We already have a good notion of what all 32 NFL teams will look like when the regular season begins. And for 12 of those clubs, this year means another chance to capture that elusive first Super Bowl.
Here are how the clubs without a Super Bowl title rank based on how close they are to clinching their first trophy.
12. Houston Texans
Super Bowl history: Have never advanced past divisional round
2021 record: 4-13
Key additions: RB Marlon Mack, DE Jerry Hughes, CB Steven Nelson
Departures: QB Deshaun Watson, QB Tyrod Taylor, DE Jacob Martin, S Justin Reid, CB Lonnie Johnson, CB Terrance Mitchell
The Texans are going through a big rebuild, and although they did a solid job in the 2022 NFL Draft, the team is still far from being a contender. Houston just hired a new head coach in Lovie Smith, whose previous NFL head coaching gig dates back to 2015. Smith will have a roster featuring mostly young and unproven players in his hands, and that has question marks all over the place – especially since the Texans have won just four games in each of the last two seasons.
Hopefully, Houston will see some of its young players – such as rookie corner Derek Stingley Jr. and second-year receiver Nico Collins – develop into potential stars in 2022. It’d also be great if quarterback Davis Mills, a third-round pick last year, shows signs that he can be the No. 1 guy in his first full season as the starter.
11. Atlanta Falcons
Super Bowl history: Lost to Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII, New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI
2021 record: 7-10
Key additions: QB Marcus Mariota, WR Bryan Edwards, CB Casey Hayward, LB Rashaan Evans
Departures: QB Matt Ryan, RB Mike Davis, WR Russell Gage, DE Dante Fowler, LB Foye Oluokun, S Duron Harmon
The Falcons kicked off a new era after trading Ryan this year, and they enter the 2022 campaign with more questions than answers despite making good offseason moves. The biggest unknown is at quarterback, as Mariota and third-round rookie Desmond Ridder headline Atlanta’s depth chart. Mariota is in line to start this year due to his experience, but it’s hard to imagine him leading this team to the postseason.
This scenario could change if Ridder turns out to be a solid starting quarterback, but he might need at least a couple of years to reach his full potential. Until Atlanta finds a new franchise signal-caller, the best thing to do is to keep filling its roster with potential stars. The Falcons, who won’t have receiver Calvin Ridley this season due to a suspension, brought in a new No. 1 wideout in first-round rookie Drake London.
10. Detroit Lions
Super Bowl history: Have never appeared in Super Bowl. Last conference-championship appearance came in 1991 vs. Washington
2021 record: 3-13-1
Key additions: WR DJ Chark, S DeShon Elliott, CB Mike Hughes
Departures: DE Trey Flowers
Detroit fans are excited about what second-year head coach Dan Campbell has done – and rightfully so. The Lions didn’t win too many games last year, but they were a tough team despite lacking star power and facing superior opponents essentially all season. Campbell and Co. put together a solid draft class this year, featuring defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and wide receiver Jameson Williams.
With that being said, there’s a big difference between being a rebuilding club trending in the right direction and a potential Super Bowl contender. The Lions still have holes to fill, including at quarterback with Jared Goff. Besides that, Detroit’s roster features mostly young players who likely need another year or two to reach their full potential.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
Super Bowl history: Have never appeared in Super Bowl. Last conference-championship appearance came in 2017 vs. Patriots
2021 record: 3-14
Key additions: WR Christian Kirk, WR Zay Jones, TE Evan Engram, G Brandon Scherff, LB Foye Oluokun, CB Darious Williams, DE Arden Key
Departures: WR DJ Chark, G Andrew Norwell, LB Myles Jack, C Brandon Linder
Doesn’t it feel like the Jaguars’ free-agency spending spree didn’t actually strengthen their roster as much as it should’ve based on how much money they spent? Jacksonville clearly addressed its biggest needs, but most of the team’s top acquisitions aren’t established quality starters in the NFL yet. The AFC South club also bolstered its roster through the draft with two first-round selections, including defensive end Travon Walker at No. 1 overall.
But perhaps Jacksonville’s best acquisition was head coach Doug Pederson, who’ll play a crucial role in helping quarterback Trevor Lawrence develop. Lawrence struggled as a rookie in 2021, but he deserves a free pass given his coaching staff and supporting cast. If Lawrence bounces back in Year 2 and some of Jacksonville’s unproven newcomers meet the expectations, the Jaguars could move to the top half of this list soon.
8. Carolina Panthers
Super Bowl history: Lost to Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, Broncos in Super Bowl 50
2021 record: 5-12
Key additions: G Austin Corbett, C Bradley Bozeman, S Xavier Woods, DL Matthew Ioannidis
Departures: LB Haason Reddick, CB Stephon Gilmore, C Matt Paradis
It’s hard to make good projections about the Panthers until they solve their issues under center. Carolina started three QBs last year – Sam Darnold, Cam Newton, and P.J. Walker – and they all struggled. Darnold, who tossed nine touchdowns to 13 interceptions across 12 games in 2021, is in line to start again in 2022. He’ll have Matt Corral to compete with this time, but the third-round rookie seems like a long shot to become an NFL starter.
The Panthers did a solid job at addressing most of their needs in the offseason, and they have established starters on both sides of the ball. But is Matt Rhule the right head coach for them? Can Christian McCaffrey stay healthy? What’s their plan at QB? Panthers fans shouldn’t think about lifting the Lombardi Trophy until those questions are answered.
7. Minnesota Vikings
Super Bowl history: Lost to Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VIII, Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl IX, then-Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI
2021 record: 8-9
Key additions: LB Za’Darius Smith, LB Jordan Hicks
Departures: LB Anthony Barr, CB Mackensie Alexander, S Xavier Woods
The Vikings were closer to being a true Super Bowl contender not too long ago. The team’s most valuable players remain there, but we have to question whether Minnesota’s roster is good enough to make a title run in 2022. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has one playoff win in four campaigns, the O-line needs improvement, and the defense ranked in the bottom 10 in each of the last two years.
Minnesota hopes that first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell will fix those issues despite only two coaches ever having won the Super Bowl in their first season on the job. However, O’Connell’s roster has a high floor, with an offense featuring Pro Bowl runner Dalvin Cook and a deep group of receivers in Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn. The Vikings also made big moves on defense, adding veterans Smith and Hicks and rookie defensive backs Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth Jr. Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter also returns from injury after playing just seven games since 2020.
If the defense goes back to being one of the NFL’s best and O’Connell significantly improves the offense’s ceiling, the Vikings can dream of something big. But we’d be jumping the gun to rank Minnesota any higher right now.
6. Tennessee Titans
Super Bowl history: Lost to then-St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV
2021 record: 12-5
Key additions: WR Robert Woods, TE Austin Hooper
Departures: WR A.J. Brown, WR Julio Jones, G Rodger Saffold, LB Jayon Brown, LB Rashaan Evans, CB Jackrabbit Jenkins
It’s weird to rank the Titans this low after they finished last season as the AFC’s No. 1 seed. But this team might have already reached its ceiling – and it still wasn’t enough to even reach the Super Bowl. Coach Mike Vrable does deserve a ton of credit for what he’s done lately, but even if Tennessee plays at its best again in 2022, it’d be very hard to contend in the AFC.
The Titans might have a chance if Ryan Tannehill, who struggled last year, bounces back. He won’t have his favorite target from last season, though, as Tennessee traded Brown in the draft, but the Titans hope first-round rookie receiver Treylon Burks will take over the No. 1 role from Day 1. Tennessee’s running game should remain one of the NFL’s best with Derrick Henry back to full health, so figuring things out in the passing game is a must.
5. Cleveland Browns
Super Bowl history: Have never appeared in Super Bowl. Last conference-championship appearance came in 1989 vs. Broncos
2021 record: 8-9
Key additions: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Amari Cooper, DE Chase Winovich
Departures: WR Jarvis Landry, C JC Tretter, TE Austin Hooper, LB Mack Wilson, CB Troy Hill
On paper, Cleveland might already have enough individual talent to make a Super Bowl run after Watson’s arrival. The signal-caller has been spectacular when he’s on the field, leading the league in yards (4,823) and tossing a career-high 33 touchdowns the last season he played in 2020. But there are too many questions in Cleveland right now.
The NFL may still suspend Watson. Plus, will coach Kevin Stefanski’s run-heavy scheme be an issue for the QB? Do the Browns have enough receiving weapons? Is the young secondary ready to step up? Cleveland made moves this offseason, but whether they will pay off remains to be seen.
4. Arizona Cardinals
Super Bowl history: Lost to Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII
2021 record: 11-6
Key additions: WR Marquise Brown
Departures: LB Chandler Jones, LB Jordan Hicks, WR Christian Kirk, RB Chase Edmonds
The Cardinals are entering the new campaign with one of the highest ceilings in all of football.
Arizona looked like a powerhouse in the first half of last season before falling off a cliff in the second half, but the team still made the playoffs despite its banged-up offense. The Cardinals did lose a couple of veteran defenders this year, but they added another weapon for quarterback Kyler Murray in Brown. Coming off a career year, the wideout should help Arizona’s offense stay more consistent. Brown will be even more important early in the campaign, with DeAndre Hopkins serving a six-game suspension.
The Cardinals don’t have as much to work with defensively, but they don’t need to as long as the offense doesn’t disappoint. This is a make-or-break year for coach Kliff Kingsbury and Murray.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Super Bowl history: Lost to San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XVI, XXIII, Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI
2021 record: 10-7
Key additions: TE Hayden Hurst, OT La’el Collins, G Alex Cappa, OL Ted Karras
Departures: TE C.J. Uzomah, DT Larry Ogunjobi, C Trey Hopkins
Third place on this list may seem low for the reigning AFC champions, but it doesn’t mean Cincy isn’t good enough to make another Super Bowl run. Cincinnati stunned the NFL last season after winning the AFC North en route to making its first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years, and now the team wants to prove the 2021 campaign wasn’t a fluke.
Bengals fans have reasons to be excited. Quarterback Joe Burrow not only has his explosive offensive weapons back, but he’ll also have an upgraded offensive line to protect him. Cincinnati enters the season with three new starting linemen in Karras, Cappa, and Collins. Finding more consistency on the other side of the ball will be key, but returning nearly every starter from last year – and drafting safety Daxton Hill in the first round – should help with that.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
Super Bowl history: Lost to 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX
2021 record: 9-8
Key additions: LB Khalil Mack, CB J.C. Jackson, DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, LB Kyle Van Noy, TE Gerald Everett
Departures: LB Uchenna Nwosu, DT Linval Joseph, LB Kyzir White, CB Chris Harris Jr., TE Jared Cook
The Chargers may not only be the best team in the AFC West, but they look like a side that could dominate the whole conference after building a strong roster around Justin Herbert. Los Angeles bolstered its O-line in the first round for the second straight year, and the club brought in veterans to address defensive issues, adding Mack, Joseph-Day, and Jackson.
It’s now time for second-year coach Brandon Staley to put the pieces together and start winning games. The Chargers haven’t made the playoffs since 2018, and they have a recent history of underachieving and losing games in ways that only they can. But Herbert, already one of the NFL’s top passers at age 24, now has the right supporting cast to change that narrative.
1. Buffalo Bills
Super Bowl history: Lost to New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV, Washington in Super Bowl XXVI, Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVII, XXVIII
2021 record: 11-6
Key additions: LB Von Miller, WR Jamison Crowder, G Rodger Saffold
Departures: OT Daryl Williams, CB Levi Wallace, WR Cole Beasley, WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Jerry Hughes
Is this finally the Bills’ year? Buffalo keeps getting better, and the club now has arguably its best squad since GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott took over in 2017. The offense should remain one of the league’s best despite losing coordinator Brian Daboll. Josh Allen is an established top-five quarterback with a complete group of receivers in Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, and Crowder at his disposal, while rookie running back James Cook is also a great fit with this group.
Defensively, the Bills added what could be their missing piece of the puzzle in Miller, who knows a thing or two about winning after lifting Super Bowl trophies with the Broncos and Rams. Buffalo also used its first-round pick in Kaiir Elam, addressing a major need at cornerback.
Buffalo’s been a contender for multiple years but has fallen short against the Chiefs in each of the last two postseasons. This year, the Bills look better than Kansas City on paper – let’s see if they can prove that.