The Schein Nine  

 

Cardinals, Texans headline teams that could win first Super Bowl

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LeBron James delivered a championship to Cleveland, ending 52 years of heartbreak for the city. The Drive. The Fumble. The Decision. Michael Jordan. Jose Mesa. The Browns leaving Cleveland. The homeless man telling Jimmy Haslam to pick Johnny Manziel.

And 2016 could be the year in sports to reverse the curse, to stop the pain for some other long-suffering fan bases.

As I predicted in the NBA preseason and before the finals on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," the Cavs won their first title. (LeBron simply wouldn't let them lose.) Before the baseball season, I prophesized that the Cubs would thwart history -- Bartman and the billy goat included -- and finally bring a halt to their interminable World Series title drought.

Well, there are 13 NFL franchises that have never won a Super Bowl. So which one is most likely to follow LeBron's lead?

Glad you asked! We rank 'em, Schein Nine style.

(NOTE: My last name rhymes with the number nine. First time ever writing this column that I wished it sounded more like "six," as there is a significant drop-off after team No. 6 in the list below. But I digress.)

1) Arizona Cardinals

Throughout this offseason, I've penned that -- barring injuries, obviously -- Patriots vs. Cardinals will be my Super Bowl pick. And I think the Cardinals have a great opportunity to win a title. If that happens, it would certainly coincide brilliantly with the Cavs' triumph -- and potentially, my projected World Series win for the Cubs!

Arizona has become a model franchise under team president Michael Bidwill, with the Cardinals playing in a gorgeous stadium. They employ the best head coach-general manager combination in the league: Bruce Arians and Steve Keim. The roster is loaded in every phase. Keim addressed the one glaring weakness -- edge pass rushing -- by trading for Chandler Jones this offseason. Tyrann Mathieu is still recovering from last season's knee injury, but long-term extension talks tell you the Cardinals aren't extremely worried about his ability to get back to those Honey Badger, ballhawking ways. The offense is versatile and dynamic. Carson Palmer, fresh off the best statistical season of his career, still should have gas left in the tank at age 36. It certainly helps that the veteran quarterback is surrounded by explosive playmakers: receivers Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd, as well as second-year running back David Johnson, a player Arians believes could be "one of the all-time best."

This certainly wasn't always the case for this franchise. The Cardinals spent many years as an NFL laughingstock, going back to their days in St. Louis. The organization's all-time record of 535-724-39 tells the story. It's such a credit to Bidwill, Keim and Arians how they have changed the culture and the perception with winning ways and attention to detail.

Next step? A championship. It would mean so much to fans all over the great state of Arizona, folks who have watched this organization blossom before their very eyes.

2) Houston Texans

I think Houston is a legit Super Bowl contender. The Texans have a fantastic coach in Bill O'Brien. And they now have a promising young quarterback, Brock Osweiler, to build around on offense. Also, Houston upgraded the backfield (adding Lamar Miller in free agency), the receiving corps (drafting Will Fuller and Braxton Miller) and the offensive line (spending a second-round pick on Nick Martin and signing Jeff Allen). Houston's offense won't be a negative -- or an eyesore -- any longer.

On the other side of the ball? Well, J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the game, bar none. Houston's defense turned a corner and was dominant in the second half of last season. I think this will be a top-five unit in 2016.

Long story short: The Texans are loaded.

3) Carolina Panthers

The defending NFC champs will be right in the Super Bowl hunt again. The defensive front seven remains one of the most imposing units in the game. On offense, the return of Kelvin Benjamin as the No. 1 receiver means Cam Newton's passing will be even better. That's scary, with Cam coming off a transcendent MVP season.

I'm picking the Panthers to win 10 games and the NFC South. But Dave Gettleman's decision to abruptly jettison Josh Norman continues to boggle the mind -- seems like that'll be quite counterproductive to the season ahead. Plus, in some way, the Bucs, Falcons and Saints all improved this offseason.

4) Minnesota Vikings

Can you imagine if Adrian Peterson carries the Vikings to the Super Bowl after all the tough losses this franchise has endured? That would be special. Minnesota is 0-4 in its history in the Super Bowl. And of course, that doesn't include the 15-1 '98 Vikings team with dynamic rookie Randy Moss that lost to the Falcons in heartbreaking fashion in the NFC title game. Vikes fans rightly still aren't over Gary Anderson's miss ... or Moss' drop ... or Randall Cunningham's fumbles ... or ... I won't go on.

Mike Zimmer's Vikings are hardnosed and strong on defense, with a bevy of emerging studs (Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes) complementing a group of established stars (Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph). Minnesota needs Teddy Bridgewater to even out his play and take over some games for the offense to reach the next level. While I think Minnesota is no longer the team to beat in the NFC North -- with Jordy Nelson returning to the Packers and Eddie Lacy trimming down -- the Vikings have the run game, defense and coaching necessary to make a playoff push.

5) Jacksonville Jaguars

I like the Jaguars' roster -- a lot -- and this young team certainly could be playoff-bound in 2016. Jacksonville had a fantastic offseason, vastly improving via free agency (see: Malik Jackson, Prince Amukamara, Tashaun Gipson, Chris Ivory) and the draft (Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack). You just hope those two rookie defenders can enjoy good health.

Blake Bortles is ready to break out. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are legit weapons at receiver. The defense has plenty of talent.

Lot of pressure on Gus Bradley to put it together.

6) Cincinnati Bengals

I'm thinking that the Bengals could win around 10 games this year. Which, in theory, gives them a chance. After all, this roster has plenty of talent, even with some notable free-agent losses this offseason. So you wanna believe that Cincy could really break through in January.

But then I remember that Andy Dalton (0-4) and Marvin Lewis (0-7) have never won a playoff game. And hope dies.

7) Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones is a beast -- one of the most indispensable offensive players in the NFL. (I just wrote about it.) But these Falcons simply blow too many games where they have a lead. Frankly, they need to be more consistent.

I think 8-8 is realistic. Very, very hard to imagine Matt Ryan and Co. lifting the Lombardi in Houston next February.

8) Buffalo Bills

I openly rooted for the Cavaliers this year -- really wanted it, for LeBron's legacy, but also for those fans. I feel the same way when it comes to the amazing, long-suffering Bills Mafia. Buffalo sports a ghastly 393-451-8 all-time record. The four straight Super Bowl losses always will be painful (even though making four straight Super Bowls is a fantastic accomplishment).

Still, I'm not confident in these Bills, considering they have Rex Ryan for at least another year. (It can't last longer than that, right?)

You poor people of Buffalo. You deserve so much more.

9) Detroit Lions

There was a Lions-themed billboard in Detroit that once read "Rebuilding since 1957." Truer words have never been spoken. And this year's roster has depth issues at a number of crucial spots on both sides of the ball.

That said, I do think these Lions can win more than the Chargers, Titans, Eagles or Browns -- the four Lombardi-less teams that didn't make this list.

Well, maybe they can. You never know what to expect in a 60-year rebuild ...

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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