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Ranking 12 teams that never won a Super Bowl by best chance to win title in 2021: High hopes in Buffalo

The Super Bowl has been around 55 years, yet more than a third of the league has never hoisted a Vince Lombardi Trophy. Four teams have yet to even reach the Super Bowl (two of them started as a franchise after 1990). The Philadelphia Eagles were the most recent team to leave the “never won a Super Bowl” club, but the league only has three first-time Super Bowl winners since the start of the 2009 season. 

There are quite a few contenders to win their first Super Bowl in 2021, and the two favorites reside in the loaded AFC. The Buffalo Bills are coming off their first conference championship game appearance since 1993 while the Cleveland Browns won their first playoff game since 1995. Both teams have two of the most talented rosters in the league and look to make an even deeper playoff run — finally attempting to end title droughts that have lasted more than a half-century. 

Twelve franchises have never captured a Super Bowl title. Which one is the most likely to remove itself from this dubious list? 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: None
  • Last NFL championship: None

Houston would be much higher on this list if Deshaun Watson’s future with the team wasn’t uncertain. The Texans did finish 4-12 last season, even as Watson reached career highs in completion percentage (70.2), passing yards (4,823), touchdown passes (33). and quarterback rating (112.4). Watson led the NFL in passing yards and yards per attempt, carrying an offense that finished 31st in the league in rushing. The defense wasn’t that much better either, finishing 27th in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed, and recorded the fewest turnovers in the league. 

If Watson doesn’t play in 2021, the Texans will be competing for the top overall pick in the 2022 draft. This is one of the worst rosters in the league, but Houston (at least) has a chance to win games if Watson plays. 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: None
  • Last NFL championship: 1957

The Lions are in the first year of a rebuild, as Dan Campbell looks to change the culture of a franchise that has just one playoff win over the last 63 years. Detroit has a young and talented offensive line (average age 24 years old) to protect new quarterback Jared Goff who is looking to resurrect his career after getting traded by the Los Angeles Rams

Detroit has some work to do on the defensive side of the ball, a monumental task for new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn (gave up a league-worst 112.4 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in 2020). Adding a consistent pass rush will make this team more competitive, but competing for a Super Bowl appears to be years away.

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  • Last Super Bowl appearance: 2016 (Super Bowl 50)
  • Last NFL championship: None

Matt Rhule is building something in Carolina as he enters his second year, taking a chance he can resurrect Sam Darnold’s career. Out of 35 qualified quarterbacks last season, Darnold finished 33rd in completion percentage, 30th in interception percentage, 32nd in yards per attempt, and 35th in passer rating. Those numbers should improve under offensive coordinator Joe Brady, as the Panthers will find out if Darnold can become a franchise quarterback. 

Christian McCaffrey’s return makes the Panthers formidable, as the front office restructured the offensive line. The defense got a huge boost with the signing of Haason Reddick and top 10 pick Jaycee Horn, but Carolina still has to deal with Tampa Bay and New Orleans in the NFC South. 

If the Saints slip a bit, there’s a spot open for the Panthers to take a leap in 2021. Again, this is all dependent on how Darnold plays. 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: 2017 (Super Bowl LI)
  • Last NFL championship: None

Just when the Falcons appeared to have a team set to contend for a playoff berth in 2021, Atlanta traded Julio Jones to the Titans for draft picks. The Falcons still have Matt Ryan at quarterback, who has thrown for the most passing yards in the league over the last three years and has a emerging star in Calvin Ridley and a game-changing tight end in rookie first-rounder Kyle Pitts. If Atlanta can create holes up front for free agent signing Mike Davis, the Falcons offense may be good enough to carry a defense that needs some work. 

Atlanta is going to miss Jones’ big-play ability — and has a defense set to give up big plays of its own. There’s talent on the Falcons, but they are such an unknown heading into 2021. New head coach Arthur Smith has some work to do this summer. 

8. Cincinnati Bengals

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: 1990 (Super Bowl XXIII)
  • Last NFL championship: None

Drafting Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell was a questionable move, especially since Cincinnati’s atrocious offensive line led to franchise quarterback Joe Burrow tearing his ACL in his rookie season. Burrow should be ready by Week 1, and has an impressive cast of receivers that will make the Bengals passing game even more lethal in 2021. 

Will head coach Zac Taylor actually commit to the run and take the pressure off of Burrow? Is the offensive line good enough to protect Burrow from getting hurt again? Those questions need to be answered in a division where the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers defenses reside. 

The Bengals should be better, but they aren’t close to competing for a championship yet — especially residing in the AFC North. 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: None
  • Last NFL championship: None

Rookie head coaches and rookie quarterbacks don’t typically generate Super Bowl contenders. The Jaguars are still going to be exciting to watch in 2021 as Urban Meyer is the best college coach to enter the NFL in years, having arguably the most talented quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in Trevor Lawrence

Jacksonville was the worst team in the league last year, but the Jaguars were competitive in half of their games (seven of their losses were by one score). Adding Marvin Jones to a young receiving unit that already includes Laviska Shenault Jr. and D.J. Chark will help Lawrence out immensely, especially with James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, and Travis Etienne capable of creating a balanced rushing attack. 

The Jaguars are going to be better than the 1-15 team that played last year, and could actually contend for eight or nine wins if the defense becomes a top 20 unit (ranked 31st in points and yards allowed in 2020). The presence of Lawrence gives Jacksonville hope for the first time in years. 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: 1995 (Super Bowl XXIX)
  • Last NFL/AFL championship: 1963

The Chargers got the last of the three talented quarterbacks from the 2020 draft class, and possibly the best in Justin Herbert — the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Herbert has immensely changed the fortunes of a franchise that mired in mediocrity during Philip Rivers‘ final years. Herbert will have more protection to connect with a talented cast of offensive weapons as the Chargers rebuilt their offensive line centered around All-Pro Corey Linsley and first-round pick Rashawn Slater. Los Angeles is going to score points this year. 

How much this defense will improve under first-year head coach Brandon Staley will be an indicator whether the Chargers are playoff-caliber. The AFC West belongs to the Kansas City Chiefs, but second place is there for the taking. Los Angeles could put itself in position to contend for a playoff spot. 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: 1977 (Super Bowl XI)
  • Last NFL championship: None

The Vikings have made the playoffs every odd-year season since coach Mike Zimmer took over in 2014, which bodes well for them in 2021. The Vikings uncharacteristically had a poor defense in 2020, ranking 29th in points allowed after finishing as a top 10 unit the previous five seasons. Adding Patrick Peterson, Xavier Woods, Sheldon Richardson and Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency improves this unit — which also gets Danielle Hunter back from a neck injury. 

Kirk Cousins may not be elite, but he’s a pretty good quarterback. Over the past three years, Cousins is seventh in passer rating (103.6), second in completion percentage (69.03), fifth in passing touchdowns (91), and 10th in yards per attempt (7.77). A better offensive line will help Cousins out immensely, especially with playmakers like Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Irv Smith

With Aaron Rodgers‘ future in limbo, the Vikings could be primed to win the NFC North. 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: 2009 (Super Bowl XLIII)
  • Last NFL championship: 1947

The NFC West is loaded, but the Cardinals have the talent to win the division. Arizona was on its way to the playoffs before Kyler Murray’s shoulder injury limited him late in the season, hurting a potential All-Pro campaign. The Cardinals added more playmakers to surround Murray this offseason with A.J. Green and Rondale Moore at wide receiver. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has to commit to running the ball besides using Murray on designed carries, or else Arizona will experience the same second-half swoon as last year. 

The Cardinals defense significantly improved with the addition of J.J. Watt and the return of Chandler Jones on the pass rush. Zaven Collins has strong NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year capabilities and Isaiah Simmons is expected to take a huge step in his second year. Arizona still needs more help in the secondary, but defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has man-cover corners to fit his scheme. There’s enough depth to get by. 

Arizona has the potential to shock the NFL and win 11-plus games, emerging victorious in a strong NFC West. If Murray can stay healthy, the sky’s the limit for this team. 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: 2000 (Super Bowl XXXIV)
  • Last NFL/AFL championship: 1961

The Titans thrust themselves into Super Bowl contention with the offseason addition of Julio Jones, a massive upgrade over departed free agent Corey Davis. Tennessee already has the game’s best running back in Derrick Henry and one of the league’s best big-play receivers in A.J. Brown, setting the stage for Jones to have a huge first season in Tennessee. 

Ryan Tannehill has been a top five quarterback over the last two seasons and it hasn’t been talked about enough. Tannehill is second in the league in passer rating (110.6), second in touchdown percentage (7.2) and first in yards per attempt (8.55). He also has the most game-winning drives and tied for the most fourth-quarter comebacks in that span. He’s a key piece in guiding Tennessee to its first championship. 

The Titans defense added Bud Dupree and Caleb Farley, but it may not be enough to make the the 24th-ranked unit (in points allowed) Super Bowl-caliber. Tennessee’s offense is going to have to do most of the work in order to repeat at AFC South champions. This team is just two years removed from the AFC Championship Game and is in position to “win now.” A special season in Tennessee could be in store. 

2. Cleveland Browns 

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: None
  • Last NFL championship: 1964

Cleveland hasn’t been in a position to win a Super Bowl since Bernie Kosar led the franchise to consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances in the mid-1980s. One playoff win and taking the Kansas City Chiefs to the brink last season opened opportunities for the Browns, who possess one of the most talented rosters in the conference. 

Cleveland has the game’s top running back tandem in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, a duo head coach Kevin Stefanski utilizes heavily in the offense. Odell Beckham makes a highly anticipated return to a passing game that includes Jarvis Landry and an emerging Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. It helps that the Browns arguably have a top three offensive line in football (if not the best). 

The Browns also have a good defense that improved with the additions of John Johnson III at safety, Anthony Walker and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at linebacker, Jadeveon Clowney at edge rusher, and Greg Newsome II at cornerback. Cleveland already has one of the game’s best pass rushers in Myles Garrett and cornerbacks in Denzel Ward. This unit — like the offense — has the potential to be an elite group.

If Baker Mayfield improves from last season’s campaign, the Browns will contend for a Super Bowl in 2021. This team is starting to scratch the surface of its potential. 

1. Buffalo Bills

  • Last Super Bowl appearance: 1994 (Super Bowl XXVIII)
  • Last NFL/AFL championship: 1965

If the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t have a generational quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and a Hall of Fame head coach in Andy Reid, the Bills would have reached their first Super Bowl in 27 years. Buffalo is on the doorstep of reaching the league championship game, thanks to the emergence of Josh Allen as one of the game’s best quarterbacks. 

What Allen accomplished in 2020 was MVP-caliber, even if he didn’t take home the league’s highest individual honor. Allen set the Bills’ franchise record for passing yards in a season (4,544) and passing touchdowns (37), finishing with a 107.2 passer rating. He finished fourth in the league in completion percentage (69.2), fifth in passing yards, fifth in passing touchdowns, and fourth in passer rating — while also rushing for 421 yards and eight touchdowns. The Bills ended up with the most wins in a season (13) since 1991.

Buffalo is in position to make another deep playoff run this season. Stefon Diggs is one of the game’s best wide receivers and Gabriel Davis is one of the underrated young wideouts in the league. Cole Beasley is also a reliable target for Allen, who does as much damage from the outside as well as the slot. Buffalo also added Emmanuel Sanders to the mix, making the passing game even more formidable. The run offense needs to be stronger with Devin Singletary and Zack Moss as the offensive line has to create better holes up front to take the pressure off Allen. 

Buffalo has a top 10 pass defense led by one of the game’s best cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White and Pro Bowl snub Jordan Poyer, but the run defense has to improve to beat a team like Kansas City. Top draft picks Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. should help, but did Buffalo do enough to shore up the biggest hole on its roster?

The Bills are good enough to get to the Super Bowl this year — and win it. Kansas City will be this team’s measuring stick, as the Chiefs are the only roster more talented than Buffalo’s in the AFC. 




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