By Steven Weldon
The NFL has an incredible amount of parity. In the past ten years, fifteen different teams have made the Super Bowl. No other league has a similar rate of teams making it to the championship game. Some factors attributing to the level playing field include collective bargaining agreement's revenue sharing, as well as player contract structures and player ability.
HOWEVER, there are far too many NFL teams who have not won the biggest game of them all. Some have won one and haven't succeeded since. I have some ideas on who will join the club this season.
THE AWFUL SUSPECTS:
The MIAMI DOLPHINS are running Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback. The team lost Jarvis Landry to Cleveland, and their run game and defense will be non-factors. Done.
The ARIZONA CARDINALS do have a new quarterback in Kyler Murray, but it will not be enough to turn this team back to prominence. David Johnson is coming off of an injury, but there's a reason the Cardinals finished with the number one pick in the draft.
The OAKLAND RAIDERS have a nice story coming out of training camp with HBO's Hard Knocks being on campus, but receiver Antonio Brown is having...issues. Combine that with older defensive players and not much of a running attack and that brings another year of Jon Gruden's ten-year deal being a waste.
The NEW YORK GIANTS are still a few years away, as they continue riding Eli Manning's final seasons. This season begins the development of Daniel Jones and will be a continuation of Saquon Barkley's impressive career, but it won't amount to much.
The WASHINGTON REDSKINS have a ton of work to do as well. They've picked up a few talented young players and reasonably overpaid for a talented safety in Landon Collins, but it's not enough to get them over the hump in even just their division.
The CINCINNATI BENGALS will be missing arguably their best player AJ Green for a few weeks, and even that doesn't matter that much. They were a non-factor last season, and they'll be a non-factor again.
The DETROIT LIONS have some pieces but they need to stay consistent and healthy. They also have one of the better divisions to deal with, which only adds to their uphill climb.
The DENVER BRONCOS have a reasonable quarterback in Joe Flacco, but he isn't the answer to this season's questions. The rest of their team needs work, in addition to the fact they changed head coaches in the offseason.
The BUFFALO BILLS have some nice pieces and have a reasonable case for being the second-best team in the division...if things go better than planned. Josh Allen may prove his worth this season by leading the Bills to improvement.
The SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS will have a full year of Jimmy Garappalo and an improved offense, and I'd say it's good enough for third in their division. It's still not playoff-worthy, however.
The TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS have improved their coach, their linebackers and may have improved their special teams. What they didn't improve are their secondary, wide receivers and running backs. It's up to new head coach Bruce Arians to get the most out of this team with the least options. It's Jameis Winston's contract year, as well.
The JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS have had a significant step back this past season. Nick Foles got a considerable deal to be the starter, so we'll see if the former Super Bowl winner has the guts to lead the team to the playoffs. Leonard Fournette needs to stay as healthy as possible as well.
The TENNESSEE TITANS will absolutely have to have a better year from Marcus Mariota before they lose a grip on him. They can lean on Derrick Henry, but for how long? This is also Mariota's contract year, so if he wants to redeem his #2 pick quality, he'll need to move the Titans out of 9 wins and into the playoffs again.
The NEW YORK JETS have made some big improvements, but is Sam Darnold ready for primetime? Additionally, will Leveon Bell make noise after a season off? At least their jerseys look amazing.
The CAROLINA PANTHERS still have Cam Newton and a multi-talented back in Christian McCaffrey, but they also lost Devin Funchess in free agency. Luke Kuechly is an incredible linebacker, but he can't play all the other positions at once. They're slightly better than the Buccaneers.
The MINNESOTA VIKINGS look good, but Kirk Cousins isn't as good as advertised. Dalvin Cook is primed for a better season, but it likely won't be enough to overtake the other top two in their division.
The SEATTLE SEAHAWKS had a shockingly good season last year, but I think that losing their best wide receiver and a few talented defensive players won't help their case for making the playoffs. It's Russell Wilson and not much else out there. Maybe Chris Carson.
The BALTIMORE RAVENS have handed the keys to Lamar Jackson and he did very well in the drivers' seat, but the competition in the AFC is brutal. Their defense lost a considerable amount of talent.
WE'LL BE THERE, JUST NOT, YOU KNOW...THERE.:
The ATLANTA FALCONS are hands down the second-best team in the NFC South. They're likely to make the playoffs, but not go all the way. 28-3.
The CLEVELAND BROWNS will 100% be better than the previous year barring a massive setback. They're not poised to win the big game, but it could be a stepping stone with some magic this year.
The DALLAS COWBOYS made some noise last season that lead many to believe they'll be in the mix this season unless Ezekiel Elliot isn't there. Though, like Jerry Jones says, you don't need to have a rushing champion to win the Super Bowl. Be that as it may, it certainly helps get a team to the playoffs as well as general success as a whole.
The PITTSBURGH STEELERS show the entire league that if you have the right personnel and system in place, the replacement players can give a boost. James Conner proved that, and it looks like the rest of the Steelers' wide receivers will have to do the same this season. They're good enough to make the playoffs, but not win the whole enchilada.
The HOUSTON TEXANS look very talented on paper, but football games aren't played on fantasy fields. They can bring it all the way to the playoffs, but not over the hump.
Nine teams are a real contender. One will be the champion. Find out on Tuesday who I think takes Super Bowl 54.