The 2018 NFL season is just over a month away, and it feels like there will be more parity than ever before.
You can make a case that half of the 32 teams can win a Super Bowl. On top of that, at least two-thirds of the clubs all look like they could be playoff contenders in 2018. On top of that, the New England Patriots no longer look like a guarantee to win the AFC - and the long-time NFC bully Seattle Seahawks are going to actually be bullied a lot for the next several years.
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles opened the 2017 season as a darkhorse team - but not one that we thought would win a Super Bowl. When Carson Wentz tore his ACL late in the year, Philly's championship dreams were seemingly dashed. That was until Nick Foles came off the bench and led this franchise to its first Super Bowl. Don't think that the Eagles are going away any time soon, either.
As we head into the 2018 season, there are eight teams that look like the cream of the crop - ones that could win a Super Bowl this upcoming season, in 2019 or in 2020. There are several that look talented on paper, but probably won't compete for championships any time soon. Then, there are your usual bottom feeders that can only dream of the playoffs for the time being.
Here is a look at the teams that will compete for the next three Super Bowls, the ones that will fall short of their expectations and the ones that will continue to drift to the bottom of the standings.
25 Bottom Feeder: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks saw their streak of five consecutive playoff seasons come to an end, and a rebuild is underway in the Pacific Northwest. Star tight end Jimmy Graham is gone, as are a large portion of the key pieces on defense. This includes Kam Chancellor (retired), Richard Sherman (released before signing in San Fran), Jeremy Lane (released), and Michael Bennett - who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Quarterback Russell Wilson isn't enough to fix this mess of a team. The o-line remains awful, and he can only withstand so many hits.
Seattle's fall from grace happened rather quickly, and it's going to be a while until they get back there. The defense will take several years to rebuild, so Seahawks fans better keep their expectations low.
24 Can Win: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders were a disaster in 2017 after winning 12 games the year prior, but new head coach Jon Gruden will change all of that. The former Monday Night Football analyst returns to a team that he built into a contender two decades ago, and nobody should doubt his ability to turn this team around quickly.
Oakland has a franchise quarterback in Derek Carr, star playmakers in Amari Cooper and Marshawn Lynch, a game-changer on defense in Khalil Mack plus a revitalized secondary, led by newcomers Rashaan Melvin and Leon Hall.
Gruden has plenty of talent to work with on both sides, and he'll quickly turn the Raiders into something special.
23 Won't Win: Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers appear to be the trendy pick to win the AFC West, but hold your horses.
This team has made the playoffs just once in the past nine years; they're an all-hype, no-action team. Why should 2018 be different?
Sure, Philip Rivers is still at the top of his game and all, but losing tight end Hunter Henry for the season (torn ACL), will hurt his production a lot. The defense is rock solid, but can it sustain its success after a relatively easy schedule in 2017?
The Chargers don't quite have the same level of talent as other AFC teams to be considered a Super Bowl contender, so lower your expectations on them. The Raiders are poised to rule the AFC West for years to come.
22 Bottom Feeder: Denver Broncos
As a long-time Broncos supporter, it hurts me to type this, but it doesn't take a genius to look at this roster and know it simply doesn't compare to the 2011 to '15 teams that won the division five years in a row.
Yes, Bradley Chubb and Von Miller will be an electrifying pass-rushing duo, while Chris Harris Jr. remains one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks, but quarterback Case Keenum has to show he wasn't a one-year wonder in Minnesota. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have to show that they're not slowing down, even though both men are in their 30s now.
The offensive line and ground game also doesn't leave much room for optimism. Expect the Broncos to be contending for top-10 picks more than playoff spots for several years.
21 Can Win: New Orleans Saints
The Saints own arguably the NFL's best offense, led by ageless future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, star wideout Michael Thomas and arguably the game's best running back duo in Mark Ingram and 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara.
New Orleans' defense also took massive leaps in 2017, and there's no reason to believe they can't be even better. Marshon Lattimore should build off an impressive rookie season, while pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins will continue to terrorize the defense.
The Saints are balanced on both sides of the ball, and there's time for Brees to add another ring to his legendary career.
20 Bottom Feeder: Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins snapped an eight-year playoff drought in 2016, but their playoff hopes were doomed once Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL last August and was ruled out for the entire season.
Though Jay Cutler and Matt Moore did somewhat better than expected, the Dolphins simply couldn't get it done without their top quarterback. Now, they enter 2018 with plenty of questions.
Can a 30-year-old Tannehill bounce back after numerous knee injuries? Who will catch the ball with Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry being traded to the Cleveland Browns? Will the defense be productive without Ndamukong Suh?
Until these questions are answered, we have to expect the DOlphins to be a mediocre team that will win about five to nine games a season. Super Bowl contention cannot be in the conversation right now.
19 Won't Win: Buffalo Bills
The Bills ended their 17-year playoff drought and drafted Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in the first round of this year's draft, so there's plenty of optimism brewing among the fans.
Though the Bills are slowly building a championship contender, it's going to take several more years. The defensive line isn't as dominant as it was some years ago, and there simply aren't any playmakers on offense outside of LeSean McCoy - who's facing some serious allegations at the moment.
Buffalo needs to spend vital time developing Allen and fixing the supporting cast around him. The defense and offensive line also need a couple of years to grow, so don't expect this team to compete for titles just yet. It's too soon to think about that.
18 Bottom Feeder: New York Jets
The Jets had a productive offseason, re-signing Josh McCown, adding Teddy Bridgewater and drafting Sam Darnold to hopefully fix their long-time problem at quarterback. Trumaine Johnson and Avery Williamson were signed to fix a woeful defense, and the Jets should start making noise again in the coming years.
But right now, it's far too early for Jets fans to think about the playoffs. Darnold will be a great quarterback for years to come, but the Jets are taking this rebuild slowly, as they should, and there's no way they're ready to compete with other AFC powerhouses.
The Jets haven't made the playoffs since 2010, and it's hard to envision them ending the drought any time soon.
17 Can Win: Green Bay Packers
The Packers are always a Super Bowl contender when Aaron Rodgers is healthy, but the team's inability to build around him was exposed during a 7-9 2017 season - in which he missed all but seven games.
But the Packers front office went to work this offseason, signing star defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, giving Rodgers a mega red zone weapon to work with.
Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl XLV championship and has taken them to two of the last four NFC title games.
As long as Rodgers stays healthy, the Packers are a top-five team with a chance at winning the Super Bowl every year.
16 Won't Win: Detroit Lions
The Lions have posted winning seasons in three of the last four years, but they haven't won a playoff game since 1991. But the hiring of head coach Matt Patricia - part of Bill Belichick's coaching tree - and signing of Super Bowl champion running back LeGarrette Blount leave room for optimism.
But the bad news for the Lions is that the NFC North will be tougher than ever before. The Packers and Minnesota Vikings are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, while the Chicago Bears are a sleeper team heading into 2018.
Detroit has a world class quarterback in Matthew Stafford, but they don't quite have the playmakers on defense to measure up to championship contender status.
15 Bottom Feeder: Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals stand to lose legendary wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald after the 2018 season, as the future Hall of Famer seems ready to call it a career. Losing safety Tyrann Mathieu will hurt their defense for years to come, and the Cardinals don't have much young talent to build around.
Signing quarterback Sam Bradford was a very questionable move, but the long-term answer at quarterback is 2018 first-round pick, Josh Rosen. But how will the Cardinals keep up with rising NFC powers, such as divisional foes like the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers?
The Cardinals look like they want to contend for a playoff spot in 2018, rather than go for the full-on rebuild. They're making a mistake, and it's going to be a while until you see them in the playoff race again.
14 Can Win: Minnesota Vikings
Led by the best scoring and yardage defense in the NFL last season, Minnesota won 13 games and reached the NFC Championship - and that was with career journeyman Case Keenum at quarterback.
Now, the Vikings go into 2018 with the same core as last year, except they have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Kirk Cousins and added a star defensive lineman in Sheldon Richardson.
Minnesota has elite talent all over the roster, and sophomore running back Dalvin Cook should make an immediate impact in the ground game after missing most of his rookie year with a torn ACL. The Vikings are a complete team, and they should be considered a top-five team heading into 2018.
13 Won't Win: Tennessee Titans
The Titans had one of the better offseasons, signing Pro Bowler Malcolm Butler, flashy running back Dion Lewis and hiring Mike Vrabel to coach a talented team that couldn't get on the same page as Mike Mularkey.
Tennessee has one of the best young cores in the NFL right now, but it's hard to pinpoint them as a contender until quarterback Marcus Mariota takes it to the next level. He is the game's fastest signal-caller, but Mariota hasn't developed as a pocket passer yet.
The Titans don't quite look ready to challenge the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC South, and they aren't on the same level as Pittsburgh, New England in the conference. As such, let's wait about three more years until we can label them a championship contender.
12 Bottom Feeder: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are a primary example of how something special can be ruined with awful management. Andrew Luck led this team to three consecutive playoff berths. The Colts have failed to make the playoffs since, and won just three games in 2017 while a shoulder injury kept Luck sidelined the entire year.
It was two years overdue, but the Colts finally cut loose head coach Chuck Pagano and hired Frank Reich. But even if Luck plays all of 2018, this entire roster is completely flawed - and not good enough to compete for playoff spots, let alone championships.
The offensive line has been a mess for years, the defense lost cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin and Vontae Davis, and the ground game lost Frank Gore. The Colts didn't find any suitable replacements, so it's hard to be optimistic about a quick turnaround.
11 Can Win: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars had the second-best defense in both yardage and points last year, and there's no reason to believe they can't dominate again in 2017. A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey are two of the game's top-five cornerbacks, while Calais Campbell is arguably the top pass-rusher.
Jacksonville also boasts a top-10 offensive line and a star running back in Leonard Fournette. Even though quarterback Blake Bortles had a subpar year, the Jaguars were a couple of plays away from reaching their very first Super Bowl. There's plenty of reason to believe he can be better in 2018.
The Jaguars are by far the deepest team in the AFC, and their defense won't be taking any steps back next year.
Expect the Jaguars to fight for home advantage in the AFC, and they'll be a bonafide Super Bowl contender for many years to come.
10 Bottom Feeder: Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins made a bold choice to move on from Kirk Cousins and trade for Alex Smith. While Smith takes better care of the football than Cousins, he's also a lot older and he had elite talent around him in KC.
The secondary is going to be a formidable unit under star corner Josh Norman, but the lack of pass-catchers and playmakers on offense are worrisome. Jamison Crowder is the lone standout receiver, and there are plenty of questions in the ground game.
Can Smith really repeat a career 2017 season, with far less talent around him in Washington? Unlikely, and we should expect this team to be mediocre for several years, barring any surprises from Smith and co.
9 Won't Win: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs made the right call to trade Alex Smith and go with 2017 first round pick Patrick Mahomes, and the signing of star wide receiver Sammy Watkins could be one of the best moves of 2018.
But the Chiefs made some questionable decisions to overhaul a very talented defense. Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali were let go, while cornerback Marcus Peters was traded to the Rams.
Kansas City doesn't have much to offer on that side of the ball, with the exceptions of Eric Berry and Justin Houston.
You need defense to win in today's NFL, but Kansas City doesn't have enough playmakers to hang with the top teams in the AFC.
Expect them to be a consistent playoff contender, but it'll be a while until they're a Super Bowl contender again.
8 Can Win: Pittsburgh Steelers
Even though the Patriots were the no.1 seed in the AFC a year ago, the Steelers were by far the better team throughout 2017, and they should be considered the team to beat in the conference.
Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown remain the best offensive trio in the NFL. The defense took major leaps in 2018 and should be even better, thanks to a strong draft that saw them take safeties Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen.
Unlike the Patriots and Jaguars, the Steelers have plenty of big-time playmakers on both sides of the football. Coming off a 13-win season and being just two seasons removed from an AFC Championship Game appearance, Pittsburgh is the top team in the AFC and they'll be a title contender for several more years.
7 Bottom Feeder: Cincinnati Bengals
It's absolutely amazing. Marvin Lewis has been head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals since 2003. They have zero postseason wins in over a quarter-century. This team has missed the playoffs in two straight years, and yet, Lewis was signed to an extension after the 2017 season.
On top of that, the Bengals once again refused to spend money in the offseason and believe that a mediocre quarterback in Andy Dalton can lead them to the promised land. We all know what the definition of insanity is.
Until the Bengals front office/ownership smells the morning coffee, they'll be stuck watching the same old song and dance; mediocre seasons with no playoff wins. This team has long-term bottom feeder written all over it.
6 Won't Win: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have made the playoffs just once since their Super Bowl 47 championship, and the team has unraveled to squander away easy postseason berths in the last two years. Why should we expect something different in 2018?
There's too much talent on defense for the Ravens to be awful, and the ground game and offensive line are quite stellar, too. However, quarterback Joe Flacco continues to be the weak link for this Baltimore team, though the lack of quality pass-catchers doesn't help him.
Baltimore isn't anywhere close to competing with Pittsburgh, Jacksonville or Oakland in the AFC.
Sure, they may squeak out some eight or nine-win seasons, but this isn't a Super Bowl contender until they make a change at quarterback.
5 Can Win: Los Angeles Rams
After winning the NFC West with an 11-5 record, the Rams somehow got five times better in the offseason. Rams GM Les Snead traded for Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandin Cooks, shutdown cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and signed future Hall of Famer, Ndamukong Suh. What an offseason he had.
The Rams already boasted elite offenses and defenses last season. Talib and Peters in that secondary, along with safety Lamarcus Joyner? Suh and Aaron Donald on the same defensive line? Cooks, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff together? Wowza.
Yup, the Rams are young, elite and scary. This team could be the next NFL dynasty. They should be considered the biggest threat to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018 and beyond. What a time it'll be for Rams fans.
4 Bottom Feeder: Cleveland Browns
Many are optimistic that the Cleveland Browns may return to relevance in the near future, which is easy to understand. Baker Mayfield is a top quarterback prospect and should do aplenty with Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry as his receivers. Jamie Collins and Myles Garrett should lead an elite defense for years to come, too.
But this is a very young Cleveland team that needs time to gel together and find the right chemistry.
Mayfield is no guarantee to be a franchise quarterback, and he's likely backing up Tyrod Taylor to start the season.
Expect at least a couple of more losing seasons in Cleveland before they start to turn a corner. Rebuilds like this don't usually end in one dramatic year.
3 Won't Win: New England Patriots
This will be the year the dynasty of 17-plus years comes to an end.
You can say the Patriots will be a Super Bowl contender all you want, so long as they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But there are way too many obstacles for this team to overcome. Let's recap:
-Tom Brady turns 41, and has to decline at some point
-Rob Gronkowski could get traded, according to reports
-Julian Edelman is suspended the first four games for violating the league's wellness policy
-There's plenty of reported tension between Belichick, Brady, Gronk, owner Robert Kraft and others
-The team lost Brady's blind side protector in Nate Solder in free agency, lead running back Dion Lewis, clutch performer Danny Amendola and No. 2 cornerback, Malcolm Butler
Yeah, the Patriots dynasty is ending quickly. Too many questions, concerns and problems all over for the first time since Belichick became head coach in 2000.
2 Can Win: Philadelphia Eagles
Unlike many recent Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles may have actually gotten better in the offseason, and they're in an excellent position to not only repeat, but to also compete for titles over the next five years.
The Eagles will welcome back Carson Wentz, who tore his ACL late in the season and watched Nick Foles lead the team to a Super Bowl title. Star pass-rusher Michael Bennett will join a stacked defensive line led by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, while speedy wideout Mike Wallace joins a star-studded offense that includes Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery.
Philadelphia remains the team to beat not only in 2018, but for many years to come. There's just too much young talent all over for this team not to be a perennial contender.
1 Bottom Feeder: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers won nine games in 2016 and looked poised to be a playoff contender in 2017. Instead, injuries hit the team hard, and they slumped to a 5-11 finish - last in the NFC South.
Well, things aren't about to get any better. The team released running back Doug Martin and didn't find a suitable replacement. Quarterback Jameis Winston is suspended for three games following an alleged groping incident, and it remains to be seen if he'll ever become the franchise QB this team envisioned.
The Buccaneers also play in a division that features three playoff teams from last year, and none of them are going away any time soon. It's going to be a miserable few years in Tampa Bay, so their fans better just watch highlights of Super Bowl 38. Really, that's all there is to make the fans happy.