Every fan base wants to believe its team has a good shot at winning it all this season. Sure, some fans realize they have no shot -- we’re looking at you Cleveland and San Francisco -- but most still believe a Super Bowl ring is coming for their franchise next February. News flash: It’s probably not. Only a handful of teams, all of which have outstanding quarterback play, have a legitimate shot at being the last one standing in Houston. As a result, the Broncos and Vikings aren't among them despite boasting great defenses.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
New England Patriots
As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in New England, the Patriots have a shot to win the Super Bowl each and every year. There’s just no way around it. That notion remains accurate this season despite Brady’s four-game suspension to start the year. The Patriots are currently the favorites to win Super Bowl 51, according to Bovada, and with good reason. New England has one of the league’s best passing offenses, which was only made better this offseason by the additions of Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan. In a weak AFC East, which is almost guaranteed to be won by New England, the Patriots are essentially a shoo-in to make the playoffs. Upon reaching the postseason, there’s no quarterback or player better than Brady at winning crucial games. And that’s without mentioning their underrated defense, which was second in the NFL with 49 sacks last season. The Patriots are as strong as they’ve ever been despite recent injuries.
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Green Bay Packers
The Packers made the playoffs last season, but it wasn’t a typical Aaron Rodgers-led team. Injuries, most notably to Jordy Nelson, and an overweight Eddie Lacy greatly impacted Green Bay’s season. Nelson is back and healthy, and Lacy shed serious weight this offseason as the Packers hope to return to form. And by all means, it looks like they will. Rodgers is still one of the three best quarterbacks, which automatically makes Green Bay a favorite each year. Their defense, however, is what makes the Packers so dangerous. The secondary is loaded with young talent such as Damarious Randall, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Quinten Rollins, which is sure to make it difficult for teams to air it out against them. If Green Bay can get a decent pass rush as it did last season (seventh in the NFL in sacks), the Packers could very well be playing for a Super Bowl title.
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The Seahawks are replacing a huge part of their offense this year following Marshawn Lynch’s retirement announcement. He was the heart and soul of the team and played a massive role in their recent run of success. Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael and a bevy of other backs will do their best to replicate Lynch’s production, which is actually more doable than it sounds. The real reason for Seattle being Super Bowl contenders is Russell Wilson, though. The Seahawks go as he goes, and if he can play as well as he did in the second half of last season, they’ll be in good shape. In the final eight games, he threw 25 touchdown passes and just two interceptions with a stellar passer rating of 124.3. Wilson has worked his way into the conversation of being one of the seven best quarterbacks in the game today, and he should only get better this season. Seattle’s biggest obstacle will be winning the NFC West over the Arizona Cardinals.
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If the Steelers were to make it to Super Bowl 51, they likely would have overcome more than most teams to do so. Martavis Bryant is suspended for the entire season, and Le’Veon Bell will miss the first three games. These are huge blows to an offense that had the potential to be an all-time great before the bans were handed down. They still have Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, of course, who will carry the offense. On defense, the Steelers have plenty of inefficiencies. Ryan Shazier has to stay healthy, while rookie Artie Burns needs to contribute right away to shore up the cornerback position. If he doesn’t, the Steelers could be susceptible to the pass, which won’t bode well for their chances of making it to the Super Bowl. At this point, the Steelers’ offense is too good to deny and makes them heavy favorites behind the Patriots in a very week AFC.
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The Panthers shocked the world and reached the Super Bowl last year, even after their top receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down with a knee injury. Carolina is no longer an under-the-radar team after winning 15 games last season. Instead, it's among the favorites in the NFC and has a legitimate shot at winning Super Bowl 51. Cam Newton is a true playmaker at quarterback who can beat opposing defenses with his arm or legs. And now with Benjamin back in the fold, he’s going to be even more dangerous. The biggest question surrounding the Panthers is whether they’ll be able to replace Josh Norman in the secondary, along with Roman Harper and Charles Tillman. Carolina’s defense was among the best in football last season, but it will look different this season without Norman in the Cover 2 scheme. The NFC is strong, but the South isn’t. The Panthers should have no trouble reaching the playoffs and making a run at the Super Bowl.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY SportsMitch Stringer
The Cardinals have won 10, 11, and 13 games the past three seasons, respectively. They’ve improved each year, and while it will be difficult to win 14 games in the NFC West, Arizona should win at least 11. In doing so, the Cardinals would be a lock for the playoffs, and Carson Palmer’s health and arm will be the driving forces behind that. If Palmer can remain healthy for all 16 games, the Cardinals will be in great shape. They have the receivers and running backs to be one of the best offenses in the NFL. And as ludicrous as it sounds, the defense is even better. Chandler Jones brings a much-needed pass rusher on the edge, complementing the stout defensive line, which also welcomes first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche. Tyrann Mathieu is expected to be back in the fold fairly soon, which immediately makes Arizona’s defense much better than it was after he went down last season.