For the most part, the teams entering an NFL season that are supposed to contend for a Super Bowl title do. That said, there are always a few surprise teams in the playoffs. Here are three for this season that could win Super Bowl 56 along with their NFL odds to do so.
Analysis Surprise teams in the playoffs NFL
Denver Broncos (+1800)
The Broncos have a very good defense, two good running backs in Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams and a nice group of wideouts. Whether the Broncos can win a title all depends on new starting QB Teddy Bridgewater. The trade acquisition from Carolina won the starting job over incumbent Drew Lock.
“Teddy’s a winner,” new GM George Paton said over the weekend. “He’s won everywhere he’s been. Obviously, Carolina was a tough spot for him. He’s a winner. He’s poised, he has quite the confidence about him. We have a young offense. I just thought Teddy would fit with this young offense, help stabilize it, and take it to the next level.”
Paton, the Broncos’ first-year general manager, flirted with other QBs during the offseason. He made a trade proposal for Matthew Stafford. Had Green Bay made Aaron Rodgers available, Paton was ready to pounce. Paton was Minnesota’s assistant GM in 2014 when the Vikings traded back into the first round to select Bridgewater out of Louisville with the No. 32 overall selection. Of the 52 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 600 passes since 2014, Bridgewater ranks 25th in yards per attempt and 11th in sack rate.
Football Outsiders gives Denver a 45.6 percent chance of making the postseason, and Pro Football Focus ranked the roster as the 10th best in the league in July. That optimism is based mostly on the Fangio-led defense, which is a Top 10 unit.
Washington Football Team (+4000)The WFT is the defending NFC East champion but won the division with a 7-9 record. This team is loaded everywhere but like the Broncos has questions at quarterback with veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick named the team’s starter.
Fitzpatrick signed a one-year contract in March to compete for the starting job with Taylor Heinicke. While Heinicke received plenty of reps throughout training camp, it was always clear this was Fitzpatrick’s team in 2021. Fitzpatrick played in two preseason games, playing around two full quarters of play. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 151 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Washington’s first-team offense did not score a touchdown in its brief time on the field together in the preseason. If Fitzpatrick can simply be average, this team will repeat in the NFC East.
Defensively, the Washington Football Team has, arguably, the best pair of defensive ends in the NFL with Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Washington certainly has the best pair of young pass-rushers. In 2020, Washington had depth behind Young and Sweat. Washington’s all-time sacks leader, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Anderson, and James Smith-Williams, gave the team good depth. But when Washington chose not to retain Kerrigan, it was left with questionable depth at an important position.
Arizona Cardinals (+4000)
The Cardinals have no quarterback concerns and if third-year Kyler Murray can play at an MVP level this season, then the Cards could win their first-ever Super Bowl. Murray had 61 combined TDs (rushing and passing) in his first 32 games, trailing only Dan Marino (68) and Cam Newton (62) for the most in a player’s first two seasons in NFL history. He became the first player in NFL history with 7,500+ passing yards, 45+ TD passes and 15+ TD runs in his first two NFL seasons, and had the most completions (724) in NFL history in a player’s first two seasons.
Last year, Murray set a single-season franchise record with a 67.2 completion percentage (375-of-558) and set a single-season franchise record for rushing TDs (11) and rushing yards (819) by a QB. The additions of pass-catchers A.J. Green and Rondale Moore as well as running back James Conner should only help Murray.
Defensively, the team added end and future Hall of Famer JJ Watt. Watt was tied for fifth among the highest volume edge defenders in the league last year with 40 solo tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Budda Baker is a rising star on that side of the ball. The All-Pro and Pro Bowl safety finished second in the NFL in tackles (118) behind Buffalo Bills star Jordan Poyer. He also finished with two sacks and two interceptions, which were both career highs.
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