Carson Wentz Philadelphia Eagles
Carson Wentz, pictured during the first quarter of a preseason game at Lambeau Field on Aug. 10, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, has an outside chance to lead the Philadelphia Eagles on a Super Bowl run in the 2017 NFL season. Getty Images

When it comes to making a Super Bowl LII prediction, a few obvious choices come to mind. The New England Patriots are the class of the AFC, while the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons stand out among the favorites in the NFC.

Those not wanting to go with the obvious choice might pick the Oakland Raiders or Pittsburgh Steelers to upset the defending champs. The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are also legitimate Super Bowl contenders heading into the 2017 NFL season, playing in a conference that appears to be wide open.

Then there are the dark-horse candidates—long shots that could make a run to the Super Bowl if a few things break right. Recent history shows that at least one unlikely contender will be one of the last teams standing.

Heading into Week 1 last year, the Atlanta Falcons were given 80/1 Super Bowl odds. Shortly before the 2015 season opener, the Carolina Panthers had 50/1 odds to win their first-ever championship. Both teams ended up losing in the Super Bowl.

What exactly constitutes a dark-horse candidate? Let’s exclude the nearly 40 percent of the league that has better than 30/1 Super Bowl odds, via

With 20 teams to choose from, one from each conference has a real chance to be this year’s version of the 2016 Falcons and the 2015 Panthers.

Tennessee Titans 33/1

Why they’re a good bet

Only a handful of NFL teams have an elite offensive line and a Pro Bowl quarterback. The Cowboys, Steelers and Raiders were in that class last year, and an argument could be made for the Falcons and Packers, as well. All five teams won at least 10 games in 2016 and ranked in the top eight in total offense.

Tennessee enters the 2017 season with a great chance to join that group, giving them the potential to have a better offense than just about any AFC team.

It begins with the team’s offensive line, which might've been the best in football a year ago. The group allowed DeMarco Murray to return to being one of the league’s top running backs, and the Titans ranked third overall in rushing yards. Right tackle Jack Conklin made the Pro Bowl, as did fullback Jalston Fowler.

DeMarco Murray Tennessee Titans
DeMarco Murray of the Tennessee Titans in action during the first half of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on Dec. 24, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. Getty Images

The Titans ran the ball more than 28 other teams in Mike Mularkey’s “exotic smashmouth” system. It let Mariota flourish in his sophomore season, and his progression from year No.1 to year No.2 indicates that he’ll be one of the league’s best signal callers this season.

After posting a 91.5 passer rating as a rookie, Mariota bumped that number up to 95.6 in 2016, putting him 10th among qualifying quarterbacks. His touchdown-to-interception ratio went from 19:10 to 26:9, and Mariota’s 349 rushing yards were fifth among quarterbacks.

As long as he’s fully recovered from his broken leg, which he seems to be, Mariota should only get better.

“Mariota is one of my favorite young quarterbacks because of the pressure he puts on defenses,” former NFL quarterback David Carr wrote last month. “He can do a lot, and his offense suits him well. We already saw improvements from Year 1 to Year 2, and 2017 will see Mariota become a top-10 quarterback. He's already quite good at seeing coverage and being able to pull the trigger downfield. But he also adds that element of being able to pull the football down and run. Because Mariota doesn't have to put the ball in potentially detrimental situations, we've seen steady improvement.”

Aside from his growth as a player, Mariota’s numbers should improve simply because of his new weapons. Mariota’s top target in 2016 was Rishard Matthews, a wide receiver in his fifth season that had never caught more than 43 balls in a year. Veteran Eric Decker and rookie Corey Davis are sure to improve a receiving corps that was 31st in total receptions and 28th in receiving first downs.

Biggest question mark

It’s pretty simple for Tennessee. If they want to make any type of run this year, the team’s defense needs to be much better.

Tennessee ranked 20th in total defense a season ago, and they were especially bad against the pass. Only the Packers and New Orleans Saints gave up more yards through the air, and just 12 teams had fewer interceptions.

A major overhaul in the secondary will give the unit a completely different look in 2017. Jason McCourty, Perrish Cox, and Valentino Blake, who were Tennessee's top three cornerbacks in 2016, are all out. Former Patriots’ cornerback Logan Ryan and first-round draft pick Adoree’ Jackson are in, as is ex-Jacksonville Jaguars’ safety Johnathan Cyprien.

The Titans’ secondary probably still ranks in the bottom half of the league, and Tennessee might not have any superstars on defense. But the team’s ability to stop the run should be good enough to make the Titans a contender.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has been selected to two straight Pro Bowls, while Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo and Avery Williamson help make up one of the most underrated linebacking corps in the league.

Path to Super Bowl LII

Picking the Titans to have a big year isn’t exactly going out on a limb. Tennessee is coming off a 9-7 season, and they’re tied with the Houston Texans for the best odds to win the AFC South.

Even though they aren’t the outright favorite in the division, the Titans have a better roster than the Texans, Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts. Houston and Jacksonville could both have top defenses, but they have too many question marks at quarterback to be counted on for a successful 2017 campaign. No one seems to know when Andrew Luck will play his first game, and he has less help around him than anyone in the AFC South.

Usually, it’s Houston or Indianapolis that takes advantage of playing in the NFL’s worst division, but 2017 looks like it will be Tennessee’s turn. With no AFC team in a good position to challenge the Patriots, the Titans offer tremendous value at 33/1.

Philadelphia Eagles 40/1

Why they’re a good bet

Few NFL teams are as good up front as Philadelphia is on both sides of the ball. If the Eagles’ offensive line and front seven can both stay relatively healthy, it will be hard to keep Philadelphia out of the playoffs.

Reaching their potential defensively might be the biggest key for the Eagles. Every team in the last five years that’s finished in the top five in points allowed has reached the postseason, and Philadelphia certainly has the talent capable of being a top-five unit.

The defensive line is led by back-to-back Pro Bowl selection Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham, who ranked first in the NFL with 78 combined sacks, hurries and quarterback knockdowns. The team added even more depth by signing Chris Long, trading for Tim Jernigan and drafting Derek Barnett with the No.14 overall pick.

Jordan Hicks led all linebackers with five interceptions, and Nigel Bradham is back after leading the team in tackles a year ago. They’ll have to cover up the mistakes of what was maybe the NFL’s worst secondary in 2016, though the absence of Leodis McKelvin and the addition of Ronald Darby, who had an interception in his first preseason game with Philly, will only help.

On the offensive side, Philadelphia’s line could challenge Tennessee as the best in the NFL if it remains healthy. The team was 5-1 when right tackle Lane Johnson was on the field in 2016 and left tackle Jason Peters has made nine Pro Bowls in 10 seasons. Bringing back the entire group, while adding guard Chance Warmack, should provide Carson Wentz with plenty of protection.

“It’s huge,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland told reporters earlier this summer when asked about keeping the unit together. “It starts with the center position. I think that (Jason) Kelce and Carson have this good relationship and they work extremely well together. Because those are the two guys that are setting everything up from a run game standpoint, to the protections and all of those things. We’re one year in now and you can kind of hit the ground running and everybody is on the same page. There’s no learning curve. We’ve been through that already.”

Biggest question mark

Philadelphia doesn’t need an elite offense in order to reach the playoffs, but their Super Bowl hopes will hinge on the play of Carson Wentz.

It’s hard to say exactly how Wentz will perform in his sophomore campaign. He got off to a quick start as a rookie with five touchdowns and no interceptions in three straight wins. Over his final 13 games, the No.2 overall draft pick threw for 11 touchdown passes and 14 picks, failing to win a game on the road.

Wentz finished 25th among all qualifying signal callers with a 79.3 passer rating, as well as 18th in completion percentage (62.4) and passing yards (3,782). He did, however, set a rookie record with 607 completions while showing signs of being a future franchise quarterback.

“He's a really talented player,” running back LeGarrette Blount told reporters after signing with Philadelphia this offseason. “Obviously, he's one of the better quarterbacks of his draft class and generation. I think he has the potential to be a really special player. He has all the tools that are needed, and all the grind that is needed, and he has the mindset to maximize his ability if he just continues to work hard.

“Carson is one of those guys you want to build a team around.”

Wentz should be in a much better position to succeed in 2017. Playing behind an elite offensive line will make things easier—just look at what Mariota did last year—and adding Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Blount in free agency gives the signal caller more weapons than he had as a rookie.

In his second year in Doug Pederson's offensive system, Wentz should be an average quarterback at worst with a real chance to approach the top 10.

Path to Super Bowl LII

The Eagles have the third-best odds to win the NFC East, but the division is very much up for grabs. If Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension holds up, the Cowboys aren’t nearly the favorite that they once were. The Giants’ failure to upgrade their offensive line could be their undoing, and the Washington Redskins are the worst of the four teams.

Unlike in the AFC, there is no dominant NFC team. While the Seahawks and Packers are heavy favorites to win their respective divisions, neither team did a ton in the offseason to address the holes that prevented them both from making Super Bowl runs a year ago. No one knows what’s going to happen in the NFC South, where any team can conceivably win the division or finish below .500.

With only five teams having worse odds to win the NFC, Philadelphia has better value than anyone in the entire conference.