See you in New York next February?
A week removed from the Super Bowl, who is the early favorite to win it all in 2014?
Giants in the city
By Kate Fagan
I think next year's Super Bowl will be a rematch (for the second time) of the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.
This will be the perfect matchup because both teams are used to New York's cold weather, so the media won't be able to make a big fuss about the weather in the host city. (OK, who are we kidding? Doesn't matter which teams are playing; the weather will play a starring role.) I think this will be the Patriots’ last chance at glory with QB Tom Brady. As for the Giants, well, they're really good every other year or so. Makes sense they'd be good the year their city is hosting.
I'm also going in early on who will be next year's halftime act. Sadly, Bruce Springsteen already has performed at halftime, or he'd be in line to rock the house. So who will be tapped? I say Broadway -- compilation of all of the best numbers.
Next year will be a New York-centric Super Bowl -- all the way around.
San Francisco will be back
By Melissa Isaacson
If Jim Harbaugh ever lets the rest of us forget about that non-pass-interference call, and I’m not getting my hopes up, he’s not likely to do the same with his team.
San Francisco’s loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII after three failed chances by the 49ers to score from the 5-yard line with less than two minutes remaining would normally serve as motivation enough this offseason. Having Harbaugh drive that memory home with the added message that they had the title ripped from their grasp should make them hungrier.
Combine that with a team that will return one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the league -- and a young quarterback who nearly led the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and should only continue to develop -- and I like the 49ers to return to the big game and win their sixth title next season.
Peyton and the Broncos have easiest path
By Michelle Smith
The Denver Broncos look like an early favorite in their second season with Peyton Manning at the helm.
Denver has what is considered the easiest schedule in the NFL next season, particularly with so many struggling opponents in the AFC West.
Finishing with the AFC's best record at 13-3 this past season, the Broncos have set expectations and perhaps set the table. Manning will be stronger, more settled and more in tune with his receivers, and the Broncos have enough talent on both sides of the ball to wear the favorite label comfortably as the 2013 season begins.
First clue is the quarterback
By Jane McManus
So the way the NFL is going, it's all about the quarterback. When you have the combination of a great quarterback and a front office that invests in skill players, plus a scouting department that can pull in an occasional overlooked player in the draft, you have a team that can be a Super Bowl contender for a number of years.
With so much left to be determined through free agency, I'd say early contenders are teams that with a winnable structure in place -- San Francisco, the Giants, Denver, New England and Green Bay.
Those teams are solid enough that a free-agency loss won't be too damaging, and they can still build through the draft.
Picking a Super Bowl winner in February is a thankless job, but there is a reason the playoffs have so many returning teams. Stable franchises and good owners who find franchise quarterbacks have always been a winning formula.
San Francisco has Super setup
By Sarah Spain
The team best set up to win it all next year is the team that just barely got beat this year. With Colin Kaepernick showing signs of greatness after just a handful of NFL starts, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis leading a dominant defense, and out-for-blood Jim Harbaugh at the helm, the 49ers are the clear favorite to emerge victorious in 2014.
Of course, preseason picks rarely come true. (Heck, neither do midseason picks.) That's why we watch -- for stories like the 2011 Giants and the 2012 Ravens. Right now, it's anyone's game.