NFL Rankings: Which Team Will Win Its First Super Bowl in 2014 Season?

Russell S. BaxterContributor IJuly 28, 2014

NFL Rankings: Which Team Will Win Its First Super Bowl in 2014 Season?

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    In 2013, the Seattle Seahawks became the 19th NFL franchise to win a Super Bowl.
    In 2013, the Seattle Seahawks became the 19th NFL franchise to win a Super Bowl.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    OK, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first.

    We are not making a prediction for Super Bowl XLIX, which will be played in Glendale, Arizona.

    Here is the premise. This past season, the Seattle Seahawks became the 19th of the current 32 franchises in the league to win at least one Super Bowl. That means 13 teams have yet to hoist a Lombardi Trophy.

    So the idea here is that for our purposes, the 2014 NFL season will once again feature a brand new Super Bowl champion.

    It’s not that far-fetched of a scenario. The first 31 Super Bowls were won by only a dozen different clubs. The last 17 league titles have seen first-time winners such as the Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints and the aforementioned Seahawks.

    Remember, we are taking strictly the Super Bowl era here. We are aware that franchises such as the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals are past NFL champions. This is strictly an example of the popular concept of “what if?”

    So in terms of this piece, it will be a 20th different team that captures Super Bowl XLIX. And here’s how we rank each club’s chances this upcoming season from worst to best.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Associated Press

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-0

    The Jacksonville Jaguars first took the field in 1995 and, like most expansion franchises, didn’t have an easy time of it. The club finished 4-12 in its debut campaign—not-so-good enough to finish fifth place in the old AFC Central.

    But over the next four seasons, it was Tom Coughlin’s club that made it look easy. They amassed a combined 45-19 record and went to the playoffs each year. The Jaguars reached the AFC title game in both 1996 and 1999, the latter when the team was an NFL-best 14-2.

    Unfortunately, while this franchise gets ready to play just its 20th season, those aforementioned feats seem like ancient history. Jacksonville hasn’t won a division title since 1999 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007. This is a club that has won a combined 11 games the past three seasons.

    So are they are legitimate playoff contender in 2014/15? The Jaguars lost their first eight games and final three contests this past season and managed four wins in five games in the middle of its 4-12 campaign. The team seems to be on the upswing thanks to head coach Gus Bradley, who was solid in his first years, and some promising free-agent pickups such as running back Toby Gerhart, guard Zane Beadles and defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant.

    Unfortunately, training camp hasn’t gotten off to a good start for a team that scored an NFL-low 247 points in 2014.

    Ryan O’Halloran of The Florida Times-Union tells us that wideout Cecil Shorts, the team leader in catches, will miss some time with some hamstring issues. The team’s other starter at wide receiver, Ace Sanders, will be serving a four-game suspension (also via O’Halloran) to start the season in September for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.

    The Jaguars appear headed in the right direction. Unfortunately at this stage, that direction doesn’t appear to be toward Arizona.

12. Cleveland Browns

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-0

    Did someone call for an asterisk?

    Sorry. We are fully aware of the fact that the artist formerly known as the Cleveland Browns became the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. Three years later, Browns fans were partying in 1999 when their club reappeared as an expansion franchise.

    However, one of the agreements with the new franchise in Cleveland was that they inherited the Browns’ previous history in terms of records, accomplishments, etc.

    Sounds fair enough? That also means the team hasn’t won an NFL title since 1964. It’s doubtful anyone in the city will be throwing a 50th-anniversary celebration regarding that “milestone” this year.

    What about this year? Are the Browns capable of coming together and putting together a miraculous season? They say never say never, but let’s offer a little perspective here.

    This is a club that has lost 11 or more games for six straight years. Cleveland hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002, and the team’s last postseason win came in 1994 when Bill Belichick was head coach (we can report that he has since moved on).

    On to 2014, as Mike Pettine is the team’s eight different head coach since 1999. And while there’s no game film of the team so far, there’s been plenty of video courtesy of rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel.

    The 22nd overall pick in May has had his hands full this offseason—with seemingly everything but a football. But now it’s time to buckle down, and both the quarterback and the boss of the team agree.

    “I don’t want to wear this subject out,’’ said Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, as reported by Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, following the club’s initial practice at  training camp. “Johnny said it himself. He made some mistakes. We expect better from him. I’m sure he’ll perform now. We’re anxious to see what he can do on the field, which is what really counts.”

    So do these Browns have a realistic chance at winning a Super Bowl this year? There is certainly some talent on the defensive side of the ball, a quarterback battle between Manziel and Brian Hoyer and wide receivers such as Miles Austin and Nate Burleson to fill in should Pro Bowler Josh Gordon not be available this season.

    But also keep in mind that since 2011, they are the only team in the AFC North to finish with a losing record in any of those three seasons. Climbing past the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens is a Herculean task all by itself.

11. Minnesota Vikings

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-4

    The Minnesota Vikings have a long and storied history that dates back to 1961, when they were an expansion team.

    It didn’t take long for the franchise to make its mark. In its ninth year of existence, the team made the first of what would be four Super Bowl appearances in eight years.

    Unfortunately, the Purple Gang wound up black and blue after each encounter. And since losing to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI, the Vikings haven’t been back to the Big Game since.

    Even worse, the team has finished last in the NFC North three of the last four years. But there is renewed hope for a team that now has a staff that includes head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

    Zimmer’s forte is defense, and he inherits a club that allowed the second-most yards in the league and an NFL-high 480 points in 2014. Turner hopes to help the club settle on a quarterback. For now, veteran Matt Cassel is the starter. But the team’s second first-round pick is making quite the impression.

    Via Jay Glazer on Twitter (and documented by Marc Sesslar of NFL.com), Teddy Bridgewater continues to open eyes this offseason and seems like a very legitimate threat to open the regular season against the Rams at St. Louis.

    Of course, a rookie quarterback has never led a team to the Super Bowl, and it’s doubtful that Bridgewater, should he win the job, will be the first. The team has all-time runner Adrian Peterson and targets such as wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Minnesota did score 391 points this past season.

    It’s stopping the other team that was the problem for this club a year ago. And while Zimmer’s reputation is simply outstanding, Minnesota wasn’t built in a day.

10. Houston Texans

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-0

    Based on history alone, no one should be shocked that the Houston Texans are on this list. The franchise has only been on the field for a dozen seasons.

    This was a team that appeared on the upswing a few years ago. The club made its first playoff appearance in 2011 by winning the AFC South with a 10-6 record and a year later repeated as division champions with a 12-4 mark.

    The bottom fell out for the team in 2013. A 2-0 start morphed into a 0-14 finish, and the club earned the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. There’s a new head coach in Bill O’Brien, new quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick and new defensive coordinator in Romeo Crennel.

    There is also the same solid talent with stars such as wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster, defensive end J.J. Watt and inside linebacker Brian Cushing. The cupboard is not bare in Houston.

    So will the Texans rebound with a vengeance in 2014? Over the past two seasons, we have seen teams like the 2012 Indianapolis Colts and 2013 Kansas City Chiefs finish with 11-5 records after suffering through two-win seasons the previous year. Could history repeat itself for a third straight time?

    Of course, even if it did, it’s worth noting that neither of those clubs won a playoff game those years. So in terms of the Texans getting to Super Bowl XLIX, even those impressive comebacks would wind up falling short of a championship.

9. Tennessee Titans

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-1

    One yard…one lousy yard.

    We can all still see Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson lying on the floor of the Georgia Dome stretching for the goal line in Super Bowl XXXIV. His team would fall one yard short of sending them and the St. Louis Rams into overtime OR winning it with a two-point conversion (nah, not even Jeff Fisher would be so bold).

    Ken Whisenhunt knows the glory and the heartbreak of Super Bowls. He was the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator when the team captured Super Bowl XL in Detroit. He was also the Arizona Cardinals head coach when Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes made that tippy-toe catch in the end zone with 35 seconds to play to beat the Cards, 27-23, in Tampa.

    Now he takes over the Titans, who finished with the NFL’s best record in 2008 but haven’t been to the playoffs since. He is now grooming talented but reckless quarterback Jake Locker (who has missed 14 games in two seasons) into becoming more of a pocket passer. He has an emerging wide receiver in Justin Hunter and a backfield that now includes rookie Bishop Sankey and free-agent pickup Dexter McCluster.

    The defense will be run by Ray Horton, who has coached with Whisenhunt before and brings the 3-4 to Nashville. It may be the perfect fit for a team that certainly has talent on this side of the ball.

    Don’t be surprised if the Titans give the Indianapolis Colts a run for their money in the AFC South. But they figure to be a few dollars short when it comes to making a Super Bowl run…at least this season.

8. Carolina Panthers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-1

    When you come off a 12-4 season, rank second in the NFL in both fewest yards allowed and points allowed and have a Pro Bowl quarterback at your disposal, it would appear that good things are happening.

    Tell that to the Carolina Panthers.

    Not that you would get a pessimistic response from Ron Rivera and Co. The Panthers are bound and determined to become the first NFC South team to win back-to-back division titles. They will do it with quarterback Cam Newton at the helm and DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert in the backfield. But it will be done with a different group of pass-catchers, save for tight end Greg Olsen, who led the team with 73 catches and six touchdown grabs in 2013.

    Gone are wideouts Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. Enter Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and rookie first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin. The offensive line will have some changes as well, the most significant at left tackle as former Pro Bowler Jordan Gross called it a career after 11 seasons.

    The defense appears to be set, although free agency claimed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and free safety Mike Mitchell. NFC South castoffs Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper, a pair of veteran safeties, join the Panthers’ secondary, as does journeyman but talented cornerback Antoine Cason.

    Also keep in mind the off-the-field issues of Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who totaled exactly one-fourth of Carolina’s NFL-high 60 sacks this past season. Could the star pass-rusher be missing for any stretch at the start of the season? Stay tuned.

    Is Rivera’s squad truly a Super Bowl contender? The potential of the defense would seem to indicate so. But will that unit have to carry too much of the load in 2014? And while history can only mean so much, it’s interesting to note that the Panthers have never made consecutive playoff appearances in the franchise’s brief history.

7. Buffalo Bills

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-4

    Although not impossible, no team anytime soon may reach four consecutive Super Bowls like the Buffalo Bills did from 1990-93.

    Of course, they not only have the distinction of losing each of those games, they are currently in the midst of the league’s longest active postseason drought. The Bills haven’t taken their wagons to the playoffs since 1999.

    But there is a lot of optimism in Orchard Park, New York these days. When it comes to a team showing massive improvement this offseason, Buffalo seems to be a hot topic. And we are not talking Atomic Wings here.

    Quarterback EJ Manuel begins his second season and will have rookie scorcher Sammy Watkins to throw to. There’s also wideouts Robert Woods and veteran Mike Williams. It’s a three-headed backfield that includes C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown.

    Jim Schwartz is the new defensive coordinator, and he takes over a team that totaled 57 sacks but was porous against the run, per usual. The defensive front of ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes and tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus could be frightening again.

    The recent injury-related loss of outside linebacker Kiko Alonso will be felt. But look for either Nigel Bradham or Preston Brown to take up the slack. The addition of free-agent middle linebacker Brandon Spikes is a big plus against the run.

    Are the Bills really Super Bowl material? Are they even playoff material? The latter certainly seems possible, while any talk of a trip to Glendale seems a bit far-fetched…at least for now.

6. Arizona Cardinals

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-1

    Talk about a possible reversal of fortune?

    Only five teams in the NFL gave up fewer total yards than the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. And no club in the league was better at stopping the run.

    Meanwhile, the Cards did improve offensively under first-time NFL head coach Bruce Arians. Still, this unit took a back seat to the other side of the ball. Arizona scored 30 or more points in just three games this past season, although to be fair all of those came in the final six weeks of 2013.

    Now combine the fact that the Cardinals defense will be missing inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington and strong safety Yeremiah Bell this season. Recovering free safety Tyrann Mathieu is on the mend.

    Meanwhile, the draft and free agency has added weapons for quarterback Carson Palmer to take advantage of. He already has wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and running back Andre Ellington in his arsenal. Now add veterans such as tight end John Carlson and wideout Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie wide receiver John Brown, and this could be Arizona’s best offense in years.

    Ginn and Brown will also contribute on punt and kickoff returns. And as Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com tells us, it all adds up to Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson becoming an even better defensive player. Not that lining up on offense as well as returning punts was an inconvenience.

    “It wasn’t too much,” said Peterson. “It’s just a different task being able to now focus on (just) playing cornerback as opposed to trying study all three phases.”

    These Cardinals may be worth studying. Could they become the first franchise to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium?

5. San Diego Chargers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-1

    The San Diego Chargers have that championship formula.

    They just have to learn to mix it better and a little sooner.

    In recent years, the Bolts always seem to get off to a slow start only to rally to reach the playoffs. That was certainly the case from 2007-09 when they were busy winning AFC West titles. It certainly didn’t work from 2010-12, when they fell short of the postseason each year.

    This past season, a 5-7 start turned into four straight wins and a wild-card appearance. The Chargers were clicking on all cylinders when they beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round and put up quite the fight against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

    San Diego’s version of “small ball” features plenty of running from Ryan Mathews and now Donald Brown. Quarterback Philip Rivers cut way back on turnovers last season and has very capable pass-catchers in running back Danny Woodhead, tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green and 2013 rookie standout Keenan Allen.

    The defense is still trying to find itself and must do a much better job forcing the issue as the Chargers totaled a mere 17 takeaways in 16 regular-season games.

    Still, head coach Mike McCoy knows that a good and efficient offense can be the defense’s best friend. If the Chargers can control tempo as they did late last season, this could be an effective defensive unit by season’s end and also one that is well rested.

    It will be 20 years since the Chargers’ first and only Super Bowl appearance (a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in XXIX). Now would be a good time to take a stroll down memory lane.

4. Detroit Lions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-0

    We have heard it stated over and over. If you’re going to win a championship, you got to have the “D.”

    Well, there’s been a “D” in Detroit forever, and the team hasn’t won an NFL title since 1957.

    There are four teams in this league that have yet to make a Super Bowl appearance. The Detroit Lions are the lone NFC club in the group.

    In recent years, there’s been a bit of the roar restored in the Motor City. But it has more resembled a purr as the team has made just one playoff appearance (2011) in the last 14 seasons.

    There’s plenty of blame to go around. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson are two components of a potent attack that could see more of running backs Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, rookie Theo Riddick and possibly Mikel Leshoure this season.

    Back to the defense, it's another unit with plenty of solid pieces such as linemen Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley and linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy, as well as second-year defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

    Still, this was a group devoid of the big play in 2013. The Lions totaled 33 sacks and forced only 22 turnovers this past season. But according to Kyle Meinke of MLive.com, help in this department may be on the way in the form of rookie outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Ansah’s college teammate at BYU. Could he be the opportunistic component missing from this unit?

    Consider that the Lions haven’t won a division title since 1993 and haven't managed a postseason win since 1991. The fact that they are so high on this list speaks of what they are capable of. Now the time for speaking is over.

3. Atlanta Falcons

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-1

    Back in 1998, it was head coach Dan Reeves, running back Jamal Anderson and quarterback Chris Chandler who led the “Dirty Birds” to their first and only Super Bowl appearance. The Atlanta Falcons would fall to the Denver Broncos, 34-19, in South Florida.

    Now the organization would like to clean up after a forgettable 2013. After five straight winning seasons and four postseason appearances over that span, the Falcons fell to Earth courtesy of a 4-12 finish. It was quite the collapse for a club that was the NFC’s top seed the previous year with a 13-3 record.

    But the team has bolstered itself through free agency and the draft and also appears to be getting ready to change its recent philosophy. The Falcons were dead last in the NFL in rushing last season, and veteran Steven Jackson, off an injury-plagued 2013, and rookie Devonta Freeman are determined to change that.

    Quarterback Matt Ryan still has wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones. The offensive line has new faces on the right side with guard Jon Asamoah and rookie tackle Jake Matthews.

    On defense, Atlanta has added veterans such as defensive end Tyson Jackson, nose tackle Paul Soliai and now inside linebacker Pat Angerer. Only the Chicago Bears allowed more rushing yards than Mike Smith’s team this past season.

    Are the Falcons truly capable of completely turning things around and winning their first NFL title? This is a team not too far removed from some success, and it wouldn’t be the long shot many would anticipate.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-2

    While the Cincinnati Bengals have reached the playoffs a franchise-record three straight years (and counting), the team also hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990.

    Add in the fact that both head coach Marvin Lewis’ coordinator, offensive mind Jay Gruden, and defensive whiz Mike Zimmer are now the sideline leaders for the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings, respectively.

    So would this year be any different for a franchise that wants to see anyone but the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLIX?

    Keep in mind that this is one of the deepest teams in the league due to the fact that they have drafted so well. The Bengals are well stocked at running back and defensive line. They have stars in outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict defensive tackle Geno Atkins, and cornerback Leon Hall. Despite the fact that both Atkins and Hall missed large parts of last season, Cincinnati finished third in the NFL in total defense.

    Quarterback Andy Dalton hasn’t been sharp in three playoff appearances, but he has also helped get the team there. He threw 33 touchdown passes last season, but cutting down on those 23 turnovers is a must.

    He can hand the ball to running back Giovani Bernard, rookie Jeremy Hill and veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Dalton has top targets in wide receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, as well as tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.

    What the Bengals also have is a not-so-great recent history in terms of the postseason. But that can change in a heartbeat.

1. Philadelphia Eagles

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Super Bowl W-L record: 0-2

    It’s a franchise that hasn’t won an NFL championship since 1960. That year, the Philadelphia Eagles bested the Green Bay Packers in the title game and handed Hall of Fame head coach Vince Lombardi his only postseason loss in 10 tries.

    These days, Chip Kelly’s team is the defending NFC East champions. But is the second-year head coach in charge of some Angry Birds?

    Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com speaks of the little clash that took place during Sunday’s practice between running back LeSean McCoy and outside linebacker Trent Cole. While there’s nothing like a little training-camp drama, this proved to be more like a William Shakespeare comedy: Much Ado About Nothing.

    So it is on to the 2014 regular season. We don’t expect quarterback Nick Foles to throw 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions this season. But we may see McCoy make a very strong run at 2,000-plus rushing yards. Philadelphia owned the league’s top-ranked running game a year ago and was second in the NFL in total offense.

    There’s no more DeSean Jackson to throw to, but veterans Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, as well as promising rookie Jordan Matthews, should get the job done. Let’s not forget the talented tight end combination of Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, as well as the offseason addition of explosive playmaker Darren Sproles.

    But it’s on defense that the Eagles must make a difference. Cole is part of a linebacking corps that includes insiders Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans and fellow outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

    The secondary has new faces in cornerback Nolan Carroll and starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins. Second-year nose tackle Bennie Logan looks promising, and defensive coordinator Billy Davis is hoping first-round pick Marcus Smith can aid the pass rush.

    So are the Eagles to be or not to be when it comes to winning the team’s first Super Bowl title this February? Here we say yes.

    Of course, this slide would have been even more fun to write if Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator was Romeo Crennel (we’ll just have to settle for “William” Davis).

     

    Some statistical support for this piece was provided by Pro-Football-Reference and NFL.com, while depth charts are provided by Ourlads.