After many months of anticipation, the NFL regular season is finally upon us. Young players spent the preseason proving their worth. New acquisitions had the chance to show teams they were a smart signing or trade. New coaches and GMs are trying to make their mark on their teams. 2017 is bound to be an exciting season, with 32 teams all trying to make it to postseason glory. Heading into Week 1, where does every team stand? Can anyone knock off the Patriots? Can a team nobody expects make a move and surprise everyone? Are the Jets really that bad? We still have a long way to go to answer these questions, but my Week 1 power rankings begin to take a look at the type of season we should expect starting off.
32. New York Jets (2016 Record: 5-11)
Let me put this bluntly: I don’t think it is inconceivable to see the Jets go winless this season. Even after trading away Sheldon Richardson, the defense still is a strong unit but the offense lacks any real playmakers, even with the addition of Jermaine Kearse. If they can keep the Bills boring offense maintained, the game might be close. Might. Prepare for a long season, Jets fans.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2016 Record: 3-13)
On paper, the Jaguars might just have one of the most talented young rosters in the NFL, especially on defense. They honestly have very little weaknesses. Yes, you read that correctly. So why are they starting the season off at #31? Blake Bortles. Houston’s offense isn’t great, but their defense is light years ahead of the Jaguars’ offense.
30. Indianapolis Colts (2016 Record: 8-8)
Quite frankly, the Colts should be much better than they are. Their questionable drafting to put talent around Andrew Luck has been frustrating, to say the least. So has Luck’s health as of late. If this shoulder injury persists, the Colts season will likely suffer because of it. As will T.Y. Hilton‘s fantasy stock. They have a chance to “Luck” out, though, and get a win against the Rams.
Sorry, I had to.
29. Chicago Bears (2016 Record: 3-13)
The Bears put all of their eggs into the Mitchell Trubisky basket in the 2017 NFL Draft, but it will be Mike Glennon that we see to start the season. The roster is actually better than some would give it credit, with young pieces in place on both sides of the ball… just not their secondary. Their Week 1 opener against the Falcons MIGHT be closer than some expect, but I fully expect the Falcons to exploit the Bears defensive backs.
28. San Francisco 49ers (2016 Record: 2-14)
New GM John Lynch and new HC Kyle Shanahan have begun putting the building blocks in place to bring the 49ers back into relevance. As long as the team makes progress in all areas throughout the season, the team can turn their attention to finding a franchise quarterback next offseason. Shanahan will do a good job of game planning this season and that will show against the Panthers in Week 1. It’s crazy to think that this team was in the Super Bowl just five seasons ago.
27. Cleveland Browns (2016 Record: 1-15)
Just like the Jaguars, the Browns roster is full of talent on the defensive side of the ball. The offensive line has been revamped and should also be a strength. Rookie DeShone Kizer will be the starter and showed some promise during the preseason, but expect some growing pains. They could show some signs of life against the Steelers in Week 1 and the game could be closer than one might think, but don’t expect a victory.
26. Buffalo Bills (2016 Record: 7-9)
While I am a Nathan Peterman fan, this is still Tyrod Taylor‘s team for the time being. Beyond LeSean McCoy, however, there is little talent or playmaking ability on this offense after trading away Sammy Watkins. The defense has shown promise during the preseason and could be a decent unit in 2017. But is this a team entering a rebuilding phase after the season?
25. Los Angeles Rams (2016 Record: 4-12)
Maybe I’m jumping the gun, but it appears that Sean McVay is already starting to make a difference for the Rams. 2016 #1 overall pick Jared Goff looks like he’s ready to put his rookie season behind him and the addition of Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins will only help that growth and that should be on display against the Colts in Week 1. The defense, however, won’t look the same until Aaron Donald stops his holdout.
24. Baltimore Ravens (2016 Record: 8-8)
I’m not sold on this Ravens team at all, especially when you consider the extreme amounts of injuries that piled up this summer and during training camp. Joe Flacco is still trying to recover so he gets onto the field to utilize the group of weapons he has around him. The secondary has been a focus over the last two offseasons and the front seven is deeper than it has been for some time. But that all means nothing if your team isn’t healthy on the field.
23. Denver Broncos (2016 Record: 9-7)
After watching a quarterback battle that was never really a battle, the Broncos brought back Brock Osweiler to give some insurance to starter Trevor Siemian, who is unquestionably the best quarterback on the roster. The defense will continue to be a strength, but their inability to stop the run might become very noticeable against Melvin Gordon and the Chargers in Week 1.
22. Minnesota Vikings (2016 Record: 8-8)
The defense is the only reason the Vikings even came close to stumbling to an 8-8 record in 2016, but the offense should be improved this season. Adding Dalvin Cook gives them an exciting playmaker that could make things interesting this season. The Vikings will need to find a way to beat the Saints secondary to have a chance in Week 1 because the Saints are bound to light up the scoreboard through the air.
21. Los Angeles Chargers (2016 Record: 5-11)
The biggest factor in the Chargers’ success this season will be their health. When healthy and assuming rookie Mike Williams can come back soon to play opposite of Keenan Allen, this is an offense that could be considered one of the best in the league, especially when you factor in Phillip Rivers and Melvin Gordon. On defense, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingramare one of the most exciting young pass rushing duos in the NFL. The AFC West might just be the AFC’s best division, so the Chargers have an uphill climb this season. But don’t be surprised to see them still lingering in the playoff discussion by the end of the season, and that can start by getting a victory against the division foe Broncos.
20. Carolina Panthers (2016 Record: 6-10)
If Cam Newton can get healthy soon, the offense could really take off. Christian McCaffrey is my pick for OROY and Kelvin Benjamin looks like he is in for a potential career year. The defense, on the other hand, has taken a few steps back from their powerful 2015 Super Bowl appearance. The 49ers shouldn’t be a challenging opponent in Week 1, but this game might be closer than most expect because of the questions surrounding the Panthers porous secondary.
19. Washington Redskins (2016 Record: 8-7-1)
The Redskins have the unfortunate luck to be playing in the NFC East, one of the toughest divisions in football. With all of the turnover with the coaching staff has shown a bit during the preseason with Kirk Cousins looking out of sync with the rest of the offense. The defense has looked decent and will get a solid shot against the Eagles offense, while Cousins will look to improve himself against the Eagles developing secondary.
18. Miami Dolphins (2016 Record: 10-6)
Even without Ryan Tannehill, this Dolphins team is still better than the Bills and Jets. With Jay Cutler and Adam Gase reconnecting in Miami, Cutler should have no problem performing well with the young weapons on offense. The defense should be solid, but the secondary is average. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to keep up with Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers strong passing game, but we’ll have to wait until Week 11 to find out.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (2016 Record: 7-9)
Many people, myself included, believe Carson Wentz will take the next step this season in becoming one of the leagues top young passers. The addition of Alshon Jeffery will only help his development. The only real weakness on this team appears to be the secondary, which will get a good test against the big arm of Kirk Cousins. The Cowboys and Giants are still at the top of the NFC East, but the Eagles are knocking on the door to join the conversation.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (2016 Record: 6-9-1)
In my opinion, the Bengals are at no worst than the 2nd-best team in the AFC North until the Ravens prove that they can overcome their injuries. The offense, when healthy, can be a very effective unit against most teams in the NFL. The secondary might be the deepest secondary in the AFC North, which will help them compete with the numerous receiving threats the division presents. How they react against the Ravens in Week 1 will be indicative of the season that could be in store for Cincinnati.
15. New Orleans Saints (2016 Record: 7-9)
Drew Brees is 38. Ted Ginn Jr. and Adrian Peterson are both 32. Yet, this offense might just be one of the top units in the league with the deepest stable of running backs. The defense was shaky coming into the preseason but has looked surprisingly strong and should be able to handle the Vikings in Week 1 and grow from there.
14. Houston Texans (2016 Record: 9-7)
The AFC South has been a dumpster fire in recent years, but that could change very quickly. Tom Savage will hold down the starting spot until rookie Deshaun Watson proves he is ready. The defense again should be one of the best in the NFL, especially with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney healthy together wreaking havoc. The Jaguars defense is solid, but the Texans defense should have their way against the Jaguars in Week 1.
13. Detroit Lions (2016 Record: 9-7)
Matthew Stafford is now the highest paid quarterback in the league. And he is unquestionably the best player on the roster. Beyond that, there is really nothing special about this Lions roster. They have solid pieces all around the roster, but nothing that screams “Super Bowl Caliber”. This team will rise and fall with its quarterback and the Cardinals present a good challenge in Week 1.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2016 Record: 9-7)
The Buccaneers are the NFC’s dark horse team this season, in my opinion. This could be the year that Jameis Winston has a massive breakout, especially when you consider the new toys he has around him on offense. The defense isn’t anything special but should be able to get the job done, but be prepared for some high scoring affairs. The Bucs’ Week 1 matchup will have to wait until Week 11 with the Dolphins, so stay tuned.
11. Arizona Cardinals (2016 Record: 7-8-1)
The Cardinals are aging (see Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald) but the team is desperately trying to find their dominance of 2015. David Johnson is on a mission to break both 1,000 yards rushing AND receiving. The defense lost some pieces during the offseason but should still be a dominant unit yet again. This could be the Cardinals’ last shot at making a run with Palmer and Fitzgerald and the Seahawks are the only team standing in their way in the NFC West. Week 1 in Detroit will be a challenge but one that the Cardinals will be up for.
10. Tennessee Titans (2016 Record: 9-7)
Is this the year that the Titans become the new face of the AFC South? I don’t think that’s too much to predict. Marcus Mariota leads one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the NFL. The defense is strong at every level. This team is my dark horse team in the AFC this year and will get a great shot at proving that in Week 1 against the Raiders.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (2016 Record: 12-4)
The offense has been strong this preseason, but Alex Smith is getting older and has always had his limitations. The job is his, but will we see Pat Mahomes and his exciting playmaking ability at all this season? Will the defense be better at preventing long plays from being given up in 2017? The Patriots will be an excellent test for the Chiefs in the regular season opener for a team that has become a perennial playoff contender in the AFC.
8. New York Giants (2016 Record: 11-5)
The Giants are a well-rounded team, having an extremely deep and talented secondary, a great front 7, exciting threats in the passing game, and a quarterback that has been there and done that. The offensive line is the weakest part of this team, but the biggest factors in the Giants’ success this season will be Eli Manning‘s ability to make this offense more electrifying and for Odell Beckham Jr. to be present on the field. Both need to happen for this team to have a chance this season. If this doesn’t happen, the Cowboys could take advantage of the Giants early this year, which could make the difference.
7. Oakland Raiders (2016 Record: 12-4)
In my opinion, the Raiders are the only real threat to take down the Steelers and Patriots this season. Derek Carr is the franchise quarterback Oakland has been looking for and the offense is strong, especially when you factor in Marshawn Lynch. The defense doesn’t appear to be improved from 2016, so it will continue to be a weakness this year. Oakland and Tennessee will be an exciting matchup in Week 1, as both teams will very much be in the playoff conversation come December.
6. Dallas Cowboys (2016 Record: 13-3)
The Cowboys will look to recreate their dream 2016 season. The offense with or without Ezekiel Elliott will be a strong unit, as Dak Prescott continues to grow behind the best offensive line in the league. The defense is where most of the questions lie. The defense was weak against the pass last year and lost both Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne (which could be a good thing, depending on how you look at it). They need to improve if they expect to make a run at the top team in the NFC. The Giants offense is an excellent unit and could create problems in Week 1.
5. Green Bay Packers (2016 Record: 10-6)
As long as Aaron Rodgers is at the helm of the Packers, they will be in the contender conversation. There are questions throughout the roster and the team can’t afford to start off the season the same way they did in 2016. The secondary is coming off a season where they were ranked 31st in the league, so they need their young talent to step up quickly. They’ll get their test against the Seahawks in Week 1.
4. Seattle Seahawks (2016 Record: 10-5-1)
The Seahawks will be right back in the Super Bowl discussion this season and Russell Wilson already looks like he is in MVP form heading into the season. The defense got even stronger by adding Sheldon Richardson and should continue to shut down teams this year. The matchup with Green Bay could be a matchup we end up seeing later on in the season.
3. Atlanta Falcons (2016 Record: 11-5)
Gone is Kyle Shanahan but the bitter taste of giving up the Super Bowl is still present. This will be a motivated Falcons team in 2017 and should yet again be primed for a deep playoff run. The defense is a young but experienced group that should make more strides this season. Their Week 1 matchup with the Bears is a good way to begin moving on from Super Bowl 51.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (2016 Record: 11-5)
On paper, I truly believe that the Steelers have one of the best rosters in the NFL. The secondary is still a question, but they are prepared to make steps forward. But just like every season, we’re left saying “if they stay healthy”. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Martavis Bryant make up the most explosive quartet in the league. When together, the offense averages 6.9 yards per play. The team is clearly all in after making aggressive moves to acquire Vance McDonald, Joe Haden, and J.J. Wilcox. The pieces are there to make another run at a Super Bowl and there should be no question that the Patriots and Steelers sit atop of the AFC. The Browns await in Week 1.
1. New England Patriots (2016 Record: 14-2)
There is no question which team is the best in the NFL. This spot is the Patriots until a team proves otherwise. The Chiefs will be a great test in Week 1. Losing Julian Edelman for the season hurts and the Patriots actually have more holes than people think (average offensive line, below average pass rush), but no coach in the NFL adapts better to adversity than Bill Belichick. Oh, and Tom Brady is still playing in his prime at 40. So there’s that.