The process of building a championship roster requires a team to excel in two key areas: player acquisition and player development.
General managers and coaches must work together to target the right guys for the schemes utilized on each side of the ball. And then -- most crucially -- they must map out a plan to help each player refine his skills to shine within the scheme.
Given time to assess the rosters of every team in the NFL, here are the 10 most talented franchises as we head toward the 2016 campaign.
(NOTE: Rookies weren't included in the analysis because we haven't seen how they will be deployed -- and how impactful they'll be -- for their respective teams.)
1) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks' dominant run has been fueled by their superb draft-and-development model. John Schneider and Pete Carroll routinely have identified impact players at every stage of the draft and unearthed a few quality players on the undrafted free-agent market. With a coaching staff committed to putting young players on the field, the Seahawks have been a viable Super Bowl contender for each of the past four seasons. The trend will continue with the defense leading the way behind the collective efforts of Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor in the back end. The "Legion of Boom" deservedly garners headlines due to the presence of three All-Pro-caliber players, but the overshadowed work of Bennett, Wagner and Wright certainly sets up the secondary for playmaking opportunities. Wilson grew from game manager to pivotal playmaker in 2015. The improvisational wizard developed a connection with Baldwin that could help Graham reclaim his status as a premier tight end this year, as he faces more one-on-one coverage.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers could be downright scary in 2016, with a roster that is chock-full of blue-chip talent on both sides of the ball. The offense features the most explosive version of the "Triplets" (quarterback, running back and wide receiver) in the NFL today, with Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown all ranking among the absolute best at their respective positions. (Bryant has the raw skills to become a true star, but his season-long suspension puts that on hold for 2016.) On defense, the emergence of Timmons and Heyward as impact players along the front seven could help the defense return to the ranks of the elite and help fuel a Super Bowl run down the stretch.
3) Carolina Panthers
Many poked holes in the Panthers' roster prior to last season's Super Bowl run. Now it's time to acknowledge the terrific job general manager Dave Gettleman has done putting together a championship-caliber squad. Carolina is loaded in the defensive front seven with a pair of bedrock DTs (Short and Lotulelei) and a dynamic linebacker tandem (Kuechly and Davis) controlling the middle of the field. On offense, Newton spearheads an explosive unit that features a hammer in the backfield (Stewart) to anchor a rugged rush attack. Olsen and Benjamin comprise an imposing 1-2 punch in the passing game. Bottom line: The Panthers have more than enough ammunition to make another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
4) Denver Broncos
The defending Super Bowl champs are bucking the trend of overpaying inexperienced/unproven quarterbacks. John Elway possesses a balanced roster that features impact players on both sides of the ball. The defense, in particular, is loaded with disruptive playmakers with a knack for delivering game-changing plays at key moments. Miller sets the table with his explosive pass-rush skills, but the team's suffocating secondary makes life difficult for opponents attempting to attack the perimeter through the air. The unexpected departure of Brock Osweiler left the Broncos without a solid answer at quarterback, but the presence of Thomas and Sanders should help a young passer (Paxton Lynch) or a bridge quarterback (Mark Sanchez) enjoy enough productive Sundays to keep the Broncos in the title hunt.
5) Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are built to be a heavyweight contender in the NFC for the next few seasons. Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer have assembled a championship-caliber roster that features a number of blue-chip talents with a blue-collar mentality at the marquee positions. On defense, the Vikings have a set of energetic pass rushers (Griffen and Barr) to complement a rock-solid defensive tackle adept at swallowing up blockers (Joseph). Smith is the NFL's best-kept secret between the hashes. The fifth-year pro is not only a wily ballhawk, but he delivers devastating blows to pass catchers venturing over the middle. With Rhodes showing promise as a CB1, the Vikings' defense can spearhead a Super Bowl push with little assistance from an offense that's led by the unstoppable Peterson.
6) Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs' workmanlike approach lacks sizzle, but substantive results have been outstanding since Andy Reid and John Dorsey took over in 2013. The team has made the playoffs twice in three seasons and compiled a 31-17 regular-season record. The defense remains the calling card in Kansas City, thanks to the stellar play of Houston, Johnson and Berry. The Chiefs' "Big 3" are all exceptional playmakers in the prime of their respective careers. (Though Houston's status for the upcoming season remains uncertain after February knee surgery.) Peters earned rave reviews and the 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year award for his spectacular play as a first-year starter. He could blossom into the NFL's next true shutdown corner as a sophomore. Smith doesn't get enough credit for his work as a savvy game manager, but the presence of Charles, Maclin and Kelce ensures his success as the Chiefs' franchise quarterback.
7) Cincinnati Bengals
There's no disputing the depth or talent on the Bengals' roster -- after all, the team's made the playoffs in each of the past five seasons. Despite the loss of a few key contributors (Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Andre Smith), Cincy should remain among the AFC's elite with a lineup that features a handful of game changers in the trenches and a pair of the NFL's most explosive pass catchers (Green and Eifert). Whitworth and Zeitler solidify an offensive line that provides excellent protection for Dalton in the pocket. Defensively, the Bengals have a solid 1-2 combination on the defensive line (Atkins and Dunlap) that creates opportunities for Burfict on the second level. With Jones growing into a CB1 in the latter stages of his career, the Bengals still have enough firepower to continue their postseason streak.
8) Arizona Cardinals
Credit Steve Keim and Bruce Arians for unleashing a talented cast of playmakers on the NFC West. While most of the attention goes to the Cardinals' offense -- due to the resurgence of Palmer as an elite quarterback -- it is the team's defensive personnel that sets it apart from most others in the NFC. The acquisition of Jones gives the Cardinals a legitimate sack artist to partner with Calais Campbell along the defensive line. This will help Bucannon deliver splash plays on the second level. Peterson and Mathieu are aggressive ballhawks with superb instincts and playmaking skills on the perimeter. (Mathieu still has to get right, though, health-wise.) In an aggressive blitz scheme that challenges marquee defenders to live up to their reputation as blue-chip players, the Cardinals' raw talent has lifted Arians' squad to the top tier of the NFC.
9) New York Giants
Despite all of the criticism general manager Jerry Reese has received for failing to add a host of premier players in recent drafts, the Giants sufficiently filled the voids on their roster through aggressive free-agent additions. The acquisitions of Harrison, Vernon and Jenkins immediately upgrade the playmaking potential of the defense. With Pierre-Paul poised to bounce back from a subpar season following his self-inflicted hand injury and Rodgers-Cromartie regarded as a premier cover corner, the Big Blue defense could return to the ranks of the elite this season. Offensively, the combination of Manning and Beckham strikes fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators around the NFL. If the Giants get any contributions from Victor Cruz and/or Sterling Shepard opposite OBJ, this offense will be a problem for opponents down the stretch.
10) Dallas Cowboys
Despite the Cowboys' 4-12 record in 2015, they should rebound nicely with the top players back on the field. Romo and Bryant fuel a dangerous aerial attack that perfectly complements a rugged running game -- one that could truly explode with dynamic rookie Ezekiel Elliott as the RB1. The Cowboys' star-studded offensive line is a force to be reckoned with: Smith, Martin and Frederick move bodies off the line of scrimmage on run plays and form an impenetrable wall on passes. On defense, Scandrick's return from injury -- he missed the entire 2015 campaign after tearing up his knee in training camp -- gives the unit an ultra-athletic CB1 to shadow the elite receivers in the NFC East. If he and Lee can stay healthy, the Cowboys' defense might exceed expectations.