Three teams that could dethrone the New England Patriots in the 2017 NFL season
The New England Patriots enter the 2017 NFL season as the overall favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The Patriots’ front office did its best to ensure this by adding speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks and re-signing the core of its free agents in the offseason. Quarterback Tom Brady will even have his favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, back in the lineup after the star tight end finished last season on injured reserve. Overall, the Patriots appear ready to earn their sixth Super Bowl title.
However, this is the NFL. Things change from year to year, and there are always teams that make their move. Here are three clubs that are primed to dethrone the Patriots:
The Raiders are two years removed from a 52-0 beating at the hands of the lowly St. Louis Rams. Now, the years of high draft picks and solid free agency moves have built a roster that puts the memory of that horrid Raiders team to rest. These Raiders are young, athletic, and hungry, with multiple weapons on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, quarterback Derek Carr returns from injury after completing 357 of 560 passes for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. He is joined by former Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch and wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper to feature an athletic group of skill position players.
The Raiders signed former Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook and disappointing former Minnesota Vikings first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson as well. The Cook and Patterson signings bring additional speed to the offense, and Lynch brings his power game to a Raiders’ rush attack that finished sixth in the NFL (120.1 YPG) in 2016.
Linebacker Khalil Mack (11 sacks) leads an Oakland defense that will improve with first round draft pick Gareon Conley added to the secondary. The rest of the defense is solid, with veterans Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson.
There are still issues with the Oakland pass rush, which finished last in the NFL in 2016, but the Raiders have enough firepower to challenge the Patriots if they can survive their schedule.
The Seahawks struggled with a poor offensive line and no featured running back last season, but they appear to have fixed many of their holes during the offseason. They signed former Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who should invigorate his career in a new location. Seattle also shored up its offensive line by signing tackles Luke Joeckel, and Oday Aboushi.
The Seahawks moved to rebuild their defensive line by taking Malik McDowell (first round) and Nazair Jones (third round) in the 2017 NFL Draft. Finally, former Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas has recovered from his season-ending injury to return.
These changes could add up to another Super Bowl run for the Seahawks if they can keep the drama to a minimum. That will be a challenge considering the rumored issues between team leaders Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman last season. However, if the Seahawks jell early, they have the talent to return to the top of the NFC.
New York Giants
Two years ago, the Giants fielded one of their worst defenses in two decades. The team responded by firing two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Tom Coughlin, replacing him with first-time HC Ben McAdoo.
Many Giants fans couldn’t help but shake their heads at the move, but McAdoo proved to be up to the task. He was helped by the rebuilding of the defense, including the addition of cornerback Janoris Jenkins during the 2016 offseason.
The Giants continued their roster rebuild by addressing the passing game and defensive line in the 2017 NFL Draft. New York spent their first round pick on the player regarded by many experts as one of the two best receiving tight end of the draft, Mississippi’s Evan Engram. Then, the Giants shored up their already strong defensive line by selecting Alabama defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Both players are expected to make significant contributions to the Giants this season.
Overall, the Giants’ roster is ready for a deep playoff run. The offense is built around a solid mix of veterans and young stars. Meanwhile, the defense has the right pieces in place to slow down even the best passing games in the league. The secondary itself features playmakers like Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Landon Collins. Even the best offenses in the league will struggle against the Giants this season.
The Giants are ready to make the leap into the upper echelon of NFL teams. They face a difficult divisional and interconference schedule, but if they make the playoffs, they will be a danger to every team they face, including the Patriots. Considering that the Giants have already handed the Patriots two Super Bowl losses in the last 10 years, New England would probably dread another meeting with Big Blue. This team is built to challenge the Patriots again, and no one should be surprised if that happens.