It feels like an annual spring tradition. Yes, the Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals for the fifth straight year! It's an incredible accomplishment, as they're just the second team in league history to achieve the feat.
Their coach, Steve Kerr, is an absolute gem. The star power and togetherness of this group is amazing. In some ways, the Warriors, who have won three of the last four titles (including the last two), have become the NBA's version of the New England Patriots. Sensational coach. Legendary players. There's a culture of winning, the best players buy into the system and they're stacking titles.
Yet, the Warriors' opponent in the Finals, which begin on Thursday night, are the Toronto Raptors, led by three-time All-Star Kawhi Leonard. They have home-court advantage and a great opportunity to win this series. The Warriors can be had. I think. So can the reigning-champion Patriots in 2019. Maybe.
The NFL has never been deeper or better, in my opinion, so there is certainly no shortage of good candidates for my list of clubs that can keep New England from repeating. Heck, I don't even have really good teams like the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks or Baltimore Ravens on this list. The Houston Texans didn't make it, either. And I don't have the guts to include the intriguing San Francisco 49ers. Not yet, at least.
So, here are the teams with the best chance to dethrone the Patriots in the upcoming season, Schein 9 style:
1) Kansas City Chiefs
We don't have to go far to find evidence that this could be the club to usurp New England in the AFC hierarchy. Kansas City was this close (thank you, Dee Ford) to beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and the Chiefs nearly knocked off the Pats at their place in Week 6 of the regular season, too. It all starts at QB, where Patrick Mahomes is the reigning MVP. It's easy to forget that last season was his first as an NFL starter -- he's only going to get better. Travis Kelce is the league's best tight end. We still don't know the status of Tyreek Hill for next season, but I believe there's enough depth and talent for this offense to be one of the league's most potent, even if he's not around.
On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs made major and necessary changes, bringing in Steve Spagnuolo to run the defense and Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark (an upgrade over Ford) to make plays to get Mahomes the ball. They had to get better on defense, and the overhaul should serve them well.
2) Los Angeles Chargers
There's reason to believe the Chargers are the best team in the NFL. Keep in mind: Pro Bowl DE Joey Bosa missed most of last season, and they still went 12-4 and finished second in the AFC West to the Chiefs. A healthy Bosa -- he recently said he's as fast and strong as ever -- coupled with two dynamite defensive additions in rookies Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley could equal a division title and a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Oh, don't forget about All-Pro Derwin James, who shined last season as a rookie. I'm already on record with the bold prediction that the Chargers' defense will be the league's best.
I haven't even mentioned potential MVP candidate Philip Rivers, who will spearhead an offense that has a chance to be the league's most balanced attack. Rivers could use better pass protection than he received against the Patriots in last season's Divisional Round loss, but he has plenty of help at the skill positions with the RB trio of Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson and a talented array of pass catchers that includes Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry, who'll be healthy after missing all but one game (the playoff loss to the Patriots) last season with an ACL tear.
3) Dallas Cowboys
Yes, there is legit dethroning ability here. Dallas can run the ball and play defense as well as any team in the league. Heck, they might even be the best at it. Ezekiel Elliott is a star. The linebacker core is excellent, with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee capable of dominating. DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the league's top pass rushers, and the defensive backfield is underrated. With a full season of having Amari Cooper at his disposal, Dak Prescott could have the best year of his career. Jason Witten and Randall Cobb should help, even though they're past their primes. Plus, don't sleep on the impact Kellen Moore could have after being promoted from QBs coach to offensive coordinator. I'm really excited about his potential in that role.
4) Los Angeles Rams
If Todd Gurley is healthy and returns to his All-Pro form, the Rams can beat anyone, including New England. If the knee issues that plagued him down the stretch last season persist, they can lose to anyone, including the New York Giants. OK, maybe that's a stretch. The good news is, the Rams say they're pleased with Gurley's progress, and there's no denying the they still ooze amazing talent across the board, led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Sean McVay is a fabulous coach with a great staff, and I'm not expecting the infamous "Super Bowl hangover" to keep this club from being right back in the thick of the NFC race.
5) Philadelphia Eagles
I'm fully on board with those expecting big things from Carson Wentz in 2019. His health and participation at OTAs was a welcome development as he returns from the back injury that sidelined him late last season. He was well on his way to getting my MVP vote two years ago before tearing his ACL during a Week 14 visit to the Rams. It won't shock me if he's back in the hunt for the award this year. The running back depth chart is vastly improved, thanks to the acquisition of Jordan Howard and selection of Miles Sanders in Round 2 of this year's draft. I can say the same for the receiver position, which should benefit from the return of DeSean Jackson and the addition of rookie jump-ball dynamo J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. This franchise has dethroned the Patriots before and could do it again.
6) Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck proved last season that he's back and better than ever under head coach Frank Reich. He's a bona fide stud with an offensive line that transformed into one of the NFL's best last season after hanging out at the opposite end of the spectrum for a while. There's rightfully a lot of optimism about this team. Why? Look no further than general manager Chris Ballard, who deserves so much credit for stockpiling gems like Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard via the draft. The signing of Justin Houston could pay big dividends in 2019, and no one should be surprised if Ballard strikes gold again with rookies like Rock Ya-Sin (CB) and Parris Campbell (WR).
7) Cleveland Browns
General manager John Dorsey has done an incredible job of infusing this roster with talent. I've been banging the drum for Baker Mayfield as a 2019 MVP candidate all offseason, and I'm not about to stop. They've loaded up at the skill positions, with Odell Beckham Jr. teaming with Jarvis Landry at receiver, while Kareem Hunt will join Nick Chubb at running back after serving an eight-game suspension. Don't overlook David Njoku at tight end, either. There's a lot to like on this Cleveland defense, too. Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon have been added to a D-line that already featured Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi. Greedy Williams was a nice find in Round 2 and gives the Browns a very promising young tandem at corner, with Denzel Ward coming off a Pro Bowl rookie season.
8) Green Bay Packers
I could dazzle you with the names GM Brian Gutekunst brought in via free agency and the draft to truly make this roster better. Or I can tell you that Aaron Rodgers is healthy and ready to dominate with Matt LaFleur at the helm. I'll stick with that. ... OK, fine. Green Bay fans should be excited about Preston Smith, Za'Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage, too. Yeah, the defense figures to be much, much better.
9) Chicago Bears
Chicago's talent on defense is off the charts, which outweighs my fears about not having Vic Fangio coaching it up, now that the defensive mastermind has moved on to Denver. Khalil Mack is a stud, and there is Pro Bowl talent at every level of this D, from DE Akiem Hicks to LB Roquan Smith to S Eddie Jackson. Perhaps most importantly, I think Mitch Trubisky takes a major step forward in Year 3 after a really strong Year 2 under head coach Matt Nagy. Playmakers like Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson and Trey Burton (assuming everything goes smoothly in his recovery from sports-hernia surgery) will facilitate that effort.