1. New England Patriots – The Patriots are heavily favored to win it all – probably too favored. Still, they have as good a chance as anyone. If Brady is healthy, and it seems reasonable to assume that he will be, then he’ll be hungry to make up for lost time. He has all the tools he needs to do that – a good line to protect him, a strong wide receiver corps, perhaps the best running back battalion he has had in his time in New England, and so on. Defensively, the team is more than sound as well. On paper they are clearly the best team in the league, and they have the track record for living up to their potential.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers – They did it last year and they are largely the same team as they were then, so why can’t they do it again? They may even be in better shape this year – if Big Ben’s legal woes aren’t a distraction then his health is probably better than last year. The team is deep and well coached, and they could be in a worse division. Their schedule isn’t as easy as it could be, but if the team is as good as they looked last year then they should be able to come out unscathed. Like the Pats, the Steelers obviously have the talent and the coaching to win it all.
3. San Diego Chargers – I almost didn’t put the Chargers on this list. On one hand they have all sorts of talent, and they’ll have an explosive offense and a solid defense, and they play in the right division to pile up the wins. On the other hand, though, this team has an uncanny ability to be disappointing, and they are still coached by Norv Turner – not exactly the strongest coach under pressure in the history of the NFL. I don’t really trust the team, but I can’t help but put them on this list as a serious contender – if they can finally get their act together then they will be hard for anyone to beat.
4. Dallas Cowboys – Maybe this is finally the year they get their job done. They have managed to rid themselves of most of the distractions that have been on their team the last few years. They have enough offensive talent to be dangerous – good QB, strong receivers, good line, strong running game. Their defense is solid. Their new stadium will have the fans in a frenzy and should give them a big boost. Their division is tough, and their schedule could be easier, but sooner or later Jerry Jones is going to get value for his money again, and this could be the year.
5. Baltimore Ravens – There needs to be a longer shot on every list. If Arizona can make it all the way to the Super Bowl, and almost win it, then so can Baltimore. Their defense will continue to be as good as it always is, and I don’t expect a lot of a letdown despite the loss of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. I’d be happier if they had added a star receiver, but they will be able to run the ball well, and Joe Flacco will be well protected. Flacco might take a step backwards in his second year, but I am optimistic about him in the long term, and I’m not particularly worried about him. At the right price I think the Ravens are worth a risk.