery, rookie out of South Carolina. He has looked good this offseason in OTAs, minicamps and the preseason, so defenses can't just focus on Brandon and expect the other receivers to not step up.
Jay Cutler has a lot of options this season—it's all a matter of whether he and Forte can stay healthy for a full season.
The defense looks just as good, especially with first-round draft pick Shea McClellin, who will be on the opposite side of Julius Peppers. Lance Briggs is returning as well as Brian Urlacher, who will help comprise a tough, high-powered linebacker corps.
So yes, the Bears have a real shot at being Super Bowl contenders. They have the offense and defense to make some noise in this year’s Super Bowl run.
Ryan Fitzpatrick looks to make a run for the Super Bowl this year
The Buffalo Bills are probably one of the most underrated teams in the NFL. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and Mario Williams look to change that and put Buffalo back on the map when it comes to Super Bowl talk.
The Buffalo Bills started off strong last year, and they even beat the New England Patriots for the first time since 2003. Everyone was excited and even started talking about how the Bills could make a run to the Super Bowl. Then the weather got cold and so did the team, losing every game but one, starting November 6, 2011.
This year seems to be different—especially with the add-on of Mario Williams, former No. 1 draft pick in the 2006 NFL draft. He comes ready to take some pressure off, helping the offense maintain control of the ball and giving the Bills more opportunities to put points up on the board. Along with Mario Williams comes Stephon Gilmore out of South Carolina, a defensive add-on from this year’s first round of the draft.
With the weapons the Bills have on offense and defense, there is no reason the Bills shouldn't be considered one of the more powerful options in the AFC East, be able to win in their division or be able to make it into the playoffs in a wild-card spot.
If Fred Jackson can achieve his goals of 1,500 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, the Bills have a very good chance of being a dominant team. It will be up to the defense, though, when it comes to how far the Bills will make it.
We all knew this team would make the list. The Carolina Panthers have a stacked offense with their rookie sensation Cam Newton coming back for his second year in the NFL after setting all the rookie records with 4,051 yards passing, 21 touchdown passes and 14 touchdowns running.
The Carolina Panthers also have Steve Smith, who is Cam Newton's favorite target when it comes to passing. They also have two running backs who both can deliver blows in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The offense will be fast-paced, and the opposing defenses can never give up on a play because Cam Newton is the type of player who can beat you with his arm or his feet—he can make something out of nothing.
As the saying goes, "Offense wins games but defense wins championships."
Well, the Carolina Panthers have a defense to make that happen, especially with their rookie, Luke Kuechly. Kuechly looks to be an upcoming star for this defense.
Another notable defensive player who will help this team make the Super Bowl is Charles Johnson, the high-powered pass-rusher coming off the edge and disrupting the quarterback's rhythm. Jon Beason is the quarterback of the defense as the middle linebacker.
One thing is for sure: The Panthers can't be overlooked this season with the talent they bring to the table.
One team that needs to be talked about more—especially with the division they are in—is the Seattle Seahawks. Matt Flynn is here and could be what the Seahawks have needed since the Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Seahawks have never had an explosive offense that defenses just couldn't stop, but could this year be the year Seattle makes a statement? With Matt Flynn as the starter and Russell Wilson as the backup, these two quarterbacks are the real deal. Even though Russell Wilson is a rookie, he is smart and fast. He can find the open receivers and is able to read the defenses to make plays for positive yards.
Matt Flynn has been the backup to Aaron Rogers, which is a good thing and a bad thing all at the same time. Aaron Rogers knows how to make plays, and Matt Flynn has learned from him for the past few years. On the other hand, Matt Flynn has never been called the starter or even given the chance.
The Seahawks are giving him the chance, so I expect him to run with this opportunity and surprise everyone who doubted him. The Seahawks also brought in Terrell Owens this offseason to give him another opportunity in the NFL. The run game is as powerful as ever with Marshawn Lynch, and Robert Turbin (rookie out of Utah State) will really give the Seahawks a multi-attack and allow the offense to flourish and deliver in the NFC West with the San Francisco 49ers being their biggest threat.
The Seahawks have a lot of promise this season, and for a lot of the veterans, time is running out so now is the time to capitalize. I think the Seahawks can do that with the younger guys stepping up.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are my No. 1 team for this year’s Super Bowl sleeper.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made a lot of offseason acquisitions. Some of the notable veterans brought in are WR Vincent Jackson, TE Dallas Clark and OG Carl Nicks. Josh Freeman has to be excited about this season and what these players bring to the offense.
Along with those veterans brought in, two first-round picks were used to obtain high-profile players who are expected to make a big impact right out of the gate in rookie Mark Barron out of the University of Alabama and rookie running back Doug Martin from Boise State.
Not only do the Buccaneers have new players, but also a new head coach in Greg Schiano out of Rutgers, who looks to impact the league right away.
This is my sleeper for a Super Bowl run this year. With all the new additions and the way that the Saints are struggling from all their losses due to the punishment of the bounty program, the Atlanta Falcons will be their biggest competition in the NFC South.
The Buccaneers have a lot of skilled veterans and a lot of promise for this year’s team. I expect them to make the playoffs and compete to bring home the Lombardi Trophy back to Tampa Bay.