It feels like eons since Tom Brady won his seventh Lombardi Trophy when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31 – 9 in Super Bowl LV. It’s been six months.
With the combine, the first wave of free agency, and the draft now long in the rear-view mirror, attentions now turn to training camp as all 32 teams start to ramp up their activity ahead of the new season. With the opening kickoff creeping ever closer, we take an early look at some of the favorites, longer shots, and my pick for Super Bowl LVI success.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +750
Perhaps surprisingly, Tampa Bay isn’t the bookies’ favorite to reclaim their Super Bowl title. They currently sit second in the betting behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tampa Bay simply has to be one of the Super Bowl favorites as all of last year’s starters on both offense and defense are returning. Back come Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin, Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Antonio Brown. Not to mention a guy named Brady. This is the first time in the Super Bowl era that one team has returned all of its starters. The fact that this Bucs team will be so familiar with each other and more importantly has the same core nucleus of players that led them to Super Bowl success last season must give them an edge over the rest of the competition.
What also makes them favorites is their division.
The NFC South is awash with question marks, the Atlanta Falcons have a new Head Coach and need to overcome the loss of star wideout Julio Jones, the New Orleans Saints are adapting to life without Drew Brees and the Carolina Panthers are about to start the Sam Darnold experience. With all of Tampa Bay’s main rivals needing to overcome some early hurdles, the Bucs could arrive in the playoffs with plenty left in the tank.
Outside of the division, matchups against the Dallas Cowboys, L.A. Rams, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Washington Football Team, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and the Indianapolis Colts don’t look the most daunting, and then there’s Tom Brady.
The veteran signal-caller looked better than ever at times last season and it’s clear that his leadership inspires everybody within the organization. What became abundant last season is that Brady hasn’t lost any of his hunger or drive, and you know that he wants nothing more than another Super Bowl ring which would surely cement his place as the game’s greatest.
Kansas City Chiefs +500
At times last season they made the game look too easy, with bonafide studs Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Frank Clark ably supported by the likes of Clyde Edwards – Helaire, Mecole Hardman, Tyrone Mathieu, and Chris Jones, the Chiefs have the ability to win games and blow out any opposition inside a quarter.
It looked like nothing would stop the Chiefs from winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles, but the loss of both starting offensive tackles just ahead of the Super Bowl saw us witness something very unexpected, Patrick Mahomes running for his life. It was the first time we have seen Mahomes look flustered and not his usual superhuman self.
Experienced Head Coach Andy Reid recognized that the Bucs defensive masterclass could have provided the rest of the league with a blueprint in how to stop its juggernaut of an offense. To regain league supremacy and protect his main man, out have gone both injured tackles, in their place has arrived stud lineman Orlando Brown and a whole host of other bruisers all with the sole aim of protecting Mahomes. Reid knows that if Mahomes is protected, very few teams can live with them.
Mahones is a marvel, in his three years of starting in the league, he has been league MVP, Superbowl MVP, and has almost won two Super Bowl titles. Mahomes has thrown for 114 touchdowns with just 24 interceptions. In the 53 games that he has started in both the regular and post-seasons, he has a record of 44-9. The Chiefs and Mahomes are a winning machine and they have every chance of winning it all once again.
One area that the Chiefs will find slightly trickier this season is their division. The AFC West has been a happy hunting ground for the Chiefs in recent times, they have won the division for the last five years, with Mahomes boasting a 17-2 record and the team having a 32 – 4 record since 2015.
This year, that record will be sorely tested. The L.A. Chargers have the hottest prospect in football in Justin Herbert and many are anticipating that the second-year starter will lead the Chargers to even greater heights than in his rookie year.
The Raiders, although unpredictable, have the team to beat anyone on their day and the hope for Raider Nation is that this year they can avoid the November / December collapse that has derailed their last two seasons.
The Broncos still look like they need a quarterback to provide a real threat to their division rivals. However, the Aaron Rodgers rumors refuse to go away and if he does suit up in orange this upcoming season the Broncos have the team and offense to challenge anybody.
This year with a series of sterner tests potentially lying in wait, it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs fare if the road to the playoffs gets a little bumpy.
Buffalo Bills +900
Fresh off a 13-3 season, many fancy the Buffalo Bills to make a serious run at Super Bowl LVI.
Led by talisman Josh Allen and all-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the Bills recorded their most successful season in a quarter of a century before being outgunned by the Kansas City Chiefs in The AFC Championship Game.
Boasting the league’s second-ranked offense, Allen had a breakout year with the second-year gunslinger throwing 37 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. Since Head Coach Sean McDermott took the reigns of the Bills back in 2017 the Bills have gone from Super Bowl pretenders to genuine contenders. In the three years of his reign, the Bills have a 38-27 record and have become one of the best-balanced teams in all of the NFL.
Where they struggled last year was in their defense as they finished ranked 16th in total. To address this, the Bills added some much-needed beef across the defensive line with draft picks Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham, linebacker Matt Milano also returned to the team signing a four-year extension worth $44 million dollars with $24 million guaranteed.
The AFC East, formerly a procession for The New England Patriots has now turned into one of the NFL’s strongest divisions with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and New York Jets all looking to bounce back from reasonably disappointing seasons. The Bills have to be a fancy to make a deep run as they have the 23rd easiest schedule out of all 32 NFL Teams – however, they do have some tricky road games against the Chiefs, Bucs, Titans, and Saints.
To reach the big game, the Bills need better play from Allen in the big moments. Composed and in control of himself during the regular season, in his two postseason stints, Allen has become a little scatty and unsure of himself. A prestigious talent that not only has a cannon of an arm but can move, the Bills have a great chance of going one game further this season if Allen can simply put it all in place.
Tennessee Titans +2000
It’s a surprise to see the Titans so low in the betting, currently, Vegas has the Titans as the 14th ranked Super Bowl favorite behind teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and L.A. Chargers.
I feel that the Titans are regularly slept on. This is despite the recent stellar play of Ryan Tannehill and the beast-like performances of rushing king Derrick Henry. The Titans in the past two seasons have advanced to the playoffs and are the existing AFC South champs. Factor in further that they have signed sure-fire Hall of Famer Julio Jones, the Titans absolutely have the weaponry to compete with the best.
It’s also important to remember the division, the Texans for obvious reasons look like they are in a mess, the Jaguars although boasting the #1 draft pick in Trevor Lawrence and new Head Coach Urban Meyer are a bit of an unknown quantity and the Colts will have Carson Wentz in at quarterback who needs to respond to his benching last year when with the Eagles.
The Titans ranked 3rd in total offense in 2020/2021 but found themselves towards the bottom of the defensive rankings in 24th. The Titans have lost several key defensive pieces in starting corners Adoree Jackson, Malcolm Butler, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. To plug the gaps, they replaced these players with experienced cornerback Janoris Jenkins, first-round draft pick cornerback Caleb Farley, and free-agent acquisition pass rusher Bud Dupree. They will be hoping these acquisitions will provide a defensive spark and make the Titans much harder to beat.
With the Titans being able to live with and outscore most of the teams within the NFL, they will be hoping for a better defensive showing this season. However, with the threat of both Henry and Jones, I think the Titans have a good shot of outrunning their reasonably large odds.
Washington Football Team +4000
Yes, before you read further I realize that this selection involves backing Ryan Fitzpatrick to win it all and there has perhaps never been a quarterback who has had the ability to run so hot and cold, so of course, this pick comes with risks. However, it’s the defense that stands out.
Washington ranked 2nd overall in defensive rankings last season and it’s a defense that has kept most of its key pieces intact. Chase Young already looks to be on the path to greatness after a highly destructive rookie campaign and the defensive line is stacked with high-quality players such as Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and DaRon Payne who are amongst the best in the NFL.
Last year in a historically bad NFC East, Washington emerged victorious riding on the back of its defense and star wide receiver Terry McLaurin. At times last season, it seemed like it was McLaurin vs the world. However, this year McLaurin looks like he has an able supporting cast. Logan Thomas emerged as a real tight end threat and at times rookie running back Antonio Gibson looked like one of the steals of the 2020 draft. This year Washington has added speedster Curtis Samuel and experienced slot receiver, Adam Humphries. These additions should give defenses more to think about and should give McLaurin more one-on-one matchups.
The other crucial factor behind this selection is the division. The NFC East will do very well to be as bad as last season but there are serious concerns over all of Washington’s main division rivals.
The Cowboys will welcome back starting quarterback Dak Prescott after his serious ankle injury but questions over the Cowboys’ defense, particularly the secondary still persist.
The Giants like Washington have the ability to spring a surprise, but third-year quarterback Daniel Jones still needs to prove he belongs at this level and he needs to stop being the turn-over machine he currently is.
The Eagles appear to be in full rebuild mode, with Jalen Hurts looking to lead the team to new heights following the departure of former quarterback Carson Wentz and rookie head coach Nick Sirianni, a surprise appointment to many needing to seriously showcase his abilities.
Washington’s defense took them all the way to the wildcard round last year and with more potency on the offensive side of the ball, another playoff run could well be on the cards.
My pick to win it all this season is the Cleveland Browns (+1600).
The Browns are currently the 5th ranked favorite with Vegas where they can currently be backed at odds of +1600. When you see the Browns roster there is just talent everywhere you look.
Offensively they boast names such as Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham Junior, Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, and stud lineman Jack Conklin. Defensively Jadeveon Clowney, Myles Garrett, Malik Jackson, Troy Hill, and John Johnson just add to the embarrassment of riches they currently possess.
What impresses me the most about the Browns is the different ways they can beat you.
They can lock it down on defense, enabling them to remain competitive in any low-scoring affairs where their offense isn’t firing.
On offense, they can beat you through the air via the string of highly skilled receivers they possess and they can beat you on the ground with the duel running threat of Chubb and Hunt. Couple all of this with Mayfield’s confidence and ever-growing maturity, I just think the Browns are primed for another successful season.
From what has seemed like a never-ending period of mediocrity where the Browns missed the mark on a slew of poor Head Coaching appointments and poor draft decisions, the Browns recorded an 11-5 winning season, their first winning season since 2007.
Rookie Head Coach Kevin Stefanski earned major plaudits in finding the ingredients in revitalizing a talented Browns squad, with third-year quarterback Baker Mayfield putting in his best career numbers, throwing for 26 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions.
The Browns are in one of football’s toughest divisions with the AFC North boasting the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cincinnati Bengals, but I think there are two ways of looking at this. Firstly there is rightly a fear that after taking lumps out of each other all year, the Browns might arrive in the playoffs beat up and bruised, exhausted from the grind of having to get through the division. On the other hand, you could view getting through a division as tough as the AFC North as the perfect set-up for a deep playoff run. The winner of the North will be battle-hardened and should be full of confidence after beating three other quality teams.
Last season the Browns missed the chance to turn the NFL on its head. Slamming division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card round, the Browns then made the trip to Arrowhead to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round. Trailing 19 – 3 at the half, the Browns put on a 3rd and 4th quarter comeback bringing the game back to 17 – 22. With Mahomes concussed and out of the game, the Browns looked set for one more possession and one last chance to advance to the AFC Championship game.
However, hopes were extinguished when backup Chad Henne scampered for 13 yards on a third-down conversion leaving them one yard short of a 4th down. Andy Reid then called a gutsy pass play where the Chiefs got the new set of downs they needed and with it put any championship hopes that the Browns had on ice.
After being so close to causing an upset last season, I think the Browns would have learned so much from that gut-wrenching defeat. I really like the make-up of the Browns roster, they swagger, they are chirpy and I think there will be no hangover or ill-effects from last year. I really believe that they will be the team to beat this year.
Passionate writer about golf and the PGA Tour, you won’t find me on the fairway but instead hacking my way round the course. Terrible driver of the ball, even worse putter.
Love all sports but have decided to make my sporting life as miserable as possible by supporting Tottenham Hotspur and the Dallas Cowboys, who between them have gone almost a century without a major league title.