The odds indicate Kansas City and Tampa Bay are the teams most likely to play in the Super Bowl. That’s reasonable enough, with both rosters looking stacked and both teams having gotten there last year. But history suggests it’s far more likely some unheralded team will emerge.

This is how it tends to play out. Of the last 23 Super Bowls, 13 of them included at least one team that didn’t have a winning record the previous season. Two of the games featured matchups with two such teams.

SUPER BOWLS (previous year's W-L)
1998Denver (12-4)Atlanta (7-9)
1999St. Louis (4-12)Tennessee (8-8)
2000Baltimore (8-8)NY Giants (7-9)
2001New England (5-11)St. Louis (10-6)
2002Tampa Bay (9-7)Oakland (10-6)
2003New England (9-7)Carolina (7-9)
2004New England (14-2)Philadelphia (12-4)
2005Pittsburgh (15-1)Seattle (9-7)
2006Indianapolis (14-2)Chicago (11-5)
2007NY Giants (8-8)New England (12-4)
2008Pittsburgh (10-6)Arizona (8-8)
2009New Orleans (8-8)Indianapolis (12-4)
2010Green Bay (11-5)Pittsburgh (9-7)
2011NY Giants (10-6)New England (14-2)
2012Baltimore (12-4)San Francisco (13-3)
2013Seattle (11-5)Denver (13-3)
2014New England (12-4)Seattle (13-3)
2015Denver (12-4)Carolina (7-8-1)
2016New England (12-4)Atlanta (8-8)
2017Philadelphia (7-9)New England (14-2)
2018New England (13-3)LA Rams (11-5)
2019Kansas City (12-4)San Francisco (4-12)
2020Tampa Bay (7-9)Kansas City (12-4)

If we’re working under the assumption that the next Super Bowl will include one of those teams, then I would think the most likely candidates would be the Vikings (7-9 last year), San Francisco (6-10), New England (7-9) and the LA Chargers (7-9). Other candidates would include the Cardinals and Raiders, who both went 8-8 last year, but I’m not a big fan of those teams. All four teams in the NFC East would qualify as candidate. And toss in the Broncos (5-11) on the off chance they somehow wind up with Aaron Rodgers (but I don’t see that happening).

Of those teams, I like the Vikings and 49ers the most. San Francisco, of course, was there two years ago. With Minnesota, I expect a lot of their defensive issues will be resolved, putting them in a good position to move up (especially considering the drama in Green Bay). In Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have a solid quarterback, and Justin Jefferson is an up-and-coming wide receiver.

—Ian Allan