After a Super Bowl that was entertaining only to Patriots fans and punting enthusiasts, the NFL season has come to an abrupt and anticlimactic end. While teams like the Kansas City Chiefs brought offensive fireworks to the forefront of the league for most of the year, in the end, defensive game-planning won another Super Bowl for New England. It goes to show that the old adage “defense wins championships” still holds some validity. Even in a time when quarterbacks can throw for 5,000 yards in a season without breaking a sweat, big games have been decided in the trenches — a balanced team is necessary to contend for a championship. Considering the league landscape for the upcoming season, the following teams are the biggest contenders to win a Super Bowl in 2020.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were a coin toss away from defeating the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and reaching Super Bowl LIII. New England couldn’t stop Kansas City in the second half, and holding them out of the end zone in overtime would have been a lot to ask. Ultimately, the Chiefs’ defense let their explosive offense down. Kansas City is looking to make the necessary changes though, firing Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton after a disastrous season in which the Chiefs surrendered the second-most yards in the entire league. The Chiefs need only an average defense to allow their offense to dominate and win, and a new scheme seems like the best way to quickly adjust while their championship window is open. Patrick Mahomes had an incredible campaign in his first season starting, throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. With more experience under his belt, he should be able to rein in some of his poorer throws and decisions, which will only further elevate him above any other quarterback in the game. Add in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, and the Chiefs are formidable favorites.
2. New Orleans Saints
The Saints have now suffered back-to-back heartbreaking losses in the playoffs. After the Minneapolis Miracle in 2017 and the no-call in favor of the Rams a few weeks ago, no team has more motivation to win than the Saints do. Next year has to be the year; Drew Brees is 40 now and showing slight signs of slippage. It’s harder for him to dial up long balls, though he still played fantastically throughout this past season. New Orleans needs to upgrade its receiving core around Michael Thomas. They got caught relying on one wide receiver in the playoffs, when Los Angeles sold out and covered Thomas at all costs. Ted Ginn and company couldn’t produce when necessary. Giving Brees some more options is the first priority for the Saints, but beyond that, I can’t see any real weaknesses. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara form a fearsome combination at running back, and Cam Jordan and Marshon Lattimore dominate defensively. The Saints will return to the playoffs next year. But can they finally break through in the biggest moments?
3. New England Patriots
Surprise, surprise. The Patriots continued their unprecedented stretch of greatness, winning the sixth Super Bowl of the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era. Many will question the team’s merit again over the next year, but, in the end, New England always seems to find the way to victory. The major offseason storyline? The possible retirement of Rob Gronkowski. The tight end has absorbed a lot of major hits and injuries over the course of his career and looked like a shell of his former self for much of this season. It seems like a good time for Gronk to move on. Brady, meanwhile, did not perform at his best all year long and struggled for most of the Super Bowl. He will turn 42 before next season starts, and you have to think that he’ll continue to slow down. But if you’re counting on this New England run coming to an end in 2020, you’re sure to be disappointed. Belichick is too masterful at game planning. We’ll see the Pats in another AFC Championship game next January.
4. Cleveland Browns
I didn’t want to go completely chalk, so let’s talk about a potential surprise contender. The Browns will hear a lot of hype over this offseason thanks to all of their young talent, and there is a case to be made that Cleveland could secure the AFC third seed in the playoffs next year. The Browns went 5-3 after the firing of Head Coach Hue Jackson and should only improve with a stable coaching structure in place as their core gains more experience. Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Jarvis Landry form the foundation of a potent offense. Add in Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and Jabrill Peppers on the defensive side, and you have a complete team ready to take that next step. Cleveland feels a lot like the Los Angeles Chargers — after a 9-7 record in 2017 that went under the radar, the Chargers broke out, going 12-4 and reaching the playoffs this season. Watch out for the Browns. They could contend for a long while.