Say what you will about the 2016-17 NFL season, but Super Bowl LI delivered in historic fashion. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady claimed their record fifth Lombardi Trophy together by pulling off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and sealing the deal in the first overtime to ever decide the world championship. It doesn’t get much better (or more impressive) than that.
And while Belichick, Brady, rest of the Patriots, owner Robert Kraft and family, and their fans have plenty to celebrate, it’s safe to say that the finish to this season only has fans clamoring for the next one. And while we all have to wait until September for the games to count again, it’s never too early to look ahead.
New England has earned the right to be considered the favorite to possibly tie Pittsburgh with a sixth Super Bowl victory, but the Steelers would no doubt love to be the team that prevents that it, and maybe put some distance between them and the Patriots (and 49ers, Cowboys) in the process. As for other early AFC contenders to keep an eye on, there’s a young Oakland team that lost its Pro Bowl quarterback in Week 16, defending AFC West champion Kansas City, and don’t forget about Denver, the team that won it all this time last year and still has a championship-caliber defense.
In the NFC, Atlanta is going to be kicking itself for a while, but the future looks bright for the Falcons, especially with how the defense performed in the playoffs, although it ran out of gas against Brady and company in the second half. Dallas is definitely built to make another run and you can never count out Aaron Rodgers’s Packers or Seattle. Also the New York Giants and Arizona seem to have the pieces in place, and what about Carolina? Could the Panthers turn things back around after going first to worst?
Much will change between now and Week 1, but here’s an early look at how the divisions stack up headed into the 2017 season. Even if we aren’t quite ready to move on from what took place Sunday night at NRG Stadium.
Very Early 2017 AFC Divisional Standings
1. New England
A record fifth Super Bowl ring for Belichick/Brady achieved in historic fashion. Right now it’s New England’s world and the rest of the NFL is living in it.
Dolphins took a step forward in 2016, but still plenty of room for improvement.
Sean McDermott’s first job is to find his QB, then fix that run D.
4. New York Jets
QB is one of many issues facing Todd Bowles and cap-strapped Jets.
Young, improving defense could be ready to take some of the pressure off of Big Ben and company.
Ravens need more from offense, especially from the running game.
Marvin Lewis’ long run with the Bengals could be nearing its end.
Hue Jackson has two first-round picks to help the rebuilding effort.
Two first-round picks is nice, but Titans need healthy Marcus Mariota to make the playoffs.
Texans need to figure out QB situation, but healthy J.J. Watt would provide huge boost on D.
New GM Chris Ballard has to get Andrew Luck more help, especially on D.
Blake Bortles faces make-or-break season.
Raiders can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Derek Carr didn’t’ get hurt in Week 16.
2. Kansas City
Chiefs have two key free agents on defense, and need to take the next step with their offense.
If offense can improve, defense is still among the best in the league.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
Chargers have new home, head coach but are really hoping for better health next season.
Very Early 2017 NFC Divisional Standings
Foundation is in place, Cowboys just need to stay hungry, healthy and add a playmaker or two on D.
2. New York Giants
This offseason, the scrutiny is on the offense, not the D.
The Kirk Cousins situation aside, Redskins have some decisions to make on D too.
Eagles need to give Carson Wentz some weapons if they want him to take a step forward in Year 2.
1. Green Bay
Aaron Rodgers can’t be expected to carry the team alone, especially since he doesn’t play defense.
Are the Lions a one-season wonder or can they sustain this?
Vikings’ offense could look drastically different in 2017.
Bears have plenty of holes to address as John Fox’s regime enters critical third season.
Excruciating loss, but Falcons have no reason to hang their heads and could be back in Super Bowl very soon, especially if young defense continues to improve.
Was 2016 a blip on the radar or a sign of things to come for Panthers?
3. Tampa Bay
Will young Bucs take next step forward in 2017?
4. New Orleans
Is it time for Sean Payton and the Saints to go their separate ways?
Offensive line priority No. 1 for Seahawks this offseason.
Cardinals’ window of opportunity could be closing.
3. Los Angeles Rams
How much will 30-year-old Rams head coach Sean McVay age in his first season?
4. San Francisco
The good news is the 49ers will have plenty of cap space to address their many holes.