Opening Power Rankings (NFL)

1. New England Patriots– Was there any doubt they’d be at the top spot? There were by far the best team in the NFL last season. They win three of their first four games without Tom Brady and when 12 comes back from his four-game suspension, they go 11-1 to finish with a 14-2 record, the top seed in the AFC and they get back to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in the Bill Belichick era. We all know what happens next and this off-season, they added pieces to make their roster even better and this is a team that’s coming off winning the Super Bowl. Kony Ealy, Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and Lawrence Guy are the guys they’ve added this off-season. They enter the year as the projected favorites to win the Super Bowl once again. Seriously, what’s the weakness of this team? I also forgot to mention they will also have a healthy Rob Gronkowski back on the field then again, that may not even make all the difference because, for years, many have stated they couldn’t win the big game without him. They’ve shown they can.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers– That offense is good enough to outscore just about anybody on a weekly basis. With Ben under center as your quarterback, Antonio Brown as your top receiver, Le’Veon Bell flashing the versatility factor and now the return of Martavis Bryant from a year-long suspension, that’s a dangerous group of four to contain and prepare for. This is a good football team and they made some improvements defensively to get back to playing at that high level once again. The secondary has been a glaring issue for the Steelers for years and I’ve stated on the radio that they’ve never truly had a lockdown cornerback. We saw the issues in their back end of the defense in the AFC title game in January. This off-season, the Steelers added depth to the secondary by signing Coty Sensabaugh and Cameron Sutton and added another piece to their front seven by drafting T.J. Watt. I’m also expecting a big year from Bud Dupree as well. There’s not a doubt that the Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL. The lingering question is have they done enough defensively to compete and get past teams like the Patriots?

3. Atlanta Falcons– They’ve been the subject of many jokes and talks this year because of what happened in the Super Bowl, but let’s not forget this is the team that came out of left field and won the NFC in a conference where Carolina, Arizona, Green Bay and Seattle were the four best teams coming into the year and look how it all panned out: Carolina loses ten games after losing in all of 2015, Arizona struggled heavily and the Falcons beat both Seattle and Green Bay to get to the big game. Matt Ryan enters the year as the reigning MVP and the anchor behind one of the scariest offenses in football with a group that includes the tandem of Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, and Julio Jones. Even without Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons offense should still be a threat to score points. The team also made improvements to its defense by adding guys like Dontari Poe, Jack Crawford, and rookie pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley. The defense should now be bigger and more physical up front, and it should be able to get after the quarterback more consistently.

4. Green Bay Packers– This was a team that started 4-2, lost four in a row and sat at 4-6 with the world just throwing the towel in on them. Then, Aaron Rodgers came out and said “I feel we can run the table”, and they did. They won their final six games of the season, demolished the Giants in the playoffs, a team that had given them fits over the years in January, win a thriller in Dallas before falling short to the eventual conference champion Falcons. With Rodgers, this is a team that will contend year in and year out. Without him, they are a 4-12 team and probably are picking in the top five of the NFL draft. When the Packers went on their run in 16, Aaron Rodgers was one of the three best players in the NFL during that time. Now, it’s time to put it all together. He doesn’t need any more weapons, he needs his defense to step it up and the running game to be more consistent. A quarterback’s best friend is the running game when all is going well.

5. Oakland Raiders– They are relevant once again and when they’re good, the league is good. They were one of the best teams in football behind the arm of Derek Carr and their passing attack. They have a nice receiver tandem in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the second best offensive line in the league behind Dallas and this off-season, they were able to add Jared Cook as a tight end and they won the Marshawn Lynch sweepstakes and lured him out of retirement to boost up their running game and take pressure off of Carr. They’ve taken the necessary steps to address their issues in the off-season. Their best move was hiring John Pagano as their defensive coordinator. He’s a defensive guru that brings the absolute best out of his players. The defense is still the team’s biggest question mark. However, Oakland did bring in some young players in Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu who should help the secondary right away and have an immediate impact. Khalil Mack returns as the reigning defensive MVP. With their offensive line in tact (hoping they get a deal done with Donald Penn), their offense and the defense improving, the Raiders can take that next step of becoming a serious threat in the AFC.