(Andy Dalton photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
Talk of Fame Network
The Denver Broncos captured the Lombardi Trophy last season, but no team has repeated as NFL champion since the New England Patriots in 2003-04.
It will become even a greater challenge for the Broncos, who attempt to repeat without their top two quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler) and a couple of starters from the NFL’s best defense. End Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan bolted in free agency this offseason.
So tentatively scratch Denver from the list of possible contenders.
So whom does that leave? Just who will win the Super Bowl come February? That’s the subject of our Talk of Fame Network poll this week. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the Broncos, we’ve expanded the slate of options to 10 teams:
Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals reached the NFC title game in 2015. Arizona went 13-3 and was one of only two teams to finish in the NFL’s Top 5 in both offense and defense last season. Carson Palmer is back at quarterback and David Johnson is a rising star at halfback. The Cardinals also added some bulk at defensive tackle with first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche.
(David Johnson photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
Carolina Panthers. The Panthers captured the NFC title last season but wilted against the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Carolina went 15-1 and was the only team in the NFL to score 500 points a year ago. MVP Cam Newton was the reason. He generated 45 touchdowns, passing for 35 and rushing for 10 more. Newton gets his best receiver Kelvin Benjamin back this season. He missed all of 2015 with a training camp knee injury.
(Cam Newton photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals won the AFC North last season with a 12-4 record but can’t get over the hump in the post-season. Cincinnati is 0-7 in the playoffs under head coach Marvin Lewis, and quarterback Andy Dalton has shared in four of the last five losses. In fact, the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, the longest post-season drought in the league. Cincinnati even lacks luck in the preseason. The Bengals lost first-round draft pick William Jackson in training camp with a torn pectoral muscle.
(Marvin Lewis photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
Green Bay Packers. Cam Newton isn’t the only quarterback getting his best wide receiver back after a year’s absence. Aaron Rodgers will benefit from the return of Jordy Nelson, who missed the 2015 season with a pre-season knee injury. A healthy Nelson caught 98 passes for 1,518 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014 to help the Packers reach the NFC title game. But the Packers finished 10-6 without him in 2015. Green Bay added a pass-catching tight end (Jared Cook) and a pass-rushing tackle (first-rounder Kenny Clark) this season.
(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
Houston Texans. Do you buy that Brock Osweiler can take the Texans that final step to Super Bowl contention? Defense carried the Texans to a 9-7 record and a division title a year ago despite starting four different quarterbacks – and winning with all four of them. To stabilize the most important position on the field, the Texans gave Osweiler a $72 million contract with $37 million of it guaranteed to leave the Super Bowl champions where the starting spot was waiting for him. The Texans also gave him a running back in free agency in Lamar Miller, who left the Dolphins in free agency. They arrive to complement J.J. Watt and the NFL’s third-ranked defense already in place.
(Brock Osweiler photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs finished a game back of the Broncos in the West at 11-5 last season despite playing the final 11 games without their best player. Now former AFC rushing champion Jamaal Charles is back after rehabbing a knee injury that ended his season in October. With Alex Smith at quarterback, the Chiefs will again concentrate on running the ball and winning with defense. Even without Charles, the Chiefs finished sixth in the NFL in rushing in 2015. The defense finished seventh.
(Jamaal Charles photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
Minnesota Vikings. The NFC North champions will again ride the legs of Adrian Peterson, who won his third NFL rushing title in 2015 with his 1,485 yards. Coach Mike Zimmer is following the same script of KC’s Andy Reid – run the ball and win with defense. But he is expecting a little extra from the passing game this season -- and that will be tough without Teddy Bridgewater. Maybe first-round pick, receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Ole Miss, will have to wait a year to make an impact.
(Rob Gronkowski photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers started three different quarterbacks last season but still won 10 games and finished with the NFL’s third-best offense. Pittsburgh won games with all three of the quarterbacks, but the one they need on the field in 2016 is Ben Roethlisberger. He’s taken the Steelers to three Super Bowls and won two of them. A healthy Roethlisberger (he only started 11 games a year ago) plus NFL receiving champion Antonio Brown and former AFC rushing champion Le’Veon Bell can make this offense special.
(Le'Veon Bell photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
Seattle Seahawks. RB Marshawn Lynch has retired, but QB Russell Wilson is back. He’s gone to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons and taken the Seahawks to two of the last three Super Bowls. Despite his interception on the goal line in the closing minutes of that second Super Bowl, the kid is special. So is the Seattle defense with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett. The Seahawks were the only other NFL team to finish in the Top 5 in both offense and defense last season. This is a team with championship pedigree.
(Richard Sherman photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
Washington Redskins. The emergence of Kirk Cousins in 2015 propelled the Redskins to only the third NFC East title in Dan Snyder's 16-year tenure as owner. He threw for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first season as a starter, finishing fifth in the NFL in passing. He has an elite receiving corps with wideouts DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed, and the Redskins added to that nucleus with the selection of TCU All-America Josh Doctson with their first-round draft pick. Washington's 28th ranked defense needed help and the Redskins went out and got it in the form of Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman.
(Kirk Cousins photo courtesy of the Washington Redskins)