Now that we’ve all had a day to reflect upon the Super Bowl, it’s time to start turning the page and look forward to next year’s Super Bowl. What better way to do that than with a way-too-early list of the top-10 Super Bowl contenders for next season. Heading into the offseason, here are the top-10 picks to win next year’s Super Bowl:
10. New York Giants – After two straight bad seasons, Tom Coughlin’s Giants are due to bounce back and make another run at a Super Bowl. Keep in mind that they did win seven of their final 10 games in 2013, and that was without playing particularly well, so imagine what they can do if they get their act together. The G-Men have a lot of problems, but if they draft well and Eli Manning can have a bounce back season, Coughlin knows how to put his team in position to get to the playoffs, where they’ve had a lot of success in recent years.
9. New England – The Patriots need to get Tom Brady some help around him, but New England has some promising young talent on defense that should help take some pressure off Brady, who got the team to the AFC Championship Game this season, even without much help around him. If the Patriots can add some weapons on offense and round out their defense this offseason, the window to reach the Super Bowl is still open.
8. Chicago – The Chicago defense was dreadful last season, but even with that holding them back and the injury to Jay Cutler the Bears were one game away from the playoffs. Cutler is now signed long term and having Marc Trestman around should help make him better, and on top of that, he has two elite wide receivers to throw to in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. If the Bears can improve their defense to the point where it’s anywhere close to average, Cutler and his receivers could carry the team a long way.
7. Carolina – The Panthers had one of the top defenses in the NFL this year, and they should have one of the best in the league again next year. They also have a young quarterback that made huge strides in 2013 and should continue to get better. What Carolina needs is more experience, especially playing in big games, and they got some of that this season, despite losing their first playoff game. The Panthers still have a few good teams in the NFC to leap over, but they’re in good shape heading into 2014 and should be a contender once again.
6. Denver – Unless Peyton Manning retires, the Broncos should still be considered one of the top favorites in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl. Even though there’s a chance that they’ll lose both Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker in free agency, they should get Ryan Clady and Dan Koppen back from injury on the offensive line, as well as Von Miller and several other key defensive players that missed important parts of the 2013 season due to injury. Denver’s drubbing in the Super Bowl won’t be easy to bounce back from, but they recovered from their painful loss to Baltimore the previous season, so they shouldn’t be deterred by the way their season ended.
5. New Orleans – The Saints faded late in the season, but Sean Payton and Drew Brees are still a winning combination. Whether New Orleans will be able to keep free agent tight end Jimmy Graham remains to be seen, but they don’t have any other free agents that are irreplaceable, so their roster is in good shape. Payton and Brees will find a way to put a lot of points on the board, even if they don’t have Graham, and that will ensure that the Saints remain a contending team in 2014.
4. Green Bay – Give Green Bay a healthy Aaron Rodgers for a full season and the Packers will certainly be a team capable of reaching the Super Bowl. They have some areas that need improvement, but a healthy Rodgers, a healthy Randall Cobb, and the reigning offensive rookie of the year at running back in Eddie Lacy will five the Packers quite a formidable offense, and put them in the Super Bowl conversation.
3. Indianapolis – If you saw Andrew Luck play this season, especially late in the year, you know that he’s just about ready to take that next step, leap frog Brady and Manning, and take his team to the Super Bowl. Luck ultimately adjusted to the absence of Reggie Wayne in the second half of the season, which bodes well moving forward, while the Colts have another offseason to re-make their defense and give Luck more support. If Luck can get a little more help around him, he has a chance to take Indianapolis to the Super Bowl.
2. Seattle – It’s always tough to repeat, but the Seahawks have the youngest roster in football, and obviously it’s a roster that’s brimming with confidence after winning this year’s Super Bowl. They don’t have to worry about losing many key players in free agency, they have a quarterback that they trust, and they could have a healthy Percy Harvin for the entire season, all of which gives Seattle a great chance to get back to the Super Bowl again next year.
1. San Francisco – After playing in three straight NFC Championship Games, one would think the 49ers are bound to win a Super Bowl at some point. They bring back one of the most talented rosters in football, and have a quarterback that might have one of the highest ceilings in the league. There isn’t much to separate Seattle from San Francisco at this point, except perhaps a little more motivation for the 49ers, which could give them the edge they need in 2014.