The Patriots‘ dynasty is — as I’ve argued for a long time — the best in the history of sports. The NFL is brilliantly set up to give every team a chance. Going from worst to first is beautifully mainstream, with the draft and free agency offering annual avenues to improvement and the salary cap keeping the playing field level. There’s also the single-elimination nature of the playoffs, which makes it hard for any one team to string together multiple years of postseason dominance. And yet — Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have reached nine Super Bowls together, winning six. Wow. It’s legendary.
And they’re not done yet. For Brady and Belichick, who just became the oldest quarterback and coach to win a Super Bowl, age is just a number.
But how does their Super Bowl window stack up against the rest of the league? My amazing editors at NFL.com asked me to ranking the squads with the biggest window to win a Super Bowl. It’s a superb topic, providing a snapshot of which squads are in the best position to compete for the longest period of time.
Now, please understand. This is not a power ranking for 2019. I didn’t include the Saints. Drew Brees is getting older. Will Sean Payton be there past 2019? I didn’t include the Steelers, who face so many unknowns, with Antonio Brown potentially headed elsewhere. I will likely pick the Packers to make the playoffs with Matt LaFleur coaching up Aaron Rodgers — but we need to see it first. I love the Falcons to bounce back from a disappointing 2018 with their talent and (presumably) better injury luck. But what’s the trust level of Dan Quinn?
Below is my list, Schein Nine-style, of the biggest Super Bowl windows moving forward from this point on:
1) Kansas City Chiefs
My guy Patty Mahomes is special, and he was rightly named the MVP after throwing for 5,097 yards and an incredible 50 touchdown passes in, yes, his first full season as a starter. He elevates everyone on this Kansas City offense, especially tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill. The key is Mahomes’ age. He’s so amazing already — and he’s still just 23 years old. This is a quarterback- and offense-driven league, and Andy Reid’s team is set in both realms for a nice, long time, especially if the Chiefs can get Hill, whose deal runs out after 2019, locked up with an extension. Kelce is under contract through 2021, while Mahomes has two more years left on his rookie pact (three, if you include the fifth-year option in 2021).
The Chiefs were a Dee Ford neutral-zone infraction-away from going to Super Bowl LIII and winning it all. I liked the pick of Steve Spagnuolo to replace outgoing longtime coordinator Bob Sutton. Will they retain Ford, who is set to hit free agency after logging a career-high 13 sacks?
2) Indianapolis Colts
After missing all of 2017 due to shoulder issues, Andrew Luck threw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns while pushing Indy to a playoff appearance after a 1-5 start. The Comeback Player of the Year showed exactly what he is in 2018: a star. Indy was so well-coached under Frank Reich in his first year on the job. And defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus coaxed the defense to an 11th-ranked finish, one year after the Colts‘ D placed 30th in the NFL.
Eberflus demands a lot out of his guys. Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard told me last week on my SiriusXM Radio show that the Colts‘ defensive practices are tougher than the games. Speaking of Leonard, the second-round pick paced the league with 163 tackles. He and sixth overall pick Quenton Nelson — part of a reshaped O-line that allowed a league-low 18 sacks, one year after Colts quarterbacks were sacked a league-high 56 times — had iconic rookie years. Luck is under contract through 2021, while receiver T.Y. Hilton is under contract through 2020. General manager Chris Ballard has brought in high-character guys, and there are surely more to come, given that he’s set to work with significant cap room this offseason.
3) Chicago Bears
The power in the rest of the NFC North scares me. Aaron Rodgers is still in Green Bay, and the Vikings are still very talented. My faith in Chicago here rests on that fantastic defense, which is loaded with young studs like Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller and Leonard Floyd. Mack, a four-time Pro Bowler who helped spark this Bears revival when Chicago traded for him in September, will be just 28 when next season begins, and he’s under contract through 2024. I’d argue the Bears‘ defense, which allowed a scant 17.7 points per game (least in the NFL) in 2018, is the best in the league, though I’m curious to see how Chuck Pagano replaces the great Vic Fangio (who left to coach the Broncos) as the defensive coordinator.
As for the offense, I thought Mitch Trubisky made major progress in Year 2 (and, not coincidentally, Year 1 under Matt Nagy), finishing with a 66.6 percent completion rate, 3,223 yards, a 24:12 TD-to-INT ratio and a 95.4 passer rating. Trubisky is primed for stardom. Nagy, the 2018 Coach of the Year, is so good at coaching this team up.
4) Los Angeles Rams
Don’t let the Rams‘ disappointing showing in Super Bowl LIII confuse you. Sean McVay is a stud; he’s sensational. There’s a reason he won almost as many games in his first two years on the job (24) as the Rams won in the previous five years combined (31). McVay simply ran into the buzzsaw that is Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the sport; he’s young (27) and not going anywhere (signed through 2024). My belief in quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley remains sky high. From 2017 to ’18, Goff threw for 8,492 yards (fifth-most in the NFL in that span), with 60 touchdown passes (tied for fourth-most), while Gurley piled up a league-high 3,924 yards from scrimmage and 40 total touchdowns. Whatever kept Gurley from playing at his best this postseason, I have faith he’ll find a way back to form in 2019.
GM Les Snead loaded up this roster for the 2018 run, acquiring players like Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Dante Fowler. There will be changes, especially as the Rams fit the contracts of Donald, Gurley and Cooks into the picture alongside a potential long-term extension for Goff down the road. But my educated guess is, Snead will find new wingmen.
5) Houston Texans
Houston oozes stars. The recipe for success is in place, resting on the dynamic duo of quarterback Deshaun Watson (23 and entering Year 3 of his rookie deal) and receiver DeAndre Hopkins (26 and under contract through 2022), along with a dominant defense led by J.J. Watt (29, signed through 2021) and the 25-year-old Clowney. (Although retaining Clowney, who is set to hit free agency, looms large on the offseason to-do list.) The key now is for Houston to reverse the outcome of games like the problematic Week 16 loss to the Eagles in 2018, which opened the door for New England to steal the No. 2 seed in the AFC out from under the Texans. But Bill O’Brien is in place to guide this franchise into the future.
6) New England Patriots
This one doesn’t require much in the way of explanation: I am operating under the blanket assumption that Tom Brady will play at this level until age 45, which gives him a solid three-season window in which to continue racking up rings. Bill Belichick has such great passion for coaching and teaching. Oh, and, you know … it’s the best dynasty ever.
7) Philadelphia Eagles
Doug Pederson and the Eagles have legit championship DNA. The playoff run they made in 2018, staving off a Super Bowl hangover after enduring a sluggish start and bad losses, spoke volumes. And they did it — again! — with backup Nick Foles starting in place of the injured Carson Wentz. Well, Foles is probably on his way out of town, but Wentz should be healthy and in MVP form once more. Don’t forget that he was on pace to set a career high in passing yards (3,912 — and that’s excluding the two games he missed at the beginning of the year) when the Eagles shut him down in December. Entering Year 4 of his rookie contract, Wentz is likely in line for an extension soon, but if anyone can pull off the juggling act of keeping Philly competitive with a well-compensated QB on the roster, it’s brilliant GM Howie Roseman.
8) Baltimore Ravens
New general manager Eric DeCosta was coveted by other teams for ages, but he stayed loyal to Baltimore and now gets his crack at running the show, with longtime GM Ozzie Newsome stepping aside. DeCosta’s first move, inking coach John Harbaugh to an extension, was brilliant, considering the proficiency with which Harbaugh seems to reach the playoffs (seven times in 11 seasons). I’m a big believer in QB Lamar Jackson, who went 6-1 down the stretch as a dual-threat starter, and in Jackson’s growth under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who’s worked previously with mobile quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor. And while there are key players headed for free agency, including C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith, DeCosta will figure out how to keep that cupboard stacked.
9) Los Angeles Chargers
This final spot came down to the Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns. But I want to see how new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens — who had only ever been a position coach before becoming Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 2018 — handles the big seat. And I don’t know who the Cowboys‘ coach will be past 2019. I know Chargers QB Philip Rivers is getting up in age (37), but he’s also coming off the finest season of his Hall of Fame career (4,308 yards, 32 TDs, 12 INTs, 105.5 passer rating). Having Joey Bosa healthy for the entire season can help the Chargers secure home playoff games, considering what Bosa accomplished in just seven games in 2018 (5.5 sacks). Moving into a new stadium will help in 2020. Plus, this team is flat-out loaded.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.