Dark horse Super Bowl contenders in the AFC and NFC

The 49ers are back to being a threat

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

As the kickoff to the 2021 NFL season quickly approaches, it’s time to start really taking a look at what teams are built to make a Super Bowl run. There are certain teams on all radars such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Bucs, and Green Bay Packers but there are no sure things at all in the NFL. Every season is different and filled with surprises. There are always teams that exceed expectations as well as others that greatly disappoint. Looking past the top favorites, here are a few teams that have a realistic opportunity to be Super Bowl contenders this year.

NFC: Dallas Cowboys

The 2020 season was one to forget for the Cowboys but that is mostly because quarterback Dak Prescott was only able to play in five games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. In 2019 Prescott lead the Cowboys to be the top-ranked overall offense in the NFL at 431.5 yards per game, the second-ranked passing offense at 296.9 yards per game, and the sixth-ranked scoring offense at 27.1 points per game. It’s possible that these totals could be even higher in the 2021 NFL season with the addition of CeeDee Lamb to the returning weapons of Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup. The defense has been an issue for the Cowboys, especially in the 2020 season where they were towards the bottom of the NFL in almost every category, but drafting Micah Parsons and signing Dan Quinn to be the new defensive coordinator should both greatly help to improve on that side of the ball. Finally, the Cowboys have the second easiest strength of schedule ranking this year so they have an excellent opportunity for a huge season.

NFC: San Francisco 49ers

Unfortunately, the 49ers season in 2020 was one that was defined by an endless list of injuries including key players like Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, and Nick Bosa. It was a very disappointing season, especially considering that they were the defending NFC Champions. Looking back to the 2019 season when they were healthy, they had the fourth-ranked total offense at 381.1 yards per game and the second-ranked scoring offense at 29.9 points per game to go with the second-ranked total defense at 281.8 yards allowed per game and eighth-ranked scoring defense at 19.4 points allowed per game. This obviously demonstrates not only how dominant they were but also their elite balance. They were towards the top of the NFL in just about every statistical measure and they have good reason to believe they can have a similar season in 2021 now that everyone is healthy again and they are returning the large majority of their roster.

AFC: Tennessee Titans

Possibly the biggest move of the entire NFL offseason was the Titans adding superstar wide receiver Julio Jones to their already potent offense. They were already the second-ranked total offense last season at 396.4 yards per game and will likely be much better this year with their new weapon. The Titans offense is going to create a huge problem for opposing defenses now that Jones is joining AJ Brown and Derrick Henry. In particular, the defending safeties are going to have to pick their poison. It’s impossible to double team both wide receivers as well as load the box to defend against the dominant rushing attack of Henry. If these three players, and also quarterback Ryan Tannehill, can all stay healthy this season the Titans are likely going to have a very special offense. Their defense was fifth-worst in the NFL last season at 398.3 yards allowed per game but they are hoping their added reinforcements, such as Bud Dupree and Caleb Farley, can help them improve on that side of the ball.

AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers

After finishing the 2020 season with a 12-4 record and winning the very tough AFC North division it’s a little strange to consider the Steelers a dark horse but that is exactly what they are. According to the Draft Kings Sports Book, they have only the 16th best odds to win the Super Bowl this year and their projected win total is just 9 games. This is interesting because they are returning all of their offensive weapons and the majority of their impact defenders as well. In addition, they probably upgraded at running back by drafting Najee Harris and will get back one of their best defenders, Devin Bush, who missed ten games last season. The biggest loss for the Steelers this offseason was to their offensive line, where they will basically have a brand new unit this year that is completely unproven. The Steelers are not getting much respect at all heading into the 2021 NFL season but as long as their blocking comes together, they can be right back in the mix again for a Super Bowl.

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