In the past two seasons, the NFC representative made the Super Bowl after failing to register a winning record the prior year.
In 2014, the Carolina Panthers went 7-8-1 (they still won the NFC South somehow). The following year, they marched through the NFC and into the Super Bowl.
While Carolina was making its run, the 2015 Falcons were scuttling to an 8-8 year after starting 5-0. A win over those same Panthers may have been a foreshadowing of things to come for next season, as the Falcons went 11-5 last year and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.
It's not uncommon for teams to make that big of a leap, so don't be surprised to see a few outside the top tier usurp those above them and earn Super Bowl berths.
Here's a look at some new power rankings followed by notes on some teams with varying prospects this year.
NFL Power Rankings
1. New England Patriots
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Atlanta Falcons
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Oakland Raiders
7. Tennessee Titans
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Arizona Cardinals
10. New York Giants
11. Dallas Cowboys
12. Kansas City Chiefs
13. Philadelphia Eagles
14. Denver Broncos
15. Los Angeles Chargers
16. Houston Texans
17. Baltimore Ravens
18. New Orleans Saints
19. Minnesota Vikings
20. Indianapolis Colts
21. Washington Redskins
22. Cincinnati Bengals
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
24. Miami Dolphins
25. Detroit Lions
26. Buffalo Bills
27. Chicago Bears
28. New York Jets
29. Cleveland Browns
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
31. San Francisco 49ers
32. Los Angeles Rams
Tennessee Titans: Partying Like It's 1999?
For a while, it looked like the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts would be fighting for AFC South supremacy for a decade as superstars in defensive end J.J. Watt and quarterback Andrew Luck looked poised to lead those respective teams.
However, the Tennessee Titans have rudely interrupted that party, and now it looks like they will take hold of the division for the foreseeable future. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the real deal, as is running back Derrick Henry, who is waiting in the wings. The offensive line is arguably the best in the NFL.
Rookie Adoree Jackson might be a game-breaking special teams stalwart, and the defense looks improved with the additions of safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Logan Ryan.
Although the Pats are going to be tough to beat (the same goes with the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers), don't be surprised if Tennessee makes a sneaky Super Bowl run, its first in 18 years.
Carolina Panthers Resurge?
Get on the Christian McCaffrey bandwagon now while seats are open, because if the rookie running back stays healthy he's primed for a dominant season-long performance.
While it's a bit early to get ahead of ourselves after watching a preseason game, McCaffrey looked fantastic against Tennessee in their recent tilt. Here's what he did, per Nick Mensio of Rotoworld:
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network was also impressed:
The Panthers fell to 6-10 last year after going 15-1 and making Super Bowl 50 in 2015. McCaffrey is the jolt of energy the offense needs, and he's capable of helping bring Carolina back to prominence.
That's in addition to a few veterans coming back home (defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn) as well as the emergence of a potential shutdown corner in second-year pro James Bradberry.
Carolina has a manageable schedule out of its division, so a return back to the playoffs is conceivable.
A Step Back for Miami and Detroit?
The Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, who each made the playoffs last season, might be in line for down years.
It's hard to envision new Dolphins signal-caller Jay Cutler, who was just called off the street to replace injured QB Ryan Tannehill, leading the Dolphins back to the postseason.
Miami also has a brutal second-half schedule, with two games against New England and matchups against the three AFC West teams who finished with winning records last year.
As far as Detroit goes, the Lions won just one game by double digits last season and didn't beat a team that finished with a winning record. Detroit was outscored by its opponents last year as well. Regression could be coming for the Lions this year.
Parity a Thing of the Past?
We often hear the word "parity" thrown around liberally to describe the competitive state of the NFL. During some years, we see a bunch of teams floating around the .500 mark hoping to grab a final playoff spot.
This year, however, might be a different story. It wouldn't be a surprise to see a bunch of teams struggling to win more than three or four games.
Jacksonville has a massive quarterback mess on its hands. The New York Jets offense might be the worst this century.
San Francisco and the Los Angeles Rams are rebuilding under first-year head coaches. Chicago is slowly transitioning into the Mitchell Trubisky era, and Cleveland is cursed.
For what it's worth, losing in 2017 brings forth bright prospects in 2018, as next year's NFL draft class looks stacked on paper.