Too soon? Not at all. If we look at the teams playing this year and what they did last year, the changes they made or did not make in the off-season, we can with some certainty predict who will be in the Super Bowl next year.
A Way Too Early Super Bowl LII Prediction
The Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots are set to battle it out on February 5th, but looking forward to the off-season and next year, it’s not too hard to imagine an entirely different scenario. Maybe Tom Brady retires (should he?) and go out while he is on top? Or will he be plagued by injuries next year, and even if so, will it matter to the Patriots, who started well without him at the beginning of the season? Who will they lose to free agency? Surely there will be coaching changes.
Can Atlanta repeat next year? They made an astonishing turnaround from last year’s late season slide, and Matt Ryan came into his own as an NFL quarterback. He had some great targets, and with the addition of pro-Bowl center Alex Mack to the offensive line, Ryan was much better protected.
Minnesota Vikings and the Falcons Path
In 2015, the Falcons started 5-0 and then ended the season 8-8. Sound familiar, Vikings fans? Matt Ryan had his doubters, and so does Sam Bradford. But Bradford managed a 71.6 completion percentage this year.
Does he have a pair of targets like the Falcons’ Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu? Potentially. Jones and Sanu combined for nearly 70% of Atlanta’s pass completions this year. Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen accounted for around 65% of the Vikings completions this year, and there is nothing that says they could not add to that percentage as Bradford comes into his own.
The Vikings will have to add depth at the offensive line, one made porous this year by injuries. They’ll have to look to free agency or the draft, but they already have a solid defensive corps with Pro-Bowler Harrison Smith and linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks.
So prediction #1: The Vikings will play in Super Bowl LII.
The Raiders upset the Patriots
It’s all about location, location, location. The Oakland Raiders have a huge following around the country, and next year they are offering fans from around the country an excuse to go to Vegas eight times a year. Most fans responded with a simple “Challenge accepted!”
But what does the team need to do in the off-season to knock the mighty Patriots off their throne?
The Raiders might need to look at a new defensive coordinator. As talented as Ken Norton Jr, is, he has had a huge player turnover over the last two years. However, great coaches harness the players they have and elevate their games accordingly. Bruce Irvin, Karl Joseph, Khalil Mack, and Reggie Nelson are all standouts, and while they did well this year, many feel they could have done better.
On offense, Derek Carr is solid, and the offensive line did a great job protecting him. He has Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree as targets and Latavius Murray in the backfield. The Raiders were ranked sixth in the NFL for both overall points per game and rushing yards per game.
Overall, the inspiration from the new fans and new digs, the strong offense and a revamped defense will take the Raiders all the way next season.
So prediction #2: The Raiders take the AFC and upset the Patriots to appear in Super Bowl LII.