These rankings may surprise many of you. The Patriots or Falcons don’t top the list as the best in the league and neither the Browns nor the 49ers begin the list as the worst team in the league going into the 2017 season.
The Super Bowl is becoming an afterthought, the parades and parties are long gone. There’s no doubt about it anymore, Tom Brady and the Patriots proved to be the best for the 2016 season. But they don’t top our list of the early power rankings for the 2017 season. And even though the Browns resoundingly proved they were the worst last year, they are not the worst team ahead of the 2017 season.
Some may say that it’s a bit soon to determine each teams ranking, but hey, that’s why this is called the early power rankings. There’s still going to be a lot changing with the upcoming free agent market and the incoming draft class. Heck, the Browns have a chance to completely rebrand themselves with two picks in the first round this year.
So, we take some of that into account with these rankings. We know there is going to be a lot of action in the offseason and there’s no doubt going to be injuries and/or suspensions that affect future rankings. Right now, we can anticipate that each team will (hopefully) receive some help from their offseason moves.
But for these rankings, we’re looking at how well a team is positioned for next year. Those who top the list will likely be in the playoffs, while those who begin the list will likely have a top draft pick once again in 2018.
Note: Numbers in parenthesis indicate last season's records.
32 LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-12)
The Rams record last season was better than it should have been. They just looked awful for the vast majority of the season. Sure, the team won a few games early in the season and had a somewhat promising outlook. But as the season progressed, everything seemed to fall apart. Todd Gurley looked like one of the NFL’s best running backs a couple years ago.
But last year, the Rams awful play led to Gurley’s demise. There’s always hope that he’ll rebound, but that doesn’t seem likely with Jared Goff leading the offense. Goff’s rookie season was just terrible as he lost each of the seven games he started (those were also the last seven games of the season). Expect to see Los Angeles looking for a quarterback near the top of the 2018 draft.
31 CHICAGO BEARS (3-13)
Jay Cutler is coming off a surgery to his throwing shoulder and the Bears are either going to be stuck with the aging veteran, or left training a younger face to lead the offensive attack. Cutler has four years remaining on his contract. That makes fans in Chicago cringe. Fans would be happy to see Cutler unloaded on some team willing to pick up the contract, but that’s unlikely to happen.
No team should want to take an aged quarterback who’s always had trouble with injuries, especially when the most recent injury is to his throwing arm. Therefore, we’ll likely see a coach battling with reporters about who will be starting at the helm of the offense, and eventually that controversy will wear the team down to one of the worst in 2017.
30 CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-15)
Cleveland did so bad last year that the Browns recently announced they will be slashing season ticket prices for nearly half of their season tickets. Cleveland needs to do a lot to overcome this past one-win season, but it’s just too much to handle for one offseason. Sure, the Browns have a couple first round picks, a couple second round picks and a lot of talent to pool from in the free agent market. But there’s just too many areas that need improvement. Cleveland will likely win at least a few games next year, but expect them to be near the top of the draft board by the end of next season. It is just too hard to imagine that a team like Cleveland, who has failed almost every year at the top of the draft board, will be able to make everything right and get the right guys on the team.
29 NEW YORK JETS (5-11)
The Jets are another team struggling with finding a quarterback to lead the offense. But that’s the case nearly every season for teams who are struggling. Generally, the worst teams are those who don’t have the proper guy leading the offense. The Jets saw that last season, and will likely be hurting for a signal caller next season.
It takes a special type of talent to walk into New York and produce. Especially when it’s on the Jets, and especially when it’s the most important position in football. There just doesn’t seem like anyone out there who can take over and really shine with the Jets, one of the most analyzed and scrutinized teams in football. Currently, the best option seems to be Jay Cutler. But that seems more like a worst-case scenario for the team as Cutler hasn’t proved to overcome any pressure in Chicago.
28 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (2-14)
San Francisco has a chance to see the biggest swing next season. After nearly being the worst team in the league last season, the 49ers seemingly have the tools to make a run in 2017. Kyle Shanahan may have shown a few flaws in the planning during the second half of the Super Bowl, but we’re confident he will lead the 49ers offense from awful to awesome.
San Francisco has a lot of questions at the quarterback position, but unlike the Browns, Shanahan will have the tools needed to overcome this obstacle. With Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers at the very least have the option to pass on a quarterback in the draft, or pick up a young prospect to battle it out with Kaepernick.
27 BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)
Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Bills won’t be seeing any improvements on their 7-9 record last season. Actually, it’s more likely the team will fall into a deeper hole and see an even worse record. To begin, the Bills are currently slated with the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL (the Chiefs, the Raiders and the Chargers are the only teams with tougher schedules). It’s partly because the Bills are in the very competitive AFC East.
Making matters worse, the Bills don’t have a handle on their starting quarterback position. A lot can happen between now and the regular season, but this is a team that will likely have a lot of controversy surrounding its quarterback decisions. Especially because it doesn’t seem like bringing back Tyrod Taylor is the best option.
26 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3-13)
The Jaguars are another team not likely to see the postseason, or even a winning record next year. But the Jaguars do have a star at the center of the offense, which gives them a heck of a lot more upside then the previous teams on this list. The Jaguars defense isn’t doing the team any favors and will likely result in the need for a very high performing offense.
The defense will likely give up a lot of points, so, the offense will be required to score a lot of points. If Blake Bortles can stay healthy and avoid some of his previous mistakes, the team has a shot to break even, or maybe even see a winning record. But the Jaguars lack of a defensive threat hurts their chances at seeing the postseason, especially with the lack of talent surrounding Bortles.
25 LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-11)
The Los Angeles Chargers are set with a good, veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers and a good running back in Melvin Gordon, who finished last season with 997 rushing yards. The Chargers offensive line will likely create some of the opportunities for Gordon to produce a similar season (especially if the O-line gets some extra talent from the offseason moves), but the question remains if Rivers will bounce back from his struggles nearing the end of last season.
Rivers did finish fifth in the NFL for passing yards last season, but he also finished with a career-high 21 interceptions. Also, he had the lowest completion percentage of his career (60.4 percent). It’s concerning if this aging veteran will be able to minimize the mistakes this year.
24 HOUSTON TEXANS (9-7)
The Texans are going to return to their spot at the bottom of the league next season. As it currently stands, Houston really dropped the ball in offering Brock Osweiler a multi-year contract. Osweiler looks to be set for another year at the helm of this team, unless one of the available veterans in the league shows up. But adding an aged vet to this offense isn’t the fix it needs.
The Texans scored just 25 touchdowns in its 16 regular season games last season. That’s the fewest in NFL history for teams who played 16 games in a season. Osweiler was a big part of that, though. Osweiler passed for less than 200 yards despite throwing the ball more than 40 times. That’s a stat that came from four of his games last season. Those numbers are just horrific.
23 BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-8)
The Ravens are aging and although they’ve got enough talent to have another .500 season, they’re just getting to old to be considered reliable in the long run. Even if this team manages success early in the season, it will likely die down as the season progresses. It’s just too hard to imagine that the Ravens will make all the right offseason moves and fill out a roster that is beginning to hurt from its age.
But the defense does still have some threatening abilities, and if the Ravens can pull together some offensive talent, they have a chance to jump above the .500 record. Though, it could be tough with the way Joe Flacco looked in 2016. There’s no doubting that Flacco will lead this offense once again, but that might not be the best thing for the Ravens.
22 CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-9-1)
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are stars who lead this offense each week. But they’re not enough to bring the Bengals to a winning season. There are questions surrounding the running game and the passing game in Cincinnati. Giovani Bernard is returning from a torn ACL, so who knows if he’ll be able to return to his No. 1 running back status. And Jeremy Hill is good at times, but not all the time.
And getting some help for Green may need to come in the form of someone other than Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd. The Steelers are the clear winner in this conference, but the Bengals have a chance at the top if they are able to fill out the offense with a couple more playmakers.
21 MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-8)
Sam Bradford wasted two first round picks. The first was when the Rams drafted him, and now he wasted the Vikings first-round pick that was traded away for Bradford. Sure, Bradford proved he deserves the starting spot in Minnesota, but he’s just not good enough to take this team any further with the talent it provides.
Plus, there’s a good chance the team will be left without Adrian Peterson. That’s a big reason the Vikings are so low on the list, and they could drop even lower once Peterson departs. But even if he stays, injuries will likely be a part of his career. Also, the Vikings just have to many voids in their offense to be considered a playoff-worthy team.
20 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (7-9)
Carson Wentz still needs time to improve and the Eagles still need to find him a reliable receiver. Currently, Wentz is hurt by his inexperience and the lack of threats he has in his receivers. The Eagles have a very good defensive front, which very well could return mostly in tact next season. A couple adjustments to that front can even make it better.
But the Eagles will be dealing with cap space during the offseason, and they will likely be forced to cut away some of the talent that has led to previous success. Next season will just be too early for Wentz to mature into that franchise-level quarterback that Philadelphia needs. But drafting a star wide receiver can go along way for the Eagles progression.
19 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)
Some help on defense would drastically improve New Orleans position in the rankings. The Saints just can’t be considered a playoff-bound team with a very old quarterback and a defense that can’t seem to stop anyone. But the defensive unit is what worries us more. Drew Brees is one of the oldest guys in the league, but he’s still tossing up crazy numbers.
Brees, for the fifth time in his career, led the league with 471 completions. He also led the league in passing yards with 5,208 – that was the seventh time he’s done that. Oh, and he also threw 37 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions. Brees has been a star for more than a decade, and he’ll likely be a star for at least another year (sidenote: he’ll be 38 next season). The Saints just really need help on defense, which we don’t anticipate seeing that happen.
18 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (8-8)
Andrew Luck still remains the shining star and franchise face for this organization, and nothing will change that in 2017. Sure, things like injuries can knock Luck out of the game, but the 27-year-old will helm this offense for the foreseeable future. The Colts have huge names on the roster. They’ve got cornerback Vontae Davis and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. The things they’re lacking on is depth, and the team could use some help with its offensive line.
Although we’re not worried about the Colts regular season chances, the front office needs to make some offseason moves to set this team up for postseason success. If the Colts big-3 can remain healthy and their surrounded by returning talent, there’s no reason the Colts can’t make a run for the playoffs next season.
17 DETROIT LIONS (9-7)
The Lions seemed like they were always just one play away from a complete meltdown. Although the Lions had a really good record last season despite working without Ameer Abdullah, their consistent struggle to stay ahead and win games really makes them an iffy team going into the 2017 season. The Lions have a long list of free agents to work through, and they have a chance to remain largely unchanged.
But they should look at getting another running back into the mix in case Abdullah goes down again. Theo Riddick is good, but not a rusher you want to place all your hope in. And Matthew Stafford is great, but he could really use another wide receiver on this offense. If the Lions can fill those gaps, they can be looking at the postseason next year.
16 WASHINGTON REDSKINS (8-7-1)
Of course, Kirk Cousins is a major part of this offensive scheme. But regardless of who leads the offense, the Redskins just don’t have the tools needed to jump any higher on this list. The Redskins have an aged wide receiver core that is led by DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Jackson has proved to be an elite receiver but Garcon is quietly disappearing from the consistent force that he used to be. Although there’s a chance none of these three will be on the Redskins next season, that is a doubtful possibility.
The Redskins likely won’t skid out of control next season. But they likely won’t see any overwhelming success. The best bet is that Washington will, once again, remain among the middle of the league.
15 CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-10)
The fact that Cam Newton leads this offense gives Carolina a huge boost in these rankings, despite the awful season seen last year. The Panthers had a miserable record, but that can very likely turn around because of Newton. Newton essentially failed as a quarterback last season, which resulted in a lot of losses for Carolina. Newton’s worst stat was his completion percentage, 52.9 percent, which was one of the worst in the league.
What the Panthers should do, and probably will do, is get a young stud to lead the backfield out of the draft. An elite rusher in the backfield would do wonders for this offensive scheme. Also, Newton could use another wide receiver to expand his options for next season. But as long as Newton rebounds from last season, which he most likely will, the Panthers will be fine.
14 MIAMI DOLPHINS (11-5)
The Dolphins had a great season last year (partly due to a weak schedule), but really disappointed fans with rough outings late in the season. They did however, manage to win nine of their last 11 regular season games after a 1-4 start. Although the Dolphins made it all the way to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 (before eventually losing to Pittsburgh), we don’t expect the same showing next year.
First off, it looks like the Dolphins will have a tougher schedule than last season. Second, it doesn’t seem like the free agency market will provide Miami with the tools it needs to fix its defense. The Dolphins are seemingly set on the offensive side of the ball, but defensive troubles will prove to be their downfall next year.
13 ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-8-1)
Carson Palmer could go down to either retirement or injury this season. At age 37, either one of those options is a possibility for the veteran. The Cardinals will obviously benefit greatly from keeping Palmer around, but they have a lot of talent to be successful if they need to go another route with their offense.
The Cardinals have possibly the best running back in the league with David Johnson and one of the league’s best receivers in Larry Fitzgerald. Sure, a quarterback change could slow this teams progress, but not much. And on defense they’ve got a couple of the best guys in the league in defensive end Calais Campbell, outside linebacker Chandler Jones and strong safety Tony Jefferson. The Cardinals are just too talented to be lower on this list, regardless of Palmer’s status.
12 TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7)
The offseason potential for Tennessee is among the best in the NFL this year. And Tennessee seems poised to make a huge run next year. The Titans have two first round picks (the fifth and the 18th) and they’re working with a lot of cap room.
What’s even better? They’ve got a young star in Marcus Mariota leading the offense. No doubt, they will find another wide receiver to pair up with Mariota. Although that will most definitely elevate his status as a quarterback, he has been really good with the guys he’s already got. Sure, there is still some work that needs to be done in the offseason. But we’re confident that the Titans are in one of the better positions to make the moves needed this offseason.
11 DENVER BRONCOS (9-7)
Here’s another team with a great defense, but is hurt on the offensive side of the ball. The Broncos have had one of the best defensive attacks in recent years, but their offensive seems to be getting worse after each season. Currently, it looks like the Broncos will have a competition to determine who will be their starter on Day 1. They’ve got really good receivers out in Denver, but there is a big question on who will be throwing them the ball. The team also has problems with maintaining a healthy and consistent running game, which could prove to be a bigger issue if C.J. Anderson goes down again. Denver’s new offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, will have a lot of work to do going into next season. But at least it looks like the Broncos are putting a heavy focus on their offense.
10 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (12-4)
Kansas City is right on the edge of continuing success or failing miserably. Part of the problem with the Chiefs is that they can very well make another playoff run, but it doesn’t seem like they can make any moves that would propel them further in the postseason. The Chiefs had a lot of close games last year, which is the initial worry for a team that was seemingly great before it all fell apart in a disastrous game.
The toughest thing with the Chiefs is that they really seemed so good going into the playoffs last year. It just left such an awful taste in every fans mouth when we watched Kansas City fail to beat a Pittsburgh team that didn’t score a touchdown.
9 OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-4)
Assuming Derek Carr can get healthy and remain healthy, the Raiders are a favorite going into 2017. But the team just seems too good to be true. And in a lot of ways, they are. We saw how terribly the team faltered once the injured Carr was moved to the bench. That’s scary for a team who went 12-4 and looked poised for a deep playoff run. Who knew the young quarterback was so important to a team that has a large amount of talented skill position players.
The other scary part is that the Raiders went 6-0 in games decided by less than a touchdown. Who knows how those close games will finish next season. But Carr will likely take over again and likely lead the Raiders to another postseason.
8 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-7)
There’s a good chance that 2017 will be the year of Jameis Winston. Winston has already proven to be a star and he’ll likely be among the league’s best quarterbacks in 2017. He’s young. He’s talented. And he’s got a lot of talent surrounding him. But he could use more. Doug Martin will be out the first three games because of a suspension, so the Buccaneers will need to account for a running back during that time. And they could also use some help at the wide receiver position.
Although Mike Evans has proved to be among the league’s best wide receivers. But no one else on his team comes even close to his talent level. If Winston had another viable option out there, this team could really go far.
7 NEW YORK GIANTS (11-5)
The Giants had an awful running game last season, but that didn’t seem to matter. So, the lack of a solid rusher doesn’t hurt this team too much. There should be no reason why the Giants don’t make another playoff run this year. Of course, there is a large number of things that can derail a team, but the Giants have positioned themselves greatly for another run at the playoffs.
The Giants have a star quarterback and an absolute star wide receiver. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. are a combination of greatness that few teams ever get to enjoy. Manning may begin seeing some issues associated with his age, but 13 seasons in the league will be more of an advantage for the veteran signal caller. And the defense seems to be on the way up as well. As long as this continues, the Giants are staged for success.
6 GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-6)
As long as Aaron Rodgers is on the field, the Packers will remain near the top of anyone’s power rankings. Rodgers is a six-time Pro Bowler and a two-time MVP who does not look to be slowing down anytime soon. And the Packers have surrounded him with offensive threats that worry most defenses. The Packers offense is among the best in the league, they just need to continue strengthening their defense to make a deeper playoff push.
But there are a lot of questions surrounding this offseason for Green Bay. One of the biggest names who could be dismissed from the roster is Clay Matthews, just one of the many upcoming free agents from Green Bay. Sure, the Packers may bring in some talent but they’re not known for signing big name players all that often.
5 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-5-1)
Despite the success that Russell Wilson has seen in the past, Seattle has been failing the quarterback lately. Wilson is getting beat up and bruised all too often behind his offensive line. The Seahawks would be higher on this list if it weren’t for the weak offensive front. Seattle does have Wilson, and a great playmaking wide receiver in Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks also have a few other offensive threats who can make big plays. And of course, Seattle’s defensive attack is among the best in the league. Each year, Seattle manages to scare the crap out of offenses with defensive schemes.
The Seahawks just need a bit of help protecting their quarterback. If they can manage to give Wilson more time, he’ll put up better stats, take this team further in the postseason, and likely stay in the league much longer.
4 ATLANTA FALCONS (11-5)
Since the Falcons still have Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, they don’t fall any lower than this spot and just missed out on the No. 3 position in these rankings. But there are two major factors keeping the Falcons from the top few spots of this list. First, is the Super Bowl hangover. Sure, this is a bit of superstition mixed in, but it’s happened a large number of times in the past. Lose in a Super Bowl and expect to lose in the next few seasons. Though that’s not always the case, we’ve seen it happen before and we’ll see it happen again. Also, the team will be working without its offensive mastermind in Kyle Shanahan. Maybe the Falcons new offensive coordinator will prove to be great, but it’s more likely he’ll struggle at the start.
3 PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-5)
There is some talk that Ben Roethlisberger might retire. We think that’s absurd, which is why Pittsburgh still ranks near the top of this list. But if Roethlisberger did play his last game in the NFL, the Steelers would significantly fall on this list. But not too low.
If the Steelers keep Le’Veon Bell, they’ll be holding possibly the most skilled and talented athlete in the league. Bell has had trouble with suspensions the past couple of years, and some injuries, but when he’s in the game, no one is better. And Antonio Brown adds another level of greatness to this offensive threat. There are a couple of things that could hurt this team in the offseason, but we don’t anticipate those happening just yet.
2 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-2)
How long can Tom Brady go? He’ll be 40 next year and that’s a scary age for anyone in sports – especially NFL quarterbacks. We’ve got to think that the aging Brady won’t be able to keep up with the young guns who top the list. Sure, Brady just showed everyone he could still lead one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. Sure, Brady still looks like the best quarterback in the league.
But every quarterback hits that wall at some point. And this upcoming season will be Brady’s wall. You can still expect a deep playoff run out of the superstar. He’s the best-ever, so hitting a wall just means no more Super Bowls for Tom Brady. But there’s a good chance Bill Belichick will find a way to get him close.
1 DALLAS COWBOYS (13-3)
After what we saw out of the Cowboys last season, there was little reason why they shouldn’t be topping this list. The Cowboys are led by two young playmakers, but that’s what makes them so good. It’s refreshing to see two young studs take over in a league that’s dominated by aging superstars.
Not only will the Cowboys repeat their playoff run, they’ll finally be viable Super Bowl contenders. No longer will Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott be caught up in all of that rookie talk. Now, they’ll be looked at as experienced athletes who are ready to leave their mark on the game. They may not be at their peak just yet, but after seeing what they could do in their first season, it should be very fun to watch what comes next.