With July in sights, that means the NFL season is almost upon us.

And with that annual rite of fall, Super Bowl futures are continually being updated in preparation for week 1 of the NFL season in September.

The favorites are generally the same teams from when the NFL left us in February, with New England, Seattle, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Arizona leading the way. However, I’m not worried about the favorites for now.

I’m delving into which under-the-radar teams have a realistic shot at going home with a Super Bowl victory in 2016.

Minnesota Vikings, +2000

I’m not near as confident in the Vikings this year as I was last season. Nobody was talking about Minnesota last year and it came away with the best against the spread number of any NFL team and made the playoffs.

As we watched the Vikings throughout the season, though, one of the main reasons why I was so excited about them in the first place didn’t come to fruition. Teddy Bridgewater was supposed to make strides at becoming a better quarterback.

You could say he took a step back, even with Adrian Peterson in the backfield.

So why do I believe Minnesota has a chance at the Super Bowl? That defense is nasty and Bridgewater has another year to prove himself.

The NFC North should be better, but the Vikings’ defense is among the best in the NFL. Minnesota ranked in the top-half of the NFL in passing and rushing yards allowed, and was seventh in sacks.

When it came to the opposition scoring, the Vikings were fifth-best in the NFL in least amount of points allowed at 18.9 points per game.

That will only get better this season with the young group of defenders adding an age of experience. If the offense makes any progress, this team should win double-digit games and has a defense capable of competing in the postseason.

Justin Forsett will be back for the Ravens this season. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1P4ogsF/Keith Allison
Justin Forsett will be back for the Ravens this season. Flickr/http://bit.ly/1P4ogsF/Keith Allison

Baltimore Ravens, +3300

One of the most consistent franchises has fallen on hard times of late. The Ravens have failed to make the postseason in two of the last three years, after running off a string of five consecutive playoff berths.

Last season, the Ravens finished with their worst record since 2007 at 5-11. Now they come into 2016 facing a division with perennial Super Bowl contenders Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

But don’t sleep on the Ravens. Last season’s underwhelming performance has to feature an asterisk by the record. Most teams suffered through injuries last year. The Ravens had it the worst.

At times, it appeared like the Ravens were trotting out its second unit, including a revolving door at the quarterback position. There’s no reason to believe the injury bug will bite them again this season, meaning they should look more like the team that took New England to the brink of elimination in 2014, than the product that was on the field last season.

The defense was still decent last season, ranking eighth in yards allowed. The offense will improve mightily this season with a healthy crop of speciality players.

Expect the Ravens to bounce back in a big way and fly into the playoffs.

Houston Texans, +3300

Maybe this exercise should have been which defenses could be dangerous come playoff time.

The Texans have been decent through the years. Sure, there was that miserable 2-14 year in 2013, but they’ve recorded at least nine wins in four of the previous five seasons.

And Houston now believes it has a quarterback in Brock Osweiler. He’s not going to be a miracle worker, but he’s likely an upgrade from Brian Hoyer and Matt Schaub.

The AFC South does appear to be a big stronger this season, with Indianapolis likely to get back to double-digit wins and Jacksonville making a move, but the Texans should be in the mix for another nine to 10 win season.

And if they can get into the playoffs, the defense has an opportunity at making some noise. I know the Chiefs ran through the Texans last season in the playoffs, but there are just too many weapons on the defensive side of the ball to ignore.

J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Brian Cushing are all key pieces to a defensive unit looking to erase the sting of last year’s meltdown out of their mouth.

An improved offense will relieve some pressure on the defense during the regular season, allowing them to be healthier and more rested in the playoffs.

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