In advance of a 2020 NFL season in which anything and everything appears to be on the table, it only seems right to put together our annual preview of how each of the league’s 32 teams could win the Super Bowl. It might seem wild when last year’s winner wasn’t exactly an upset, of course, but the 49ers went from a 4-12 season with the second-worst record in football all the way to within a play or two of glory. Here’s what we wrote then:
“The 49ers are probably the best surprise-division-winner pick in the league, which could propel them to a 2016 Falcons-esque run in January.”
San Francisco won its division, comfortably manhandled the Vikings and Packers to win the NFC and then blew a lead in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. It technically took place in February, but otherwise, that one seems pretty on point.
In this exercise, we try to find a plausible scenario in which each and every NFL team could win a championship. Since teams can’t win unless they get into the postseason, many of these write-ups detail how a team could exceed expectations and end up in an advantageous situation come January. Obviously, these are 32 different scenarios. I don’t wish or hope for injuries upon any player, but the reality is that teams at the lower end of the probability spectrum probably need an injury or two to an opposing quarterback to have a viable path toward a division title, let alone a championship.
The teams are ranked according to their probability of winning the Super Bowl by ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), and I have also added each teams’ odds from Caesars sportsbook by William Hill. In other words, these aren’t my predictions or estimates of each team’s Super Bowl chances. In this universe, I’ll take the Chiefs over the Buccaneers in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 7, 2021. Let’s see how things might play out in 31 other universes:
Chance to win Super Bowl LV: Less than 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 4.3%
Caesars’ Super Bowl odds: +25000
Gardner Minshew, Super Bowl champion? This list has to start somewhere, and while the Jaguars certainly seem like they’re rebuilding after trading away defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and safety Ronnie Harrison last week, it’s not impossible to construct a path in which they make it to the postseason. Just look at the AFC South. The Texans are expected to decline. The Titans have little under center behind oft-injured quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Colts have a 38-year-old quarterback in Philip Rivers who looked like he might be toast last season. If Rivers’ time is up and Tannehill gets hurt, this division is suddenly wide open.
There’s enough of a core here for the Jaguars to at least be competitive if things break right. The offensive line is solid, especially if Cam Robinson gets back on track. Jacksonville’s wide receivers aren’t impressive on paper, but they’re young, and there’s always a chance DJ Chark morphs into a superstar or rookie second-round pick Laviska Shenault is good from Day 1. The front seven has talent with Josh Allen, Myles Jack and Joe Schobert, and the defense adds a pair of first-rounders to the fold in edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and cornerback CJ Henderson.
It’s tough to imagine the Jaguars being great, but if they can get to average and their division stinks, that might be enough. In 2011, the Giants made it to the postseason with a 9-7 record despite being outscored by six points. Once they got into the playoffs, though, they stopped turning the ball over, got hot and ran the table, even though they were underdogs in three of the four contests.
Chance to win Super Bowl LV: Less than 0.1%
Chance to make the playoffs: 7.4%
Caesars’ Super Bowl odds: +10000
The easiest way to grossly outplay projections is to get better quarterback play than the market expects. The Bengals have a quarterback with a massive ceiling in Joe Burrow, who just ran off arguably the best season in college football history at LSU. Burrow’s final college season translates to an NFL passer rating of 143.7, and while that’s not in the cards, what if he is a top-10 quarterback as a rookie? Cincinnati was below replacement level at positions such as left tackle and linebacker a year ago; merely improving those positions to adequate would be significant upgrades.
I’m optimistic about the Bengals’ chances of improving in 2020, but it’s going to be tough for them to emerge out of the AFC North. Even if the Ravens take a step backward after a 14-2 season, they should still be in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Browns expect to improve after replacing coach Freddie Kitchens, and the Steelers could rank among the best…