After the annual long summer drought where NFL fans keep themselves busy with the draft, OTA’s and training camp, it’s finally time for real football to begin. Following the most epic championship game comeback in the game’s history, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots have only improved their roster, while the defeated Atlanta Falcons must avoid the Super Bowl hangover suffered by the game’s loser each year. On the other end of the spectrum, the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers have embarrassingly thin rosters, and with a college quarterback group rivaling that of the 1983 draft class, tanking is not out of the question for the league’s cellar-dwellers. The 2017-18 NFL season kicks off tonight night, so without further ado, let’s get to the first edition of football’s power rankings (Note: These rankings are done solely based on how good I believe the team to be at this moment, not based on what I believe their final record will be).
- New England Patriots
The Pats took a hard left turn from their usual style of offseason proceedings, sending a number of draft picks away for veteran contributors and making plays for big name free agents. The Super Bowl champs were rewarded for their efforts with lockdown free agent corner Stephon Gilmore, who is an improvement over the departed Logan Ryan, and deep threat wideout Brandin Cooks, whose barn-burning speed will open up shallow routes for Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Julian Edelman’s injury will hurt, but the Patriots should cruise to a first-round bye.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Losing in the most painful fashion possible in the Super Bowl will be on Atlanta’s minds constantly, and how they mentally respond to the defeat will dictate their season. Armed with the reigning MVP in Matt Ryan and the league’s best offense, as well as an underrated and young defense spearheaded by sack leader Vic Beasley, the Falcons have the talent to get revenge and win it all this year.
3. Oakland Raiders
Making headlines in the offseason with their decision to move to Las Vegas, and their signing of enigmatic running back Marshawn Lynch, it is easy to overlook that the Raiders were one of the league’s best teams last year. Everything for this promising squad hinges on the health of Derek Carr, as Oakland fell apart in the first round of the playoffs after he broke his fibula in Week 16 last year.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite some questions about the potential retirement of Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers’ playoff exit, Big Ben has returned and Pittsburgh’s powerful offense has all of its pieces back. Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant have managed to avoid getting suspended before the start of this season, which doesn’t bode well for opposing defenses.
5. Seattle Seahawks
With a blockbuster trade last week that delivered stud pass rusher Sheldon Richardson to Seattle, the ‘Hawks defense may be reaching the level it was during its Super Bowl years. However, Richard Sherman’s requests for trade during this offseason could show cracks in the locker room. Nonetheless, Seattle is the top challenger for the Falcons in the NFC.
6. Dallas Cowboys
A surprise squad last year led by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys now have the challenge of being the team with a target on their back in the NFC East. While Elliott has been suspended for six games of the season, the ‘Boys dominant O-Line should keep Dallas afloat.
7. Green Bay Packers
In a shocking offseason development, Green Bay GM Ted Thompson was active in free agency, bringing in Martellus Bennett to upgrade the tight end position. However, the offensive line has lost critical pieces and Bryan Bulaga’s preseason injury only complicates matters. Additionally, Ty Montgomery and rookie running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones have looked barely adequate in the preseason. Luckily for the Pack, the NFC North doesn’t present much challenge to their playoff hopes.
8. Houston Texans
The Texans’ season will entirely be decided by the quarterbacks once again. Though Houston has won the division the last two years, their playoff performances have been hindered by lackluster QB play and the Titans have closed the gap in the AFC South. With the league’s reigning top defense even without JJ Watt, as well as offensive weapons Lamar Miller and DeAndre Hopkins, all DeShaun Watson or Tom Savage has to do is be adequate and the Texans will be a Super Bowl contender.
9. New York Giants
One of the most hyped up teams in the NFL, the G-Men are looking to build on last year’s playoff appearance and make a serious run. Eli Manning doesn’t have much time left, but the offseason additions of Brandon Marshall in free agency and first round pick Evan Engram should slow his decline. With one of the most promising defensive players in the NFL in Landon Collins, it will be hard to score against New York in 2017.
10. Carolina Panthers
Going from 15-1 to 6-10 was an unforeseen decline, though a redemption season could be in the cards for 2015 MVP Cam Newton’s Panthers. Despite playing in arguably the league’s toughest division, Carolina’s non-division strength of schedule is a lowly .469, which bodes well for a playoff return. Adding versatile offensive weapons Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel in the draft will give a lethargic offense a much-needed boost in 2017.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
Spencer Ware’s season-ending knee surgery will set the defending AFC West champs back, but rookie Kareem Hunt’s playmaking ability should offset much of the loss. The Chiefs will look to make it three straight playoff appearances in 2017, but there are warning signs. The possessor of the league’s 20th best offense and 24th best defense, Kansas City is likely to regress.
12. Tennessee Titans
A recipient of offseason hype with their young core, the Titans are ready to step into playoff contention. A strong O-Line led by rookie All-Pro Jack Conklin opens doors for Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray to do their thing, but if Tennessee is to reach the next level, it will need the defense to step up. The secondary has been revamped, as the Titans signed Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien in free agency and selected uber-athletic corner Adoree Jackson in the first round.
13. Washington Redskins
Though the offseason was littered with rumors over Kirk Cousins’ status with the team, the Pro Bowl passer is still in a Redskins uniform. With DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon out, and Terrelle Pryor in, other young talents like Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder will have the opportunity to see more targets. The Redskins should be in the playoff hunt all season, but with the competition in the NFC East, they could be on the outside looking in.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are aiming to take a big step forward in 2017 after narrowingly missing the playoffs last year. With Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard, the passing game is sure to be explosive, but the running game is dangerously weak. The defense needs to get healthy if they are to make the postseason.
15. Arizona Cardinals
A huge disappointment last year after qualifying for the NFC Championship the year before, the Cardinals are seeking a bounce-back behind the offensive firestorm known as David Johnson. Carson Palmer is 37 years old and Larry Fitzgerald is 34, so the Cards’ window of opportunity won’t be open for much longer.
16. Los Angeles Chargers
Despite being racked with injuries the past few years, the Chargers are a dark horse contender in their inaugural season in LA. Injuries to Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp, the Bolts’ first two draft picks, will set them back, but a full season out of Defensive ROY Joey Bosa will give the defense a boost.
17. Philadelphia Eagles
A team on the rise, the Eagles could present a challenge in the wide-open NFC East. Carson Wentz showed flashes of Pro Bowl-potential last year, and with the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, he actually has people to throw to. Additionally, Philly brought in LeGarrette Blount, which represents a significant upgrade over Ryan Mathews.
18. Cincinnati Bengals
Facing one of the league’s easiest schedules, the Bengals will be in the wild card hunt despite having an average roster. The drafting of Joe Mixon presents a much-needed break from the consistently underperforming duo of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard, but Vontaze Burfict’s suspension will hinder the defense in the start of the year.
19. New Orleans Saints
After going 7-9 the last three years, the Saints appear to be ready to continue the trend in 2017. Drew Brees quietly had one of the best seasons by a quarterback in NFL history, but loses a top target in Brandin Cooks. Bringing in Adrian Peterson and drafting Alvin Kamara should take some of the pressure off of Brees’ 37 year-old arm, but the Saints will have a tough time competing in their division.
20. Detroit Lions
After earning a wild card berth last year, the Lions are likely to regress in 2017. Matthew Stafford doesn’t get his due often when discussing the league’s best QB’s, but his league-leading payday shows the Lions’ appreciation for his gunslinging skills. However, Detroit faces a tough schedule and their lack of a running game will hurt them this year.
21. Denver Broncos
Despite being just two years removed from a Super Bowl title, the Broncos are a shell of their former selves. They still can terrorize offenses behind Von Miller and the cornerback tandem of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., but the offense is punchless. Brock Osweiler was just added to back up Trevor Siemian, which is not a good sign for former 1st-round pick Paxton Lynch or Denver’s quarterback prospects as a whole.
22. Minnesota Vikings
The hottest team in the league to start the year in 2016, the Vikings fell off hard at the season’s halfway point en route to a third-place division finish. With Adrian Peterson off to New Orleans, the duo of Latavius Murray and rookie Dalvin Cook will be relied upon to shoulder the load of a ground-and-pound offense. Without Teddy Bridgewater, it’s difficult to imagine the Vikings contending for the division anytime soon.
23. Miami Dolphins
The lowest-ranked team that made the playoffs last year, the Dolphins can’t contend with the formerly retired Jay Cutler at quarterback. Jay Ajayi stepped into stardom last year, but is inconsistent and will be facing a lot of stacked boxes in 2017. The defense is unspectacular, but if the secondary plays better this year the Dolphins could have a chance.
24. Baltimore Ravens
It’s incredible how the Ravens always seem to be a contender, even as they are working with very little. Joe Flacco is solid but will never sniff the top tier of quarterbacks, they haven’t had a bell cow back since Ray Rice and a past-his-prime Mike Wallace is the team’s #1 wideout. Nonetheless, underrated defensive studs like CJ Mosley and Brandon Williams keep Baltimore in contention.
25. Indianapolis Colts
With Andrew Luck and Vontae Davis out for the start of the season, 2017 isn’t looking promising for the Colts. Indy has gone 8-8 the last two years, but don’t appear ready to challenge the Texans and Titans for the division title.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars haven’t finished a season with a winning percentage over .500 since 2007, despite spending big in free agency the last two years. The defense should be exciting with the addition of AJ Bouye and the continued development of Jalen Ramsey, but the offense desperately needs Leonard Fournette to pan out.
27. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003, and that trend will continue unless Jared Goff can engineer a massive turnaround. The former #1 overall pick was terrible last year, though the addition of Sammy Watkins will help tremendously.
28. Buffalo Bills
Having shipped off their top receiver in Sammy Watkins as well as losing their top two corners in Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore through trade and free agency respectively, it appears the Bills are throwing the towel in for the foreseeable future. LeSean McCoy should keep the offense afloat, but don’t expect much from Buffalo.
29. Chicago Bears
Deciding to draft Mitchell Trubisky and giving Mike Glennon a big payday was a sign of a franchise in disarray, as the Bears are almost certain to finish in the NFC North cellar once again. The cabinet isn’t bare, however, as Jordan Howard will be a strong producer behind a powerful O-Line.
30. Cleveland Browns
The Browns did the right thing by naming DeShone Kizer their starter for Week One. The rookie QB has played well this preseason, and with the defense as bad as it is, he will get plenty of opportunities to adjust to the NFL.
31. San Francisco 49ers
When Carlos Hyde is your undoubtable top offensive threat, you know it’s a bad situation. The defense will benefit from their first round picks Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster, but the Brian Hoyer-led offense won’t put up enough points to win many games.
32. New York Jets
Todd Bowles’ may have the hottest seat out of any coach in the league, and the Jets may just throw in the towel and tank for Sam Darnold. Trading away Sheldon Richardson was a move made with the future in mind, so at least they are headed in the right direction.