Super Bowl LII was a game that will be remembered for quite some time, not only because of the record yardage totals, but also for its surprising result: a 41-33 Philadelphia Eagles victory. Down five points, about to drive late in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots seemed certain to complete another championship-winning comeback. Yet defensive end Brandon Graham strip-sacked Brady, the Eagles kicked another field goal and the Pats failed to complete a last-second Hail Mary. The Eagles won the Super Bowl.
But the sports world moves on quickly. The biggest current football story is not even about the Super Bowl, but rather Josh McDaniels ditching the Indianapolis head coaching job and returning to New England as the offensive coordinator. Teams are already looking ahead to next year, and even the champion Eagles have some important decisions to make. Nick Foles will be a subject of trade discussions all through the offseason, as every team without a solid quarterback will check on the availability of the Super Bowl MVP.
But with the 2017 NFL season in the rearview mirror, who should be the favorites heading into next year? The Eagles and Patriots are obviously contenders, but several other teams have a championship in their sights.
Philadelphia, first of all, could be even better next season, with star Carson Wentz coming back from his ACL injury. It is easy to forget just how dominating the second-year quarterback was, as Foles basks in the glow of playoff success. Last season, Wentz threw for 3,296 passing yards and 33 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions, in 13 games — one of the leading candidates for MVP. Philly will enter the 2018 season with only the highest of expectations. Anything short of another Super Bowl would be a disappointment.
New England, meanwhile, enters the offseason with legitimate questions and concerns. The Patriots’ defense was exposed all game by the Eagles, with former hero Malcolm Butler benched by coach Bill Belichick. The full story has not been made public yet, but different rumors about the surprise move continue to circulate. Butler, a free agent, will almost certainly be gone. Matt Patricia, former New England defensive coordinator, is gone as well — he accepted the head-coaching position with the Detroit Lions. And though Pats fans have belittled Patricia and his coaching over the past couple of days, his absence will leave a void in the organization. He has been a member of New England’s coaching staff since 2004 and served as the defensive coordinator since 2012. All is not rosy in Foxborough.
Moving on to the non-Super Bowl teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars will not improve their record by seven games again, but this organization is more than ready to compete. The tremendous defense, led by star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, will be back next season. So, too, will young running back Leonard Fournette. Change could come at the quarterback position, however. Though he was solid for stretches of last season and performed admirably against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Blake Bortles drew the ire of fans for missed throws and poor decision-making. The Jaguars have been tied to free agent Kirk Cousins, who threw for 27 touchdowns and 4,093 yards last season. With Cousins, a more dependable and consistent quarterback, the Jaguars would not have to rely so much on the defense to win games and would better hold their own offensively against the league’s best teams. Signing Cousins is the type of move that wins championships.
The New Orleans Saints, after three consecutive mediocre campaigns, were impressive, buoyed by the addition of rookie running back Alvin Kamara. Paired with Mark Ingram, Kamara’s catching ability out of the backfield makes for an unstoppable weapon. With an off-season for Kamara to develop further, the Saints are ready to challenge the Philadelphia Eagles for NFC dominance. After all, New Orleans was one magical, fluke play from facing those Eagles in the conference championship game. If quarterback Drew Brees can continue to stave off decline at age 39, the Saints will be one of the most dangerous teams in the league. With a veteran QB and explosive weapons all over the field, this is a group built for the playoffs.
For a sleeper team that could shock the world like the Jags last season, look no further than the Los Angeles Chargers. While the Chargers did go 9-7 (rather than the Jacksonville’s 3-13 record in 2016), the team garnered little press or buzz and has become widely underrated. After a slow start, the Chargers surged to six wins in the season’s final seven weeks, and all the pieces are in place for a playoff run. Quarterback Philip Rivers has not lost a beat, running back Melvin Gordon is a workhorse and wide receiver Keenan Allen is one of the NFL’s best at his position. The defense is stifling as well, with defensive end Joey Bosa leading the way. Bosa has 23 sacks in two NFL campaigns. Watch out for the Chargers.
Prediction: Eagles over Jaguars.
George Klein ’20 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.