The more things change, the more they stay the same.
According to Top Sports Betting Sites, even the absence of starting quarterback Tom Brady for the first four weeks of the season isn’t enough to knock the New England Patriots out of their familiar role of favorite to win Super Bowl 51.
Even though the Patriots lost last year to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game and Tom Brady recently turned 39 years old, many still believe there is enough left in the tank for the Patriots to propel them to their seventh Super Bowl appearance since 2000.
One potential reason for that has little to do with the Patriots themselves. Of their top AFC competitors, most have just as many question marks as the Patriots, if not more.
The defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos begin the 2016 season with a huge question mark at quarterback. Though Peyton Manning spent most of last season as a caretaker, rather than game-changing quarterback, he did provide experience and stability during their Super Bowl run.
The primary candidates for the position this year include former New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, Northwestern University product Trevor Siemian and first round draft pick Paxton Lynch.
Though Sanchez once led the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games, his recent history has not been anywhere near as impressive. His final years in New York are best remembered for the infamous butt-fumble and he spent last season as a backup in Philadelphia.
Siemian got into one game last season for the Broncos while Lynch could be the quarterback of the future after being selected with the 26th pick of the 2016 draft out of Memphis.
While Denver certainly rode Von Miller and their strong defense to the championship last year, they cannot expect another Super Bowl season if there quarterback play is again unspectacular.
The primary question marks for the Pittsburgh Steelers are more related to self-inflicted player suspensions as a result of the NFL substance abuse policy.
After posting a 10-6 record and reaching the second round of the playoffs in 2015, the Steelers will spend the 2016 season without the services of explosive receiver Martavis Bryant and will likely be without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell for the first four games of the season.
The Steelers still have some excellent weapons for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but the suspensions test their depth. Fortunately, the Steelers will still have the services of receiver Antonio Brown, who caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 scores last season.
Pittsburgh also has a solid defense that ranked 11th in the league a year ago.
On paper, the greatest challenger to the Patriots is probably still the talent laden Cincinnati Bengals.
However, after finishing last season with a 12-4 record and their fifth consecutive playoff appearance without a postseason win, many are wondering if the talent will ever translate into a serious Super Bowl run.
Last season the Bengals ranked second in the NFL in scoring defense and seventh in offense. The loss of quarterback Andy Dalton in their 13th game certainly hurt, but they still had a chance to defeat the Steelers in their playoff matchup.
The concern for the Bengals this year may be that after building to what they thought would be a crescendo last season, it may be tough for them to recapture the intensity of a year ago and repeat their tremendous regular season.
Fortunately, the team continues to stockpile talented players and you can bet that postseason failures will motivate head coach Marvin Lewis and his team to try and change their fortune in 2016.
While the Patriots certainly have their own questions, most especially how they will perform over the first four weeks without their starting quarterback, they still have tons of talent and one of the best coaches in NFL history. If they can stay competitive in the early weeks without Brady and then avoid major injuries, it could certainly be another Super Bowl year in New England.