- New England Patriots – Belichick and Brady will continue to dominate in 2017. Despite turning 40 this offseason, there’s no reason to believe Brady is slowing down. This team should be better than the one that just won the Super Bowl. They added Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore, and they’ll get Rob Gronkowski (who they didn’t even need to come back from a 28-3 third quarter deficit in the Super Bowl) back. The Julian Edelman injury hurts, but it’s still New England vs. the field.
- Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons have two hurdles to overcome this season. The first is the mental hurdle of bouncing back from losing the Super Bowl. Since 1994, the team that lost the Super Bowl has missed the playoffs 43.5 percent of the time, while not a single one of those teams has returned to the Super Bowl. The other hurdle is the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan was widely regarded as one of the best coordinators in the NFL. He’s now the head coach in San Francisco, and Atlanta must find a way to replace him without seeing a dip on that side of the ball. That being said, Atlanta still has one of the most talented young rosters in the league. There are few weaknesses on this team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They should be considered the favorite in the NFC heading into the season.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers are a consistent contender in the AFC. In fact, the Steelers are the benchmark for consistency in sports. The franchise is on just its third head coach since 1969 (Noll, Cowher, Tomlin). The forecast for Pittsburgh obviously changes if Le’Veon Bell continues his holdout in to the regular season, but I assume he’ll be on the field Sept. 10. Ben Roethlisberger is in the twilight of his career, and this season will be just as good a chance as any to go out on top.
- Seattle Seahawks – The “Legion of Boom” is fully healthy for the first time in a long time, which will be a problem for the rest of the league. No team in the league spends close to what Seattle spends on its secondary, and for good reason. When Seattle dominated Denver to win its Super Bowl in 2014, the “Legion of Boom” was the most feared unit in the league. Russell Wilson is a top 10 QB, but he needs some protection. The offensive line was a question mark coming in to the preseason, and the loss of left tackle George Fant leaves Seattle even weaker up front. If the Seahawks are able to find some consistency on the offensive line, look for something similar to what we saw in 2013-14.
- Green Bay Packers – Green Bay has many weaknesses (offensive line, running back, secondary), but Aaron Rodgers makes up for a lot of deficiencies. This team found a way to get to the NFC Championship game last year with no running game and a bad defense, and I don’t see any reason they couldn’t do it again. Rodgers finds a way to make big plays in big games. Green Bay needs to convert his greatness in to more trips to the Super Bowl.
- Oakland Raiders – The Raiders were a hot team last year before Derek Carr went down with a broken leg. He’s healthy and the Raiders should be the best team in one of the better divisions in football. Marshawn Lynch is somewhat of an unknown after a year off from football, but if Latavius Murray could run behind that offensive line, I’m going to assume Lynch will be able to. If Oakland can hold opponents to 20 points per game, the Raiders will be a high seed in the AFC.
- Dallas Cowboys – With Ezekiel Elliot’s six game suspension being upheld, Dallas will have to rely more heavily on Dak Prescott early in the season. If the Cowboys can get off to a good start, they should repeat as NFC East Champs. Every question mark for the Cowboys comes on defense. There are a lot of young, unproven players on that side of the ball that Dallas will need to step up. Unless the defense surprises, the ceiling for this team is one playoff win.
- Denver Broncos – Trevor Siemian has been named the starter in Denver, which is good news for Broncos fans. Siemian had a good grasp of the offense last year when he was healthy. He’s no world-beater, but Denver doesn’t need a star QB to be successful. Von Miller is one of the best pass rushers I’ve ever seen. Combine that with a strong secondary, and Denver should be good enough defensively to be in every game they play.
- Tennessee Titans – Tennessee has done a great job of building around a young quarterback. Mariota has a good offensive line, a strong running game, and he may finally have some help at receiver. Tennessee is better defensively than they get credit for. The Titans will surprise people this year in the AFC.
- Kansas City Chiefs – Kansas City is a typical Andy Reid coached team; good, just not good enough. The potential of Mahomes is promising, but it’ll be a while before he’s ready to take over for Alex Smith. Tyreek Hill will be leaned on heavily this year (take note fantasy footballers). Kansas City is strong enough defensively to stay competitive. Chiefs fans just have to hope Alex Smith can pull it out in the fourth quarter.
- Carolina Panthers – Remember that talk about Super Bowl losers? Carolina was a victim of the “Super Bowl Curse” last season, and I expect a big bounce back in 2017. Christian McCaffrey looks like he’s ready to step in right away and take some pressure off Cam Newton. Newton was asked to do everything a year ago. He’ll get more help this year, and Carolina will be a playoff team.
- New York Giants – The Giants made a couple nice additions this offseason with WR Brandon Marshall and rookie TE Evan Engram. Eli Manning is the constant wildcard for the Giants. He could throw for 35 TD’s or 25 INT’s and no one would be surprised. New York is a popular preseason pick, but they just seem like a slightly above average team. The Giants probably sneak in the playoffs and get bounced in the first round.
- Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings have a great young defense, but there are question marks offensively. Dalvin Cook is receiving high praise in the offseason, which is encouraging for Vikings fans. However, the offensive line will need to be the most improved unit for Minnesota. The Vikings averaged only 3.2 yards per carry last season, which ranked 32nd in the NFL. It’s unlikely Minnesota will top Green Bay to win the NFC North, but the Vikings could sneak in as a wild card.
- Houston Texans – It’s the same old story for the Texans… They’re just a quarterback away. Texans fans better hope that guy is Deshaun Watson because it’s certainly not Tom Savage. Houston will have a great defense in a winnable division, but there’s still too much uncertainty at quarterback to feel confident.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston has had a much better start to his career than I anticipated, which has Tampa in a position to compete for a playoff spot. There are still concerns on the offensive line and at running back, but the biggest concern is the division. The NFC is one of the best divisions in football, which will make it tough on Tampa in 2017.
- Arizona Cardinals – Arizona had a disappointing 2016, but there’s some confidence coming out of Cardinals camp. The coaches have taken it easy on Carson Palmer, giving the 37-year-old a chance to be healthy and re-energized heading into the season. Seattle still owns the NFC West, but Arizona could get to 9-7 and be a playoff team.
NFL Sweet 16 – Power Rankings