2017 NFL Power Rankings: New England Patriots Early Favorites For Next Season
After the New England Patriots were crowned Super Bowl 51 champions, it’s time to take a look at the 2017 NFL Power Rankings heading into next season.
It’s never too early to take a look at the 2017 NFL Power Rankings now that football is officially over, but first let’s discuss what took place in Super Bowl 51 between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. Chances are football fans will never witness an ending like they did with the Patriots rallying to defeat the Falcons, as the argument can be made this turned out to be one of the greatest endings in history.
All hope seemed lost for New England when they were trailing Atlanta 28-3 late in the third quarter, but if there’s anything to know about Tom Brady, it should be his team should never be counted out, no matter what the circumstances are. To watch Brady end up finishing the Super Bowl by completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards with two touchdowns while helping the Patriots rally to win in overtime was simply phenomenal to witness for any football fan.
As for the Falcons and their fans, this loss is going to take some time to get over after basically collapsing when it mattered the most.
There’s a reason why New England is always considered one of the best teams in the league, and watching them comeback against Atlanta the way they did proves why Brady’s squad deserves to be the team to beat heading into next year. After a thrilling finish to what was already an exciting year in football, here’s a look at the 2017 NFL Power Rankings.
32. Cleveland Browns
The good news for the Cleveland Browns is the team avoided the embarrassment of ending up on the wrong side of history by finishing the entire season without a single win thanks to their Week 16 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Unfortunately for Hue Jackson‘s squad, it appears the Browns are still years away from truly being contenders when seeing all of the areas in need of improvement.
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Mainly, the quarterback position is the one position Cleveland needs to figure out the most since it remains unclear if Robert Griffin III is the answer. The former Washington Redskins star showed potential in the preseason, but it was difficult to see what Griffin brought to the table since he was limited to playing in just five games in 2016 due to a shoulder injury.
Even if the Browns decide to give Griffin another chance, it still doesn’t take away from the lack of weapons he has to work with on offense. Terrelle Pryor certainly turned out to be quite the surprise at wide receiver, but Cleveland will need plenty of more help if they’re going to have any chance of getting of moving up from the basement in the AFC North. Maybe one day that’ll happen, but it’s unlikely that day comes in the 2017 season.
31. San Francisco 49ers
It seems to only be a matter of time before Kyle Shanahan is named as the next head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, and the team has every reason in the world be excited about the move when seeing what the offensive mastermind brings to the table. Hiring Chip Kelly last year was a disaster from the start, and it was good to see it only took the 49ers one year to realize what a terrible mistake they made.
On top of parting ways with Kelly, it appears Colin Kaepernick is going to opt out of his contract as well to give free agency a chance, which is a blessing in disguise for San Francisco. There was a time when Kaepernick’s ability to run with the football made him one of the league’s most dangerous quarterbacks, but that has been far from the case over the last couple of years.
With Shanahan coming on board to fix a team that finished 2-14 last year, the 49ers need to start fresh by providing their new head coach with a quarterback of his preference to build the franchise around. After years of seeing his name thrown around for landing possible coaching jobs, it will be interesting to see if Shanahan is up for the challenge in San Francisco.
30. Chicago Bears
Not only did the Chicago Bears finish at the bottom of the NFC North for the third year in a row, but the team has officially gone six seasons in a row without earning a trip to the postseason. Clearly, this team is in desperate need of change after only winning three games in 2016, and one of the biggest questions will be what the team decides to do with Jay Cutler at quarterback.
The 33-year-old quarterback only appeared in five games for the Bears this past season, and he’s been given every opportunity in the world over the years to prove he deserves to be the leader of this offense. But that’s the problem surrounding Cutler is he just doesn’t seem to be capable of being the leader Chicago needs to turn things around.
Matt Barkley received plenty of opportunities to earn the starting job in the second half of the regular season, but he’s clearly still a work in progress. On top of figuring out their situation at quarterback, the Bears may need to find another weapon in the passing game if Alshon Jeffery ends up joining another team in free agency, which could easily end up happening for the star wideout.
29. Los Angeles Rams
2016 was supposed to be the year in which the Los Angeles Rams finally took a step in the right direction after finishing 7-9 the previous season, but that obviously was far from the case after losing 11 of their final 12 games. From replacing Jeff Fisher with the youngest head coach in Sean McVay, the Rams seem to be taking the necessary steps to become contenders, even if it does take a little bit of extra time.
Along with the hiring of McVay, Los Angeles hopes to see the defense return to their dominant level with Wade Phillips on board as the team’s new defensive coordinator. While Phillips has received heavy praise throughout his career as a coordinator, Rams fans are even more excited about the opportunity for him to work with Aaron Donald, who continues to make a case for being one of the league’s top defensive stars.
As for Jared Goff, if Los Angeles truly wants to get the best from their No. 1 pick, they’re going to need to provide him with better options to work with in the passing game. Tavon Austin is nowhere close to being a reliable No. 1 wideout, and here’s to hoping the Rams can find answers to help Goff through the draft and free agency.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars were one of a few teams at the beginning of the season that seemed capable of emerging as a sleeper team in the AFC after the progress made by Blake Bortles in 2015. Unfortunately, the Jaguars turned out to be the same old disappointing team this year after only winning three games, and eventually parting ways with Gus Bradley at head coach.
Now, the team will see what Doug Marrone will bring to the table after taking over as interim head coach towards the end of the year before officially earning the gig full time from the organization. Marrone knows he was quite the work cut out for him heading into his first full year as head coach, but at least the argument can be made he’s in better shape than most people.
Only time will tell when it comes to whether Bortles is the answer at quarterback, but at least the Jaguars have two receivers with the potential to be a dynamic duo in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. These players along with Borltes throwing 35 touchdowns in 2015 were one of the reasons why Jacksonville seemed to have potential at the beginning of the year before turning into one of the biggest disappointments.
27. New York Jets
Speaking of teams with high expectations at the beginning of the year, there was plenty of excitement surrounding the New York Jets after falling just short of making the playoffs during Todd Bowles‘ first year as head coach in 2015. Instead of carrying that success over to his second season, the Jets just couldn’t figure out a way to get into a rhythm throughout the regular season, with the decision to invest all of that money in Ryan Fitzpatrick turning out to be one of the biggest busts from 2016.
On the bright side, at least the team didn’t give in by rewarding Fitzpatrick with the long-term deal he was originally hoping for since the quarterback only finished with a 3-8 record in the 11 starts he made. To watch Fitzpatrick go from throwing 31 touchdowns in 2015 to struggling the way he did this past year was one of the most frustrating things to witness on New York’s end, and now the team needs to decide what their next step is as far as the quarterback position is concerned.
Based off their current options on the roster, it may be best for the Jets to focus on finding a new quarterback to build the franchise around in the upcoming draft. Either that, or take a shot at acquiring Tony Romo from the Dallas Cowboys since he wants another chance at being the starter.
26. Los Angeles Chargers
First off, how weird is it going to be referring to this team as the Los Angeles Chargers? It’s tough not to feel bad for San Diego fans at this point when seeing how quickly their team fled to become the second team in Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t cheer on their beloved Chargers in a new city.
Of course, the main concern for Los Angeles during their first year in a new city will be whether they can overcome their issues of failing to close out games. When seeing how the last two years have played out for the Chargers, it’s safe to say they could easily have been a playoff team if it wasn’t for all those games lost by single digits.
The fact that nine of the team’s 11 losses in 2016 came by single digits shows how different this year could have been for the Chargers, but the only thing they can do now is focus on making sure that doesn’t happen during their first season with Anthony Lynn as head coach. The good news for Lynn is if Los Angeles can avoid key injuries on both sides of the football, there’s no reason why Los Angeles shouldn’t be able to bounce back, and be contenders in the AFC West during the 2017 season.
25. Buffalo Bills
Will Tyrod Taylor be the quarterback of the Buffalo Bills heading into the 2017 season? Only time will tell for the Bills, but it’s tough to ignore how close this team was to being contenders during the 2016 season, especially after looking like one of the hottest teams at the beginning of the year.
Despite losing their first two games, Buffalo found a way to win each of their next four games, including key victories over the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots. Sadly, this four-game winning streak would be the main highlight of the season, as the team would end up finishing the year with a 7-9 record.
On a positive note, at least the team was willing to move on from Rex Ryan after two seasons since he clearly doesn’t have what it takes to be an effective head coach in the league. Sean McDermott finds himself in a much better situation than most new head coaches when seeing the talent he has to work with on both sides of the football, especially by having one of the league’s top running backs in LeSean McCoy.
If all goes well, McDermott’s first year in Buffalo could turn out to be quite successful.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
After reaching the playoffs in each of the previous five seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals watched their streak come to an end in 2016 after the team finished with a disappointing 6-9-1 record. The fact that Marvin Lewis is still head coach of this team despite his inability to win a single playoff game since coming on board in 2003 is absolutely ridiculous, as most people in his position would have been fired a long time ago.
One of the main reasons behind the team’s success over the last couple of years has been due to the Bengals having one of the league’s best overall teams thanks to a consistent offense and a solid defense. Of all the teams to bounce back in 2017, Cincinnati seems like one of the strongest candidates, but fans have every reason in the world to feel frustrated over this squad.
At least the Bengals have one of the league’s top duos on offense in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green to make the process easier of attempting to bounce back next season. Then again, maybe if Cincinnati fails to reach the playoffs for the second year in a row, the organization will finally smarten up, and part ways with Lewis at head coach since the decision seems to be long overdue.
23. Indianapolis Colts
For the Indianapolis Colts, there’s nothing more frustrating than failing to make the playoffs over the last two seasons despite playing in arguably the weakest division in football. Andrew Luck returning to full strength was supposed to make the Colts the team to beat in the AFC South once again in 2016, but that was far from the case after they finished behind the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans.
And if that wasn’t frustrating enough, the organization continues to give Jim Irsay more chances than he deserves to prove himself at head coach for Indianapolis. Between failing to provide Luck with the necessary protection on the offensive line to having one of the league’s worst defenses, it’s easy to understand the frustrations behind the Colts.
What makes the situation in Indianapolis even more frustrating to deal with is seeing how the team rewarded Luck with that record-breaking contract, and it wasn’t even worth it in during the first year. The division may have been considered one of the weakest in the NFL this past season, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to get any easier for Luck and the Colts heading into next year when seeing the potential surrounding the Texans and Titans.
22. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens were one of the most difficult teams to figure out during the 2016 season after starting off the year on a hot note with a 3-0 record before going on to lose their next four games. After their losing streak, the Ravens would go on to win five of their next seven games to get back into the playoff hunt in the AFC North before eventually falling short of their goals thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One of the areas Baltimore needs to focus improving on during the offseason is offense since there’s only so much a quarterback like Joe Flacco can do on his own. Mike Wallace displayed some impressive performances throughout the regular season thanks to his blazing speed, but Flacco is going to need even more help in the passing game now that Steve Smith decided to call it a career.
It’s certainly not going to be easy, but at least the Ravens’ defense always makes them contenders in the AFC at the beginning of the season, and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t happen again in 2017. If the defense can figure out a way to remain elite along with adding a few more weapons on offense, Baltimore is a team to keep an eye on heading into next year.
21. Carolina Panthers
Who would have thought the Carolina Panthers would go from reaching the Super Bowl last February after only suffering one loss during the regular season to failing to make the playoffs after finishing at the bottom of the NFC South with a 6-10 record?
There was plenty of blame to go around for the struggles behind the Panthers in 2016, but the one area that sticks out the most is the poor play on the defensive side of the football. Carolina made a bold move when they made the decision to part ways with Josh Norman, but it’s safe to say that turned out to be one of their biggest regrets when seeing how much they struggled with covering opponents throughout the 2016 season.
To watch the Panthers’ defense go from looking unstoppable when they emerged as NFC Champions to struggle the way they did this year turned out to be one of the biggest surprises this year since many believed they would make another run at the Super Bowl. Even Cam Newton, who took home MVP honors last year, took a major step back in 2016 after only completing 19 touchdown passes one year after recording 35 on offense.
20. Minnesota Vikings
After losing Teddy Bridgewater prior to the start of the regular season, the Minnesota Vikings believed Sam Bradford was the answer to make sure the team remained strong contenders in the NFC, which is why they were willing to acquire the quarterback from the Philadelphia Eagles. Looking back at the deal, the Vikings may be kicking themselves since they gave up a first-round pick in this year’s draft, but all the team can hope for is Bradford can lead the way next season since early sings point to Bridgewater still being far from ready.
Everything seemed to be going well for Minnesota after starting off the year with a 5-0 record, but it all went downhill from there after the team ended the season with an 8-8 record to finish third in the NFC North. Unfortunately, the Vikings were one of the teams that experienced numerous injuries on both sides of the football, especially Adrian Peterson only appearing in three games that prevented the team from winning more games.
Don’t forget how disruptive the Vikings’ defense looked at the beginning of the season, as there’s a good chance Mike Zimmer will use what happened this year as motivation to bounce back even stronger in 2017. A healthy Minnesota squad could easily result in this team becoming strong contenders once again in 2017, but it still doesn’t help ease the pain of how this year turned out.
19. New Orleans Saints
The most frustrating thing about the New Orleans Saints this year was not even having one of the league’s best offenses was good enough to help this team finish with a better record than 7-9. It’s unfair to expect Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints’ offense to score more than 30 points per game when the defense isn’t going to do their part, which was exactly the case throughout the 2016 season after finishing 27th overall.
On a positive note for New Orleans, at least Brees proved this year he’s still capable of playing a few more seasons after finishing with 5,208 passing yards to go along with 37 touchdowns. In fact, this marked the sixth year in a row that Brees threw for more than 4,800 yards and at least 32 touchdowns, proving he’s not ready to call it quits anytime soon.
Not to mention, Brees has to feel excited about what the future has in store on offense with the potential surrounding the duo of Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas. While Cooks has proven to be one of the fastest players in the league over the last few years, Thomas made a surprise impact as a rookie after the former Ohio State star finished with 92 catches for 1,137 yards to go along with nine touchdowns during his first season.
18. Philadelphia Eagles
This year’s Philadelphia Eagles are the perfect example of how quickly a season can change, no matter what the circumstances are. After starting off the year with a 3-0 record following an impressive victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Eagles would only go on to win four more games for the remainder of the season while finishing at the bottom of the NFC East standings.
Even if this year resulted in a 7-9 finish, Philadelphia was expected to go through rebuilding mode anyway since Doug Pederson was taking over as head coach and Carson Wentz was going to gain early experience as a rookie. As bad as it sounds, the Eagles starting off the year with that impressive of a record turned out to be one of the biggest surprises early in the season, and hopefully the team will use this experience to improve moving forward.
Wentz may have struggled at times, but the rookie learned the hard way how there’s only so much he can do for the offense on his own without reliable weapons to work with. If anything, Philadelphia has to feel confident about the toughness and work ethic displayed by Wentz throughout his rookie season, as the decision to move up in last year’s draft seems like it’s going to payoff.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Who would have thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of all teams would end up having one of the hottest defenses in the league in the second half of the 2016 season? There was even a point in the final weeks where the Buccaneers controlled their own playoff destiny, but unfortunately those dreams quickly disappeared after two tough losses to the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints.
Still, Tampa Bay has every reason in the world to feel confident heading into next year thanks to their defense on the rise along with an offense with plenty of potential led by Jameis Winston. If the first two years of his career are any indication of what the future holds, the Buccaneers will be in good hands with Winston as their quarterback.
The fact that Winston has started every game in his first two years while throwing for more than 8,000 yards to go along with 50 touchdown passes shows how quickly he’s made the adjustment to playing at the NFL level. Then again, having Mike Evans has a top target has certainly made the transition much easier for Winston, as the duo is only going to get better the more they play together on offense.
16. Arizona Cardinals
Just like the Carolina Panthers, it was an absolute shock to see the Arizona Cardinals struggle the way they did during the 2016 season when seeing the high expectations at the beginning of the year. There were even a handful of individuals that believed the Cardinals had what it takes to represent the Cardinals in this year’s Super Bowl, and rightfully so when seeing how much talent they had on both sides of the football.
Between having a solid defense long with a high-powered offense led by Carson Palmer, it was easy to understand why Arizona was one of the early favorites in the NFC at the beginning of the year before making it difficult to overcome a poor start. The Cardinals dug themselves in an early hole thanks to two tough losses to the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams in the first four games before eventually going on to finish with a 7-8-1 record on the season.
Whether Palmer ends up returning at quarterback will be the focus surrounding this team heading into the offseason, but even if he does return for another year as the starter, Arizona will eventually have to figure out a game plan for when the time comes to move on from the veteran. As bad as it sounds, Palmer seems like the type of quarterback with only one or two good seasons left in him, and his numbers from the 2016 season certainly don’t help his case.
15. Washington Redskins
At the end of the day, the Washington Redskins have nobody to blame but themselves for failing to reach the playoffs when considering how many games they let slip away. Just look at the regular-season finale against the New York Giants in which the Redskins only had to win in order to secure a playoff spot in the NF, and they failed to do so.
At the moment, there’s every reason to believe Washington will bounce back as contenders in the NFC next year, but that could turn out to be easier said than done. Not only did the team lose an offensive genius in Sean McVay, but nobody seems to know what’s going to happen between the Redskins and Kirk Cousins.
Hitting Cousins with a franchise tag for another year may not be the smartest decision on Washington’s end, even though the team seems to be doing everything in their power to avoid rewarding him with a long-term deal. Even if the Redskins don’t want to invest all of that long-term money in a quarterback like Cousins at this stage in his career, they also don’t want to risk seeing him display monster numbers with another team.
So when taking all of this into consideration, the main question for Washington seems to be how much do they really believe Cousins is their answer at quarterback?
14. Tennessee Titans
Don’t look now, but the Tennessee Titans seem ready to take the next step in 2017 by becoming serious contenders in the AFC after finishing with a 9-7 record this past season and falling just short of reaching the playoffs. Not to mention the Titans have an extra advantage thanks to the Los Angeles Rams by having two picks in the first round, including the fifth overall.
Assuming Marcus Mariota bounces back from his devastating leg injury, Tennessee is certainly talented enough to give the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts a run for the money at the division title once again. The one thing holding Mariota back from taking the offense to a higher level as a rookie in 2015 was the lack of weapons he had to work with, but give the Titans plenty of credit for upgrading their ground game by acquiring DeMarco Murray from the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s scary to think how lucky Tennessee is for earning such a high draft pick from Los Angeles after almost making the postseason, as there will be plenty of talented players to choose from on both sides of the football. After surprising the league with nine wins in 2016, here’s to hoping the Titans can continue rolling next year and live up to the hype.
13. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins were written off by many at the beginning of the season after a disappointing 1-4 start before eventually becoming one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL after finishing the regular season with a 10-6 record. Sadly, it’s tough not to wonder what could have been in the playoffs if Ryan Tannehill was capable of playing, but at least the team has plenty to look forward to heading into Adam Gase‘s second year as head coach.
The potential was always there for Gase when seeing how successful he was as an offensive coordinator during his stints with the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears, but nobody could have predicted he would lead the Dolphins to a postseason birth after that disastrous start. Now that he’s got a full year of head coaching experience under his belt along with a trip to the playoffs, expectations will be even higher for Gase in Miami heading into 2017 to make sure his squad remains strong AFC contenders.
Of all the teams within the division, the Dolphins may have the best chance of overtaking the AFC East form the New England Patriots, but that’s obviously easier said than done when seeing how long it’s been since they failed to win the division title.
12. Detroit Lions
Nobody knew what to expect from Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Detroit Lions’ offense when Calvin Johnson unexpectedly made the decision to retire out of nowhere. Instead of hitting the panic button, Stafford showed once again why he’s always been considered one of the league’s most underrated quarterback by putting together a remarkable season consisting of epic fourth quarter comebacks and a playoff appearance.
What’s even crazier to think about is how the Lions were in position to possibly earn a first-round bye in the final month before the team fell apart by losing their final three games of the regular season. And on top of their struggles at the end of the regular season, Detroit failed to get anything rolling on offense during the Wild Card round against the Seattle Seahawks.
Despite how the end of the year ended for the Lions, all signs point to this team remaining contenders in the NFC heading into 2017, although it’s certainly not going to be an easy task. Along with having to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers twice, Detroit will also have their hands full competing with the Minnesota Vikings for the division title as well.
11. Denver Broncos
Early on in the season, the Denver Broncos seemed ready to make another run at winning the Super Bowl before their lack of experience at quarterback would eventually catch up to them. The potential is certainly there for Trevor Siemian at quarterback, but it’s clear he still needs plenty of experience if the Broncos are going to return to the playoffs.
Most quarterbacks would love to be in a situation like Denver in which Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are their top options, but for some reason Siemian just couldn’t fire out a way to stay consistent. Even if the Broncos have been linked to other quarterbacks around the league such as Tony Romo, the team doesn’t seem ready to give up on Siemian just yet, which is fair since this year was technically his first full season as the starter.
If anything, the experience gained by Siemian in 2016 could benefit the quarterback heading into next year now that he should feel more comfortable with running the offense. Between Siemian gaining experience along with the defense hopefully returning to their dominant level led by Von Miller, Denver seems to be one of the best candidates to bounce back, and return to the postseason next year.
10. Houston Texans
There’s a good chance the Houston Texans will spend the entire offseason thinking about how they could have easily defeated the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs with any quarterback besides Brock Osweiler. The Texans have every reason in the world to be frustrated over Osweiler when considering he threw more interceptions than touchdowns during the regular season, and it’s a shame to see how much money they’ve already wasted in their quarterback.
Obviously, Houston would love nothing more than to go back in time to avoid signing Osweiler to such a lucrative deal, and it’s even a tougher pill to swallow knowing they will most likely give him another chance to prove himself in 2017. To give up on Osweiler this early after all of the guaranteed money he’s already owed would be a poor financial decision on the end of the Texans, so they might as well just bite the bullet at this point.
Houston’s defense did a fantastic job for the most part with keeping Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense in check during their playoff meeting, and one can only imagine what would have happened if any other quarterback besides Osweiler was lined up under center. For the sake of the Texans, here’s to hoping Osweiler focuses on improving his game in the offseason to win back the hearts of fans he’s already lost after one season.
9. New York Giants
Normally, it’s the offense of the New York Giants that leads to the team being most successful, and while Eli Manning certainly did his part with Odell Beckham Jr. throughout the regular season, it was the defense that was the main difference for this squad in 2016.
At first, the Giants received some criticism for a few of the moves made in free agency, but obviously it all seemed to payoff since they were able to hand the Dallas Cowboys two of their three losses during the regular season. If the defense can continue to play at this elite level over the next couple of years, New York is going to be a tough team to beat in the NFC East.
With that being said, the potential surrounding Manning and the rest of the offense can’t be ignored as the receivers beyond Beckham seem quite dangerous. Now that Sterling Shepard has a year of experience under his belt, keep an eye on the Giants’ passing game heading into the 2017 season, as the former Oklahoma star should continue to shine.
As for New York’s ground game, well let’s hope the team figures out a way to improve this area during the offseason.
8. Seattle Seahawks
If there were anything to take away from the Seattle Seahawks during the 2016 season, it would be the defense is far from the dominant bunch from the last couple of years. Just look at some of their performances during the regular season and the Divisional Round against the Atlanta Falcons to see this unit clearly isn’t the same.
With that being said, this doesn’t mean the Seahawks shouldn’t be considered the early favorites to win the NFC West once again when seeing the level of talent they have to work with on both sides of the football. While Richard Sherman will work to get the defensive unit back to elite status, Russell Wilson hopes to receive better support from the ground game to help take some of the pressure off running the offense.
Seattle knew it wasn’t going to be easy adjusting to life without Marshawn Lynch, but the running game struggled for a majority of the year, with one of the main reasons being the injuries surrounding Thomas Rawls. The second-year running back certainly showed potential at times, but the debate is still out there when it comes to whether he’s what the Seahawks are looking for as their top option in the backfield.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
Another appearance in the postseason for the Kansas City Chiefs that resulted in disappointment after Andy Reid‘s squad failed to take advantage of playing at home in the Divisional Round against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And if that wasn’t frustrating enough, the Chiefs failed to defeat the Steelers despite the defense playing well enough to prevent Big Ben and company from finding the end zone even once.
This year marked the third time in four seasons in which Kansas City managed to make the postseason during the Reid era, but for some reason the team can never figure out a way to make it beyond the Divisional Round. The defense found a way to rank near the top of the league once again and lead most of the way throughout the regular season, but the Chiefs found an unexpected gem in rookie Tyreek Hill.
If Hill’s rookie season is any indication of what’s in store for the future, it’s going to be tough to stop the former West Alabama standout whenever the football is in his hands. Now, if only the rest of the Chiefs’ offense could figure out a way to be more consistent, this team may actually have a shot at advancing beyond the Divisional Round next January.
6. Oakland Raiders
For now, this team will be referred to as the Oakland Raiders until a move becomes official, but at least no matter where they end up playing, Jack Del Rio‘s squad will be one of the early favorites in the AFC next year. Raiders fans had been waiting a long time to see their beloved football team put an end to their playoff drought, and it was devastating to see them lose Derek Carr towards the end of the regular season.
Watching Carr emerge as one of the league’s top quarterbacks in just his third season provides the Raiders with plenty of potential for years to come to make sure this team remains contenders in the AFC West. As bad as it sounds, seeing this team become so successful almost seemed too good to be true with everyone assuming it was only a matter of time before they would collapse.
Instead, the Raiders found a way to clinch a spot in the postseason, even if the Houston Texans eliminated them right away. The argument will always be made the Raiders would have won this game with a healthy Carr, but for now, all the team can do is focus on carrying over this success into next year.
First thing is first though for this team, which is figuring out which city they will be playing in.
5. Green Bay Packers
Give the Green Bay Packers credit for almost doing what they said they were going to do by running the table and winning the Super Bowl when all hope seemed lost in the middle of the season. To see the Packers lose five of six games before winning the final six games of the regular season to clinch the NFC North title before eventually reaching the NFC Championship was nothing short of amazing.
Just think how the outcome of the NFC Championship would have been if Green Bay was healthier with more reliable options in the running game to take some pressure off Aaron Rodgers on offense. Assuming all goes well in the offseason with these certain individuals returning to full strength, there’s no reason why the Packers shouldn’t be one of the top contenders in the NFC during the 2017 season, better yet an early favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
Rodgers has always been the type of player driven by motivation, and after seeing the crushing loss in the NFC Championship to the Atlanta Falcons, the Packers quarterback isn’t going to get over what happened anytime soon. When looking at the strong receiving corps he has to work with, expect Rodgers and Green Bay to be just fine heading into next year.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Expectations were high for the Pittsburgh Steelers at the beginning of the season from an offensive perspective, as many believed they had what it takes to break numerous records thanks to having players like Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. Even if they failed to set those records, it doesn’t take away from how close the Steelers came to reaching Super Bowl LI before falling to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the circumstance could have been much different if it wasn’t for Bell suffering an injury early on that forced him to miss the remainder of the game. Bell has always proven to be a difference maker when on the football field, and when seeing his production from the first two playoff games, there’s no question having him in the game was crushing for the Steelers.
Losing to the Patriots and falling short of reaching the Super Bowl will take some time to get over, but the Steelers may have bigger concerns surrounding Big Ben’s future with the team. After making a comment about the possibility of retirement, Pittsburgh better hope their star quarterback will at least consider one more run with this team loaded with talent.
3. Dallas Cowboys
Of all the big surprises from the 2016 regular season, the Dallas Cowboys finishing with the best record in the NFC at 13-3 certainly ranks near the top of the list, especially since they managed to do so without Tony Romo. The Cowboys knew they had someone special in Ezekiel Elliott when the former Ohio State standout was selected as the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, but Dak Prescott working his way into the starting role as a rookie was completely unexpected.
To see these rookies find this much success during their first NFL seasons is terrifying to think about since this only seems to be the beginning of something special in Dallas. Now that these two superstars have a year of experience under their belt along with a playoff appearance, Elliott and Prescott are only going to get better heading into 2017.
As for Romo’s future with the team, the Cowboys shouldn’t feel bad about what happens next with the veteran since he’s only won two postseason games for the organization during his career. Romo may want to have the chance to be a starter, but Dallas also realizes how tough it is to find a reliable backup quarterback these days, which means they could end up keeping him around.
2. Atlanta Falcons
At the end of the day, the Atlanta Falcons have nobody to blame but themselves for their historic collapse in Super Bowl 51 against the New England Patriots. Any team with a 25-point lead should have no problem with hanging on to win the Super Bowl, but somehow the Falcons found a way to let it happen after allowing the Patriots to rally in the fourth quarter by scoring 19 points before eventually going on to lose in overtime.
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Really, it’s a shame to see Atlanta’s season come to an end this year when seeing all of the accomplishments made during the regular season and playoffs. Not only did the Falcons pull off epic wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers in the postseason, but Matt Ryan took home MVP honors after throwing for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions during the regular season.
In all honesty, this is going to be tough for the Falcons and their fans to overcome when seeing how close they were to earning their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history. On a positive note, at least there’s every reason to believe Atlanta will return next year as one of the top contenders in the NFC once again with the intention of making another run at the Super Bowl.
1. New England Patriots
Of all the Super Bowls the New England Patriots have won throughout the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, this will easily go down as the greatest when seeing everything they had to overcome just to be in this position. Not only did the Patriots have to deal with playing the first four games of the year without Brady due to suspension, But Belichick’s squad found themselves in an unimaginable situation when they found themselves trailing 28-3 late in the third quarter.
Instead of giving up and calling it quits, New England rallied behind Brady and stellar play by the defense to pull off the thrilling 34-28 win in overtime. To watch the Patriots rally after trailing by 25 points to win the way they did was simply unbelievable, and the perfect way to end what’s been a crazy season.
Brady was a man on a mission ever since he was eligible to return in Week 5 to prove Roger Goodell was wrong to suspend him over the first month of the season, and the future Hall of Famer certainly got the last laugh after the Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl in franchise history. What’s even more scary to think about on New England’s end is Brady still seems capable of playing at least three or four more years, which is why they deserve to be favorites heading into the 2017 season.