From the time this article is being written, we are a mere 248 days from Super Bowl LII at the beautiful U.S. Bank Stadium in snowy Minneapolis, Minnesota. The offseason programs have just begun, but thanks to Vegas odds makers, we can speculate who will be the favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in 2018 as the top Super Bowl contenders.
Below are the odds for all 32 teams from the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book, as reported by ESPN.[table id=45 /]
The beauty with odds books is that they are always subjective. Just because Vegas places an odds number next to a team does not necessarily make them the favorite to win it all. I don’t think that anyone would argue that the New England Patriots are a well-oiled machine and the gold standard in the NFL. But do you really think that the Dallas Cowboys are the best team in the NFC and the team to face the Pats in the Super Bowl?
The Boys’ are still a very talented team with a solid roster, but with all the game tape now on Dak Prescott and the mass exodus of their defense in free agency, I believe that this team is going to stumble a bit in 2017.
Let’s take a look at the real contenders to win Super Bowl LII.
New England Patriots
No surprise here. The Pats return most of their roster from last season along with the addition of some big-name free agents. Stephon Gilmore will replace Logan Ryan in the secondary. He is a big and strong corner that will complement Malcolm Butler. Mike Gillislee joins a running back committee that will feature him as the bruiser and short yardage back. But he has the ability to be an elusive runner as well, as he is 30 pounds lighter than his predecessor LeGarrette Blount. Brandin Cooks is just another weapon for Tom Brady, and Dwayne Allen will take the place of Martellus Bennett as the second tight end.
I may be against the mainstream here, but I do think that Tom Brady will begin to decline. No one talks about it but him sitting out the first four weeks of last season greatly benefited him at his age. Remember, not only did he have to miss the first four games, but he was forced to be alienated from all team activities. That means that he was able to skip out on the rigors of four weeks of practice (I’m sure Brady’s practices are different than most, but you get what I’m putting down). Super Bowl LI was Brady’s 15th game, with two bye weeks in-between. If he plays a full season in 2017, we could see some fatigue come playoff time. Pats are still the favorite but I think it’s closer than people think.
This comes down to how much drive and passion Ben Roethlisberger still has for the game. He mulled over retirement a long time this offseason before finally announcing that he would return. If he want’s it bad enough we may see one of his best seasons before he does decide to hang them up.
Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the NFL that can’t stay healthy. The Steelers suffered a huge blow when he left the AFC Championship game and never returned. It seems like every year we say “If only Le’Veon Bell were in there” or “How good would this offense be if Le’Veon were healthy?” Is this the year the Steelers finally field a healthy Triple B in the playoffs” The reinstatement of Martavis Bryant and the addition of Dede Westbrook will take some of the pressure off, and add to the potential of one of the league’s most potent offenses.
With Ben close to finishing his career it has to be Super Bowl or bust at this point.
Pedialyte. Coconut Water. Greasy Foods. Coffee. Sleep, sleep, and more sleep. These are a few of the worthless remedies that supposedly help with life-altering hangovers. How Atlanta will deal with their catastrophic Super Bowl hangover is beyond me, but sometimes the best cure is just to get back at it, a little hair of the dog if you will.
The Falcons return virtually the same roster from a year ago with one major exception. Kyle Shanahan, previously the offensive coordinator, is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and Matt LaFleur, previously the quarterback’s coach, is now the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams. Steve Sarkisian takes over the OC duties and will aim to replicate the offensive success from 2016. A Falcons fanatic could make the argument that Shanahan’s poor play calling are what inevitably cost Atlanta the Super Bowl and this could be a good move. I don’t think I would go that far, but I do think that Sark will do a fine job in the ATL.
The additions of Dontari Poe and Takkarist McKinley add tremendous depth to a defensive line that improved dramatically last season. If they can move on from Houston, and focus all attention on Minneapolis, the Falcons will be right back in the thick of things.
The Raiders may have been the best test for the New England Patriots last season if Derek Carr did not go down. He is the heart and soul of that team, and an unbelievably clutch performer for his age. If he is fully healthy (all indications are that he is) and remains fully healthy, Oakland will be a top 2-5 team in the AFC and maybe even the entire NFL.
The biggest thing for the Raiders this season will be winning the division. The AFC West is the strongest division in football, and the Raiders haven’t won the division since 2002, so this is no simple task, but it is integral if they hope to make a deep playoff push.
They added Jared Cook, a very athletic tight end, and Marshawn Lynch, the prodigal son, during free agency to beef up the offense, but in reality, it will come down to the defense that was extremely shaky last year. Khalil Mack is one of the top edge rushers in the league and they added Gareon Conley to help in the secondary, but the big question mark is in the middle. The Raiders ranked 23rd last season against the run and didn’t do a whole lot to address this issue. It will play a big factor in a division that loves to run the football.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers looked great down the stretch of the regular season, blew out the Giants in the playoffs, and toppled the vaunted Cowboys to reach the NFC Championship game. They were then, however, embarrassed by the Atlanta Falcons. Their defense was exposed and their offense lacked creativity and became one-dimensional.
Surprisingly, the Packers made a splash in free agency when they signed tight end Martellus Bennett. They also let Eddie “Cheeseburger” Lacy walk and sign with the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers have expressed a lot of confidence in Ty Montgomery as a running back moving forward. They also drafted Jamaal Williams out of BYU who could end up being a huge steal in the draft. He is an extremely talented running back that will add another element to Montgomery’s speed.
Include the additions of Kevin King and Vince Biegel and this team is poised to repeat as division champs. T.J. Watt may have gotten all of the hype in the draft, but Biegel was the captain of the Wisconsin Badgers and he will be molded into an integral part of the Packers linebacker unit.
All of this make the Packers an immediate contender and I haven’t even mentioned that they have the best quarterback on the planet. Aaron Rodgers is newly single and will have that tough NFC Championship loss on his mind. Expect another Pro Bowl year.
Let’s just look at the history of the AFC representative over the past few years shall we?
Super Bowl XLVIII AFC representative: Denver Broncos
Super Bowl XLIX AFC representative: New England Patriots
Super Bowl 50 AFC representative: Denver Broncos
Super Bowl LI AFC representative: New England Patriots
Super Bowl LII AFC representative: Den……
You get the idea.
Aside from seeing just the pattern continue, there are valid reasons as to why the Broncos will be contenders in 2017. The defense, which was one of the best in the league last season, will be even better this season. The “No Fly Zone” remains the same and will continue to be the best secondary in the NFL. Shane Ray has big shoes to fill with the retirement of DeMarcus Ware, but in reality, at his age, is the more talented player to be an every-down edge rusher. They also added DeMarcus Walker in the draft, who was one of the best in all of college football at rushing the quarterback. The one big difference is the addition of Domata Peko and Zach Kerr in the middle of the line. This will vastly improve the run defense that struggled last season.
The offense still boasts one of the best receiving corps in the NFL and the sleeper pick of tight end Jake Butt in the 5th round of the draft. They added two highly sought after linemen in free agency and took their top tackle in the first round that is known to have a nasty streak. What is not being talked about is the running back room. C.J. Anderson, when healthy, is elusive and explosive. Devontae Booker is big and powerful and will run straight downfield. Jamaal Charles, who was signed in free agency, may end up being the greatest free agent signing when it is said and done. His 5.5 yards per carry are 4th best all-time behind only Michael Vick, Randall Cunningham, and Hall of Fame FB Marion Motley. Sixth-round pick De’Angelo Henderson runs exactly like Maurice Jones-Drew and will add another element to the running back committee.
The quarterback position is the big question mark. Siemian was essentially a rookie last season, and Lynch was a first-year player. Whoever wins the job will be much improved from last season, will inherit a much better line, and will have the safe haven of a great running back room. If the Broncos can make it out of the AFC West they can push for the Lombardi.
New York Giants
The Giants were a big surprise to me last season. Owners John Mara and Steve Tisch spent a lot of money during the offseason on the defense and it paid off. In 2016 they ranked 10th in total defense, and fourth overall against the run, a huge improvement from the year before.
They seem to be all in on Paul Perkins at running back who had a tremendous career at UCLA, and they added Brandon Marshall in free agency who will make their receiving corps even better than it was before, plus the drafting of tight end Evan Engram. Are you kidding me? OBJ, Sterling Shepard, Marshall, and Engram. If Eli Manning plays like he is capable of, and Odell Beckham Jr. can cut out the childish antics, we could watch this offense become one of the best in the league. Couple that with an already strong defense and you have a definite contender that I predict will win the NFC East.