The Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night to win the Lombardi Trophy, but that is old news. We are already looking ahead to next season. Vegas has released their odds for the 2014 Super Bowl. They have the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers with the best chances to hoist the trophy at 7/1. Followed by the Patriots, Packers, Seahawks, and of course our Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. That is what they think, but these are the teams that I think have the best chance.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Sunday felt like a step in the road for the 49ers to me. It is almost like they are paying their dues. Besides Frank Gore, who is still very capable, their best players are still very young. I would be shocked if this is the only Super Bowl in which we see a Kaepernick led 49ers team. Their defense is very young and relentless. Their secondary could use some work, but I am nitpicking a little bit there. Offensively, they are revolutionizing the run game in the NFL. We have seen Zone Read with other teams but none as successful as San Francisco. With Kaepernick, Crabtree, Davis, Smith, and Willis the 49ers have the best young core in the game, and are going to be competitive for the foreseeable future.
2. New England Patriots
The Patriots are always in the conversation. Brady is getting up there in years, but over the course of the season he was as good as ever. Couple that with the running game led by Stevan Ridley, which has improved drastically over the past year. The high-powered offense that we are used to up in Foxboro should be elite for at least another season. The question, as always, is the defense. I thought the defense was much improved with the addition on Aquib Talib via trade with the Bucs before the trade deadline. He is the most important Free Agent of the offseason for the Pats, in my opinion. Yes, even more than Wes Welker. As great as Welker has been, there are plenty of other options in that offense. Talib makes this defense above average. With his return and the return from injury of the club hopper Rob Gronkowski, I think the Patriots will be right there at season’s end.
3. Denver Broncos
What a return from injury by Peyton Manning. He was great all season long, and should have been MVP in many people’s eyes. He has plenty of weapons in that offense. The dynamic Demaryius Thomas who could break one for six at any moment, the always consistent Eric Decker, a strong stable of Tight Ends, and of course a very solid running game. Do not sleep on this defense though. They had one of the best defenses against the run in 2012, and have two outside pass rushers in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil that compare to anybody in the league. I think the Broncos will be elite contenders for 2013.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan and the boys finally got over the hump this year and won a playoff game. They have arguably the most explosive offense in the NFL. Obviously, it is unknown if ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez will be back, but the Falcons still have the best young receiving duo in the league with Roddy White and Julio Jones. The running back position is a question mark because Michael Turner is not what he used to be, but the young Jaquizz Rodgers has looked very good in a limited role. Defensively, the Falcons are an average to above average unit. They will probably work towards improving the D in the draft. After watching his fellow 2008 draft class QB Joe Flacco get a ring, I think that Matty Ice will be more hungry than every to get one for himself. Do not sleep on Atlanta.
5. Green Bay Packers
In today’s game, the QB position is more important than ever. When you have what many consider the best in the game, you always have a good chance to win it all. I pick the Packers here because of one man, Aaron Rodgers. Statistically, Rodgers’ 2012 may not have been as impressive as his 2011, which is annoying to his fantasy owners like me, but as an NFL QB he was as good as it gets. Rodgers still has plenty of targets even if he loses Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley to free agency. Jordy Nelson is still in town, and in 2012 we saw two wide outs really take their game to the next step, in Randall Cobb and James Jones. The defense is shaky, but you couple the return of a healthy Clay Matthews with an organization that more often than not drafts players very well, I think we could see a big improvement on that side of the ball.
Right now, it is impossible to say exactly what the rosters will look like for these, or any NFL teams, so it is hard to make projections at this point of the NFL season. It will be fun to look back at this piece at the same time next year and see how I did. Regardless, it should be another fun and interesting offseason and season.