NFL Most Improved Teams In 2017
Patriots The Most Improved Team In The NFL?
|Super Bowl LII Outright|
New York Giants +2200
During the 2016 offseason, the New York Giants splurged on an overhaul of their defense, which was enough to secure an 11-5 record and their first trip to the post season since they won the Super Bowl in 2011. Unfortunately, they ended up running into the best quarterback in the NFL for their Wild Card match. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers picked apart the reconstructed defense with a 38-13 rout, ending the Giants season.
New York spent most of the offseason focusing on improving the offence, which was often limited to whatever Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. could muster. Brandon Marshall was a big hire, giving Eli another elite downfield target. Opposing secondaries will need to split their attention between Marshall and Beckham, which should provide Odell with a bit more space this season.
The offensive line still appears thin, but giving Manning another big target will reduce the amount of time he needs in the pocket. If the o-line outperforms expectations, the Giants will be one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3300
Another franchise that hasn’t been the same since winning the Super Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made the playoffs twice since the 2002 season. If they miss the post season in 2017, the playoff drought will reach a decade. Last year they were close, earning a respectable 9-7 record with the help of subtle improvements by QB Jameis Winston.
Winston could end up making a larger leap this year because of the number of offensive weapons he’ll be able to access in 2017. Signing wide receiver DeSean Jackson was a brilliant sign; he will create more space for Mike Evans, similar to the way Marshall will draw defenders away from Beckham. The Bucs also drafted athletic tight end O.J. Howard, who will create problems for opponents who aren’t prepared for his speed and physicality. Wide receiver Chris Godwin, another intriguing draft pick, has been turning heads at training camp by pulling in circus catches.
Tampa Bay’s defense will need to progress from below average to slightly above the mean to earn a division title in the stacked NFC South. Otherwise, these offensive offseason additions will simply result in a losing team that’s fun to watch.
Carolina Panthers +2500
Cam Newton and the Panthers disappeared from public consciousness after dabbing their way to an appearance in Super Bowl 50. Carolina plummeted from a near-perfect 15-1 in 2015 to a 6-10 last-place spot in the NFC South last year. Perhaps more remarkable was how they lost: six of ten defeats were three points or closer, underlying the team’s frustration.
Only a year removed from being the best team in the NFC, the Panthers responded to adversity by crushing the 2017 offseason, drafting well and picking up free agents who fill key roles. Defense was shored up by the addition of veterans Julius Peppers and Mike Adams. Russell Shepard and Matt Kalil solidify the offense, making up for the departure of Ted Ginn Jr.
Their first-round draft pick, running back Christian McCaffrey, has the potential to boost the ground game while creating matchup nightmares as an occasional receiver. Picking Curtis Samuel after McCaffrey was an interesting decision, partly because he’s a wide receiver who can also take reps as a RB. Upgrades on offense, along with stable improvement on defense, could make the Panthers one of the most valuable teams to bet on in the NFL.
New England Patriots +350
This decade could be the era of the super team in North American pro sports. In theory, the New England Patriots have improved more than any other team in the NFL this year. The Pats join the Golden States Warriors in the NBA, and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL, as franchises that challenged the concept of parity in their leagues.
Star receiver Brandin Cooks was acquired from the New Orleans Saints, and Super Bowl standout Kony Ealy was scooped from the Panthers for draft picks. The Pats signed Stephon Gilmore away from the Bills, and retained the services of Malcolm Butler and Donta Hightower. Put simply, the Patriots became deeper and more talented by resigning the majority of their stars, splurging on free agents, and mortgaging draft picks to win now.
The Patriots are considered such overwhelming favorites that NFL betting lines list New England as more than two times more likely to win the Super Bowl than Green Bay. They’re at least three times more likely to win the AFC than the Raiders and Steelers. New England’s moneyline to win the AFC East is an absurd -1000, with the Dolphins listed as +1000 underdogs.
The truth is painful: New England’s the most improved team in the NFL, giving them the best futures odds to win their second straight Super Bowl.
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