NFL Preview 2021: Five Dark Horse Super Bowl LVI Candidates

Will the Cowboys finally reach their potential? How about a Patriots bounce-back for the ages?


You know the legit Super Bowl contenders: The Buccaneers, the Chiefs, the Bills, the Packers, etc.

How about the off-the-radar teams?

The NFL has become a bit more top-heavy in recent years, to the point it feels like there’s a small amount of teams that could actually contend for an appearance in the Super Bowl (no less win it).

But hey, perhaps this is the year things change and we get a team that seems like a middle-of-the-road squad but actually makes a push to play in February.

Here are five dark horse Super Bowl LVI candidates. All odds are from the DraftKings Sportsbook.

Pittsburgh Steelers (Tied for 17th-highest odds at +4500)
The big question here is offense, specifically Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s defense is elite, and despite some offseason departures it should once again be one of the best units in the NFL.

If Roethlisberger looks like, at the very least, a top-15 quarterback, the Steelers could vie for a wild card spot, at which point anything is possible. Najee Harris will be a valuable addition to the backfield, Eric Ebron is an underrated tight end, and the Steelers have a decent enough receiving group, especially since Chase Claypool panned out.

Yes, Pittsburgh’s 11-0 start last season was about as soft a double-digit win streak as you’ll find, especially with the way they flamed out down the stretch. But there’s valid reason for optimism, the Steelers might be decent.

Dallas Cowboys (Tied for 13th-highest odds at +3500)
If Dak Prescott picks up where he left off prior to getting hurt last season, then you have to at least consider the Cowboys to be the frontrunner in the NFC East.

The offense could be one of the best in the NFL this season, but it’s the defense that forever sets them back. They were a downright embarrassing unit last season, and with no Prescott to bail them out, they periodically got burned.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how improved they will be this year. If anything, their run defense can’t get much worse. But if Prescott bounces back, and the defense shows even slight improvement, the Cowboys should be competitive.

New England Patriots (Tied for 13th-highest odds at +3500)
The Patriots, clearly intent on not having another underwhelming season, retooled on both sides of the ball, and now have a quarterback in Mac Jones far better equipped to run Josh McDaniels’ system.

Are they perfect? No. Their improved weapons on offense will only get them so far (and they don’t have a legitimate No. 1 receiver), but the defense does have the chance to be stellar. Truthfully, a lot of this is riding on Jones. The Patriots’ rushing game will be sharp, per usual, and should Jones prove to be a difference-maker in the air, New England could be a legitimate threat.

Arizona Cardinals (Tied for 17th-highest odds at +4500)
There’s a lot to like about the Cardinals. Kyler Murray seems to be the real deal, and there are a lot of great skill players around him — their wide receiver group might have the most diverse group skill sets of any wideout unit in the NFL.

The defense has it’s holes, but there also is some really high-end talent. If J.J. Watt looks halfway decent, then he and Chandler Jones will make for an absurd edge combo. The secondary, headlined by Budda Baker, is good-not-great, and it especially hurts if Malcolm Butler really does retire.

But the pieces are there, and the Cardinals sure seem like a team knocking on the door to being a legitimate contender. Will it be this year? Time will tell.

Tennessee Titans (Tied for 10th-highest odds at +3000)
Ryan Tannehill revived his career in Tennessee, and having Julio Jones there could make for an impressive air attack — even with the offseason loss of Jonnu Smith. It is all the more lethal when they can go to the run game at the drop of a hat with one of the most impressive running backs in the game in Derrick Henry.

Similarly to the Cowboys, although to a lesser degree, it’s going to come down to defense. The Titans haven’t been able to put the pieces together well-enough to form a defensive powerhouse. That, ultimately, is what will fell them this season like it has in years past.

Should they show more life on that side of the ball, it’s not far-fetched to believe the Titans could make noise.

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