Across all sports leagues, predictions are made for young and exciting teams to take on the old guard and shake things up, even though history indicates the elite will stay elite. The projections could be a function of boredom and fatigue of uniformity; a way to will the league to peak entertainment value, but ultimately, the best of the best are like spokes on a wheel; cyclically taking turns at the top. The NFL is no different; this year the Raiders, Titans and Buccaneers were all the apples of expert’s eyes, however, as unsurprising as it may be, the teams who have been synonymous with success top the power rankings.
1. Denver Broncos
The Broncos have gone to the playoffs each of the last five years, making the Super Bowl twice and bringing the Lombardi trophy to Denver last season.
The defending champs picked up where they left off last year, bringing terror to quarterbacks across the league, combing a menacing pass rush, led by the NFL’s sack leader Von Miller, with a physical and ball-hawking secondary. Additionally, now that the offense isn’t handicapped by a past-his-prime quarterback with a noodle for an arm, teams have to respect second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian’s deep throws to wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Denver is atop the league currently; a mile high in the air with their eyes set on another ring to add to the trophy box.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers hold the NFL record for most franchise championships with six, but even when condensed to the last ten years, they have won two more and been to a third Super Bowl.
The offense has been the guiding light for this team, and sans the egg they laid against the Eagles, the Steelers are averaging 35 points per game. The reintroduction of running back Le’veon Bell against the Chiefs charged an offense that attacks from all angles and directions: stretch runs, fast screens and running up the scoreboards are a staple of Pittsburgh’s identity. Pittsburgh’s plethora of receivers and running backs are keeping defensive coordinators up at night because each one is capable of obliterating a one-on-one matchup. The Steelers are a nightmare for any team in the league, and now that they control the AFC North, expect to see them where we have grown to expect them at: the contenders’ circle.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The injury gods played a cruel joke on the Vikings, delivering knockout blows to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson, but Minnesota has rolled with the punches nicely behind the strength of a reincarnated “Purple People Eater-style” defense. The loss of Peterson has had the “Ewing” effect on the offense, resulting in more diverse play calling, including some nifty wildcat plays for running back Jerick Mckinnon. The Vikings don’t beat themselves, ranking first in turnover differential (+10), but they sure do pound offenses. The Vikings are second in sacks (15.0), first in recovered fumbles (5) and have the second most interceptions behind Kansas City with six. They’re playing like Vikings, raiding teams of their confidence and hope.
4. New England Patriots
The Patriots have been the team of the century. They’ve made the playoffs 13 of the last 15 years, winning four championships that could have easily been six if not for miraculous catches by David Tyree and Mario Manningham. They’re the envy of all NFL franchises. The Patriots lucked into arguably the greatest coach-quarterback combination ever, maintain a pristine culture of professionalism and get slaps on the wrist when they cheat. When news broke of quarterback Tom Brady’s suspension, the wheels were supposed to fall off but New England chugged along to a 3-1 start anyway. Now, Brady’s back with a Roger Goodell-sized chip on his shoulder, and with four less weeks of wear and tear on his body. The entire offense will look markedly improved, which in turn gives the defense fresher legs. The league should be on full alert; Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the rest of the gang are looking to make this season the one for the thumb.