Now that the confetti is all cleared up and the post-game ceremonies have been heavily celebrated by the Denver Broncos team and fans following their stunning defensive performance in a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl L, the focus already looks towards the 2017 spectacular at the Reliant Stadium, home to the Houston Texans.
Markets are already forming for next season’s showpiece event, and in this article, we will look at some of the main contenders to walk away with Super Bowl 51.
Firstly, we will look from the American Football Conference perspective, and the current holders, Denver face problems in the offseason before tackling their regular season opponents beginning in September. Several high-profile players within the Broncos organisation including recent Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson are all in their final year contractually in 2016. These decisions all have to be taken, including the mystery surrounding legendary Quarterback Peyton Manning and his likely retirement. Brock Osweiler is ready to take over the reins behind centre, but Denver’s General Manager John Elway has several headaches to solve before his team can be considered genuine contenders again.
New England will once again be in the mix for Super Bowl glory. The combination of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady always gives New England a serious chance of Super Bowl glory, and the Patriots will be a popular choice for punters. A narrow defeat in the AFC Championship game against Denver ultimately highlighted New England’s weakness on their offensive line. With some successful readjustments for that department in the offseason, the Patriots might have what it takes to get back as the sports number one team in 2017.
Injuries played a huge part in the downfall of the Pittsburgh Steelers hopes of Super Bowl glory last season, as offensive stars, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown missed key periods of their campaign. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also missed games and played hurt on several occasions for the Steelers. Despite the horrendous injury count, Pittsburgh still managed to win 11 games last season. Imagine what they could be capable of with a fully healthy roster.
Things went wrong for the Carolina Panthers in San Francisco recently, but their young team will definitely be among the main protagonists next season – their roster is just too good. Panthers quarterback and talisman, Cam Newton was the league MVP last season, and he made that feat possible with arguably his main offensive weapon – considering his fine rookie season – wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin on the side-lines nursing a knee injury. Provided that the Panthers can tie up cornerback Josh Norman to a new bumper deal, Carolina will definitely be around come play-off time.
At certain points of last season, it looked likely that the Arizona Cardinals would emerge as the National Football Conference’s number one team. Things didn’t quite pan out that way for Bruce Arians’ men, with a heavy NFC Championship defeat to the Panthers, but like Carolina, the Cardinals have few weaknesses in their roster. Quarterback Carson Palmer is comparable to a fine wine that gets better with age, and with a strong receiving core that includes Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, Arizona will have few issues in scoring points. Defensively, it is likely that the Cardinals will look to get more pressure on their opposing quarterback next season, so expect pass rush reinforcements in the draft come May.
Another perennial contender is the Green Bay Packers, who will be looking to get back into the play-off mix this season. One big plus for the Packers will be the return of wide receiver, Jordy Nelson to their roster after a year ending knee injury last preseason. It will also be interesting to see how the Packers – and General Manager Ted Thompson in particular – tackle the free agent market this offseason. McCarthy has already thrown a veiled critique at Green Bay’s lack of gambling with high-costing free agent players, but the Packers – irrespective of who they do or don’t acquire in free agency, can make their mark next season.