We’ve talked a lot about contenders for the 2015 Super Bowl recently. We discussed potential improvements and declines, as well as NFL power rankings for each of the league’s thirty-two teams. Now, we’d like to get down to the nitty-gritty and discuss our actual predictions for the 2016 Super Bowl. The 2015-2016 season is only slightly underway, so it’s still pretty early to call it for sure. Nevertheless, we’ve seen some interesting things in the past week that might provide some insight into how this season might play out.
Note that a great deal of the following discussion will involve the Vegas odds on these teams, as well as observations we’ve made during the offseason and over the past week that might help to explain those odds. If you’d like to see the odds yourself, Vegas Insider offers odds for the 2016 Super Bowl as well as the AFC and NFC titles. These odds are updated on a regular basis, so don’t be afraid to check back every so often and see if they’ve changed. There have already been some significant changes in the brief time since the season started, so we’re looking forward to an exciting season full of surprises.
As far as the Vegas odds are concerned, the AFC South is home to this year’s greatest underdogs. Not only are the Jacksonville Jaguars favored last in a run to the AFC Championship with 250/1 odds of success, but they’re also last in the run to the 2016 Super Bowl with 500/1 odds against. They lost 20-9 to the Carolina Panthers in their opener with 5 sacks against QB Blake Bortles, managing only 96 running yards and an embarrassing number of dropped passes (a problem they’ve had since the offseason). And those are only some highlights. In truth, they made too many mistakes for us to mention here. We aren’t even going to talk about what they need to change if they wish to move up in the odds, because the answer is everything.
The Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans aren’t much higher on the list. For the AFC Championship, Houston is at 35/1 odds while Tennessee is just under them at 50/1. For the 2016 Super Bowl, Houston’s at 75/1 while the Titans are at 95/1. Much like Jacksonville, Houston’s main problem is offense. They struggled to score in their 27-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, resulting in their first loss in an opening game since 2009.
As for the Titans, their opener is a sign that they might be moving up the odds to overtake Houston sometime soon. It was one of the more anticipated games of opening week, with spectators anxious to see Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota play against Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only did the Titans win 42-14, but Mariota established himself as the greatest rookie in the history of the NFL. Bleacher Report covers some of the stats on this claim, including Mariota’s four touchdown passes (something no rookie has pulled off in an opener since Fran Tarkenton). If the Titans are going to have a shot at the AFC Title this year, Mariota will likely be the one to lead them to it.
The Indianapolis Colts are leading the odds for the AFC South, with Vegas putting them at 9/2 for the AFC Title and 15/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl. They lost their opener to the Buffalo Bills at 27-14, but Bleacher Report blames this on a few minor issues with their defense on a couple of big plays made by Buffalo. Considering the Colts started off at 24-0, it’s clear that they can pull it together on both offense and defense when the chips are down. Now, they just need to start playing like that all the time. Otherwise, the odds of them taking the AFC Title or the 2016 Super Bowl are going to drop significantly.
Vegas currently has the Oakland Raiders at 125/1 for the AFC Title and 250/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl. They’ve got a new coach, Jack Del Rio, but the team’s performance hasn’t changed a bit. Which is unfortunate, since a lot of people expected improvements this year. But they started off 30-0 and finished 33-13. We’ll give them the same nod that we gave the Colts—they were able to up the defense and (somewhat) up the offense after losing such a stark lead. But we’re also going to give them the same criticism, which is that they’d better start improving both sides of their team in every game from now on. Either way, they’re likely to remain one of the more underwhelming teams in their conference division.
As of now, the Kansas City Chiefs are at 12/1 odds for the AFC Title and 28/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl. We’ve already mentioned their 27-20 defeat of the Houston Texans, but the Chiefs have a lot going for them that you won’t see if you’re too busy staring at the scoreboard. First of all, they’re unique, as evidenced by the fact that QB Alex Smith hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass to a receiver since 2013. Oh, he’s thrown touchdown passes since then. He’s thrown 21 to be exact, 18 last season and three in the opener. But not one of them has been to a wide receiver. The second important talking point is that the Chiefs are persistent. If you don’t believe us, you should try watching a video of CB Phillip Gaines blowing chunks on the field, only to keep playing like nothing happened. The Chiefs’ chances at a title are mild at best, but they should be an interesting team to watch this year regardless of their shot at becoming champions.
The Denver Broncos, currently at 14/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl and 5/1 for the AFC Championship, are undeniably the best team in the AFC West. Even so, they were not without their faults in their opener against Baltimore. They took home a 19-13 win in their opener against the Ravens, but this narrow margin left some spectators raising their eyebrows a bit. There were four sacks against QB Peyton Manning in the opener, indicating some holes in the defensive coverage. The odds may place them at the top of their division, but they’re going to have to work to resolve some problems if they wish to truly earn that distinction. To be fair, some of their players are new acquisitions who are still adjusting to playing with one another. So, they have the potential to be the undeniably best team in the AFC West, but there’s going to be some assembly required to make them champions.
If there’s one team that could give the Broncs a run for their money, it’s San Diego. The Chargers are currently placed at 15/1 for the AFC Championship and 35/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl, which ranks them third in the odds for the AFC West. Nonetheless, they had a great opener as they overcame a lead by the Detroit Lions to win the game 33-28. Through the efforts of QB Philip Rivers (not to mention the strong offensive team providing him coverage), the Chargers might have a shot. It would be something of a mild Cinderella story, but it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility.
The Cleveland Browns are barely ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars as far as Vegas is concerned, with 150/1 odds of winning the AFC Title. They’re not doing significantly better in the running for the 2016 Super Bowl, with odds of 300/1. While we had heard good things about Johnny Manziel during the offseason, his performance during Cleveland’s 31-10 loss against the New York Jets probably has a lot of people hoping that he won’t be starting while Josh McCown recovers from injury. Luckily, it looks like McCown will be back in time to prevent that from becoming an issue. Unluckily, the Browns still lost to a team that tends to be the butt of more jokes than any other organization in the NFL.
The rest of the AFC North is pretty close together in the run for the AFC Championship. The Pittsburgh Steelers are right alongside the Cincinnati Bengals, with both teams posting odds of 15/1. They also both have 30/1 odds for the 2016 Super Bowl. The Steelers are currently the worse off of the two, after losing their opener 21-28 to the New England Patriots. SB Nation blog Behind the Steel Curtain notes that a major aspect of this loss was the 77 yards they gave up across 8 penalties. With such a close loss, it’s hard not to believe that things could have gone differently if they had played just a tiny bit smarter. They also may have underestimated the importance of Rob Gronkowski. Behind the Steel Curtain notes that Pittsburgh failed to cover Gronk during a number of plays. That’s just poor defense, but it’s nothing the Steelers can’t turn around as we go deeper into the season.
Cincinnati is at the top of the division in current standings, which isn’t saying much with only one week behind them. They’ve got a highly strategic offense that could serve them well, designed specifically to keep their opponents on their toes. We really do have to applaud them for putting forth the effort to focus primarily on being as unpredictable as possible, but bear in mind that they were playing against a team that seemed to be slacking on defense in general. We’ll have to see how they fare against someone better than the Raiders. Either way, it’s a good thing that their success seems to be hinging on their offense. While no one seems to be expecting a harsh punishment, CB Adam “Pacman” Jones might receive some sort of sanction for slapping the helmet off Amari Cooper’s head during the game. When Pacman was asked if he was expecting harsh judgment for what many are calling a “heated play” (as if pimp-slapping a dude’s helmet off was supposed to be part of the play), Pacman gave only a one-word answer: “No.”
Baltimore hasn’t got a win to their name just yet, but their odds are the same as those of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Even so, we have to favor them a bit more. They may have lost a one-possession game to the Denver Broncos, but they also showed vast improvements over last year in terms of their defensive backfield. True, the team did lose their preseason finale, but that doesn’t have squat to do with their ability to improve during the regular season. Sports Illustrated originally predicted them to win the 2016 Super Bowl, specifically stating that they needed to improve their secondary. Now that things are headed in that direction, they may just have a decent chance this season. Either way, as long as they don’t take out another line judge, they’ll have our respect.
New York is, predictably, the least favored team in the AFC East. The Jets are given odds of 25/1 for the AFC Championship and 60/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl. Even this is higher than you’d usually expect, although we did believe they’d be making some slight improvements this season. In fact, those improvements might be more than slight. We already discussed their surprisingly unforgiving lead against the Cleveland Browns, and ESPN credits their improvements to a simplified offensive strategy. Instead of complicating their strategy in the same fashion as Cincinnati, New York has taken the approach of simply running the plays that they know they can handle with skill and efficiency. This is a sensible approach. What works for the Bengals isn’t necessarily going to work for the Jets. We’ll see if their new offensive coordination continues to serve them well as the season pushes forward.
WR Sammy Watkins made some waves when he said that he expects the Buffalo Bills to go undefeated this season. He didn’t necessarily say it in so many words, but “we expect to win every game” can only be taken so many ways. To be fair, it’s not all ego on his part. He was constantly double-teamed to the point that he didn’t record a single stat, but he’s fine with that if it helps to open the rest of his offense for big plays. The Bills also have QB Tyrod Taylor to thank for a majority of the improvements to their offense. They didn’t start off too well, and there are questions as to whether or not they can keep up the pace going forward. The fact that their season opener is followed by a game against the New England Patriots doesn’t help. Still, they’re going to be contenders this year. They’re favored at 15/1 for the AFC Title and 30/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl.
Miami is favored slightly better than Buffalo, with 10/1 odds for the AFC Title and 22/1 odds for Super Bowl 50. But how well will they actually do this season? They won a 17-10 opener against the Washington Redskins, but taking home the win on this low-scoring game wasn’t exactly easy. While they kept the score down, the Miami Herald noted that their run defense should’ve been a lot better. Isn’t that the whole reason Ndamukong Suh is getting paid ridiculous amounts to play for them? To be fair, he didn’t do terribly. And it doesn’t help that the rest of the defensive team was struggling even more as the Redskins offense ran their way in an ostensible effort to avoid dealing with Suh. The most notable thing Suh did all game was appear to kick a guy in the head, something for which he won’t be receiving disciplinary action due to the league’s inability to define his actions as a kick. Either way, we can’t blame Suh alone for Miami’s narrow win. They need to step it up if they want to win the division, let alone the conference.
The New England Patriots, reigning champions after last year’s Super Bowl, are the most favored team in the American Football Conference. They’ve got 3/1 odds of winning the AFC Championship and 7/1 odds of winning the 2016 Super Bowl (putting them second on the list overall). To be honest, there’s a somewhat cynical part of us that thinks Tom Brady cheated. That particular part of us was hoping he’d lose the first four games, get injured in the fifth, and watch Jimmy Garoppolo go out there and just kill it. Just so Pats fans would change their tune about having his suspension overturned. But our cynicism doesn’t blow the winds of fate, and Brady showed his chops pretty well in the official kickoff to the 2015-2016 season, which saw the Pats take a 28-21 win against the Steelers as Brady threw 19 consecutive passes while Gronk caught five and scored three touchdowns. It also saw the birth of Communigate, or Headsetgate, as the Steelers had problems with the broadcast on their headsets. Because we just can’t keep New England out of the news. If it’s true that Brady plays best while people are watching, we may as well give the Pats their Super Bowl rings right now.
Going by the Vegas odds, the three teams most likely to win the AFC Championship are the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, or the Denver Broncos. The Broncs could be on edge after Peyton Manning failed to deliver his all in their opener, but we still have to give them points on their defense. Once Peyton gets back on his game (and we have every confidence that he will), they should have a real shot at winning the AFC Title this year. Sports Illustrated’s MMQB is ranking Denver as the top defense in the league right now, and we’re finding it hard to disagree.
Note that Cincinnati is also on MMBQ’s list. If their new offense holds up going forward, the Bengals might be a strong underdog favorite for the title. Kansas City is on that list as well, but we’re going to hold to our guns that the Chiefs are going to be little more than a fun team to watch this season. Yeah, Smith’s thing about not throwing touchdowns to his receivers is entertaining, and it isn’t hurting him too badly. So what? Did they win last year? Then stop acting like he’s done something amazing. The Bengals are our underdog pick, and that’s the end of it.
It’s hard to put the Colts above the Broncos without seeing some major improvements from them as the season moves forward. Their defense isn’t working out, their quarterback needs adjustments, and everyone seems to be noticing. After such a notably poor performance in their season opener, they’ll likely attempt to up their game a bit. But until we’ve seen it, we just can’t predict them as title contenders.
That leaves the Pats as one of the likeliest contenders for the AFC Title, alongside the Denver Broncos. We’ve also got the Bengals as an underdog candidate. So our ultimate prediction is (*drumroll*)…none of them. Our prediction is that Denver and Cincinnati will play well, and one of them will even make it to the AFC Championship. The Pats might make it that far, but there’s a good chance that the NFL will win their appeal and New England will lose Brady for four games during a crucial time in the season. If Garoppolo hasn’t kept up a strong training regimen, then the Pats are going to suffer at that point.
So who will win the AFC Title? Well, we’re going to go ahead and give it to the Tennessee Titans. Marcus Mariota is looking to be an unstoppable force, and we’re predicting that he’s going to keep it up. USA Today notes, quite fairly, that it’s too soon to be calling Jameis Winston inept and Mariota a possible MVP. And they’re quite right. Winston is not an absolute failure just because the media was wrong about how NFL-ready he was (we called that one, by the way…quite some time ago). But Mariota? Even if he’s not going to be the league MVP, he’s going to keep making waves. This might be a somewhat hasty prediction, but we’d be over the moon to see the kid shine this year.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at the very bottom of the NFC South, with 150/1 odds of winning the NFC Championship and 300/1 odds of winning the 2016 Super Bowl. Jameis Winston didn’t have the strong start that many people expected from him, but he’s confident that this will not be a long-lasting issue. In fact, the entire team is determined to give it their all. We hate to say it, but we might have to leave the Bucs out of our predictions for the time being. Not because they don’t stand a chance, but because we truly have no idea what their chances may be. We really just need to see some more from Winston and from the rest of the organization before we’ll be prepared to call their future for the remainder of the season.
New Orleans is currently given 25/1 odds for the NFC Title and 50/1 odds for the 2016 Super Bowl. The Carolina Panthers have the same odds, although the Saints had a much worse season opener. ESPN blames it on a lack of Jimmy Graham, but it’s not really that simple. Sure, Graham would have certainly helped their game in the red zone. But it’s not like that’s news to the team. They’ve known for months that they were going to be playing without him, they were aware that many had speculated a decline for the team as a result of his loss, and they’ve had plenty of time to make the appropriate adjustments. Frankly, we’re disappointed. After a couple of lackluster seasons in a row, we predicted that the Saints would be making some big changes this season. They still have time, but the fact that they haven’t made the singular most obviously necessary adjustments to their offensive strategy is not a good sign.
SB Nation’s Cat Scratch Reader notes that, despite winning their season opener, the Panthers have not advanced in the NFL power rankings. Cat Scratch Reader attributes this to the quality of their win, stating that “there are certain realities to unconvincingly beating one of the worst teams in the NFL—one of those is not getting high marks from the media.” In other words, they may have won 20-9, but they should have done better against a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars. There was an excellent play in the form of a returned interception by Josh Norman, but the Panthers only had one offensive touchdown the entire game. If this is how they do against the Jags, then we don’t really like their odds against better teams.
Vegas pegs the Atlanta Falcons as clear division leaders, with 14/1 odds of taking the NFC Title and 30/1 odds of netting a win in the 2016 Super Bowl. Fox Sports outlines the many changes made by the team since last season, and we have to agree that they looked pretty good in their 26-24 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. It may have been a tight victory, but it’s one that we might not have anticipated last season. To be honest, we hardly anticipated it this season. Had DeMarco Murray delivered the strong debut for the Eagles that everyone expected of him, then it might have been a different story. In that respect, you might say that the Falcons got lucky. Still, they played some quality football against a tough competitor. They can easily stay on top of their division this season.
St. Louis isn’t looking too hot by Vegas standards, garnering odds of 30/1 for the NFC Championship and 50/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl. Judging by their opener, however, they aren’t looking too bad. Their 34-31 win against the Seattle Seahawks was enough to earn them the second-highest league rank in scoring. SB Nation’s Turf Show Times does not believe that this will last, and we’re inclined to agree…to an extent. Turf Show Times also points out that they achieved this win without some of their greatest offensive players, so we have to imagine that the Rams still have some tricks up their sleeves going into the season. Will they remain the second-best team in the NFL? Probably not. Will they subvert some expectations and make a strong showing this season? That’s a little more likely.
The San Francisco 49ers, with current odds of 25/1 for the NFC Title and 45/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl, had a pretty strong opener with their 20-3 win against the Minnesota Vikings. We don’t want to go out of our way to bash Jim Harbaugh, because we have a lot of respect for him (when he isn’t publicly losing his marbles), but dang. We expected great things from the Michigan Wolverines under his tutelage, and they aren’t really delivering. Meanwhile, the 49ers seem better off without him. For most of the opener, neither team really did much. Nobody even scored until less than a minute from the end of the first half. But San Francisco pulled an offense out of somewhere the sun doesn’t shine, and they maintained a strong defense throughout. They have a chance to really shine this season if they can keep up this type of performance.
The Arizona Cardinals have the second-best odds in the NFC West, with 15/1 odds of winning the NFC Title and 30/1 odds of winning the 2016 Super Bowl. Judging by the strength of their season opener, these odds might be well-deserved. Arizona won 31-19 against the New Orleans Saints. They had a much stronger defensive backfield, but their offense was far more intriguing. Arizona was already leading 17-13 at the end of the third quarter, but the Saints started closing the gap with a field goal. A couple more touchdowns by Arizona with only one more field goal for the Saints, and the game was over. It’s hard to tell what to make of Arizona from this performance. Nearly half of their points were scored in the final quarter, so they either really pushed their offense or New Orleans really dropped the ball in terms of defense. Either way, the Cards are looking like one of the better NFC teams this year.
It’s no surprise that people are expecting big things from Seattle, and the Vegas odds certainly reflect that. The Seahawks are currently the second-most favored to win the NFC Championship with odds at 4/1, and the third-most favored to win the 2016 Super Bowl with odds at 8/1. And for a fair stretch during their opener, it looked like the twice consecutive NFC Title winners were going to deliver on the high expectations being thrown their way. But late in the game, the Seahawks made a lot of iffy decisions and allowed the Rams to take a narrow three-point win at 34-31. Don’t be fooled; they still have a solid chance at taking the NFC Title for the third year in a row. But let’s not forget that iffy decisions robbed them of a Super Bowl last year. If they want to make up for that loss, they can’t start off a season by making the same strategic misfires.
The Chicago Bears aren’t doing too hot in the Vegas odds, with 60/1 odds of winning the NFC Championship and 120/1 odds of winning the 2016 Super Bowl. One of very few teams to play an opponent in their own division during Week 1, they suffered a 31-23 loss in their opener against Green Bay. The Chicago Tribune noted that most of the Bears’ preseason practice glory was something of an illusion. It had appeared as if the Bears had their passing game locked down tight, but the Packers proved them wrong pretty easily. Their new coaching staff is solid and can provide the team with a sturdy foundation, but we have yet to really see them capitalize on that opportunity. To be fair, their opener was against the most anticipated team in the league right now. They could easily do a bit better as the season wears on.
Detroit currently has odds of 30/1 on the NFC Title and 40/1 of winning the 2016 Super Bowl. Their 33-28 loss to the San Diego Chargers wasn’t too promising, but the Detroit Free Press said it best: “On the bright said, Sunday’s season-opening loss at San Diego really didn’t affect the Detroit Lions’ chances of winning the Super Bowl all that much.” In other words, they weren’t really contenders to begin with. A lot of people were expecting them to fall off a bit this year. We didn’t think they’d be the absolutely inept team of failures that some were expecting, so we were happy to see that they at least put up a fight. Still, we aren’t expecting much more than that. They’re going to be fighting a lot this season, and it’s doubtful that it’ll get them too far.
Despite Minnesota’s terrible season opener, in which they lost 20-3 to the San Francisco 49ers, the Vikings are currently the second-most favored team in the NFC North. Their odds of winning the 2016 Super Bowl are put at 40/1 (the same as Detroit), while their odds of winning the NFC Title are at 20/1. A lot of people were hoping that RB Adrian Peterson would help lead the Vikings to a win, or at least a higher-scoring loss. No such luck. But as we’ve said many times, their opener is not necessarily indicative of their overall season performance. Minnesota’s generally a strong team. If anything, this loss might motivate them to perform significantly better in the coming weeks.
The Green Bay Packers are the leaders of the league by Vegas standards, with their odds of winning the NFC Championship placed at 5/2, and 5/1 odds of winning the 2016 Super Bowl. While we already talked about their opener, some might be surprised to learn that they weren’t necessarily happy with the win. The team has already identified some issues with their run defense, and they’re hoping to resolve some tackling issues by the time they face Seattle. We’re predicting a pretty strong showing from Green Bay this year, especially if they fix the aforementioned issues. Not only are they forerunners for the NFC Title, but we might have to agree with Vegas on the odds they have of taking Super Bowl 50. They’re a strong, strong team this year.
The NFC North might have the most favored team in the NFC, but the NFC East has the opposite distinction. The Washington Redskins are currently at the bottom of the heap, with 150/1 odds against winning the NFC Championship. They’re also the second-least anticipated team overall, with 300/1 odds of winning the 2016 Super Bowl. There are those who felt upon reviewing their 17-10 opening loss to the Miami Dolphins that the Washington Redskins should have won. But we aren’t so sure. This observation is based on a couple of positive points regarding the potential that the team has due to QB Kirk Cousins and a few key offensive players, among others. But that potential doesn’t change the fact that they’re doing everything wrong. At this point, they should change their name less for the purposes of avoiding controversy and more for the purposes of basic rebranding.
The New York Giants are favored at 40/1 for the NFC Title and 75/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl. But in their season opener, they proved themselves to be about on par with the Dallas Cowboys, who are currently favored at 10/1 for the NFC Title and 20/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl. While the Giants lost the game 27-26, they still fought tooth and nail until the very end. Among the factors that might help them pull ahead in the rankings are Coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning. Coughlin clearly knows his stuff, having said prior to the game that the Giants would need at least 28 points to win. He had it down to the exact number. As for Manning, ESPN notes the major two disappointments on his end. First of all, he held back RB Rashad Jennings on a couple of plays that could have been complete game-changers. Second, he threw the ball away at the very end when he should have just accepted a sack to keep the clock going. Hindsight’s 20/20, but foresight should have told him that stopping the clock would give the Cowboys a shot at taking home a last-minute win. If he learns from these mistakes, however, the Giants could easily become the stronger of the two teams.
As for the Cowboys, most of their hustle was lacking until after the two-minute warning. Let’s face it, their passing game could use some work. Their win was attributed to what can only be called a miraculous run of six no-huddle plays at the very end of the game. The clock only stopped twice in their last drive, once when Romo threw an incomplete and again when his receiver ran it out of bounds. The question is, why can’t they always play like that? They’ve been working out some new receivers, so maybe they’re aware of the issue. Still, Dallas fans can’t just wait for the team to get it together in the last two minutes. If not for some amazingly strong goal line defense at the end, the Giants could have turned it into a two-possession game and Romo’s last drive would have been meaningless. Basically, both Dallas and New York need a bit more from both their defense and their quarterbacks this season if they want to become conference champions.
Philadelphia is the most favored team in the NFC East and the third-most favored team in the NFC overall, with odds of 6/1 on the NFC Championship and 12/1 for the 2016 Super Bowl. But in Bleacher Report’s dissection of the many flaws that plagued the team in their opening loss to the Falcons, they note a few issues that the Eagles are going to have to hit pretty hard if they want to turn things around. To sum up some of the most major points, their passing game was too conservative and their running game was practically non-existent due to some poor showings, the most surprising of which was the abysmal yardage gained by new acquisition DeMarco Murray. We were thinking the team might suffer a bit, despite everyone’s belief that he was somehow single-handedly carrying the Cowboys. Still, that doesn’t mean we’re opposed to being proven wrong. If Murray wants to turn things around and carry the Eagles for a bit, we’d be perfectly fine with watching that happen. We just aren’t going to hold our breath until it does.
First of all, the NFC South is out of the discussion. Unless Jameis Winston really turns his game around (which he realistically might), then there isn’t a single team in their division worth pegging as a favorite for the NFC Championship. Yes, there could be hope for the Bucs. But it’s a slim, slim hope. Winston would have to not only turn his game around, but essentially become the only important player on the team. Considering the stark impossibility of that task—especially for a rookie—we’re not really loving Tampa Bay’s chances. The only other team in the NFC South worth considering is the Falcons. But as we said earlier, it’s too difficult to tell how much of their opening win should be attributed to Philadelphia’s blunders.
Speaking of Philadelphia, the Eagles are one of the top three teams expected by Vegas to win the NFC Championship, ranked right under the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. USA Today’s For the Win notes that the Eagles would be looking a lot better right now if they could strategize a bit differently. DeMarco Murray delivered a poor performance in their opener, but For the Win asks why he wasn’t given more chances to begin with. He clearly could have been a lot better, but there’s only so much he can do when he isn’t getting the ball. There’s some merit to this argument, although we’re still not too sure that Philadelphia can take this one to the bank. They might get close to the NFC Championship, and they might even get to play it. But will they win it? It’s hard for us to call that one in their favor.
Seattle is one of our top contenders, even if some are overreacting to their opening loss. In many ways, Seattle and Philadelphia are alike. There are some who are defining the Eagles by their acquisition of DeMarco Murray, even though he’s knew to the team and likely still adjusting. But Marshawn Lynch isn’t new to the Seahawks. So when The Seattle Times says that Seattle overdid it when Russell Wilson threw a career-high 41 pass attempts, what they may as well be saying is that he should have just tossed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch. They certainly wouldn’t be the first to say such a thing, in any case. How many people, after the botched slant at the end of last year’s Super Bowl, said they would have won if they had just given the ball to Beast Mode? Lynch is not unstoppable. But they could certainly stand to use him a bit more.
We aren’t going to be making an underdog pick on this one. We thought about giving it to the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants, and one of those teams may at least make it to the NFC Championship. Heck, one of them might even move on to play the 2016 Super Bowl. But we’re going to play it safe in this case and say that the NFC Title will likely go to either the Packers or the Seahawks.
The two played in last season’s NFC Championship, and they’re playing each other in Week 2 of this season. A preview of the game by the International Business Times suggests that the major issue with the Packers in this match-up is run defense, while the major issue for Seattle is their passing game. Our assumption is that Seattle will catch onto this and start running the ball more, but Green Bay will already know how strong they are in this area. Green Bay should be ready. When the NFC Championship rolls around, should it come down to the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, we predict a close win by Green Bay. It might be a one-possession game until the very end, but the Packers should still walk away victorious.
2016 Super Bowl
This is the big one. Who will win Super Bowl 50? We’ve talked about a lot of teams that might be going to the 2016 Super Bowl, but let’s explore two main options. The first is if it winds up being a face-off between the top two teams expected to win (the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots), and the second is if it winds up being between the top two teams that we’ve said we’d like to see make it (the Green Bay Packers and the Tennessee Titans).
A Pats/Packers match-up is admittedly hard to call. As we said earlier, there’s a good chance that the NFL appeal could take Brady out at a crucial time in the season. Since we have no idea regarding the possible timeline of this court case, we can’t focus too much on Brady or Garoppolo. Besides, the Patriots organization seems to believe that Garoppolo is playing rather strong at the moment. So instead, we’ll just look at how each organization plays as a whole.
The Packers beat the Pats in their preseason face-off, doubling New England’s score. And for all of you thinking that it doesn’t matter since Brady wasn’t playing, remember what we just said about judging each team on its merits as a whole. Even with Brady, the Patriots are only slightly ahead of the Packers in terms of AP power rankings right now. Since the two seem to be about evenly matched, and Green Bay is currently the most favored team in the NFL according to Vegas, we’re going to go ahead and give that match-up to the Packers. We believe that New England could give them a pretty good run for their money, but Green Bay should be ready for it. If this match-up sees the light of day, then the Pats aren’t likely to win a second Super Bowl in a row.
Now, let’s say the Packers wind up against the Titans in the 2016 Super Bowl. In their preseason match-up, the Titans beat the Packers 20-16. We like to think the score is something of an omen regarding the 2016 Super Bowl. Of course, it’s pretty rare for two teams to play exactly the same in the preseason as they do in the regular season. And the notion of the preseason predicting the Super Bowl is far-fetched to say the least. If the Titans do make it to the 2016 Super Bowl against the Packers, and if they manage to pull off a win, then Mariota will wind up with just about the best rookie season imaginable. He’s already headed toward the best rookie season in history, but a ring would certainly make it ten times sweeter.
And to be honest, that kind of makes us want to call this one for Tennessee. It’s not the most professional move to base a Super Bowl prediction on what we want to see happen, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Mariota and the Titans could take it all the way. It’s been a while since we’ve had a Cinderella story quite as great as that one. No matter who wins, we really just want to see this match-up. The most favored team in the league in a tight battle against the team with the greatest rookie quarterback? That’s what we call football.