The Philadelphia Eagles bulldozed through the NFC last year en route to beating the New England Patriots for the Super Bowl. They went 13-3, and that included a defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 in which numerous starters rested as the team geared up for the playoffs.
Philadelphia wasn't a front-runner leading into the season, as it was coming off a 7-9 campaign. However, it was clear early in the campaign that this year would be different, and the Eagles proceeded to roll to 16 wins in 19 regular-season and playoff games.
It will be interesting to see who challenges Philadelphia for their conference crown this year. Some obvious candidates exist (e.g. the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings), but there could be a few less notable teams in the mix.
Here's a look at a season-opening set of power rankings, as well as analysis on the 2018 Eagles, a Super Bowl dark horse and a playoff dark horse from the NFC.
NFL Power Rankings
1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New England Patriots
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Minnesota Vikings
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
6. Los Angeles Rams
7. New Orleans Saints
8. Atlanta Falcons
9. Green Bay Packers
10. Carolina Panthers
11. Los Angeles Chargers
12. Kansas City Chiefs
13. New York Giants
14. Chicago Bears
15. Houston Texans
16. San Francisco 49ers
17. Tennessee Titans
18. Baltimore Ravens
19. Detroit Lions
20. Seattle Seahawks
21. Dallas Cowboys
22. Denver Broncos
23. Arizona Cardinals
24. Cincinnati Bengals
25. Indianapolis Colts
26. New York Jets
27. Cleveland Browns
28. Washington Redskins
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
30. Oakland Raiders
31. Miami Dolphins
32. Buffalo Bills
Super Bowl Contender: Philadelphia Eagles
While the Philadelphia Eagles have injury concerns at quarterback (Carson Wentz) and wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) leading into the season, they still return a ton of talent from last year's Super Bowl champion team and stay at No. 1 until someone knocks them off their perch.
It's highly unlikely the Eagles suffer a Super Bowl hangover. Barring a rash of injuries, the defense should be solid once again, especially with superstar defensive tackle Fletcher Cox leading the way in the middle of the line.
The offense has more question marks, especially with No. 1 wideout Jeffery looking like he will miss the first two games, per Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN. But the team brings back No. 1 running back Jay Ajayi, breakout wideout Nelson Agholor, excellent tight end Zach Ertz and new rookie tight end Dallas Goedert, who drew a comparison to Ertz from Lance Zierlein of NFL.com.
Keep an eye out for second-year running back Corey Clement (100 receiving yards, one touchdown in Super Bowl) taking a potential leap in his sophomore season even though he's in a time share with Ajayi and Darren Sproles. Clement has too much talent to keep on the sidelines for long.
On defense, the Eagles should have a full healthy season from starting cornerback Ronald Darby, who suffered an ankle injury in the preseason and missed eight games. Both he and Clement could be big reasons why the Eagles have a strong 2018.
Super Bowl Dark Horse: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears acquired edge-rusher Khalil Mack (36.5 sacks in the past three seasons) from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for four draft picks (including two first-rounders), and now the defense looks like it could be a top-five unit this year.
Excellent defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (he previously helmed the San Francisco 49ers defense during their three consecutive NFC championship game runs in 2011-2013) leads a defense with a ton of talent even prior to Mack's arrival, including linebackers Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith.
The offense also has much potential, especially after giving second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky two new weapons in wide receiver Allen Robinson II and tight end Trey Burton.
Robinson is coming off a torn ACL and had a down 2016 season in Jacksonville, but he showed why he's one of the better No. 1 wideouts in football at his best when he hauled in 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015.
Burton showcased his potential with Ertz on the sideline due to injury last year, especially in a huge late-season game against the Los Angeles Rams (five catches, 71 yards, two touchdowns). He could rack up tons of catches and yardage as Trubisky's security blanket this year.
Ultimately, this team will go as far as Trubisky takes it. If he makes a second-year leap a la Carson Wentz last year, the Bears could be this year's Eagles.
Playoff Dark Horse: Arizona Cardinals
Is everyone sleeping on the Arizona Cardinals?
While the loss of head coach Bruce Arians—an offensive guru who guided the team to a 13-3 finish and conference championship game appearance in 2015—isn't easy to overcome, the team may have hit the jackpot with new leader and former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who led an aggressive, blitzing defense in Charlotte that finished third in the league in sacks last year.
It's hard to see the Arizona defense, which finished sixth in yards allowed per game in 2017, faltering under Wilks' command, especially with shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson and 2017 sack leader Chandler Jones returning.
On offense, the return of superstar running back David Johnson should only help. He gained 2,118 yards from scrimmage and scored 21 touchdowns in 2016, immediately establishing himself as arguably the best at his position.
The Cardinals' issue is that there are a lot of offensive question marks outside of Johnson and Fitzgerald. How will new quarterback Sam Bradford fare, especially after missing most of last season with a knee injury? Will any skill-position player emerge outside Johnson and Fitzgerald? Can the offensive line regroup following a tough 2017 season after allowing the seventh-highest sack rate, per Football Outsiders?
If the Cardinals get positive answers for those three questions, then they could be making a playoff appearance.