NFL Futures: Teams a Quarterback Away From Super Bowl Run
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images. Pictured: Aaron Rodgers.
We’ve seen a recent pattern around the NFL. Three years in a row, a huge leap at the quarterback position has taken a team otherwise off the radar all the way to the Super Bowl.
The Bucs signed Tom Brady as a free agent in 2020, adding him to a talented roster featuring elite receivers, terrific blocking and a great defense — a mix that led them to a title. In 2021, a trade for Matt Stafford helped put a loaded Rams roster over the top. This year, a big leap from Jalen Hurts pushed one of the best rosters in football all the way to the Super Bowl.
No position in sports is more important than quarterback. Upgrading from bad to competent can be enough for a playoff push, and the move from decent to great can make a team a bona fide contender.
So what NFL rosters are the most QB-ready? What teams are ready to make a run at next year’s Super Bowl if they can just find the right man? It could be Aaron Rodgers via trade or a Lamar Jackson signing, or perhaps a move for someone like Derek Carr, Geno Smith or Daniel Jones.
We’re not looking for teams like the Falcons or Panthers — rebuilding squads in position to win a bad division but not enough talent to win four playoff games. We’re also not talking Raiders, who, for all their shiny receivers also feature a poor offensive line and defense along with subpar coaching and ownership.
If not the Falcons, Panthers or Raiders, then who? I’ve got my eye on five teams whose futures might be worth investing in now in case that QB leap comes …
Note: 2024 Super Bowl odds listed are from DraftKings as of February 1.
San Francisco 49ers +700
There should be no surprise on the team at the top.
The 49ers just took a third-string rookie to the brink of the Super Bowl, largely falling short because they literally ran out of guys who could throw the ball. If your roster is good enough to carry Mr. Irrelevant to the final four, it’s certainly good enough for a great QB to win it all.
San Francisco has a nasty defense that was the best in the league this past season. The offense has more weapons than anyone with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. The line is terrific, led by the best lineman in football (Trent Williams), and Kyle Shanahan is the mastermind that pulls everything together.
The Niners has the best no-QB roster in football. Its roster excluding quarterback is better than any other, Philadelphia possibly withstanding.
All they need is a quarterback.
Maybe it’s Brock Purdy. The man has never lost a game when he’s played half the snaps, after all. Perhaps it’s the talented Trey Lance, who they traded everything for. It won’t be Tom Brady, now that he’s retired “for good.”
What if it’s Aaron Rodgers? The 49ers already paid up for McCaffrey. Would they go all-in on a Rodgers trade that would make this team a prohibitive 2024 Super Bowl favorite?
The 49ers are already third in Super Bowl odds behind Kansas City and Buffalo. If you think they get Rodgers, they probably drop to +400 or shorter, clear favorites heading into the new season.
New York Jets +2500
If Rodgers doesn’t head west, maybe he’ll head east to New York just like the last longtime Packers quarterback. Even if it’s not Rodgers, it certainly seems like someone new will be starting at QB for the Jets.
If New York had any semblance of quarterback play this season, it would surely have made the playoffs, at least. The young defense took a huge leap under head coach Robert Saleh and continues to get better, and the offense had its moments under Mike White and Joe Flacco.
Garrett Wilson is one of the finalists for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Breece Hall probably would have won it if he hadn’t gotten injured. The Jets will have both guys next fall, along with Elijah Moore and a young, improving line. New York also turns its offense over to Nathaniel Hackett, who led his quarterback to an MVP his last two years as offensive coordinator.
Even competent QB play from someone like Carr could push the Jets toward a top-10 offense to combine with a potentially top-five defense. That’s the formula for a team that can win at least a playoff game or two. Could it be enough to win four?
Detroit Lions +3000
The Lions started this season 1-6, but won eight of their final 10 games to come to the brink of the playoffs. Winning the final game wasn’t quite enough as they needed help from the Seahawks to take the final spot.
Detroit was everyone’s darling sleeper coming into the season, but could folks have been a year early?
The Lions have my No. 3 no-QB offense behind only the Eagles and 49ers. Detroit has one of the two or three best offensive lines in football, and that alone can be the foundation for a winning run — just ask the Eagles and Chiefs, who entered this year with two of the five best lines.
Detroit also features a pair of talented running backs in D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, plus an underrated up-and-coming receiving corps featuring Amon-Ra “Kupp Lite” St. Brown and speedy rookie Jameson Williams, who will be fully healthy next season for the first time.
The Lions were already one of the league’s deadliest offenses under Jared Goff. Could they be the best team in the league if they upgrade the position by going after Lamar Jackson or Rodgers?
There’s one part of this roster that’s not ready for a Super Bowl run: The defense. Detroit improved post-bye and has some young talent on that end, but will need to at least improve to average defense to contend even with an elite QB.
Cleveland Browns +4500
This was a lost season for the Browns with Deshaun Watson suspended for 11 games, but that obscured what’s actually one of the deeper and more talented rosters around the league.
Cleveland’s team looks a lot like Philadelphia’s in some ways. It starts with the trenches. The Browns have an outstanding offensive line that can dominate, and it paves the way for one of the league’s elite rushing attacks featuring Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
The defensive line features Myles Garrett, who entered this season as the Defensive Player of the Year favorite and is as talented as just about any defender in the league. The run defense needs a makeover, but the secondary is supremely talented and deep.
Cleveland was quietly very good, but needed a healthy defense and a star QB to make some noise — and it’s possible they already have the answer on the roster.
Watson was pretty miserable in his return, and Cleveland’s season was effectively already over by the time he suited up. But there’s no questioning his talent or winning pedigree — he led the Texans to a pair of division titles and could be ready to help the Browns do the same.
Watson is an MVP-caliber quarterback. What if he plays as well as Jalen Hurts did this past year and the rest of Cleveland’s roster stays healthy? The answer might already be on the roster.
Washington Commanders +8000
The last team is our longest shot on the board, a team thoroughly off the radar.
There’s plenty to dislike about the Commanders, starting with the ownership and the team’s new name and logo. The offensive line leaves plenty to be desired, especially in pass blocking, and the run game lacks punch.
But Terry McLaurin might be the most underrated receiver in the game. He’s ready for a star turn if he can just find a QB who can consistently get him the ball, and he’s flanked by Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel. That trio with a quality QB like Derek Carr or Geno Smith could make for a fearsome passing attack.
Washington is also loaded on defense. Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat comprise one of the best defensive lines when healthy, capable of taking over and elevating the entire defense.
The Commanders defense actually ranked ninth by DVOA, and the special teams were seventh. The offense tanked the season, however, ranking bottom six in both running and passing.
It won’t be easy in a division where every other team made the NFL’s final eight, but a competent QB could help Washington take one of those spots next season.
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