NFL

In their prime or last chance saloon? Every team's Super Bowl window rated

By Sports Desk September 07, 2022

The idea of "any given Sunday" is what makes the NFL so compelling.

Any one team can beat another, and that means at this stage of the season, with the first snap still to be taken, every team can have Super Bowl aspirations.

Sort of.

The Cincinnati Bengals, for example, may have been slightly surprising contenders in 2021, but there remain some teams whose title hopes are so remote as to be non-existent.

For some, this is because they have missed their shot at glory in recent years; for others, the plan is to challenge in seasons to come.

So, this leads us to draw up a preseason tier system, ranking all 32 teams by their Super Bowl windows with the help of Stats Perform AI predictions...

Nowhere near

This is unlikely to be a season to remember for the teams grouped in this category, for a variety of reasons.

The Houston Texans won the AFC South in 2018 and 2019, but the Deshaun Watson saga and two down years have them looking at a rebuild, with the data forecasting just 4.8 wins this year. That at least ranks them ahead of the Atlanta Falcons (3.6 projected wins) and the New York Giants (4.2), while the Texans did gain draft assets in the Watson trade.

The Chicago Bears are the fourth and final team projected to earn fewer than six wins (4.9), with second-year quarterback Justin Fields receiving little help on offense and playing behind an offensive line ranked 31st in pass protection.

Meanwhile, the Washington Commanders rank 31st in terms of skill players – better only than the Falcons – with faith in Carson Wentz long since having diminished. In Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, the Carolina Panthers have two high-draft-pick QBs unlikely to trouble the postseason. The New York Jets are in a similar boat, even if Zach Wilson is still young.

The Detroit Lions might argue they do not deserve to keep such company after a 3-3 finish to last season, but nobody could seriously argue they are title contenders.

Entering contention

If that first group was a mixed bag, so too is the second.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the New England Patriots' preseason would suggest they are very fortunate to be given any hope of success in the near future, but they finished with 10 wins in 2021 – even if that number is projected to shrink to 7.7. Despite a trade for Tyreek Hill, that still ranks the Patriots comfortably ahead of the Miami Dolphins (7.0), although the losing team in their Week 1 meeting will face a long slog of a season.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Philadelphia Eagles are forecast to have 11.9 wins – the second-most in the NFL – after a very strong offseason. But Jalen Hurts, for now, is unproven in the postseason, so Philly fans may have to stay patient.

The San Francisco 49ers are even younger at QB after promoting Trey Lance to a starting role, which explains why the prediction model looks so unfavourably on a team many consider contenders right now. Just 7.1 projected wins speaks to the potentially low floor Lance brings.

NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals have to be considered among this group of future hopefuls, with Kyler Murray hugely talented and now committed long term but frustratingly inconsistent, while the Jacksonville Jaguars will hope Trevor Lawrence can follow in the footsteps of the Bengals' Joe Burrow – the number one pick the year before him.

The Los Angeles Chargers, with 9.8 projected wins, have Justin Herbert to lead their charge, while the Cleveland Browns might have been contenders already if not for Watson's suspension, which is enough to limit them to a still strong 9.3-win forecast.

In their prime

The Chargers may have Herbert, but they also have three division rivals who intend to win and intend to win now. Indeed, all four AFC West teams rank in the top half of the league in terms of projected wins, with the Chargers second – behind the Kansas City Chiefs (11.5) and just ahead of the Denver Broncos (9.7) and the Las Vegas Raiders (9.2).

The Chiefs lead the AFC in this regard, although their playoff win over the Buffalo Bills last season came down to a coin flip, and the two are set to be similarly tough to separate this year. Buffalo are down for 11.1 wins.

The two teams coming off a Super Bowl run are of course prominent among the contenders, even if the model has far greater optimism for a Los Angeles Rams repeat than for another Bengals charge. The Rams are backed for a league-leading 12.4 wins and given a 15.3 per cent shot at defending their title, while the Bengals are actually projected to dip below .500 with 8.2 wins.

The Bengals' route to the Super Bowl will be complicated not just by the AFC West and the Bills but also by any return to form for the fit-again Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens, who are counted among nine teams on course for 10 or more wins (10.4).

Also in that group are NFC pair the Dallas Cowboys (11.0) and the Minnesota Vikings (10.9), who may not even be the best teams in their divisions but might be nearing a point when they must seriously challenge or start again, which brings us to...

Last chance saloon

As long as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the QBs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers, those teams are in with a chance. The question is how long that will remain the case.

Brady is 45, briefly retired this offseason and then missed a chunk of the preseason. Rodgers is 38, has repeatedly been linked with a move away from Green Bay and lost top target Davante Adams ahead of the new season. Still, the Buccaneers rank eighth for projected wins (10.7), with the Packers up in third (11.5).

They are not the only ageing teams in the NFL, however.

The Indianapolis Colts hope they have upgraded in moving from Wentz to Matt Ryan, yet the former MVP is now 37 and last played in the postseason in 2017 – when Wentz's Eagles took the title.

Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill is a little younger at 34, but of greater concern would be Derrick Henry's durability after the injury that limited to eight games last regular season. The Titans need to make the most of any seasons they have left of the superstar running back going at full tilt.

Missed their chance

Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees won Super Bowls with the Seattle Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New Orleans Saints respectively, but with all three having now moved on, it is difficult to see those teams plotting a path to the title.

For the Seahawks and the Steelers, this will be their first year without their stalwart QBs, even if things had already gone stale in 2021. Wilson dipped below the .500 mark for a season for the first time in his career, while Pittsburgh were attempting to stay competitive in spite of Roethlisberger rather than because of him.

Still, with both gone – Wilson to Denver and Roethlisberger to retirement – there is a void under center that has not been suitably filled. Seattle also rank 32nd in pass protection, likely leaving Geno Smith hopelessly exposed.

The Saints have had another 12 months to come to terms with Brees' exit, albeit they spent it juggling Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill at QB. Winston's season-ending injury doomed the Saints' hopes of contention last year, and New Orleans' outlook for 9.5 wins with the entertaining but erratic former number one pick is at least far more positive than that of the Seahawks (6.2) or the Steelers (7.0).

Regardless, each of these three teams have provided an example in how not to do succession planning. They all could have won additional honours with their departed veterans and now face long waits for further title tilts.

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  • The Numbers Game: Messi set for triumphant Argentina send-off in Miami? The Numbers Game: Messi set for triumphant Argentina send-off in Miami?

    The stage is set for what could be Lionel Messi's international swansong, as Argentina face Colombia in Sunday's Copa America final in the forward's new home of Miami.

    The Hard Rock Stadium is the venue as Messi and La Albiceleste go in search of a record-breaking 16th Copa America crown, currently level with Uruguay on 15. It would also be a second in a row after they overcame old rivals Brazil in the 2021 final.

    Standing in their way, however, are arguably the most impressive team at the tournament in Colombia.

    Unbeaten in 28 games – a new national record – and led by a rejuvenated James Rodriguez, who is surely the favourite for Player of the Tournament honours, Los Cafeteros downed a much-fancied Uruguay side with 10 men in the last four and are sure to present a stern test.

    Ahead of the showpiece game, we dive into the best Opta data surrounding the two finalists. 

    What's expected?

    Argentina began the tournament as favourites, being given a 30.8% chance of securing back-to-back titles for the first time since 1993 by the Opta supercomputer.

    The supercomputer is still on their side ahead of the final, giving them a 50.9% chance of winning the match in 90 minutes.

    Colombia are assigned a 25.4% chance of victory and a 23.6% chance of taking the game to extra time (which will take place if required after being scrapped for all other knockout matches) and potentially penalties.  

    Argentina have won their last two Copa America shoot-outs, against Ecuador in this year's quarter-finals and Colombia in 2021, though they have lost three of their last four finals at the competition on spot-kicks, versus Brazil in 2004 and Chile in both 2015 and 2016.

    Overall, Lionel Scaloni's team are given a 63% chance of lifting the trophy to Colombia's 37%. 

     

    Colombia will be featuring in just their third Copa America final (also 1975 and 2001), becoming the fourth team to reach multiple finals at the competition this century, after Argentina (six), Brazil (four) and Chile (two).

    Argentina have now reached the final at six of their last eight major tournaments (World Cups and Copa America). The only exceptions were at the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Copa, losing to the eventual champions (France and Brazil) in both instances.

    Colombia have only won one of their last 12 meetings with Argentina (five draws, six defeats) – a 2-0 group-stage win at the 2019 Copa America. The teams' last draw led to Colombia losing on penalties in the 2021 Copa quarter-finals, with Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona all unsuccessful from 12 yards.

    The teams have met on 15 previous occasions in the Copa America, with Argentina recording seven wins to Colombia's three and the remaining five being drawn.

    Fitting farewell for the GOAT?

    Sunday's final could very well be the end of an era, with arguably the greatest footballer of all time contemplating international retirement after the match.

    While there are plenty stateside who are desperate to see Messi continue his glittering Argentina career until the 2026 World Cup, the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner said this week he is fighting his "last battles" on the international stage.

    Having led Argentina to glory at the 2021 Copa and the Qatar World Cup, Messi could go out on a high by inspiring his country to three straight major tournament successes, a feat they only previously achieved by winning three consecutive Copas in 1945, 1946 and 1947, with the World Cup not held during that time.

    It took him a while, but Messi finally got up and running at this year's Copa with a goal in Tuesday's 2-0 semi-final victory over Canada, converting his 12th shot of the tournament.

     

    He has now scored at six different editions of the Copa America, matching the record set by Zizinho all the way back in 1957. Messi has netted at the 2007, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021 and 2024 editions, only failing to get on the scoresheet in 2011.

    His semi-final strike came 17 years and one day after his first Copa America goal, versus Peru in 2007. That gap is the longest between goals for a single player in the tournament's history, breaking another record previously held by Zizinho (15 years and 52 days between 1942 and 1957).

    Another trophy on Sunday would enable him to end what had previously been a disappointing Argentina career with a perfect run of three tournament triumphs.

    There is also the small matter of another international trophy pulling him clear of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who led Portugal to glory at Euro 2016 and in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League but now looks unlikely to add to that collection. 

    Cafeteros the Copa's best?

    Argentina may have star quality unmatched by any of their South American rivals, but they were made to work for knockout successes against Ecuador and Canada. Many would argue they have not been the tournament's outstanding team.

    That honour may go to Colombia, who topped Group D ahead of Brazil before dumping out Uruguay – considered second-favourites for the trophy by some – in the semi-finals.

    Nestor Lorenzo's team did not even require a full complement to overcome La Celeste, standing firm after Daniel Munoz's first-half red card as Jefferson Lerma's earlier header proved decisive. 

    Lerma's goal was Colombia's fifth to come via a header at this tournament, the most by a team at a single edition since Argentina netted six times via that route in 1991, when they lifted the trophy.

    Colombia's aerial prowess has been another string to their bow at a tournament where they have been extremely efficient in attack, scoring a competition-high 12 goals from 8.49 expected goals (xG), a tally that puts them second to Argentina (11.1). Colombia rank just sixth for touches in the penalty area (104) but third for shots from inside the box (59).

    Only conceding twice, Lorenzo's side have also been solid at the back – a recipe for tournament success. 

     

    Per game, they have averaged a tournament-low 0.51 expected goals against (xGA), as well as 9.6 shots faced (the third-best figure) and 2.2 shots on target faced (second-best). 

    That solid backline has given James and Luis Diaz the platform from which to make things happen, with the duo ranking third and fourth, respectively, for expected assists (xA) among all players at the competition. 

    Miserly at the back and with two of the competition's most creative players in attack, Colombia will back themselves to spoil Messi's Miami party.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Argentina – Angel Di Maria

    Di Maria made his 27th Copa America appearance in the last four, becoming Argentina's second-most capped player in the competition, behind Messi (38 matches).

    The former Real Madrid wideman will play his final international match on Sunday, and he could go out with a bang, having earned a reputation as a big-game player.

    Di Maria, who has 31 goals in 144 games for La Albiceleste overall, scored the winner in the 2021 Copa America final versus Brazil and also got on the scoresheet in the 2022 World Cup showpiece game against France.

    Only James (17), Nicolas de la Cruz (14) and Messi (13) have bettered his nine chances created at this tournament, while he also ranks sixth for xA (1.01) and only Messi has matched his tally of four chance-creating carries. 

     

    Colombia – James Rodriguez

    Colombia captain James has looked a player reborn at this tournament, recording six assists, with the most recent teeing up Lerma's semi-final winner versus Uruguay.

    That meant he surpassed Messi (five in 2021) for the most assists at a single edition of the Copa America since this data began being recorded by Opta in 2011.

    A remarkable 12 of his 17 chances created at this tournament have come from set-pieces, and with a cagey affair potentially in store, his dead-ball prowess could prove decisive.

    Five of Colombia's 12 goals have come from corners or indirect free-kicks, with James' deliveries helping them surpass their previous best goalscoring return at a Copa America (11 in both 1975 and 2001).

     

  • Bravery pays off for Southgate as England's super subs come good once more Bravery pays off for Southgate as England's super subs come good once more

    Where did England's tournament start to turn?

    Was it with Jude Bellingham's stunning overhead kick against Slovakia?

    Was it with Bukayo Saka's exquisite equaliser against Switzerland?

    Was it when Jordan Pickford and Trent Alexander-Arnold dragged them over the line in the shootout?

    Or what about seven minutes into Wednesday's meeting with the Netherlands, when Xavi Simons cannoned in the earliest goal scored in a Euros semi-final since Alan Shearer scored for England against Germany in 1996?

    Strange, perhaps, but it was that goal that seemed to see the shackles finally come off for the Three Lions. They had stuttered and staggered their way through Euro 2024, but eventually that approach can, and almost certainly will, come unstuck.

    Yet after that Simons strike had rifled in beyond Pickford, a fire seemed to spark in England's bellies. 

    This was the time it had to come good. It was do or die. And for much of Wednesday's clash in Dortmund, England were the better side and, arguably for the first time in the tournament, deserved victors.

    It did not come easy, of course. Harry Kane pulled them level from the spot after a contentious VAR decision in the 18th minute. Phil Foden had a deft touch cleared off the line and saw the post deny him a wondergoal. 

    One of the criticisms aimed at Gareth Southgate has been his use of Foden, but a switch of system in the quarter-final saw the Premier League's Player of the Season truly arrive in Germany. In the first half, he completed all 27 of his passes, and had the most shots (three). Behind him, Kobbie Mainoo, the youngest player to feature for England in the semi-finals of a major tournament, dovetailed brilliantly with Declan Rice.

    The second half was a different story. Ronald Koeman reacted, the Dutch shored things up in midfield. They had the best chances, looking dangerous from set-pieces.

     

    For long swathes of the second period, it looked as though the fear of losing had come back to freeze England, to grip Southgate and his players. Were they playing for extra time? Had that bravery gone?

    But at the right time, Southgate turned to his bench. Kane, now the record goalscorer in the knockout stage at the Euros, made way for Ollie Watkins. Foden went off to be replaced by Cole Palmer. Bukayo Saka had just seen a goal disallowed, though extra time seemed to be beckoning.

    And like his changes worked against Switzerland; like they worked against Slovakia, when Ivan Toney helped turn the tide, Southgate's substitutions worked again.

    Watkins stretched the Dutch defence, Palmer threaded through an inch-perfect pass. Watkins spun Stefan de Vrij and, with a swish of his right boot, from the tightest of angles, picked out the opposite corner with a finish that came with an expected goals value of just 0.1.

    It is only the second 90th-minute winning goal in a European Championship knockout tie. Timed at 89:59, it was the latest winning goal scored in the semi-final at the Euros or Wolrd Cup (excluding extra time).

    It was also England's only shot on target in the second half of this match.

    But the bravery was there. The intent was there from the moment England went behind. 

    "It's something that is built through failure, through the first few games that didn’t go so well, but it's important you build that fire and build some sort of resistance through it. It's important we came together," said Bellingham, whose lung-busting run down the left in the dying seconds helped get England over the line.

    "These moments are great – it brings us together as a team and a family, because of that you get stronger. They make us more together, it's about taking that into the final now."

    England are together. They have now reached the final in two of their four major tournaments under Southgate (also Euro 2020) – they had only done so in one of their previous 23 World Cup/Euros appearances.

    They finished this match with 1.3 xG to the Dutch's 0.56. They had more shots (nine to seven) and more touches in the opponent's box (19 to 11). They were better. Now, they are on the brink of history. Spain stand in their way.

  • Euro 2024 Data Dive: Spain hand baton to Yamal, Olmo emulates Roja great Euro 2024 Data Dive: Spain hand baton to Yamal, Olmo emulates Roja great

    Once the dominant force in Europe, Spain reclaimed their place among the elite of international football on Tuesday. 

    La Roja reached their first major tournament final since Euro 2012 following a 2-1 victory over France in Munich. 

    After several dull knockout games meandered their way to extra time and penalties, a frenetic 25 minutes had eyes across the world glued to their screens for this one.

    With Spain the first team to book their place in Sunday's final, we take a deep dive into the best Opta statistics from a memorable encounter.

    Spain 2-1 France: Roja baton passed down to Yamal

    In a battle between the tournament's most potent strike force and best defence, it would be La Roja's crop of attacking talent that emerged victorious. 

    Attention was fixated on the talented feet of youngster Yamal, and his goal was worthy of winning any semi-final, let alone levelling it. 

    Yamal twisted and turned before curling a fine effort beyond the grasp of Mike Maignan and in off the post, announcing football's newest superstar on the big stage. 

    And at the age of 16 years and 362 days, the Barcelona forward became the youngest goalscorer at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros), a record previously held by Brazil’s Pele against Wales at the 1958 World Cup (17 years, 239 days). 

    While Yamal is only beginning his footballing journey, history was also made by one of the senior players in the Roja dressing room. 

    Despite enduring a difficult evening against Kylian Mbappe, Spain's Jesus Navas will leave Germany with a record to his name, and possibly the Henri Delaunay Cup. 

    At 38 years and 231 days, Navas became the oldest ever outfield player to appear in a semi-final at a major international tournament. 

    While much of the focus will centre around the mercurial talents of Yamal, midfielder Dani Olmo once again proved his worth to Luis de la Fuente's side. 

    Olmo was on target again for Spain, doing brilliantly to manoeuvre space inside the France penalty area before striking the ball home for what proved to be the winner. 

    The RB Leipzig midfielder became the first Spanish player to score in three successive games at the European Championship finals, while his five goal involvements at Euro 2024 (three goals, two assists) are the most by a Spaniard at a major tournament since David Silva at Euro 2012 (two goals, three assists). 

    Olmo also had the joint-most touches in the opposition box along with Fabian Ruiz (three), also showing his defensive influence by winning four of his six duels, a total only bettered by Yamal and Alvaro Morata (both six). 

    Spain's triumph also saw them become the first team to win six matches at a single edition of the Euros, while including World Cups, only Brazil in 2002 have won more games at a major international tournament (seven). 

    For France, however, their stuttering run in Germany finally came to an end. 

    It is only the second time Les Bleus have taken the lead and lost a game at the European Championships, having last done so at Euro 2000, in a 3-2 defeat to the Netherlands in the group stages. 

    Ranal Kolo Muani's eighth-minute strike threatened to tell a different story, but it wasn't meant to be for Didier Deschamps' side. 

    It was Kolo Muani's fifth goal in his last five starts for France in all competitions (four goals, one assist). 

    The Paris Saint-Germain forward also became just the third player to score for France in the semi-finals of both the World Cup and Euros, after Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.

    The defeat also marked the first time Les Bleus have been eliminated at the semi-final stage of a major tournament since Euro 1996, with only Germany (eight) going out of major tournaments at the semi-final stage more often among European sides than France (six).  

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