The time that football fans far and wide have been waiting for is finally here. The NFL preseason kicked off Thursday as the Dallas Cowboys squared off against the Arizona Cardinals in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.
With the preseason underway, I am here to provide you with a way-too-early power rankings of the top seven teams going into the 2017-2018 season.
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots are coming off a historic Super Bowl victory against the Atlanta Falcons. To no surprise, the rich got richer as they improved mightily over the off-season. The Pats added speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks and tight end Dwayne Allen to add to their already dominant passing attack. In addition to that, the defense added sack master Kony Ealy. The Pats look like they're on the road to yet another Super Bowl appearance– which should not come as a surprise.
2. Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders last season made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Silver and Black were a Derek Carr injury away from competing with the New England Patriots for a chance to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI. Now that Carr is healthy, Oakland will again be a force to be reckoned with. The Raiders added hometown hero and Skittles aficionado Marshawn Lynch to an already potent offense. Although Beast Mode is coming out of retirement and 30-years old, he should add an element of power running that was missed last season. The Raiders Achilles heel is their defense, but they selected cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu in the first two rounds of this year's draft to try and shore up that unit.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta is still one of the best teams in the NFL despite having the biggest blunder in Super Bowl history. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Vic Beasley, and the new-age dirty birds were minutes from entering the “Zone 6” Hall of Fame prior to the Patriots video-game-like comeback. Who's to say they won't avenge last year's heartbreak with triumph this season. The Falcons lost their offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, but that shouldn't slow down last year's top offense. The offense has everyone coming back and they shouldn't miss a beat. On the defensive side, free agent defensive lineman Dontari Poe will add some star power on the defensive line and improve overall depth to a promising defense. Losing in the manner Atlanta did in the Super Bowl is hard to bounce back from, but the Falcons have the talent to do it.
4. Dallas Cowboys
This season should be interesting for America's team. The team was led by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott last season. Those two went on to have one of the best rookie seasons ever for a rookie quarterback-running back duo. All eyes will be on those two, as well as veterans Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, this season. With the league's best offensive line adding La’el Collins back into the fold, the offense should be able to surpass last year’s production. Everyone knows that Dallas can score, but if they'll have to play some defense if they want to make it to the Super Bowl. They attempted to improve that side of the ball in the draft by selecting defensive end Taco Charlton, cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie, and safety Xavier Woods.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Before Steelers fans throw their Terrible Towels at me, this ranking is based on Le’Veon Bell absence from training camp. It’s a given that Bell is going to show up at some point, but it’s unknown exactly when he will. The Steelers are arguably a top 3 team with Bell, but without him, not so much. The Steelers are still near the top of the AFC hierarchy with Ben Roethlisberger under center and Antonio Brown outside. The Steelers offense should be better than ever with Roethlisberger and Brown rejoining Martavius Bryant, and second-round pick Juju Smith-Schuster at receiver. Surprisingly, the defense isn’t the strongest unit on the team, but they may be the most important. Be on the lookout for linebacker Ryan Shazier to have an All-Pro season if he can stay healthy.
6. Green Bay Packers
On paper, it’s foolish to criticize Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. Let’s see: He’s won a Super Bowl, six division titles, and led his team to the playoffs nine times in 11 seasons. It still doesn’t seem like that’s enough. His obstinate play-calling and clock management have come into question, and it doesn’t help he's endless pressure coaching Aaron Rodgers. This season is no different with Green Bay expected to make a run to the Super Bowl. The Packers became one of the hottest teams in the NFL in the latter part of the season thanks to Rodgers’ MVP caliber play. With most of last season's team intact, and the addition of Martellus Bennett, Green Bay has a chance to have a big year.
7. New York Giants
I thought I’d never see the day when Eli Manning danced to the likes of Trick Daddy and Young Thug, but this week it happened.
Seeing Eli enjoy his teammates by cutting a rug lets me know that the Giants are in a good place. New York was a much-improved team last season, but there is still room to get better The defense is one of the best in the league, but the offense needs more from their offensive line and running game. The Giants will have a promising season if second-year running back Paul Perkins can emerge as a threat, combined with rookie tight end Evan Engram, Odell Beckham Jr., and Brandon Marshall.