Time to carry on with the remainder of my middle-of the pack, mediocre teams for 2017. But just an editorial note to start out. More injuries in Camps like TANNEHILL in Miami could cause some of these rankings to be altered drastically by September. And so it goes.
16) Miami DOLPHINS. Speaking of the Dolphins here there are. I have already bounced them from 14 back to 16 based on early feedback on their starting QB’s knee injury. It is true that MATT MOORE may be one of the better vet back-ups in the League, but… ADAM GASE did a great job as a Rookie HC last season leading the team to a 10-6 mark and a Play-Off appearance. Newly signed JAY CUTLER and GASE spent a successful year together in Chicago just a bit ago. Can they replicate their joint success in South Florida? And don’t forget that JAY AJAYI/RB is also sitting out right now in the concussion protocol. This team cannot afford a rash of injuries. They are not deep, or talented enough yet, to live with the injury bug hovering around their locker room. This may quickly turn into a 7-9 team which will spend the last half of the season grooming it’s solid young players for a heavier workload going forward. The 2016 Draft class looked promising last season, though bothered by multiple injuries, and the 2017 Draft class looks even more promising, at least on paper. The team’s fans don’t want to hear excuses for a possible step backward, but it is already looking like a possibility. Sorry DOLPHINS fans, these kind of scenarios get depressing pretty quickly, and the wait until next year cries ring a bit hollow. Hang in there and hope for the best from your new savior JAY CUTLER.
15) Cincinnati BENGALS. This team clearly took a step backwards in 2016, going from a perennial 10-Win team under MARVIN LEWIS to 6-9-1, also-ran status. Losing OC HUE JACKSON seemed to really hurt, as well as having WR/GREEN go down to injury that cost him almost half of the season. This was doubly bad because the team had lost SANU to VFA and no other young receiver really stepped up among the wideouts. TYLER EIFERT/TE also missed half of the season, to what is looking like a pattern of injuries on his part. VFA losses were pretty heavy this past winter, especially along the OL where the team lost starters ZITLER/G and WHITWORTH/T. I could go on but you get the picture. A goodly number of young players are going to have to step in as starters this season, and play like they belong. ANDY DLATON had his best season as a pro in many ways in 2016, but he’s still not the kind of dynamic QB who can carry an NFL team ala RODGERS, BRADY, etc. Perhaps the team has added a couple of pieces who will really crank up the O. The ultra-speedy JOHN ROSS/WR should really stretch opposing secondaries to the limit, and JOE MIXON/RB could have the same kind of impact in the League as other former Sooners like ADRIAN PETERSON/BILLY SIMS. The Defense is sound, but I would not classify them as anything special overall. If things go right this season the Bengals can contend for the AFC North title, but I really don’t see much more than a .500 team here.
14) Minnesota VIKINGS. This team is not as strong as it looked just a couple of seasons ago. But then again too many people may currently be sleeping on them based on 2016. They had more issues to deal with last year than I have space to recount here. But once again GM RICK SPIELMAN has done a really solid job reshaping the roster this offseason. The biggest job was rebuilding the OL and he appears to have done that. OT RILEY REIFF and MIKE REMMERS were both added thru VFA, and though not world beaters they are solid players. Then he added PAT ELFLEIN/C and DANNY ISIDORA/G via the Draft and both will provide competition and depth, even if they don’t win starting jobs right away. The team cut ties with ADRIAN PETERSON/RB and brought in DALVIN COOK/R and LATAVIUS MURRAY/VFA, who combined with a healthy JERICK McKINNON should provide the team with a diverse and deep backfield of full-sized options. SAM BRADFORD/QB had an outstanding 2016 season despite all the OL issues and the job is his again while TEDY BRIDGEWATER rehabs his knee for the 2018 season… he hopes. The D has lots of talent, but some of the younger guys have got to step it up on a weekly basis. Mark them down as an 8-8 team, but with the potential to break through and win double digit games if things go well overall.
13) Tennessee TITANS. Initial returns on the recovery of QB/MARCUS MARIOTA are positive, and if he takes the next step forward then he is getting very close to being a Top 10 QB in the NFL. The running game should be outstanding again and Rookies COREY DAVIS and TAYWAN TAYLOR should upgrade the receiving corps significantly. They may also be seriously better at TE with R/JOHNNU SMITH being groomed to succeed DELANIE WALKER at TE. The Defense is young and aggressive, and should be improved with VFA’s SYLVESTER WILLIAMS/NG and LOGAN RYAN/CB joining the roster. The TITANS were sadly lacking in their Special Teams play last season. So they signed two of the best Special Teamers on the RAIDERS roster in DARREN BATES and BRYNDEN TRAWICK. They also signed RS/ERIC WEEMS from the FALCONS, then drafted ADOREE’ JACKSON, who is an eventual starting CB, but likely to be an immediate contributor in the return game. The arrow is pointing upward for the TITANS, and it would not be a shock to see things come together and this team firmly take over the AFC South this season.
12) Denver BRONCOS. I still like the work JOHN ELWAY has done as GM for this organization. What makes them a contender, but not a Top 10 team, is primarily the lack of a legit Franchise QB. SIMIEN looks like the starter again at this time, but ELWAY would be glad to see PAXTON LYNCH show enough to take over the team sooner rather than later. The team may have a new set of OT by September. Newcomers GARETT BOLLES/R, RONALD LEARY/VFA and MENELIK WATSON/VFA are all in competition to start along the offensive front. The team could have a big upgrade at TE by mid-season if JAKE BUTT/R is truly recovered from his knee injury. He’s an old fashioned MIKE DITKA kind of TE and could be a big boost for whomever wins the QB job. Rookies CARLOS HENDERSON and ISAIAH McKENZIE could bring some serious speed help for EMMANUEL SANDERS at the wideout and slot positions. McKENZIE could also be a big boost in the return game, especially on punts. The D is a work in progress because WADE PHILIPS is gone as DC, with JOE WOODS taking over that slot. ELWAY set out to add a bit more size to the defensive front and looks to have done so. ZACH KERR/326#, DOMATA PEKO/318#, Rookies DeMAECUS WALKER/280# and TYRIQUE JARRETT/357# all fit that bill. The BRONCOS clearly have the best defensive secondary in the NFL with TALIB, HARRIS, WARD, STEWART, ROBY. They also have some very talented youth to back those guys up like JUSTIN SIMMONS, WILLIAM PARKS, LORENZO DOSS and more. VON MILLER leads a fast, athletic LB group. Most of the roster changes look to be positive in the Mile High City. If either QB grabs the reigns and improves significantly the team can be a serious Play-Off participant.
11) Arizona CARDINALS. The CARDS were a sub-.500 team last season at 7-8-1. They most prove that effort was a hiccup and not the start of a decline. HC BRUCE ARIANS has got to get past his aversion to Rookie mistakes and get more of his young talent out on the field, and put into positions to succeed and improve the overall roster. But I am skeptical that B.A. is comfortable with that approach. His big off-season additions (in concert with GM STEVE KEIM) were ANTOINE BETHEA/33, KARLOS DANSBY/35 and K/PHIL DAWSON/42. The team had another solid looking Draft in April, but will any young players be given the chance to really earn a spot and work through Rookie mistakes. Based on early returns the team may be in a better spot than recent years if aging QB/CARSON PALMER gets dinged up and misses a few games during the season. The team signed BALINE GABBERT as a VFA when the 49’ers purged their QB position. GABBERT has the potential to move past 33-year old career back-up DREW STANTON if given the chance during the pre-season. GABBERT may never get past the stigma of being a flop as a Top 10 QB in the 2011 Draft, but he’s still only 27-years old and has shown some flashes in recent seasons. MIKE BIDWILL and STEVE KEIM cannot allow B.A. to be the modern era GEORGE ALLEN. He and his staff have got to learn how to force-feed/develop young players on a yearly basis. If not this team will slide into mediocrity leaving the SEA HAWKS to be the only upper echelon team in the NFC West. Rookies BUDDA BAKER/DB and HASSON REDDICK/LB have too much talent not to play right away. Let’s see how they are handled. Red-shirting is not an option for any team in today’s NFL.
This concludes my middle of the pack Power Rankings for 2017. My Top 10 will feature teams I consider to be sure thing winners for 2017.