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Barnwell: How all 32 NFL teams can win Super Bowl LIV

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Saints, Chiefs, Eagles among Super Bowl picks (1:43)

The NFL Live crew predicts who will win the Super Bowl this season. (1:43)

You're probably reading a lot of Super Bowl predictions right about now. The 2019 NFL season is about to start, and with it comes a barrage of Super Bowl picks. Invariably, about 95% of those suggestions will come down to one of five teams, with the other 5% chalked up to trendy selections and the occasional trolling effort. When you only get one choice, you're going to choose one of the favorites.

Of course, even if you think a team like the Patriots is most likely to win, the best predictions likely include a range of outcomes. The Patriots might be your most likely candidate, but it's also unrealistic to think they have a 100% shot of winning the Super Bowl. Do you think they're at 15%? Perhaps 25% or 50%? Is there a sleeper who most people think has no shot of winning the Super Bowl, only for you to peg them around 5%? The 2017 Eagles might have been that team for a lot of people, and their long shot came through even after losing Carson Wentz.

Every year, as we approach the beginning of the NFL season, I try to think about the Super Bowl in a different way. Instead of figuring out the single most likely team to win an NFL title, I try to figure out the most plausible path for each of the league's 32 teams to claim the sport's biggest prize. Some are virtually impossible to fathom. For many of the league's cellar-dwellers, it almost always involved serious injuries to one or more adjacent quarterbacks. I don't want anybody to get injured, but let's face it: The Dolphins aren't winning the Super Bowl if Tom Brady is his usual self.

So let's go team-by-team and see what it would take for each organization to make it to -- and through -- Super Bowl LIV. The most important part of any championship run is simply making it to the playoffs, given just how crazy the actual playoffs can be, so I've focused on how each team can manufacture a division title and/or a playoff bye for themselves. Each situation takes place in its own universe, so what I mentioned in the Bengals section, for instance, doesn't apply anywhere else. If these seem crazy, well, just refer to some of the ridiculous real-life experiences I mention in the blurbs below as a reminder that the real NFL has totally unexpected events occur each and every season.

Even saying that, I'll admit that my starting point -- the league's longest Super Bowl chances per ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) -- is a bit of a stretch.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE
NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

32. Miami Dolphins

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: Less than 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 3.9%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +30000

OK, I understand why you're yelling. The Dolphins aren't going to win the Super Bowl. They are in a division with the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and just traded two of their best offensive players. The only person who doesn't realize that Miami is tanking for a college quarterback such as Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa is coach Brian Flores. FPI thinks the Dolphins are more likely to go 0-16 than they are to win Super Bowl LIV at their home stadium.

The Dolphins, though, are the best reminder of just how haywire something that seems obvious in the preseason can go once the season actually begins. Go back to 2007, when the Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season and came within one helmet catch of posting a perfect season. Under the stewardship of first-year head coach Cam Cameron, Miami went 1-15 and finished with the worst record in football. It would have been absolutely bonkers to suggest that Miami would win the AFC East in 2008.

And yet, that's exactly what happened. The Patriots lost Brady in Week 1 to a torn ACL, and the Dolphins rode the Wildcat and a 7-2 record in games decided by seven points or less to a division title. Those Dolphins lost in the wild-card round to the Ravens, but something that would have seemed absurd before the season turned out to be exactly what happened during the campaign.

To get the Dolphins to win their division and fall into the Super Bowl, you're probably going to need Brady to either suffer an injury or fall off catastrophically at age 42. If the Jets fail to realize their potential under Adam Gase and the Bills can't do anything with Josh Allen at quarterback, the division -- at least theoretically -- would be wide open. Miami has one of the least-imposing offensive lines in recent memory after trading Laremy Tunsil, but it has talent along the defensive line and in the secondary. Josh Rosen is essentially a lottery ticket at this point, but lottery tickets hit sometimes, right? The 2008 Dolphins illuminate the difference between incredibly improbable and impossible.


31. Washington

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: Less than 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 8%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +20000

I think there's a much larger leap in probability between the Dolphins and Washington than the numbers might indicate. There's a huge disparity in terms of talent between the two teams. Washington has a legitimate offensive line with one star, Brandon Scherff, and a second, Trent Williams, holding out. (Williams probably has to return sometime in September for this scenario to play out.) Jay Gruden's defense was 20th in DVOA last season, but it has three first-round picks along the D-line in Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat to go with stars such as pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan, cornerback Josh Norman and free-agent addition Landon Collins at safety. A healthy Washington defense could be above average.

There's also the possibility of an upgrade at quarterback with first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, who would have to catch fire and play at a high level for Washington to win its division and get into prime position for a playoff run after taking over for Week 1 starter Case Keenum. With the Cowboys facing a likely decline and the Eagles one Wentz injury away from starting 40-year-old Josh McCown at quarterback, Washington is likely to require an injury to a division rival and a hot stretch from its inexperienced quarterback to sprint into a deep playoff run.


30. Arizona Cardinals

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: Less than 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 3.6%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +15000

Speaking of inexperienced quarterbacks! Kyler Murray threw just 519 passes over three seasons in college, but his brilliant performance under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma in 2018 was enough to propel him to a Heisman Trophy. We saw how great Baker Mayfield looked for the Browns last season, although the needle really only moved for the 2018 No. 1 overall pick after the Browns fired Hue Jackson and Todd Haley and installed Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator.

Mayfield and the Browns were 5-3 with Gregg Williams as coach, and if the Cardinals are similarly effective with the duo of Murray and Kliff Kingsbury, they'll be in line to make the playoffs in the NFC. Arizona will miss the suspended cornerback Patrick Peterson for six weeks, but it was competent on defense (17th in DVOA) last season and it has the potential to be explosive on offense.

The Cardinals will need the division in front of them to clear out, but we could have said that about the AFC North last year, only to see the Steelers fall off and miss the playoffs and the Ravens require late-season heroics from Lamar Jackson to win the division. If they can get home-field advantage, the Cardinals will get plenty of home support; they're 4-0 at home in the playoffs since moving to Arizona.


29. Cincinnati Bengals

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: Less than 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 11.2%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +12500

For the teams ranked 32nd to 30th, a quarterback is the wild card who might propel the team to unexpected heights. For the Bengals, that X factor is 36-year-old Zac Taylor, their new coach. Taylor might very well just be a replacement-level coach who happened to fall into a seat next to Sean McVay, but remember that the Rams were listed at +10000 to win the Super Bowl two years ago before they went 11-5 and won the West.

McVay breathed life into a moribund franchise dulled by years of mediocrity under Jeff Fisher. Could Taylor do the same for a Bengals team that collapsed into anonymity in the last days of Marvin Lewis?

I'd feel more confident if the Bengals were healthier, given that the NFL's fifth-most injured team from 2018 already has lost rookie first-round offensive tackle Jonah Williams (shoulder) for the year and has both tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion) and wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) out indefinitely. It might be better to hope for a drastic improvement from the defense, which faced the toughest schedule of opposing offenses in the league last season and returns one of the league's deepest lines. Every team ahead of the Bengals in the AFC North has red flags; the Bengals are no exception, but their core is underrated and has a higher ceiling than most remember.


28. New York Giants

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: Less than 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 6.5%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +7500

Like Washington, the Giants are hoping to ride a possible Wentz injury and a decline from the Cowboys to an unlikely division title and playoff run. Their offensive game plan won't exactly be modern, given that the avowed plan is to get the ball to Saquon Barkley and hope for the second-year back to do something magical, but they should have a much-improved offensive line after adding guard Kevin Zeitler. New York has the possibility of a massive improvement at quarterback with Daniel Jones, who looked fantastic in the preseason and won't need to do much to improve upon the 38-year-old Eli Manning.

The most significant hole for the Giants is at pass-rusher, where the depth chart is led by the likes of Lorenzo Carter, Kareem Martin and former Cardinals standout Markus Golden. Carter flashed as a rookie, and Golden is just two years removed from a 12.5-sack campaign with Arizona. The Giants have to get one or more of those edge rushers to deliver a career season to build a competent defense. Remember that the 2011 Giants won a Super Bowl while being outscored by six points during the regular season; this is a franchise that has won its past two championships by sticking around and then getting hot at the right time.


27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 8.2%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +10000

Tampa Bay is one of the teams I expect to improve in 2019, in part because it's virtually impossible for its defense to be worse than it was in 2018. The Bucs were beaten up by injuries and were epically awful in the red zone. Over the past four years, they've been three standard deviations below the mean on field goal attempts. I'd project them to be below average in those categories in 2019. If they can get lucky and finish above average in those categories this season, they have the potential to get good quickly.

The logic, of course, is that the Bucs should be good on offense with their weapons and the arrival of coach Bruce Arians, who has built great passing attacks at virtually every one of his recent stops. It's difficult to see them thriving to the point where they win the NFC South, as the Saints are expected to contend for a Super Bowl and both the Falcons and Panthers are likely to improve. In a scenario in which Drew Brees falls off with age and Cam Newton struggles to stay healthy, though, the Bucs could land on top in a division in which each team wins eight to 10 games. And if the offense lives up to expectations, no team is going to want to play a Bucs squad capable of going for 40-plus points any week in January. Could they be the 2016 Falcons?


26. Oakland Raiders

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 8%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +6000

No less of an authority than our Louis Riddick has pegged the Raiders as his surprise team for 2019. Given Riddick's track record, we should be paying closer attention to what the Raiders are capable of doing in 2019. It's clear that Jon Gruden is building his offense around the line to try to protect quarterback Derek Carr, though the additions of wide receivers Antonio Brown (who could be suspended) and Tyrell Williams certainly will give options to the embattled quarterback.

A young, deep secondary could coalesce quicker than we expect now that Oakland might have something more than an embryonic pass rush. It still has to get past the juggernaut in Kansas City, but with the Chargers already beset by missing contributors, it might just take one inconsistent or injury-riddled season from Patrick Mahomes to get the Raiders to the top of the AFC West.

Tom Brady launched his career -- and ended Gruden's first run with the Raiders -- with a playoff upset in Foxborough. Could Gruden flip the story and return the favor 18 years later?


25. Buffalo Bills

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 0.3%
Chance to make the playoffs: 20.3%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +8000

The Bills had a playoff-caliber defense in 2018, as Tre'Davious White & Co. overcame a slow start to finish second in DVOA. The offense didn't hold up its end of the bargain, finishing with the league's second-worst DVOA. The good news is that Buffalo returns every one of its key contributors on defense and it upgraded across the board on offense, adding as many as eight new starters around wide receiver Zay Jones, left tackle Dion Dawkins and second-year quarterback Josh Allen.

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2:07

Berry ranks Singletary highest among Bills RBs

Matthew Berry explains why he ranks Devin Singletary highest of the Bills' remaining running backs in the wake of LeSean McCoy being released by Buffalo.

If the added talent sparks a dramatic improvement in Allen, the Bills should be a wild-card team. Winning the division probably would require some step backward from Brady, but if the Bills can somehow wrest home-field advantage from the Patriots and host a playoff game or two for the first time since 1996, Sean McDermott's team should be in great shape. The Bills are 9-1 at home in the postseason since the merger but just 3-13 away from Western New York.


24. Denver Broncos

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 0.3%
Chance to make the playoffs: 18.1%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +8000

The Broncos have their own fortress a mile high in Denver, where they've gone 17-5 in the postseason since the merger. When you look at organizations with 10 postseason games played both at home and on the road since 1970, no team has enjoyed a larger home-field advantage than the Broncos, who have been 10.6 points better in front of their own fans than in front of the opposition's. A deep Broncos playoff run probably involves a game or two in Colorado.

The league's fifth-ranked defense by DVOA returns its key pass-rush duo of Bradley Chubb and Von Miller; and while nobody is enthused by Joe Flacco under center, we all know what he has done in the playoffs in years past. The concern here is getting past the Chiefs and Mahomes to win the division, given how much it would help Denver's chances; if anyone has an answer for Andy Reid's team, it's new Broncos coach Vic Fangio.


23. Detroit Lions

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 0.4%
Chance to make the playoffs: 17.4%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +7500

The Lions didn't impress during the preseason, as they are one of only two teams (Jacksonville) to go winless in their four exhibition games. Of course, I wouldn't count on that meaning much; last preseason saw four teams start their years 0-4, and those four -- the Cowboys, Falcons, Seahawks and Titans -- proceeded to go a combined 36-28 during the regular season, with two of the four making the postseason.

Numbers suggest the Lions should be better this season, and they made a few key personnel additions. Matt Patricia's defense finished 27th in DVOA, but it has swapped out an injured pass-rusher, Ziggy Ansah, for Trey Flowers and signed defensive tackle Mike Daniels and cornerback Justin Coleman. The offense should fit toward the personnel strengths of the team and new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, after the team signed tight end Jesse James and drafted T.J. Hockenson -- another tight end -- with a first-round pick. If running back Kerryon Johnson can stay healthy, the Lions don't really have any weaknesses on offense beyond left guard.

How will the Lions make it past the rest of the NFC North to earn a division title? On paper, it sure seems tough to believe that the Lions will top the Bears, Packers and Vikings. Then again, this time last year, who expected the Bears to make the same sort of jump and win the North, let alone by 3.5 wins? The Lions start with a brutally difficult schedule after their opener against Arizona, as they play the Chargers, Eagles and Chiefs before an early bye. If they can get to the bye at 2-2, they're going to be in better shape than their record seems.


22. New York Jets

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 0.6%
Chance to make the playoffs: 29.6%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +6000

This is a simple one. The Jets are hoping -- maybe even expecting -- Sam Darnold will enjoy the sort of second-year breakout that Carson Wentz went through before tearing his ACL in 2017. The Eagles helped Wentz break out by making major additions on both sides of the ball that offseason, and while you can take issues with some of their price tags, the Jets have added talented veterans in running back Le'Veon Bell, linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Ryan Kalil, as well as a quarterback-friendly coach, Adam Gase.

The Jets are a trendy wild-card pick, and while I'm typically not on board with that sort of team (see: the 2018 49ers), the numbers back a boost for the Jets. Home-field advantage is a big ask given the presence of the Patriots, but both Gase and the Jets have been a thorn in Bill Belichick's side in years past. It seems too early for the Jets, but who would have said the Eagles were about to win the Super Bowl with Wentz -- let alone with backup Nick Foles filling in -- before 2017?


21. Indianapolis Colts

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 0.6%
Chance to make the playoffs: 24%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +4500

Obviously, the Colts are in a different ballpark after Andrew Luck retired. They were favorites to win the AFC South and 15-1 to win the Super Bowl before Luck's stunning retirement, but the good news is that there's a logical way for them to regain their previous stature. Many onlookers were reasonably high on the Colts' roster around Luck before the retirement, and while quarterback Jacoby Brissett is likely to be a downgrade, there's always a chance Brissett plays at a similar level. The ex-Patriots passer played like an upper-echelon backup in 2017, but with a better offensive line and a year to learn under Frank Reich, he has a shot at drastically improving on his prior marks.

Indy also signed Brian Hoyer earlier this week, which improves its floor if Brissett struggles or gets injured. With 10 first- or second-round picks drafted by general manager Chris Ballard on the roster and a wide-open AFC South ripe for the taking, the Colts easily could make their way back onto the playoff radar. The 1999 Rams loom as a team that lost its quarterback in August and seemed to be left for dead, only for a great coaching staff and talent around the roster to help an inexperienced quarterback -- a 28-year-old with 11 career pass attempts by the name of Kurt Warner -- unlock his full potential.


20. San Francisco 49ers

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 1.2%
Chance to make the playoffs: 34.1%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +4000

The 49ers coincidentally track as this year's Colts, a team with underlying numbers projecting improvement that got (virtually) nothing out of their expensive starting quarterback the prior season. Jimmy Garoppolo has had an uneven preseason, but my suspicion is that he'll be fine by the end of September after getting reps against meaningful NFL pass rushes. It helps that the 49ers start with the Bucs, Bengals and Steelers before hitting their bye.

Garoppolo almost surely will start more than three games, and the 49ers should be much-improved on defense after acquiring Dee Ford and Nick Bosa to rebuild their pass rush. They'll also have more than two interceptions, their total for the entirety of 2018. They seem buried in the NFC West behind the Rams and Seahawks, but the Rams are one of the league's most likely teams to decline, and the Seahawks rode an unsustainably effective defense on third downs and in the red zone to a playoff berth.

The 49ers are probably the best surprise-division-winner pick in the league, which could propel them to a 2016 Falcons-esque run in January.


19. Tennessee Titans

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 1.4%
Chance to make the playoffs: 35.2%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +5000

Mike Vrabel's team has a right to feel disrespected. The Titans ranked last in terms of Super Bowl odds in the AFC South until the Luck retirement, despite the fact that they were one Blaine Gabbert Week 17 start away from making the playoffs last season. Tennessee has been difficult to figure out from week to week, but this is a team that beat the Eagles, Patriots and post-Amari Cooper-trade Cowboys by a combined 41 points last season. Over the past three seasons, the only team with more regular-season wins over playoff teams than the Titans' 11 is the Patriots. Tennessee's best is great.

Of course, the Titans have one playoff berth and one playoff win to show for three consecutive 9-7 seasons. The goal has to be capturing Tennessee's top-level form for a lengthier stretch of the season, something that likely would require a healthy campaign from quarterback Marcus Mariota and a steady offensive game plan for a team that seems to fall in and out of love with its weapons. General manager Jon Robinson rebuilt this defense's pass rush over the offseason, with the Titans now turning to Cameron Wake and 2018 second-rounder Harold Landry as their starting edge rushers. If they can survive the early-season suspension of star left tackle Taylor Lewan, they should be competitive in a wide-open AFC South.


18. Carolina Panthers

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 1.6%
Chance to make the playoffs: 35.1%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +5000

The Panthers consistently have played like an above-average team over the past six seasons, with their record fluctuating almost entirely as a product of their performance in close games and the health of quarterback Cam Newton. After the Panthers went 2-7 in one-score games last season while Newton battled with an ailing shoulder, Carolina should expect to be better in close games and get a healthier Newton post-surgery. The foot injury Newton suffered during preseason doesn't appear likely to bother the former league MVP into Week 1.

Is Carolina well-positioned to rule the NFC South? Perhaps. The Panthers certainly didn't have the sexiest offseason in the league, but after adding serious depth on both sides of the ball, they might be the second-deepest team along the line of scrimmage in the NFC after the Eagles. If the Saints do slip, Carolina is better positioned to pounce and win 11 games than the Falcons, who did nothing to address a defense that was problematic even before injuries dragged them down in 2018. Carolina's depth should play up deep into the winter.


17. Jacksonville Jaguars

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 1.7%
Chance to make the playoffs: 35.8%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +3000

It seems impossible that the Jaguars were one quarter away from beating the Patriots and going to the Super Bowl less than two years ago, but after blowing a 10-point lead in the final quarter of the 2017 AFC Championship Game, Jacksonville collapsed last season. Its dominant defense only slipped mildly, falling from first to sixth in DVOA, but the Jaguars' attempt to build their offense around the running game collapsed amid injuries and subpar play from quarterback Blake Bortles, who finally was dumped after the season.

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Berry: Foles-to-Westbrook connection is strong

Matthew Berry thinks WR Dede Westbrook is a great pickup, noting the strong connection he has with the Jags' new QB, Nick Foles.

The case here is pretty simple, right? We know what Nick Foles is capable of doing. Upgrade from Bortles to Foles, let that incredible defense do its thing, hope for a resurgence (or perhaps merely a surgence) from running back Leonard Fournette and get back into double-digit wins.

I'm skeptical Foles will stay healthy or productive long enough for that to happen, but with former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo in the fold as offensive coordinator, Foles should have more help than he did under Jeff Fisher during his brief tenure with the Rams. The retirement of Luck only further clears Jacksonville's path to the AFC South, and I don't need to remind you of what can happen if you give Foles a playoff opportunity.


16. Seattle Seahawks

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 1.8%
Chance to make the playoffs: 39%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +3000

The biggest hole on the Seahawks roster heading into Week 1 seemed to be on the edge after the team traded Frank Clark and lost free-agent addition Ezekiel Ansah and rookie first-round pick L.J. Collier to short-term injuries. Now, suddenly, Seattle has Jadeveon Clowney. Once Ansah and Collier get back into game shape, defensive end should actually be a plus position here. The secondary still looms with young players virtually everywhere, but if anyone in the league can coach up young defensive backs, it's Pete Carroll.

Now, the most obvious weakness for Seattle seems to be at receiver, where somebody will need to step up behind Tyler Lockett. If the Rams slip, the Seahawks would consider themselves the best-positioned team to take advantage and win the NFC West. It's tough to see the Seahawks getting to 12 wins and claiming home-field advantage throughout the postseason, but the best path for Seattle is somehow getting two playoff games at home to take advantage of its raucous crowd.


15. Baltimore Ravens

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 1.9%
Chance to make the playoffs: 40.3%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +4500

The Ravens would expect to pursue a remarkably similar path to the Seahawks. Run the ball effectively, lean on a dominant defense and benefit from what has historically been excellent home-field advantage. There's a little more uncertainty with Baltimore, though, given that it appears set to employ the league's most run-heavy scheme behind second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and has lost several key defensive starters, including middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and pass-rusher Terrell Suggs.

No team manages to develop defensive players like the Ravens, though, and they might face an easier path to their division title and a possible first-round bye than the Seahawks, given the top-heavy nature of the AFC. The Ravens went 6-1 with Jackson as their starter following the bye last season, with their only loss coming in overtime to the Chiefs after Jackson went down injured. To get a top-two seed, the Ravens probably need 16 games from Jackson and one of Brady or Mahomes to slip.


14. Cleveland Browns

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 2%
Chance to make the playoffs: 46%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +1400

You'll note the drastic gap between the Browns' chances per FPI and from the bettors at Caesars. After you adjust for the vigorish of each team's odds, the Browns' implied Super Bowl odds at Caesars stand at 5%. Only one team in the NFL has a larger gap between its FPI projection and its implied chances at Caesars, and we'll get to that team a little later.

I'd argue that FPI is underestimating the impact of adding players such as wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., edge rusher Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. On the flip side, I suspect that the Browns are likely a little overhyped in the public, given that they weren't exactly dominant last season. Cleveland went 7-8-1, and even if you want to throw away the Hue Jackson-led first half, it was 5-3 while outscoring opponents by a total of eight points, which is basically .500 football. The Browns' wins over that time came almost exclusively against teams that were destroyed by injuries (Atlanta, Carolina, Denver and Cincinnati twice), and they lost to three playoff teams -- the Chiefs, Texans and Ravens -- by a combined 34 points.

Leaving that aside, the Browns should be able to raise their baseline level of play this season, especially given their additions on both sides of the ball. Finishing third in the AFC North also makes their schedule easier; while the Ravens face the Texans and Chiefs and the Steelers get the Colts and Chargers, Cleveland will see the Titans and Broncos. In a division that could end up being decided by one game between the three teams at the top, that slightly easier schedule alone might make the difference.

The Browns are a higher-variance team than just about any other team in football. They have highly drafted young players such as quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, cornerback Denzel Ward and pass-rusher Myles Garrett, each of whom might very well be capable of becoming one of the top players at their respective positions in 2019. (Garrett isn't far off already.) There's a chance the Browns disappoint under the expectations and we look back at 2019 as a consolidation year before they make a push in 2020, but there might not be a team in the NFL with more obvious upside at key positions than this one.


13. Dallas Cowboys

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 2.4%
Chance to make the playoffs: 47.5%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +1500

The Cowboys are another team whose chances look more promising in the sportsbook than the simulation. They're tied with the Rams for the eighth-shortest odds at Caesars, which is no surprise given their massive fan base and the confidence surrounding their core of talent. As I wrote in my teams likely to decline column, though, history suggests the Cowboys won't be as effective in close games and should take a step back in 2019.

If they're going to be the exception to the rule, the Cowboys will need a healthy season from their offensive line, which would include a return to form from star center Travis Frederick after missing all of 2018 while battling Guillain-Barré syndrome. With running back Ezekiel Elliott signed to a new deal and the Cowboys bringing back just about everyone of note from last season, Jason Garrett's team could be one of the league's best if its core stays healthy. Dallas has built around a stars-and-scrubs approach for the past 15 years, with the high points -- 2007, 2014 and 2016 -- coming when its best players have mostly stayed healthy. This season should be no different.


12. Green Bay Packers

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 2.5%
Chance to make the playoffs: 43.6%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +1800

The arguments get more and more plausible as we approach the teams with better odds, and imagining the Packers as Super Bowl contenders doesn't require much imagination. Aaron Rodgers is on the roster, and with Matt LaFleur coming in as coach, the hope is that the Packers will employ a more modern offense to rely less on Rodgers improvising. Naturally, he'll need to stay healthy for the Packers to do their thing.

What's more important, realistically, is improvement from a defense that ranked 29th in DVOA during Mike Pettine's first season at the helm. His track record had previously been impeccable, and the Packers were waylaid by a dramatic series of injuries to their secondary. Throw in a pass rush that had stagnated behind outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and there simply wasn't any infrastructure to work with in Green Bay.

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1:45

Spears: Sitting Rodgers in preseason is 'absolutely' a mistake

Marcus Spears thinks it was a mistake for the Packers to sit Aaron Rodgers during the preseason, because Matt LaFleur and Rodgers need to work on their communication.

Now that should be different. The Packers signed edge rushers Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith to reinvigorate the pass rush, then added a high-upside prospect in first-rounder Rashan Gary. The Packers used their other first-round pick on safety Darnell Savage, who should start alongside Bears import Adrian Amos. The key player, though, might be a holdover; if Jaire Alexander can deliver on the promise he showed a year ago, the Packers might have a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. If the pass defense returns, the Packers should be in the thick of a crowded NFC race for the top two seeds.


11. Atlanta Falcons

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 2.7%
Chance to make the playoffs: 41.4%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +2800

We also know what the Falcons can do, at least during the postseason. We need to see their defense maintain that level of play for a long stretch of time during the regular season. They have ranked 26th, 22nd and 31st in defensive DVOA during the regular season over the last three seasons, only to create 10 takeaways and piece together dominant stretches of play over five postseason games. As good as they were in 2016, consider that the 2017 Falcons held the Rams to 13 points in Los Angeles and an Eagles team that rolled over the Vikings and Patriots to 15 points in Philly.

If that version of Dan Quinn's defense shows up for a full season, the Falcons might have a good shot at finishing with the league's best record. Even if they can just stay healthy and get to league average on defense, their offense should be good enough to carry them to the postseason. Atlanta's path would be even clearer if the Saints slip.


10. Pittsburgh Steelers

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 2.8%
Chance to make the playoffs: 51.4%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +1800

Plenty of Super Bowl winners have lost big names and still managed to improve the following season. The 2007 Giants come to mind, as they lost Tiki Barber to retirement after the three-time Pro Bowler posted 2,131 yards from scrimmage. The Giants did manage to hold on to Michael Strahan after the fellow future broadcaster considered retirement, which came in handy during Super Bowl XLII, but there's going to be life for the Steelers after trading wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Even if the offense does take a step backward, there's reason to believe Pittsburgh should improve on its 13th-placed finish in DVOA. It had sub-replacement players taking meaningful snaps at inside linebacker and cornerback last season, spots that should be filled by new additions such as Steven Nelson, Mark Barron, and first-round pick Devin Bush. An out-of-character 27th-place finish in special teams DVOA is also unlikely to recur. The league's eighth-easiest schedule should leave the Steelers well-positioned to win 10 or 11 games in 2019, which could be enough to win the North and host at least one playoff game.


9. Houston Texans

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 3%
Chance to make the playoffs: 49.4%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +3500

Did I like Houston's pair of stunning trades on Saturday? Absolutely not. Do they make the 2019 team better? It's entirely possible. The draft pick compensation is what makes those trades a disastrous mess. By essentially trading defensive end Jadeveon Clowney for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills, though, the Texans filled their team's biggest hole from its greatest point of strength. The missing draft picks will hurt, but that's out of the purview of this analysis, which is strictly considering what will happen this upcoming season.

It's clear that Bill O'Brien thinks the Texans can win a Super Bowl with this core of talent. Andrew Luck's retirement certainly helps their chances. With Nick Foles and Marcus Mariota ever-present injury risks, there's a reasonable possibility that Deshaun Watson and the Texans walk to an AFC South title by virtue of having the only healthy, effective starting quarterback in the division. Like their in-state rivals, the Texans need their core of stars to stay healthy throughout the season. If they can go 6-0 in the South and keep J.J. Watt & Co. on the field all season, Houston has a viable path to a first-round bye.


8. Chicago Bears

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 3.3%
Chance to make the playoffs: 48.6%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +900

Here's your team with the largest gap between the Vegas odds and FPI's projection. The post-vig odds for the Bears imply that they have a 7.6% shot of winning the Super Bowl, probably owing to an enthusiastic and excited Bears fan base. It might be telling that bookmakers who are longtime Bears fans themselves have suggested that the public support for Mitchell Trubisky's MVP odds has been "ridiculous" and produced an "insane number."

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It's a make-or-break season for Trubisky

Field Yates says this season is important for Mitchell Trubisky because Year 3 is when QBs prove who they are.

The Bears might not be quite as dominant on defense in 2019 after losing coordinator Vic Fangio to the Broncos, but they have more room to improve on offense than it might seem, given that Chicago finished ninth in points scored but just 20th in DVOA. Why the discrepancy? The Bears' defense scored six touchdowns and handed their offense the league's the sixth-best starting field position.

Trubisky mixed moments of brilliance with inexplicably bad decisions last season, which probably owes to his inexperience. If he does take a step forward, the Bears will be in great position to repeat their performance, even if the factors that lead Chicago there are slightly different. Remember that the Bears also won those 12 games with shaky kicking from Cody Parkey even before that fateful miss against the Eagles. If the Bears have solved their kicking issues with Eddy Pineiro (or find an in-season replacement), the NFC playoffs could go through Soldier Field.


7. Minnesota Vikings

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 3.7%
Chance to make the playoffs: 49.7%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +2000

Swapping out Case Keenum for Kirk Cousins last year seemed to raise Minnesota's floor to the point in which the absolute lowest possible outcome should have been competing for a playoff berth. Instead, the Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs. Cousins took some of the blame, but a middling offensive line and subpar seasons from some of Mike Zimmer's defensive stars also deserved criticism.

The Vikings hope they fixed the line by drafting center Garrett Bradbury and importing Gary Kubiak as an offensive adviser to returning coordinator Kevin Stefanski. Zimmer wants his team to be run-first; if Minnesota can get that right under a scheme that has built successful run games seemingly for decades, it has the versatility and upside to rank in the top eight in both the pass and the run on offense and defense. You could count on one hand the number of teams that can even dream of being that good across the board in the NFL.


6. Los Angeles Chargers

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 4.9%
Chance to make the playoffs: 57.7%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +1400

One of those teams, though, is the Chargers. Los Angeles might have the most talented roster, 1 through 53, in the AFC. The problem has always been getting those players onto the field at the same time, and 2019 is no exception. L.A. is already down safety Derwin James until November, left tackle Russell Okung is out indefinitely, running back Melvin Gordon's holdout is stretching into the regular season, and wide receiver Keenan Allen is already banged up. We haven't even made it to real football yet.

The key point for the Chargers comes after their Week 12 bye, when they should hopefully have James back for a late-season push. They get two winnable road games against the Broncos and Jaguars, and then host the Vikings and Raiders before a Week 17 game against the Chiefs. The Chargers aren't healthy now, but if they can stay afloat in the playoff picture until James returns in December, they could ride a hot stretch for the second consecutive year into a playoff run. If that Week 17 game is for the division, the Chargers shouldn't have that same fear of the Chiefs after topping their rivals in Kansas City last season.


5. Philadelphia Eagles

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 7.6%
Chance to make the playoffs: 73%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +1300

The Eagles have staggering depth on both sides of the ball. Their backup offensive line -- which would require two practice-squad starters -- is better than Miami's starting five. Their second-string defense -- a group that could include players such as defensive linemen Vinny Curry and Tim Jernigan, and defensive backs Andrew Sendejo and Johnathan Cyprien -- might very well not be the worst defense in football over a full season. No team is better positioned to deal with the impact of injuries than Doug Pederson & Co.

Should they be higher in these rankings? Maybe. The only obvious concern for the Eagles is quarterback Carson Wentz, who still hasn't suited up for a playoff game after missing each of the past two postseasons because of injuries. We know they're capable of winning a Super Bowl without their franchise quarterback, but their most likely path to Miami involves keeping Wentz healthy and the top seed in the NFC. If the Cowboys decline, a middling division should put the Eagles in great shape to claim home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Owing to that friendly schedule, they have the best shot of any team in the NFC at winning 13 games.


4. Los Angeles Rams

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 10%
Chance to make the playoffs: 71.2%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +1500

You'll note that the Rams are ahead of the Eagles by FPI, but behind them in terms of Caesars odds. I wonder how much of that is the uncertainty surrounding Todd Gurley. You can make a case that the concerns are overblown; if you want to argue that C.J. Anderson's run in a Rams uniform proves that Gurley isn't essential to their offensive success, they should be just fine with or without a healthy first-round pick at running back this season.

Of course, the Rams are more than Gurley. Los Angeles lost a handful of stars this offseason, including defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and guard Rodger Saffold, but it brings back coach Sean McVay and a menagerie of receiving weapons for the newly extended Jared Goff. The Rams lost only three games last season, and they were to playoff teams that went a combined 34-14. McVay has lost one meaningful game to a team with a losing record in two seasons, and that was against Washington in his second career game as a coach.

If the Rams keep beating every team they're supposed to beat, they're going to keep rolling off 11-plus win seasons. They should have no trouble getting back into the postseason with 11 wins, and once they're there, Los Angeles has the offensive wizardry and the defensive genius -- thanks to coordinator Wade Phillips -- to put a scare into anybody.


3. New Orleans Saints

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 12.3%
Chance to make the playoffs: 73%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +800

You and I both know the Saints should have been the NFC team to advance to Super Bowl LIII, given what Nickell Robey-Coleman did on third down. Their roster is arguably better than the one that went 13-3 without any obvious holes last season, given that they've imported tight end Jared Cook, defensive tackle Malcom Brown and linebacker Kiko Alonso while retaining everyone notable short of running back Mark Ingram and retired center Max Unger. New Orleans is the best team in the league if the Drew Brees from the first half of 2018 shows up again this season, and even if Brees craters at 40, the Saints should still be a viable Super Bowl contender with their defense and running game. How many teams could realistically get a middling season from their Hall of Fame quarterback and still win a Super Bowl?

My biggest concern with the Saints is that their division is probably going to be tougher. Then again, I would have projected the Saints to face a competitive time in the NFC South last season, and both the Panthers and Falcons ended up with sub-.500 records. The Falcons haven't been good on defense for any meaningful stretch of regular-season time under Dan Quinn, and Cam Newton is already struggling with a foot injury. It's not out of the question that the South fails to test New Orleans in 2019, which would leave the Saints in great shape to approach 13 wins again. This time, they'll have a pass interference review waiting.


2. New England Patriots

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 15.2%
Chance to make the playoffs: 86.4%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +650

The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions and face the easiest schedule in the league, per FPI and Football Outsiders. They can win the Super Bowl by continuing to be the Patriots.


1. Kansas City Chiefs

Chance to win Super Bowl LIV: 15.5%
Chance to make the playoffs: 82.8%
Caesars Super Bowl odds: +600

The Patriots aren't the favorites, though, as the Chiefs return every important piece of their offense and upgraded on defense by acquiring pass-rusher Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu. We know the Chiefs can beat the Patriots, given that Alex Smith led Kansas City to a victory over the Pats in New England during Week 1 in 2017, but you also figure that Kansas City's best chance of winning a Super Bowl involves some other team dispatching the Patriots.

Since we're here at the end, let's dream out a little scenario. The Chiefs go 12-4 but lose in the regular season to the Patriots, who also go 12-4 and claim home-field advantage in the AFC. The Chiefs host and beat the Texans in the divisional round, but when it looks as if Kansas City is about to head to Foxborough, the Chiefs are saved by an upset win from the same Jaguars team that dominated the Pats in 2018 and came within a quarter of beating them in New England in the 2017 AFC Championship Game.

That leaves the Chiefs at home for the AFC Championship Game and a matchup of Nick Foles against Andy Reid, the head coach who saved Foles' career. Just for fun, let's say that the Chiefs advance and face the Eagles in the Super Bowl, giving us Reid vs. protégé Doug Pederson and an organization that still has Reid's fingerprints all over it after a 14-year stint as head coach. Could be fun, right?