Top 5 contenders for Super Bowl LI

Which two teams will face off in Houston next February? Mike Renner identifies the biggest contenders for Super Bowl LI.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Brad Penner)

(AP Photo/Brad Penner)

Top 5 contenders for Super Bowl LI


Less than 24 hours removed from Super Bowl 50, the PFF team is already gearing up for the 2016 season. Which teams are best-suited to contend for a title next February in Houston?

Here our my five picks for potential Super Bowl LI contenders.

1. New England Patriots

Not a single impact player from the 2015 version of the Patriots is going to be a free agent this offseason. On top of that, they’ll get LT Nate Solder and RB Dion Lewis back to complete what should be the most dynamic offense in the NFL. When those two were healthy the first three weeks of the season, the Patriots’ offense was easily the most dominant in the league, averaging almost 40 points per game.

One reason to temper expectations, though, is the lack of a first-round pick. The inability to add a first-round playmaker to the mix—and under $2 million in cap space—currently means the Patriots may not be able to plug holes along the porous offensive line. Tom Brady was sacked or hit a combined 112 times last season; at 39 years old, the Patriots can’t afford to hang him out to dry like that again.

2. Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are built for a nice run of success here in the near future. They have the cornerstones of their offense (Cam Newton) and defense (Luke Kuechley) locked up for the long term, they finally have cap room ($19 million), and only two key starters (Josh Norman and Mike Remmers) are set to hit free agency. Norman will, in all likelihood, be franchise tagged, and they could also get some cap relief by maneuvering the contracts of Jared Allen and Charles Johnson.

One thing is clear after the Super Bowl, though—the Panthers need some receivers. Former first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin should return, but the story in Carolina will once again be Cam Newton. Much of their breakout success this year can be traced to Newton’s development as a quarterback. If he can build that success with Benjamin returning, Devin Funchess improving in year two, and possibly another receiver added in the draft, then the Panthers have to be considered the favorite in the NFC.

3. Green Bay Packers

If the Packers can figure out a way to recapture their offensive dominance, they’ll be right there in the mix with the Panthers. Their number one receiver, Jordy Nelson, returns from an ACL injury, and Eddie Lacy will no doubt be in the best shape of his life after getting publicly called out by head coach Mike McCarthy for his weight. Those two changes should make a significant impact on an offense that likely brings back every starter from the 2014 team that was first in the league in scoring.

The real reason the Packers are this high, though, is their budding defense. The young secondary took a huge step forward in 2015, with the additions of Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in the first and second rounds of last year’s draft, respectively. The seven members of the secondary that received over 33 snaps combined for an overall cumulative grade of +33.4. If they can retain Casey Hayward, who is the only impact player on the Packers’ defense to hit free agency, this should be a balanced Super Bowl contender in 2016.

4. Seattle Seahawks

As long as the Seahawks have the top three members of the Legion of Boom intact, they’ll be a legit Super Bowl defense. The question is, can they make enough improvements to their offensive line to maintain a Super Bowl offense? Right guard J.R. Sweezy and left tackle Russel Okung are set to hit free agency, and they were the Seahawks’ two highest-graded starters from a year ago. So, it is entirely possible that things get worse before they get better up front.

With Russell Wilson, though, they’ve proven that the offensive line is an afterthought. He was our fifth-highest graded quarterback, despite the Seahawks having the third-worst pass-blocking in the league. Tyler Lockett should be an even deadlier weapon in year two after he was PFF’s second-highest graded rookie receiver, and the Seahawks have an entire offseason to incorporate Jimmy Graham into their offense more seamlessly.

5. Denver Broncos

This offseason will be the most difficult one in the brief tenure of GM John Elway. The lingering questions at the quarterback position and impending free agents keep the Broncos low on this list, but nabbing a QB in free agency (or having Peyton Manning return) would change that. It’s disappointing that even after four years of being groomed as a starter in waiting, Brock Osweiller is still a wild card as the Broncos’ starting quarterback. He’s going to be a free agent this offseason, and after 521 unflattering snaps in 2015 (71.3 overall grade), his future is uncertain.

It’s been reported that Denver will use the franchise tag to ensure Von Miller stays put, but that still leaves Evan Mathis, Malik Jackson, Brandon Marshall (restricted), Danny Trevathan, C.J. Anderson (restricted), and David Bruton unsigned for next year. That is a ton of talent to try and replace. That being said, the secondary and edge rushing will still be lights out. If Manning does call it quits, it will also leave them with a good deal of cap room to maintain that vaunted defense.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • bobrulz

    Broncos are going to be underdogs again. I know that the QB position is a huge question mark and that they won’t be able to retain all of their defensive talent, but all of the key members of the No Fly Zone are staying and the pass rush is still going to be unstoppable. Their offensive line should be better with more continuity within Kubiak’s offense and they should be able to find better RBs (keep Anderson, dump Hillman) in free agency for cheap or in the middle rounds of the draft.

    As for the QB position, well, they still won the Super Bowl even with major questions at QB THIS season, and despite Peyton being a handicap for most of the year. Of course an upgrade would be ideal, but they should be able to get by even with average QB play. I don’t know how anybody would think that Osweiler’s season was a disappointment, he played decently in the first starting games of his career in a generally unimpressive offense. There’s still significant room for improvement there.

    • bossmanham

      Broncos are done, man. This was their window. Good on them for jumping through it, but now it’s closed.

      • anon76returns

        Manning is gone. He will not be replaced with a similar talent, but we won with him when most of his talent was gone (and lost with him when he was still talented), so that hardly seems a determinative factor.

        Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan will be gone, but the Broncos already have similar types of players on the roster and 10 picks in the draft to supplement the talent level. I don’t see how the window is shut at all.

        • bossmanham

          The Broncos won with a lot of luck this year too. Yeah they ended up dominant, but were very vulnerable very often this year. The same breaks and fortunate circumstances won’t come together like that again, and we saw how the team was extra vulnerable without Manning in there.

          I don’t expect a rebuild year, but I also don’t expect another 12 win season.

          • anon76returns

            Don’t have to win 12 games every year. Yes, they had their share of luck, but they also lost some important pieces without even playing a down (Clady, Heuerman). And, people forget, the Kubiak offense and Wade’s 3-4 scheme were completely new to the team. They’ll be more experienced in the schemes next year. I expect the defense will regress a little, but with another full offseason of work I expect the offense to improve dramatically, especially with the talent at WR & RB, and a more settled situation on the OL.

          • raider_harvey

            How is the offense going to improve with no quarterback? Brock was so bad manning took the job back. If you get a new qb the offense will need time to learn him.

          • anon76returns

            Manning never lost the job. He was injured, rehabbed, and when he was healthy he came back in to play. Kubiak always said that it was Manning’s team when he was healthy. The media largely ignored what he kept saying, but that didn’t stop it from being the truth.
            On the other hand, Osweiller was good enough to beat the #2 and #3 seeds in the AFC, and would have finished 6-1 in his first 7 career starts if not for a muffed punt and series of dropped passes against the Raiders. His worst trait so far is taking to long to get the ball out, something that will improve with time. Otherwise, he’s good enough for this team to win.

          • Doc Bear

            You’re right. One note – Os was playing hurry-up pretty well until the MCL problems slowed him. With another year of study and training, I doubt he’ll have a problem.

          • anon76returns

            Thanks, Doc. Glad to see you around, still sharing wisdom.

          • Doc Bear

            Good to see you too, my friend. I’m writing for Orange Herd (the Broncos new fan site, which I love. Having a paycheck from Elway doesn’t hurt) and for Mile High Huddle, although less often. Neither has comment threads, but MHH says they’re coming this year. I miss the interaction, so I”m on twitter more often – @DocBearOMD

          • Doc Bear

            Since you’re a raider fan, you’ll propbably object regardless of accuracy, but even so:

            Manning had plantar fasciitis all year, but didn’t tell the team until after one of the 3 head partially tore. It’s hard to throw when you’re walking on broken glass.

            Brock Osweiler outscored him when he played. They used PM to boost the team in the SD game. It was a smart emotional move, although Os had already won games in the 4th and OT – and they left PM in for his last hurrah. He won the SB and can now ride off into the sunset with another record in the books. The defense will be somewhat changed, but the entire secondary is returning, as are most of the LBs and the DL.

            Since Os played better than Manning, the ‘no QB question’ is moot. Best of luck next season.

          • raider_harvey

            Lol I agree os played better than manning, and I’m happy for manning that he got the perfect ending.didn’t want him to go out the way he originally did. Brock was less bad then manning but still baddddd all stats were bad and they got worse as teams got to know him.
            That said you will likely lose Malik, trevathon, and ware, plus maybe Bruton. 3 Major defensive pieces lost is hardly ‘most lbs and dlinemen returning.

          • Doc Bear

            I agree – great to see PM get the ending he deserved – and earned.

            But for the claims of what will be true in terms of players next year, you know this because you have a source in the building or we’re just spitballing here?

          • raider_harvey

            Lol based off of what your own sportswriters suggest.

          • SpringsGal

            Broncos schedule next year is easier than this year. And all the tougher games are at home where they have a distinct home field advantage (Mile High). If one team is going to fall off next year, I think it is the Panthers. They will play a tougher schedule and Cam has been exposed. I think either Atlanta or NO will win that division. Carolina will be lucky to even make the playoffs next year as a wild card.

          • Cj

            How in the hell is Cam exposed lol he had one bad game outta what 18 lol SMH

          • SpringsGal

            Every NFL team next year is going to follow Denver’s game plan. Hit him, take him out of his comfort zone and watch him whine/self destruct. Defenses are going to talk to him about how he chickened out in the biggest game. The book is wide open. Get into Cam’s head early in the game and watch him self destruct. You will see “mopeyhead” in full display next year. And all NFL fans are going to shake their heads at his antics.

          • Doc Bear

            He was exposed in several areas. He’s got a long way to go as a pocket passer. He’s got great legs, but the read option was shut down – as usually happens by the end of the year (same happened with Tebow in Denver, although he can’t throw, and in Miami). His lack of maturity was exposed – he’ll develop it, but it takes time. It doesn’t take anything away from the year he had to notice that he WAS exposed – he’s very young, he did get excessively cocky and he got schooled. Nothing wrong with that.

          • raider_harvey

            I don’t believe other teams will consistently be able to do That to cam. However the Panthers had the easiest schedule in the league this year. Also I wouldn’t want a qb that is that immature. Making mistakes is fine ,but admit them, at least after you have calmed down.

    • raider_harvey

      They’re on the top 5 list with loads of question marks…Not sure what your understanding of ‘underdogs’ is

      • bobrulz

        There’s already so many people saying that their window is closed, and I just don’t see it. This defense is built to last for at least 3 or 4 seasons. Not to say that it will be this good that whole time, but I could easily see them being a top 2 or 3 defense for the next couple of years minimum.

        • raider_harvey

          You underestimate the effect of losing a few pieces. If their defense had been a little worse they would have lost the last two games. The D will be great but I doubt it will be good enough to mask the lack of a quarterback against great teams

          • SpringsGal

            The Broncos have a QB in Osweiller. The same Osweiller who went 5-2 last season and beat the likes of Patriots and Bengals.

            Broncos offense will be better next year with Osweiller being more mobile and also able to throw the deep ball. Osweiller got pulled this year because Manning provided the leadership/experience that Osweiller lacks. Osweiller will struggle some early next season. But will also learn in the process. And if the Broncos defense is healthy, they will win enough games and probably win the division again for the 6th consecutive year.

            5 consecutive AFC WEST Champs. The definition of dominance. I can understand how it must get really annoying for Chiefs and Raider fans.

          • Doc Bear

            Os came out in great part because he HAD AN MCL INJURY. He couldn’t run the hurry-up Kubes wanted. Putting in PM was a smart move – he was rested and much of his fasciitis was improved. It gave the team an emotional boost, which was the point – and they won. Those that claim that they ‘pulled Osweiler because he was worse than Manning’ should look up the head-to-head’ stats involved. You’ll find that you’re misinformed.

          • raider_harvey

            No one thinks manning ,this year, is better than anyone. But the team, even the defense, played better when paiton was there. Team didn’t believe in Brock. That may change and he may get better, but no, one is happy going into the season with him as the only option.

    • YouBarkIBite

      I definitely wouldn’t call Denver’s season a blueprint for success. Broncos had a lot of things break their way this year — could’ve easily been the #6 seed if they didn’t sneak past Cincinnati and SD to end the season (or been #2 if NE didn’t completely implode to end the year). They will need significant improvements on offense to sustain their success. On the other hand, the offense was so bad this year you’ve got to think it can only get better next year.

      • bobrulz

        I don’t disagree, but part of the reason the breaks went their way is because their defense forced them to go their way. I agree they won’t always be so lucky, but for every break that went their way, there was another that didn’t (all of their losses except the Chiefs were also very close).

        I don’t think Denver will maintain this good of a defense over the next several seasons, but I don’t envision a large drop-off next season either, and it was their defense that carried this team. If their offense sees even a modest amount of improvement, they could match that 12-4 record.

        • Rick S.

          Even though Denver had a tough schedule in 2015, they benefitted from having most of their tough games at home. In 2016 they have a similar schedule with only one really tough road game (Cincinnati). A team not mentioned is Pittsburgh. If they can stay healthy and find some DBs they’ll ne tough

          I think Malik will be too expensive, I heard he wants near $13M/yr, but they keep Brock, Bruton, Marshall. CJ. Trevathan is 50/50.

        • Doc Bear

          Vince Lombardi spoke at length about all the small things – a ball’s bounce, a ref’s viewpoint, an injury – that had to go right just to get to the SB, much less win it. He had a point. Teams that either meld or just get hot late in the season will be in that group. None of us know which will be there this February.

    • Brandon

      Not to mention the KC chiefs should of swept the entire AFC west. We’ve played Denver great both times last year. KC will win the division next year. We were just unfortunate got the injury bug. To play new england without Charles, Mac, and Houston we weren’t going to win.

      • SpringsGal

        Alex Smith is not going to win anything of significance. He is a mediocre QB and struggles in big games.

        • Brandon

          We will win because of our defense not our offense. Besides once we have our big three healthy well be deadly. Charles has more TDs in 2013 and 14 more then any other player those two years. To have Mac, Kelce and Charles you wouldn’t need smith to win because those three can carry smith.

          • SpringsGal

            The same defense that could not even touch Brady once in the playoffs is going to win with Andy Reid as the Head Coach. You have to first win the division and to do that you have to go through the Champs. See you in September.

          • Brandon

            No Houston that’s like Denver playing without Miller they would of not won’t without him. So ya we were without Mac and Houston. Houston is our miller. Houston is coming off of a 22 sack season.

          • Brandon

            Like I said that first round bye is important it keeps your players fresh. Let’s not forget when the chiefs actually won with dominance. Our turnover happy defense and conservative field goal anti turnover offense led us to be the 9th scoring offense. Another fun fact since reid came to KC no other has more rushing TD’s.

          • Doc Bear

            “since reid came to KC no other has more rushing TD’s.”

            Quite so. But if you’re honest, that has a lot more to do with Smith’s weaknesses than Charles’ skill.

            I like and admire Houston. But no, he’s not like Von Miller, who’s a once a decade (or better) player.

            Until your KC team actually wins in the playoffs, it’s all just talk and hot air. When you win a lot of close games w/ a QB who’s walking on broken glass (and beat three playoff teams with your backup), you get better and better at winning tough games. That’s what took Denver to the title. Best of luck next season.

          • Brandon

            Most definitely this was a season of inches one more lose and Denver plummets to the fifth seed. Brock actually played Better then Manning tho who only had one good game in week 2.

            Houston and Miller are very different. Miller is outstanding but is known to play a lil dirty. Since coming into the NFL no one has more roughing the pass penalties. Will Miller break the sack record? Who knows all I know is Houston also has the potential to be Miller like when healthy. 22 sacks is no fluke. I’ll definitely admit Miller is faster and great at the strip sack. Houston has entirely more batted passes tho. Their different players. Both equal of doing different things.

          • Doc Bear

            We’ll agree to disagree. When Houston’s the SB MVP, drop me a line. btw – your comment that Miller plays ‘dirty’ is absurd.

            I hate to say it, but your comments are like most KC fans. Half-informed, huge on predictions and constant on complaints about everyone else. Not so good on admitting your own team’s weaknesses. There are good reasons that the Chiefs went down so early. Deal with them.

          • Brandon

            No its a known fact would you like for me to send you the link that no other play has more roughing the passer penalties since coming into the league? The KC game instantly comes to mind him getting a cheap shot on Smith in a dead play. There is also visual evidence of him putting a knee on a players throat and him slamming an opponent down on the ground in the Colts game.

            no im an equal opportunists. I’ll quickly admit the flaws of my team. Like Reids horrible clock management. Smiths horrible red zone game. I’ll even be quick to judge loved KC players like Berry’s struggles will guarding TE’s. Smith averaged 3 air yards per attempt. 25th in the league. He threw for a career high 3400 yards but 2000 were after the catch. I harp on this often because to be a great team you have to iron every crinkle.

          • Doc Bear

            Miller left his feet early – still does at times, but he hits squarely. Categorizing a pass rushing specialist for that as ‘dirty’ is horsefeathers.

          • Brandon

            Which play? The smith hit? No your watching the wrong play. One play was whistled dead because of a false start and Charles was going to pick up the block but blatantly stopped because the play was dead and miller proceed to go for smith when I’ll say it again the play was dead. Go look st the article there is visual evidence that he has more penalties then any other player in the league since 2011. It shows him putting a knee on a players neck. It shows him head butting players it shows him slamming players on the ground after the play is over. It shows one play where Miller clearly got a very cheap shot on Smith leading with his helmet. It just sucks that such a dirty player got an MVP. Id rather it go to Manning the only one that plays fair. Look at the article and tell me he isn’t dirty? Your kidding right?

          • Brandon

            http://www.arrowheadpride.com/2015/11/10/9703348/kansas-city-chiefs-beware-von-miller-broncos-penalties there is also one there’s a Bronco friendly version of it on Mile high report. In both those articles the evidence presents itself. Since coming into the league Miller has 12 roughing the passer penalties the closest one afterword’s is 6. They even have visual evidence from his dirty actions versus the colts this year.

        • Brandon

          Trust me when I say I’m a chiefs fan die hard but not so much a smith fan. Smith is 3-40 when opponents score 24 points. He’s 1-14 as a chief when opponents score 24 points. He’s only had one 1000 yard receiver his entire career(Mac 2015) and only has 5 career 300 yard passing game.

      • bobrulz

        Half of KC’s defense is hitting free agency this year. Andy Reid has done a great job getting this team to overperform, but realize that with the exception of the Broncos (who were playing with a clearly too-injured-to-play Peyton Manning), they basically beat all the poor teams and lost to all the good teams.

        I respect the Chiefs a great deal, but I would be surprised if they made the playoffs next year. Then again, the AFC West is probably going to be a weak division overall next year.

        • Brandon

          Not really half the only key player that will hit free agency is Sean Smith. Berry DJ, Hali will return. Add that to defensive rookie of the year we will still be solid. Take into consideration that chiefs almost beat the broncos twice and the first time we faced them we led the entire game until the very end.
          That was without our two starting tackles and our corner (which is why Manning targeted Flemming 5/5 times on the last drive) we also loses Gaines for the season in week three. Gaines and Smith held down the 2014 season as the number two defense in the league in points allowed and passing yards. Losing Gaines is like denver losing Robey.

          Denver also benefited from an easier schedule. Look at the broncos schedule. The only thing that’s different is we played the Texans they played the colts. You played new england we played buffalo. As for the good teams. Green bay Minnesota Cincinnati new england all these teams denver had the privileged of playing them spread out across the schedule and at home. Kc had to play them all back to back to back to back on the road. That’s a lot tougher.

          Denver also didn’t blow out any team this year at all and struggled versus bad teams as well like the browns and San Diego when KC during their win streak won by an average of 20 points. They actually beat teams pretty bad and this was without Charles. The leading TD man in the league for the last two years.

          As for AFC west being weak your completely wrong. In the last three years we have had 2 winning teams this year and three winning teams next year.

  • Tim Tebow

    Brock is going to do well for the Broncos.

    • raider_harvey

      He lost his job to manning

      • Doc Bear

        Still playing that same, broken violin, eh?

        • raider_harvey

          What broken violin? He played less bad then manning but you can’t possibly believe he’s good??

          • Doc Bear

            The broken violin is your repeated claim that he ‘lost’ his job to Manning. It’s inaccurate – so let’s do a fact check.

            1. Brock’s MCL injury – Kubiak stated that as a key reason for the QB change. Brock couldn’t run the hurry-up with the knee injury, PM could.

            2. Kubes repeated weekly that Manning was the QB and would return when healed sufficiently (the injury will require months off in therapy or a surgery, depending on the location and severity of the tear). Kubiak felt Manning was healthier and would provide a spark, which is what happened.

            3. Brock was the back-up. He never ‘lost’ his job. He was the back-up at the end of the year, too. He out-scored PM and played well for a 1st season performer, beating GB, NE and CIN.

            Carr wasn’t brilliant in his 1st 1/2 season either – it’s normal. So, how about stopping with the inaccuracies?

          • raider_harvey

            What are you talking about… he didn’t beat anyone, that ridiculous defense did…all of that is smokescreen…manning played terrible. If Brock had not been getting toasted you know very well he would have kept the job he got as a result of injury. Dozens of players have proven this.
            I am not sure Brock will continue playing poorly as you said Carr progressed, bottles went from terrible to good as well. However they were both on bad teams and had to make something happen. Brock had the best D in the nfl backing him up. Brock may progress but stop your inaccuracy of pretending you’re happy with your qb situation.

  • kdubs412

    Something to keep in mind: the Panthers had the luxury of playing the NFC East and AFC South this year, pretty comfortably the two worst divisions in the league. Easy to see them struggling against the NFC and AFC west next year.

    • Marcel

      3-0 against the NFC West this year.

      • kdubs412

        True, but they played two of those three games at home in the playoffs. Might not get the luxury of home field having to play Denver, KC, Seattle, Arizona, Oakland and Los Angeles (man that’s weird to type). It’s objectively a muuch tougher schedule.

    • TheTruth

      Yes they played a very easy schedule, i think the easiest in terms of record from the year before or this year, rarely played a decent Defense.

  • B17

    um… falcons???

    • Dave

      Really? Lol

      • SeattleSteve

        They were on PFF’s top five teams in the league list, weeks after they fell off a cliff. So I’m guessing B17 was being tongue in cheek.

      • B17

        yes :)

  • sedeyus

    It’s funny but I still think people are underestimating the Denver Broncos defense. This was an all-time great year for that defense. Better than Seattle in 2013 who had a top ten offense and the number one running game (so they could control the clock and give their defense leads). Bronco’s offense was pretty awful all season long, couldn’t move the football at all (LESS THAN 200 YARDS IN THE SUPER BOWL!) and it didn’t matter. They punked three of the top offenses in the league during the playoffs. It was incredibly.

    Both the offensive and defense schemes were brand new so everybody’s liable to get better in year two. If Elway can figure out a way to keep Miller, Malik Jackson, Brandon Marshall, and Ware, the Broncos could win a super bowl with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Mark Sanchez at quarterback.

    • Michael James

      They were great but not on a historical level in my opinion. The Steelers torched them in the second half of the first game and they were without Bell and half of their OL. Like I said, they were great, but also profited from playing against two heavily decimated offenses (Pittsburgh, New England) in the playoffs.

      • sedeyus

        You say torched but at the end, they only scored 10 points in the first half and six in the second. I’m not sure Bell would have made that much of a difference considering how well Denver handled Carolina’s run game (outside of a few Cam runs). Maybe Brown would have mattered, but it’s playoff football and Brown was kept pretty much in check by the Bengals.

        And I won’t even give an injury excuse to New England. They had Gronk and Edelman back and they scored 27 on Kansas City the prior week, who statistically was rated higher than Denver when it came to points allowed.

        If the Broncos had gotten anything from their offense, I think they would have been blown these teams out.

        • Michael James

          I meant the game in the regular season, were the Steelers were actually more healthy and demolished them (while still missing Bell, Pouncey and Beachum). In the playoffs they nearly beat Denver without Bell, Williams, Brown, Pouncey, Beachum and an injured Roethlisberger.

          • Doc Bear

            But you’d agree that a regular season game’s outcome (btw, Denver was w/o Wolfe, Miller and a few lesser but essential players, so the cry of ‘injury’ isn’t entirely fair or accurate) means a great deal less than one in the playoffs, yes?

          • Michael James

            Of course, but I think you would agree that playing against a Steelers offense without Brown, Bell, Williams, Pouncey, Beachum and an injured Roethlisberger shows less how good you are than a game against an offense at nearly full strength?

          • jconeoone C

            Are you trying to say Von Miller wasn’t playing in the regular season game against Steelers?……bc yes he did

        • gronkman7

          They had gronk and edelman back, but they were still without RB’s Dion Lewis and LaGarette Blount. So the balanced screen passing with Lewis and Power running were gone. Not to mention the line had Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason starting, and a recently recovered Josh Kline. Vollmer is a RT and barely fills Sodler’s shoes at LT. It was a fairly bad o-line and no run game……

          but ya, the defense did great against the receivers and Brady!

    • raider_harvey

      Elway is not a wizard. He can’t keep all of them. And he won’t have one of those quarterbacks. Half the league has no quarterback. This D is amazing but it will not be historically good without a few pieces. No longer good enough to mask the lack of a quarterback against great teams. But yes they have been underestimated.

      • sedeyus

        Well, they’re 10 million under the cap right now. If Peyton retires, that’s another 20 million off the books. If they cut Ryan Clady (who didn’t play last year) that’s 10 million. And if they decide they’ll go with Shane Ray or Shaquill Barrett as the second outsider linebacker, Ware would also be a 10-million cap casualty. So the Broncos have a lot of flexibility with what they want to do and I think they could end up keeping about 9 or 10 guys on the defense for next year at least.

        And you don’t think the team that just won a superbowl wouldn’t be somewhat of an appeal to a game-manager type quarterback? Although I still imagine it’s going to be Osweiller.

        • raider_harvey

          I didn’t say they wouldn’t be an appeal I said those guys are on other teams so you can’t have them. You’re forgetting Brock will cost at least 10, von at least 15, you planning to resign Malik, trevathan, your other linebacker, your rbs, etc. With 15million? (Your numbers for each cap savings are slightly exaggerates) plus 10 other guys that will cost a mil. Or two.
          You will still have a great D but let’s be serious, losing all those guys on D plus the best guard in the league, your team will not be quite as good. If you’re not quite as good you won’t be able to cover for your terrible offense against top flight teams.

          • sedeyus

            My numbers aren’t exaggerated, I’m using overthecap.com and with Peyton, Clady, and Ware gone, the Broncos would have 48 million in cap space and could franchise Miller for 13.5 million. So they would have 35 million after that. Brandon Marshall and C.J. Anderson are both restricted free agents which means they could be brought back for reasonably cheap and I seriously doubt Brock gets more than 10 million without having a full year under his belt.

            And take into account, that both the offensive and defense systems were brand new and players usually get better their second year in a system, the Broncos are going to be fine.

          • raider_harvey

            Lol look around the league at qbs I’d be shocked if Brock got only 10. That crappy eagles qb wants 25. Let’s make this simple. Ware kicks ass, if relay waves a magic wand and keeps everyone else you still lose Ware. Lose an all pro and stay just as good? Doubtful. If you are even a little worse you won’t beat the top flight teams. You’re acting like I’m saying you’re going to be garbage, I’m not I’m saying you’re will lose in the playoffs.
            And be serious no matter how much you bend the numbers you don’t believe all those guys are staying, you’ll lose Ware, Mathis, probably triathlon and Malik, and probably more.
            Look at the previous powerhouse defenses that won a sb with no qb…How many of them repeated?

          • sedeyus

            There was a report that Bradford wanted 25 million before the season began and then the season started and he’s absolutely not getting it. But more than likely, he’ll up getting paid more than Osweiller.

            Losing Ware would hurt, I just don’t think enough that the Broncos won’t still have the best defense in the league. Shane Ray was a top ten pick who dropped because of character concerns. He also had four sacks in limited reps and there’s no question he’s going to improve in season two.

            No question, this team won’t repeat if the offense doesn’t get better to negate the defenses’ loses but I think it will. I think everybody’s going to be more comfortable in year two of Kubiak’s system, I think Brock is going to better in year two as a starter. And I think Peyton was really bad at the end there and couldn’t drive the ball at all.

          • raider_harvey

            I am happy Peyton got to go out on top despite being over the hill. Osweiler shouldn’t get as much as Bradford,but Bradford is not that good and is always injured so he outlines the qb problem in the league.
            Also other teams are not sitting idly by, they are improving as well. The chiefs won’t 11straight, while they were not quite as good as that sounds they have young guys coming up as well. The raiders young guys are dramatically improving, to the point that free agents may consider coming to take the massive amount of money they have. Both of those teams even this year beat you once and nearly twice. The chargers still suck but the rise of the other two will make it difficult to get a first round bye next year, and subsequently beat the powerhouse teams.
            Also, guys like Ray etc. Benefited from the presence of ware trevathon and Malik, The loss of which will negate the gains from year one to two

          • Autocephallus

            It’s not a foregone conclusion they keep Brock. You said it yourself he’s a bad quarterback.

          • raider_harvey

            I disagree, he looked okay then got worse when defenses had some tape on him…However they will likely not have a choice unless they want to start a late first round qb…And anyone else they would likely have to pay even more than Brock…as a raiders fan I like their lack of options lol we need them to have a garbage qb with that ridiculous defense

          • Autocephallus

            Why would they not have a choice? They won the Superbowl with subpar QB play all year. They’re better off letting Osweiler go, resigning the defense and starting Siemian or a draft pick.

            Paying Brock 10M+ to be a game manager is a waste and Elway is shrewd enough to know that.

          • raider_harvey

            Because Brock is a bad qb but he’s not a horrible qb. To see what horrible qb play does to a team check out hoyers 6 interceptions in the playoffs for the Texans.

          • SpringsGal

            Carr has started 2 years for the Raiders and is a below 0.500 QB. Osweiller has a 5-2 record. I would take Osweiller over Carr. Osweiller has wins against teams such as Pats and Bengals. The same Bengals that routed the Raiders and held them scoreless in the first game of the year.

          • raider_harvey

            Be serious you would not. The raiders d is terrible and Denver’s Is one of the best ever. Being a fan is fine but this is preposterous.

          • SpringsGal

            I am dead serious. Granted, I don’t watch every single Raider game….just the Sports Center highlights. Also the Raiders have not played in very many nationally televised games.

            But what I saw of Carr during the 4 Bronco games, has not been confidence inspiring. He lost 3 of those games. Even in the one win, he threw for less than 150 yards. In the home game, he had a back breaking Pick 6. Time will tell (probably as early as next season if Brock starts for Denver). But I would take Brock over Carr. Just my opinion.

          • raider_harvey

            Lmao against the best D in football? Look at what Brock did in his game against the raiders pathetic defensive secondary… 0 touchdowns and let 1 player sack him 5 times.
            Carr threw a pick six because he was trying to overcome his terrible defense.
            He has the second most touchdowns in his first two years of any qb ever. 32 touchdowns to 13 interceptions this year.
            You keep citing wins…do you honestly believe a qb getting wins with your D over mine is an equal stat? I.e. was manning better than Brady in the championship game or was your D better than theirs?
            Check the site you’re on PFF check the top qbs at the top of the page… top 10 in his second year.
            I’m sorry I still don’t believe you it’s just too ridiculous, even a casual nfl fan wouldn’t say that. I’d be somewhat surprised if other broncos fans would even say something so silly.

          • SpringsGal

            The Broncos also have 10 draft picks in the upcoming draft. They have drafted well for most part under Elway. Players like Wolfe, Trevethan, Malik Jackson, Chris Harris Jr., C.J. Anderson, Matt Paradis, Brandon Marshall, Sylvester Williams, Bradly Roby, Shane Ray, Shaq Barret (Eric Decker, Julius Thomas) were all draft picks or undrafted free agents. They will lose some players in free agency. But will reload again through the draft.

          • Jaguars

            Actually Brandon Marshall was cut by the jaguars before being picked up by the broncos

    • Max

      In super bowl 48 the Hawks held the highest scoring offense in NFL history to just eight points! The Seahawks super bowl defense was clearly better then Denver’s.

    • Doc Bear

      Marshall’s a restricted FA, so he’s unlikely to leave. Danny T has said he wants to stay, as has Miller. The entire secondary is under contract. So is most of the DL (Malik should get better money elsewhere).

  • Skolbro28

    The packers ahead of the Vikings?! We dominated the division and we’re gonna win it easily, again! All of our corners, linebackers, dline, oline, special teamers, HBs, WRs, TEs and QBs are better than theres! Skol!

    • Galvitron

      ^this guy over here acting like the Vikings are good and actually better than the Packers. That’s adorable. I might give you oline and depending on Adrian but D is a toss up and the fact you have QB and WRs in there is just a joke. They will be lucky to finish 2nd in the division and still not make the playoffs next year

    • harley

      Your delusional

      • enai D

        lol L2English cheesehead

  • Ike Evans

    #steelers

    • LostAlone

      It’s a total snub to not have the Steelers on this list. Their passing attack gashed the vaunted Bronco’s D and even with a laundry list of injuries they were competitive right to the end. They don’t stand to lose any pieces in the off season, and if anything are going to come back better. How can you possibly leave off the best offense in the league?

      • kdubs412

        Lack of skill/depth in the secondary and at OLB is still very concerning. As we just saw defense wins championships. Steelers will need to shore up both areas with limited cap space in FA/draft.

      • Doc Bear

        Probably because Denver beat them in the playoffs (yes, w/o Brown, who I would have loved to watch). Denver won’t be the same team – could be as good or not, but clearly has too many contracts up to maintin much but the essential core. Lots of good youth, though.

      • TheTruth

        Steelers gashed Broncos while Ward and Stewart (top 5 in coverage for FS) were out, and your O lineman had a dirty hit on the Back up whos leg was broken on that play. And it was in Pitt. What happened when all that switched? Ooooooooooooooooooooooh, ben had to watch the SB at home like me.

        • TheTruth

          You think missing one reciever in Denver isnt as bad as missing 2.5 safeties in Pitt? See what happens when everything is even? We dominate, Pitt barely got away with a W. Luckily their O is somehow a lot worse than Pitts O.

    • kdubs412

      Pass rush must improve but offense has all the pieces to be historic if it can stay healthy. Sammie coates could be the next Pittsburgh WR to break out

  • JudoPrince

    “If he can build that success with Benjamin returning, Devin Funchess improving in year two, and possibly another receiver added in the draft, then the Panthers have to be considered the favorite in the NFC”

    If Carolina proved they could be one of the top offenses without Benjamin, why would WR be a priority? Benjamin is a true #1 and getting him back is a huge addition. Funchess has clearly taken a step as the season went on. Philly Brown is continuing to show off his skill set with outstanding route running and the ability to attack the football aggressively in the air. I can imagine Brown growing into a Doug Baldwin at some point with the competitive underdog drive he has. Another quality receiver would only help, but its not a priority. The priority would be finding a long term tackle and another edge pass rusher.

  • JC Harris

    I’d put the Steelers over the Broncos at this point, though that defense is capable of putting them there again regardless of QB. And there is ALWAYS a surprise in the mix (ahem, Panthers). The love affair with the Patriots needs to stop though. Seriously.

    Pick a surprise team … a wild card … let’s say the Bucs, or maybe Detroit …. the Colts …. Texans if they can find a QB …

    • Rick S.

      Pittsburgh will have the best offense in the league and if they can figure out something in the secondary they IMO are the team to beat in the AFC along with New England.

      Denver’s offense will be better due to an improved OL and their defense will still be really good even if they lose a few guys, (probably Malik & Bruton). Brock was much better than I thought and i think he’s a young Joe Flacco. Any projection for Denver hinges on how well Brock plays… Will we see the guy who led comebacks against great teams (NE & CIN) or the guy who was held scoreless for 3 consecutive second halves. They benefit from playing much easier out of division opponents with most of their tough games at Mile High. I think the AFCW will come down to OAK and DEN with Denver winning it.

      My surprise teams are Baltimore bouncing back and the NYG easily winning the NFCE.

  • disqus_jimlaws007

    I don’t see MY COWBOYS listed, and w/ Tony #09 feeling healthier than in 3-4 yrs they’ll be contenders again !! That’s w/out even mentioning our high draft pick, which we’ll make GOOD use of, as opposed to some teams !! I won’t mention any names, but it’s a dark color like excrement & plays that way, or a team Osama Barrack Obama would liken as his :)

  • SpringsGal

    The national media is in love with Cam and the Panthers. Panthers are going to struggle to win 7 or 8 games next year. Tougher schedule. And Cam is a me first selfish showboat. How can Cam face the rest of his teammates in the lockerroom after admitting he did not dive on the fumble because he did not want to get hurt? The same lockerroom has Thomas Davis who played with a broken hand unselfishly? The Panthers are going to come apart at the seams next year with a lot of finger pointing in the lockerroom.

    • shaunhan murray

      Broken arm actually, this hole not jumping on the ball thing is so stupid, Cam put that offense on his back against a great d without any play makers, he struggled but he didnt blame his team or any one else.Unlike Peyton Manning didn’t even shake drew brees hand when he lost the super bowl and he has straight called out/ blamed his oline after big games.His teammates love him and understand the situation

      • Doc Bear

        Actually, it was the head coach calling out the OL after the SB, and for very good reason – he’d begged for better players preseason. The line was a big reason the Colts lost that year.

        I agree with you – Cam would have been a fool to dive into that scrum. At what he’s paid, fighting at the bottom of a pile would give him coaches apoplexy. The rest of the team won’t care about what is a media/fan issue – perhaps ‘invention’ would be more accurate.

        • shaunhan murray

          Fair enough Peyton didnt shake Brees hand after the game and that matters alot more than dealing with the media.the funny thing is, Cam did go after the ball, just after he jumped back a bit, he said his leg contorted dangerously and I believe him, that isnt something that u plan out stuff happens to fast for anything other than honesty

    • TheTruth

      They get Benjamin back, that can open up the whole offense. Plsu everyone on that team will be one year better

  • Alfredo Cota

    1) Seahawks
    2) Steelers
    3) Cardinals
    4) Packers
    5) Patriots
    6) Vikings
    7) Panthers
    8) Bengals
    9) Broncos
    10) Cowboys/Ravens
    (Raiders fan here, no bias)

    • Rick S.

      1. Patriots
      2. Steelers
      3. Panthers
      4. Seahawks
      5. Bengals
      6. Broncos
      7. Giants
      8. Cardinals
      9. Vikings
      10. Raiders/Packers

      As a Bronco fan, it kills me to put New England 1st, but their defense is young/good, they have Brady & BB will reshape their OL. I think the AFC is a lot better. My surprise teams are the Giants and Raiders who both have some good foundational players and a lot of cap space. Denver is easily the hardest team to predict as they could fall anyone from #1 to not on the list, it all depends on a how an inexperienced but promising QB plays.

      • Alfredo Cota

        I hate the Pats at least as much as you 😉
        How do you think they’ll improve the line? They have very little cap space and no first-round pick. I see them pretty much as the same team of this past year, except the Bills and Dolphins can’t suck forever and the Jets will improve even more. Nice rankings though, and hopefully the Raiders will make the leap!

        • Rick S.

          They’ll get Soldier back and they re-hired their OL coach from a few years ago who came out of retirement. But mostly Belichick is usually really good about addressing his team’s weaknesses and after seeing Brady get clobbered repeatedly in the AFCCG, he will address it. They still play in an awful division and that helps them immensely.

  • Shawn Fenn

    Nothing will be the same as last year. Depending on how good the 32 teams are by drafting players, that’s what matters more. There are more contenders that could enter the Super Bowl next year, such as the Lions, the Eagles, the Cardinals, or even the Vikings.

    • enai D

      The Lions? Um, no.

  • TheTruth

    If Peyton and Ware or Jackson leave Broncos, they could afford to re sign all their FA’s for 7x the $$ they made this year, and the Broncos are suddenly back in business with the Best D in the league. Add the starting Tackles coming off injury and this team looks like it could be the best EVER. We will see what God does.

    • raider_harvey

      Jackson isn’t under contract, his leaving doesn’t free up money…assuming you mean Malik? Your free agents will want more than 7 times what they were making in some cases…and starting tackles or not the oline is currently terrible… the best ever team???? Think of who your current best team ever is…I doubt their qb is in the same league as Brock?

      • TheTruth

        All of Broncos FAs except Von, made less than 2m this year, if Manning reitres, plus cutting Ware, and reconstructing Clady contract (hes missed 30 games, or $21m in games) they will have $48 mil in cap space. Elway sigend Harris whos been the best coverage and run support corner the last 2 years for 9 mil and he was an undrafted colege FA, Wolfe was graded as a top 3 run stoper, top 10 pass rusher, and was a higher round than Malik, and he signed for 6 mil, Marshall and Trevathan are hungry low rounders, if they all take a little less than deserved they can come back and enter their prime together (thats scary). Also, Broncos had their all pro LT out all year, his backup was a rook, who we lost week 7. Our C was a rook, a rookie LG played half the snaps this year, adding back to pass protecters will help Brock, and he SHOULD be quicker this year with all the 1st team reps. The line will kbow the scheme better. The Defense will know the D better, and they will be entering there prime with new contracts and a fat ring. If im smart, im staying on a team that can let me play next to the superbowl MvP and the rest of the BEST DEFENSE EVER. Especially if i know theyre all under 29 going in their prime, lol. Raider fans can deny for now, but Broncos could be set. We could have all starting 22 signed through 2018.

        • raider_harvey

          You’re extremely wrong… to start wolfe signed for 9.1 a year not 6, Malik will cost at least 10 but probably 12, trevathon will cost at least 7, Marshall is restricted so they can keep him for cheaper. Van will cost 14 on a tag and probably 18 if they work out a deal. Brock will cost at least 10, your sportswriter yesterday suggested 12 wouldn’t even be enough. This is already at least 44 and up to 52 million potentially, plus you have a dozen other guys that are a million or two that you have to sign or replace, plus paying draft picks…what are you smoking?
          The other stuff is all hoping people get better, lots of people get worse not better in their second year. You’re also leaving out how much worse your line will be , which already sucked, without Mathis the highest rated guard in the nfl. How will they stop Mack, Houston, and watt? All of which they play this year?
          You are assuming ‘all 22 under contract’ you’re forgetting you have to pay 52 guys.
          Not all of them will ‘be smart take a pay cut and stay’ they have a ring…many will look to get paid as Malik says ‘i need to feed my family’
          This year’s defense is the best I’ve ever seen but takeaway ware, probably Malik, trevathon, and Bruton , as suggested by the Denver post yesterday, and they will not be as good. Denver fans need to recognize that this will not be the same team next year no matter how much they want it to be. They will still be good, Damn good, possibly even still win the division, but no first round bye and home field advantage, without those playmakers on D and Mathis on Oline you wouldnt have beat the patriots, Panthers, and steelers in the playoffs.

          • TheTruth

            Youre extremely wrong, Wolfe is making 6.8 next year, malik isnt on his level, and the ILBs arent as valuable as a top 3/5 run defending/pass rushing(wolfe) or a top 10 rusher and run defender(malik) cutting Manning could cover for both the ILBs and Malik, who were all making less than 2m this year

          • raider_harvey

            http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000623207/article/broncos-sign-derek-wolfe-to-4year-contract-extension
            Check it out… Also Malik has been much more consistent, is worth more. Read anything written about him. Plus if you read what he says he clearly doesn’t think he is coming back.
            Of course ilb don’t make as much but still expensive…Plus who cares what they have been making they will be making more now.

  • enai D

    The Packers? LOL! I thought this was a serious article…

  • David Stinnett

    I’ll see GB’s budding defense, and raise it SEA’s full-on blooming offense.

  • Larry Orren

    All I can say is it was one heck of a defensive battle between the Panthers and Broncos.

  • Mary Dodson

    Tom Brady and the Patriots were sacrificed for sake of heritage and legacy. You know why.

  • Mary Dodson

    Hopefully, SB51 will be between the Panthers and the Patriots–as 2050 should have been. Two great Quarterbacks make the Game so much more exciting–especially when Cam Newton is 1 of the two.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Where the **** are the Cardinals and the Steelers?