Ranking the 10 Best NFL Teams of the 2017 Season
To most effectively rank the 10 best NFL teams of the 2017 season, we’ll turn to Pro-Football-Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS) to be our guide. This statistical module takes into account point differential and strength of schedule to provide a more balanced and objective look at which teams are performing highest above the league average.
Again: These will not be the squads with the the league’s 10 best records. That’s an over-simplistic way of looking at things. This list should provide you with a great feel for which teams are—and, perhaps by their exclusions, aren’t—real threats to make noise in the playoffs. All Super Bowl odds come courtesy of Bovada.
10. Atlanta Falcons (+1200)
The Atlanta Falcons juuust beat out the Seattle Seahawks for the 10th slot in this pecking order. And though there should justifiably be some debate surrounding this order of events, they’ve at the very least earn this consideration.
Ironically enough, their defense, not their offenses, continues to ferry their playoff hopes. They are ninth in points allowed per game, and while their ground attack is more than capable of bursting its way through the front seven and into the secondary, quarterback Matt Ryan is having a down year, one replete with a couple of laid eggs as Atlanta plays out its home stretch.
Postseason Betting Advice: Steer clear of their futures altogether. They might not even make the postseason. If and when they do, expect them to be bounced in the Wild Card round.
9. Baltimore Ravens (+5000)
Color us surprised. And then color this unsustainable.
The Baltimore Ravens might be one of the top 10 teams in the NFL right now. The Seahawks seem like they would make more sense, but the Ravens have enjoyed some balanced production at either end of the field, placing in the top 10 of both points scored and allowed per game.
But the offense feels misleading. Joe Flacco is not having a good year behind center. The Ravens rank 30th in total passing yards because they deliberately plan short routes to make his job easier, and yet he still finishes in the bottom 10 of interceptions thrown.
Postseason Betting Advice: Don’t even talk yourself into dark-horse status for this squad. The defense is frisky, and the ground game can be downright terrifying. But you need an average quarterback to make the playoffs, unless you’re the 2015 Denver Broncos. The Ravens don’t have one.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (+400)
At 11-2, the Pittsburgh Steelers seem like they should be slotted way higher than eighth. They’re contending for the best record in the NFL, after all.
But their point differential kills them. They’re beating teams by an average of under six points per game, which hardly ranks as impressive when they’ve faced a below-average schedule to date. Just four of their victories have come by more than a touchdown, and they’ve leat should-be wins—like matchups with the Cincinnati Bengals, Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers and winless Cleveland Browns—turn into tightly contested fourth-quarter tilts.
Postseason Betting Advice: Take the Steelers seriously. Their offense looks like it has started to turn a corner, and they have a top-eight defense to boot. Just be careful when betting their spreads (and road games). There’s a good-to-great chance they whiff on any lines that favor them by more than four points.
7. Carolina Panthers (+2500)
The Carolina Panthers are quitely piecing together a spectacular season while playing out a ridiculously tough schedule. Only the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins have played out more difficult slates, and that number, for them, is buoyed by all the losses they’ve suffered at the hands of their opponents, which inflates rival winning percentages.
The Panthers aren’t doing that. They’re among just three teams to make this list that have survived one of the NFL’s 10 toughest schedules. Their defense, which ranks 10th in points allowed per game, deserves a lot of credit for keeping them afloat, while the offense has started to show some additional sparks thanks to a resurgence from running back Jonathan Stewart.
Postseason Betting Advice: Treat the Panthers as a super dark-horse Super Bowl bet. They should not be garnering NFC consideration over the New Orleans Saints or Minnesota Vikings, but there isn’t a squad beyond them the Panthers are incapable of beating.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars (+1800)
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Or maybe you should be. That’s how weird the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ season has been.
They absolutely belong on this list. Their SRS score grades out as the second-highest in the entire AFC. Their defense sits atop the NFL in points allowed per game, and quarterback Blake Bortles’ recent uprising has helped the offense sneak back into the top 10 of total output. No one in the conference has a higher margin of victory.
The problem: The Jaguars have played through an absurdly easily schedule—one of the two easiest in the league, in fact. They’ve proved their mettle with victories over the Steelers and Seahawks, but they don’t have a ton of experience with grinding out wins against the NFL’s elite.
Postseason Betting Advice: Play the Jaguars game to game. Don’t invest in their Super Bowl odds now. You need to see how they do when consistently pitted against above-average units before fully trusting their success.
5. Minnesota Vikings (+700)
Credit the Vikings for not only remaining relevant, but borderline thriving without franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Case Keenum has been an admirable fill-in, acting as a tidy game manager, with the occasional big play sprinkled in. But the defense, oh the defense, has been spectacular. The Vikings place second in points allowed per game, trailing only the Jaguars.
Relying so heavily on the run game is never the most ideal option, but it has worked to this point. The Vikings haven’t played out an especially easy schedule, and Keenum, again, has made enough plays with his arm to float playoff hopes.
Postseason Betting Advice: Use the Vikings as a regular dark horse Super Bowl dice roll. Defenses do, indeed, win championships, but they’re not built to win a shootout should they find themselves in one.
4. New England Patriots (+275)
If you’re wondering why the New England Patriots aren’t higher, look at their schedule. They’ve squared off against a below-average collection of opponents, which makes their 9.1-point margin of victory, the second-best in the league, slightly less than impressive.
Still, we needn’t worry about the reigning Super Bowl champs. They’ve been absolutely on fire since starting the season 0-2, their lone hiccup coming versus the Miami Dolphins. They know how to handle big games and are hardly unfamiliar with facing elite opponents.
Postseason Betting Advice: The Patriots are the real deal. But if you’re going to cash in on their Super Bowl odds, do it soon, before they become heavy favorites that don’t offer a promising enough return.
3. Los Angeles Rams (+1800)
This feels like it will end up being a little high for the Los Angeles Rams in the end. While their offense (second in points per game) has held mostly steadily, the defense has started to show cracks.
But the Rams won’t face a truly elite offense the rest of the way, and they’re perfectly positioned to win out the NFC West or, should the Seahawks emerge victorious, take over as a Wild Card favorite.
Postseason Betting Advice: Stay away. The Rams are a legitimately good football team, but they seem like they’re built for the regular season. Their situational run game won’t fair well against playoff defenses.
2. New Orleans Saints (+900)
The Saints are good, verging on great, when looking at their surface play—great offense, great quarterback, good defense, etc. But they’re more terrifying when you dig deeper.
Only one team on this list has played out a tougher schedule. And yet, here the Saints are, flirting with an 11-victory season. Even in losses to the Rams and Falcons, when they were far from their best, they managed to keep things close. That’s the value of pairing an adequate defense with a dominant offense: They’re armed to win and remain in games using different methods.
In other words: The Saints can now win ugly, and that’ll serve them well in the playoffs.
Postseason Betting Advice: View them as real Super Bowl threats. But beware: They are still susceptible to bad outings outside New Orleans
1. Philadelphia Eagles (+1200)
Well, this is awkward.
Going off the entire season, yes, the Philadelphia Eagles are the best team. But losing quarterback Carson Wentz torpedoes their playoff hopes. His backup, Nick Foles, has been around the block before. Yet, as they showed in their loss to the New York Giants, they’re more dependent upon an NFL-best offense they no longer have the tools to prop up.
Postseason Betting Advice: The Eagles, of course, are going to make the playoffs. But you shouldn’t be investing in their Super Bowls odds—or even their ability to make it past the divisional round. If you’ve already thrown money at them, consider picking up another option—like the Saints or Vikings—in advance of the playoffs.
*All statistics come courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and are accurate leading into games being played for Week 16.
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