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Biggest Super Bowl windows: Falcons, Cowboys, Raiders top list

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The Falcons and Patriots are getting ready to take the Super Bowl stage -- and the other 30 teams in the NFL are trying to figure out how to get there next year.

Some are closer than others, of course. In fact, some are positioned to compete for a championship for the next several years. History tells us that those teams with the best chance to reach the Super Bowl have a top-ranked quarterback, a pass rush that can generate sacks and a top-10 defense. Very few teams have all three. Those that do are set up to mount a sustained hunt for the Lombardi Trophy.

Below is a list of the six teams I see with the biggest Super Bowl windows beginning with the 2017 season (plus one wild card). These are not necessarily the best teams in the league or even the most likely to win a Super Bowl next -- rather, these are the teams with the biggest foreseeable windows of competing for a title. Thus, a team that might seem less likely to play in Super Bowl LII can be ranked ahead of a team with better immediate championship chances if the lesser team looks like its window will be open for a longer period of time.

1) Atlanta Falcons

The window will be open for: Four years.

The roster is stacked with good, young talent on offense (Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Taylor Gabriel) and defense (Vic Beasley, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell). This defense requires players who can run fast, and the Falcons have loads of speed, especially with regard to Jones. Veteran defender Dwight Freeney was a huge help and should be brought back in 2017 if possible. Moreover, Atlanta will move into a new stadium with an off-the-charts offense led by a quarterback operating at his peak (Matt Ryan) and an all-time talent at receiver (Julio Jones). The biggest potential hiccup is the imminent departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who appears bound for the head-coaching job in San Francisco.

2) Dallas Cowboys

The window will be open for: Four years.

There are some challenges on the horizon: handling a tougher schedule in 2017, improving the pass rush, keeping the secondary viable despite Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and J.J. Wilcox hitting free agency. But the coaching staff is staying together, while Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin are all under contract through at least 2018 (with Smith and Frederick locked up well beyond that), and Dez Bryant should continue to be a premier weapon. The bottom line is, Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are just scratching the surface. History tells us guys improve a lot from Year 1 to Year 2, and hard as it might be to believe, Prescott and Elliott could be even better going forward.

3) Oakland Raiders

The window will be open for: Four years.

Between Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and a strong offensive line, the pieces are in place. The offense was solid, finishing in the top 10 in points and yards for the first time since 2010. I don't think the unit will have a problem adjusting to new coordinator Todd Downing, who was promoted from quarterback coach. If not for the broken fibula Carr suffered on Christmas Eve, the Raiders could potentially be getting ready to play in Super Bowl LI right now. There should be the cap space to upgrade the roster -- the defense improved as the season wore on, but it could use some tinkering -- and adding John Pagano as a defensive assistant can only help. Four years from now, Carr will be seen as a top-five QB, Mack will be recognized as the top pass-rushing end in the NFL and Cooper will continue piling up the Pro Bowl nods. The big question is, will a move to Las Vegas distract the team?

4) Seattle Seahawks

The window will be open for: Three years.

The Seahawks' fifth consecutive winning season was also a somewhat bumpy one. The offense struggled to score at times, with Russell Wilson battling injuries, while the inexperienced offensive line was a weak point. The running game must get more consistent -- Thomas Rawls went off in the Wild Card Round before disappearing in the Divisional Round. If C.J. Prosise could take a step forward, that would help. Of course, losing safety Earl Thomas really hurt. Provided he comes back healthy, the defense should be able to play well for the foreseeable future. But the unit is getting older. Wilson will always give Seattle a chance -- the worry is about the supporting cast.

5) Miami Dolphins

The window will be open for: Three years.

I wouldn't say the Dolphins have the best chance in the AFC East to make the Super Bowl in the 2017 season, though I do expect them to be viable contenders. This list is about looking further than one season down the road. Coach Adam Gase is good, and it's easy to see Miami taking a massive step forward soon, not unlike what the NFC champion Falcons did in their second season under Dan Quinn. Provided Ryan Tannehill recovers from his knee injury successfully, all signs are pointing up for the quarterback, who should continue improving after a season in which he completed a career-high 67.1 percent of his passes. Miami scored more points than it did in 2015 and allowed 15 fewer sacks, while first-round pick Laremy Tunsil proved to be a productive member of a beefed-up offensive line. Mostly, I'm betting on Gase.

6) Green Bay Packers

The window will be open for: Three years.

There are key free agents (T.J. Lang, Nick Perry, Jared Cook, Micah Hyde) to retain, and the running game must become a complementary force once again. (Inking tackle David Bakhtiari to an extension in September was critical.) But as long as Aaron Rodgers is performing at a high level, the Packers' window will remain open. One man can't always drive a team, as we saw in Green Bay's lackluster start to the 2016 season. But when Rodgers is on, he can be impossible to stop, as we saw in his blistering run to the NFC title game.

?) New England Patriots

The window will be open for: ???

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick obviously make the Patriots potent Super Bowl contenders, as this season (and, frankly, every season going back to 2001) illustrated. But how much longer can the 39-year-old Brady continue to play like one of the best quarterbacks to ever lace 'em up? How much longer can Belichick continue to out-coach everyone? It's almost impossible to say with confidence when the Super Bowl window will close, because it all hangs on those two vexing questions. In the meantime, the Dolphins and Bills will make the AFC East more competitive, making it more difficult for New England to secure first-round playoff byes as the years go on. The long-term health and availability of Rob Gronkowski is a question mark, while key offensive pieces like Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount (a free agent in 2017) are on the wrong side of 30. All that said, the Patriots look to be in good shape, cap-wise, for 2017. You can't count the Patriots out -- but it's hard to know how much longer that will be true, which makes them difficult to properly rank here.

Also considered: Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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