Pro Picks: Bengals over Cowboys in Super Bowl 58
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) sets back to pass in the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. It's no surprise Mahomes was an unanimous choice by The Associated Press for the top spot among quarterbacks. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
AP Pro Football Writer
Published: September 18, 2023
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs know winning consecutive Super Bowls is a tough task. They'll have plenty of familiar foes and some new ones standing in their way of a repeat.
The NFL's road to Las Vegas started when the Chiefs hosted the Detroit Lions after their latest championship banner was revealed high above Arrowhead Stadium.
No team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since Tom Brady and the New England Patriots did it in 2003-04. Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prevented Mahomes and the Chiefs from winning two in a row three years ago.
"It's always great to win with a lot of young guys, but now these young guys have to deal with success," Mahomes said. "We had a little bit of experience with it a couple years ago, and I think what we learned from that is you have to stay hungry the entire year and I want to preach that to these young guys and tell them to take that next step. We have to be better this year if we want to go back and win that Super Bowl again."
The AFC is loaded with contenders. Mahomes and the Chiefs are used to battling Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals and Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Now, Aaron Rodgers has joined the conference with the New York Jets.
The NFC's top three teams figure to stay the same as last season. The Philadelphia Eagles fell just short against the Chiefs and aim to return and hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy this time. The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys should give Philly a run for the conference title.
Pro Picks predictions per division:
NFC EAST: No team has repeated in this division since the Eagles won four titles in a row from 2001-04. Jalen Hurts had a breakout year, briefly became the richest player in NFL history and is determined to lead the Eagles to a championship. They've got two new coordinators and lost some talent on defense but the roster is loaded. Philly managed to avoid major injuries last season and had all its starters for the Super Bowl. It's difficult to stay that healthy two years in a row. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy and QB Dak Prescott are under pressure to deliver Jerry Jones a ring. The additions of CB Stephon Gilmore and WR Brandin Cooks are a major boost. The New York Giants paid Daniel Jones elite-QB money after they went to the playoffs but they could take a step back this season. The Washington Commanders have new owners and a new QB but they just aren't ready.
NFC NORTH: The Minnesota Vikings won 13 games last season but flopped in the playoffs. Kirk Cousins still hasn't proven he can win the biggest games. Jared Goff has revived his career in Detroit and there's a ton of hype surrounding the Lions. They've got a talented offense. but defense was the problem last year. If their defense is just mediocre this season, the offense will score enough points to win plenty of games. There's a new era in Green Bay without Rodgers. The Chicago Bears have reason for hope and excitement with Justin Fields stepping into his third year.
NFC SOUTH: Baker Mayfield replaced Brady in Tampa Bay where expectations went from Super Bowl to none. The Bucs still have talent around Mayfield and a strong defense. Derek Carr has a new in home New Orleans. The Saints have a stingy defense led by Demario Davis, Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore so if Carr gets the offense going, they're the team to beat. With coach Frank Reich and rookie No. 1 pick Bryce Young, the Carolina Panthers could surprise. Atlanta turned it over to second-year QB Desmond Ridder and drafted top RB Bijan Robinson. A team with a losing record could win this division for the second straight year.
NFC WEST: The 49ers have a healthy Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey for a full season and a dominant defense that's still missing Nick Bosa. The Seattle Seahawks were a surprise team last year as Geno Smith made sure nobody missed Russell Wilson. They added playmakers on offense and bolstered the defense but there's still a big gap between Seattle and San Francisco. The Los Angeles Rams still have Aaron Donald, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp but they're rebuilding after a dreadful season following a Super Bowl title. The Arizona Cardinals are playing for the No. 1 overall pick in 2024.
AFC EAST: Rodgers' arrival in New York makes a tough division even more competitive. The Jets added Dalvin Cook to a loaded backfield with the returning Breece Hall. Quinnen Williams leads one of the top d-lines and CB Sauce Gardner anchors the secondary. There's pressure in Buffalo on Allen and the Bills to go deeper into the postseason. If they can stay healthy, they've got a productive offense and solid defense to make a run. The Dolphins need Tua Tagovailoa to avoid injuries so he can get the ball to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could be Miami's best offseason addition with CB Jalen Ramsey starting the season on the sideline. Bill Belichick hasn't won a playoff game since Brady left three years ago. The Patriots will have a hard time avoiding the basement.
AFC NORTH: Another loaded division led by Burrow and the Bengals. Their offense is stacked. Defense needs to overcome losing a pair of standout safeties. Lamar Jackson got paid and the Ravens gave him Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers. Now he has to deliver in the playoffs. Mike Tomlin makes sure the Steelers are always in contention, even with a rookie QB in 2022. If Kenny Pickett makes a big jump in Year 2, look out for Pittsburgh. The Browns are banking on Deshaun Watson to prove he was worth a huge gamble. In the tough North, they could finish last with a winning record.
AFC SOUTH: Doug Pederson quickly turned the Jaguars into a playoff winner, helping Trevor Lawrence elevate his game in his second season. The offense will score points but the defense needs to step up to put Jacksonville in the championship mix. Injuries helped derail Tennessee last year and Ryan Tannehill has plenty to prove. Even with De'Andre Hopkins, the Titans' best option is giving the ball to Derrick Henry. The Indianapolis Colts are a mess but rookie QB Anthony Richardson should be fun to watch. There's reason for excitement in Houston with new coach DeMeco Ryans, rookie QB C.J. Stroud and rookie edge Will Anderson.
AFC WEST: The Chiefs have owned the division under Andy Reid, winning seven straight titles. Mahomes and Co. know how difficult it is to repeat and there's questions at wide receiver and on defense. Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers look to bounce back after a playoff collapse. They're still waiting on defensive-minded head coach Brandon Staley to improve that unit. Russell Wilson's first season in Denver was a disaster. Sean Payton should get him back on track but the playoff drought should continue. All Jimmy Garoppolo does is win until now with the Las Vegas Raiders.
NFC division winners: Cowboys, Lions, Saints, 49ers
NFC wild-card teams: Eagles, Vikings, Seahawks
NFC championship: Cowboys over 49ers
AFC division winners: Jets, Bengals, Jaguars, Chiefs
AFC wild-card teams: Bills, Ravens, Chargers
AFC championship: Bengals over Jets
Super Bowl: Bengals over Cowboys