2015 Super Bowl Odds: Fresh Update Post-Draft
The last time we presented and analyzed 2015 Super Bowl odds, it was after the first week of free agency.
With the 2014 NFL draft now in the books, it's time to revisit the Super Bowl odds and see which teams are favored by Vegas to achieve championship glory.
The importance of the draft cannot be overstated, and one has to look no farther than the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks to prove that point. They raised the Lombardi Trophy this past February in large part due to a series of successful draft moves that added a host of young playmakers onto the roster, a feat that 31 other franchises (and, indeed, the Seahawks themselves) tried to match this past weekend.
NFL heavyweights added to already star-studded rosters, while other teams clearly built for the future and have no chance of contending this season. And there's a host of teams smack-dab in the middle that could surprise based on the fortunes of this draft.
Does Vegas think your team has a shot at the Super Bowl this year? Click to find out.
Here is a fresh update of Super Bowl odds post-draft.
After the 2014 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars find themselves in the same spot they occupied for most of the 2013 season: dead last in Super Bowl odds.
General manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley used the third overall selection in the draft on Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. Caldwell was asked Friday morning in an interview with ESPN Radio (via John Breech of CBSSports.com) when he envisioned Bortles joining the starting lineup, and he said this:
To be honest with you, probably 2015. We'd like to give Chad (Henne) this whole year and go with Chad this year. Blake's got some development to do. We're going to be getting him ready, so come 2015 he's ready to compete for that spot.
With Caldwell conceding that the Bortles pick was made with 2015 in mind, it's easy to see why the Jaguars possess the worst Super Bowl odds.
The team did pick up a number of solid players in the draft, including USC receiver Marqise Lee and Penn State receiver Allen Robinson in the second round and Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith in the fifth round, so the on-field product in Duval should be better than it was in 2013.
But the Jaguars are clearly looking toward the future and have almost no chance to raise the Lombardi Trophy next February.
Since the onset of free agency this past March, perhaps no team has improved as much as the Oakland Raiders.
The problem is that they're still light years away from contending for the Super Bowl. But they at least have the look of a competent NFL squad, something that has been missing over the past few seasons.
Thanks to a shrewd performance by general manager Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders had their best draft in quite some time, headlined by the selection of University of Buffalo pass-rusher Khalil Mack at No. 5 overall. Mack should instantly improve coach Dennis Allen's defense and bring a pass-rushing element that's been sorely missed.
McKenzie then nabbed his quarterback of the future in the second round in Fresno State's Derek Carr. Carr could potentially provide currency to help McKenzie and Allen keep their jobs in 2015 and beyond.
With the draft class in tow and a solid group of free-agent signings, the Raiders won't be a pushover in 2014. But considering they're still projected to be the worst team in the AFC West, they won't be a Super Bowl contender, either.
The Tennessee Titans entered the 2014 NFL draft as the most nondescript team in league and exited it as the bearers of that same unfortunate moniker.
For a team that could have gone in any number of directions in the first round, the decision to draft Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan was a curious one. The Titans signed former Ravens tackle Michael Oher in free agency and guaranteed him $9.3 million, while tackle Michael Roos remains on the roster. Lewan will improve the offensive line, but the Titans had more pressing issues in the secondary.
General manager Ruston Webster did have two solid picks in University of Washington running back Bishop Sankey (second round) and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (sixth round), and it wouldn't be a shock to see both men as the focal points of the Titans offense by the end of the season.
With incumbent signal-caller Jake Locker having failed to dazzle and showing an inability to stay healthy, Mettenberger looms as a player to watch. It'll be fascinating to see what new coach Ken Whisenhunt can coax out of the position.
But until then, the Titans look like one of the worst teams in football and could be ticketed for a top pick in the 2015 draft.
The Buffalo Bills made a seismic trade on Day 1 of the draft, dealing away the ninth overall pick and their first- and fourth-round selections in 2015 for the right to move up five spots to select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
The trade failed to move the needle on the team's Super Bowl odds, as the Bills come in fourth-to-last.
I panned the trade after the first round concluded, as the club gave up way too much for a receiver when there was a glaring need on the offensive line.
While Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio was a fine pick in the second round, the Bills pass protection remains suspect, and the team allowed 48 sacks last season. With quarterback EJ Manuel having missed six games in his rookie year due to various maladies, the questionable pass protection is a big deal, because it won't matter who the Bills trot out at receiver if Manuel is constantly on his back or knocked out of the lineup.
General manager Doug Whaley also declined to select either a tight end or safety, which were needs entering the draft.
The Bills clearly went all in with the trade for Watkins, with the hope that the electric playmaker can push them into the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
But it's more likely that the team will be the beneficiaries of yet another losing season in Western New York.
New York Jets
The New York Jets definitely improved their team in the 2014 NFL draft, but question marks at the quarterback position prevent them from having better Super Bowl odds.
The selection of Louisville safety Calvin Pryor in the first round likely put a smile on Rex Ryan's face, as Pryor is a bone-rattling hitter and intimidating presence in the secondary. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro was a wonderful pick in the second round, and he should flash early and often on the field for Gang Green.
But the Jets still have major question marks on offense. Although general manager John Idzik improved the unit this offseason with the signings of former Denver Broncos receiver Eric Decker and Titans running back Chris Johnson, it remains to be seen if there's enough weaponry for whoever the quarterback is to succeed.
And as for the quarterback position: Neither incumbent Geno Smith nor free-agent signing Michael Vick strike fear into the hearts of opposing coaches. Unless one can take a stranglehold of the job and play well, the Jets will be looking at another season without postseason football.
By virtue of the 2012 trade that brought quarterback Robert Griffin III to town, the Washington Redskins didn't have a first-round pick in this year's draft, but general manager Bruce Allen and coach Jay Gruden added players at positions of need.
The club's second-round pick, Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy, led the nation in sacks last season, while its third-round pick, Virginia tackle Morgan Moses, should immediately step in at right tackle in Gruden's new power-run scheme.
The Redskins will have a new look on offense after the free-agent signings of receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, and if Griffin can reclaim the form he flashed as a neophyte in 2012, they'll find themselves on the up-and-up in 2014.
But as of now, the Redskins don't have the look or feel of a playoff team, hence their poor odds to win their first championship since Super Bowl XXVI.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Since the new regime of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht arrived in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers have gone through a massive makeover that's left this writer surprised at how low their odds came in.
The Buccaneers added a number of pieces in free agency, including defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner and offensive tackle Anthony Collins. Plus, the club inked a new starting quarterback in 34-year-old Josh McCown. While I killed the signing when it was consummated, it deserves noting that Smith and Licht have surrounded McCown with numerous weapons on offense.
In fact, the Buccaneers didn't draft a single defensive player in the draft, opting to go all offense in an effort to fix last year's unit that finished dead-last in the NFL.
The selection of Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans (6'5") in the first round and Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6'5") in the second gives McCown a triumvirate of titanic pass-catchers to go along with incumbent receiver Vincent Jackson (6'5"). And as McCown showed last season in Chicago, he loves tall weapons, so this was smart drafting by Licht and Smith.
West Virginia running back Charles Sims was a smart pick in the third round, and he'll add to a very talented backfield that includes 2012 first-round pick Doug Martin.
The Buccaneers should have better Super Bowl odds. After a very solid offseason, they loom as a potential playoff team in 2014.
St. Louis Rams
If the St. Louis Rams played in any division besides the rough-and-tumble NFC West, their Super Bowl odds would surely be higher, because even after a spectacular draft, they're projected to finish in last place.
General manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher hit home runs with the club's two first-round selections, adding Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Robinson is a mauler in the run game and should provide protection for quarterback Sam Bradford, while Donald is a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line. Donald joins fellow defensive tackle Michael Brockers and ends Robert Quinn (the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year) and Chris Long to form the best young defensive line in the NFL.
The Rams added Auburn running back Tre Mason (third round) and Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (second round) as well, and both players should contribute immediately.
Plus, the team made history by selecting Missouri pass-rusher Michael Sam in the seventh round, with Sam becoming the first openly gay athlete drafted by an NFL team. Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter scribed a wonderful column on the topic that is worth checking out.
If Bradford can put together a sterling campaign, it's feasible that the Rams could battle for a playoff spot, and if they played in a less competitive division, they might even be favored for the postseason.
But right now, the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals are all projected to be better, and that's why the Rams are 50-1 to raise the Lombardi Trophy.
The Minnesota Vikings made a major jump from the last time Super Bowl odds were released, moving from 100-1 to 50-1 thanks to an excellent draft by general manager Rick Spielman.
Spielman and new coach Mike Zimmer added UCLA pass-rusher Anthony Barr and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first round, and both players should contribute as rookies. In fact, regarding Bridgewater, Zimmer told Matt Vensel of The Star Tribune, "Teddy will play when we feel like he’s ready, if he’s the best guy, which we hope that he will be. We always want to have competition.”
The team added value picks in the later rounds with Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton (third round), Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon (third round) and Virginia Tech defensive back Antone Exum (sixth round).
Even though the Vikings are projected to once again finish last in the NFC North, things are looking up in the Twin Cities. A Super Bowl berth is exceedingly unlikely in 2014, but if Bridgewater proves to be a true franchise quarterback, the team could be on its way to perennial appearances in the postseason.
After allowing a league-high 58 sacks in 2013, the Miami Dolphins entered the 2014 NFL draft with a need on the offensive line, and general manager Dennis Hickey addressed it.
Hickey nabbed Tennessee tackle Ja'Wuan James in the first round and North Dakota State lineman Billy Turner in the third round. They'll join free-agent signings Branden Albert (tackle) and Shelley Smith (guard) as part of the team's revamped offensive line, which should make quarterback Ryan Tannehill a happy man.
The Dolphins also added a weapon for Tannehill in the second round in LSU receiver Jarvis Landry.
Coach Joe Philbin's team crashed and burned to end last season, losing its final two games in brutal fashion to miss the postseason. But if Tannehill can continue to improve and the club avoids the off-field drama that became commonplace last season, the Dolphins could once again challenge for a wild-card berth in the AFC.
Although the team clearly needed help in the secondary, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Caldwell opted to add another offensive weapon in the first round with the drafting of North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron.
The move came as a surprise, especially considering the club already employs two competent players at the position in Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria. But on the positive side, Ebron should join those two players and receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate to present matchup nightmares for opposing defenses, especially in the red zone.
Mayhew improved the linebacking corps with the selection of BYU's Kyle Van Noy in the second round and did add a cornerback in the fourth round in Utah State's Nevin Lawson.
On paper, the Lions are an interesting team, but they are clearly behind both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears in the NFC North, which is why their odds are stuck at 50-1.
Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer had a dream first round this past Thursday night when he added Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Plus, he acquired the Bills' first- and fourth-round selections in the 2015 draft. Not bad for a night's work.
But the impending suspension of receiver Josh Gordon (per ESPN.com's T.J. Quinn) cast a pall over the rest of the weekend, and Farmer surprisingly neglected to add a receiver during the draft.
Nevada offensive lineman Joel Bitonio was the club's second-round pick, and Towson running back Terrance West was nabbed in Round 3.
Manziel was the club's best selection, as he'll immediately bring swagger and confidence to a franchise in desperate need of both.
The Browns aren't far away from contending for a playoff berth. If Manziel can meet expectations, expect the team to be in the hunt for a wild-card berth come the holiday season.
New York Giants
The New York Giants entered the 2014 NFL draft needing to improve play along the offensive and defensive lines, so naturally, general manager Jerry Reese selected LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with the club's first-round selection.
While Beckham is a fine prospect who could potentially dazzle, the Giants would have been better served selecting Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin or Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. In the Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning era, the Giants have won when they've protected Manning, run the football and rushed the opposing passer. It's unclear if they'll be able to do those things in 2014.
Colorado State center Weston Richburg was a fine pick in Round 2, and he should step into the starting lineup immediately. The selection of Boston College running back Andre Williams in the fourth round earned plaudits, but Williams failed to catch a single pass last season and is a one-dimensional back.
With all of that said, Manning should bounce back in 2014, and if the pass rush can improve, the Giants should find themselves in contention for a playoff berth. But they still remain firmly behind the Eagles in the race to win the NFC East.
Despite finishing last year 2-14 and possessing the No. 1 overall pick in this past weekend's draft, the Houston Texans have better Super Bowl odds than 13 other teams.
The selection of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney with the aforementioned No. 1 overall pick likely has a lot to do with that.
Drafting Clowney was a no-brainer for general manager Rick Smith and coach Bill O'Brien. Clowney is a transcendent prospect who marries electric speed with terrifying physicality. He'll join star defensive lineman JJ Watt to form one of the best pass-rushing twosomes in the NFL.
Smith later nabbed UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo (second round), Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III (third round) and Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage (fourth round), rounding out what was an excellent draft.
Because Ryan Fitzpatrick will likely open the season as the starting quarterback while Savage develops, the team's Super Bowl odds cannot be higher than 40-1. But things are looking up in Houston, and as of right now, the Texans look like the second-best team in the AFC South behind the Indianapolis Colts.
Give Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones credit: He chose on-field success over off-field exposure with the club's first-round selection, and the Cowboys will be better for it in 2014 and beyond.
Jones passed over Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 16th overall selection to choose Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. Martin will join left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick on one of the NFL's best young offensive lines.
And in the second round, Jones added a pass-rusher in Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence.
While much of the Cowboys' hopes are contingent upon a 34-year-old quarterback in Tony Romo, who is coming off a second back surgery, the team is still better now than it was before the draft.
But that still isn't enough to push Dallas over the hump and into the list of favorites to claim Super Bowl glory.
The Cincinnati Bengals have crashed out of the playoffs in the Wild Card Round for three consecutive seasons, so the club needed a solid draft to push it over the hump.
At this point, it's unclear if the Bengals got what they needed.
The team did add Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard in the first round. He should step in and contribute immediately and could end up as the team's best player at the position. But the selection of LSU running back Jeremy Hill in the second round raised eyebrows, and it's hard to get excited about the fifth-round selection of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.
Before the draft, I wrote that the smartest move the Bengals could make would be to bring in a young quarterback to push incumbent starter Andy Dalton. The team waited until the fifth round to address the position, and it's extremely unlikely that McCarron will challenge Dalton for playing time. The club should have spent an earlier pick on a better quarterback prospect.
The Bengals still have a playoff-worthy roster, but with the rest of the AFC North having improved, they face an uphill climb to claim a fourth straight playoff appearance.
Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and assistant general manager Eric DeCosta put together yet another outstanding draft.
The selections of Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (first round), Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (second round) and Florida State safety Terrance Brooks (third round) should immediately improve the defense.
Plus, they added an underrated running back prospect in Coastal Carolina's Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth round, and he should step in and contribute as a rookie.
In 2013, the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time since coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco came to town prior to the 2008 season. But with the offseason addition of receiver Steve Smith to go along with the team's stellar draft class, no one should be surprised if the Ravens find themselves back in the postseason next January.
After a miserable 4-12 campaign in 2013, the Atlanta Falcons set out to get tougher on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Give credit to general manager Thomas Dimitroff, as he's done just that.
Dimitroff signed guard Jon Asamoah and defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai in free agency. He then added Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews in the first round of the draft and Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman in the second round, adding significant beef up front on both sides of the ball.
Last year, the Falcons were hit hard by the injury bug, and a lack of roster depth came back to bite them. If receiver Julio Jones and others can stay healthy, it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Falcons could bounce back in a major way in 2014.
Last season, the Arizona Cardinals came oh so close to qualifying for the postseason, finishing 10-6 in the best division in football (the NFC West).
But thanks to an excellent offseason from general manager Steve Keim, no one should be surprised if they break through and make the playoffs in 2014. They're close to being as good as NFC West heavyweights Seattle and San Francisco.
Keim added former Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer in free agency, which should immediately improve the offensive line. Plus, 2013 first-round guard Jonathan Cooper, who missed all of last season with a broken leg, is slated to return.
In this year's draft, Keim added physical Washington State safety Deone Bucannon in the first round. He'll join cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie and cornerback/safety hybrid Tyrann Mathieu to form one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Meanwhile, Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas was an outstanding pick in the second round.
If 34-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer can stay healthy and receiver Larry Fitzgerald continues to flash a dominant form, the Cardinals could challenge for NFC West supremacy.
San Diego Chargers
Give San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy credit for clearly identifying team needs and addressing them in the early rounds of the draft.
The club had a glaring need at cornerback, where Shareece Wright (who?) was listed atop the depth chart, so it selected TCU cornerback Jason Verrett in the first round. Verrett should step in immediately and start as a rookie.
The Chargers only managed 30 sacks last season, so they drafted Georgia Tech pass-rusher Jeremiah Attaochu in the second round. Attaochu compiled 31.5 sacks in his career as a Yellow Jacket.
With a potent offense already in place, led by quarterback Philip Rivers and an improved defense, the Chargers are in a position to repeat last year's trip to the divisional round of the postseason. They look like the second-best team in the AFC West (behind the Denver Broncos).
The Pittsburgh Steelers desperately needed an infusion of speed and playmaking ability in the draft, and general manager Kevin Colbert provided just that.
Colbert drafted Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, the fastest linebacker to be drafted since Brian Urlacher was tabbed by the Bears in 2000, in the first round. Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt was a fantastic pick in the second round, while Kent State running back/receiver Dri Archer (third round) was the fastest overall player in the draft. And 6'4" Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant (fourth round) will provide quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with a much-needed red-zone target.
With Roethlisberger at quarterback and Mike Tomlin as head coach, the Steelers will always contend for a playoff berth. But thanks to Colbert's drafting, they could find themselves back in the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Kansas City Chiefs
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs defied all expectations, finishing 11-5 and qualifying for the AFC postseason. But as of now, the club doesn't look likely to repeat its playoff performance from a year ago.
The Chiefs lost three starters on the offensive line in free agency: guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz and left tackle Branden Albert. But for some reason, coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey didn't draft an offensive lineman until the sixth round (Tennessee guard Zach Fulton).
Plus, once you get past Dwayne Bowe, the depth chart at receiver is a veritable dumpster fire. Yet the Chiefs failed to take even one receiver in the entire draft.
The club spent its first-round pick on Auburn linebacker Dee Ford, and the hope is that he can provide pass-rushing oomph alongside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (fifth round) is an intriguing prospect, and Reid is known for developing quarterbacks. But the Chiefs needed more out of the draft and didn't get it. They look like the third-best team in the AFC West behind Denver and San Diego.
The Carolina Panthers entered the draft desperately needing help at the receiver position and along the offensive line.
General manager Dave Gettleman didn't adequately fill needs at either position.
He selected Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first round. While that was a fine pick, he needed more than just one pass-catcher, and Benjamin was the only one he selected. The Panthers depth chart at receiver lists Benjamin and then a bunch of third and fourth options (Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood).
Plus, the club needed to add a tackle prospect, but it opted to draft Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy instead, adding to a position of strength along the defensive line.
While it's true that you can never have too many pass-rushers, the protection for quarterback Cam Newton needed to improve.
This offseason, the Panthers have watched as all three NFC South foes (Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay) have improved, while they've arguably gotten worse. At this point, the Panthers look unlikely to replicate their 12-4 form of a season ago.
The Philadelphia Eagles entered the draft as the favorites to win the NFC East for the second consecutive year, and nothing happened over the weekend to change that fact.
Coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman added Louisville pass-rusher Marcus Smith in the first round, and while he was a bit of a reach at No. 26 overall, he filled a major need, as the Eagles only managed 37 sacks last year.
They also added pair of wide receivers in Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (second round) and Oregon's Josh Huff (third round). Both players should contribute, especially Matthews, who profiles as a beast in Kelly's offense. Additionally, they added help in the secondary with Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins (fourth round).
With a high-octane offense and an improved defense to go along with Kelly pulling the strings, the Eagles are a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
New Orleans Saints
The rich got richer in the first round of the draft, as New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton traded up in the first round to acquire speedy Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks.
Cooks is a burner and should dazzle on the turf of the Superdome and provide quarterback Drew Brees with yet another weapon in the passing attack.
Plus, the Saints added a much-needed cornerback in the second round in 6'3" Nebraska product Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Expect him to contribute as a rookie alongside incumbent Keenan Lewis and free-agent signing Champ Bailey.
The defense should be improved with the free-agent signing of safety Jairus Byrd, and the offense is in good hands with Brees and Payton.
The Saints once again have the look of a playoff team and could advance deep into the postseason.
Despite a nondescript draft class that didn't include a first-round selection (thanks to the in-season trade that brought running back Trent Richardson to town), the Indianapolis Colts possess favorable Super Bowl odds thanks to the greatness of quarterback Andrew Luck.
Luck, who has led the team to back-to-back 11-win seasons and playoff berths since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, is a maestro on the field and masks many of the team's shortcomings.
General manager Ryan Grigson used the team's first selection on Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort, and he added a weapon for Luck in the third round with Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief.
In free agency, Grigson added receiver Hakeem Nicks and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and re-signed cornerback Vontae Davis.
While the Texans improved during the draft, the Colts are still the class of the AFC South, and it's thanks to their quarterback. As long as Luck is under center, the Colts will be viable Super Bowl contenders. Such is his brilliance.
The Chicago Bears possess the best Super Bowl odds of any team to miss the playoffs in 2013, and it's thanks to an already explosive offense and newly revamped defense.
The defense was atrocious in 2013, allowing 5.3 yards per carry and finishing the year ranked 31st overall. But general manager Phil Emery made a concerted effort to improve the unit by signing defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young in free agency and then drafting Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller (first round), LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson (second round), Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton (third round) and Minnesota safety Brock Vereen (fourth round).
If the defense plays better and Cutler evens out his play, the Bears could easily win the NFC North and will qualify as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Green Bay Packers
Before this past weekend, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson had never spent a first-round pick on a safety. But that changed when Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was still on the board when the Packers hit the clock at No. 21 overall, and Thompson gobbled up the playmaker in intelligent fashion. Along with the free-agent signing of defensive end Julius Peppers, the Packers defense looks to be much improved.
Thompson also added Fresno State receiver Davante Adams in the second round, and he could be a major weapon for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
As long as Rodgers is under center, the Packers will always be in playoff contention. But if they can get better play out of the defense, they are a definite Super Bowl contender.
San Francisco 49ers
It can be reasonably argued that the San Francisco 49ers have been one play away from winning the Super Bowl in each of the last three seasons. And thanks to yet another solid offseason from general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers look like a favorite to advance to their fourth consecutive NFC Championship Game.
Baalke added a playmaking safety in Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward (first round) and made a series of steals with Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde (second round), USC center Marcus Martin (third round), Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland (third round) and South Carolina receiver Bruce Ellington (fourth round).
Ellington is a burner who should add a new dimension to the 49ers offense, as he'll be a deep threat for Colin Kaepernick. Plus, on Friday, the club swung a trade for Bills receiver Stevie Johnson, providing yet another weapon for Kaepernick.
Harbaugh is one of the finest coaches in the NFL, and the roster is once again elite. It should surprise no one if and when the 49ers return to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have won the AFC East in five consecutive years, and that streak doesn't show any signs of ending in 2014.
Coach Bill Belichick added to his defensive line in the first round with the drafting of Florida tackle Dominique Easley and then added his potential quarterback of the future in Round 2 with Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo will apprentice this season under starter Tom Brady and backup Ryan Mallett and could eventually prove to be Brady's long-term successor. But the pick was still a questionable one, as the Patriots are fighting to keep pace with the Broncos atop the AFC, and they used a high pick on a player who will only see the field in 2014 in the event of disaster.
In free agency, New England added the league's best cornerback in Darrelle Revis and fellow corner Brandon Browner. The Patriots should once again win the AFC East, and as of right now, they look like the biggest threat to the Broncos for AFC supremacy.
Since watching the Seahawks annihilate his team in Super Bowl XLVII, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has aggressively upgraded the defense in order to elevate his team to the rarefied air possessed by Seattle and San Francisco.
In free agency, Elway inked pass-rushing demon DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. He then drafted Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby in the first round.
He also added another weapon for quarterback Peyton Manning in the second round in Indiana receiver Cody Latimer, who joins fellow receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Julius Thomas to form one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL.
The defense looks to be much improved, and the offense should once again be a juggernaut with Manning under center. As of now, the Broncos are the clear favorite to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLIX.
The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks might have traded out of the first round, but they still possess a championship roster and are the favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll added a speedy wide receiver in Colorado's Paul Richardson (second round) and added solid Missouri tackle Justin Britt as well (second round).
In free agency, the club re-signed defensive end Michael Bennett, which is a big deal. Bennett played extremely well in the postseason and contributed 10 total sacks (including playoffs). Seattle also brought back receiver Sidney Rice.
With star players like quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch, receiver Percy Harvin, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, the Seahawks will once again be in the mix for the Super Bowl next year. And if money had to be put down right now, they'd be the smart bet to raise the Lombardi Trophy.
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