Thirty other NFL teams want to be in the position of the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — one win away from a Super Bowl title and the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Unlike for the Chiefs and Bucs, the biggest obstacle facing many teams in getting to championship contention is at quarterback, a position poised for massive turnover this offseason. For others, it’s rebuilding a defense to complement a potent offense. And for an unfortunate few, it’s a wholesale talent infusion that’s needed to climb back into contention.
We asked six NFL analysts when each team could realistically next be considered a Super Bowl contender. That doesn’t mean playoff contender or in the mix, but rather when each team could be a serious threat to win a title, based on personnel, trajectory, rebuild timelines and other related factors.
Each team has been tiered into one of six distinct time frames, starting with four contenders for the 2021 season’s championship. Our NFL Nation reporters dove in with some context around why each team ended up where it did.
Current contenders | On cusp
One year out | Two years out
Three years out | Four or five years out
CLEAR-CUT CONTENDERS RIGHT NOW
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2020
2020 FPI rank: No. 1
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: All of the Chiefs’ key players are signed through 2021 and many of them beyond that, so now the challenge is to fit them all in under the salary cap. But it’s doable, so the Chiefs won’t have to part with players they truly want to keep for salary-cap purposes. The Chiefs might be limited in what they can spend in free agency, so they might be searching the bargain bin for veteran help.
Biggest X factor: The Chiefs need as many good, young and inexpensive players as they can find to fill in around their many high-priced veterans. They need another rookie class like 2020 with value picks like cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton. — Adam Teicher
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2020
2020 FPI rank: No. 2
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: While much has been made about the Bucs’ acquisition of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette last offseason, 14 of their starters for Super Bowl LV will be draft picks — six on offense and eight on defense. The Bucs’ strategy has been to build through the draft and re-sign those players, while filling in the missing pieces with free agents.
Biggest X factor: The Bucs will have 25 unrestricted free agents in 2021, including Chris Godwin, Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Brown, Gronkowski and Fournette. Bringing all or as many of those players back as possible will be key. The Bucs will have roughly $30 million in cap space. — Jenna Laine
Laura Rutledge and Dan Orlovsky break down the best and worst moves of last year’s NFL offseason.
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1993
2020 FPI rank: No. 6
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Draft, develop, re-sign. That’s always been the plan at One Bills Drive, and general manager Brandon Beane said there will be an even greater emphasis on it this offseason as the Bills prepare for a drastic decrease in the salary cap. They agreed to multiple multiyear extensions with some franchise cornerstones last offseason, and that likely will be the case again.
Biggest X factor: Josh Allen’s continued elite play. The third-year quarterback was an MVP candidate in 2020, and Buffalo will need him to keep ascending toward superstardom as it continues its transformation into an offensive powerhouse. If Allen is good, the Bills will be as well. If 2020 was his ceiling, perhaps so is the AFC Championship Game for Buffalo. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2010
2020 FPI rank: No. 4
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: There was some thought that the 2020 season was Super Bowl or bust for the Packers given the key players, especially on offense, headed for free agency — RB Aaron Jones and C Corey Linsley — and some of the cap-space-saving moves they might have to make. Yet history shows the Packers’ stability at quarterback trumps all. So as long as they have a healthy — and happy — Aaron Rodgers, they should remain in the mix. But will they get chances like they’ve had each of the past two seasons? At some point, their good fortune may run out.
Biggest X factor: Not turning this into a “Last Dance” situation. If for some reason the Packers want to move on from Rodgers before he’s ready — or before he declines — then who knows if they’d immediately enter rebuild mode? They didn’t after Favre, although Rodgers’ first year as a starter was a 6-10 season before a run of eight straight playoff seasons. But can the same be said for whenever they move on from him? — Rob Demovsky
ON THE CUSP OF CONTENDING
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2009
2020 FPI rank: No. 3
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The Saints have been “on the cusp” for more than a decade, and they’ve won more regular-season games than any team in the NFL over the past four years (49-15). But their degree of difficulty is about to skyrocket with Drew Brees expected to retire and the team projected to be almost $100 million over the salary cap. Nevertheless, general manager Mickey Loomis insisted they still plan to try and “win now” with one of the NFL’s deepest and most talented rosters. That means pushing cap costs into future years instead of rebuilding.
Biggest X factor: Obviously the key is identifying the next QB. Can the Saints stay just as competitive with Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston as the starter? Or do they need to make a bold play for someone like Deshaun Watson or another high-priced veteran? If they choose the latter, they would have to make sacrifices elsewhere on the roster because of their cap constraints. — Mike Triplett
If Drew Brees retires, Domonique Foxworth and Damien Woody expect to see Jameis Winston starting for the Saints in Week 1.
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2012
2020 FPI rank: No. 5
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The Ravens need to bolster the supporting cast around quarterback Lamar Jackson, from improving the offensive line to adding another top target in the passing game. Baltimore has averaged 30 points per game with Jackson as its starter, but the Ravens have failed to score more than 20 points in any of his four playoff games. The Ravens aren’t going to change their identity of being a dominant running team. Baltimore knows the key from going from Super Bowl contender to a Super Bowl champion means being less one-dimensional in the postseason.
Biggest X factor: Jackson. In two full seasons before his arrival, the Ravens were a middle-of-the-pack team with a 17-15 record (.531). In two full seasons with Jackson as the starter, Baltimore has been among the NFL’s best at 25-7 (.781). He’s a dynamic playmaker who is a threat to score every time he has the ball in his hands. The next step for Jackson is having consistent success in the playoffs, where he has lost three of four games. — Jamison Hensley
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2014
2020 FPI rank: No. 8
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Getting their offense and defense clicking at the same time and hoping it’s good enough for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. A first-round bye and home-field advantage at a packed Lumen Field was critical in the Seahawks reaching consecutive Super Bowls after the 2013 and 2014 seasons (as well as in 2005). Their defense was bad in the first half of 2020 and the offense fell off in the second half, but the Seahawks would have finished with the No. 1 seed if not for an upset loss at home in Week 13 to the 4-7 Giants. To get there next season, the Seahawks need to extend Jamal Adams, find a way to keep Carlos Dunlap and hope new coordinator Shane Waldron can get Russell Wilson & Co. back to their early-season form.
Biggest X factor: There are several unknowns with Waldron: How will he fare as a first-time playcaller? How much of Sean McVay’s system will he bring to Seattle? How much control will Pete Carroll give him over the offense? The belief in the organization is that Brian Schottenheimer’s failure to adjust to how opponents started defending Seattle late last season was a big factor in their offensive decline. Waldron needs to be better than his predecessor in that regard. — Brady Henderson
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2018
2020 FPI rank: No. 7
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The Rams had a Super Bowl-caliber defense in 2020 and hope to have a Super Bowl-worthy offense next season, boosted by the blockbuster trade over the weekend to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford. After he produced a high-octane offense in his first two seasons as coach, Sean McVay’s brainchild sank to mediocrity the past two seasons, lacking explosive plays and having ball-security issues. So the Rams made a change at quarterback, sending Jared Goff (along with two first-round picks and a third-round pick) to the Lions in exchange for Stafford, who is expected to reinvigorate McVay as a playcaller and provide the missing piece to a team that is built to win now.
Biggest X factor: The transition to Raheem Morris as defensive coordinator. The Rams had the top-ranked defense in the NFL last season, allowing an average of 18.5 points per game under former defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Staley left after one season to become coach of the Chargers, but the Rams will move forward next season keeping the 3-4 scheme he installed. There’s no questioning Morris’ ability to coach and lead; however, there could be some early bumps as he learns the nuances of a system that he has never run. — Lindsey Thiry
STILL A YEAR AWAY
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2009
2020 FPI rank: No. 11
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Continuity. General manager Chris Ballard has been steadfast in not deviating from his plan of building his roster through the draft. He could give a tutorial on how to stockpile draft picks. That approach has worked because the Colts have built a solid foundation that features linebacker Darius Leonard, guard Quenton Nelson, running back Jonathan Taylor and linebacker Bobby Okereke. The Colts have made the playoffs in two of their four seasons under Ballard.
Biggest X factor: The Colts have to stop their revolving door at quarterback. They’re likely headed to their fifth different Week 1 starter in as many seasons in 2021. All the top teams in the NFL are established at quarterback for the present and future (Tom Brady looks like he can play until he’s 50). At pick No. 21 in the draft, the Colts aren’t likely to land their franchise QB in the first round, so trading for one who can still play at a high level for several more years might be their best option. — Mike Wells
Last Super Bowl appearance: Never been
2020 FPI rank: No. 16
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The Browns are basically set offensively. So finding help defensively around star pass-rusher Myles Garrett in the next couple of offseasons will be paramount if Cleveland is to reach the next level.
Biggest X factor: The development of quarterback Baker Mayfield. If Mayfield builds off his breakout third season, the Browns are going to be a playoff force for years to come. But if he unexpectedly regresses in any way, Cleveland’s window of opportunity to become a contender will vanish. — Jake Trotter
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2019
2020 FPI rank: No. 12
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: First, the Niners have to get healthy as their chances at getting back to the Super Bowl disappeared when injuries ravaged the 2020 team. But they also have to find a way to keep some of their free agents (LT Trent Williams and FB Kyle Juszczyk, to name two) while improving on the interior of the offensive line and the secondary. The roster is good enough to be right back in contention as soon as next season, but much will depend on how the Niners manage their many key pieces in an uncertain offseason with limited salary-cap resources.
Biggest X factor: What happens at quarterback. The Niners expect Jimmy Garoppolo to be the starter next season but have left wiggle room if an obvious upgrade presents itself. Garoppolo has missed 23 of a possible 48 regular season games, which has contributed to two of the past three seasons being lost. The quickest way to get into a Super Bowl window and remain there is to have an elite franchise quarterback. An obvious long-term upgrade from Garoppolo would be ideal. But short of that, the Niners must bolster the depth at the game’s most important position. — Nick Wagoner
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1999
2020 FPI rank: No. 10
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The Titans’ offense was among the NFL’s best in points per game (30.7, fourth). Most of the key parts are returning in 2021, but they need to make serious defensive improvements to compete with the top teams in the NFL.
Biggest X factor: Titans GM Jon Robinson is once again tasked with finding a game-changing pass-rusher this season. An improved pass rush will change things dramatically for the defense, especially the secondary, which would benefit from less time covering receivers. If the defense doesn’t improve the Titans will have wasted a really good offensive group. — Turron Davenport
Dan Orlovsky breaks down what has to happen in the Steelers organization if Ben Roethlisberger comes back for another year.
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2010
2020 FPI rank: No. 9
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Team president Art Rooney II said the Steelers weren’t going to enter a tear down and rebuild phase after the shocking loss in the wild-card round. They’re still building a team with an eye on a championship in the near future, even if that’s somewhat unrealistic with a salary cap crunch keeping them from re-signing their most important free agents. They’ll have to restructure and extend contracts while cutting other veterans to keep as much of the core together. Rooney said the Steelers will keep as much of the defense together as possible while looking at significant turnover on the offensive side.
Biggest X factor: The quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger’s best shot at one more Super Bowl was the 2020 season. That run fell short, but Roethlisberger’s contract runs through the 2021 season. Rooney said Roethlisberger can’t return with the contract’s current construction of a $41.2 million cap hit, meaning he’ll either take a pay cut or a restructure if he doesn’t retire. The Steelers’ future hinges on Roethlisberger’s decision. Either he returns for one more season or he retires and they have to turn it over to Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins or another quarterback — an addition Rooney acknowledged was necessary. — Brooke Pryor
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2008
2020 FPI rank: No. 13
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Giving Kyler Murray as much help as possible. Murray is already the type of quarterback who can get a team to a Super Bowl — and then win it — but he can’t do it alone. Arizona has the receiver to do it in DeAndre Hopkins, but the Cardinals need to bolster the talent level at tight end, running back and the second and third receivers. If they can do that through the draft and free agency, then the Cards could be in a good place to make a Super Bowl run in the next year or two.
Biggest X factor: Kliff Kingsbury. If the third-year coach can keep the offense on track and not have the types of dips that it had in 2020, then a playoff berth may be in the cards for Arizona. But if next season plays out like 2020, then the Super Bowl will be a pipe dream for a franchise that has been there just once. — Josh Weinfuss
GETTING CLOSER: TWO YEARS AWAY
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1984
2020 FPI rank: No. 21
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Continue to build with their bounty of draft picks and money. The Dolphins made a five-win jump from 2019 to 2020 largely using that strategy and they head into the 2021 offseason with four picks in the top 50 (No. 3, No. 18, No. 35 and No. 50). They also have more money to find great fits for Brian Flores’ team. Miami’s defense feels close to title-ready so the offense is the big focus. Assuming they remain all-in on young QB Tua Tagovailoa, the strategy will be surrounding him with explosive playmakers and finalizing the offensive line.
Biggest X factor: Tagovailoa’s development. There’s a reason the Dolphins remain in the center of speculation regarding a Deshaun Watson trade. Some people are uncertain how good Tagovailoa will be after an uneven rookie season. But Miami strongly believes in his development and knows nine starts coming off a career-threatening hip injury isn’t enough time to evaluate him. If Tagovailoa becomes a top-10 QB, the Dolphins can eventually win a title if they continue on their path. If he doesn’t, they can’t. It’s that simple. — Cameron Wolfe
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1994
2020 FPI rank: No. 25
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: They need to find protection for franchise quarterback Justin Herbert so he stays healthy. Shoring up the defensive line and keeping everyone healthy are also important.
Biggest X factor: The new coaching staff has to listen to Herbert and hire assistants who know how to use him and put him in a position to succeed. He takes care of the ball and can throw it long. Use the receivers that way. — Shelley Smith
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1995
2020 FPI rank: No. 28
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Get quarterback Dak Prescott signed to a long-term contract. If they don’t, then the Cowboys’ track to a Super Bowl is likely longer than just two years because the chances of Prescott signing a long-term deal in 2022 would be remote. With Prescott under contract at least through 2024 or longer, the Cowboys can plot their path to find help for the rest of the roster. But that will be a bit more difficult because of the cap crunch a Prescott contract would cause.
Biggest X factor: Staying healthy, which includes Prescott, who is coming back from a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle. The Cowboys believe if they can get their offensive line settled — Tyron Smith missed 14 games, La’el Collins missed 16 games and Zack Martin missed six — they can be a contender in the NFC. The Cowboys’ success will be driven by their offense as they look to build their defense with new coordinator Dan Quinn through the draft and smart free-agent signings. But hoping for health in a league dominated by injuries does not seem like the best strategy. — Todd Archer
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1976
2020 FPI rank: No. 15
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The Vikings are the most successful NFL franchise (seventh all-time in win percentage) to never win a Super Bowl. This is still a highly competitive team that isn’t afraid to spend, even if it goes against trends of the NFL — like paying a running back megabucks. Minnesota teams are built on the strength of the defense, which played a factor in the Vikings being one game shy of the Super Bowl in 2017. With Mike Zimmer at the helm, that model isn’t going anywhere.
Biggest X factor: The offense showed it can score at will with just about anyone in 2020. But the defense, which is in the process of a multiyear rebuild, needs vast improvement. Minnesota has a formula to get the best it can out of quarterback Kirk Cousins, surrounding him with playmakers such as Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and Irv Smith Jr. If the team can find ways to improve the defense — such as spending on pass-rushers in free agency or making scheme adjustments — then the Vikings could be two years away from getting to the Super Bowl. — Courtney Cronin
ON THE UPSWING (THREE YEARS OUT)
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2002
2020 FPI rank: No. 19
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Taking another step forward toward elitism with the offense, while making the defense decent. The Raiders had a 4,000-yard passer in QB Derek Carr, a 1,000-yard receiver in TE Darren Waller and a 1,000-yard runner in Josh Jacobs, so the offense is on track. But new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has a mammoth task in rebuilding the defense into an opportunistic outfit. He does not have to rebuild the Legion of Boom in Sin City, but the Raiders do plan on getting to the quarterback more (they ranked 29th in sacks) and getting more takeaways (30th).
Biggest X factor: How fast Bradley can get the defense up to speed. He has some building blocks in defensive ends Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell, linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton and defensive backs Trayvon Mullen and Johnathan Abram. How quickly they adapt to a new scheme in Bradley’s defense and what pieces the Raiders add this offseason will tell the tale. — Paul Gutierrez
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2015
2020 FPI rank: No. 22
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Finding a franchise quarterback to go with an already talented group of skill players, starting with running back Christian McCaffrey. Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t appear to be that quarterback, so whether it means using the No. 8 pick on a quarterback or going after Deshaun Watson will be key in taking a step forward. Remember, they had eight games last season in which they had a chance to tie or win on their last possession and Bridgewater couldn’t get it done, going 0-8 in those games.
Biggest X factor: Again, the quarterback. Coach Matt Rhule invested everything on the defensive side in his first draft, and that unit appears headed in the right direction with young stars such as Jeremy Chinn and Derrick Brown. Getting that game-changer at quarterback and investing in an offensive line will be key. — David Newton
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1991
2020 FPI rank: No. 20
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The strategy is simple: build the offense, starting with quarterback. They have some cap room — $32 million possibly with the ability to create more — and they have the 19th overall pick in the first round of the draft. Washington will be aggressive pursuing a quarterback as well as more skill talent — it went hard after receiver Amari Cooper last offseason, and the free-agent receiver class is much deeper this offseason.
Biggest X factor: Finding a quarterback. Alex Smith was a terrific story and inspirational and a key reason why Washington made the postseason. But he’ll be 37 next season, and it’s hard to know if he can last a full season — and then play at the level they need. Washington will be aggressive going after a quarterback, so if it can pull that off this offseason the biggest hurdle is gone. Washington’s defense already is at a high level. The key over the next few years will be keeping together a talented defensive front that ranks among the best in the NFL. — John Keim
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2018
2020 FPI rank: No. 17
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: After taking a one-year hit on the salary cap in 2020 to pay past bills, the Patriots are well positioned with around $60 million in projected cap space this year. They can potentially capitalize in a rare year when a significant number of teams might have to shed quality players due to a cap crunch. Using that strong financial standing to improve a roster with notable holes is where their strategy begins.
Biggest X factor: Finding the next quarterback, and then giving him the best chance for success by improving the talent at receiver and tight end. The Patriots still have Bill Belichick, one of the game’s all-time great coaches. How Belichick stocks the roster at those key areas — among others — will shine a spotlight on his personnel prowess as he attempts to return the franchise to prominence in the post-Brady years. — Mike Reiss
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2015
2020 FPI rank: No. 24
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: In the previous three offseasons, they have looked to draft and build. Newly hired general manager George Paton has said he also believes that is the best way to “build your best culture.” A fourth straight strong draft class would further stock the roster with starters on their rookie contracts. They have some talent in there, especially in the skill positions on offense, but the big question is still Drew Lock. There are glimmers of potential in many of the young players, but the Broncos could be stuck in neutral if the play at quarterback doesn’t improve.
Biggest X factor: Quarterback. If they think Lock will make the jump in Year 3, say it, tell him it’s his last chance and to get to work. Then keep the roster young, maintain salary cap room and be ready to pounce on the best QB option in 2022 if he doesn’t improve enough. If Lock doesn’t pan out then they have to find a veteran without weakening the parts of the roster that have been improved in the past three drafts. They have to get it right somehow, because they keep canceling out the good things they do in personnel with the turnstile approach at quarterback. — Jeff Legwold
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2006
2020 FPI rank: No. 18
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Three years out is generous. The Bears have not won a championship in 35 years and have only six playoff appearances (three postseason victories) since the turn of the century. The only path toward a Super Bowl title is finding a franchise quarterback. Good luck with that. The Bears’ last franchise-caliber quarterback was Sid Luckman, and he retired in 1950. The Bears will no doubt work hard in the offseason to improve at quarterback. Unless general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy hit a home run, the Bears will be back in the same spot next year.
Biggest X factor: Finding the quarterback but also maintaining the fleeting greatness on defense. Chicago’s defense faltered down the stretch. The Bears have invested serious money in Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Robert Quinn, Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller, but the results were only so-so. New coordinator Sean Desai, who replaced Chuck Pagano, has to return the unit to top-10 status and keep them there for the Bears to have any shot to compete as the offense transitions to a new quarterback. — Jeff Dickerson
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2016
2020 FPI rank: No. 14
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The Falcons have some issues. They’re approximately $41 million over the projected cap in 2021. They need to find a pass-rusher, figure out what they’re doing at running back (Todd Gurley II is a free agent) and add another playmaker opposite Calvin Ridley, because Julio Jones can’t play forever. But having a QB like Matt Ryan helps, and he is still playing at a high level: Ryan just completed his 10th consecutive season with 4,000 passing yards.
Biggest X factor: How much longer can Ryan play at that high level, and do the Falcons need to start thinking about a replacement now? It certainly looks like Ryan has another run in him based on the past several years, and two other QBs in his division have shown it’s possible to play well into your 40s. If new coach Arthur Smith is able to build the kind of offense he did in Tennessee and not have to rely as much on Ryan, then his window could be extended. — Michael DiRocco
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1968
2020 FPI rank: No. 31
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: It’s all about building through the draft. The Jets have five picks in the first three rounds, including Nos. 2 and 23. They also have two first-rounders in 2022. Basically, general manager Joe Douglas bailed on the 2020 season as soon as he traded star safety Jamal Adams, shifting the focus to the future. Their plan is to draft their way back to relevance, using free agency ($63 million in cap room) as a supplement.
Biggest X factor: Who’s the quarterback? Sam Darnold? A rookie? Deshaun Watson? If they trade for Watson, the team-building plan changes dramatically, because they’d have to part with a chunk of their draft capital to get him. The Jets should go all-in on Watson because the positives outweigh the negatives. Darnold is risky. So is drafting a QB. — Rich Cimini
Last Super Bowl appearance: Never been
2020 FPI rank: No. 32
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: For anyone who still didn’t believe having a great QB is vital, this year’s playoffs should remove any doubt. And the Jaguars are in position to take one of the best QB prospects of the past decade in Trevor Lawrence. If he is what many people believe he will be, then the Jaguars have the most important piece in place, and it becomes a matter of fixing some major holes on defense and surrounding Lawrence with playmakers. With 11 picks in this draft, including two in the first round and seven in first four rounds, the Jaguars can knock some of those things out.
Biggest X factor: Team owner Shad Khan hired Urban Meyer to revamp the franchise, but will the longtime college coach’s methods translate to the NFL? Meyer is assembling what appears to be a good staff, using a mix of people from his college days as well as experienced NFL assistants, especially at the coordinator level. If Meyer is able to adjust to losing games — it tore him apart in college and severely impacted his health — and yet still having a good season with players buying into his approach, then the Jaguars have a chance. — Michael DiRocco
Dan Orlovsky wants Giants GM Dave Gettleman to go all-in on acquiring Deshaun Watson.
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2011
2020 FPI rank: No. 26
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Keep building piece by piece. The Giants believe they established a strong foundation and culture last year in coach Joe Judge’s first season. Team owner John Mara said he saw “progress.” Now it’s about adding big pieces to supplement an improving defense (a top edge rusher) and admittedly finding playmakers (No. 1 receiver) to help quarterback Daniel Jones and the offense. Still a ways to go.
Biggest X factor: Jones. The Giants don’t have a chance unless he makes a monumental jump in Year 3. His second season didn’t do much to instill confidence he can become the bona fide franchise quarterback they need. If Jones can make Josh Allen-like growth in 2021, it’s possible to start dreaming of Super Bowl contention. If not, turn the clock back a few more years. — Jordan Raanan
TRUST THE PROCESS (FOUR-PLUS YEARS OUT)
Last Super Bowl appearance: Never been
2020 FPI rank: No. 23
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: It’s hard to answer this question without knowing whether Deshaun Watson will be playing for the Texans in 2021, as he officially requested a trade Thursday. If he is on the roster, the Texans need to build around him, especially on defense. The problem? They don’t have the cap space or draft picks this year to find those impact players.
Biggest X factor: Figuring out their quarterback situation. If it’s not Watson, they need to use the return they get in a trade to figure out their long-term solution at the position. Houston has been through a prolonged coaching carousel before, and the priority has to be avoiding that going forward. — Sarah Barshop
Last Super Bowl appearance: 2017
2020 FPI rank: No. 29
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: The Eagles are rebooting. It comes at least a year late, but they are now fully committed to moving full steam ahead with their youth movement. There’s really no alternative, as Philadelphia is projected to be $70 million over the salary cap in 2021 and has to shed veteran salary to get the books balanced. The firing of coach Doug Pederson and hiring of Nick Sirianni officially closed the book on the Super Bowl era in Philly. Now the Eagles will try to build back up by hitting in the draft, starting with the sixth overall pick in April.
Biggest X factor: The quarterback situation. The Eagles need to determine if their relationship with Carson Wentz is salvageable and whether it will be Wentz or Jalen Hurts under center next season. The length of their rebuild will be determined in part by whether they can diffuse the self-created quarterback controversy and choose the right QB. — Tim McManus
Last Super Bowl appearance: 1988
2020 FPI rank: No. 27
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: Cincinnati might be seeing the light at the end of a multiyear rebuilding process. The Bengals have a key piece in rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, and it’s clear that supporting him is the best way to play for a Super Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season. Whether it’s the scheme from coach Zac Taylor or drafting players such as WR Tee Higgins and potentially an offensive tackle with the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, it appears the Bengals know Burrow is the best bet to a Lombardi trophy.
Biggest X factor: Burrow is coming off a season-ending left knee injury that required reconstructive surgery. Right now, his long-term health is the biggest X factor for the franchise. The other? The outlook on Taylor is still to be determined after six wins in his first two seasons. — Ben Baby
Last Super Bowl appearance: Never been
2020 FPI rank: No. 30
Strategy for becoming a Super Bowl contender: It’s going to take a while — and it will start with a new quarterback, likely Jared Goff, who will be coming to the Lions along with draft picks for Matthew Stafford at the start of the new league year. New general manager Brad Holmes, with a deep college scouting background, plans to build the Lions through the draft. Holmes was a key part of the construction of the Rams’ roster, and he is trying to do something similar in Detroit. With holes at almost every position and the Stafford trade completed, it’s going to be some time before Detroit can get to true contender status, and it could help explain why the Lions gave new coach Dan Campbell a six-year deal.
Biggest X factor: Goff. If he can rejuvenate his career at his second stop, the Stafford trade could be a massive win for the Lions. They have two first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 — to use either on players or as bargaining pieces for other acquisitions. If Goff can’t, the Lions will be able to reasonably get out of his contract after the 2022 season and will likely have a long-term plan in place. The quarterback will be the key here, whether it ends up being Goff or a player Detroit tries to insert later after building up the rest of the team, similar to what has happened in Tampa Bay this season. But getting the quarterback solves a lot of other issues and gives Detroit a chance. — Michael Rothstein
Note: Tiers were voted on by Mike Clay, Jeremy Fowler, Mina Kimes, Kevin Seifert, Seth Walder and Field Yates.