NFL's 100th season: Who will win Super Bowl LIV?
32 teams. One Vince Lombardi Trophy. Which team will come out on top? Watch NFL Sunday live on Sky Sports Action from 6pm
By James Simpson - @JS_Football
Last Updated: 08/09/19 11:53am
It was a long wait for football.
And on Thursday, the NFL season began as the previous one ended: with inept offenses, stifling defenses and plenty of yellow flags.
Like New England did to Los Angeles in Super Bowl LIII, the Green Bay Packers stifled the Chicago Bears to pick up the first win of the season.
But as just the first game of a long, unpredictable season, how much relevance will it have?
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Whenever we embark on a new NFL journey each and every season, we begin with 32 teams. That is 32 teams and 1,700 players - give or take - with aspirations of winning the Super Bowl.
Every year, we end up with the New England Patriots. Or at least the Pats and three other teams. In each of the last eight seasons, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have led their team to at least the AFC Championship game. They've reached the Super Bowl in five of them, and won three.
When we look ahead to who might come out on top in 2019/20, the discussion begins with New England, but what is on the cards for everybody else?
The repeat contenders
The New England Patriots should - deservedly - be at the top of every list of Super Bowl favourites and power rankings.
They may have lost Rob Gronkowski to retirement, along with Malcom Brown, Trent Brown and Trey Flowers to the Saints, Raiders and Lions, respectively. Yes, first-round pick N'Keal Harry will be a loss on injured reserve and David Andrews is out with blood clots, but do each of those individuals matter in the grand scheme of things?
As long as Belichick and Brady are around, the Pats will simply make things work. The late pickup of Antonio Brown is just the icing on the cake.
The two sides that played out arguably the most entertaining game of last season - a 54-51 win for the Los Angeles Rams over the Kansas City Chiefs - are expected to be hot teams again this time around.
Patrick Mahomes, 2018 MVP, threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first season as the full-time starter. What can he achieve in year two?
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While there were questions surrounding Jared Goff after his underwhelming performance in the Super Bowl, the Rams don't have any doubt he is their man. After handing him a record guaranteed contract for a quarterback, expect LA to continue their success as long as Sean McVay is the man leading the way. Even if Goff suffers, the defense is strong enough to keep the Rams in the mix.
Both the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Chargers, led by long-time veterans Drew Brees and Philip Rivers - will have felt last year should have been 'their year' at points. Brees (40) and Rivers (37) will have their teams competing for as long as they play, but what will it take to go all the way?
Next in line
After falling to Green Bay in Week One, there has to be some form of concern for the Chicago Bears after their dreadful offensive display, in particular, the poor play of Mitchell Trubisky. However, their defense still played excellently, and they fell to the Pack in opening week last season before rebounding to 12-4. There is time for a turnaround.
The return of Ezekiel Elliott for the Dallas Cowboys after his holdout absence was crucial. They bring back their core players from last season and the only question is: how far can Dak Prescott take them?
What can we expect from the Philadelphia Eagles this season? It depends on the health of quarterback Carson Wentz, but they are definite contenders. After a Super Bowl win in 2017, and shocking the Bears with a playoff win in 2018, there’s no doubt Philly could get to the promised land once again.
The Houston Texans were pipped in the playoffs by the Colts last year, but by no means should they be overlooked in the AFC playoff race. Deshaun Watson was outstanding returning from an ACL injury, and the addition of Laremy Tunsil will only aid him.
Back into the fray
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers did it with defense on Thursday, but they have what it takes to explode on offense too. Before Rodgers was injured in 2017 and a subsequent team collapse happened last year, they had made the postseason in seven straight seasons. They are likely to be back.
The same is expected for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who missed out for the first time in five years in 2018. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are gone, but James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster are ready to fill the void.
With Russell Wilson at the helm, the Seattle Seahawks are always in the mix. But it’s no doubt they’ve lacked something in the past two seasons - something which Jadeveon Clowney might give them. They didn’t make the playoffs in 2017, and lost their knockout game last year. Is this the season they go on a run?
The Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars had major dips in 2018, but are expected to be back again this season - for different reasons. Atlanta were ravaged by injury and are returning some key players. For Jacksonville, the arrival of Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles gives them the quarterback they have lacked.
Ready to compete
Lamar Jackson had a 6-1 regular-season record after taking over at QB for the Baltimore Ravens, but he was ‘exposed’ by the Chargers in a postseason loss. Can he perform now there is a blueprint to stop him?
Also in the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns have been the talk of the summer. Acquiring Odell Beckham Jr was the major move, and hope and expectation has been building in Ohio. Will they finally reach the playoffs after a 16-season absence?
The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to be ‘a quarterback away’, but Kirk Cousins did little to tip them over the edge last season as they missed the playoffs. An improved running game and solid defense will keep them competitive, but it is all on their QB.
When Cam Newton is ‘on’, he is unstoppable. But last year he was hurt, and the Carolina Panthers suffered. With him fully healthy, they are immediately ready to challenge in the NFC.
Could go either way
The Indianapolis Colts will clearly suffer after Andrew Luck’s retirement, while the Tennesee Titans have a QB conundrum of their own with the underwhelming Marcus Mariota.
Both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are hoping to take big leaps in the second years of Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, but they must prove themselves in a division with the champions.
The San Francisco 49ers were injury-struck last year, so should improve. But there are still questions surrounding quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and who he really is as a QB. The Denver Broncos may well have a top defense this season, but how ‘elite’ will Joe Flacco be in his first year with them?
In the last four seasons under Jay Gruden, the Washington Redskins have gone 9-7, 8-7-1, 7-9 and 7-9. This year is make or break. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions actually got worse under Matt Patricia in his first campaign, having achieved at least nine wins in three of four prior seasons. Which way will they go?
There are three teams with new head coaches - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Arizona Cardinals, who have potential, but also changed coaches for a reason. Bruce Arians may need time to turn things around, Zac Taylor has a big rebuilding task, and Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is an experiment - especially with rookie Kyler Murray at the helm.
If you are looking for entertainment, look no further than the Oakland Raiders. They shipped off their best talent last season ahead of a revamp this time around, and it certainly hasn't gone swimmingly. The Antonio Brown trade was a disaster and there are signs of another difficult season here.
The New York Giants also look set for another turbulent year after losing some of their top talents in Beckham Jr and Landon Collins. Saquon Barkley is the bright, shining hope, but can he do it all himself?
Finally, it would be naive to rule any team out of the running for this year’s Super Bowl - this league is so unpredictable - but if the Miami Dolphins even sniff the playoffs this season, it will be a miracle. They are going all-in on the 2020 Draft to secure a quarterback of the future, and have left the current team severely weakened.
Who do you think wins Super Bowl LIV?
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