Lucky Sevens: The Seven NFL Teams That Have a Chance To Go to the Super Bowl
With the NFL season ready to open in mere days, it is a time of excitement for fans worldwide. Everybody thinks that this could be their season to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
A few weeks back, I told you about eight teams that would be a letdown to their fans. Today we will look at the only seven teams that can realistically expect to win the Super Bowl.
If any of these are your teams, than prepare for an exciting season. If not, keep in mind that it isn't too late to jump on a different bandwagon.
New Orleans Saints
For some reason or another, it seems that a lot of people have forgotten that the New Orleans Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions.
2009 was the banner season for the Saints franchise, and there is no reason that 2010 can't bring the same results.
The offense, which was number one in the league, returns all of its key players from a year ago and shows no signs of slowing down.
Drew Brees has averaged over 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns per season in each of his four years in New Orleans, all while completing 66.8% of his passes.
With an established running game anchored by Pierre Thomas, and Reggie Bush becoming both a rushing and receiving threat the Saints are not a one dimensional offensive unit.
The defense, although the numbers were not favorable, was not terrible in 2009. Some of the numbers were affected by the fact that Saints opened up large leads early in many games, thus allowing for a more relaxed defensive system. When called upon though, the defense always seemed to come up with the big play, as the Saints ranked second in takeaways.
So, with 2009 bringing New Orleans its first ever championship, 2010 could very well bring the Saints, championship number two.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers seem to be the popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. And with good reason.
Aaron Rodgers has very quickly ascended into the ranks of the elite quarterbacks in the league. In 2009, Rodgers lead the Packers to becoming the sixth ranked offense by throwing for a career high in yards (4,434), a career high in touchdown throws (30), and only throwing seven interceptions.
The Packers as a team, were the third highest scoring team in the league, while also boasting the best turnover ratio in the league at a plus 24. Green Bay's 47% conversion rate on third downs also ranked third in the league. A repeat in efficiency like that, this season will make the Packers tough for anyone to beat.
The defense is also a very solid group. With rankings of second in total defense, and first in takeaways in 2009 the Packers showed that regardless of which side of the ball they were on, they were usually the better team.
Playing home games at Lambeau field usually results in a home field advantage for the Packers once the weather starts to head south, meaning there really is only one area of concern in Green Bay.
If the Packers can reduce the number of penalties they get are assessed (they lead the league in that department a season ago), then this could very well be the year of the Cheeseheads.
This years player with the most pressure could very well be Tony Romo. The question surrounding him for years has been "Can he win the important games?"
After advancing out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1996 a season ago, Romo showed that he does have the capabilities of leading Dallas deep into the playoffs.
The Cowboys are looking to become the first team to ever play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. And for the Cowboys it is almost expected of them to do it.
The offense has the potential to be one of the best in the league. With the emergence of Miles Austin, the drafting of Dez Bryant, and the always reliable Jason Witten, Tony Romo is loaded with options to throw the ball to.
Factor in the bruising running of Marion Barber, and the speed of Felix Jones and you have one of the best one-two running attacks in the league. On his 146 career carries, Jones is averaging an amazing 6.5 yards per carry. Dallas has made no secret about wanting to get him more touches this season.
The defense for the Cowboys ranked a very respectable ninth overall, but more impressive was that they ranked second in points allowed, which is probably a lot better than most people would have expected.
Getting after the quarterback was never a problem either, ranking in the top ten in sacks. They were near the bottom in interceptions and only mid-pack in fumble recoveries, but I guess as long as you aren't giving up the points, the turnovers become less important.
So, if Dallas is to become the first team to play a Super Bowl at home, it again appears it falls on the shoulders of Tony Romo. But last year may have provided the spark that he needs.
The Atlanta Falcons are a team on the rise. After leading the Falcons to their first consecutive winning seasons in franchise history, Matt Ryan returns for his third season in which the expectations will be higher than ever.
While Ryan's career statistics through two seasons won't blow anyone away, they are still good, and have been good enough to lead the team to wins. He has amassed a 20-10 record as a starter and has thrown 38 touchdowns to just 25 interceptions.
Coming off a season in which he only played in eleven games, marred by injury, Michael Turner looks to return to the form of 2008 when he rushed for 1,699 yards and scored an eye popping 17 touchdowns. The Falcons need a solid ground game to take some of the pressures off of Ryan.
When asked to throw, however, Ryan has one of the best receivers in the game in Roddy White. For the last three seasons as Atlanta's number one receiver, White has averaged 1,246 yards all the while, seeing his touchdowns increase each season.
And don't forget the future Hall of Famer, Tony Gonzalez. He isn't the same player that he was in his earlier days, but he still continues to be one of the most productive and most reliable tight ends in the game.
The defense is the question mark in Atlanta. This group was mediocre at best last season. Against the run, they were a respectable tenth, but against the pass they were fifth from the bottom. And unlike the Saints, who were privy to giving up a lot of yards, the Falcons were only middle of the road in the takeaway department.
So, if Atlanta is to be considered a Super Bowl threat, the defense needs to improve its performance as the offense seems to be heading in the right direction.
San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers are the most interesting team in the league to me. If you have read my previous articles you know that I think that San Diego will be a letdown this year. So how can I have them as letdowns and Super Bowl contenders? The answer is simply with some luck.
The Chargers have the talent, and have for the past six or seven years. The problem is, they have never done anything with it. San Diego has the luxury of playing in one of the weaker divisions in the NFL, so they are almost guaranteed a playoff spot without having played a game yet.
This is where the luck must start. If things fall the right way in the playoffs and the right teams get knocked off, San Diego could be primed to finally go back to the Super Bowl.
Phillip Rivers is one of the top five quarterbacks in the game right now, and Ryan Mathews is poised to have a big rookie season, as he replaces LaDainian Tomlinson as the feature back in San Diego.
Antonio Gates is still one of the players at his position, and the team has done a fantastic job of not letting Vincent Jackson become a distraction. So, it seems that offensively this team will not miss a beat, from being one of the top offenses as it has been for the past few seasons.
Defensively, I have accused this team of having a "bend but don't break" philosophy. And while I still believe that to be the case, it isn't necessarily a bad thing. They were midpack in total defense, and in the bottom third in takeaways. On the plus side, they were ranked eleventh in points allowed. So, like I said, "bend but don't break" isn't necessarily a bad thing.
So, as it relates to the Chargers, they always seem like a team that is on the brink of making a Super Bowl run, but for whatever reason it never happens. The talent is in place, now all they need is for the stars to align properly, and maybe this can finally be the year.
Who would have ever thought that the Baltimore Ravens would have an offense that just maybe is now overshadowing the defense. Trust me, the defense is still one of the best, but the offense has been the subject of a lot of recent attention.
Joe Flacco enters his third year in the league, having started every game of his career. After a solid rookie campaign in 2008, Flacco put up even better numbers in 2009. He completed 63% of his passes for over 3,600 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The addition of Anquan Boldin, and now T.J. Houshmandzadeh should only see those numbers improve yet again this season. Boldin brings with him career averages of over 1,000 yards a season and over six touchdown grabs per year, as well as a certain toughness that seems to be a trademark of the Ravens franchise.
Though Flacco has been solid, Baltimore is still considered a running team. That means teams can expect to see a whole lot of Ray Rice and his 5.0 yard per carry career average. After a tremendous sophomore season in which Rice amassed over 1,300 yards on the ground, most people expect those numbers to only be better this year.
And then there is the defense. This Ray Lewis lead bunch has been one of the best for over a decade. It never seems to matter who is in the game, once you put on the Ravens jersey you instantly become a defensive specialist.
This group ranked third in scoring defense as well as third in total defense. The secondary has been plagued by injuries this offseason, but with Terell Suggs returning from an injury of his own, the front seven looks to be back in top form.
Much like Green Bay in the NFC, Baltimore has emerged as a popular pick to go to the Super Bowl. I see no reason why they shouldn't be considered a favorite.
The Colts will always be Super Bowl contenders because of two words. Peyton Manning.
Great can't even begin to describe Manning. He is a ten time Pro Bowler, a five time all NFL first teamer, a four time MVP, and a Super Bowl winning quarterback. It is safe to assume that when he retires, he could hold all major passing records on the books.
For his career, Manning averages 4,177 yards and 30 touchdown throws per season. He is also incredibly durable having never missed a start in his twelve year career. The offensive line has done a remarkable job in keeping Manning healthy, as he only averages getting sacked a mere 18 times per season.
The weapons that Manning has at his disposal seemingly never end. Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark are the go to guys. But Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie both emerged last season as threats that cannot be ignored. Add to that the return of Anthony Gonzalez from injury last season and Manning should have no problem picking a receiver to throw to.
The running game could become a question of who should be carrying the ball more? Joseph Addai has been an average running back at best the last couple of seasons, while injuries have become a problem as well. Donald Brown appears to be on the verge of unseating Addai as the teams feature back.
The Colts defense reminds me of San Diego, in that they seem to be a "bend but don't break" defense as well. The Colts were only the eighteenth ranked defense last season, but they were solidly in the top ten in points allowed, coming in at number eight. They were also only midpack in the takeaway department, but again, as is the case with the Chargers, if you aren't giving up the points and still getting wins, that is the most important statistic of them all.
So, just as is the case every season, Indianapolis should not make any arrangements other than football for the month of January and early February, because they are yet again poised to make a deep run into the playoffs.