- May 8, 2002
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With the New England Patriots’ era of success approaching its probable end, we take a look at the teams who could dominate the league for the next decade Trying to predict who will rule the NFL two years from now is a tricky game, let alone trying to figure out the shape of the league five, seven or 10 years down the line.Just two years ago, the Los Angeles Rams were the toast of the league, thanks to Sean McVay’s innovative offense and a defense anchored around Aaron Donald. Now, things look grim after the Rams purged future assets in a gamble to win a championship now. The Rams’ recent history, and to an extent that of the Seattle Seahawks too, show just how hard it is to build the sustained success that the New England Patriots enjoyed over the last two decades. With that in mind, here are the teams who could dominate the league for years to come. Kansas City ChiefsRarely has an NFL franchise, certainly not in the modern era, looked so destined for a dynastic run. What could you set as the over/under number of combined Patrick Mahomes MVPs and Chiefs Super Bowls before it becomes absurd? Seven? Ten? Is there a number?Mahomes’ 10-year deal, the largest in sports history, is valuable not only because it gives the team the most gifted quarterback in the league for a decade, but because it brings the franchise certainty, a rare commodity in the NFL. Every single thing the Chiefs do between now and 2030 will be centered on how to put the right pieces around Mahomes. And even if they give him the wrong ones, he’s good enough to drag them to success anyway.It’s not only Mahomes, though. In general manager Brett Veach, the Chiefs have one of the savviest operators around. And in Andy Reid, they have a head coach who has consistently shown he can grow and adapt as the sport evolves. Baltimore RavensThe Ravens’ claim to the throne is obvious: Lamar Jackson plus two decades of organizational competence.The team’s success with Jackson and the spread-option offense in 2019 was about much more than mere wins and losses. It served as a paradigm shift for the league: BL and AL – Before and After Lamar. It took the base concepts that have been trickling through the league for years and pushed them to their extremes. Now, it’s not a question of whether a team could or should run a spread-option offense in the NFL. The spread-option is the NFL offense, to varying degrees. The Ravens’ approach differed in style to the kind of option-based offenses we saw in previous years from the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and the Panthers, and Robert Griffin III in Washington. As Jackson continues to evolve as a passer, the Ravens will remain a buzzsaw. Prepare yourself for a decade of Mahomes-Jackson, Chiefs-Ravens matchups to decide the AFC. There have been plenty of false dawns before, but Mahomes-Jackson feels like the real deal successor to the Brady-Manning matchups that dominated the early 2000s.One thing that is important to note: offense is traditionally more stable year-to-year than defense. Find a good quarterback, through skill or luck, and your offense will be good. It’s really that simple. A good defense requires 15 talented players and a good scheme, at minimum. Injuries and attrition can sap that in weeks, never mind years. Buffalo BillsThe Bills have an exceptional coach-GM duo. Their roster is uncommonly deep and loaded with young talent. They should be in pole position to claim the AFC East post-Patriots. But their quarterback, Josh Allen, remains a long-term mystery. Allen’s talent is in the eye-of-the-beholder. Defenders highlight his off-the-cuff brilliance; detractors point to his volatility. A high-variance quarterback leads to a high-variance team, rather than a stretch of reliable success. Key pieces are in place in Buffalo, but the piece, the most significant one of all, may still be missing. Worst of all, Allen is just tantalizing enough for the team to lock themselves into quarterback purgatory, continually rolling him back for another season (with good reason!) ... and another... and another. Indianapolis ColtsThere can be a danger with a ‘who’s next’ list to simply jot down the team’ with the best young quarterbacks, or at least the best quarterbacks on the top value-for-money deals in the NFL. And there’s some truth to that. Only three times has a quarterback occupying more than 12% of a team’s salary cap played in a Super Bowl (Peyton Manning, twice; and Matt Ryan). All three times their team lost. In fact, 75% of quarterbacks who have played in a Super Bowl occupied less than 10% of the cap. Value wins in the NFL. In signing the 38-year-old Philip Rivers to a two-year, $50m deal, the Colts ditched any idea of a youth strategy and plumped for a short championship window based on value.Taking the gamble was smart. With Jacoby Brissett under center, a team can be competitive, but there is a ceiling. The Colts, rather than tying themselves to a long-term future with a dependable quarterback, took a gamble on Rivers, a veteran-for-hire who could really move the needle. It’s the kind of smart move we’ve become accustomed to since Chris Ballard started running the organization. The GM’s draft record is exemplary and his knack for grabbing under-the-radar free-agent signings is the kind of skill that keeps a team competitive year after year. Under Ballard and Frank Reich, a former quarterback coach and innovative play-caller, the Colts’ principles are obvious: build a sustainable core through the draft; re-invest in homegrown players rather than throw big-money at outside names; find value in the free-agent market; don’t be afraid to pay for bridge quarterback.It’s worth remembering that Andrew Luck retired less than 12 months ago. The team’s franchise star stepping away in what should have been his prime, a fortnight before the beginning of the season, could and probably should have harmed the franchise for at least a year. Competent teams have been sunk by far less. That the Colts had Brissett, a quality backup, in place and the coaching staff had a plan to adjust to the new starter, is a testament to what Ballard and Reich are building in Indianapolis. Dallas CowboysDallas may have missed their dynastic window, and it’s hard after all the evidence of the past decade to get behind the idea of Mike McCarthy as a multiple Super Bowl champion.But then you look at the depth chart. It’s hard to find more talent concentrated on one roster anywhere in the league, and a vast majority of that core is either still in its prime or just about to enter it. The Cowboys should be a year in, year out force. Now, if only they could lock down their quarterback beyond 2020.