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NFL's top 10 offenses in 2017: Pats, Steelers look scary

After years of dominance by the defenses of Seattle and Denver, NFL offenses spent last season exposing every alleged dominant defensive unit as paper tigers.

Expect that trend to intensify in 2017, as the league's most explosive offenses treated the offseason as a cutthroat arms race.

Now that free agency and the draft are giving way to OTAs and minicamps, let's examine the hierarchy of offenses.

THE TOP FIVE

1) New England Patriots

It's not hyperbole to wonder if the Patriots currently boast the best quarterback room the NFL has seen. Brady is the greatest of all time, defying Father Time to author an improbable twilight peak featuring steadily improved pocket movement and downfield efficiency.

Pinch-hitting for Brady last September, Garoppolo went on the road in a nationally televised season opener and mowed down a consensus Super Bowl contender before shredding the Dolphins defense in one of the season's most impressive first-half performances. Convinced of his potential as a franchise quarterback, the organization deemed Garoppolo so valuable as to be untradeable at a time when desperate teams may have been willing to give up the farm for Brady's backup. Unlike San Francisco's Joe Montana-Steve Young-Steve Bono largesse of the late '80s and early '90s, there's no lingering controversy hanging over the QB room.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Bill Belichick is ahead of the curve. At a time when 80.4 percent of passing plays and 63.6 percent of all offensive plays start in shotgun formation, the Pats have assembled a backfield of specialists with skill sets suited to fit specific personnel packages and game situations. What they lack in household-name cachet, they make up for in versatility and efficiency.

Since winning Super Bowl LI via epic comeback fashion, Brady has welcomed back the most unstoppable tight end in history and added his most lethal deep threat since Randy Moss. If Gronkowski returns to pre-injury form, this collection of talent has a chance to rival the record-breaking 2007 unit for depth and quality.

With the exception of Solder's dismal Super Bowl performance, the arrow is pointing up for a young offensive line that brought the athletic Garcia into the fold with the draft's No. 85 overall pick. With Cannon solidifying the right side, this line improved throughout the course of last season.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers

Roethlisberger faded down the stretch last season, perhaps struggling to adapt to an offense suddenly running through Le'Veon Bell rather than the quarterback. Now that the receiving corps is restocked, there's ample reason to believe Big Ben will return to 2015 form in which he was the league's most dangerous downfield passer. The Steelers would earn a higher grade at the position if there were any confidence that Jones could step in and keep the season afloat in the event of yet another Roethlisberger injury.

The league's premier dual-threat back, Bell is coming off one of the most productive stretches in NFL history. He's missed time due to injury or suspension in each of the past three seasons, however, a potential problem that could be exacerbated if trusty veteran DeAngelo Williams isn't re-signed before training camp.

Brown is a perennial All-Pro challenging Julio Jones for the wideout crown now that Calvin Johnson is retired. For all of the league's marquee additions in free agency and the draft, Bryant's return from suspension might just have the biggest impact of any single skill-position talent. Prior to the suspension that wiped out his 2016 season, Bryant and Brown had emerged as the NFL's most dynamic wideout duo, leading a historically prolific offensive attack for stretches of 2015.

Beyond Brown and Bryant, this unit features a host of wild cards. Before Coates broke a pair of fingers in October, he was an electric -- albeit inconsistent -- downfield playmaker in September. If Green can overcome concussion issues, he's an ideal seam-stretcher for Roethlisberger. Is second-round pick Smith-Schuster too young to challenge Coates and Rogers for playing time as a rookie?

The spotlight rarely leaves Pittsburgh's celebrated triplets long enough to shine on an offensive line that outperformed even Dallas' star-studded unit in several key categories last season.

3) Atlanta Falcons

Quarterback: A- | Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, B.J. Daniels

The 2016 MVP closed out last season with a torrid stretch the likes of which the NFL hadn't seen since Brady's magical 2007 season. As spectacular as Ryan was in leading a historically efficient attack, he also benefitted from Kyle Shanahan's masterful scheming and play-calling. How steep is the drop-off from Shanahan to former Alabama coordinator Steve Sarkisian? Perhaps not as steep as the drop-off from Ryan to Schaub in the event of an injury.

Freeman and Coleman comprised the league's most dangerous complementary backfield last season, combining for 2,990 yards from scrimmage and 30 touchdowns in 19 games. Can fifth-round rookie Hill emerge as a short-yardage specialist to convert the situations that haunted Atlanta at times last season?

If not for New England's stunning comeback in Super Bowl LI, we would have spent the past few months praising Jones for the most dominant postseason run since Larry Fitzgerald's "fantastic four" in 2008. Gabriel can score from anywhere on the field, Sanu lived up to his high price tag in free agency and Hooper emerged as a big-play threat at tight end. The question is whether Sarkisian can deploy his weapons with the same uncanny effectiveness as Shanahan.

The Falcons are auditioning right guards following Chris Chester's retirement. That looms as a problem area for the only offensive line to start the same five players in every game last season.

4) Oakland Raiders

Quarterback: B+ | Derek Carr, EJ Manuel, Connor Cook

Carr is poised to break the bank after entering the MVP race in his third pro season. As we saw in the playoffs last season, though, this team is not built to withstand an injury to the franchise quarterback. Cook isn't ready, and Manuel is far from an upgrade over the departed Matt McGloin.

The last time we saw Lynch on the gridiron, he was outplayed by Thomas Rawls while battling injuries in 2015. In a best-case scenario, fresh legs will help him recapture the rare tackle-breaking form he showcased as the centerpiece of Seattle's offenses for a half-decade. In a worst-case scenario, the Raiders will have to turn to the Richard-Washington duo, which showed rookie promise in 2016. Either way, it's not unreasonable to expect an upgrade over last season's Latavius Murray-led backfield.

What's keeping this group from reaching its full potential? Although Cooper has shown flashes of All-Pro-caliber play, he simply hasn't maintained the consistency of a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Cook's speed will make him a welcome addition as Walford's replacement down the seam. Patterson and Roberts should split No. 3 receiver duties, with the former specializing in in-breaking run-after-catch routes and the latter maintaining a more traditional slot role.

The difference between the truly elite offenses and the hopefuls masquerading as high-octane attacks is line play. While inadequate pass protection and feeble run-blocking submarined the postseason chances of the Broncos, Bengals, Vikings and Panthers, Oakland's front five joined those of Dallas and Pittsburgh as the benchmarks for dominant work in the trenches.

5) Dallas Cowboys

Quarterback: B | Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore, Cooper Rush

As a legitimate franchise quarterback earning less than $1 million in salary, Prescott might just stand as the single biggest competitive advantage in NFL roster construction. After guiding the Cowboys to a 13-3 record en route to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, he's going to have to expand his knowledge of NFL defenses and situational football, allowing Scott Linehan to open his playbook as defensive coaches adjust to the second-year wonder. Transitioning from Tony Romo to the physically limited Moore in the backup role is problematic to say the least. An injury to Prescott will end any realistic hopes of winning an improved NFC East.

Elliott is a uniquely gifted, well-rounded back without an on-field weakness. He was the engine that made this offense go last season. Though far from what they once were, McFadden and Morris are perfectly adequate as second and third options.

It's an interesting mix. Bryant stands toe-to-toe with any receiver in the game when healthy, but he hasn't sustained that level of play since 2014. A first-down machine, Beasley was among the league's most valuable slot receivers last season. As reliable as Witten still is as a possession receiver, he offers nothing after the catch at this stage of his career. Will fourth-round pick Switzer replace Whitehead in the gadget role?

Featuring a trio of All-Pros in Smith, Frederick and Martin, this offensive line was the gold standard with Doug Free and Ronald Leary solidifying right tackle and left guard, respectively. While Collins offers a higher ceiling than Free at tackle, the question is whether Leary's competent replacement can be found on this roster.

THE NEXT FIVE

6) New Orleans Saints

7) Green Bay Packers

8) Los Angeles Chargers

9) Tennessee Titans

Quarterback: B- | Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney

10) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

IN THE HUNT

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