New England Patriots
Although I hate to admit it, the Patriots can even be stronger than ever coming off of a miraculous Super Bowl LI victory. In 2017, the Patriots are looking to mirror their 2007 undefeated campaign to go on to the Super Bowl. They recently acquired WR Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints, adding him as a deep threat to Tom Brady’s arsenal of power offense. With Cooks, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and a healthy Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots offense could be dominant on the passing end.
After trading away two notable linebackers last year in Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, the Patriots pass-rush fell to 24th overall and was ranked 16th overall in sacks. Still, these lackluster numbers didn’t stop New England from winning the Super Bowl. Hoping to improve their defensive line, the Patriots were able to re-sign LB Dont’a Hightower and added recent third-round pick in Derek Rivers along with Kony Ealy from the Panthers. With new additions and with the same core players returning to repeat glory (save for LeGarrette Blount), it does not seem that anything will slow the team down from having another Super Bowl run.
We all know the Falcons as the team that gave up a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in the last Super Bowl, but it was pretty impressive watching the team control the field for three quarters from all sides of the ball. The duo of reigning MVP Matt Ryan and two-time All Pro WR Julio Jones are some of the best in the business. Jones, who put up big numbers in the playoffs last season (19 catches, 334 yards, and 3 touchdowns) against the top teams in the league, helps the offense thrive and win games. With additional help from Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the offense has a sure chance of taking that trip to Minnesota for the next Super Bowl.
With the departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan who left the Falcons to take a gig as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, there is question as to whether the Falcons offense, who were the highest scoring team last season, can repeat the same production. The Falcons hired Steve Sarkisian from the Alabama Crimson Tide to replace the role of Shanahan as offensive coordinator. Fortunately for the Falcons, Sarkisian believes in a play-action and hurry-up offense (no huddle system), the same scheme that Matt Ryan thrives in. Additionally, Sarkisian knows how to work a two-back system, which fits the dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Only time can tell if the Atlanta offense will stay the same, but on paper, it does not seem like they will regress from their previous season.
New York Giants
If there is one team that can upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl, it would be the New York Giants. The Giants are looking strong and have a solid shot to sneak into the Super Bowl. Eli Manning’s offense improved with the addition of first-round TE Evan Engram, who everyone is raving about at practices. Also, coming in from the other side of New York, Brandon Marshall hopes to make his first playoff appearance in his long career. Marshall will work alongside Odell Beckham, who he calls, “the biggest superstar in history of football.” Beckham, who has 288 catches for 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns in his three-year career, is the heart of the Giants’ offense. If he can keep his emotions in check, their receiving tandem has a shot of leading one of the most dominating offenses in the league.
The Giants’ secondary is also filled with many strengths. 2016 first-round pick Eli Apple is developing into a strong corner with a lot of potential to shine. With additional help from Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Giants secondary does not look too shabby. Also, with safety Landon Collins and a powerful defensive line that includes newly re-signed Jason Pierre Paul, the Giants are looking to do some damage.
Derek Carr: $25 million man? The Raiders’ season ended last year when Carr broke his fibula before the playoffs. The 12-4 Raiders looked promising and had a shot to be Super Bowl contenders. Carr is now at the level of a consistent Pro Bowl quarterback and has solidified himself last season as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. To live up to his $25 million contract, Carr will have to continue to prove himself, and he has enough firepower to do so. Carr has the help of gifted pass-catchers in Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook. With the new addition of Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, the Raiders have a shot at being one of the best offenses in the league. Lynch has been one of the top running backs in first-down percentage and rushing touchdown percentage on goal-to-goal carries, so with his help, the Raiders will be able to put even more points on the board. Beast Mode is looking promising at practices despite a year off of football, giving the Raiders a chance to bounce back and take over the AFC. If the Raiders end up taking a trip to the Super Bowl, hopefully they remember to give the ball to Marshawn, especially if they are one yard away from goal line.
Big Ben and company have one of the strongest offenses in the league. Over the past four seasons, Steelers WR Antonio Brown has averaged 120 catches for 1,579 yards and 11 touchdowns. Brown has the highest amount of receptions, yards and touchdowns since the start of the 2013 season, more than any other receiver in the league. With that and the help of Steelers elite running back, Le’Veon Bell, who averages 157 yards a game and 105 rushing yards per game (an NFL best), the Steelers offense seems almost unstoppable. Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had 29 touchdowns last season, has a chance to lead one of the best offenses in the league to the Super Bowl. The Steelers also have rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and RB DeAngelo Williams who will both help improve the offense. The offense also receives enormous help from their center, Maurkice Pouncey, who helps pave the way for Bell to work his magic while also allowing the second fewest sacks in the league last season. Last but not leas, first round pick T.J. Watt will help improve what seems to be a shaky defense. When the time comes for the Steelers, it will be their offense making big plays and leading the charge on the road to the Super Bowl.