After meeting in Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers should both be top teams for the 2016 NFL season. Along with the AFC and NFC champions, most of this year’s playoff teams are among the favorites to compete for the 2017 Super Bowl.
The Broncos defeated the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers on their way to winning Super Bowl 50, and they could very well be the best teams in the conference in 2016. The Panthers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoffs, but Seattle should be a top contender next year after making back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 2014 and 2015.
With Super Bowl 50 having just ended, there are a lot of unknowns regarding next season. Some of the league’s best players are headed for free agency, including Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and Panthers cornerback Josh Norman. As a result, a few rosters could look very different.
Below is a look at very early power rankings for the 2016 NFL season.
1) New England Patriots
New England still has perhaps the best coach of all-time and the NFL’s best quarterback playing at an elite level. With 13 straight 10-win seasons and five consecutive trips to the conference title game, the Patriots have the best chance of any team to win Super Bowl LI.
2) Seattle Seahawks
Seattle has allowed the fewest points in the NFL for three years running, winning 35 games in the last three seasons. Russell Wilson has emerged as a top quarterback, and Seattle has been the league’s most consistent team over the last four years.
3) Carolina Panthers
It’s hard to put Carolina ahead of New England and Seattle because they’ve only been an elite team for one season, but they are still among the Super Bowl favorites. Before losing to the Broncos, the Panthers went 17-1 with the league MVP at quarterback.
4) Green Bay Packers
The Packers always have a chance to win the Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The return of Jordy Nelson next season makes them the favorites in the NFC North. Ted Thompson is perhaps the best general manager in football.
5) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers almost beat the Broncos in Denver, and they had a chance to reach the Super Bowl before Antonio Brown suffered a concussion. Pittsburgh might have the NFL’s most talented offense when healthy, making them a real threat next season.
6) Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals were the league’s second-best team in the regular season, led by an offense and defense that ranked in the top five. Arizona will be good again after winning 24 games in two seasons, though Carson Palmer’s poor playoff performance is somewhat concerning.
7) Denver Broncos
If the Broncos keep their defense together, they should win a lot of games next year. It won’t be easy for them to repeat their success, however, if Brock Osweiler is their quarterback and they don't add more to the offense.
8) Cincinnati Bengals
Before Andy Dalton broke his thumb, the Bengals were one of the Super Bowl favorites. Cincinnati has made five straight playoff appearances, and Dalton will have to prove that he can win in the postseason.
9) Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings won with defense and a top running game in 2015, but that will only take them so far. The progression of Teddy Bridgewater will determine whether Minnesota is just a fringe playoff team or a Super Bowl contender.
10) Kansas City Chiefs
It won’t be easy for the Chiefs to win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith at quarterback, but they’ve had three straight winning seasons with Andy Reid as their head coach. Another trip to the playoffs with a second-round exit could be coming for Kansas City.
11) Indianapolis Colts
If Andrew Luck can stay healthy, the Colts should be back in the postseason. The organization needs to provide the quarterback with a lot more help, but Indianapolis is the best team in still a very weak division.
12) Dallas Cowboys
A healthy Tony Romo makes Dallas the frontrunner in the NFC East, though the quarterback has shown that it’s not easy for him to stay on the field. With a top offensive line, Romo should help the Cowboys be much improved from their four-win debacle this season.
13) Oakland Raiders
The Raiders finally have a quarterback, and their young offensive weapons will make them a formidable team next season. After winning seven games in 2015, Oakland has a real chance to be above .500 for the first time since 2002.
14) New York Jets
Todd Bowles proved to be a good coach, and the Jets will have a good defense once again. But it might be difficult for Ryan Fitzpatrick to play as well as he did last season.
15) Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens suffered more major injuries than any NFL team in 2015, and they should bounce back after having their worst season under head coach John Harbaugh. Joe Flacco is still a quality quarterback despite his down season.
16) Buffalo Bills
Buffalo has talent on both sides of the ball, but they might be destined for another .500 season. Rex Ryan needs to prove he can get the Bills to overachieve or he will enter 2017 on the hot seat.
17) Washington Redskins
Kirk Cousins needs to prove that he can play well for a second straight year, and his playoff performance wasn’t an encouraging sign.
18) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is on his way to becoming a very good quarterback, and the Bucs will be improved in his second season. A shot at the wild card is a legitimate goal, but Winston will need more pass protection.
19) Houston Texans
The Texans will be good defensively, but they need a quarterback -- desperately. Arian Foster at full strength would also help, along with another strong year from DeAndre Hopkins.
20) Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta was much improved under Dan Quinn, but a third straight season of missing the playoffs suggests that Matt Ryan might not be the answer at quarterback. The defense could use a better pass rush.
21) Chicago Bears
With an average quarterback and an average defense, Chicago could be headed for six to eight wins. Can rookie wide receiver Kevin White turn things around?
22) San Diego Chargers
The Chargers had their 2015 season destroyed by injuries, and they should be closer to .500 next season. Philip Rivers could use a big-play receiver.
23) New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees will still put up good numbers, but this team still looks a long way from competing for a title. Saints may have overhaul this team to have a chance of making the postseason.
24) New York Giants
Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. give the Giants a formidable offense, but New York's defense was one of the worst in NFL history this past season. Victor Cruz predicts he will be back at full strength next season, which should be a big help.
25) Philadelphia Eagles
Sam Bradford wasn’t the answer at quarterback, and the team has a lot of work to do after Chip Kelly hurt the roster. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor was drafted far too early.
26) Detroit Lions
With Calvin Johnson potentially retiring, 2016 could be an even worse year for the Lions. Jim Caldwell needs to bolster his defensive line.
27) Los Angeles Rams
The Rams don’t have a bad defense, but they might have the NFL’s worst quarterback situation. Todd Gurley will need to avoid a sophomore slump to keep Los Angeles competitive.
28) Jacksonville Jaguars
Blake Bortles put up some big numbers this season, but winning five games in an awful division doesn’t bode well for Jacksonville.
29) San Francisco 49ers
If anyone can rejuvenate Colin Kaepernick’s career, it’s Chip Kelly, but the 49ers’ roster currently lacks a lot of talent.
30) Tennessee Titans
Tennessee has a chance to improve with the No.1 pick, and they could double their win total if Marcus Mariota stays healthy.
31) Miami Dolphins
The Ryan Tannehill Era has not produced very good results in Miami. There is room for growth in 2016, but it will be difficult in a tough division.
32) Cleveland Browns
The Browns might be the worst franchise in the four major sports, winning no playoff games since they returned to the league in 1999.