Greatest. Postseason. Ever.
Leaves me yearning for MORE!! Unfortunately, we're now officially in the offseason -- i.e., SPECULATION SEASON. And fresh off a fascinating Lombardi Trophy game between a pair of teams with plenty of promise going forward, there's one obvious thing to speculate about:
Who has the biggest Super Bowl window in the NFL today?
I want to stress something right off the bat: THIS IS NOT A POWER RANKING. Turn to my colleague Dan Hanzus for that rundown. My intention in this piece? Spotlighting rosters set up for multiple years of ring hunting. And let me tell you, whittling down the list to a slice of teams was no easy task.
Baltimore was my toughest omission. The Ravens barely missed the cut. Snake-bitten all season, they must experience better injury luck next fall. Meanwhile, the Colts have a well-rounded roster, but I simply cannot trust Carson Wentz. The Cardinals have collapsed down the stretch in back-to-back seasons, and who knows what's going with their franchise quarterback?
I dig the upside of the Raiders, Patriots and Mike McDaniel's Dolphins, but I'm just not there yet.
Which teams do tickle my fancy? Who's set up to legitimately compete for the ultimate football prize -- not just next year, but for the foreseeable future? Here are my rankings, Schein Nine style.
Frankly, I don't even remotely hesitate on this. Josh Allen has morphed from great player ... to star quarterback ... to superstar and a face of the league. If Sean McDermott had just squib kicked in Kansas City with 13 seconds remaining in regulation, the Bills not only beat the Chiefs but go on to drop the Bengals and Rams, too, nabbing the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy. I truly believe that. Fortunately for Buffalo, there will be more opportunities in the coming years.
Allen makes everyone better -- and everyone is strong to begin with. Losing offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to the Giants hurts, but Ken Dorsey's an in-house promotion came with a strong stamp of approval from Allen. Significant stuff. With Stefon Diggs fresh off another Pro Bowl season and Gabriel Davis fresh off a record-setting performance, the Bills' receiving corps -- which also includes slot machine Cole Beasley -- is quite imposing. Running back Devin Singletary started to come into his own down the stretch, providing some much-needed balance in Buffalo's attack. McDermott and coordinator Leslie Frazier just churned out the No. 1 defense in points and yards allowed -- and that was despite Tre'Davious White suffering a season-ending knee injury in November. With White back in the fold next season, points will clearly come at a premium once again.
This one's not too complicated: As long as Patrick Mahomes is lining up behind center in Kansas City, the Chiefs are going to be near (or at) the top of this list. The proof is in the pudding, as K.C. has made it to at least the AFC title game in all four of Mahomes' seasons as the starter, winning a pair of conference crowns and a Super Bowl along the way. Shoot, Mahomes was well on his way to starting in a third straight Super Bowl, but then the Chiefs blew an 18-point lead to the Bengals.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce remain among the very best players at their respective positions. I still haven't given up on a breakthrough season from running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire -- the guy doesn't turn 23 until April. Andy Reid is a Hall of Fame coach, while defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo gets the most out of his unit. Chris Jones has established himself as one of the most devastating game-wreckers this side of Aaron Donald.
But again, it all comes back to No. 15. He's present in Kansas City, so the Chiefs get prime real estate on this list.
The 49ers are ready to roll -- if they can just get more impactful production from the quarterback position. In a related note, while you were reading that sentence, Jimmy Garoppolo threw another facepalm-worthy pick. OK, that was a low blow. Garoppolo has won a lot of games ... just not the Super Bowl. Wait, isn't that what this column is all about? The writing's on the wall: The Jimmy G era is over for the Niners. In 2022, San Francisco is TREY AREAAAA!
I am obsessed with Trey Lance's raw talent. That said, I'm concerned about his inexperience and inability to beat out Garoppolo this past season. Talking to Deebo Samuel on radio row last week, though, San Francisco's do-everything playmaker thinks Trey can be a star. The tools are definitely there, Samuel told me, it's just about Lance learning how to be a pro. That wasn't a knock, either: Samuel said it's the light that goes on for players between Year 1 and Year 2. Not to mention, Lance is still just 21 years old. Deebo thinks Trey will be ready to answer the bell in September.
The Niners are stout everywhere else. Samuel became a true gamechanger in 2021, fueling Kyle Shanahan's offense. Defensively, San Francisco boasts a rugged front seven headlined by a premium QB hunter in Nick Bosa. The NFC is wide open, too.
There was a significant period of time this past year where I thought the Chargers would be the Bengals. And they could've been if Brandon Staley had played for a tie in overtime of the season finale -- or maybe if he just hadn't called that timeout. But I digress. That was a tough way to end the season for the Bolts, but the future still looks exceedingly bright for the Los Angeles team that didn't just win the Super Bowl.
Justin Herbert is an absolute stud on a rookie deal. He posted arguably the greatest debut season ever by a quarterback, and then took a significant leap forward in Year 2. He is why the Chargers are ranked this high -- and not just because he was a fantastic guest on my CBS Sports Network show last week. The talent is clear, and the 23-year-old just gets it. Herbert told me the Bolts have to limit turnovers in order to get over the hump. It'd also help if the defense held up its end of the bargain a little better, as the Chargers finished a highly disappointing 29th in points allowed. L.A. could be due for a major jump on that side of the ball in Year 2 of Staley's system.
Mixing supreme confidence with natural athleticism and rare processing speed, Joe Burrow makes anything feel possible. I mean, this cat just carried the Bengals to the Super Bowl in his second NFL season. Re-read that sentence -- it's astounding. You gonna doubt that man?
Burrow's connection with Ja'Marr Chase is as awe-inspiring at the NFL level as it was in college. Pretty wild. In a pass-obsessed league, Cincinnati has an elite pitch-and-catch combo for the foreseeable future. And it's not like Chase is a one-man show in the receiving corps; over the final 10 games of the season (including the playoffs), Tee Higgins racked up 954 yards receiving. Running back Joe Mixon just earned his first Pro Bowl nod and is squarely in his prime. Lou Anarumo's defense wasn't a fluke, either -- that unit has some dogs. Trey Hendrickson finally got some of the attention he deserves during the postseason run. He had 17.5 sacks in 20 games this season, including 3.5 in the playoffs.
Obviously, the fly in the ointment is Cincinnati's offensive line. Burrow was just sacked a whopping 70 times in 20 games. That simply cannot go on. The Bengals need to overhaul that position group in free agency AND the draft, like the Chiefs did last offseason following their Super Bowl loss. In the physical AFC North and highly competitive AFC conference, you cannot have an Achilles heel this pronounced.
Too high? Low? Just right?
My gut feeling, as of this writing, is that Aaron Rodgers stays and gets PAID. Consequently, Davante Adams remains on board, and away we go. Rodgers just won his second consecutive MVP (fourth overall) and shows no signs of slowing down at age 38. He can do this for a minimum of another three years, especially with Adams by his side in full mind meld. The Packers have won 13 regular-season games in each of Matt LaFleur's three years at the helm. So it's probably safe to assume they'll be right back in the mix for the No. 1 seed again next season.
Of course, if Rodgers decides to leave, this conversation never happened.
At the beginning of last September, I predicted the Rams would make the Super Bowl -- though I didn't have them winning it. Shame on me. Will I forecast another Super Bowl run next September? Definitely not out of the question, though as I write this, Aaron Donald and Sean McVay are both dodging questions about potential plans to step away from the game.
Selfishly, I don't want either man out of my football life. If/when they lock back in, the Rams will be in the thick of the Lombardi race in 2022. And 2023. This was no fluke. Les Snead and McVay are magical when it comes to collecting -- and assimilating -- stars in their Ocean's Eleven approach to team-building. It's the culture they've created. There are no egos. It's awesome to watch. Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are a special combo. And even when some pieces get old, Snead and McVay can find new ones to win a title. Sounds matter a fact, but it's a way of life. So long as Donald and McVay keep on truckin'.
Maybe Sean Payton's the coach in 2023? Maybe Mike McCarthy wins the whole damn thing next season? It's all in play.
I, for one, have always been a big McCarthy fan, so I was happy to have CeeDee Lamb raving about my guy to me on radio row last week. The Cowboys clearly have the talent. They have the quarterback, the receivers, the Micah Parsons-led defense. The NFC East remains weak beyond Dallas -- and the NFC, as a whole, looks like it's going to be pretty wide open for the next few years.
It's time for "America's Team" to finally live up to the hype.
I dig everything about Tennessee. Well, everything except the quarterback.
I love Derrick Henry -- best running back in the game bar none. A.J. Brown is a special talent on the perimeter. And the defense -- particularly the Jeffery Simmons-led front -- is a beast. Mike Vrabel just won Coach of the Year -- and yes, I was one of the 36 voters who slapped his name on the ballot. All of this is good. All of this is championship caliber. But ...
Does Ryan Tannehill have another gear? Color me skeptical. He's a good quarterback, but can he ever be great? That Divisional Round pickfest leaves a real bad taste in the mouth.