By Kevin White
The New England Patriots, defending Super Bowl champions, came into this season with a ton of hype. As in, 16-0, greatest team ever hype. Luckily, the Kansas City Chiefs stopped that storyline before it could really get going, defeating the Patriots in week 1. However, the Patriots remain the heavy favorite, with 4 to 1 odds to win it all. As we get the NFL season started, let’s look at the teams that could save us from another Super Bowl for the Patriots.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Why they’ll win: Let’s start with the team that already beat New England this year. They won quite handily, with a great game from Kareem Hunt. Hunt and Wide Receiver Tyreke Hill are dynamic talents that will be hard for any team to stop. The Chiefs have one of the best defenses in the league, with great pass rushers that could give Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady some trouble.
Why they won’t: The Chiefs managed to control Rob Gronkowski in their win, mostly due to the excellent play of Eric Berry. Berry has been ruled out for the season now, and if Gronkowski returns from a groin injury, he could be tough to stop. Furthermore, Tom Brady played terribly against the Chiefs, but has been on fire in weeks two and three, throwing for eight touchdowns and over 800 yards. If Brady remains hot, he’ll be hard to stop. Finally, the Chiefs winning would require Alex Smith to outperform Tom Brady again. Smith has played well this season, but is not a dynamic QB. The Chiefs drafting QB Patrick Mahomes in the first round should signal to everybody that Smith might not be reliable.
Why they’ll win: The Broncos have a fantastic defense that shut down a great Dallas offense in week two. The Broncos have been the only team to give the Patriots trouble in recent years, beating the Patriots in both the 2013-14 and 2015-16 season.
Why they won’t: The defense for Denver has gotten slightly worse since those victories, and I trust Trevor Siemian less than Alex Smith. Siemian may have already regressed, with a mediocre showing against the Buffalo Bills. Denver is in a tough division, and may not even make the playoffs.
Why they’ll win: The Raiders have been one of the best teams in the league since last year. Kahlil Mack is a difference maker that can win a team a game, and the grouping of Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Marshawn Lynch is one of the best skill position groups in the league.
Why they won’t: The quarterback, Derek Carr, is a great young player in the league. However, he lacks any playoff experience, breaking his leg before the postseason last year. Oakland is also in the same division as Kansas City and Denver. All three teams will need to beat each other before facing the Patriots.
Why they’ll win: The Steelers have an even better group of skill players than the Raiders, with both top-three players at both receiver and back. Roethlisberger has playoff experience, and the biggest divisional threat is the perpetually-injured Ravens. The Steelers have the second best odds to win the Super Bowl (7 to 1) for a reason.
Why they won’t: I don’t have the exact date anywhere but I think the last time the Steelers beat the Patriots was 900 years ago. Update: my editor has told me this is wrong, and in fact the last time the Steelers beat the Patriots was October 30, 2011, which is nine centuries in football time. This is one of three wins the Steelers have had against the Patriots since 2004. They have eight losses over the same period.
Anybody from the AFC South: I don’t understand this division. The Titans looked overmatched against the Raiders, but handled the Seahawks well. The Texans looked terrible against both the Jaguars and Bengals, but then nearly beat the Patriots. The Jaguars have two 37 point wins and a 21 point loss. Choosing anybody from this division to win the AFC is a take so hot I’m unwilling to make it.
Anybody from the AFC East: The Dolphins were a playoff team last year, but lost to the Jets in week three. The Jets are very bad, and are trying to lose. The idea of a Jay Cutler-led Dolphins team beating the Patriots is laughable. So laughable, that imagining Trent Dilfer giving that take is now my go-to happy place thought.
The Seattle Seahawks:
Why they’ll win: The Seahawks have played the Patriots very close over the past few years, and have revamped the defense. Adding a healthy Earl Thomas and Sheldon Richardson through a trade makes the Seahawks D very scary.
Why they won’t: Through two weeks, the Seahawks have scored 18 points against the Packers and 49ers (neither of which are especially great defenses). While the offense awoke against the Tennessee Titans, the Seahawks still lost, and have yet to solve the offensive line issues. The Rams may be a threat to dethrone the Seahawks as NFC West champs.
Why they’ll win: ugh, I don’t want to think about having to cheer for the Cowboys against the Patriots. Yuck.
Why they won’t: they made Trevor Siemian look elite. What happens when they have to go up against Rodgers or Ryan in the NFC playoffs? Or even Brady in a hypothetical Super Bowl.
Why they’ll win: they beat down the Patriots for three quarters in the Super Bowl, and they won handily against Green Bay in week two. Nick Kulawiak (Senior, Santa Rosa, California), host of the Puget Sound Sports Radio Hour on KUPS, thinks Atlanta has the best chance to knock the Patriots off, predicting “The offense should be as good as last year’s, even without Kyle Shanahan, and the defense will have grown together another year.”
Why they won’t: I’m still haunted by 28-3, they have to be too.
Green Bay Packers:
Why they’ll win: If there is any quarterback in the league I think could outduel Tom Brady, it would be Aaron Rodgers. There are two things that have regularly foiled the Patriots in the past: a great pass rush and ridiculous clutch performances. Aaron Rodgers can easily recreate Eli Manning-like comebacks.
Why they won’t: The defense isn’t great, and the Packers still seem to be a step behind the Falcons, losing handily in week two. However, if they do make it to the Super Bowl, I’d give them the best shot at beating the Patriots.
My Super Bowl Prediction: Falcons 34-Chiefs 24
What will happen now that I’ve picked against the Patriots: Patriots 27-Packers 21