Come September, we'll be dismissing teams that are struggling on the field despite being talented on paper. But in May, all we can see is the talent on paper.
With months to go before meaningful football is played again, I thought I'd list the 10 most talented teams in the NFL.
1) New England Patriots
Not much of a mystery here: Take a strong team that just won the Super Bowl, add several top-end veterans who can help immediately, and you have the most talented squad in the NFL. Brandin Cooks joins Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola to form the NFL's deepest receiver corps. Rob Gronkowskiwill be back, with Dwayne Allen succeeding Martellus Bennett as Gronk insurance. Kony Ealy and Stephon Gilmore will strengthen the pass defense, which also retained Malcolm Butler. The quarterback situation -- with Jimmy Garoppolo backing up Tom Brady -- continues to be impossibly good. Special teams is a strength. The only weakness is the interior of the offensive line, and even there, Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason are ascending players.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
A strong argument can be made that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown are the NFL's best set of triplets. The offensive line -- including left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and right guard David DeCastro -- is top-notch, while the receiver corps is very deep. JuJu Smith-Schuster will make a good addition at receiver, and fellow rookie James Conner is an ideal fit at running back in terms of his ability to catch and run. The defensive line has three good, young players in Javon Hargrave, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, and linebacker Ryan Shazier is the real deal. The biggest weakness is at outside linebacker, where first-round pick T.J. Watt needs to contribute immediately. The secondary will continue to improve as cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis develop. The bottom line: This team can beat you in a lot of different ways.
3) Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons' roster is loaded with players who are the best in the NFL -- or close to it -- at their respective positions. Julio Jones is about as good as it gets at receiver. Matt Ryan has been playing as well at quarterback as anyone. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are the most dangerous running back combo around. Alex Mack is one of the best centers. And on defense, Vic Beasley -- who really took a step forward in Year 2, racking up 15.5 sacks -- is a top-five pass rusher. Atlanta's pass defense will get a boost from cornerback Desmond Trufant's return to health and the continued development of safety Keanu Neal, the Falcons' answer to Kam Chancellor. Veteran signee Dontari Poe will make the defensive line a lot better, while first-round pick Takkarist McKinley was one of the very best pass rushers in the draft. Atlanta has a good plan and the players to match it.
4) Oakland Raiders
Last season, the Raiders had seven Pro Bowl players, the most of any team. The roots of this roster go back in part to 2014, when they selected three blue-chippers: quarterback Derek Carr, defensive end Khalil Mack and right guard Gabe Jackson. Veteran free agents Marshawn Lynch and Jared Cook will add even more punch to an offense that already boasted top-flight receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The biggest hole is at middle linebacker, where fifth-round pick Marquel Lee has as good a chance as anyone to start. Oakland really helped itself with the draft, selecting top-10 talent Gareon Conley at cornerback, while last year's first-round pick, safety Karl Joseph, should take another step forward in his first full, healthy season.
5) Dallas Cowboys
If, as the old saying goes, everything starts up front, then the Cowboys are in great shape. Between Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, Dallas has four potential 2017 Pro Bowlers anchoring its offensive line. The pass-catching group (Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley) is impressive, and running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott push this offense into elite territory. Prescott isn't likely to top his Offensive Rookie of the Year performance, though it's unfair to ask him to. He'll probably both increase his interception total (he only threw four in 2016) and have another very good campaign. The Sean Lee-led defense will improve, with defensive tackle Maliek Collins playing a major role and rookie defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis (presuming Lewis' availability isn't impacted by his legal issues) making the secondary better.
6) New York Giants
The Giants have scored big over the last two seasons in terms of adding to their roster. This year, they added rookie tight end Evan Engram and veteran wideout Brandon Marshall to a pass-catching group that already boasted Odell Beckham Jr. (one of the NFL's best) and Sterling Shepard (an up-and-comer). In 2016, free-agent signees Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison elevated a defense that received a further boost from the breakout of safety Landon Collins and the return to form of Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants will run the ball with Paul Perkins -- who has star traits at running back -- a lot better this year, which will help take some pressure off Eli Manning. While he's not his brother Peyton, Eli does still have as much velocity on the ball and moves around just as well as he did in 2015, his last Pro Bowl season. And, of course, he's a two-time Super Bowl winner. Left tackle Ereck Flowers must improve, but I'm confident offensive line coach Mike Solari can get him to play better.
7) Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and he's throwing to a prolific receiving corps -- Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams each had 60-plus catches in 2016. I think veteran signee Martellus Bennett can be even better than Jared Cook was in Green Bay last season, something on the order of a super tight end. The offensive line excels at pass blocking and should be strong even after losing T.J. Lang and JC Tretter. Crucially for the defense, linebacker Nick Perry was re-signed. The Packers tried to address two of their biggest weaknesses -- the secondary and running back -- in the draft. Rookies Kevin King and Josh Jones will join veteran signee Davon House to shore up the defensive backs, but there is still some uncertainty at running back. That's why the Packers are so low here.
8) Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are very deep on both sides of the ball. Safety Eric Berry, corner Marcus Peters and pass rusher Justin Houston are special defensive players, while Chris Jones and Dee Ford are young studs. Tyreek Hill can score through the air, as a runner or returning punts and kicks. Tight end Travis Kelce is one of the toughest outs in the business -- when the Chiefs need a first down, he's their man. Quarterback Alex Smith might not win games with big plays, but I think that might have more to do with the overall offensive philosophy than it does with Smith's ability. Moreover, Smith definitely won't lose you any games and he can make things happen with his feet. If Smith had been drafted 10th instead of first overall in 2005, I think he'd be viewed differently.
9) Carolina Panthers
It can sometimes seem as if quarterback Cam Newton is perpetually at a career crossroads, but I think he'll have a big year in 2017. He's certainly not lacking for weapons, with rookie matchup nightmares Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel joining running back Jonathan Stewart and tight end Greg Olsen on offense. Signing Matt Kalil to protect Newton's blind side was a key improvement. This team looks capable of scoring 500 points. On defense, Carolina helped itself by bringing back defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive back Captain Munnerlyn and signing safety Mike Adams. If healthy, linebacker Luke Kuechly is one of the best at his position, while there's no reason defensive tackle Kawann Short shouldn't perform.
10) Washington Redskins
The Redskins will get at least one more year out of Kirk Cousins, a quarterback capable of taking a team to the Super Bowl. Veteran Terrelle Pryor joins 2016 draftee Josh Doctson as a potential No. 1 receiver, and Jamison Crowder will take another step forward -- but the most important factor for the passing offense is tight end Jordan Reed. Reed is a tough matchup, with the speed of a wideout and size of a tight end, and the offense will run through him. The defense will receive an immediate boost from first-round pick Jonathan Allen, who should help the line generate more pressure on the quarterback. If Zach Brown plays like he did in Buffalo, he'll be a free agency steal, while Preston Smith should have a bounceback year. Washington has a number of good players -- including Cousins, Reed, Josh Norman, Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, Ryan Kerrigan -- in or entering what should be the prime of their careers, which portends good things.