Parity is a helluva drug. Especially this time of year.
The NFL's favorite word is in full bloom in the spring, post-draft, with four months to go until a football game that matters is even played, and with hope springing eternal around the league. It's totally wide open, they'll have you believe, and keep in mind how every year a whole bunch of teams that missed the playoffs the year before make it to the postseason. Anything can happen! Any given Sunday!
Well, sorry folks, I'm here to burst your bubble.
Because, yeah, sure, teams come out of nowhere every season to make improbable runs to the playoffs, but they also usually are generally quickly discarded by the old guard who still pretty much run things when it gets around to January. For as much fun as it was watching (for, some, I suppose), say, the 2015 Texans make the big dance, or the 2016 Lions or the 2017 Bills and Titans or the 2018 Colts qualify for the postseason ... let's be real about any of their chances of winning multiple games against the best of the best, let alone actually taking home a Lombardi Trophy.
It just doesn't work that way in the NFL, with the rarest of exceptions. For as much as we go ga-ga over trying to guess which of last year's afterthoughts will become division winners in 2019, the cold hard reality is that it's quite likely the road to a title goes through Foxborough or New Orleans or Philadelphia or another locale that has become synonymous with hosting playoff football games in recent years.
Again, I'm not talking about beating the odds to make the playoffs, or maybe even managing to reach the Super Bowl. I'm talking about actually winning the damn trophy. And it seems to me there is usually a handful of five to six teams, out of 32, every year who appear to have the best shot. It's generally a very small group of outsiders who crack the code, and the commonality of the winners is a quarterback destined to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer (with the rarest of exceptions).
Lest we forget, here are the quarterbacks to lift the Lombardi since 2001:
Hmm. Notice anything? Except for the very rare instances where a team has a generational/historically significant defense – allowing the likes of Trent Dilfer, Johnson or Flacco to grasp the Lombardi – otherwise it is dudes destined for Canton who deliver, year in and year out. Of the above names, all but Flacco and Foles will be Hall of Famers, including Eli, who despite a five-year-ish tailspin won two titles in Gotham for a storied franchise as a member of one of the league's royal families. He is going to get in, eventually.
Wanna take the exercise back 30 years? No problem. Dating back to 1988, here are the other quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl: Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Brett Favre, John Elway, Kurt Warner (all look resplendent in a mustard jacket), with Jeff Hostetler and Dilfer (historic defenses) and Mark Rypien the only outliers in that span. We can obsess about the ridiculousness of Foles defying logic and squeaking out a win over Brady two years ago, since it happened so recently, but history tells us it could be decades before anything like that happens again. To repeat, since 1988, the only non-Hall of Fame QBs to win a Super Bowl are: Hostetler, Rypien, Dilfer, Johnson, Flacco and Foles.
Which brings me to the point of all of this: When it comes to sizing up an early read on the 2019 championship contenders, give me chalk. If I'm picking the five teams I believe have the best chance to win it all in the NFL's 100th season, I'm going almost entirely with cats who have already been there, done that. Because that is generally how it goes. If your team isn't listed, I am sorry, really truly. Just try to keep in mind that they haven't actually played any of these games yet, and I am only picking five teams, and it's nothing personal.
Here are the five teams I'd put my money on as we sit in mid-May:
New England Patriots
Do I really have to belabor this point? They are in the AFC Championship Game pretty much every year and in the Super Bowl most years. Bet against Brady and Bill Belichick at your own peril. Sure, they lost a Hall of Fame tight end and a stud left tackle and far and away their best natural pass rusher in free agency, but who cares? They will find a way to slit your throat more weeks than not with a radical game plan and they have morphed into one of the most physical offenses in football. Maybe, perhaps, they finally get pushed a li'l in the AFC East, but they aren't handing the throne away easily.
New Orleans Saints
Can they rebound from one of the more soul-crushing championship game defeats in modern history? Says here they can. They are all-in with a loaded roster and a super-motivated coach and QB who both can smell Canton, and they know what a second ring would mean for their legacies. Great home-field advantage. Playoff tested all around. Love what they did in the draft. They will be a factor.
I really have a hard time thinking any other team in this division will be a threat, and this could be the NFC's top seed. Carson Wentz can't get hurt every year, can he? They stabilized things midseason last year and rediscovered an identity, and there aren't too many holes on this roster. They will stay balanced on offense and they fortified the offensive line as it is aging and somewhat brittle, which is huge, and this team was built for more than just one Lombardi run.
The single most significant move of the entire NFL offseason was the Seahawks' record extension with Russell Wilson. I'm not even sure any other signing or contract belongs in the same discussion. This guy is still just 30 years old and good for 10 wins by himself basically every season. They dealt with the sloughing off of huge personalities a year ago (Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor) and still made the playoffs when some were penciling them in for four wins (Pete Prisco, that means you). They've got their mojo back and boast a true home-field advantage as well come January.
Los Angeles Chargers
OK, so yeah they don't fit my theory, with a quarterback who has never reached a Super Bowl and a pedigree of crushing playoff defeats as a franchise. But Philip Rivers is on a Hall of Fame track and they are in all-in mode and might have the most talented and complete roster in the entire league. Young game-changers, not even yet in their prime, abound on both sides of the ball, and if the Eagles can win a Super Bowl then why not the Chargers? They proved last year they can win despite that bandbox stadium filled with opposing fans, and having to play second-fiddle to the Rams will bring out the best in them. A year after getting emasculated by the Pats in the playoffs, they still have the kind of pieces on defense that could shut down Brady with everything on the line. I'm sticking with them.