Every NFL team enters the season with high hopes, but for 31 teams, those hopes will eventually be dashed. As we get closer to Week 1, here’s a look at why each team will or will not win Super Bowl LVI.
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Why they will: The Cardinals roster is loaded with talent, with key additions at wideout, the offensive, and defensive lines, and linebacker. More importantly, Kyler Murray is entering his third NFL season after showing great improvement last year, showing promise that Arizona could have an elite offense in 2021.
Why they won’t: The NFC West is arguably the toughest division in football, and the Cardinals still have a lot of ground to cover on both sides of the ball after finishing 8-8 last season. There also remains major skepticism about Kliff Kingsbury’s ability as an NFL head coach, given the results so far and his mediocre track record at Texas Tech.
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Why they will: Arthur Smith did a great job as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, and could be the spark that lights the fire in Atlanta after the team declined under Dan Quinn. Matt Ryan remains a very solid NFL starter and has viable weapons with Calvin Ridley, Mike Davis, and rookie Kyle Pitts.
Why they won’t: The Falcons are lacking on defense, but cap issues limited their ability to improve the team in the offseason. That also carries over to the offense, where they traded superstar Julio Jones and lost talent on the offensive line. The team is clearly less talented than last year’s squad that finished 4-12.
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Why they will: It’s Super Bowl or bust again for the Ravens, and they’ve addressed issues from last year’s roster by adding help at wideout, the offensive line, and the pass rush. The offense remains one of the toughest to defend, with the versatile Lamar Jackson and an elite running game.
Why they won’t: Jackson has to prove he can win in the playoffs after early exits in three consecutive seasons. In particular, that means he has to improve as a passer throwing outside the numbers. The early injuries to the team’s wideout corps, including Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins, only make that endeavor tougher.
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Why they will: Buffalo was one of the league’s most improved teams last season due in large part to Josh Allen’s breakout season. He looked like an elite quarterback, turning the Bills’ offense into an elite unit. The team returns most of their key players from last year’s roster to make another run.
Why they won’t: Breakout teams and players often face regression the following year, and that’s somewhat of a concern for Allen and company. The defense also had some weak areas last season in pass rush and cornerback depth that they need to clean up.
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Why they will: Carolina has elite offensive weapons, and seem to believe that Sam Darnold is the answer at quarterback. The Jets’ former first-round pick has shown flashes but didn’t have a great support system in New York. The defense is also loaded with young talent after dedicating the entire 2020 draft to that side of the ball.
Why they won’t: Darnold hasn’t shown any clear indication that he’s a franchise quarterback, so relying on him is a major risk. The Panthers roster also remains in rebuild mode in many areas, particularly on defense.
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Why they will: Despite some key losses in the secondary, Chicago’s defense should remain one of the best in the league with an excellent front seven and an interesting hire in coordinator Sean Desai. The offense could also get a major spark from rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who already has the city dancing in the streets.
Why they won’t: It’s a lot to expect a rookie quarterback to transform an offense that finished 22nd in points scored last season. There are also major offensive line concerns that could curb his development, particularly after rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins suffered a major back injury.
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Why they will: The Bengals are loaded with talent on offense at the skill positions, and have revamped the defense with big signings like Trey Hendrickson and Mike Hilton. The defensive talent is lightyears ahead of where it was two years ago.
Why they won’t: There’s serious concern about Joe Burrow’s return from a torn ACL, with some struggles in training camp, and those concerns are compounded with a questionable offensive line. It could also take the defense time to mesh, and the Bengals don’t have that benefit in one of the toughest divisions in football.
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Why they will: Cleveland was vastly improved last season, with head coach Kevin Stefanski tightening up the operation and getting Baker Mayfield back on track. The offense seemed to get better as the year progressed, and still have an elite offensive line and weapons with the return of Odell Beckham. The defense has addressed the secondary, a major area of weakness last year, while also adding Jadeveon Clowney to the defensive line.
Why they won’t: In today’s NFL, an elite quarterback is almost a necessity to win a Super Bowl, and there are questions whether Mayfield has that ability. After his regression in 2019, he resumed being a solid starter last year but was far from the top tier. The AFC North also remains a very tough division with Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
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Why they will: Dallas enters the year relatively healthy after a ridiculous number of significant injuries last season. They produced like an elite offense early last year when they were healthy, and return most of the same key players. The defense also has optimism after hiring coordinator Dan Quinn to fix their many issues from 2020.
Why they won’t: If Quinn isn’t a miracle worker, the Cowboys probably won’t have enough defense to beat elite teams. Dallas didn’t add much talent on that side of the ball due to their cap limitations despite allowing nearly 30 points per game last season, and they are relying on young, unproven cornerbacks.
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Why they will: Denver has arguably the most talented defense in football with the return of Von Miller from injury, along with the additions of Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, and Kareem Jackson in the secondary. The offensive weapons are also excellent, with Courtland Sutton returning from injury and second-round running back Javonte Williams joining Melvin Gordon in the backfield.
Why they won’t: Denver’s big issues on offense last season were quarterback and offensive line. Those are still question marks for now. The team did add competition at quarterback with Teddy Bridgewater, but the Lock/Bridgewater duo don’t exactly scream elite given their track records.
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Why they will: New head coach Dan Campbell is bringing an aura of toughness, and that’s shown in the strengths of the Lions roster. The offensive line looks excellent with the addition of first-round pick Penei Sewell, and the defensive front seven are the strength of the defense with Trey Flowers, Jamie Collins, and Alex Anzalone.
Why they won’t: Detroit was a five-win team last season, and the roster talent is clearly worse this year. Jared Goff is a downgrade from Matthew Stafford at quarterback, and the talent at wide receiver was completely stripped. There also remain major holes on a defense that allowed the most points in football last season. It could be a long year.
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Green Bay Packers
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Why they will: Aaron Rodgers is back, so the Packers have a good chance. The team has been to back-to-back NFC Championships with solid play on both sides of the ball and was able to retain most of last year’s roster while also potentially improving the secondary with first-round cornerback Eric Stokes.
Why they won’t: The offseason Aaron Rodgers drama was a distraction that the team didn’t need, and there are questions at several spots on the offensive line. Particularly, the Packers lost Pro Bowl center, Corey Linsley. The regression of the pass rush last year also remains a concern, with the team counting on Preston Smith to rebound after a sub-par 2020 season.
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Why they will: David Culley is a very experienced long-time assistant from the Andy Reid coaching tree, and the Texans are just one year removed from the playoffs with some excellent players returning, including Brandin Cooks, David Johnson, Laremy Tunsil, and Zach Cunningham.
Why they won’t: Houston has made almost no personnel upgrades from last year’s team that finished 4-12 and has lost franchise players, Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt. The former regime left the organization in a terrible spot, with very little cap room or draft capital. The Texans go into the season as the favorites for the worst record in the league for good reason.
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Why they will: The Colts return a talented roster, but an elite quarterback has been one of the few missing pieces. New quarterback Carson Wentz played up to that level early in his career and has an excellent offensive line in front of him after running for his life much of last year in Philly. The defense also has solid, young talent at all three levels after finishing 10th best in points allowed in 2020.
Why they won’t: Is Wentz really an improvement over what the Colts have had at quarterback recently? His stats over the last three years wouldn’t indicate that he will help, and the Colts don’t have great receiving weapons to help him.
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Why they will: New head coach Urban Meyer is one of the best college football coaches in history, and is trying to shape a young roster that had a productive offseason with an impactful draft, along with free-agent additions like Marvin Jones, Malcolm Brown, and Shaquill Griffin. There’s rightfully major excitement for first overall draft choice Trevor Lawrence after a great career at Clemson.
Why they won’t: The Jags were the worst team in football last year for a reason. The roster remains in rebuild mode with issues on the offensive line and defense, and most of the team’s key players are still very young and inexperienced, led by Lawrence. Meyer also needs to cut his teeth at the NFL level, and history shows the transition from college coach to the NFL can be a difficult one.
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Kansas City Chiefs
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Why they will: The Chiefs enter the season as the Super Bowl favorites after back-to-back appearances. The team returns most of last year’s roster, but has addressed their major offensive line issues in the draft and free agency. Patrick Mahomes and company should continue to produce offense at an elite level, while the defense has been in the top 10 in points allowed in consecutive seasons.
Why they won’t: KC is still relying on three rookies on the offensive line, and have depth issues at receiver behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Like all NFL teams, bad luck with health could also halt the team’s quest for a second championship in three years.
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Las Vegas Raiders
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Why they will: Derek Carr had arguably his best season in 2020 as the offense has finally come into form under Jon Gruden. The defense has also made key additions, led by new coordinator Gus Bradley in addition to veterans Yannick Ngakoue and Casey Hayward.
Why they won’t: For all the offensive progress, the Raiders could be only the third-best offense in their own division behind the Chiefs and Chargers. The offensive line has seen major turnover in the offseason, which could cause some regression. While Bradley has a good track record as a coordinator, he has a lot of work to do with a unit that allowed the third-most points in the league last season.
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Los Angeles Chargers
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Why they will: The Chargers couldn’t be any higher on young quarterback Justin Herbert after he won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. They’ve successfully addressed the offensive line with center Corey Linsley and first-round pick Rashawn Slater. The defense also returns star safety Derwin James, who missed all of 2020 and could get a boost from new head coach Brandon Staley.
Why they won’t: The Chargers have faced horrible injury luck in recent seasons, and the injury histories of James and Joey Bosa remain a concern. The team has talent but still has a long way to go to match the rival Chiefs after averaging six wins over the last two seasons.
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Los Angeles Rams
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Why they will: The Rams feel they’ve fixed the offensive issues of the last two seasons by replacing Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford. He has great receiving weapons, led by Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. The defense also returns its elite talent, including Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
Why they won’t: The Rams are a thin team that can’t afford any more major injuries after losing running back Cam Akers for the year. The offensive line has some holes, and the secondary has also seen major turnover in the offseason. Some regression for the defense is to be expected after losing coordinator Brandon Staley.
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Why they will: The Dolphins have overachieved in two seasons since hiring Brian Flores, as he establishes himself as one of the up-and-coming head coaches in the league. The offense has a bevy of receiving options to help Tua Tagovailoa, and the defense should remain excellent after improving depth at linebacker and the secondary.
Why they won’t: Tagovailoa’s play was shaky in his rookie season, and there’s not a great fallback option after Ryan Fitzpatrick left in free agency. His history of injuries while in college is also a concern. The team has the supporting cast to be a major challenger in the AFC but needs Tagovailoa to improve rapidly.
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Why they will: The Vikings have elite weapons on offense and hope to have solved the major weaknesses they had last year on the offensive line and defense. First-round pick Christian Darrisaw should protect Kirk Cousins’ blindside, while the defense has Danielle Hunter back healthy and have revamped the cornerback position.
Why they won’t: For all the flashes he’s shown, Cousins is still far from an elite quarterback and needs the line to play better this season. The defense can’t know what to expect from Hunter after returning from a back injury, and the secondary remains a huge concern with veteran additions in Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland whose best football could be behind them.
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New England Patriots
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Why they will: The Patriots spent big in the offseason revamping the roster, and clearly have more talent than 2020. The team has clearly improved their receivers, as well as the defense at all three levels. It could take him for the new faces to get comfortable, but head coach Bill Belichick deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Why they won’t: Cam Newton played poorly last season and hasn’t been at an elite level in years. Even if rookie Mac Jones eventually replaces him, New England is unlikely to see great quarterback play in 2021. It could be difficult to win the tough AFC East or have playoff success if the quarterback play doesn’t markedly improve.
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New Orleans Saints
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Why they will: The Saints return much of a defense that was elite last season, finishing fifth in points allowed. While the offense will be without Drew Brees, they have finished top 10 in points scored in 10 consecutive seasons due in part to the mind of Sean Payton. The team has some personnel issues on offense but still has an excellent offensive line and star running back Alvin Kamara.
Why they won’t: There remains competition between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill at quarterback, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, and the winner doesn’t won’t have great weapons to help. The team lost Jared Cook and Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason, and Michael Thomas will miss the start of the year after ankle surgery. Even with Payton’s genius, the offense is shaping up to be a problem.
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New York Giants
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Why they will: New York spent big on offense in the offseason, signing Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph before selecting wideout Kadarius Toney in the first round. With the return of Saquon Barkley from injury, Daniel Jones has everything he needs to succeed in his third season. The Giants defense made great progress last season, ranking ninth-best in points allowed.
Why they won’t: Jones has struggled in his first two seasons, particularly with turnovers. The Giants need him to protect the ball much better, at the very least. It also remains to be seen if the defensive improvement was for real or more a product of an easy schedule in 2020.
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New York Jets
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Why they will: The Jets seem thrilled with the talent of rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and have surrounded him with talent, including Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and an improving offensive line. The defense should be spurred with the hiring of Robert Saleh, who helped create an elite defense as coordinator in San Francisco.
Why they won’t: It’s tough to bet on a rookie quarterback taking over a team that lost 14 games last season. The defense has some major personnel issues, particularly in the secondary, and has already lost offseason signing Carl Lawson for the season at defensive end.
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Why they will: The Eagles’ offensive line is healthy again after multiple major injuries last season, and the team has addressed wideout by drafting DeVonta Smith. Philadelphia also seems high on Jalen Hurts despite inconsistent play in his rookie season. The defensive line remains excellent, led by Fletcher Cox.
Why they won’t: The quarterback position looks shaky with Hurts entering his first season as the full-time starter. The defense has some major concerns at linebacker and the secondary despite some additions in those position groups, and the unit has gone in the wrong direction each year since their 2017 Super Bowl season.
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Why they will: The Steelers held the best record in the AFC for most of last season with their elite defense and wideouts. They had some offseason changes at cornerback but return most of the defense, and the team’s top four wideouts are also back. Pittsburgh also drafted running back Najee Harris to support Ben Roethlisberger in the offense.
Why they won’t: Roethlisberger saw significant drop off last season at age 38 after elbow surgery, and he’s not getting any younger. Making matters more difficult is a completely new offensive line that is extremely inexperienced, and could have a tough time protecting Roethlisberger in a loaded AFC North division with the Ravens and Browns.
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San Francisco 49ers
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Why they will: After an injury-plagued 2020 season, the 49ers are healthy again. They return elite talent all over the field, including Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Nick Bosa. Jimmy Garoppolo will have plenty of help with a great offensive line and excellent weapons, and the team is also optimistic about rookie Trey Lance should Garoppolo falter or get injured. San Francisco has much of the same roster that advanced to the Super Bowl two years ago.
Why they won’t: The loss of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh could hurt the defense, and the team also has major questions in the secondary. The NFC West also remains arguably the toughest division in football, which stands as a major threat to the 49ers even if they do have better health this season.
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Why they will: Seattle has nine consecutive winning seasons with the elite play of Russell Wilson. He got some help with the addition of Gabe Jackson on the offensive line, and the offense could also be sparked after hiring coordinator Shane Waldron.
Why they won’t: The defense has been mediocre over the last two seasons, and the losses of Jarran Reed and Shaquill Griffin won’t help. The star power remains with Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams, but Seattle has serious concerns on the defensive line and secondary.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Why they will: The Bucs return all 22 starters from their championship roster and have truly elite talent in every position group. Tom Brady is the winningest player in NFL history and has the supporting cast and coaching staff to make another run.
Why they won’t: Age and injuries. The Bucs are one of the oldest teams in the league, led by 44-year-old Brady. The age concerns are just as big on the defense, with Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, and Lavonte David on the backend of their careers.
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Why they will: The Titans saw some personnel losses in the offseason, but they’re offset by the additions of Julio Jones and Bud Dupree. The team has given Ryan Tannehill elite weapons with Jones, A.J. Brown, and Derrick Henry, and the team hopes to have finally fixed its pass rush issues. The weak AFC South also looks like Tennessee’s for the taking.
Why they won’t: The Titans have some major concerns entering the year, including the right side of the offensive line and cornerback. The loss of coordinator Arthur Smith could also hurt an offense that showed major progress in the last two seasons.
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Washington Football Team
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Why they will: With so much invested on the defensive side of the ball, the investment paid off last year when Washington had an elite defense. The defense could be even better after signing William Jackson and drafting Jamin Davis, and the offense has addressed their woes with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and wideout Curtis Samuel.
Why they won’t: Fitzpatrick has been an unreliable full-time starter in multiple stops during his career, and the offensive line still has questions at several spots. Washington is just hoping the offense can be good enough with an elite defense, but that’s probably not enough to make the team a Super Bowl contender.