As we (eagerly) prepare to embark upon the journey towards Super Bowl LII, it’s clear that Vegas expects a historically rich franchise to get richer. The futures odds are led by four teams which have at least four Lombardi Trophies on their shelves already: the New England Patriots are at a ludicrously short +350 (7/2) to win their sixth Super Bowl; the Packers come in at +750 (15/2) to win their fifth; and the Cowboys and Steelers are each +1200 (12/1) to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the sixth and seventh times, respectively.
Neither your mom, your kindergarten teacher, nor those insufferable pedants on Sesame Street will be pleased because the NFL still features a rather large number of teams — 13 to be exact — who have never experienced the euphoric, exhilarating, life-changing feeling of winning the Super Bowl. It’s been 52 years, yet the big brothers of the league still haven’t learned to share.
You can’t really fault those teams for dominating. When younger siblings get to a certain age, the kid gloves have to come off and they need to fend for themselves; they need to complete life’s biggest rites of passage on their own, or they’ll never become fully functioning grown-ups.
Which franchises remain Super Bowl virgins is painfully obvious, for the most part. They stand out like socially-awkward introverts at their first high-school dance, staring, mouths agape, at their classmates bumping-and-grinding on the dance floor. But there are also some surprising ones who walk the halls with their varsity jackets flung over their shoulders, oozing machismo, only to say something stupid and get shutdown when their big moment arrives.
Will any of the 13 Super Bowl virgins (listed below) close the deal this year? Recent MLB and NBA seasons give hope to the “everyone’s time comes” theory: the Cleveland Cavaliers finally ended their 46-year drought in 2016; and the Cubs had basically “re-virginized” after 108 years without a World Series, before reaching the pinnacle of baseball last year. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that some of the NFL’s never-haves look as ineffectual as ever and are more likely to post the season’s longest losing streak than reach US Bank Stadium on February 4th. But it does make you think twice about writing off teams like the Falcons just because they stuck their foot in their mouth in epic fashion last year.
*NB: the Cleveland Browns are treated as one franchise dating back to 1944, though the original Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 and the current iteration only started play in 1999.
ODDS TO WIN FIRST SUPER BOWL IN 2018
- Atlanta Falcons: 18/1
- Carolina Panthers: 25/1
- Houston Texans: 25/1
- Arizona Cardinals: 33/1
- Minnesota Vikings: 35/1
- Tennessee Titans: 45/1
- Cincinnati Bengals: 55/1
- Philadelphia Eagles: 55/1
- Detroit Lions: 70/1
- Los Angeles Chargers: 70/1
- Buffalo Bills: 99/1
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 125/1
- Cleveland Browns: 200/1
Of the 13 non-Super Bowl-winning franchises, the Vikings and Bills have appeared in the most championship games, with four trips each. Minnesota’s most recent trip goes all the way back to 1976, though, which serves as the longest drought among teams without a Super Bowl victory. Meanwhile, Buffalo’s four losses came in consecutive seasons (from 1990-93), and if there’s any bright-side, the Bills can at least say they’re the only team to make it to four straight Super Bowls.
But these aren’t the only two who get chest pains when someone in the room mentions the Super Bowl. Many of the teams on this list have found wild ways to come up short. For example: the Falcons just blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI; the Cardinals lost Super Bowl XLIII due to one of the greatest catches of all-time; the Titans came one yard short of winning Super Bowl XXXIV; and the Bengals watched Joe Montana march 92 yards in under three minutes to take the lead with just 34 seconds left in Super Bowl XXIII.
Two of the four teams who have never even played in a Super Bowl — the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans — have reasonable excuses: Jacksonville has only had a team since 1995 and the Texans, the most recent expansion team, came into existence in 2002. The Browns can blame John Elway and the Denver Broncos for never making it beyond the AFC Championship game in the Super Bowl era, while the Lions still wonder “what if Barry Sanders didn’t retire?”
The Falcons are the most likely of the bunch to finally hoist a Lombardi Trophy this year. The offense that scored 540 points in 2016 remains largely intact, apart from losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. How big of a loss will that be? It depends who you ask. The new 49ers head coach got a lot of credit for Atlanta’s offensive onslaught, thanks to his brilliant scheming and play-calling abilities. Steve Sarkisian takes over in 2017, leading arguably the most talented group of skill position players in the league. He will need to prove himself right away if the Falcons are going to repeat as NFC South champs. The team will also need its new defensive acquisitions to bolster a unit that surrendered the sixth-most points in football. (For a further look into the 2017 Falcons, check out our NFC South win totals analysis.)
Arguably, the Houston Texans are the most complete team on this list. Unfortunately, the one position they truly lack happens to be the most crucial: QB. Houston ranked first in total defense last year, and did it without JJ Watt in the lineup for 13 games. With Watt back on the field, the Texans defense is going to be downright scary. But raise your hand if you believe Tom Savage can lead a team to a Super Bowl. That’s what I figured. And I don’t see Deshaun Watson being ready to execute a Bill O’Brien offense as a rookie. (See the AFC South preview here.)
There are a number of teams who possess rather long odds this season, but are certainly headed in the right direction. The Tennessee Titans have a dominant ground game in place, and have found Marcus Mariota a WR1 in Corey Davis. If newcomers Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson can bolster a weak secondary from a season ago, Dick LeBeau will be able to trick QBs and free up his blitzers.
The Philadelphia Eagles also appear to have a promising future. Carson Wentz showed promise as a rookie, and the Eagles found him weapons in the offseason. Bringing in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith should ensure that tight end Zach Ertz doesn’t finish as their leading receiver for the second straight year. That’s a good thing for a passing game that finished 25th in DVOA. (For more, here’s our full NFC East preview.)
O/U LONGEST WINNING STREAK IN THE NFL IN 2017: 10.5 games
Last season, the Patriots and Steelers finished the regular season on seven-game winning streaks. Playoffs included, the Pats ran their unbeaten streak to ten games. The Packers also ran the table in their final six to clinch the NFC North title. But these streaks were all trumped by the Cowboys’ 11-game winning streak, which started in Week 2.
In spite of what Julian Edelman says, the Patriots are a viable candidate to finish the season 19-0. After winning Super Bowl LI, New England was able to add a ton of talent to its roster. If Tom Brady can exorcise his demons in Denver (Week 10), the defending champs could put together a double-digit winning-streak.
O/U LONGEST LOSING STREAK IN THE NFL IN 2017: 9.5 games
The Cleveland Browns had the longest losing streak in the league last year, losing their first 14 games of the season. But don’t expect the same futility from the Browns in 2017.
The three worst teams in the league all got significantly better in the offseason. The Browns are starting to look like a legitimate NFL team, especially on the offensive line; the 49ers added a lot to their defense through the draft, and hired one of the brightest minds in the game to coach their team; and the Jaguars now have a stud running back to take the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands, along with a damn talented defense on paper.
But not to worry, fans of terrible football, the Jets seem eager to fill the void at the bottom of the league. Josh McCown is a serviceable stopgap at pivot, but you can’t expect him to produce with a receiving corps made up of Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, and Charon Peake. It could get real ugly up in New York.