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IS A REPEAT ZERO-TO-HERO STORY IN THE WORKS?

Last season we saw the extraordinary unfold right before our eyes. The Cincinnati Bengals had finished the previous two seasons with a combined record of 6 wins and 25 losses, turned their fortune around, and made a Cinderella run that ended with a 23-20 Superbowl loss to the Los Angeles Rams. At the beginning of last season, the odds of the Bengals lifting the Lombardi trophy were between 150/1to 200/1. Is a repeat zero-to-hero story in the works this season? To answer this question, let’s break down 3 teams (Texans, Falcons, Jaguars) with the lowest odds to win Superbowl 57.

 

To start off, we have the Houston Texans (250/1 odds to win SB 57). 

Record the last two seasons: 8-25.               

            The problems last season were seemingly endless. The Texans had the 3rd worst point differential in the league (-172). Star players left (J.J. Watt), got injured (Tyrod Taylor), or were prohibited from playing (Deshaun Watson). A Rookie Quarterback (Davis Mills) started, surrounded by little to no offensive weaponry. The defense allowed the 6th most points against. If the Texans’ defense was a type of cheese, it would be Swiss.

             This offseason, the Texans made some critical strides and suffered some setbacks.

           The first stride made this offseason was Trading away Watson – no more Watson drama. With Watson out of the picture, Houston can create a new identity and finally abandon its purgatory of hope based on the star QB returning to save their franchise. Additionally, Houston is hopeful of its Draft picks performing. Houston drafted Derek Stingley Jr. to fix its defensive back issues; Kenyon Green to protect the projected starter Davis Mills; John Mitchie to supply offensive weaponry to a system that desperately needs a breakout WR. 

           Trading Watson does allow for Houston to create a new identity, but that will not translate to immediate success this year as their starting QB is still Davis Mills. This is especially true because the Texans still need assistance on the offensive line. An inexperienced quarterback combined with a weak offensive is not a recipe for success. One of the few silver linings in an otherwise bleak outlook is the Texans’ strength of schedule (10th easiest). An easy schedule alone will not carry them to a championship.

Superbowl Chances: It is more likely that Mark Sanchez will live down the butt fumble than it is for the Houston Texans to make it to the Superbowl.

 

Next up, the Atlanta Falcons (150/1 odds to win SB 57).                                                              

Record the last two seasons: 11-22.

           Atlanta and Seattle are both teams in a similar situation. They both finished the season 7-10 and are both moving on from their franchise quarterbacks (Matt Ryan & Russel Wilson). However, the Falcons experienced unique problems last season.

            The Falcons’ wide receivers were extremely limited in production. Their star wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, finished the season playing 5 games with under 300 yards and only 2 TDs. No receiver on the team surpassed 800 yards receiving, and over the season, the Falcons only scored 20 touchdowns through the air (compared to 43 for the Buccaneers). On the defensive side, the Falcons were worst in team pressure, ranked 30th in run defense DVOA, and tied for 3rd most points against (with the chargers).   

            This offseason, the Falcons suffered some significant losses and made some pivotal moves.

             The two most shocking losses this offseason were the Falcons trading away their 14-year franchise quarter Matty Ice and Calvin Ridley being suspended for gambling on NFL games. It will undoubtedly be weird to see the Falcons play without Matty Ice at the helm.

            To make up for the Matt Ryan-sized hole in the Falcons’ offense, Marcus Mariota, and Desmond Ridder will compete for the job. Moving on from Ryan may be perceived as the Falcons rebuilding for the long-term, but coach Arthur Smith does not see it that way. When Smith was asked about the 2023 draft, he dismissed the question entirely, saying, “I want to win. I have an urgency to win…We have something to prove.” While hope and persistence are cornerstones of success, a team cannot succeed on them alone. Success is going to be even more challenging for the Falcons to find as they have the 8th toughest strength of schedule.

Superbowl Chances: The chances of them winning Superbowl 57 are about as likely as blowing a 28-3 3rd quarter lead in the Superbowl – wait — we all remember how that ended…. So instead, to reassure the Falcons fanbase, you can’t blow a Superbowl lead if you don’t even make the playoffs.

 

Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars (125/1 odds to win SB 57)

Record the last two seasons: 4-29.

           Besides beating the Bills 9-6, last season was an absolute train wreck. The Jaguars suffered a wide range of problems last season.

            First and foremost was Urban Meyer firing due to his multitude of scandals. Without going into too much detail, Urban Meyer hired a coach who had been accused of racial bias and bullying, kicked the kicker Josh Lambo during pregame, and called his assistant coaches losers. Besides the head coach being fired mid-season, the team suffered vital injuries on offense (Travis Etienne Jr. & Jamal Agnew) to a team that was already underwhelming in the weaponry department. On defense, they allowed the 5th most points per game (26.9) and had the league’s worst turnover differential at -20 (compared to the 2nd worst Chicago Bears at -13).

           This offseason, the Jaguars made significant strides on offense and defense. On offense, they added Zay Jones (WR), Christian Kirk (WR), and Even Engram (TE). This unit will be starting the season with a new coach, Doug Pederson, who is a former Quarterback coach. For Trevor Lawrence, new offensive personnel and a new coach are significant signs of an upcoming breakout year. On the defensive side, the Jaguars improved their rush defense over the past two seasons, from 30th in 2020 to 23rd in 2021. Look for this momentum to continue this year with the addition of Folorunso Fatukasi on the defensive line and number #1 overall pick Travon Walker at the defensive end.

           However, the Jaguars face several challenges. The biggest challenge will be to establish chemistry, both between players and coaches and amongst players themselves. While great additions were made to the defensive line and linebackers, only one newcomer (Ayo Oyelola) was added to the safety position. This is primarily a concern considering the Jaguars starting Safeties last year were both in the top ten in missed tackles. Hopefully, with the new additions, Fatukasi and Walker can make tackles before a runner gets into the secondary.

           Coaching changes, a new general manager, new offensive weaponry, and great additions on defense are significant improvements that directly solve problems from last season. The biggest question for this team is if they can put it together this season. That hope is helped by the fact that the Jaguars have the 9th easiest strength of schedule. I have not been able to say this for many years; I am excited to watch the Jaguars. 

Superbowl Chances: Out of the three, the Jaguars have the most promising chance to make a Superbowl run this year. The chances are similar to Justin Tucker making a 75-yard field goal in-game (highly improbable, but possible)

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