Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today's installment, he examines the current cream of the crop entering the 2023 offseason.
The NFL is the undisputed king of American sports. This is at least partially due to league parity -- the promise that anything can happen on any given Sunday.
But does that parity extend all the way to Super Bowl Sunday? Not so much, at least from my perspective.
Despite the NFL's annual drive for balance, there's still a huge difference between the contenders and pretenders in this league. Though quarterback play is a significant factor in determining which teams are able to compete at the highest level, the true title contenders typically feature a top-tier signal-caller AND a collection of blue-chip players at marquee positions. So, how many rosters bring that alluring combination to the table? Now you see what I'm getting at here.
Fresh off Super Bowl LVII, I wanted to survey the league landscape and ascertain which teams are realistically in position to vie for the next few Lombardi Trophies. Obviously, we're just heading into the 2023 offseason, when every single team will be suffering attrition and reconstructing the roster. But to me, a certain group of organizations already have a Super Bowl foundation in place.
So, without further ado, here is my ranking of the eight teams with the biggest championship windows in this moment. And as you can see, I believe this past season's final four were the right four.
No surprise at No. 1. With Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes leading the way, Kansas City enters every season as a genuine world-beater. In No. 15's five years as a starter, the Chiefs have made five AFC Championship Games and three Super Bowls (winning two). This remarkable run has cemented their legacy as a gold-jacket tandem, while sparking talk of an emerging dynasty in the Midwest -- if the team hasn't already established itself as such. K.C. absolutely owns the AFC West (seven straight titles), seizing control of the conference as a whole by routinely claiming the No. 1 seed, forcing the road to the Super Bowl to run through Arrowhead Stadium. Mahomes, who now has 14 postseason starts under his belt, has yet to play a true road playoff game.
After losing one of the NFL's most explosive playmakers last offseason (Tyreek Hill), the Chiefs promptly won the franchise's third Super Bowl with a hodgepodge receiving corps and a rookie-laden defense, particularly in the secondary. Not to mention, DT Chris Jones fully established himself as one of the most destructive forces in the game.
Long story short: The Chiefs championship window is so wide open they might want to insert a screen for the summer.
The Eagles came up just short in Nick Sirianni's second season, but the bodacious coach has the pieces to get right back to the championship bout.
Thanks to Howie Roseman's inspired work in the front office, Philadelphia has a treasure trove of draft picks (including two in this year's first round) to upgrade a roster that is already universally regarded as one of the league's very best. Although the savvy general manager will need to tweak the roster and salary cap to make room for Jalen Hurts' impending blockbuster deal, Philly's superb draft-and-development program should enable the team to continue to thrive, even with the franchise quarterback making the big bucks.
If Hurts continues to evolve from a game manager to a bona fide playmaker with the capacity to put the team on his back (SEE: Super Bowl LVII), Philadelphia will remain the team to beat in the NFC.
How long will the Bengals' Super Bowl window stay open? Just ask Joe Burrow.
"The window's my whole career," Burrow boldly told reporters back in January. "And everybody we have in that locker room, all the coaches we have, things are gonna change year to year, but our window is always open."
Although the spicy comment made headlines across the league, it is hard to dispute the cocksure quarterback after watching Cincinnati emerge as a bona fide title contender in short order under his direction. These are not your father's Bungles. Cincy has won 20 of its past 26 games (including the playoffs) with Burrow at the helm, barely losing Super Bowl LVI and barely losing to the eventual Super Bowl LVII champions.
If the Bengals can keep most of the core together after providing Burrow with a megadeal extension, this team will indeed compete with the champion Chiefs for AFC supremacy throughout No. 9's run as the team's QB1.
The 49ers are perennial contenders due to a loaded roster assembled by Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. San Francisco's brain trust has carefully selected a collection of all-star players who perfectly match the scheme, enabling the squad to dominate opponents without a blue-chip quarterback in the fold.
Though a third QB injury ultimately leveled San Francisco in last month's NFC Championship Game, the roster's depth and talent consistently put the 49ers squarely in the hunt, with Shanahan masterfully directing the team like an elite Madden gamer whipping his buddies in the basement. Through clever scheming and tactics, the offensive wizard has unlocked the cheat codes for explosive playmakers like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk.
Always having a crafty defensive coordinator in place (Robert Saleh, DeMeco Ryans and now Steve Wilks) to create prime playmaking opportunities for Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and many others, the 49ers have become a well-rounded machine that's always poised to make a run at the ring, with or without a top-tier signal-caller.
There is no shortage of talent on the Chargers' roster, with elite players at most of the marquee positions. The team has blue-chippers at quarterback (Justin Herbert), left tackle (Rashawn Slater), pass catcher (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams), pass rusher (Joey Bosa) and safety (Derwin James). Oh, and the NFL's touchdown leader in each of the past two seasons (Austin Ekeler).
While these Bolts have not claimed a division title or won a playoff game -- the injury bug has been ravenous for this team -- the talent dotting the roster gives Los Angeles a shot to get it done if Brandon Staley and his coaching staff take a step forward as leaders and tacticians.
With Kellen Moore taking over the offense -- and hopefully fully unleashing Herbert -- the Chargers could emerge as another true heavyweight in this increasingly loaded AFC.
A current list of potential Super Bowl contenders would not be complete without including "America's Team" in the conversation. Despite its recent playoff failures, Dallas has won 12 games in each of the past two regular seasons and possesses the pieces on both sides of the ball to emerge as a top-notch title threat in 2023.
Dak Prescott is coming off a disappointing season, but he has been a fringe top-five quarterback during parts of his career, and his performance could surge with Mike McCarthy taking over as the offense's primary play-caller. Although Dallas needs to add some more weapons around CeeDee Lamb to become a more explosive offense, the franchise quarterback has a track record of success as a hybrid game-manager/playmaker in an attack that has been balanced and productive in the last two seasons under its Super Bowl-winning head coach.
If Micah Parsons and Co. continue to hold up their end of the bargain on defense under Dan Quinn's leadership, the Cowboys have a chance live up to the hype that routinely accompanies the star.
Josh Allen is a one-man show with the potential to single-handedly carry Buffalo to its first Super Bowl title. The 26-year-old, dual-threat dynamo has repeatedly put the Bills in prime position during the regular season, but the team has been unable to get it done in the playoffs over the past three seasons.
While Sean McDermott will need to make some hard decisions on personnel and tactics in 2023, Buffalo's championship window remains open due to No. 17's extraordinary talent as a spectacular passer with unique playmaking skills as a runner, particularly in the red zone. Given his prolific point-scoring prowess, Allen can keep the Bills in a game against any team on the schedule.
That said, Buffalo must become more balanced on offense (SEE: establishing a consistent, non-Allen running game) and upgrade the defense's ability to close games against Tier 1 squads in the AFC. Obviously, getting Von Miller back to full health would go a long way toward solving that latter problem.
The combination of a Super Bowl-winning head coach and an emerging star quarterback is enough to earn Jacksonville the last slot on this list. Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence helped the Jaguars advance to the Divisional Round with a mind-bending wild-card comeback in their first year of marriage, and the foundation this duo has put in place could lead to some banners and titles in Duval County in the coming years.
Lawrence has entered the conversation as one of the elites at the position after clicking with his veteran pass catchers down the stretch. And in Year 2 under Pederson, the former No. 1 overall pick should take another big step forward due to a better understanding of the scheme and philosophical approach.
With the Jaguars aiming to bring back tight end Evan Engram, who had a career year in 2022, the offense looks like a potential juggernaut, especially with former Falcons first-rounder Calvin Ridley on the road to reinstatement. Jacksonville has the firepower to make a run at the title as a dark-horse contender led by a five-star QB1 who is coming into his own.