The 2016 NFL season gifted fans with plenty of surprises—few expected the Cowboys to finish 13-3, nor could we predict the total collapse of the Cardinals and Panthers. But along with the surprises came the consensus pick of the year—the Patriots winning the Super Bowl and Tom Brady’s sweet, sweet revenge on Roger Goodell.

Fast forward to the present: free agency is underway, the NFL draft is upon us, and teams are making moves (for better or for worse) heading into next season. The predictions that follow are still questionably early, but teams have made changes that have allowed us to get an idea of the direction they’re moving for the upcoming year, so without further ado, your guide to the 2017-2018 NFL standings.

Standings

AFC East

  1. New England Patriots – Trading for Brandin Cooks makes an aging Brady even more invincible. If Tom Brady is indeed going to follow through on his claim to Robert Kraft that he’d like to play six or seven more years, then the Patriots’ position in the AFC East should stand firm for some time.
  1. Buffalo Bills – Bills above the Dolphins? What?! Yes. As crazy as that sounds, given the Dolphins’ success last year and the Bills’ shaky season, I like the Bills to change their mindset this year with Sean McDermott at the helm. Buffalo will draft Mike Williams with the 10th overall pick, giving Tyrod Taylor two outstanding Clemson receivers to boost the offense.
  2. Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins will suffer a hangover from their playoff embarrassment against the Steelers—despite the absence of Tannehill in that game, Miami looked all out of sorts, and will need a big draft to get back on track.
  3. New York Jets – The only way the Jets progress this season is if they get the quarterback position straight—Brandon Marshall is gone, and they are stuck with 37-year-old Josh McCown as the conductor of their offense.

AFC North

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers – The duo of Brown and Bell is here to stay, and as long as Big Ben stays healthy, Pittsburgh wins the division easily.
  2. Cincinnati Bengals – Andy Dalton and the Bengals severely under-performed last season; look for them to bounce back this season with a healthy A.J. Green.
  3. Baltimore Ravens – Since winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens have won one playoff game—they won’t add to that total this season.
  4. Cleveland Browns – Oh, Cleveland. So bad for so long—is this finally the year that their drafting pays off? The Browns will likely pick Myles Garrett with the number one overall pick, but they have a lot of work to do to gain relevance in the league again.

AFC South

  1. Tennessee Titans – The Titans are in great position to surprise the league—they boast the best offensive line in the league, and Mariota is one of the great young quarterbacks in the league when healthy.
  2. Houston Texans – The Brock Osweiler experiment in Houston is no more—they are still strong defensively, but Tom Savage will not be enough to win the South. The Texans need a better quarterback to contend.
  3. Indianapolis Colts – The Colts have been trying to surround Andrew Luck with talent since he came into the league—they found success in his first few seasons, even reaching the AFC championship in 2015. But a continual disregard for the defense will lead them to another 8-8 season.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Last season was supposed to be the turn-around of the Jaguars, but the offense just wasn’t ready. They will improve on their 3-13 record, but will still finish last in the South.

AFC West

  1. Oakland Raiders – Don’t let the future move to Vegas distract you from the fact that the Raiders are Super Bowl contenders. They already boast one of the best defenses, an up-and-coming quarterback, and now Marshawn Lynch? Watch out.
  2. Denver Broncos – Still sporting one of the league’s best defense, either Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian will lead Denver to a respectable season.
  3. Kansas City Chiefs – Tough to put the Chiefs at the three spot, but they will finish tied with the Broncos, with Denver holding the tiebreaker.
  4. Los Angeles Chargers – This is a product of the rest of the division—the Chargers will have a decent season, but the rest of the West is too strong for L.A. to contend.

NFC East

  1. New York Giants – Boasting one of the league’s best defenses in 2016, Steve Spagnuolo and the Giants will look to build on their playoff appearance last year. The addition of Brandon Marshall shows that the Giants are serious about improving on offense—they now boast the league’s best WR duo.
  2. Dallas Cowboys – How could the 13-3 Cowboys not repeat? Simple—Dak Prescott will not play as freely as he could last year, knowing that he had an excellent backup in Romo behind him. Dallas will still make the postseason, but more teams will have them figured out this year.
  3. Philadelphia Eagles – Carson Wentz had a very average rookie season, throwing for 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The addition of Alshon Jeffery with increase the touchdowns number, but the Eagles will miss the playoffs once again.
  4. Washington Redskins – The Redskins need Cousins to be “the guy”, and it’s tough to do so when you lose Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson. Washington finds the NFC East basement in 2017.

NFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers – As long as Aaron Rodgers is leading the way, the Packers will contend. The additions of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks will boost the offense, but Ted Thompson MUST address the porous secondary in the draft.
  2. Minnesota Vikings – It’s assumed that Teddy Bridgewater will be back in the starting line-up, and that in itself will be a big boost. Peterson is likely gone, but the addition of Latavius Murray will help keep the backfield respectable, and the defense will once again be a force.
  3. Detroit Lions – The Lions had a great chance to win their first division title in 23 years in 2016—the Packers were 4-6, and the Vikings were without Bridgewater…and they blew it. They will have to wait at least one more year.
  4. Chicago Bears – The Bears are relying on Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez to lead their franchise this season. Translation: it’ll be another long year. Chicago is improving around the quarterback position, but it will take at least a year to adjust Glennon to the offense.

NFC South

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – On the brink of their first playoff appearance since 2007 last season, Winston will lead the Buccaneers to an automatic bid in 2017.
  2. Atlanta Falcons – One does not simply blow a 25-point Super Bowl lead and just brush it off their shoulder. Atlanta will still reach the postseason, but as a wild-card this time around.
  3. Carolina Panthers – Were the Panthers a one-season wonder? We’ll find out this season, but the Carolina defense of last year was not feared like it was in 2015.
  4. New Orleans Saints – Brees is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but the Saints defense remains abysmal, allowing the second most points per game in 2016.

NFC West

  1. Seattle Seahawks – Once the most feared division in the NFL, the NFC West is quickly becoming one of the worst—with the decline of Carson Palmer, the relocation of the Rams, and the mess that is San Francisco, Seattle takes the West with ease.
  2. Arizona Cardinals – Palmer certainly took a step back last season, but the real demise of the Cardinals was the fact that teams no longer feared this defense. Chandler Jones and Tyrann Mathieu must lead them to a better 2017.
  3. Los Angeles Rams – Let’s be honest, you miss the Rams in St. Louis. Wade Phillips will make the defense a force to be reckoned with, but Goff needs more time to develop.
  4. San Francisco 49ers – Way too many issues on a team that has finished last in the West two years in a row. Make it three.
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