32) New York Jets: They’ve got no quarterback, no defense, no wide receivers. Other than that, they’re stacked. They won’t go 0-16, but this has 2-14 written all over it. The restart button – and possible humiliation – has been pressed hard.
31) San Francisco 49ers: The quarterback of the future is not on this roster so there’s only so much growth that can happen. This kicks off the long rebuild, and Niners fans just hope this isn’t more of the bad old days. Looks and smells like 3-13.
30) Chicago Bears: They spent tons of money on Mike Glennon, so he’ll have to get some starts. But all of the Windy City is panting for The ‘Bisky. There’s not much else to look forward to, and John Fox’s expiration date as a head coach has already come and gone. I see 4-12.
29) Cleveland Browns: The fact they may not be one of the bottom three in the league shows massive improvement. But the injury to Myles Garrett is worrisome. DeShone Kizer gets 16 starts to prove his worth or else Cleveland will draft someone else. But there’s at least some light on the distant horizon. Could they claw out 4-5 wins?
28) Buffalo Bills: The franchise is caught in between full rebuild and not stripping the roster completely. But let’s hope the dysfunctional end of the Rex Ryan era is now thrown in the trash like Anchor Bar chicken bones. Hopefully the playoff streak ends soon, but not this year. This is a 5-11 team.
27) Jacksonville Jaguars: They were so close to contending for the AFC South last season… that’s if Blake Bortles could actually throw a ball to his own team. Since he couldn’t (and Gus Bradley was swimming in the deep end without his water wings), the Jags’ season was toast. Bortles, Henne, meh. Six wins at best.
26) L.A. Rams: Lots of early love for Sean McVay. I’m skeptical of all the hype. If he can save Jared Goff, he’s earned his money immediately. But this team is still in need of a deeper roster to compete for a Wild Card. This is a 6- or 7-win team, which is very familiar after all those thrilling Jeff Fisher years.
25) Washington: They put themselves in an uncomfortable place with Kirk Cousins. His success means better chances to win, but worse chances to re-sign him. Jay Gruden is living off the reputation of his brother. Not a fan of their targets outside of Jordan Reed. The dysfunction under Dan Snyder will forever exist, meaning another non-playoff season in D.C.
24) Indianapolis Colts: The Colts are a mess and the subject of occupational negligence. Ryan Grigson ignored the offensive line so much that it got Andrew Luck splattered. Now the injured quarterback isn’t ready to play and Chris Ballard decided on Scott Tolzien and Jacoby Brissett to hold down the fort. A healthy Luck and Indy could get to 9-7. But it could blow up into a 6-10.
23) New Orleans Saints: Groundhog Day in the Big Easy. Explosive offense. Hall of Fame quarterback. No defense. Sean Payton’s best days are behind him. Could probably swap them with the Rams, but I’ll give the Saints another 7-9 season.
22) L.A. Chargers: This could easily be a lost season with an unwanted franchise in its new city playing in front of 27,000 fans – almost all of which will be the opposing fans. But maybe the Bolts surprise some people and get a jolt with a new coaching staff. There’s a star on both sides of the ball: Philip Rivers and Joey Bosa. Neither great nor terrible: Tis’ The Charger Way.
21) Baltimore Ravens: The offense is going to be bad. Joe Flacco isn’t totally healthy, there’s not enough play-makers, and expectations are low for that unit. That means the Ravens have to win with defense, and it’s an exhausting road to win 13-10 every week. They’ll miss the playoffs.
20) Philadelphia Eagles: We are now into fringe playoff team territory, the remaining squads could all fall into 9 wins and squeak in. I love Carson Wentz as much as anyone. But I think Doug Peterson is mediocre as a head coach and there’s still enough question marks on the roster to keep them out. Another growth spurt for the quarterback, but the rest of the team needs to catch up.
19) Miami Dolphins: They got a little lucky last year to push into the postseason, but it was still a solid job by Adam Gase to polish Ryan Tannehill. Jay Cutler is going to realize midway through the season this paused retirement was a bad idea. He’ll have a 375-pound defensive tackle land on him and will start dreaming of the beach with Kristin Cavallari. Dolphins go 8-8.
18) Cincinnati Bengals: It’s remarkable how many times in a row they made the playoffs, yet how we still consider them an afterthought. Five straight years the Bengals played in January before ’17. Five straight years they didn’t win a game. Marvin Lewis’ message is so stale, but the Bengals are addicted to the known commodity and cronyism. They have the talent to win 10 games, but will end up at .500 and fall short of the postseason.
17) Detroit Lions: Critics that wailed about Matt Stafford’s contract were merely picking the lowest hanging fruit. Yeah, he’s never won a playoff game. No, he’s never getting enshrined in Canton. But what’s the alternative? Franchise him on one-year deals, pay crazy money and then have to draft the next quarterback anyway? For a durable 29-year-old that has stabilized your position you have to pay the market rate. He’s good enough to get them 10 wins, and a first round playoff exit. Although I think they’ll fall just short of January.
16) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Everyone’s trendy pick to make the playoffs has a lot of obvious upside, and it starts with Jameis Winston. He’s a winner, he’s charismatic, and he’s getting better. But often when we assume the young, plucky team is going to make the jump, they hit a pothole (read: ’16 Jaguars, Cardinals). The Bucs are in a really competitive division, and that will decide whether they get into the dance. I think they’ll go 10-6 and be there.
15) Atlanta Falcons: They have far more talent than where I’ve slotted them. This is a team that should’ve been doing the Dirty Bird all offseason with the Lombardi. But they’re not over that collapse, and it will affect them in a big way this season. I see a massive hangover and emotional baggage undercutting their season. Look for a frustrating, sub-.500 year, but they’re so talented I have to give them a top-15 ranking.
14) Arizona Cardinals: Last year, I thought they’d make the Super Bowl. This year, I think the window has closed. The roster is very good, but Bruce Arians at times worries me on the sideline. Is he trying to make a point or win a game? And Carson Palmer is toast as an elite QB. Cards could be a Wild Card, but they can’t catch the Seahawks in the division. David Johnson though, is one of the roughest matchups in the NFL. Enough to watch them every week.
13) Dallas Cowboys: A+ offensive line. Tremendous weapons with Dez and Witten. Big Dak Prescott fan. But the Zeke situation hangs over this team like a dark cloud. He helped mask a brutal defense, and this year that side of the ball will be exposed. Dallas could win the division if everything went their way and there was no effects from the Zeke saga. But I don’t think that’ll be the case.
12) Tennessee Titans: This year’s sexy pick to make a solid playoff run, but to me, it’s too soon. I love Marcus Mariota. Total leader, dynamic, smart, professional. Solid offensive line and running game will help. But is the defense ready to take the next step into a playoff team? I still like the Texans as the cream of the division.
11) Carolina Panthers: They’re coming off a down year, and the loss of Josh Norman bit them all last season. The DBs should be much more stable, and a healthy Cam is one of the best weapons in the league. But is he healthy? He’s questionable for the opener. It’s the greatest x-factor in the game. Cam 100% means a Panthers spot in the playoffs. A spotty season for him means they’ll be 6-10.
10) Kansas City Chiefs: I’d like to not be affected by what we witnessed on Thursday night but that’s impossible. No one ever does that to the Patriots, especially on the road. If Alex Smith is making plays downfield, and the Chiefs have the pieces to create those big plays, and the defense is as scary as it has been recently, that’s a legit contender. But the loss of Eric Berry means I just can’t put them higher than this.
9) Houston Texans: They could be a top-three team in the AFC with good quarterbacking. They’re not gonna get that with Tom Savage. He’s merely what Bill O’Brien pines for in his sleep: a game manager to get you to 10-6. Deshaun Watson had an inconsistent preseason, but Savage is only good enough to win the AFC South and get beat in the divisional round. The defense may not be as statistically great as last year, but JJ Watt returning means it’ll still be elite.
8) Oakland Raiders: Unfortunately for the Bay Area fans who have their team ripped away from them in three years, the clock is ticking on the good times. I have a feeling this will be a tougher-than-expected season. Raiders won a lot of close games last year, and this year they won’t be so lucky. They could be the best threat to the Pats in the AFC, but I think it’s an up-and-down season for a team with huge expectations.
7) Minnesota Vikings: A completely overlooked team because they’re not sexy and Aaron Rodgers is the prince of the division. But a nasty defense, and Dalvin Cook’s potential means the Vikes could be an excellent team. I like Mike Zimmer a lot, but he also needs to learn how to manage in-game situations more fluidly. Vikes could be a scary team in January if it gets decent quarterbacking.
6) Denver Broncos: Everyone is sleeping on John Elway’s squad. This is a roster so good he could let hard-hitting TJ Ward walk. Trevor Siemian is not a star, but he doesn’t have to be. The two teams that have lined up, not blinked, and beaten the Pats in the AFC playoffs? Ravens and Broncos. Last year’s sleepy end of the season rocked the nation to slumber. Time to wake up. Denver is my surprise pick to be one of the best teams in the AFC.
5) New York Giants: All the pieces are there. Star power on the defense (Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, Snacks Harrison, JPP). Depth in the secondary. Explosive target in OBJ. Super Bowl-winning quarterback. But the offensive line is a question mark. Ben McAdoo seems extremely comfortable as the head coach in his second year. This season comes down to Beckham’s health and keeping Eli upright. When pressured, Manning is a puddle. But the Giants will win the NFC East.
4) Green Bay Packers: At some point they have to reach the Super Bowl again with Rodgers, right? This could be the year. A pair of NFC Championship game losses lingers, and everyone in Cheese Country is hoping time doesn’t run out on Rodgers’ prime. I see the Pack having a fantastic season, but I also thought they’d be the top seed in the NFC playoffs last season. Could I have been a year early? The Pack will be 12-4 and end up in the Super Bowl playing in enemy territory in Minneapolis.
3) Seattle Seahawks: There is no weakness on their defense, but there is a chemistry problem. The Seahawks can poo poo it all they want, but the rift between Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson (or the offense vs. the D) is real. It’s a locker room of huge, volatile personalities, and sometimes that hurts the emotional consistency you need to win a title. But there’s not much reason they shouldn’t be standing when the dust clears in January as one of the NFL’s final four. Seattle goes 13-3.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh certainly isn’t scared of the Pats, but they need a better gameplan to battle them in January (or their regular season contest). That December showdown should be for homefield in the AFC playoffs. The arsenal is stocked for Big Ben, and the addition of Joe Haden will help. The Steelers will be one of the final four teams standing. Pittsburgh goes 13-3.
1) New England Patriots: Which brings us to the best team in the NFL, and yet owner of the biggest head-scratcher. How does a Patriots team lose a fourth-quarter lead at home and allow 42 points, specifically toasted on big plays and broken coverage? An opening-night embarrassment will only serve to refocus the Pats with Belichick cracking the mental whip. Are the Pats vulnerable or just victims of a terrible game? I’ll go with the latter. The Pats may have to go on the road in the AFC Title Game (maybe Pittsburgh) to make it back to the Super Bowl, but they’ve done it before. I say the Pats are last team standing as Super Bowl champs yet again.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.