Everyone from the analysts to the oddsmakers favor the Patriots to make a return trip to the Super Bowl in 2017. So, it’s no surprise they top Sports Illustrated’s power rankings. Where the surprises begin is who they think is the most likely to challenge them for that crown.
Sitting at number two is none other than the Oakland Raiders.
The respect for the Raiders talent has risen steadily the past three offseasons and the past couple seasons they have lived up to the hype, going from 3-13 to 7-9 to 12-4. With that track record, and steady climb to the upper echelons of the NFL, SI feels confident enough to make them the most worthy challenger this season.
Peter King notes top pick Gareon Conley along with veterans Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch as the most key additions to the team. He added round two pick Obi Melifonwu as wildcard.
He also notes the growth of the secondary as the most important factor in whether the team can reach its potential. The team had the league’s 26th ranked defense, and was carried all season by the heroics of Derek Carr and the offense. That offense very nearly earned the Raiders a top seed before Carr went down with a broken leg, prompting a drop to the 5th seed and a wildcard round loss to the Texans.
King explains why he has the Raiders number two in the power rankings.
“This is where I believe they could have been last year if Derek Carr didn’t break his leg on Christmas Eve against the Colts. The pieces are in place for a good playoff run for the Raiders, and a shot at knocking off the Patriots for AFC supremacy. Lynch brings his mercurial presence and a unique determination to the Bay Area for what could be his final season of pro football. I say unique because it means more to Lynch, for some reason, than it means to an average player returning to his hometown. Someone who knows him told me last month: “Oakland is in him—he’s just always wanted to be a Raider. It’s like a guy going back to high school. Glory days.” But will he be healthy enough to be classic Marshawn? That’s the test. On defense, GM Reggie McKenzie bet a lot on his first- and second-round picks. Conley and Melifonwu will have a chance to play early.”
King also predicts Marshawn Lynch will have a 1000-yard season, which, running behind that line with fresh legs and the willpower behind it, that’s not a far-fetched prediction.
Neither is his prediction the real Super Bowl this year will be the AFC Championship between the Raiders and Patriots.