The 2017 NFL season is now over, but the countdown to free agency, the 2018 NFL Draft, and the 2018 season is already underway for rabid fans of the league. In case you missed it, the Eagles have finally won a Super Bowl, and they figure to be right back in contention for another championship next season. This is where I see them and other teams standing as we head into the offseason, but keep in mind a lot will change between now and September—and it’s impossible to know how a team will really be until you see them on the field.
1. New England Patriots
They are losing their offensive and defensive coordinators, but the Patriots still have the best player in the history of the league and the best coach in the history of the league. He’ll be 41 next season, but Tom Brady isn’t going to decline, and you can bet he’ll be as motivated as ever after his team fell short in the Super Bowl. Also, it looks like they are in the weaker of the two conferences. I’m just not betting against them as the favorites as of now.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Obviously, the argument can be made for the defending champs in the top spot of the power rankings, but they are a very close number two for me. Carson Wentz was outstanding before he went down in Week 14 with a knee injury, but we need to hope he doesn’t rush back from the injury just so he’s ready for Week 1. Also, if Wentz takes some time to get back to his normal self, a quarterback controversy could emerge after Nick Foles led the team to its first Super Bowl in franchise history. Because of the depth on the roster, I would not trade Foles. In the NFL, you need two quarterbacks unless you have someone like a Tom Brady or Eli Manning that rarely misses games.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia was an absolute nightmare for the Vikings, and it’s difficult to imagine a season ending on a worse note than that. However, they were up there with the Eagles as the best team in the NFC all season, and the ultra-talented defense should keep them among the conference’s elite again in 2018. The loss of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur could be big, but if they can get Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo it would be huge in helping offset that loss. OC and quarterback are the big question marks for the team, and their ranking could be a lot different by the time the season rolls around. Personally, I would go with the upside of Sam Bradford as a pinpoint pocket passer that doesn’t make many mistakes.
4. Los Angeles Rams
The fact that the Rams have the Offensive Player of the Year (Todd Gurley), the Defensive Player of the Year (Aaron Donald), and the Coach of the Year (Sean McVay) shows the upside of this squad. One downside to the Rams is their lack of a true homefield advantage in Los Angeles, but perhaps the very good first season under McVay will build some excitement in the city. I’m interested to see how they add to the team this offseason.
5. Atlanta Falcons
Considering they came off a crushing loss in Super Bowl LI to the Patriots last season and many were expecting a Super Bowl hangover, the Falcons had a fine season and were inches away from beating the Eagles in the Divisional Round. Steve Sarkisian should only get better in his second season coaching the offense, and the team should probably look to add another dynamic weapon outside to compliment Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Defensively, Atlanta has the potential to progress into a stifling unit under head coach Dan Quinn.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
It was great to hear Ben Roethilsberger had zero hesitation about returning in 2018, and that should make Steelers fans optimistic. Hopefully, Big Ben’s return will set the tone for the entire team that they’re on a mission to win another Lombardi Trophy, but it’ll take a focus on each and every week. There should be no looking ahead to facing the Patriots in the playoffs—they just need to take care of business and see if they end up where they want to be.
7. New Orleans Saints
While the Rams have the Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, the Saints have the Offensive Rookie of the Year (Alvin Kamara) and Defensive Rookie of the Year (Marshon Lattimore). Everyone in the organization seems to think they have something special brewing in the Big Easy, and I don’t see them taking a step back next season. The Drew Brees contract shouldn’t be much of a concern, as the two sides have both indicated a deal will get done.
8. Carolina Panthers
The firing of offensive coordinator Mike Shula was a bit of a surprise, but it’s hard not to like the hiring of long-time coach Norv Turner to run the offense. Turner should be able to utilize running back Christian McCaffrey, who arguably should’ve gotten the ball in his hands more than he did as a rookie. As long as Luke Kuechly remains healthy, the defense will be good enough to get the team back to another Super Bowl.
9. Green Bay Packers
The roster on defense isn’t quite as strong deep as some of the other teams in the NFC, which is why the Packers are ranked as the seventh-best team in the conference as of now. However, they do have some players, particularly safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, to build a strong group on that side of the ball if they add more players for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Aaron Rodgers will have a little extra on the chip on his shoulder after his season was basically taken away because of a broken collarbone, and he’s clearly someone that can carry the Pack to another Super Bowl.
10. Los Angeles Chargers
It did not end in a playoff appearance, but the Chargers ended the regular season as well as almost anyone in the NFL, going 6-1 down the stretch with some dominant wins. They have two of the best coordinators in the league returning, as Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley will be back, and the roster is stacked with talent. The Chargers could be a force in 2018.
11. Tennessee Titans
By all accounts, Mike Vrabel is going to make a very good head coach, and I like their decision to hire offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur from the Rams. Sean McVay admitted he “might regret” letting LaFleur go when he didn’t have to under NFL rules, but he wanted to give his former offensive coordinator the opportunity to call plays and grow as a person and coach. While battling injuries for most of the year, Marcus Mariota did not have the type of season he would have liked, but he made plays with his team up against it toward the end of the season. If healthy in 2018, he and the Titans could explode.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are going with a major upside play by trading Alex Smith, who has the second-most wins in the NFL since 2011 (behind only Tom Brady), in favor of young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes II, and it’s one that could come with some growing pains. However, Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the NFL and should be able to get at least solid play out of Mahomes. The acquisition of cornerback Kendall Fuller in the Smith deal (which is not yet official but will be at the start of the league year in March) helps what is probably the weakest spot of Kansas City’s roster.
13. Oakland Raiders
They are down at 13 for me, but I wouldn’t be opposed to the Raiders being as high as number three in the power rankings. Jon Gruden lives and breathes football, and he spent nine years getting up in the middle of the night to study film. His offense should be extremely multiple and tough for opposing defenses to stop. The biggest concern about the Raiders is team chemistry, but Gruden has the liberty to do what need to be done in terms of jettisoning players that don’t fit the culture he wants to build.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars were one of the final four teams standing this season, and this ranking does not mean I think they were a fluke. This ranks them as the seventh best team in the AFC, which is the same as the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers in the NFC. However, the AFC South should be a lot tougher with the other three quarterbacks getting healthy, and the Jaguars will now be the hunted after winning the division in 2017. They should remain playoff contenders, but I’m a little more confident in other teams as of now.
15. San Francisco 49ers
There’s no question Jimmy Garoppolo is the main reason I have the Niners in the top 15, as the former understudy of Tom Brady went 5-0 as the team’s starting quarterback to end the season and showed why Bill Belichick held on to him until the trade deadline of the last year of the quarterback’s contract. There aren’t many players in the league I would rather have than Garoppolo, and the team should be in every game with him under center.
16. Seattle Seahawks
A Russell Wilson-led team being at 16 doesn’t feel right, but there’s a lot of overhaul going on with the Seahawks, with changes at both offensive and defensive coordinator; and they just missed the playoffs this season. Unfortunately, All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor may never play again, and fellow safety Earl Thomas is already making noise about his contract. There’s simply potential for this team to fall apart, as this team has a lot of emotional players, which could be bad if things start to go south during the season.
17. Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson is already running after tearing his ACL in early November, and it looks like he will be more than ready to go next season. As a rookie, the former Clemson star lit up the NFL with 21 total touchdowns in just seven games, showing the doubters that he should not have slipped outside the top ten in the draft. The defense also as star players returning, with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus set to bolster the defense. The Texans should be AFC contenders in 2018.
18. Washington Redskins
This is not a slight on Kirk Cousins, but I love the move to get Alex Smith from the Chiefs. Smith is one of those guys that gets extreme criticism for whatever reason, but he gets the job done and was a big part in turning two teams into legitimate playoff contenders. Jay Gruden targeted Smith for a reason, and the veteran quarterback is a perfect fit in his offense. If the defense can take a big step forward next season, the Redskins might push the Eagles in the NFC East.
19. Dallas Cowboys
The six-game suspension for running back Ezekiel Elliott, which both he and the Cowboys felt was unjust, will likely be a huge motivator heading into the offseason. Early in the season, I didn’t think Elliott was as explosive as he was during his rookie year, but I have a feeling the team’s offensive centerpiece will put in more work than ever this offseason. The receiving corps might need a bit of a revamp, and we’ll see what happens to Dez Bryant, who frankly hasn’t played like a number one receiver, this offseason.
20. Indianapolis Colts
A 100% healthy Andrew Luck would have the Colts a lot higher, as he has shown the ability to carry teams throughout his career. And I fully expect for Luck to get there, but it hasn’t happened yet, thus the Colts’ ranking. In his second go-around as a head coach, Josh McDaniels should prove to be an excellent hire that should get the most out of his franchise quarterback. [UPDATE: McDaniels has opted against taking the Colts job, so the team will now have to hire another head coach.] We’ll see what happens, but I know I would draft Penn State running back Saquon Barkley if he’s there at the third pick in the draft, as it’d be a nightmare trying to stop both Luck and Barkley.
21. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are this low because they basically placed head coach John Harbaugh on the hottest of hot seats after owner Steve Biscotti admitted he thought about firing him after the season. The pass offense just never really clicked for the Ravens in 2017, but Joe Flacco and company have the ability to get it going and compliment the strong run game that emerged behind Alex Collins. On the other side of the ball, the defense is a good bet to remain one of the best in the league.
22. Detroit Lions
New head coach Matt Patricia does have some pieces to work with on both offense and defense for the Lions, including one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford. But the division is one of the toughest in the NFL, and the NFC looks like it might be a difficult playoff field to crack. I would be more confident about the Lions if they had a stronger run-blocking offensive line to help bolster the run game and compliment the defense.
23. Chicago Bears
The expectation is that the Bears surround young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with weapons to help him take a step forward in his second NFL season, and I like the chances of it happening under new head coach Matt Nagy and new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Nagy, who was the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, and Helfrich, who was the former head coach at Oregon and an assistant under Chip Kelly at the school, might be able to form an offense very similar to the one Doug Pederson and the Eagles use. And retaining defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was huge for Chicago, who will get healthier on defense in 2018.
24. Miami Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury during the summer forced the Dolphins into a difficult spot, as they had to bring Jay Cutler out of retirement in the middle of training camp to lead the offense. Tannehill should have a full offseason to shake off the rust so that he’s ready to go for Week 1, and he might have become more cerebral after he had to sit and watch for an entire year. The defense has a lot of talent and should make plays to keep the Dolphins in games and in contention.
25. Buffalo Bills
This might be too low for the Bills, but it shows how deep the NFL is right now. Sean McDermott showed he’s a very good head coach that can turn around a team in his first year, and he should keep Buffalo competitive for years. However, the quarterback situation is a mystery if they are going to let Tyrod Taylor go this offseason, and the lack of clarity there has them down in the 25-spot. I still think they’ll compete for a wild card spot again next season.
26. New York Jets
I was thrilled to see head coach Todd Bowles get a contract extension, as he got a lot out of a team that many said was “tanking” before the season. The Jets have a lot of cap space to make some moves, but they must make smart moves and get guys that fit the culture. With young and hungry players under a defensive-minded head coach, New York’s defense could emerge as an elite one in 2018. Quarterback is the big question mark heading into the offseason, and they’re in a spot (sixth overall pick) to get one of the quarterbacks available in the draft if they like any.
27. Arizona Cardinals
Of all the teams in the league, the Cardinals might have suffered the biggest losses when both head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer retired. And they had a good enough season under Arians that they aren’t in a prime draft position. The good news is the defense has a lot of talent for new head coach Steve Wilks to work with, and Mike McCoy is one of the better offensive coordinators in the NFL. Larry Fitzgerald’s future will be one of the biggest storylines this offseason.
28. New York Giants
Pat Shurmur might turn out to be the best of the head coaching hires this year, as he has head coaching experience and has shown he can get a lot out of multiple quarterbacks in the league. The Giants have the second pick in the draft and can select either an elite blue-chip player or a young franchise quarterback, but it looks like Eli Manning will be the team’s starter next season either way. Remember, the Giants were in the playoffs in 2016, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them back there next season.
29. Denver Broncos
This offseason, John Elway will be tasked with acquiring a quarterback that can help get them back to being a Super Bowl-contending team in the AFC. Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Case Keenum will be among the free agents available, and the coaching staff also got a good look at both Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen when they coached them during the Senior Bowl. The right decision at quarterback will likely determine the Broncos’ success in 2018.
30. Cincinnati Bengals
Many were stunned when the Bengals opted to retain head coach Marvin Lewis, but the team wasn’t close to terrible in 2017, and Lewis has had a huge hand in turning the franchise around. Cincinnati was 7-7 after moving Bill Lazor to offensive coordinator, and now they’ll have a full offseason for Lazor to implement his offense. The Bengals might catch people off guard in 2018, but some other teams are more exciting as of now.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The expectations were sky-high for the Buccaneers heading into 2017, and they might have let that get in their heads a bit during a poor season. Tampa Bay has some talent on both sides of the ball, but their success will probably come down to two things next season: 1) the play of Jameis Winston, and 2) the maturity of Winston and others on the roster.
32. Cleveland Browns
This Browns team has too much talent to be 1-31 over the last two seasons, and they are in a rare position to add a lot more talent with a ton of draft capital this year. If they made a change at head coach, there would be more room for optimism for Cleveland in my opinion, but Hue Jackson has made too many excuses for my liking and just hasn’t gotten the job done as the team’s leader.