Joe-Flacco-Super-Bowl-XLVII-2013This year's Super Bowl was arguably one of the best since the New York Giants vs. New England Patriots in 2007.

This was mainly because of the story behind the Baltimore Ravens winning it with Ray Lewis one final time. Everyone was almost certain that the San Francisco 49ers had the game all in the bag prior to the start, but the Ravens shocked the world once again with their electrifying offense.

I have narrowed my choices for possible Super Bowl XLVIII winners for the upcoming season down to a top 5.

Here are the top 5 NFL teams favorites to win the 2014 Super Bowl.

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Honorable Mentions

Aaron-Rodgers-Packers-Vs-RavensBaltimore Ravens

The Ravens have indeed lost a lot of talent from their roster this past offseason, most notably: Ray Lewis (retirement), Bernard Pollard (Tennessee Titans) and Ed Reed (Houston Texans). However, they still may be a contender for the championship game because Lewis actually sat out much of 2012 anyway. Reed played well, but he wasn't an overwhelming presence.

It's true the front seven personnel has been overhauled with Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty and others such as rookies Arthur Brown and Brandon Williams. It's also true that new safeties Michael Huff and Matt Elam are penciled in to roam the back end.

But cornerbacks are especially crucial in today's pass-happy NFL, and no matter how the playing time/starting duties shake out with Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham and Lardarius Webb, they're all familiar pieces for defensive coordinator Dean Pees. The pass coverage starts there.

Essentially said, the Ravens will be fine and will still not only contend in the AFC, but also will be a possible back-to back champion.

Houston Texans

The Texans have established themselves as a top-tier team in the NFL, but they have not taken that extra step forward as a franchise just yet.

As the 2013 season approaches, the Texans are the AFC South favorites once again and might even have what it takes to go all the way. To take that next step, the zone-blocking scheme that they implement on offense will be crucial for them to win in the playoffs and make it to the Super Bowl.

Coach Gary Kubiak’s offense is centered around a solid run game, which leads to the effective play action. If the run game never gets going, the play action is less likely to work, and the Texans are forced to play outside of their comfort zone without their trusted game plan. Those are the only negatives about this Texans team.

Don't manage to forget that they signed former Ravens star safety Ed Reed in free agency. He will surely be an intimidating presence on the field. Reed gives the Texans the intimidating force on defense they had been missing since Mario Williams left to sign with the Buffalo Bills.

Expectations for this team this season should be high. All they have to do is do what they do best and that is run the ball.

Green Bay Packers

The loss of Greg Jennings shouldn’t be a problem with wideouts James Jones, Jordy Nelson and emerging star Randall Cobb returning as targets for one of the best quarterbacks in football, Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers will have a hard time recovering from the loss of Jennings to the division rival Minnesota Vikings. But then again, it's the Packers, and I believe they can handle that.

The Packers spent this offseason locking up Rodgers (now highest-paid in the NFL) and stud linebacker Clay Matthews long-term. Per usual, general manager Ted Thompson stayed quiet during free agency, and had a great draft highlighted by landing two of the best running backs available in Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.

The last time the Packers had a 100-yard rusher during the regular season, Donovan McNabb was the opposing QB and LeBron James had yet to suit up for the Miami Heat. The Packers won the Super Bowl that year regardless; but still, it’s been awhile. The Packers are hoping Lacy and Franklin can change that, and give some balance to their highly potent aerial attack.

The defense should be improved from last year, with linebackers Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry returning from injury. Datone Jones should start the season at DE, and provide added support to a run defense that let Adrian Peterson rush for a total of 409 yards in their two meetings.

Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward finished the year strong with six interceptions, and he will need to step up and become a consistent playmaker on defense, a role that Charles Woodson used to assume.

Green Bay is also expecting a lot out of safety Morgan Burnett. One of two defensive players in the NFL to play every single snap, they will look to him to increase his interceptions (two) and become a playmaker at the safety position that they haven’t had since losing Nick Collins to a career-ending neck injury in 2011.

Green Bay opens the regular season against the team that ended theirs: the 49ers. One of the major areas the Packers hoped to improve on this offseason is the team’s overall toughness. They will find out if they can take a punch, and deliver one back on opening day.

5. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle-Seahawks-July-2013One year ago at this time, the quarterback position was seen as a giant question mark as Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson all entered camp with legit shots at earning the starting job. Head coach Pete Carroll saw right away that Wilson belied his diminutive stature. In giving Wilson the starting job right away, Carroll transformed his Seahawks into legit Super Bowl contenders.

If you’re looking for a reason why the Seahawks are a popular Super Bowl pick, a great example is how they handled their receiving situation. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice are not a bad outside duo, but lack real playmaking ability. Rather than simply hope they could improve with a full offseason working with Wilson, the Seahawks aggressively sought out a proven playmaker. Enter Rice’s old Minnesota teammate Percy Harvin, one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the league.

Not only do the Seahawks have one of the most elite offenses in the league, but they also have one of the most dynamic defenses in the league as well.

The goal for the Seahawks is to win the stacked NFC West division and get home field advantage. In order to do that, they need to more consistently bring their best effort, something they did not do last year in inexplicable losses to the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins, and closer than necessary shaves with the Carolina Panthers and a tanking Chicago Bears team.

Getting a more reliable pass rush and more solid performance from the offensive line will help in that regard, though neither is a given. The main thing that keeps this Seahawks defense together is how much depth they have.

Coming off an impressive 11-5 campaign, expectations will be high for such a young and up-and-coming team, but it is not the end of the world if they do not capture the championship this season.

Seattle will be one of the top teams in the league for some years to come because of their youth and toughness. The Seahawks have some of the most aggressive and gritty players in the league. If Seattle makes it back to playoffs, they can play with any team in the league.

2013 Regular Season Prediction: 11-5

4. New England Patriots

Tom-Brady-Patriots-Training-Camp-July-2013Is it Tebow Time in New England? The Patriots may have a plan for Tim Tebow on the field that none of us football fans may have never expected.

Reports from sources close to the organization have implied that Tebow will be used in various ways. If so, maybe Tebow has finally found his home in the NFL. Honestly, Tebow isn't a terrible quarterback, but let's face it: he can not be a franchise player for years to come at that position. If he is used correctly in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' system, they will be tough to scout against.

The Aaron Hernandez questions will stir up distractions through some or maybe even most of the season, but it's New England we are talking about here. They will be fine when it is all said and done if Tom Brady has something to say about it.

"I've moved on," Brady said.

The Pats have had a roller coaster offseason in many different ways. Originally, they actually had a decent offseason other than losing Wes Welker in free agency to the Denver Broncos. Other than losing him, they had many acquisitions that will be able to contribute to the team immediately, such as Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Michael Jenkins. 

The gap between Brady and the second-best QB in this division — Ryan Tannehill? Kevin Kolb? Mark Sanchez? Geno SmithEJ Manuel? Matt Moore? — is bigger than in any other division in the NFL. That alone makes it hard to pick against New England, even if this was a particularly rough offseason.

The defense and run game may have to carry the load more than usual without Welker and the Hernandez-Rob Gronkowski pairing. Still, betting against Brady or Bill Belichick is a questionable practice.

2013 Regular Season Record Prediction: 12-4

3. Atlanta Falcons

Julio-Jones-Roddy-White-Atlanta-Falcons-2013From a team's perspective, if you are hearing your offense associated with "The Greatest Show On Turf", you can't get any more hype than that.

This year's Falcons team has been drawing comparisons to the 1999-2000 St. Louis Rams offense that was simply sensational, to say the least. Here is some records and achievements that the 1999 Rams achieved during that season:

[ul class="list list-arrow_blue_3"] [li]They scored 526 points in the 1999 season, a team record which was broken in 2000 when they accumulated 540 points. For their last consecutive 500+ season, the Rams scored 503 points in 2001. These three seasons of 1,569 points were the most points scored by any team over any three-year stretch.[/li] [li]They were first in the league in passing (4,580 yards), yards per pass attempt (8.64), passing touchdowns (41) and total offensive yards (6,639).[/li][/ul]

Had it been a regular season game, fantasy owners of Julio Jones would have rejoiced. His two first-half touchdowns (11 catches for 182 yards on the day) would have been beneficial, but not as beneficial as it was to Atlanta, who led 17-0 and then took a 24-14 lead into the half against San Francisco.
Those 24 points would end up not being enough for the Falcons, but more points would be hard to come by. At the start of the third quarter, Frank Gore ran in a touchdown to make it 24-21 with plenty of time to go. Atlanta just simply needed to keep chopping away

With an offense that contains Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Jones and Roddy White, you can only expect to score a ton of points. Personally, I may go out on a limb here, but I think they will be the closest -- if not THE team -- to break the regular season team passing yards and touchdowns record.

So many options for Ryan on that roster and it will be hard to stop that at a consistent rate. If the expectations for these Falcons wasn't high enough last season, believe me: this season is almost win it all or bust.

2013 Regular Season Record Prediction: 12-4

2. Denver Broncos

Peyton-Manning-Denver-Broncos-2013To me, if it wasn't for safety Rahim Moore's miscommunication in the AFC Divisional round game versus the Ravens, the Broncos could have been the Super Bowl champs.

Frankly, as a diehard Broncos fan, the sight of Moore awkwardly pawing at the air like a strobe-light-blinded house cat is indelible. Jacoby Jones slipped past the hapless safety, hauling in a 70-yard touchdown pass to tie the Broncos at 35-apiece with just 41 seconds left in regulation. That was the play that basically ended their season.

The Broncos have one of the top passing offenses in the league with Peyton Manning throwing to Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. The Broncos' 30.1 PPG was second best in the league, and their 18.1 PPG allowed was fourth best. You'd think with that impressive twelve-point swing, the Broncos would want to keep their core together.

Montee Ball will more than likely be the running back that receives the most carries this season over Knowshon Moreno. Ball has leapfrogged the vast pool of backs on Denver's payroll to get first team reps with Manning. Willis McGahee became an injury cut, going down with an MCL injury last season. Denver's running average was a mere 3.81 YPA, one of their lone statistical blights.

Defensively, the Broncos may have took a fall, which I think keeps them from being the best team in football going into the season. The Broncos lost Elvis Dumervil to the Ravens in free agency.

The one upgrade they captured in free agency was Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. Cromartie has always been a lockdown corner in his short career thus far, but maybe with some better coaches working with him and better surroundings, he can fully reach his potential.

The Broncos will have a great season if healthy, and expect to once again hear their names in Super Bowl talk.

2013 Regular Season Record Prediction: 13-3

1. San Francisco 49ers

Colin-Kaepernick-49ers-2013The Niners may be the favorite to win it all this year.

The problem with that is, that is only based off of paper. On paper, the Niners have the best team in all of football. A great and athletic quarterback, a dominant defense and a stellar running game is what holds this team together. The team won the NFC last year and made it to the NFC Championship game in 2011, so it isn't just good on paper.

Nnamdi Asomugha's stint with the Philadelphia Eagles definitely didn't go as planned, but he's ready to make a splash with his new team. Asomugha and the Eagles struggled in 2011 and 2012, as he failed to live up to his five-year, $60 million contract. Asomugha was cut just two years into his deal, and the 49ers scooped him up at a cheap price (his base salary for next season is $1 million).

To me, it comes down to Asomugha at corner to lock down those top-notch wide receivers and then the rest will settle in, because that is all they lacked was a corner that could consistently make stops and prevent well.

If the 49ers can mesh well, with so many great players on one roster, they will obviously be nearly impossible to beat. More than likely, the Niners finish with the best record at the end of the regular season, which clinches them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs -- obviously...until the Super Bowl.

2013 Regular Season Record Prediction: 14-2

[tps_footer]Written by Dedrick Hendrix at World of Sports Talk[/tps_footer]


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