Which teams are legitimate threats to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, and which ones should not be taken seriously in any fashion? Let’s dive into 5 real Super Bowl 58 contenders, and five bona fide pretenders.
Contender: Kansas City Chiefs
Of course a list like this has to start with the defending Super Bowl champions.
Yes, they lost Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster to free agency. But wasn’t the sky falling in KC after they lost Tyreek Hill a year ago? This team is always going to find a way to replace talents, and it’s not like Travis Kelce, Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Kadarius Toney aren’t capable!
In most cases, a franchise QB is all you need to realistically contend for a Super Bowl. The Chiefs have playmakers on both sides of the ball, and their young defense could be even better if George Karlaftis, Trent McDuffie and Nick Bolton continue to make strides.
The Chiefs have hosted the last five AFC Championship Games — winning three of them and dropping the other two in overtime. They have the championship pedigree and know how to clutch up through big moments. Pure and simple.
Nobody should be shocked at all if the Chiefs become the first team to repeat as champions since the 2003 and ‘04 New England Patriots. All the pieces are in place for them to do so.
Pretender: New York Jets
The Jets haven’t had a winning season since 2015, and they haven’t made the postseason since 2010. That’s the longest active drought in the league, by the way.
But now what? Because they have Aaron Rodgers, he’s magically going to erase all the years of humiliation on this organization? No doubt the Jets will be better, and they could very well snag one of the AFC’s three wild-card spots.
But this isn’t a legitimate championship contender, folks. We still don’t know how RB1 Breece Hall will look coming back from a torn ACL, and a 39-year-old Rodgers can’t be asked to single-handedly carry the offense. With the addition of Dalvin Cook, that may help. I guess we will soon find out.
The Jets have questions all over the offensive line, too. Mekhi Becton hasn’t played a snap in almost two full years, and Duane Brown is 38 years of age. Interesting offensive tackle tandem to go with, there.
Yeah, Rodgers has Garrett Wilson as his WR1. But Rodgers also had Davante Adams for eight years, and that didn’t buy a Super Bowl championship now did it?
Also, the Jets play in an AFC East division that features the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. Those three are all playoff contenders right there — and the Jets might be lucky to squeak out even two divisional wins.
Growing pains should be expected for Rodgers, even though old friend Nate Hackett is the OC there. Rodgers is going from offensive-minded coach Matt LaFleur to defensive mastermind Robert Saleh. It’s not like A-Rod is going to light it up right away.
The Jets could very well win nine or 10 games and be a playoff team. But an actual Super Bowl contender? Not a chance.
Contender: Philadelphia Eagles
The Super Bowl hangover is renowned for crushing the team that lost the big game the year before, but we have no reason to think this will be the case for the 2023 Eagles.
They have the league’s best offensive line, one of the game’s best receiving duos in AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith and an MVP candidate at QB in Jalen Hurts. This unit led the league with 70 sacks a year ago, and James Bradberry and Darius Slay are still the game’s best cornerback tandem.
Yes, they lost Miles Sanders, but any RB can rush for 1K yards behind that o-line. Rookies Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith plus second-year defensive tackle Jordan Davis can help offset the losses of Javon Hargrave and TJ Edwards.
Don’t forget that these Eagles essentially lost the Super Bowl on a tacky defensive PI call against Bradberry. Nine out of 10 times, Hurts’ performance that we saw in the Super Bowl would be enough for his team to win the big game.
The Eagles aren’t going anywhere. The roster is too loaded for them to disappoint. They’re right up there in the league’s upper echelon of Super Bowl contenders.
Pretender: Detroit Lions
The Lions exceeded expectations a year ago and finished 9-8, only missing out on the postseason because of a tiebreaker to the Seattle Seahawks.
With Aaron Rodgerrs out of the NFC North, and with the reigning division champion Minnesota Vikings bound to regress and with the Chicago Bears being the Chicago Bears, many are pegging Dan Campbell’s squad as the team to beat in the division.
Maybe they are. Brad Holmes had two questionable first-round picks, but getting Alabama corner Brian Branch in the second round was a huge coup. Plus the signings of Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and CJ Garder-Johnson can only help improve one of football’s worst secondaries of 2022.
Now, the bad news. Jared Goff deserves credit for performing well in a difficult situation, but he’s not the type of QB who moves the needle and turns a team from contender to Super Bowl contender. Are you really trusting this guy to lead his team all the way?
Jameson Williams was suspended the first six games of 2022 for gambling, leaving a giant void at wideout behind Amon-Ra St. Brown. There are still questions at linebacker outside of Malcolm Rodriguez, and the interior defensive line remains a concern.
So in short, the Lions don’t really have any actual strengths anywhere. The QB is average, the supporting cast for Goff without Wililams is meh, and the defense lacks actual game-wreckers outside of Aidan Hutchinson.
The Lions might win the wide-open NFC North, but they would immediately meet their match in the postseason. This club just isn’t deep enough in any important areas to be considered a legitimate contender.
Contender: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals were oh-so-close to a) winning Super Bowl 56 two seasons ago and b) playing in the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
But they dropped a heartbreaker to KC in the AFC Championship Game on a last-second Harrison Butker field goal. A gut-wrenching loss, to be sure, but it’s also the type of experience that a swagger-filled team like these Bengals can learn from.
The o-line was a problem last year, but the Bengals addressed that by snagging ex-Chiefs Pro Bowler Orlando Brown Jr. It was a double-whammy by signing Brown Jr. away from the Bengals’ main competitors, too.
Lou Anarumo’s suffocating defense finished sixth in scoring last year. If 2022 first-rounder Dax Hill and rookie Myles Murphy can make impacts, there’s no telling how much more potent this defense can be.
Burrow and his receivers get all the attention, but Cincy has a top-five offense and arguably a top-five defense. They don’t have a glaring hole that will come costly in January. This is a club that is bound to break through with a championship eventually, and maybe that time finally comes this upcoming season.
Pretender: Miami Dolphins
Even though they had to use three different QBS, the Dolphins squeaked out a 9-and-8 record and claimed the final wild card spot in the AFC.
Third-string QB Skylar Thompson narrowly led his club to an upset in the wild card round over the heavily favored Buffalo Bills, but they dropped a close one by a final score of 34 to 31. If Tua Tagovailoa was playing that game, the Dolphins probably win.
So with a healthy Tua, Miami should be even better in 2023…right? Mehhhh not quite. Hold your horses. Tagovailoa missed four games last year with concussions and other head-related injuries.
Sadly, he’s no sure bet to stay healthy. That’s just the reality for any player who suffers multiple concussions in such a short period of time.
Miami does have the game’s best receiving duo in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, sure. They’re also asking the injury-prone Raheem Mostert to be their lead rusher? Well that’s interesting.
The offensive line was an issue last year, and it doesn’t look much better on paper. The arrival of All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey should help the secondary immensely…but Ramsey and Xavien Howard can’t make up for the other shortcomings on the defense — particularly the defensive line.
Not sure if the Jets or Patriots will be playoff teams in 2023, but they’ll definitely be tougher opponents for the Dolphins. That is, there isn’t that one laughingstock in the AFC East for Miami to beat up on now.
Miami might be a wild card team again, but that’s it. Ramsey’s arrival does not take them from playoff contender to Super Bowl contender. Keep your expectations reasonable.
Contender: Buffalo Bills
The Bills were the Super Bowl favorites heading into 2022, and they lived up to that billing in the regular season. Buffalo went 13-and-3 and finished second in both scoring offense and scoring defense, with Josh Allen turning in yet another MVP-like season.
But Buffalo’s season ended in a whimper, with an ugly Divisional Round loss at home to Joe Burrow’s Bengals. Just another agonizing loss for a fanbase that continues to impatiently await its first Super Bowl.
Maybe — just maybe — this is the year. Buffalo has won double-digit games in four straight years now. Allen is a top-five QB in the game, and the Bills are loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball. We all know what the Bills are capable of. It’s now about executing on the grand stage.
Pretender: Baltimore Ravens
With each passing year, it’s becoming harder and harder to buy the Ravens as a Super Bowl contender.
With his style of play, Lamar Jackson is always going to be injury-prone — having missed five regular season games over each of the last two years. Parting ways with well-respected OC Greg Roman was an interesting choice, considering the magic he created with Lamar.
Yes, the Ravens bolstered their receiving corps by signing Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor before drafting Zay Flowers. But OBJ is also super injury-prone, and who knows how much Agholor and Flowers will move the needle in a rush-first offense?
The secondary was awful a year, and the front office did nothing to fix that. Justin Houston, the team’s 2022 sacks leader, wasn’t brought up. Calais Campbell, who finished tied for second on the team in sacks with 5.5, is also gone.
The Ravens are asking an injury-risk QB to carry the offense while hoping that a leaky secondary and unproductive front seven will do enough to push them to championship glory. Good luck with that!
Contender: San Francisco 49ers
It doesn’t matter if it’s Purdy or Trey Lance at QB. Kyle Shanahan almost won a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo as his starter. Any QB can work in Shanahan’s system, especially when that offense consists of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Christian McCaffrey.
The 49ers had the league’s best D a year ago, and there’s zero reason to think they won’t be just as dangerous again next year. The signing of ex-Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave makes an already-potent defensive line even scarier.
Having played in three of the last four NFC title games, the 49ers are battle-tested and know what it takes to win. Now they just have to go out there and finish the job once and for all.
Pretender: Dallas Cowboys
On paper, the Cowboys should be a Super Bowl contender every year. Yet this team hasn’t played in an NFC Championship Game since 1995.
Moral of the story: They’ll always find a way to blow it.
Like, what else is there to say? They’ve got a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense. But just look at the final play of each of their last two postseason losses — both to the 49ers.
Dak Prescott just hasn’t been able to perform under pressure when it matters most. The Cowboys have a good-not-great defense, one that certainly isn’t up there with the top dogs in the NFC like the Eagles and 49ers’ units.
Getting Brandin Cooks for pennies on the dollar was nice and all. But Dallas had to cut Ezekiel Elliott for cap-saving reasons. That’s still a consistent 1K-rushing and double-digit TD threat out the window.
Losing tight end Dalton Schultz and underrated wideout Noah Brown wasn’t ideal, either. In short, Dallas lost more than they gained on offense.
But bottom line: It’s the Cowboys. Their fans can’t have nice things anymore. They should win double-digit games, and they might win a playoff game. But these Cowboys just don’t have the “it” factor. We’ll be reminded of that again in 2023.
Who do you think will win Super Bowl 58?
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