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5 NFL teams that could be next to break a long Super Bowl drought

Fifty years came and went between Super Bowl parades in the streets of Kansas City, but the Chiefs did it. They broke an NFL championship drought that lasted longer than six different teams (the Ravens, Texans, Jaguars, Panthers, Buccaneers, and Seahawks) have been professional franchises.

While parity may be a product of the NFL’s salary cap era, the league remains a land of haves and have-nots. Twelve of the league’s 32 teams (37.5 percent!) have never won a Super Bowl. Four of those teams — the Lions, Browns, Jaguars, and Texans — have never even gotten there.

But the 2019 season was a changing of the guard, and 2020 could bring more of the same. Here are the most likely teams to break their long Super Bowl droughts next season.

1. Tennessee Titans

Last Super Bowl appearance: 2000
Last Super Bowl win: never

Tennessee, 9-7 in each of its past four seasons, made a Cinderella run through the AFC playoff bracket this winter. The Titans ousted the reigning NFL champions (New England) and the team with the league’s top record (Baltimore) before their run came to an end in Kansas City. This offseason, several moving parts could set their postseason ceiling.

Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, the two most important pieces of their surge from a 2-4 record to AFC finalist, are both slated to be free agents in 2020. While Tannehill seems like an obvious candidate to be franchise-tagged, figuring out what to do with Henry — an old-school heavy-use bulldozer of a tailback who doesn’t catch many passes — will be a tougher decision. The team will also have to make some upgrades to a defense that ranked 16th in efficiency.

Ultimately, Tennessee’s Super Bowl hopes may boil down to whether or not you believe Tannehill’s breakthrough 2019 is sustainable. Can he be the quarterback who wound up leading the league in passer rating last fall? Or will he revert back to his Dolphins form of “kinda/sorta good enough” like he did late in the postseason?

2. Minnesota Vikings

Last Super Bowl appearance: 1977
Last Super Bowl win: never

Speaking of quarterbacks with good numbers and an inherent lack of trust, here’s Kirk Cousins! Statistically, Cousins is coming off his best season as a pro for a 10-6 team. He finished among the NFL’s top six quarterbacks in:

  • completion rate (69.1 percent)
  • touchdown rate (5.9 percent)
  • adjusted yards per pass (8.7)
  • and passer rating (107.4)

And it didn’t really matter! The Vikings went just 1-4 against playoff teams during the regular season before upsetting the Saints in the Wild Card Round (thanks, in part, to two great Cousins throws). That overtime win that gave way to a lifeless 27-10 loss to eventual NFC champs San Francisco.

The good news is most of the key members of that 10-win team will be back in 2020. Cousins is entering the final year of a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal, so the pressure will be on him to exceed expectations once more before potentially hitting free agency. He’ll still have Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen (who missed extended time in 2019 due to injuries) to throw to, and Dalvin Cook to lighten his load out of the backfield.

Some sacrifices may have to be made on the other side of the ball. Everson Griffen was still a monster in his age-31 season, recording 9.5 sacks and 27 QB hits between 17 regular season and playoff games, but he’ll be a free agent for a team that currently has … NEGATIVE-$12 MILLION IN CAP SPACE — WHAT? HOW?

That’s gonna make it hard to improve in 2020. The Vikings better hope general manager Rick Spielman drafts well this spring.

3. Buffalo Bills

Last Super Bowl appearance: 1994
Last Super Bowl win: never

The Bills have a Super Bowl-caliber defense. The question is whether Josh Allen can continue to grow into a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.

He’s shown signs of living up to his top-10 draft status. The big-armed Wyoming grad improved across the board in his second season in the NFL, cutting his interception rate nearly in half thanks to markedly better decision-making downfield. He was still much more effective as a triple-threat play-breaker than a troop-rallying quarterback, and that hampered Buffalo in 2019. Allen needed 46 passes to throw for 264 yards in a loss to the Texans in his first postseason start.

Budding stars like Tre’Davious White, Tremaine Edmunds, and Ed Oliver will keep the Bills in a playoff orbit. Allen can push them further if he can continue this upward trajectory — though a little more receiving help might provide the extra boost that unlocks his potential.

4. Cleveland Browns

Last Super Bowl appearance: never
Last Super Bowl win: never

Remember when we were really excited about the Browns? They were the preseason favorites to win the AFC North! Then, as they have each of the past 12 years, they wrapped up another disappointing season with a losing record.

The 1964 NFL champions have a strong collection of raw talent that was less than the sum of its parts under since-deposed head coach Freddie Kitchens. Team owner Jimmy Haslam hired offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski away from the Vikings to replace Kitchens, upgrading his WR/RB combo from Thielen/Diggs/Cook to Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Nick Chubb. His first task will be to fix Baker Mayfield, who backslid after a strong finish to his rookie campaign.

Turning the defense into a stable unit will be another concern for Stefanski. Players like Joe Schobert, Larry Ogunjobi, Denzel Ward, and Myles Garrett (assuming he returns from his indefinite suspension for bonking Mason Rudolph on the head) give the Browns a solid young core to build around. With a high draft slot in 2020 and nearly $50 million in spending room this offseason, there’s plenty of room for hope in Cleveland again.

5. Atlanta Falcons

Last Super Bowl appearance: oh man, you guys sure you’re ready to talk about that?
Last Super Bowl win: never

There were only a handful of candidates to fill out this last spot. The Falcons, Bengals, Cardinals, Lions, Chargers, and Jets have all been around for at least 50 years. Only the Jets have won a Super Bowl — 51 years ago. LA would have been an OK choice here, but with Philip Rivers’ future suddenly in flux, who knows what the Chargers will do next. Instead, let’s go with the team that finished 2019 on a 6-2 heater that saved head coach Dan Quinn’s job.

The Falcons bring a reliable former MVP quarterback to the table. Matt Ryan, who may never reach his 2016 heights ever again, still threw the ball more than anyone else in the league in 2019 (and, in a related note, got sacked more than anyone but Kyler Murray). He gets to throw to one of the league’s top WR tandems in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, though Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper may be out the door since he’s due a massive raise this offseason.

Atlanta will need to fix its disappointing defense while walking the tightrope of extremely limited salary cap space — only three teams in the NFL are slated to have less to spend this spring. The Falcons weren’t very efficient on either side of the ball last season and don’t really have much room to add help outside of the draft. Their late rally moved them up to second place in the NFC South, too. That means instead of facing a lineup of Washington, Detroit, and Arizona in 2020, they’ll get the Cowboys, Vikings, and Seahawks.

Yeah, the Falcons might not be a playoff team next year.

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