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Thursday, September 7th is the day many football fans have been waiting for since the surreal comeback by the New England Patriots during Super Bowl 51. The longest offseason of the four major American sports, the wait is getting shorter and shorter.

The New England Patriots have been donned, by many, to have won the offseason. Adding top-end talent like wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, along with retaining cornerback Malcolm Butler and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, makes this team, at least on paper, dominant.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the Patriots’ upcoming schedule and power rank the 13 opponents they will be facing.

13) New York Jets

2016 record: 5-11

Analysis: The New York Jets are in full rebuild mode. And although the Jets often times do find ways to slow down the high octane Patriots offense, they are more talent-deprived this year than they have been in recent years.

I still believe Todd Bowles is a good head coach with a terrific understanding of the defensive side of the game, and his front seven still has talented players like Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson, but the secondary is being built from the ground up, and the offense has been and still will be completely inept.

12) Buffalo Bills

2016 record: 7-9

Analysis: Another AFC east team at the bottom of the list. Other than the oft-injured Sammy Watkins, there are no real threats in the receiving game. The right side of the offensive line is shaky, at best.

On defense, the Bills have a scary front four, including edge rushers Shaq Lawson and Jerry Hughes, who can both bring the heat. The linebacking group is solid as well, although the secondary took a big hit this offseason. The pass rush will help out the shaky unit, but expect the unit to be exposed through the air.

11) New Orleans Saints

2016 record: 7-9

Analysis: Same old for the New Orleans Saints. Their offense looks to be explosive, not as explosive without wideout Brandin Cooks, but still will give defensive coordinators headaches.

The talent on the defensive side has gotten marginally better with the addition of rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, but the rest of the defense will be exposed, specifically in the intermediate passing game. Opposing offenses will be able to expose their lack of athletic linebackers.

10) Carolina Panthers

2016 record: 6-10

Analysis: The Panthers will have an explosive offense if the offensive line can improve from a dreadful campaign. Christian McCaffrey could not have landed in a better spot because this offense is tailor made to suit his strengths.

The defense should be better, particularly the secondary since they signed both cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Adams, both solid acquisitions. Add in a top pass rush and the best linebacker in the league, and this defense should be very good. The offensive line is a major concern though.

9) Los Angeles Chargers

2016 record: 5-11

Analysis: If the Chargers can stay relatively healthy (a huge if), they will be really good in an already competitive AFC West. The offensive line was upgraded after drafting the two best guards available, along with the signing of Russell Okung.

The offense also has rookie wideout Mike Williams, Keenan Allen (if healthy), Hunter Henry and Melvin Gordon. That’s one of the more explosive groups Phillip Rivers has had in a long time.

The defense is sneaky underrated as well. Joey Bosa enjoyed a terrific rookie season. Him and Melvin Ingram off the edges will make opposing quarterbacks’ lives miserable. Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward together make for a talented cornerback tandem as well.

8) Miami Dolphins

2016 record: 10-6

Analysis: The Miami Dolphins are the only team in the division that can give the Patriots some issues. They are a solid team overall, instead of excelling at certain positions, they have a lot of solid overall units.

They have a good offensive line, a good receiving corps, but do not have much depth behind most of their starters. Head coach Adam Gase did a terrific job with an overachieving unit last season, and they have added talent to that squad.

7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 record: 9-7

Analysis: The Buccaneers wield one of the most explosive offenses in the league. If quarterback Jameis Winston continues to improve, the offense will be scary.

The defense, on the other hand, will struggle to stop opposing offenses. There is not much of a pass rush, and the secondary does not have much depth.

6) Houston Texans

2016 record: 9-7

Analysis: The Texans would be higher on this list if they had a proven starter at quarterback. I’m a big fan of rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson, but it will take him at least a year to efficiently running a pro-style offense.

The defense will be scary again, especially if JJ Watt can stay on the field, but the secondary took a hit after losing cornerback AJ Bouye, although the front seven still has a ton of talent.

5) Atlanta Falcons

2016 record: 11-5

Analysis: Whether the Falcons will ever be able to rebound from blowing a 25 point lead with 17 minutes left in Super Bowl 51 will remain to be seen. They should though, because this team is stacked with talent.

Reigning MVP Matt Ryan will have the same explosive group he had from his terrific 2016 campaign. The defense will improve with cornerback Desmond Trufant returning and the young players getting a year older.

4) Kansas City Chiefs

2016 record: 12-4

Analysis: The Chiefs made the curious decision to trade up to draft gun slinging prospect quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The starting quarterback job seems to still be safe for Alex Smith, for now.

The defense will be solid once again. The front seven includes scary pass rushers like Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Chris Jones and Tamba Hali. The secondary is solid as well, so expect this team to finish with 11-12 wins once again.

3) Denver Broncos

2016 record: 9-7

Analysis: The defense is the heart of this team, and it’s a defense that strikes fear into the heart of the opponent. Pass rushers like Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Shane Ray are all ferocious in getting to the passer. Pair them with the best secondary in the league, and this defense will be the best pass defense in the league again.

The quarterback position is still the biggest question on the team. However, whether it is Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch, the offensive line must improve from the mess it was last year.

2) Oakland Raiders

2016 record: 12-4

Analysis: The Raiders have a terrific, explosive and young offense. Derek Carr leads the unit that added star running back Marshawn Lynch. It’ll be interesting to see whether a year off did Lynch some good or bad, but the passing game will be explosive, like last year.

The defense has improved slightly, but they are still lacking in the middle of the defense. The linebacking corps is weak, although the secondary should be improved with the additions of rookie defensive backs Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu.

1) Pittsburgh Steelers

2016 record: 11-5

Analysis: The Steelers figure to be right there competing for AFC supremacy against the New England Patriots. The Killer B’s and a strong offensive line lead a high octane offense, when they’re clicking.

The defense is still a work in progress, especially the secondary. The front seven has a lot of talent, so it will be interesting to see whether the unit, as a whole, can improve.

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