Now that clubs have set their rosters for 2017, I’m ready to rank the five best teams in the NFL. I rank them in ascending order.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers. Last season, the Steelers offense ranked 7th in the NFL without wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who was suspended all year. Bryant averages 17.3 yards per reception and one touchdown every 5.4 catches. The NFL reinstated him on April 25. He will hurt defenses who double-cover Antonio Brown as the New England Patriots did when they beat Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship.
4. Oakland Raiders. The Raiders spent their first two draft picks on defensive backs who will improve their pass defense which ranked 32nd in net yards per attempt last season. They also added Marshawn Lynch who will improve their offense which ranked 6th in the NFL. Those are big improvements. The biggest one, though, will be offensive coordinator Todd Downing. He replaced Bill Musgrave, whose formations were predictable and vanilla (has he ever heard of a bunch set or sending a receiving in motion before the snap?). Musgrave’s lack of creativity allowed opposing defenses to shut down the Raiders’ best weapon, Amari Cooper, for long stretches of games. With Musgrave gone, Cooper will have the best season of his career.
3. New York Giants. Eli Manning turns 37 in January. Next season may be the Giants’ last opportunity to make a Super-Bowl run with him as their quarterback. They already have an excellent defense — it ranked 2nd in points allowed last season. And they should have an excellent offense after signing wide receiver Brandon Marshall and drafting tight end Evan Engram this offseason. The Giants will win the NFC East and go to the NFC Championship, but won’t go to the Super Bowl.
2. Green Bay Packers. The Packers have improved since they went to the NFC Championship last season. They upgraded their worst position — cornerback — by signing Davon House and drafting Kevin King in the second round. They also upgraded their offense which ranked 8th in the NFL by signing one of the best tight ends in the league — Martellus Bennett. Aaron Rodgers finally has enough talent around him to take the Packers to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011.
1. New England Patriots. The Patriots won the Super Bowl last season and now they’re even better. They signed defensive end Kony Ealy, and traded for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who had at least 1,100 receiving yards and scored at least eight touchdowns each of the past two seasons. A large gap exists between the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.
Good teams that didn’t make the Top 5
Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons lost nine coaches this offseason, including their most important coach, Kyle Shanahan.
Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys still are good, but they didn’t improve their roster this year and they lost two starting offensive linemen.
Super Bowl prediction: Patriots over Packers.