The Shadow League’s Top 10 Super Bowl Contenders & 4 Wild Cards

 

CONTENDERS

Well here we are about three weeks from NFL Opening Night 2021 in Tampa as the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers will open defense of their crown against the Dallas Cowboys.

This year will be the first to ever have 17 regular season games and just the second season with an expanded playoff field.

Seven teams from each conference will have a chance to advance to Super Bowl 56 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA.

 

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

The Bucs are the top of the mountain, with a healthy 44-year-old Thomas Edward Brady and a plethora of offensive talent, plus the top returning defensive unit.

It’s not often a defending SB champion retains all 22 starters but they managed to do just that in Tampa.

 

 

Plus they’re getting starter O.J. Howard back at tight end, and added dual-threat running back Giovani Bernard to the fold. Point blank they’re loaded.

 

2. Kansas City Chiefs

As long as they have Patrick Mahomes, the game’s best signal-caller they have a chance.

Mahomes last played at an MVP-caliber level in 2020 despite mediocre protection.

The Chiefs upgraded that area drastically this off-season. Their defense is always just okay at best but they made some improvements in the front seven and secondary, which should pay dividends.

Still the “cream of the crop” in the loaded AFC.

 

3. Green Bay Packers 

Aaron Rodgers has returned so that means they have a shot at hoisting the Lombardi trophy.

Losing All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari to a torn ACL late last season was probably the difference in making and missing the Super Bowl.

 

He’s back to protect A-Rod’s blindside. I’ve never been a fan of new defensive coordinator Joe Barry and his schemes, but if he can get that unit playing well watch out, because they can beat anyone with Rodgers at the helm.

 

4. Cleveland Browns

The franchise is finally rebuilt and back in yearly playoff contention. Cleveland was one missed targeting call from dethroning the Chiefs in last year’s playoffs.

They have added more reinforcements to the Baker Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski marriage, which paid dividends off the rip.

 

 

Adding pass rushing threat JaDeveon Clowney opposite Myles Garrett is huge for a team that has a great offense and just needs the defense to take the next step.

They have all the pieces now. Can Stefanski push all the right buttons on the shores of Lake Erie?

 

5. Buffalo Bills
New York State’s “other team” made it to the AFC Title game in 2021 where it exited in pretty easy fashion against the Chiefs. 

With quarterback Josh Allen(now the league’s highest-paid signal-caller),  this team is primed to be in the SB conversation again.

They’ll need the defense behind coordinator Leslie Frazier to get home more on the pass rush. If this happens, watch out.

 

6. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson leads this ship. 

But right now it’s not about the unbelievable skillset he possesses as a quarterback, but more about his avoidance of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He’s had the virus twice and considering how dependent the team is on LJ8 especially with the known issues at wide receiver, this team will be living on the tipping point of football catastrophe all season.

 

7. Los Angeles Rams 

For the Los Angeles Rams losing rising tailback Cam Akers for the season was a blow, but Sean McVay is a master playcaller and designer so they’ll figure that out.

Adding Matthew Stafford at quarterback instantly makes them better on that side of the ball than they’ve been since their surprising SB run in 2018-19.

Losing defensive coordinator Brandon Staley (Chargers HC), and some key pieces on that side of the ball in free agency, this screams regression for them.

But they do have reigning defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and arguably the league’s best cornerback in Jalen Ramsey. This team is still capable of being there at the end.

 

8. Tennessee Titans 

Down in Nashville the hype is real and the Tennessee Titans are looking to make a run.

An offense that fields Derrick Henry, Julio Jones and AJ Brown is capable of hanging thirty on any defense.

The problem is the Titans defense will give it right back. The expectancy is the defense can’t be as bad as 2020, but it’s the unquestioned Achilles heel keeping this team from achieving a lot more.

They had only 19 sacks as a team last season. That must double if they have any hope of competing with the Chiefs, Bills, Browns etc.

 

9. Seattle Seahawks 

During the off-season there was a lot of clamoring that we’d seen the last of Russell Wilson in the Pacific Northwest, but after a few contentious months he’s back in the fold and ready to lead the Seattle Seahawks.

 

 

The NFC West is the best division in the NFL with three teams in my top 10, so expect a slugfest in that division all season.

Areas of concern for the Hawks still lie in it’s pass rush and secondary.

 

10. San Francisco 49ers 

Out by the Bay, the San Francisco 49ers are building for the future while competing now, that’s the approach GM and newly cemented Hall of Famer John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan are taking.

Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start the season at quarterback, but there are plans to see No.3 overall draft pick Trey Lance in the mix as well.

Quarterback rotations don’t work so expect to see Lance handed the keys to the franchise sooner than later.

 

WILD CARDS:

 

Washington Football Team

Call it a leap of faith or whatever makes you happy, but the Washington Football Team is on the rise.

And last year they made the playoffs and pushed the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers to the brink in the despite having one of the worst offenses in NFL history.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, while flawed, is a significant upgrade over Alex Smith. The expectancy is the defense will be elite and there are underrated weapons on offense. This is the best and most complete team in the NFC East.

 

San Diego Chargers 

If you’re looking for a darkhorse Super Bowl contender, look no further than the Los Angeles Chargers led by gunslinger Justin Herbert.

Many believe Herbert is set to make the leap Josh Allen did in Buffalo. A vastly improved offensive line and Brandon Staley’s defense will have all-world safety Derwin James back at full-strength.

This team can and will challenge anyone in the AFC. That Week 1 matchup when they travel East to face the WFT should be fun and tell us a lot about both upstart organizations.

 

Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be under the gun with a defense that has the makings of being elite, so It’s imperative that he plays well. 

Head coach Brian Flores has accrued defensive talent down in South Beach and now he needs his QB to continue to improve in his second season.

The team added some key offensive weapons which should help Tua immensely.

 

Indianapolis Colts 

In Naptown, the buzz is about the team acquiring Carson Wentz via trade this off-season.

But unless he and All-Pro guard Quentin Nelson are healthy, this team will regress.

The Indianapolis Colts have a great roster, but trying to cover up for those key pieces is just too much to ask in the ultra tough and competitive AFC.

The one blessing is that Wentz, once healthy, reunites with Frank Reich who was a driving force when the ex-Eagle was headed to an MVP season in this offense in 2017-18 before a torn ACL cut his season short in Philly.

 

Honorable Mention:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Minnesota Vikings

Arizona Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys