Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why Your Team is Totally Going to the Super Bowl Next Year

The Jaguars in the Super Bowl next season... It could happen.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe) and Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Super Bowl week is in full effect, and for fans of the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, life couldn't be much better.

But, for the fans of the other 30 NFL teams, from hapless Tennessee to "oh so close" New England, not so much. Many of those teams' die-hards are already thinking of the NFL Draft and upcoming free agency, along with constructing elaborate scenarios for how their group will make it to Super Bowl 51.

That is, after they finish hate-rooting against Peyton Manning or Cam Newton.

Either way, here are all the reasons why your favorite team is TOTALLY going to the Super Bowl next season.

Note- Teams are listed according to draft order, and initials indicate which one of these idiots is trying to talk themselves into each team.

Tennessee Titans (JC)

The road for Tennessee to go from worst-to-first in the AFC is actually easier than it looks. In such a crappy division, they really only need to get to 9-7 to sneak into the playoffs. From there, anyone can get hot and surge to the Super Bowl. The Giants did it in 2007, the Cardinals did it in 2008, the Packers did it in 2010, the Giants did it again in 2011, and the Ravens did it in 2012. Those five teams played a combined total of four home games during those postseasons.

Let's say Tennessee has a stellar draft. They pick up help on the offensive line, at wide receiver, and at linebacker. Their defense was respectable at times, and they have a few offensive players with dynamite potential. Marcus Mariota will obviously make a leap, and will jump-start an anemic rushing attack. Delanie Walker and Kendall Wright made plays in the passing game this year and will continue to do so, and Tennessee's offense might start to resemble San Francisco's during the Harbaugh years - not so explosive, but brutally efficient. They win the AFC South, and then Mariota turns into a single-man wrecking crew in the playoffs, carrying them to Super Bowl 51.

Cleveland Browns (JP)

After drafting Cal quarterback Jared Goff, the Browns develop the young signal-caller into a… I'm sorry, I can't even pretend that Cleveland doing right by a young quarterback or reaching the Super Bowl are actual possibilities.

Well, maybe if Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco all suffer season-ending injuries, and Cleveland takes the AFC North at 8-8.

Then, in a string of stunning upsets, the Cinderella Browns knock off the Jets, Broncos and Patriots, raising the hopes of Cleveland fans to unseen levels… Even in this ridiculous scenario, I don't need to tell you how the Super Bowl goes.

San Diego (for now) Chargers (JP)

Phillip Rivers goes HAM, throwing for over 5,000 yards behind his actually healthy offensive line. Chargers fans show up every game in hopes that their passion will keep the team in San Diego, and they're rewarded with a pair of playoff games after the team goes 13-3 and shockingly grabs the AFC's top seed.

As Rivers and coach Mike McCoy are receiving the Lamar Hunt trophy for defeating Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game, Chargers CEO Dean Spanos announces the team is leaving for Los Angeles over the loud speaker.

Dallas Cowboys (JC)

They were one of the most banged-up teams in football this year, and they still didn't totally suck. They were 4-12, but had six losses of less than a touchdown. Darren McFadden turned his career around, and Cole Beasley emerged as a pretty good slot receiver. Now Dallas is in the unique position of getting their stars healthy *and* adding a blue-chip talent in the draft.

If Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and the defense stay healthy all year, they're a .500 team at worst. If their high pick turns into an immediate impact player and they're able to once again piece together an effective backfield by committee, they should be able to take a weak NFC East. From there, it's up to Romo and Bryant to make plays and get Dallas back to the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville Jaguars (JC)

It's kind of the same as Tennessee. They don't need to be a juggernaut, they just need to get into the playoffs. With an explosive offense and a vaguely improving defense, the framework is there. Blake Bortles and Allens Hurns and Robinson made for a dynamite downfield passing attack. T.J. Yeldon had a decent rookie season and should continue to improve. If Jacksonville can improve their anemic pass rush, their defense could be good enough to win them their division. Once they're in the playoffs, they win three straight 41-38 slugfests on the strength of their passing game. 

Baltimore Ravens (JP)

Obviously, Baltimore is just an elite Joe Flacco away from immediately contending again. Unfortunately, elite Joe Flacco only comes around once every eight years or so, so the Ravens instead ride a rebuilt and healthy defense led by Terrell Suggs to an AFC North crown.

Once in the playoffs, elite Joe Flacco shows up and recreates his improbable run from 2012, leading the Ravens to a win at home against Pittsburgh, then against the Patriots in Foxboro.

San Francisco 49ers (JC)

Chip Kelly is taking over a team that went 12-4 just two years ago. The defense continued to be respectable, but the offense was abysmal. Chip Kelly will come in, take over, turn Colin Kaepernick's career around, and make San Francisco's offense great again. Carlos Hyde, when healthy, showed flashes of being a great every-down back. Anquan Boldin is ageless, and exactly the type of downfield blocker that can be a difference-maker in a Chip Kelly offense.

Kelly is no longer in charge of personnel decisions, which is probably good for him. The 49ers front office has been able to assemble a good roster, for the most part, they've just lacked a good coach to put the pieces together. With Kelly at the helm, looking to prove something, San Francisco surges to a shocking 12-4 record, an NFC West title, a first-round bye, and then a Super Bowl appearance.

Miami Dolphins (JP)

New coach Adam Gase shows a Midas touch with Miami's young skill players, as Jarvis Landry continues to develop into one of the league's best young receivers, and he's supplemented by a breakout season from 2015 first round pick DeVante Parker.

Those two guys become so lethal, even Ryan Tannehill can't screw it up, as he combines with Lamar Miller to give the Dolphins a surprisingly lethal and balanced attack. Defensively, Cam Wake returns from injury at full strength, and Ndamukong Suh begins living up to his massive price tag, earning First Team All-Pro honors and collecting 10 sacks.

The Dolphins shock the league by stealing the AFC East at 11-5 as New England deals with injuries to Tom Brady and Julian Edelman, then defeat the Wild Card Patriots in Miami in the first round.

After that, Tannehill breaks through to score a road win against a good Denver defense, then overcomes Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (JP)

Jameis Winston showed great promise as a rookie in 2015, and takes the next step in 2016. Under former offensive coordinator and new head coach Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay's offense cuts down on turnovers and jumps into the NFL's Top-8.

On defense, the Bucs finally start living up to expectations as Gerald McCoy enjoys a bounce-back year and Lavonte David establishes himself as one of the best all-around linebackers in the league.

The NFC South turns into a juggernaut, as the Bucs battle the defending champ Panthers, resurgent Saints and solid Falcons, and end up in the Wild Card. From there, Tampa Bay catches fire behind its underrated offensive line and Doug Martin's running. They control the clock and make enough plays to win road games in Green Bay, Seattle and, finally, Carolina.

New York Giants (JC)

With such a down year in the NFC East, the biggest rivalry in the division was really Tom Coughlin vs. 4th Quarter Clock Management. The Giants lost six games in which they were either tied or held a lead in the 4th quarter, by far the most in the league this year. With Coughlin out of the picture, the Giants return to being the late-game darlings they have been of years past. Odell Beckham continues to be an all-world wide receiver, Shane Vereen emerges as the best receiving back in football, and Rueben Randle develops into the breakout star No. 2 receiver of 2016. The Giants ride the league's No. 1 passing attack to 11 wins and Super Bowl 51.

Chicago Bears (JP)

Chicago and veteran running back Matt Forte shock the league when they agree to a four-year deal that pays the 30-year old running back a reasonable rate up front, and perhaps overpays him on the back half of the deal.

With Forte back in the fold, Jay Cutler finally cares (this is all fantasy, remember), and the Bears offense becomes the NFC's best. Alshon Jeffrey leads the league in receiving, and Forte again catches 100 balls as the Bears win the North.

Coach John Fox is able to patch together a feisty defense, and Chicago forces enough turnovers to win home playoff games against the Cardinals and Seahawks.

New Orleans Saints (JP)

After a bit of drama, New Orleans did bring Drew Brees- the best player in this sorry franchise's history- back, and boy are they glad they did. Brees quickly turns back the clock and throws for a league-record 5,500 yards, but frustrates fantasy owners everywhere by tossing touchdown passes to 20 different guys that you weren't starting that week.

A midseason injury to Cam Newton slows the Panthers, and New Orleans steals the division at 13-3, setting up a massive NFC Championship game at the Superdome between the Saints and now healthy Cam Newton (I mean Carolina).

Brees' lighting-quick release beats Carolina's defensive speed, and the Saints win a shootout to get back to Super Sunday.

Philadelphia Eagles (JC)

Chip Kelly was a disaster in Year 3. Philadelphia brought in Doug Pederson, who has spent the last three years constructing an offense in Kansas City that doesn't turn the ball over, and just churns out first down after first down. An idiot-proof offense is exactly what Philadelphia needs, especially if they plan on turning to Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Even if they do, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews should provide Philadelphia with a dynamite rushing attack, and the Eagles' defense is already in pretty good shape.

If the defense makes the leap to the next level, and Murray returns to 2014 form, it might not even matter who Philadelphia lines up under center. And even if it is Sanchez, he's shown that with a great defense and running game, he can not screw up enough times in a row to get to the conference championship game. From there, all it takes is one more win.

Oakland Raiders (JP)

Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray take the critical step from fantasy football steals to a legitimately terrifying threesome (that's what she said, ha).

Behind the league's best young offense, Oakland shockingly wins the AFC West, but it's Khalil Mack and the play-making defense that lead the Raiders to a home playoff win against the Wild Card Jets. Next week in Foxboro, Mack sacks Tom Brady and knocks the quarterback out of the game with a sprained shoulder, leading to Oakland pulling off the upset, before they defeat division rival Kansas City in an unexpected home game for the AFC championship.

Los Angeles Rams (JC)

The Rams aren't that bad to begin with. They've got a dynamite defense, a budding star at running back more than capable of carrying an offense, and one of the most explosive space players in the league in Tavon Austin. If you treat Austin as just an extension of the running game, his 104 touches for 907 scrimmage yards starts to look a lot more impressive.

The Rams' problem is that they have no true downfield threat, and no quarterback that can get them the ball accurately. The Nick Foles experiment didn't work, and their best vertical threat is the artist formerly kind-of-known as Kenny Britt. If the Rams can upgrade those two spots (Brock Osweiler and Alshon Jeffrey will both be free agents this summer, plus they've been pretty good drafters over the last few seasons, just sayin'), there's no reason they can't get into the playoffs and ride their dominant defense from there. 

Detroit Lions (JC)

Let's look at the Giants of the last few years. When they had Plaxico Burress, and then Hakeem Nicks, they spent a great deal of time taking deep shots downfield, and with good reason - those guys were both great deep targets. But over the last two seasons, they've adopted more of a quick-passing offense, with most of their pass attempts coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and Eli Manning has put together, really, his two best seasons.

With Calvin Johnson expected to retire, this is the direction Detroit could move. With Golden Tate, Theo Riddick, and Eric Ebron, they have a number of pieces well-suited for a short, quick passing attack. If they turn the offense on it's head, at it works, they could put together an offense reminiscent of the 2009 Saints - when you look at their roster, it seems like their offense would be above-average at best, but somehow, they average 30+ points per game. If their defense returns to 2014 form, that combination could put Detroit in the Super Bowl for the first time ever.

Atlanta Falcons (JC)

Atlanta's offense already has the pieces it needs. They have an All-Pro quarterback, an All-Pro receiver, and an All-Pro running back. They just need to work on their offensive line and find a replacement for the past-being-past-his-prime Roddy White. Luckily for them, there are a number of strong receivers available, either through the draft or through free agency.

Where Atlanta really needs to turn it around is on defense. They mustered just 19 sacks this year (that's TOTAL), last in the league by a hilarious margin. That number should improve next year, if only by accident, but if it improves dramatically, Atlanta's defense will suddenly reach playoff-contender status. With their three stars on offense, it's guaranteed that they'll score enough points to stay in just about any game. With a good defense on top of it, they have a puncher's chance at the Super Bowl.

Indianapolis Colts (JP)

With a healthy and more mature Andrew Luck, the Colts shoot up the offensive charts, and cut down on costly turnovers. Defensively, Chuck Pagano pieces together a middle-of-the-pack unit with a knack for making plays in big moments.

Luckily, the AFC South still stinks, and 10 wins gets the Colts a home playoff game in Indy. After bouncing the Steelers in round one, Andrew Luck carries the offense to 40+ point outings in road upsets of the Bengals and Patriots.

One can only assume that last game will feature rigorously tested, and properly inflated, footballs.

Buffalo Bills (JC)

Unfortunately for Buffalo, they reside in the division that has displayed the least volatility over the last decade. Fortunately for Buffalo, they have all the pieces needed to de-throne the Patriots. As we saw in the AFC Championship game, teams that speed the game up with possession offense and get pressure on the quarterback without blitzing can cause a great deal of trouble for New England. If Buffalo can steal both of those New England games, they'll have the inside track for the AFC East title.

The combination of Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and Karlos Williams was fantastic, when all three were in the lineup. Unfortunately, all three saw injuries at various points in the season. If all three stay healthy next year, along with another strong season out of Sammy Watkins, Buffalo could have an offense similar to what Seattle has done over the last few years. If the pass rush continues to be as good as it has been, they can ride their defense and ground attack all the way through the postseason.

New York Jets (JP)

Ryan Fitzpatrick proves more than a one-year wonder, and the Jets' high-flying passing attack improves as Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker become the league's best 1-2 receiving punch.

Defensively, the Jets are again a force to be reckoned with, and Darrelle Revis returns to championship form just in time for a magical Wild Card run that includes wins in Denver, Pittsburgh and New England.

Forget about Joe Flacco in 2012, we'll be talking about Ryan Fitzpatrick's miracle postseason for years to come.

Washington Ethnic Slurs (JP)

Kirk Cousins was a borderline miracle worker at home in 2015, and who's to say Washington can't go 8-0 in their building next year? Ok, maybe rational thought, but stay with me. With several promising pass rushers, an improving set of skill players and a weak division, Washington wins the NFC East again, but this time translates its home success to a 12-4 record and first round bye. On the hot arm of Cousins, Washington is able to defeat Seattle at home before upsetting the Panthers in Carolina.

Houston Texans (JC)

Similar to Tennessee and Jacksonville, their path to the Super Bowl is really just a path to the postseason. From there, they just need their quarterback to not totally crap the bed with turnovers and not have their special teams allow big play after big play. We've seen not-so-great quarterbacks make runs in the playoffs when they get hot. Brian Hoyer could have something similar come over him (or Houston could find an upgrade, somehow). DeAndre Hopkins is a legitimate playmaker, and who knows, J.J. Watt could start playing tight end.

Minnesota Vikings (JC)

We keep thinking Adrian Peterson is going to decline, but I'm not sure we've considered the possibility that he's a robot. If he puts together another All-Pro season, Minnesota's offense should be even better as Teddy Bridgewater is only going to improve from here on out. Stefon Diggs should also improve, and they'll probably cut some dead weight at wide receiver (Mike Wallace and Cordarrelle Patterson are probably goners) to find some helpful cap space to add more weapons. The defense should again be a top unit, and with much of the NFC North in flux, an even better showing than this year is possible. 

Cincinnati Bengals (JP)

Adam "Pacman" Jones and Vontaze Burfict return with chips on their shoulders, and lead Cincinnati's defense to a Top-5 finish, while a now healthy Andy Dalton returns the Bengal offense to among the league's best.

After winning the AFC North, Cincinnati again draws rival Pittsburgh, this time in the divisional round, and this time the Bengals keep their collective head to seal the victory.

A trip to Foxboro looms, but with the cloud of playoff disappointment lifted, Cincinnati plays loose and pulls off an epic upset, with Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and the rest of the Bengals front battering Tom Brady in a low-scoring affair.

Pittsburgh Steelers (JP)

After some pretty awful injury luck on offense, Pittsburgh enjoys fully healthy seasons from Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, DeAngelo Williams, Kelvin Beachum and Martavis Bryant, who all missed action at critical times in 2015.

On the defensive side of the ball, Pittsburgh's sneaky good front-seven continues to improve behind defensive ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, while speedy linebacker Ryan Shazier emerges as a Pro Bowl player on the inside. Pittsburgh squeezes just enough out of its secondary to pile up sacks and turnovers on defense, as the offense becomes the league's best with everybody available.

Seattle Seahawks (JP)

The Seahawks played some of the best football of 2015, but also fell into ruts at some pretty inopportune times, most notably in the divisional round against Carolina.

Next year will be different, as Seattle takes the training wheels completely off of quarterback Russell Wilson, who went from play-making game manager to legit star in 2015. Behind Wilson and suddenly studly receiver Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks boast a Top-3 offense to go with a number one defense.

Seattle rolls through the regular season 14-2, capturing the division, and cruises into Super Bowl 51 after 10 home victories.

Green Bay Packers (JP)

Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson are healthy. Seriously, that's it.

Kansas City Chiefs (JC)

Imagine what would have happened if Kansas City hadn't had rotten luck in close games to start the season. Sure, they started 1-5, but their losses to Denver, Chicago, and Minnesota all could have gone the other way. Imagine if they had been 14-2 instead of 11-5. They would have had the No. 1 seed throughout the AFC playoffs. They would have avoided New England in Round 2 and everything might have turned out differently.

Imagine a carbon-copy of their 2015 season, only with better injury luck (imagine them with Jamaal Charles for a full season and Jeremy Maclin and Justin Houston at full strength for the postseason) and better luck in close games. Is that good enough to make the Super Bowl? I think it is.

Arizona Cardinals (JC)

Arizona got nearly as far as New England did. They both made the conference championship game, but at least New England was competitive. Arizona just needs the good fortune of not running into a 15-1 buzzsaw. They could have the exact same season they did this year (and considering how much talent they're bringing back, that's certainly not out of the question) and be even better off just because Carolina regresses (as close to a certainty as exists in the world). If that happens, Arizona is the NFC favorite to make the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots (JC)

So, exactly like their 2015 season, only their offensive line isn't decimated by injuries come the playoffs. They weren't able to protect Tom Brady well enough to sustain a long touchdown drive. That was the whole game. If they do that, they're in the Super Bowl.

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