Nick Foles and the Eagles raising of the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium marked an official end to football until September.
It also ushered in a flurry of odds, and predictions about of which of the National Football League’s teams could reach the top of the mountain in 2019. Six teams — dependent on a fickle free agency period — are favored to win and have an ample amount of Texas-bred talent on their rosters.
Per Sportsline’s Westgate Futures Odds, New England (5/1), Philadelphia 6/1), Pittsburg (8/1), Green Bay (12/1), Minnesota (12/1) and New Orleans (16/1) are some of the top favorites to win Super Bowl LIII. Those Lone Star State alums range from veterans to green athletes entering the dawn of professional football careers.
They also burgeon the question: Which stars on which teams are most likely to enter the historic fraternity of champions?
NEW ENGLAND HAS TEXAS ROOTS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL
Both Head Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady returning may make New England the best bet to return to the Super Bowl next season.
The return of The Woodlands’ product Danny Amendola, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2017, and the growth of Spring Klein’s Eric Rowe, who replaced benched cornerback Malcom Butler during Super Bowl LII, may be cruxes. So may LaAdrian Waddle, an embattled offensive tackle from Columbus, Texas, and former Brenham High School third-year defensive tackle Malcom Brown.
Brady, who will be 41 by the beginning of the 2018 football season, is likely nearing the end of his career. Belichick, too, may decide to call it a career if New England can add another title to his resume.
IT’S STILL SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
The verdict is still out if Nick Foles, the Super Bowl LII MVP, will stay in Philadelphia or bolt for greener pastures.
Last week, even before Foles threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots and franchise owner Jeffrey Lurie referred to Foles as the Eagles’ “other starting quarterback,” not its backup. The former Austin Westlake quarterback is scheduled to earn a $3 million roster bonus in March as part of a $7 million package in the final year of his deal in 2018.
Foles’ contract contains additional seasons designed to be voided for cap purposes. They also make him eligible for unrestricted free agency following the 2018 season. If Foles returns, it will be likely as Carson Wentz’s backup.
He will, however, have starting left and right tackles Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Lane Johnson protecting his right and blindside from edge rushers if he does see time on the field. As they are currently constructed, Philadelphia has one of the most potent offenses and underrated defenses at its disposal.
That includes running back Frisco’s Jay Ajayi, who may benefit from a full offseason in Doug Pederson’s offense and may secure a bigger roll in the Eagles’ run game. He is still on his rookie contract and had a cap hit of just $670,000 this season — cut in half due to the time of his signing eight games into the season. His cap hit in 2018 is only $760,000.
The addition of Ajayi may be the most important since it allows Philadelphia to re-sign valuable assets. Running backs LaGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles, outside linebacker Daniel Ellerbee, and free safety Corey Graham become free agents in 2018.
STEEL CITY COULD MAKE A COMBACK — DESPITE AN AGING BIG BEN
Former Keller Fossil Ridge kicker Chris Boswell will enter his fourth NFL season in 2018.
After hitting 35 of his 38 field goals (92 percent) and 37 of his 39 point-after-attempts (94 percent), Boswell is likely going nowhere. He also had a long of 53 yards and kicked nine of 40 yards or further.
Depending on what shakes out with Le’Veon Bell, who lead the NFL in touches (rushing and receiving) with 406, and Roethlisberger, 35, who expressed to the team that he wants to play beyond his current contract, which features two more years.
Roethlisberger hit a stride late last season, throwing for nearly 350 yards per game. led by wide receiver Antonio Brown and rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers also have one of the league’s most deadly pass-catching corps. It will also will have starting offensive lines is under contract and nearly $40 million in cap space in 2018.
GREEN BAY’S POSSIBLE RETURN TO GLORY
Aaron Jones, a former University of Texas at El Paso running back, seems primed to storm into 2018 as Green Bay’s primary backfield threat. Aaron Rodgers will reportedly make a full recovery from a Week 6 broken collarbone and subsequent surgery.
New general manager Brian Gutekunst — hired Jan. 7 — will undertake the task of giving new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine weapons on defense through the NFL Draft and free agency. The Packers could land 6-foot-4 former Brenham receiver and current SMU Mustang Courtland Sutton with the 14th pick to possibly replace Randall Cobb.
They could also turn around and nab former Alief Taylor High School EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in the second round with the 45th pick.
COULD KEENUM REPEAT AS ‘MINNESOTA’s MIRACLE MAN?
Abilene Wylie quarterback Case Keenum broke statistical records in the state of Texas but suffered through four journeyman seasons as a Los Angeles and St. Louis Ram and Houston Texan. The Minnesota Vikings seem like his home away from home.
Especially after leading the Vikings to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship game.
Minnesota not only took Westgate’s No. 5 position, they return a the No. 1 defense in the NFL that boasts Splendora’s Brian Robison and Andrew Sendejo.
The Vikings will keep continuity on offense, starting with conducting a search for a new offensive coordinator that will decide if Keenum fits into his system. According to franchise owner Mark Wilf, Minnesota’s “dream” scenario is to find a long-term option at the position so it can build sustainable success a consistent playoff contender.
Keenum could be the end to that dream and a quarterback that could consistently feed talented receivers like Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and running backs like Dalvin Cook — who should be healed from his torn anterior cruciate ligament — the ball.
WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT, DREW BREES IS TIMELESS
It’s not only rookie sensation Alvin Kamara that helped New Orleans nab a spot in the top six. It’s also the return of former Austin Westlake star Drew Brees.
Brees, a 17-year veteran, announced his return for an 18th after the Saints’ NFC Championship loss. During the 2017 season, he threw for more than 4,000 yards for the 12th consecutive season and earned his best quarterback rating (103.9) since 2013 (104.7).
At age 39, the Texas star may not be the same quarterback that outdueled the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Like those two signal callers, however, he is seemingly improving as he progresses in age. Brees is also a free agent entering the 2018 offseason.
Kenny Vaccaro, if he returns to the roster, could play a vital role on an an improved defense bolstered by NFL Draft picks. The Early, Texas native and former No. 15 overall pick signed a four-year rookie contract worth $9.42 million in 2013 and collected a base salary of $5.676 million during the 2017 season.
Vaccaro was the subject of trade rumors in September, but the Saints elected to retain him for the remainder of the season. It, however, was cut short by injuries to his groin and wrist that sent him to the injured reserve in December.
Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of TexasHSFootball, covering prep football throughout the Lone Star State and collegiate and professional football throughout the country. Follow him on Twitter, @TheMJMatthews, and read more of his content here.
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