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With the first week of the 2018 NFL preseason at our doorstep, hope for the coming campaign is at its pinnacle. Whenever a player or coach is asked about their expectations this time of year, the answer is almost always some variation of “our goal is the Super Bowl” or “we can win it all.”
Heck, even a member of the Cleveland Browns, who were winless last year, has already said he believes his squad can win the big one.
However, not every team is equipped to contend for a championship. Even those that have the pieces need a lot of things to break their way to lift the Lombardi Trophy.
With this in mind, we’re here to dive into each team’s chances of winning the 2018 Super Bowl. We’ll examine factors such as overall talent, coaching, injuries and competition level, then set odds for every franchise.
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren’t the NFL’s worst team last year, but they were close. The Bucs averaged 20.9 points per game (tied for 18th), produced a league-low 22 sacks and allowed an NFL-worst 260.6 passing yards per contest.
Tampa addressed its pass rush by adding Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul, but the defense’s back end is still a liability. Offensively, quarterback Jameis Winston will miss the first three weeks due to a personal-conduct-policy suspension. Considering the Buccaneers open against the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, this makes a 0-3 opening not only possible, but also likely.
A slow start in an NFC South that sent three teams to the postseason last year is a recipe for disaster. It also leaves the Buccaneers with little chance of sniffing Super Bowl LIII.
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The Arizona Cardinals’ poor odds shouldn’t be surprising. They have a new coaching staff, a lack of top-tier receiving and a looming competition between quarterbacks Sam Bradford and rookie Josh Rosen.
Arizona has talent, including one of the game’s most versatile running backs in David Johnson and the aging-but-still-productive wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who’s 34. The Cardinals went 8-8 last season even without Johnson. If he’s recovered from his wrist fracture and Arizona can get competent quarterback play, it should again be in the middle of the pack.
The NFC is loaded at the top, though, so while the Cardinals won’t be one of the NFL’s worst teams, their chance of competing for a championship is slim.
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The New York Jets weren’t a disaster in 2017, but they never threatened to rise above mediocrity. They finished with five wins, which is a fair projection for this season.
OddsShark has the over/under for New York set at six victories.
The Jets have more talent than they did a year ago. New pieces Isaiah Crowell and Terrelle Pryor should make the offense—which produced just 18.6 points per game (24th) last season—more explosive. But at some point, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold will take over.
Darnold has all the desired physical tools to be an NFL quarterback, but he’s unpolished, is careless with the ball and struggles to sense pressure in the pocket. He isn’t ready to lead a team to the postseason or past the New England Patriots, an AFC East rival the Jets have only beaten twice in the past five seasons.
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No, the Miami Dolphins aren’t expecting a new version of Ryan Tannehill. However, their season will hinge on whether the quarterback can be the version he was before suffering a torn ACL in August 2017. Tannehill (career passer rating of 86.5) was a serviceable starter, which gives Miami a fighting chance.
But the Dolphins won’t contend for a Super Bowl. Over the last year, they’ve traded their two best offensive players—Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry—and head coach Adam Gase is deservedly on the hot seat.
OddsShark gives Gase 15-2 odds to be the first coach fired this year—second only to Hue Jackson at 7-2.
The season may not be a nightmare for the Dolphins, but it should be all about deciding whether Tannehill and Gase will be part of the team’s future. Not so coincidentally, the future is where Miami’s Super Bowl aspirations belong.
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The Chicago Bears’ season will be all about developing second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Chicago took major steps this offseason to ensure he can, adding pass-catchers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Anthony Miller, and hiring former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as head coach.
The Bears should have little trouble improving last year’s passing offense, which averaged an NFL-low 175.7 yards per game. They may even improve on 2017’s 5-11 record.
Chicago is on the rise, but it isn’t positioned for a championship. The NFC North will be brutal this season, and the Bears are the least proven of its teams and have the least experienced quarterback by a large margin.
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If we were setting odds at the end of last season, the Buffalo Bills’ would’ve been much better. They won nine games and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. After the season, though, the Bills jettisoned the quarterback who helped end the playoff drought, Tyrod Taylor.
In 2018, Buffalo will rely on career backup AJ McCarron, second-year man Nathan Peterman or rookie first-rounder Josh Allen—most likely some combination of the group. Buffalo believes Allen is the future and that the Wyoming product has a higher ceiling than Taylor’s, but for 2018, its quarterback play will decline.
The Bills had to catch some breaks to even get into the postseason last year. With the quarterback position in flux, luck won’t be enough to get them there in 2018.
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Count Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis among those who believe his team can win a title in 2018.
“You coach in the National Football League to become world champions, and with this team we have the ability to do that,” Lewis said, per Geoff Hobson of the team’s official website.
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, Lewis’ return may be the biggest reason the Bengals won’t win the Super Bowl. Though he’s led them to the playoffs seven times, he hasn’t won a postseason game and has rarely come close.
While Lewis has given Cincinnati a sense of consistency over the last 15 years, he hasn’t built a winning culture. Don’t expect that to change in what could be his final year with the franchise.
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It’s finally looking like the Browns are set to end their decadeslong run of futility. Yes, they’ve won just one game over the last two years, but they’ve also spent the offseason making smart moves.
New general manager John Dorsey traded for a former Pro Bowl quarterback in Taylor, traded for a 2015 first-round defensive back in Damarious Randall and dealt for slot receiver extraordinaire Landry—all before the start of free agency. He also drafted a potential lockdown corner in Denzel Ward and a bruising running back in Nick Chubb.
Make no mistake: Cleveland will be a competitive team this season. It’s still at least a year away from being a contender, though, and may be dealing with a coaching change sooner than later.
OddsShark pegs Jackson as the favorite to be the coach who’s fired first in 2018.
Cleveland could make a shocking run at the postseason, but that’s the most Browns fans should dream about this year.
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There was a time when it seemed like the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl window would never close. That time is firmly in the rearview, however, as they head into a rebuilding year.
It’s always hard to bet against quarterback Russell Wilson, though, and he may still have enough magic to keep the Seahawks in playoff contention. However, he can’t do everything himself, and many of his familiar support pieces—such as receiver Paul Richardson and tight end Jimmy Graham—are gone.
Wilson may get help from rookie running back Rashaad Penny, but they’re still looking at a shaky offensive line and a revamped receiving corps. For a team that can no longer rely on an elite defense, this is a major problem.
If Wilson can carry Seattle even close to a championship, he’ll be a lock for league MVP.
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The San Francisco 49ers have become NFL darlings because of head coach Kyle Shanahan and potential franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“I don’t want to overstate this, but [Garoppolo] is the most compelling story in the NFL this year,” NBC Sports’ Peter King told KNBR’s Murph and Mac podcast.
We need to pump the brakes on the 49ers hype, though. San Francisco has plenty of holes—such as a pass rush that produced 30 sacks in 2017 (26th overall)—and Garoppolo still has just seven pro starts.
Do the 49ers have a bright future? Sure. Are they legitimate championship contenders? No, they’re not.
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The Washington Redskins will be competitive. They’ve had two winning seasons in the last three years and are coming off a respectable 7-9 campaign. They also drafted a potential franchise running back in LSU product Derrius Guice.
However, being competitive isn’t the same as challenging for a title. Washington’s chances of doing the latter are slim. There’s no guarantee new quarterback Alex Smith will be an improvement over Kirk Cousins, and the run defense—which allowed a league-high 134.1 yards per game last season—remains a question mark.
Most importantly, though, Washington resides in a competitive division that features the defending champs. The Redskins will face an uphill battle just to challenge for the NFC East crown.
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The Oakland Raiders have received plenty of offseason attention thanks to new head coach Jon Gruden. The 2002 Super Bowl winner has been away from the sidelines for a decade, but the Raiders lured him out of the broadcast booth.
The questions are if and how quickly Gruden can bring a winning culture to Oakland. He won’t make the Raiders title contenders in his first season, though.
There is talent there. We’ve seen what quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Amari Cooper can do. There are a lot of question marks, though. The secondary, which allowed 241.1 yards per game last season, remains a work in progress. So does the backfield, which is headlined by aging runners Doug Martin, 29, and Marshawn Lynch, 32.
Oh, and star pass-rusher Khalil Mack is still holding out for a new contract.
Expect the Raiders to take positive steps, but don’t expect them to make a serious Super Bowl run.
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The Indianapolis Colts will be a better team so long as quarterback Andrew Luck is back to his pre-injury form. His recovery from shoulder surgery is going well this offseason.
“My arm continues to feel stronger and stronger,” Luck said, per Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star.
But Luck’s return won’t fix all of the problems that pepper the team. He won’t, for example, improve a defense that logged 25 sacks (31st) and allowed 25.2 points per game (30th) last season.
Luck can carry a subpar team to the postseason. However, he can’t single-handedly compete with the top clubs in the conference, such as the AFC South-rival Jacksonville Jaguars—at least not all the way to the final showdown in Atlanta.
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The Denver Broncos are heavy long shots to win the Super Bowl, but a run wouldn’t be as surprising as it might sound for a team that’s coming off a 5-11 campaign. There are a few reasons.
Denver’s defense isn’t what it was when the team won the big one after the 2015 season. However, it still features strong cornerback duo Bradley Roby and Chris Harris Jr., and elite pass-rusher Von Miller. With rookie first-round pick Bradley Chubb opposite Miller, the Broncos could boast the NFL’s best pass rush.
Case Keenum should also provide an upgrade at quarterback. He helped lead the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game last year. If Denver won the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning‘s ghost at quarterback, then it isn’t ludicrous to think it can get back there with Keenum.
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There’s a lot to like about the Dallas Cowboys. They have a capable quarterback in Dak Prescott, an elite running back in Ezekiel Elliott and a top-tier pass-rusher in Demarcus Lawrence. However, there are also questions—most notably in the receiving corps.
For one, Dallas doesn’t know who Prescott’s go-to guy will be. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are both gone, and Prescott will have the likes of Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin and rookie Michael Gallup. If Prescott cannot develop chemistry quickly, he’s likely to play more like he did last season (86.6 passer rating) than he did as a rookie in 2016 (104.9).
If Prescott can return to form, the Cowboys might make a run. After all, they went 5-1 in the NFC East last season, only losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
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The Baltimore Ravens haven’t been to the postseason since 2014, but it would be foolish to rule them out.
Baltimore’s defense dealt with several injuries—losing Brent Urban and Jimmy Smith for the year, for example—and still allowed the sixth-fewest points in 2017 (18.9). It has a legitimate starting running back in Alex Collins and a quarterback in Joe Flacco who has lost some luster but who still has a Super Bowl MVP on his resume.
The Ravens are a championship long shot, but they’re always a threat in the AFC North and to make the postseason. If the receiving corps can come together and Flacco can find some of his former spark, Baltimore could be a threat in the conference.
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The Tennessee Titans might not be on most fans’ Super Bowl radars, but they aren’t that far away. They went 9-7 last year and won a playoff game. Now, they have a head coach in Mike Vrabel who knows what it takes to win a championship from his playing days in New England.
The key will be quarterback Marcus Mariota’s continued development. The Oregon product has shown flashes of greatness but hasn’t honed his skills as a downfield passer. Hopefully, 2017 No. 5 pick Corey Davis will emerge as a legitimate vertical threat.
The ground game should again be strong, as Dion Lewis replaces DeMarco Murray as Derrick Henry’s running mate. Competing with the Jaguars and the Luck-led Colts in the AFC South will be tough, but don’t count out Tennessee.
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If not for injuries, the Los Angels Chargers would have better odds. They finished just short of the playoffs last year at 9-7 and fell a play or two short of notching that important 10th win several times.
Four of Los Angeles’ seven losses came by a field goal or less.
The Chargers have a steady running back in Melvin Gordon, an elite quarterback in Philip Rivers and an underrated defense that allowed just 17 points per game a season ago, which was the third-lowest total in the NFL.
Unfortunately, the Chargers have already lost star tight end Hunter Henry (torn ACL) and cornerback Jason Verrett (torn Achilles) to season-ending injuries. This puts them a lap behind before the preseason even begins. L.A. will still be dangerous, though, and if the Chargers get hot late in the season like they did last year, the rest of the AFC will be on notice.
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The New York Giants won three games last season, but they might be Super Bowl sleepers in 2018.
With Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. healthy and with No. 2 pick Saquon Barkley in the backfield, the Giants might have the NFL’s most explosive offense. They’ll have two-time champion quarterback Eli Manning pulling the trigger and new left tackle Nate Solder blocking for him.
The question is whether the defense can regain some of the greatness it showed in 2016, when it allowed the league’s second-fewest points per game (17.8). It won’t be a cakewalk with star pass-rusher Pierre-Paul’s move to Tampa, but even an above-average defense would make the Giants dangerous.
Don’t be shocked if they at least make a run at the NFC East title.
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Perhaps more than any other team, the Houston Texans will have their year defined by health. In 2017, the Texans watched rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson go down with a season-ending Achilles injury, along with two of the NFL’s best defenders, J.J. Watt (back) and Whitney Mercilus (torn pectoral).
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this offseason.
Mercilus, Watt and Clowney are All-Pros. Watson looked like a legitimate franchise quarterback before his injury. If all are back to form, the Texans will be a force in the AFC South. They may even make a run at the Super Bowl, though challenging the Jaguars will be difficult.
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Perhaps because they play in the same division as the Green Bay Packers and Vikings, the Detroit Lions haven’t generated much playoff buzz. However, there are plenty of reasons to believe Detroit can make a run.
The Lions have made the postseason in two of the past four seasons, and they’re coming off a 9-7 campaign. They have Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback Matthew Stafford—the accolades aren’t there, but his numbers are—and with LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson added to the backfield, Detroit may finally have a functional running game.
A lot will depend on new head coach Matt Patricia and whether he can bring the Patriots’ hunger for success with him to the Motor City. Detroit may be a step below the NFC’s top teams, but it isn’t outlandish to envision a Lions run at the Lombardi Trophy.
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If the Kansas City Chiefs are going to reach the Super Bowl, they’ll have to answer two questions: Can Patrick Mahomes adequately replace Smith at quarterback, and can the defense figure out how to stop opponents when it matters?
Smith may not be the most exciting signal-caller, but he was steady and produced 4,042 passing yards in 15 games last season. Mahomes is a second-year pro with one NFL start and will operate the offense sans Nagy.
It could be a rough transition.
The defense should get a boost from Eric Berry, who’s returning from an Achilles injury, but this is still a unit that surrendered a whopping 365.1 yards per game last season, which was the fifth-most in the league. There’s a ton of offensive talent here, but if the defense doesn’t improve, Kansas City will be looking at another early playoff exit.
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Football fans should cheer for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ return. He is one of the most exciting players to watch and perhaps the most gifted signal-caller to ever play the game. And he can take a mediocre roster back to the postseason.
However, a lot will have to break Green Bay’s way for him to lift the Packers to the Super Bowl. The new-look secondary will have to click, new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will have to provide a significant improvement over Dom Capers, and the team will have to find an effective running game.
Oh, and the Packers will have to get past the Vikings, who are one of the NFL’s most complete squads.
Green Bay has a puncher’s chance with No. 12 at the helm, though, and the season will be more intriguing with his collarbone healed.
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The Carolina Panthers should be getting more Super Bowl hype than they are. They’re just three years removed from an appearance in the big game, coming off an 11-5 campaign and feature one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the game, Cam Newton.
The Panthers also boast a defense that allowed just 317.1 yards per contest last season (No. 7 overall).
If Carolina’s passing game can take a slight step forward, the Panthers should be right back in the championship mix. This is the challenge new offensive coordinator Norv Turner faces. Rookie first-round receiver DJ Moore should help, but it will be up to Turner to unlock Newton’s full passing potential.
If the quarterback returns to MVP form, Carolina will be challenging in January.
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The Atlanta Falcons’ chances of landing the Lombardi will hinge on the growth of Steve Sarkisian’s offense in year two. In 2016, when the Falcons averaged a whopping 33.8 points per game, the offense was virtually unstoppable.
Last season, Atlanta’s offensive output dropped to 22.1 points per game. The Falcons were still a playoff team, but they weren’t the same scoring force. Fortunately, rookie receiver Calvin Ridley and another year of seasoning for Sarkisian could get Atlanta back to its 2016 form.
“Sark is a lot more comfortable with the personnel, knowing what guys to use in certain situations, and I think that just comes with experience,” quarterback Matt Ryan said, per the team’s official website.
The Falcons have a chance of winning the Super Bowl, though the presence of the Saints and Panthers in the NFC South will pose a challenge.
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When it comes to raw talent, there isn’t a better team in the AFC than the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, there are reasons they aren’t higher on this list.
At 36, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is another year older, the defense is without star linebacker Ryan Shazier because of a spinal injury, and there’s no telling when running back Le’Veon Bell will return from his holdout or what kind of shape he’ll be in once he gets there.
Pittsburgh also seems to have some sort of mental hurdle regarding the Jaguars and Patriots. It lost to Jacksonville twice last year and has lost to New England in its last five tries.
If the Steelers can figure out how to get past those teams—they’ll play both—they can represent the AFC in Atlanta.
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The Jaguars are facing some questions.
Can running back Leonard Fournette continue to be the team’s offensive centerpiece? Can quarterback Blake Bortles finally be the quarterback Jacksonville drafted him to be? Will the new-look receiving corps—now featuring Donte Moncrief and DJ Chark Jr. instead of Robinson and Hurns—be an improvement?
As perhaps the most talented team in the league, though, the Jaguars don’t have many other questions. They came within a few plays of knocking off the Patriots and making an appearance in Super Bowl LII.
The biggest question is whether Jacksonville can take that last step toward the big one. For now, the Jaguars have to be considered one of the favorites in the AFC.
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The New Orleans Saints fell one play short of reaching the NFC title game last season. There’s little reason to think they can’t make a deep playoff run again.
New Orleans boasts the reigning Defensive and Co-Offensive Rookies of the Year, Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara, respectively. It has an improving defense that allowed just 20.4 points per game last season (10th). It also has future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.
The Saints will be without running back Mark Ingram for the season’s first month because of a performance-enhancing-drug-related suspension, but there is enough offensive talent to overcome.
The road won’t be easy, of course. The Saints have stiff competition both in the NFC South and at the top of the conference. However, all the pieces are in place for New Orleans to challenge the Eagles for a ticket to the Super Bowl.
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The Rams were the breakout stars of 2017. They had an MVP candidate in running back Todd Gurley, an opportunistic defense that racked up 48 sacks and 18 interceptions and a quarterback in Jared Goff who lived up to his status as 2016’s No. 1 overall draft pick.
Los Angeles added more weapons—notably, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib—this offseason. If the Rams can get star defensive tackle Aaron Donald on the field, they’ll have as good a chance as anyone of unseating the Eagles in the NFC.
Donald has been holding out of camp for a new contract, though the Rams don’t appear too concerned.
“You want Aaron here, but the thing you know about Aaron is that when he gets here, he will be in shape,” general manager Les Snead said, per Jarrett Bell of USA Today.
Expect the Rams to be in the Super Bowl conversation all season.
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The Vikings came within a game of reaching the Super Bowl last year by having one of the league’s most balanced rosters. Their offense averaged the 10th-most points (23.9), while the defense allowed an NFL-low 15.8 points per game. Minnesota may be even better on both sides of the ball.
Drafting cornerback Mike Hughes in the first round should help bolster a secondary that finally broke down against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. Getting running back Dalvin Cook back from a torn ACL should add explosiveness to the running game.
If Cousins and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo can adapt to their new surroundings quickly, Minnesota should be ready to challenge Philadelphia in the conference.
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There’s no getting around the fact that the Patriots have issues. They’re looking to rebuild a defense that allowed the fourth-most yards in the NFL last season (366.0 per game), they lost defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, they’ll be without wideout Julian Edelman for the first month of the season after he failed a PED test, and quarterback Tom Brady is 41 and could be nearing the end.
Still, there’s a lot to be said for experience, and the Patriots know how to win.
As long as Bill Belichick is running the show and Brady is playing at his typically high level, the Patriots will vie for a Super Bowl berth. In terms of overall talent, both the Steelers and Jaguars are ahead of the Patriots, but until either learns how to knock off the Pats, New England will remain the king of the AFC.
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Unlike most teams, the Eagles won’t have their season defined by the Week 1 health of their starting QB. This is a big reason the defending Super Bowl champions are the favorites.
Philadelphia has proved it can win with backup Nick Foles under center. What’s important is the Eagles have Carson Wentz back for the end of the season and the playoffs.
Wentz is an upper-echelon quarterback. He was a legitimate MVP candidate before tearing his ACL in Week 14 last season, and the Eagles offense will be even more dangerous in the playoffs with him at the helm. The real challenge for Philadelphia will be adjusting to the target on its back. According to head coach Doug Pederson, though, it won’t be much of a problem.
“We’re going to take it one week at a time and build the season just like we did last year,” Pederson said, per NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Expect the Eagles to remain the favorites if Wentz can return to form.