Red Zone

The case for, against each NFL team hoisting the 2016 Lombardi Trophy

From left, Chiefs safety Eric Berry, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali are among those hoping to secure the Lombardi Trophy for their respective franchises this season.
From left, Chiefs safety Eric Berry, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali are among those hoping to secure the Lombardi Trophy for their respective franchises this season. Photo illustration by JEFF PATTERSON The Kansas City Star

(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Star’s annual football preview, which will appear in three special sections in the Sunday, Aug. 28 print edition and also on and The Star’s Red Zone Extra app.)

Everybody’s 0-0 to start the season, right? Parity is the name of the game in today’s NFL, right? On paper, perhaps. In reality, most of the league’s 32 teams would need a boatload of breaks to make it to the big game in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017.

AFC West

1. Kansas City Chiefs

Why they can win: This is coach Andy Reid’s deepest team in four years, and the offense features multiple young players who look poised to break out. And, oh yeah, that defense (if healthy).

Why they can’t: There’s not much keeping the offense from having its best statistical year under Reid, but the defense’s status as a championship-level unit likely rests on Justin Houston’s knee.

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2. Oakland Raiders

Why they can win: Derek Carr looks like one of the league’s best young QBs, the offensive line is potentially dominant and the defense could be one of the league’s most stout.

Why they can’t: Carr might not be ready to carry the mail in the playoffs, and the inside linebackers could keep the Oakland defense from being an elite unit.

3. Denver Broncos

Why they can win: The defense is as fast, aggressive and nasty as ever, and if coach Gary Kubiak can get the ground game going, it will take pressure off an unsettled quarterback situation.

Why they can’t: The QB situation will be one of the worst in the league if Paxton Lynch doesn’t start, and even if he does, rookie quarterbacks never win the Super Bowl.

4. San Diego Chargers

Why they can win: The return of Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator will only help Philip Rivers, who still has plenty of targets to throw to and will operate behind an improved line.

Why they can’t: The pass rush is largely ineffective aside from edge rushers Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu, and this defense has few scary players.

AFC East

1. New England Patriots

Why they can win: They still have the league’s best quarterback-head coach combo in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and you just know Belichick will again field one of the league’s smartest and most versatile defenses.

Why they can’t: Brady’s four-game suspension is an inconvenience, but there’s nothing really keeping the Patriots from winning their eighth straight AFC East title and reaching the Super Bowl again.

2. Buffalo Bills

Why they can win: The Bills’ Tyrod Taylor-LeSean McCoy-Sammy Watkins skill-position trio is ascending, and their defense should be nasty and aggressive under the Ryan brothers, Rex and Rob.

Why they can’t: The pass rush was surprisingly middling a year ago, and Taylor has to solidify himself as a top young quarterback as opposed to a surprising guy with potential.

3. New York Jets

Why they can win: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s emergence fueled a capable offense, and the defense — led by coach Todd Bowles — should again be strong.

Why they can’t: It’s not a given that Fitzpatrick will have another great season, and the running game might not be as good as it was last season without hard-charging Chris Ivory.

4. Miami Dolphins

Why they can win: New coach Adam Gase will greatly help quarterback Ryan Tannehill, while the front four is older but full of proven veterans.

Why they can’t: Tannehill is entering a make-or-break year, and he might not have the juice — or enough skill-position or offensive-line help — to get the job done.

AFC North

1. Cincinnati Bengals

Why they can win: Marvin Lewis can coach, and the Bengals boast a deep and talented roster across the board that doesn’t have many weaknesses and enjoyed a 12-4 season in 2015.

Why they can’t: Quarterback Andy Dalton was having a nice season until an injury ruined the Bengals’ Super Bowl hopes, so he still has to prove he’s a playoff performer.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

Why they can win: The Steelers’ collection of skill players is great, and they still have a playoff-tested quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and champion-pedigree coach in Mike Tomlin.

Why they can’t: The 2015 defense did not resemble all those Blitzburgh teams of years past, thanks to a secondary that failed to create turnovers and and a pass rush that underperformed.

3. Baltimore Ravens

Why they can win: John Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the league, and the front seven — loaded with top-round picks — will receive a big boost from the return of Terrell Suggs.

Why they can’t: If Joe Flacco doesn’t have a bounce-back year and prove to be more consistent, the Ravens will again be one of the league’s most disappointing teams.

4. Cleveland Browns

Why they can win: They won’t do it this year, but new coach Hue Jackson is a respected leader who will get them turned around, given adequate time and infrastructure.

Why they can’t: The Browns are right there with the Lions in terms of NFL ineptitude since the glory days of the 1960s, and there’s a glaring lack of talent all over the roster.

AFC South

1. Houston Texans

Why they can win: They made the playoffs last year, the defense could be very good and they fortified some positions of need this offseason, including quarterback, running back and O-line.

Why they can’t: New quarterback Brock Osweiler still has much to prove, and if he isn’t the real deal, the Texans won’t be much better than last year.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

Why they can win: There’s no shortage of talent on both sides of the ball: at each skill position on offense, and pass rush on defense with the return of Dante Fowler Jr.

Why they can’t: The young defense has yet to live up to its billing under a respected coach, Gus Bradley, and if the offensive line doesn’t improve, the rest of the offense won’t either.

3. Indianapolis Colts

Why they can win: Don’t be fooled by last year. Andrew Luck is still an elite quarterback, and if the line is better, he can carry the Colts to the playoffs as long as they show up on defense.

Why they can’t: The defense still has some holes, and while the talent at receiver is fine, the Colts’ running game is a major question mark.

4. Tennessee Titans

Why they can win: These guys are going to score some points on offense, thanks to a big offensive line, a nice duo at running back and a smart, young quarterback in Marcus Mariota.

Why they can’t: Mariota’s targets are subpar, and while the front seven boasts some nice players, a non-threatening secondary could sabotage their chances in a very competitive division.

NFC West

1. Arizona Cardinals

Why they can win: Bruce Arians is a terrific coach, there is plenty of offensive star power here, and star edge rusher Chandler Jones could push the pass rush to a championship level.

Why they can’t: There is no shortage of competition in the NFC, and QB Carson Palmer has to prove he can get it done through an entire postseason following his NFC title-game meltdown.

2. Seattle Seahawks

Why they can win: They still have most of the components of a Super Bowl team, including a star quarterback (Russell Wilson) and multiple standouts along their front seven and secondary.

Why they can’t: Offensive line coach Tom Cable is one of the best in the business, but his group was subpar last year, and he’ll be fielding another very young group this season.

3. Los Angeles Rams

Why they can win: The front seven, led by Aaron Donald, is championship level, while star running back Todd Gurley can carry the offense if a young-but-talented line lives up to its potential.

Why they can’t: No. 1 pick Jared Goff has a steeper learning curve than most quarterbacks, his offensive targets are below average and the secondary will miss Janoris Jenkins.

4. San Francisco 49ers

Why they can win: There’s not enough talent for a Super Bowl, but the defense features some intriguing young pieces and the 49ers could surprise if they step up in a big way.

Why they can’t: The situation at QB and receiver is well-below average, and the 49ers haven’t been the same since Jim Harbaugh left for Michigan.

NFC East

1. Washington

Why they can win: Quarterback Kirk Cousins could be the real deal and will be motivated playing on a “prove-it” contract. Plus, his receivers are impressive and they have a decent secondary.

Why they can’t: The Washington pass rush lacks juice, and there’s some significant concerns at linebacker.

2. Dallas Cowboys

Why they can win: The offense will be very good, barring injury to Tony Romo, because the offensive line is superb and there are some very talented skill players on the roster.

Why they can’t: The pass rush could be an enigma, thanks to a lack of depth and suspensions. And the Cowboys’ talent at linebacker and in the secondary is subpar overall.

3. New York Giants

Why they can win: Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion, Odell Beckham is a star and multiple free-agent additions in the defensive line and secondary should help significantly.

Why they can’t: Wild free-agent spending does not guarantee immediate success, and the Giants’ offensive tackles might not be able to protect Manning.

4. Philadelphia Eagles

Why they can win: They can’t, at least not this year, but there’s a decent O-line in place and new coach Doug Pederson is bringing over Andy Reid’s proven offense and management system.

Why they can’t: The Eagles simply lack talent across the board, and their quarterback situation remains unsettled.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers

Why they can win: The offense should again rise with the return of Jordy Nelson, a thinner Eddie Lacy and Aaron Rodgers, plus the secondary has some intriguing young talent.

Why they can’t: The Packers need Clay Matthews to restore the bite to a pass rush that was largely ineffective last season.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Why they can win: Mike Zimmer can coach, Adrian Peterson is still the man, and the defense — led by good young talent at all three levels — looks like the real deal.

Why they can’t: The young passing game still needs to mature under quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

3. Chicago Bears

Why they can win: The receiving corps could be special with Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery, the front seven can be disruptive and the secondary has a few intriguing pieces.

Why they can’t: John Fox is only in his second year of a rebuilding job, the coaching staff lost offensive guru Adam Gase, and Jay Cutler remains an enigma.

4. Detroit Lions

Why they can win: Matthew Stafford has all the physical tools to be great, and the Lions know how to get after the passer under defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

Why they can’t: The Lions don’t have Calvin Johnson, the offensive line is largely young and unproven and, oh yeah, they haven’t won an NFL title since 1957.

NFC South

1. Carolina Panthers

Why they can win: Cam Newton is a legitimate star in today’s NFL, they’re equipped to pound the ball and the defensive front seven is nasty enough to deliver another double-digit win season.

Why they can’t: The secondary is weaker without Josh Norman, and most teams are susceptible to a Super Bowl hangover.

2. New Orleans Saints

Why they can win: Drew Brees remains among the league’s elite quarterbacks, and his offensive line is rock solid.

Why they can’t: The defense was atrocious last season, particularly against the run, and they didn’t mount much of a pass rush last year, either.

3. Atlanta Falcons

Why they can win: The offense looks nice, with above-average skill players and a solid, competent offensive line.

Why they can’t: The defense is talented but very young, particularly along the front seven, and the secondary is nothing to write home about.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Why they can win: With Jameis Winston, Doug Martin and Mike Evans, the Buccaneers’ could have a young version of the mid-90s version of the Cowboys’ “Triplets.”

Why they can’t: The offensive line is young/shaky, and aside from star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David, the defense is not imposing.

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