NFL Power Rankings, way-too-early 2017 edition: Can the Falcons rebound from this?

The Atlanta Falcons look like they can make it right back to a Super Bowl.

They have an MVP quarterback in Matt Ryan, an all-world receiver in Julio Jones, a strong running game and a young, improving defense. But how can you predict how they’ll rebound from what might be the worst loss in professional sports history?

We already know how hard it is for any Super Bowl loser to get back. The last time a Super Bowl loser won it all the next year was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. No Super Bowl loser has even been back to the Super Bowl the next season since the 1993 Buffalo Bills. Since the 1970 merger, 30 of 46 Super Bowl losers didn’t win a playoff game the next season.

Scroll to continue with content

Super Bowl losers already have history against them. And there’s no blueprint on how the Falcons will handle blowing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI.

This is new territory for anyone. No team had ever blown a lead larger than 10 points in a Super Bowl. The way the Falcons let it slip away was unfathomable. James Palmer of NFL Network said teams that have led by at least 25 points since 1991 have a 1,057-5 record. And only one of those losses happened in a Super Bowl. According to Football Outsiders, since 2000 teams that led by 6-8 points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter and had a first down inside the opponent’s 30-yard line are 221-4 after Atlanta’s loss. Two of the four losses included a recovered onside kick, another had a missed chip-shot field goal, then there’s the Falcons. Incredible.

The Falcons blew a championship in a way we may never see again. There’s no way around that. And now they have to climb all the way back up the mountain. The 2016 Carolina Panthers found out how tough that is. A little worse injury luck, a tougher schedule, even a bad draw in the playoffs and a season can turn sideways. Even in normal circumstances, getting to a Super Bowl two straight years is a lot to ask. And the Falcons aren’t facing normal circumstances.

The roster is fine. Eight rookies and second-year players were regular starters in the defense, so that unit should improve. Even with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan going to the San Francisco 49ers, the Falcons should still score plenty of points. There is a lot of blue-chip talent on that side of the ball. The Falcons weren’t the most dominant NFC champion we’ve ever seen, but they were very good and the roster doesn’t have obvious flaws.


We just don’t know how the mental aspect of getting that close to a Super Bowl and having it snatched away will affect Atlanta. If you want to be supremely optimistic, maybe they use this all-time collapse as motivation and win it all next season. We just don’t know. It’s an unprecedented situation.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons will try to rebound from a historic Super Bowl collapse. (AP)
Matt Ryan and the Falcons will try to rebound from a historic Super Bowl collapse. (AP)

Here are the way-too-early power rankings for the 2017 season. Do not take them too seriously. We still have free agency, trades, the draft, and any number of unpredictable headlines that will affect each team. It’s just a fun snapshot of where each team stands as we all head into the long offseason:

32. Cleveland Browns (1-15)
If the Browns think that one of the quarterbacks in this draft can be a Pro Bowl-level player in time, then take him with the first pick. I don’t see that upside from any of the top quarterback prospects, but maybe the Browns do. If they don’t love any of this year’s quarterback prospects, don’t panic. The Browns shouldn’t worry about going 6-10 this season. Their entire plan needs to revolved around winning a division title by 2020 or so. Maintain patience.


31. San Francisco 49ers (2-14)
Kyle Shanahan had a great season until a few mistakes in the second half of the Super Bowl. Now we’ll find out how he’ll do with a fraction of the talent on offense, without a viable quarterback on the roster. And we’ll see how first-time general manager John Lynch does acquiring some talent for Shanahan.

30. Chicago Bears (3-13)
It won’t be a surprise when the Bears move on from Jay Cutler, and Matt Barkley will be a decent bridge to whoever the Bears draft this year. But there’s no reason to believe the Bears will be a factor in 2017.

29. Los Angeles Rams (4-12)
The Rams have to see a lot more out of Jared Goff in year two. If not, there’s going to be a ton of buyer’s remorse. Goff isn’t the first quarterback to struggle as a rookie, but it was alarming how bad he looked.

28. New York Jets (5-11)
Will Christian Hackenberg play in 2017? This is the NFL, you don’t redshirt second-round picks for two seasons. If the Jets use yet another early pick on a quarterback, you have every right to laugh at them.


27. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
The roster is a lot better than their 2016 record would indicate. However, the most important thing in football is the coach-quarterback combination – Blake Bortles looks broken, and Doug Marrone was an uninspiring hire.

26. Buffalo Bills (7-9)
The Tyrod Taylor situation is reportedly still up in the air, although all signs point to him being released before a huge option kicks in. The only thing that could give the Bills pause in releasing Taylor: They have no other option at quarterback and there’s no easy path to get one. It’s hard to rank this team higher with the possibility that Cardale Jones or some TBD veteran is their starting quarterback in seven months.

25. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)
There are plenty of pieces in place, especially if receiver Keenan Allen can finally stay healthy for a season. Philip Rivers’ late-season struggles are concerning, but let’s assume he bounces back. What we can’t know is how a messy relocation, including playing home games in a small soccer stadium in Carson, affects them.

24. Indianapolis Colts (8-8)
It sounds weird for this team, with quarterback Andrew Luck, but you look at the rest of the roster and it seems like the best approach is a slow rebuild. A few quick fixes in free agency won’t restock all the shelves. Luck is just 27, so there’s plenty of time to smartly build a championship team around him.


23. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
Of the 11 defensive players who had more than 20 tackles, eight were at least 27 years old. One of the few young stars, linebacker and leading tackler Zach Orr, suddenly retired at age 24. The three receivers who topped 500 yards were 30 (Mike Wallace), 37 (Steve Smith) and 31 (Dennis Pitta), and Smith retired. A few bad drafts from the Ravens could really start to affect them.

22. Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1)
The Bengals suddenly need to get pieces around Andy Dalton. A.J. Green is great, but Brandon LaFell is not an ideal No. 2. Tyler Boyd showed some promise as a rookie, but the Bengals still need more at receiver. At running back, Jeremy Hill is simply not a good lead back and Giovani Bernard will be coming off a torn ACL. Cincinnati needs to invest in the offense.

21. Detroit Lions (9-7)
The Lions were lucky to win nine games, considering how many were fourth-quarter comebacks, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent here. Getting healthy seasons out of potential difference-makers like DeAndre Levy, Ezekiel Ansah and Ameer Abdullah would help tremendously.

20. Houston Texans (9-7)
On one hand, if J.J. Watt returns and is anything like the Watt we are used to seeing, the defense will be amazing. On the other hand … the offense. The Texans would probably be smart to admit Brock Osweiler is a sunk cost and move on, but that’s not an easy conversation to have with the owner who would have to pay $18 million in 2017 to a backup quarterback.


19. New Orleans Saints (7-9)
Seems like we’re in for a familiar Saints season: Tremendous offense behind the great Drew Brees, awful defense, and a big-money free-agency signing that makes absolutely no sense and doesn’t help at all.

18. Minnesota Vikings (8-8)
The Vikings could really use that first-round pick they traded for Sam Bradford. There are holes that need to be filled at just about every spot on offense, including running back if Adrian Peterson is let go.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)
They’ll be an interesting case next season. They were better than their record in 2016, but played a brutal schedule. But quarterback Carson Wentz needs a lot more help. The Eagles might have the worst set of skill-position players outside of San Francisco. Let’s see how they fix that before predicting a huge leap.

16. Carolina Panthers (6-10)
The Panthers have the eighth pick, and wouldn’t it be fun if they landed Leonard Fournette? Their run-first offense has invested very little at running back. It doesn’t seem like a Dave Gettleman move, however. It would just be nice if the Panthers went into a season and Cam Newton wasn’t their best running back.


15. Washington Redskins (8-7-1)
There will be a lot of words spoken and written the next few weeks about if Cousins is “worth” a huge deal from the Redskins. That debate will miss the main point: Washington has no backup plan in place and it isn’t just letting a 4,900-yard quarterback walk. If Cousins somehow hits free agency, it will be a first in NFL history. No healthy quarterback of Cousins’ age and talent level has ever hit free agency, excluding teams that had a backup plan in place (like Philip Rivers when Drew Brees became a free agent). Cousins might not be great, but he’s not bad and no team is letting him go just to start Colt McCoy instead.

14. Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1)
The Carson Palmer question looms. Assuming he won’t retire, the Cardinals could rebound. That assumes, however, that Palmer plays much better at age 37 than he did at 36. And if Palmer retires, it’ll be interesting if the Cardinals go fishing in the Jay Cutler or Tony Romo waters. It’s not like they have a viable option in-house to replace Palmer.

13. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
I’m more excited about this team than any other going into the offseason. 2016 was a good growth season, and the Jared Goff trade will be the gift that keeps on giving. The Titans have the fifth pick from the Rams, their own 18th pick, and a ton of cap room. This team reminds me a lot of the 2016 Raiders: one big offseason away from being the NFL’s breakout team (and that big offseason better include getting a legit No. 1 receiver for Marcus Mariota).

12. Miami Dolphins (11-5)
Was the Dolphins’ surge due to a weak schedule? They were totally overmatched in a late-season games against the Ravens, Patriots and in a playoff loss to the Steelers. I like some things the Dolphins did last season, and think coach Adam Gase appears to be a good hire, but this will be a “prove-it” season.


11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
They’ll be a popular playoff pick in 2017, and it’s easy to see why. Retaining defensive coordinator Mike Smith was important. Doug Martin will miss at least the first three games of next season due to suspension, and the Buccaneers will have to come up with a Plan B at running back. But the top priority is finding someone else to play receiver alongside Mike Evans. That’s the big piece to a Buccaneers breakout.

10. New York Giants (11-5)
The Giants should be hoping Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook slips all the way to No. 23 in the draft, but that’s not going to happen. Somehow the Giants need to figure out a running game. It was awful last season.

9. Denver Broncos (9-7)
Obviously, the Broncos need to improve the offense. The line has been an issue for a few years, and there are no easy fixes in the draft or this free agency class. The running game needs to be better (a healthy C.J. Anderson will help that). But the biggest question will be quarterback, of course. The development of 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch is priority No. 1.

8. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
The Chiefs are stuck. They’re good enough that you’d never think of a major overhaul. But it seems they’re not good enough to go any further than they’ve been already. They had a good chance last season to break through, and didn’t even win a playoff game. My guess is they run it back and hope for better luck in the playoffs, but I’m not sure they have that next gear.


7. Oakland Raiders (12-4)
There’s no question it all looks good on paper. And the expectation is that with a healthy Derek Carr, the Raiders pick up right where they left off. That doesn’t always happen in the NFL, though. The Raiders are not going to replicate a 6-0 record in games decided by less than a touchdown, either. The Raiders will have huge expectations, and for good reason, but there are no guarantees.

6. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
It’s a cliche at this point to discuss the Packers’ allergy to free agency, but it’s hard to avoid. The strange thing is that GM Ted Thompson has a great knack for finding players that can help when he does sign someone. Tight end Jared Cook is the latest example.

5. Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1)
They need to write “OFFENSIVE LINE” in big capital letters on their “to-do” list for the offseason. Whatever the Seahawks need to do to fix the line, it has to be done. Not only are the issues on the line going to keep them from going back to another Super Bowl, playing behind a terrible line is going to shorten Russell Wilson’s career if the Seahawks don’t address it.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
The Steelers have to retain Le’Veon Bell, even though big-money contracts for running backs are generally bad investments. But Bell means too much to the offense. If Ben Roethlisberger retires then it’s all practically moot anyway, but I don’t think anyone truly believes that will happen.

3. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)
Aside from the hangover from this Super Bowl, it is fair to wonder how much they’ll miss offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Until he made some mistakes right at the end, Shanahan had the Falcons’ offense rolling. Maybe new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian makes it a seamless transition, but it’s no sure thing.

2. Dallas Cowboys (13-3)
There’s no reason to believe the Cowboys can’t replicate the formula they had last season. We shouldn’t expect a huge leap forward in year two for Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott, because they were incredible as rookies. But as long as those two don’t regress, Dallas will be right back in the mix in 2017.

1. New England Patriots (14-2)
The Tom Brady story gets really intriguing as he hits 40, because the history of 40-year-old quarterbacks is ugly. But he’s also coming off the greatest clutch performance in sports history. It’s impossible to bet against him until he shows some sign of slowing down. And it’s impossible to pick anyone but the Patriots at No. 1. And here’s a scary thought: The Patriots are projected to have the sixth-most cap space among all NFL teams, at about $63 million according to Spotrac. Assuming Brady doesn’t hit the wall suddenly (it has happened to other quarterbacks, so it’s possible), there’s a decent chance he and Bill Belichick collect a sixth ring next season.

More on Yahoo Sports:
Former NBA enforcer Charles Oakley arrested at Knicks game
Jerry Jones unsure how to resolve Tony Romo’s situation
Steph Curry called President Trump an ‘ass’ without calling him an ‘ass’
MLB plans to test radical new extra-innings rules

– – – – – – –

Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!