Top 5 NFL contenders this season

With the NFL preseason nearly over, fans are gearing up for the real games to start. These tune-up games give a good insight as to how teams will look once the regular season arrives. The contenders for this season’s championship are beginning to emerge, let’s look at the top five.

1. New England Patriots: No surprise here, last year’s champs are atop everyone’s power rankings. After the greatest Super Bowl comeback in NFL history, the Patriots reloaded during the offseason and look stronger than ever. They added star cornerback Stephen Gilmore to an already talented defense and traded for speedster Brandin Cooks, which gives Brady his first elite deep threat in years. Moreover, they have the best tight end in football Rob Gronkowski returning from injury. The team is so talented there’s talk of an undefeated season around the league.

2. Atlanta Falcons: There are concerns Atlanta will take a step back after a crushing loss in the championship game. However, their talent is undeniable and the team is easily the cream of the crop in the NFC. Offensively, the Falcons are stacked at every position. Quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones, and running back Devonta Freeman make for the most dangerous trio in the league. Additionally, Atlanta possesses one of the most promising defenses. Their biggest hurdle will be putting the devastating loss from Super Bowl 51 behind them, but if they do, they have all the talent to make it back.

3. Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys seemingly always find a way to shoot themselves in the foot. After overachieving to a 13-3 record last year, a crazy offseason left the team with four players starting the season suspended and rulings on two more still to come. Rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott’s six game suspension was the biggest hit to the team as he was key to their resurgence. Dak Prescott will look to avoid the sophomore slump and recreate the magic from last year. Although they might have a slow start to the season, once Elliott and the rest of the suspended players make their return, Dallas will be a force to be reckoned with.

4. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders have officially made their return to the top of the NFL. An impressive 12 win season gave them their first playoff berth in 14 years. They could have made some noise in the playoffs had it not been for Derek Carr’s season ending injury in Week 15. Newly acquired Oakland native Marshawn Lynch adds more firepower to the team, while Khali Mack will lead a young defense looking to take the next step. A return to their championship days would be a fitting end to their last season playing in front of the fans in the Black Hole.

5. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have been atop the NFC for the last few years, but this might be the last chance for an aging defense. Stud defensive ends Michael Bennet and Cliff Avril are 31, while Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor both turn 30 next year. The team must prioritize Russell Wilson’s health as last season’s dreadful offensive line struggled to keep their quarterback upright. An injury free season for Wilson will end in him being an MVP candidate and Seattle having one of the most potent offenses in the league.

Mathew Miranda can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_sports on Twitter.