SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon connected with Kansas City’s Travis Kelce to see what he thinks will be the biggest challenge facing his team’s quest to becoming the first back-to-back Super Bowl champion in 16 years.
There’s nothing quite like the optimism of a fresh NFL season. Thirty-two teams all starting on an equal plane, with one goal in sight.
Perhaps more than any of the major American sports leagues, the NFL offers the most parity, where a team no one was counting on can rise to the top of their division and get into the playoffs. Just look at the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 season, on their way to a title in Super Bowl LII.
Here’s one reason why each of the league’s 32 teams will – and won’t – win Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Feb. 7.
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The Bills could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Josh Allen takes a massive leap as a passer, continues his threat as a rusher and the defense remains dominant, and builds off of its second-best 16.2 points a game allowed last season.
The Bills won’t win the Super Bowl if Allen regresses, if additions (receiver Stefon Diggs, cornerback Josh Norman and defensive linemen Mario Addison and Vernon Butler) don’t produce, and if that defense doesn’t shut down opponents.
The Dolphins could win the Super Bowl if Fitzmagic gives way to an all-time rookie performance by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, if receivers like Jakeem Grant and DeVante Parker become stars, and free-agent addition Byron Jones becomes a shutdown corner and elevates an already-talented secondary.
The Dolphins won’t make the Super Bowl if this roster is still a few years from being legitimate contenders in the AFC, Tagovailoa needs time to assimilate into the NFL, and the defense doesn’t improve from its league-worst 30.9 points allowed per game.
New England Patriots
The Patriots could win the Super Bowl if Cam Newton returns to his 2015 NFL MVP form, the team doesn’t miss opt-outs (linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and right tackle Marcus Cannon) too much, and the defense builds on last year’s production.
The Patriots won’t win the Super Bowl if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels struggles to craft a system that fits Newton’s unique skill set, lack of depth at wide receiver zaps the passing game, and the offense can’t become a dominant rushing outfit.
New York Jets
The Jets could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Sam Darnold ascends to become one of the top young passers in the league, running back Le’Veon Bell’s production mirrors what it was in his best seasons in Pittsburgh, and the offense sees a near-miracle turnaround in key metrics that ranked among the league’s worst last season.
The Jets won’t win the Super Bowl if the roster can’t overcome significant holes at receiver and edge rusher, the offensive line continues to yield far too much pressure (New York ranked 30th, allowing sacks on almost one out of every 10 pass attempts), and a lack of star talent dooms the team.
The Bengals could win the Super Bowl if rookie quarterback Joe Burrow picks up where he left off in terms of the ultra-efficiency he had at LSU, they score double the points they did last season (17.4 a game), and the defense stops giving up explosive plays.
The Bengals won’t win the Super Bowl if Burrow has even an average season, and free-agency acquisitions like cornerback Trae Waynes (who is on IR with a torn pectoral, but could return for the second half of the season), safety Vonn Bell and defensive tackle D.J. Reader don’t drastically improve a defense that ranked worst in the league in yards per play allowed (6.09).
The Browns could win the Super Bowl if new coach Kevin Stefanski is exactly what quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. need to blossom into one of the top QB-WR duos in the league, and a fairly talented roster lives up to the hype that it drew last offseason.
The Browns won’t win the Super Bowl unless Mayfield is elite, the defense doesn’t do a better job of clamping offenses in the red zone, and they don’t finish on the opposite end of the turnover margin (-8 in 2019, ranked 26th) scale.
The Ravens could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Lamar Jackson doesn’t drop off, newly acquired rusher Calais Campbell bolsters a pass rush that ranked 21st in the NFL with 37 sacks, and the rushing offense remains as productive as it was last year.
The Ravens won’t win the Super Bowl if Jackson regresses or gets hurt, and the team’s loss against the Titans in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs proves to be an indicator of problems in stopping the run after Derrick Henry dominated with 195 yards.
The Steelers could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns to form after missing last season with a throwing elbow injury, they capitalize on their trips inside the 20 (Pittsburgh ranked last in red zone efficiency at 35%), and linebacker T.J. Watt wins defensive player of the year on a revitalized unit.
The Steelers won’t win the Super Bowl if Roethlisberger doesn’t play at previous levels, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster doesn’t have a monster bounce-back season, and the team doesn’t fix its third-down struggles (converting just 34.36% of attempts).
The Colts could win the Super Bowl if the offensive line remains dominant, marquee free-agency signing quarterback Philip Rivers finds the fountain of youth with coach Frank Reich, and the defense finally finds some consistency, especially in the secondary.
The Colts won’t win the Super Bowl if Rivers and Reich can’t match the success they had while Reich was the offensive coordinator with the Chargers in 2014-15, the secondary continues to get gashed for big plays, and the offensive line doesn’t open up holes in the rushing game.
The Jaguars could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Gardner Minshew has an all-world performance, a sorely depleted roster just happens to be a group of unknown and inexperienced stars, and if miracles happen.
The Jaguars won’t win the Super Bowl even if Minshew has a monster season, but a talent deficiency is far too much to overcome.
The Texans could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Deshaun Watson enters the MVP race with a season loaded with career-highs, the offensive line actually protects him, and coach Bill O’Brien and the rest of the staff avoids critical game management errors.
The Texans won’t win the Super Bowl if Watson, who has been sacked 120 times over the last two years – 14 more than the next closest player – continues to remain under duress, the departure of receiver DeAndre Hopkins is too big to make up for, and the defense, under new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver, ranks last again in red zone efficiency (71.43%).
The Titans could win the Super Bowl if running back Derrick Henry plays like the offensive player of the year, quarterback Ryan Tannehill proves last year wasn’t a fluke and makes more plays when called to do so, and the defense does more than bend but not break.
The Titans won’t win the Super Bowl if their remarkable red zone efficiency from last season (75.56%) and goal-to-go offense (88%) takes a serious step backward, Tannehill can’t win games when defenses stifle Henry, and the pass rush remains average.
The Broncos could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Drew Lock leads the offense to unexpected levels in his second season, the receiver combo of rookie Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton becomes one of the best in the league, and running back Melvin Gordon stays healthy and is a threat on the ground and in the passing game.
The Broncos won’t win the Super Bowl if Lock doesn’t take drastic strides, the team cannot overcome the loss of edge rusher Von Miller, who suffered an apparent season-ending ankle injury Tuesday, and they don’t improve on their sixth-ranked 17 giveaways from last season.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers could win the Super Bowl if Tyrod Taylor serves as more than just a bridge quarterback with rookie Justin Herbert waiting in the wings, running back Austin Ekeler makes fans forget about Melvin Gordon, and the defense goes from being respectable to being elite.
The Chargers won’t win the Super Bowl if their defense cannot make up for the loss of 2018 first-team All-Pro safety Derwin James (out for season with right knee injury), and the notoriously efficient Taylor doesn’t do more than simply protect the ball
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs could repeat as Super Bowl champions if Patrick Mahomes simply stays the course and makes gradual improvements to his game, rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire becomes a force, and the defense continues to make strides under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
The Chiefs won’t win the Super Bowl if they have a letdown from last season, the secondary becomes a problem that a potent offense can’t mask, and a pass rush that was just slightly above average doesn’t post gains.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Derek Carr improves on his decision making and takes a massive leap, the team’s young weapons, second-year running back Josh Jacobs and rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III become dominant, and the pass rush finally breaks through.
The Raiders won’t win the Super Bowl if Carr’s play remains the same, the pass rush can’t seem to rebound since the 2018 trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears, and the defense doesn’t improve off of its 24th-ranked scoring defense (26.2)
The Cowboys could win the Super Bowl if new coach Mike McCarthy’s offense clicks right away with quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, receiver CeeDee Lamb takes off in a performance worthy of offensive rookie of the year, and if the defense gets a second reliable pass rusher to compliment Demarcus Lawrence.
The Cowboys won’t win the Super Bowl if the secondary blows coverages and allows opponents to outscore Prescott and Co., depth at safety continues to plague the team, and McCarthy’s scheme either doesn’t work or takes too long to get going.
The Eagles could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Carson Wentz stays healthy and plays as he did in 2017 before he tore his ACL, season-ending injuries to starting offensive linemen Brandon Brooks (Achilles) and Andre Dillard (biceps) are minimized, and the team’s rebuilt secondary makes fans forget about the many blown coverages of 2019.
The Eagles won’t win the Super Bowl if Wentz misses time, promising young running back Miles Sanders doesn’t take the step to become a consistent dual weapon, and the receiving corps doesn’t produce more reliably.
Washington Football Team
Washington could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Dwayne Haskins elevates his play significantly, the talented defensive front becomes one of the top pass rushing groups in the NFL, and the team overcomes reports of internal dysfunction and organizational failures on the front office side from the offseason.
Washington won’t win the Super Bowl if Haskins doesn’t improve on his 58.62% completion rate and takes better care of the ball, if the receiving that lacks star talent struggles, and if the league’s 31st-ranked rushing defense (146.2) from 2019 doesn’t become a strength.
New York Giants
The Giants could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Daniel Jones owns the offense and does far more than simply manage games, running back Saquon Barkley wins the league MVP after a workhorse season, and new coach Joe Judge implements a culture that gets an unprecedented amount of production from a fairly talent-lacking defense.
The Giants won’t win the Super Bowl if they don’t massively reverse their minus-17 turnover differential that tied them for worst in the NFL, Jones doesn’t enter the top tier of passers, and if a leaky defense continues to allow an unsustainable amount of yardage.
The Bears could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Mitchell Trubisky resurrects his career and becomes a dependable and efficient passer, a pass rush that has Khalil Mack and new signing Robert Quinn generates more than a sack on just 5.6% of pass attempts, and coach Matt Nagy’s offensive schemes run without a hitch.
The Bears won’t win the Super Bowl if Trubisky doesn’t take control of the offense and cedes the job to Nick Foles, Quinn disappoints, and an offense that gained a 31st-ranked 4.66 yards a play sputters yet again.
The Lions could win the Super Bowl if the offense doesn’t drastically improve on a woeful goal-to-go offense that scored touchdowns just 58.33% (29th) of the time, they don’t get more out of a pass rush that ranked second-to-last in sack rate (4.58%) and quarterback Matthew Stafford plays like an MVP.
The Lions won’t win the Super Bowl if rookie No. 3 overall pick, cornerback Jeff Okudah, doesn’t become an instant star, the pass rush remains dormant, and if former Patriots in linebacker Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon don’t get this defense completely turned around.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers could win the Super Bowl if Year 2 of coach Matt LaFleur’s offense takes another stride, if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can get the most out of a receiving cast that lacks a star after top threat Davante Adams, and if coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense builds on a group that tied for seventh with 25 forced turnovers.
The Packers won’t win the Super Bowl if LaFleur’s offense regresses, his relationship with Rodgers frays, and the NFL’s third-best interception rate of 3.11% drops.
The Vikings could win the Super Bowl if their defense remains one of the most aggressive outfits in the entire NFL after it generated a fourth-best 31 turnovers, quarterback Kirk Cousins doesn’t miss the loss of former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski (who became the coach of the Browns) too much, and running back Dalvin Cook builds on a solid 2019.
The Vikings won’t win the Super Bowl if Cousins doesn’t jibe with new coordinator Gary Kubiak, a very good red zone defense that ranked second last season (43.75%) allows more touchdowns this season, and rookie first-round receiver Justin Jefferson out of LSU doesn’t become a consistent compliment to Adam Thielen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers could win the Super Bowl if all of their offseason additions – starting with quarterback Tom Brady, running back Leonard Fournette and tight end Rob Gronkowski – instantly click, the team gets a steady edge rusher to take pressure off linebacker Shaquil Barrett, and the team can get a consistent rushing game going.
The Buccaneers won’t win the Super Bowl if Brady struggles to grasp coach Bruce Arians’ offense, and Tampa’s turnover bug – even though former quarterback Jameis Winston was largely responsible – lingers and doesn’t improve from last year’s league-high mark of 41.
The Falcons could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Matt Ryan plays like he did during his during his MVP season in 2016, the team avoids inconsistent play like it did when it started last season 1-7, but instead gets much steadier offensive production like it did when it finished 6-2.
The Falcons won’t win the Super Bowl if running back Todd Gurley II can’t find his early career success, receiver Julio Jones finally starts to show signs of decline, and a defense that is built on speed plays like it did in the first half of last year.
The Panthers could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Teddy Bridgewater shows Carolina was smart to invest in him and he plays like he did when he was last a team’s unquestioned starter, running back Christian McCaffrey both gets an ample amount of touches but stays healthy, and receiver DJ Moore blossoms into one of the league’s most dangerous threats.
The Panthers won’t win the Super Bowl if rookie coach Matt Rhule’s system takes too long to implement, the team doesn’t repair a turnover problem that was second-worst last season (35 giveaways), and Bridgewater doesn’t elevate the play of everyone around him.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Drew Brees has one last stellar run in him, the defense makes realistic improvements in red zone efficiency (59.57%), and the entire team enjoys good health to capitalize on what might be the last year to win in a rapidly closing window.
The Saints won’t win the Super Bowl if they don’t take care of the ball like they did last season with an NFL-best eight giveaways, a third-down defense that ranked sixth (34.76%) regresses, and any major contributor gets injured on a roster that is quite top-heavy and lacks quality depth.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers could win the Super Bowl if they get over the hangover of losing the last one against the Chiefs, if quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo takes on more responsibility and becomes more than a game manager, and the defense stays as fierce as it was last season under coordinator Robert Saleh.
The 49ers won’t win the Super Bowl if they can’t fix red zone efficiency rates on both offense and defense, if the departure of DeForest Buckner – who was traded to the Colts – hinders the defense, and if newly acquired offensive tackle Trent Williams isn’t what he was when he last played for Washington.
The Cardinals could win the Super Bowl if second-year quarterback Kyler Murray has a similar path to the ones Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had in their second seasons, coach Kliff Kingsbury crafts an offense that shines with the addition of receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and a freaky athletic defense makes plays to improved last year’s 28th-ranked scoring defense (27.6).
The Cardinals won’t win the Super Bowl if the Kingsbury-Murray union suffers any hitches, if the Cardinals can’t get more of a pass rush out of players other than linebacker Chandler Jones, and depth issues in the secondary prove to be fatal.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams could win the Super Bowl if coach Sean McVay’s offense reverts to what it was in 2018 when L.A. last made the title game, quarterback Jared Goff bounces back after a letdown fourth season, and running backs Malcolm Brown and Cam Akers give L.A. a much-needed boost to a rushing game that ranked 27th in yards per carry (3.74).
The Rams won’t win the Super Bowl if Goff continues to be average, if the pass rush that ranked fifth in sack rate (8.9%) falters, and a solidly constructed receivers room can’t generate significant production.
The Seahawks could win the Super Bowl if quarterback Russell Wilson continues to be one of the models of efficiency at the position and plays like an MVP, a relatively young defense looks like the old “Legion of Boom” units of the mid-2010s with the addition of hard-hitting safety Jamal Adams, and the loss of edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t sting too much.
The Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl if they can’t improve on their 30th-ranked sack rate (4.68%) from last season, an offensive line that has three new starters doesn’t click, and a solid rushing game behind starter Chris Carson takes a step back and can’t remove some pressure off of Wilson.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.
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