The hard graft of training camp is over, teams have played all their pre-season games and all the coaches have managed to cut their rosters down to just 53 players. The race to see who will lift the Lombardi trophy in Arizona in February is well and truly underway. Will the Seahawks retain their title? Will the Broncos get revenge for their defeat in last year’s Super Bowl? Which other play off sides from last year have a shot at glory?

Seattle look to be in a good place to repeat last year’s glory. Their famed Legion of Boom has only taken two personnel hits this year in the shape of defensive backs Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond leaving in Free Agency. They went 2-2 in their pre-season games but this isn’t a fair reflection of where their first string players are currently at. More emphasis will be placed on Seattle’s passing game as quarterback (QB) Russell Wilson becomes wiser and more confident. This will take some of the pressure off their defence which is still the most formidable unit in the league. They face a difficult opening three weeks but expect to see them go deep in the playoffs again this year.

…New Orleans will get in a good rhythm early…

The Denver Broncos have a point to prove. They were embarrassed by the Seahawks in last year’s Super Bowl which led many to debate whether star QB Peyton Manning was a big game player. In what may well be Manning’s last season in the NFL the Broncos have done everything in their power to make sure he is given a chance to go out on a high. They have added depth at the Wide Receiver position with Emmanuel Sanders and stacked the defence maybe paying over the odds for Aqib Talib, TJ Ward and DeMarcus Ware. Arguably, they now have a defence which can compete with Seattle’s. However, Manning’s favourite receiver Wes Welker has been suspended for 4 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Like Seattle they have a difficult opening 4 games and Welker’s absence could hurt them. Despite this they are still the favourites in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl once more.

The New England Patriots set them themselves arguably the highest standards in the league and if these standards aren’t met we could see the retirement of Tom Brady at the end of the 2014 season. Bill Belichick’s men haven’t won a Super Bowl for 10 years and have become perennial nearly men. Could this year be the return of the Lombardi trophy? In a word, no. Despite adding elite talent to their secondary in the shape of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner they don’t have enough firepower on offence to trouble the best defences in the league. Not even Tom Brady could draw a Super Bowl ring out of the receivers he currently has. However, because they have Tom Brady they will make it to the AFC Championship game where they will be beaten by Denver once again.

…emphasis will be placed on Seattle’s passing as QB Russell Wilson becomes more confident…

The final team truly on the hunt for the Super Bowl is the New Orleans Saints. The 2011 champions are led by Drew Brees, one of the top 3 QBs in the game today. They have a spectacular offence led by Tight End Jimmy Graham. If Brees can regularly get the ball into the hands of Graham and his explosive rookie Brandin Cooks, the Saints have the potential to win another Super Bowl. The question marks on their defence remain despite the signing of Jairus Byrd in free agency. Having lost out to Carolina Panthers in the race to win the NFC South last year Sean Payton and his team must be raring to go and reclaim their spot as their division’s top seed. With one of the easiest starts of the 4 main contenders New Orleans will hope to get in a good rhythm early on.

So which of these teams will contest the Super Bowl at the University of Phoenix stadium in February? The NFC representative will be the Saints. Their high powered offence will be enough to see off Seattle, especially if they get to play at home. For the AFC you can’t look further than the Broncos. The additions they’ve made to their defence will be the telling factor when they come up against Tom Brady’s Patriots. And the Super Bowl winner? Denver to fall at the final hurdle once again. Drew Brees will collect his second ring.

Header image rights; Heath Alselke