Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

The Super Bowl LVIII matchup is set, with the Kansas City Chiefs scheduled to square off with the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas on Feb. 11. It’s the culminating contest for two contenders long expected to be in the mix for this year’s Lombardi Trophy.

But which of their 12 fallen playoff challengers have a legitimate chance of claiming the big stage for themselves next year? Here, we’re ranking all the defeated postseason teams by their chances of reaching Super Bowl LVIV in February 2025:

2023 finish: 9-8 (1-1 playoffs)

The NFC South has been extremely winnable for years, but two of Tampa Bay’s top players — quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Mike Evans — have expiring contracts, and ascending coordinator Dave Canales has since fled to the rival Panthers as their new head coach.

2023 finish: 10-7 (0-1)

Mike Tomlin’s inability to field a losing team counts for something, and he appears genuinely interested in an overdue offensive staffing shift. But even if the young weapons are decent and the defense is always feisty, the glaring lack of a reliable QB looms large. If someone like Kirk Cousins hops aboard, then we’ll really talk.

2023 finish: 11-6 (0-1)

The Joe Flacco redemption tour ended with a whimper in the playoffs, and now it’s back to square one under center, where Deshaun Watson hasn’t played a full year of above-average football since 2020. Some of their other key pieces, like Nick Chubb and Jack Conklin, are also aging and/or coming off serious injuries.

2023 finish: 10-7 (0-1)

They were a revelation despite jettisoning big-name defensive talent, with Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua helping revive Matthew Stafford’s career. But can the QB sustain his return to form going on 36? Remember it wasn’t long ago this team was reportedly trying to restart under center. The “D” will also be in transition after coordinator Raheem Morris’ exit.

2023 finish: 11-6 (0-1)

No one doubts this team can move the ball and light up the scoreboard, but just about everyone now doubts whether Tua Tagovailoa and Mike McDaniel have the answers to beat elite teams off-script. Is it possible they’ve already peaked as an offensive pairing? The “D” is also in for another adjustment after Vic Fangio’s short-lived stay.

2023 finish: 9-8 (1-1)

You could just as easily swap them with the Texans (see below), for both clubs have a red-hot young QB (Jordan Love here) buoying an equally young supporting cast. While their defense is due for turnover after Joe Barry’s departure, coach Matt LaFleur’s offensive flexibility and playoff experience is invaluable, setting the stage for a return to true relevance in the NFC North.

6. Texans

2023 finish: 10-7 (1-1)

QB C.J. Stroud is the real deal after a remarkably poised debut. Now imagine him with better weapons and protection, which Houston should be able to implement thanks to plenty of 2024 salary cap space. It helps the AFC South is also a crapshoot.

2023 finish: 12-5 (0-1)

They and their NFC East rival Eagles could be viewed as ticking time bombs: They’re primed for either a total implosion or explosion after embarrassing playoff exits that marred otherwise statistically successful seasons. Jerry Jones’ surprising commitment to Mike McCarthy atop the staff could aid in keeping Dak Prescott and Co. comfortable, and the defense is still littered with young playmakers. As always, however, the issue is coming through when it matters most.

2023 finish: 12-5 (2-1)

Detroit lived and died by Dan Campbell’s ceaseless aggression in 2023, confirming a new identity as a smashmouth winner while failing to reach their apparent playoff ceiling. Can Jared Goff remain a borderline top-10 passer? His array of versatile young weapons should sure help. The key for the Lions, besides perhaps some added situational awareness from Campbell, will be restocking a vulnerable “D,” as well as a staff in danger of losing play-caller Ben Johnson.

3. Eagles

2023 finish: 11-6 (0-1)

Maybe the toughest team to read of them all, the Eagles have an undeniable track record as a contender under embattled coach Nick Sirianni, going 34-17 with three straight playoff bids since 2021. They were also one of the absolute worst teams in football to close 2023, resulting in a clean slate of coordinators and fair questions about Sirianni’s own future. QB Jalen Hurts is tough and destined to rebound alongside stars like A.J. Brown, and the “D” can’t be much worse. But their talent will only equate to another Super Bowl appearance if the cracks beneath the surface and along the staff can be repaired.

2023 finish: 11-6 (1-1)

They have so many similarities to the Andy Reid-led Eagles, which is fitting considering Sean McDermott’s emergence from that coaching tree. They’re simply always on the precipice, but never finishing the job. And yet, as long as Josh Allen is the QB, they can’t be counted out of any game. He had an MVP-caliber finish under new coordinator Joe Brady, and if they can add another wideout while restocking the defense, they should have a solid path to winning the AFC East once more.

2023 finish: 13-4 (1-1)

They were out of sync and undisciplined in their shot to reach the Super Bowl this year, which makes two times Lamar Jackson has earned the No. 1 seed but failed to reach the big game. But Jackson looked like a different animal under Todd Monken this year, finally pairing more efficient passing with his trademark scrambling. The defense, meanwhile, was elite and has young leaders like Kyle Hamilton. If they can restock out wide, where Zay Flowers could use more help, they’ll go into 2024 not only with AFC Championship experience but a better opportunity to unseat the Chiefs as the conference’s top dog.

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