Since Tom Brady took over as quarterback of the Patriots in 2001, New England has won 14 division titles, seven AFC championships and five Lombardi Trophies. He’s back in 2017 at the age of 40 and so are the franchise’s lofty expectations.
GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan inherited a 49ers team that finished 31st in the NFL in offense and 32nd in defense. A total rebuild was in order and the new hierarchy took a giant step in that direction. The 49ers wheeled and dealed for 10 draft picks and also brought in 10 veterans through free agency and trades.
Bill Belichick owns seven Super Bowl rings – five as head coach of the Patriots and two as the defensive coordinator of the Giants. He has won 237 career games, fourth most all-time behind Hall of Famers Don Shula, George Halas and Tom Landry.
The Texans and Titans tied for the division lead with 9-7 records a year ago but Houston was crowned champion based on the second tie-breaker, division record. The Texans went 5-1 against the South and the Titans 2-4.
Coach Bill O’Brien has done the impossible in Houston, winning the AFC South the last two seasons without a quarterback. He has started six different quarterbacks in those 32 games and won games with all of them.
Washington’s hope lies in the arm of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who passed for almost 5,000 yards last season as the Redskins finished third in the NFL in passing. But two of his top targets from a year ago are gone.
Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys finished 1-2 in the voting for the NFL Rookie of the Year in 2016 and both will be a year better in 2017. Elliott led the NFL in rushing by 300 yards and scored a conference-leading 16 touchdowns.
Denver finished in the Top 5, allowing the third fewest points in the league, but an inexperienced and scrambled quarterback position cost the Broncos. That offensive inefficiency doomed Denver to a 9-7 finish.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown 3,876 career passes and squared off against the defenses of Bill Belichick, Wade Phillips and Dick LeBeau. He’s seen just about all an NFL quarterback can see on the football field.
Tommy Davis built a career when special teams were anything but special. There were no special-teams coaches, no designated deep snappers to deliver him perfect snaps and no coverage aces to chase his punts.