Analyst picks for Super Bowl LII

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 25: Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders looking over the offense before a play during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Raiders defeated the Titans 17-10. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

With Super Bowl LI now in the books, it's time to take a way-too-early look at next season's big game. Here are our analysts' picks for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis:

Neil Hornsby, PFF Founder

New England Patriots

It’s a little silly after watching Super Bowl LI to look elsewhere. New England didn't field the greatest of rosters all season, with no Rob Gronkowski for most of the year, and no Tom Brady for four games—and yet they still win. Sure, at the end, they didn’t so much win as watch the Falcons self-destruct, but the Patriots maintained their cool (except for that far-too-early onside kick) and prevailed in remarkable circumstances as the Atlanta defense just ran out of gas in the 99 plays they defended. The Patriots have some fairly high-profile free agents, but it’s hardly an issue. They just somehow make decent players from the likes of Chris Hogan, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin. I’m not going for another team until Bill Belichick retires.

Sam Monson, Senior Analyst

Oakland Raiders

This was the forgotten team of the 2016 season. The Raiders were one of the best sides in the AFC, and were looking to compete with the Patriots in that conference until one freak play saw them lose their season to a broken bone. Derek Carr was injured on just the second play of pressure against the Indianapolis Colts, and the only sack surrendered by his left tackle, Donald Penn, all season. The Raiders have a quality offensive line, weapons, and a young, talented quarterback to bounce back with. Their defense has talent, but was never able to quite play up to the sum of its parts this season. I think they should be clear contenders in 2017.

Mike Renner, Senior Analyst

New England Patriots

Why would I pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at this point? History may suggest that Brady should slow down, but history has said a lot of things that the Patriots QB has disproved. New England has a ton of cap space, a backup quarterback that could net them multiple high draft picks, and a roster chalked full of young talent. It's good to be the Pats.

Steve Palazzolo, Senior Analyst

New England Patriots
With no clear competitors to challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC, they appear primed to make their third Super Bowl appearance in four years as quarterback Tom Brady is coming off the best season in PFF history at the age of 39. There are some offseason decisions to make, as key pieces in the secondary are ready to get re-upped (cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, as well as safety Duron Harmon), while the offense could lose TE Martellus Bennett and RB LeGarrette Blount. That said, there are enough returning pieces to contend for another championship, especially with Brady showing no signs of slowing down. To stop New England, a top competitor must emerge from the AFC—perhaps a rejuvenated Pittsburgh Steelers team, a healthy Oakland Raiders, or a Denver Broncos squad with an upgrade at quarterback. For now, though, New England is the favorite in the conference, and likely the entire NFL as long as Tom Brady is at the helm and capable of putting the team on his back for another Super Bowl run.

Gordon McGuinness, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Houston Texans

I picked the Texans to go all the way this year, and I'm doubling down again in 2016. What held them back this year was the struggles of Brock Osweiler at quarterback. I think they go out and get a veteran QB this year (Hot-take alert: they should try to trade for the backup quarterback from the cross-state Dallas Cowboys). Fix the QB spot, and the Texans have an offense that can click, with DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver and Lamar Miller in the backfield. Defensively, they have in trio of pass-rushers that can do serious damage, with Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus combining to registered 14 sacks, 25 hits and 74 hurries in 2016. Add in a fully healthy J.J. Watt, and they are going to get after opposing quarterbacks all throughout January of next year.

Nathan Jahnke, Director of Analytics

Oakland Raiders

Oakland was already one of the best teams in 2016, but couldn’t reach its potential after quarterback Derek Carr went down with injury. The Raiders' star players like Carr, WR Amari Cooper and edge defender Khalil Mack should be in their prime of their careers next season. They have a core 12 players who recorded 700 or more snaps in the 2016 season and earned an overall grade above 70.0—none of whom are set to be free agents this offseason. Not only are the Raiders not in danger of losing a key player, there is reason to believe the team will get better. Mario Edwards only played 36 snaps in 2016, but was one of their best players in 2015. OLB Aldon Smith should be reinstated from suspension. Both should make the front-seven even better. Oakland only has a few weaknesses coming into next season, and has the cap space to address some of those needs. That all adds up to a perfect storm for a memorable 2017 campaign.

Jeff Ratcliffe, Director of Fantasy

New England Patriots

The Patriots repeated in the early Brady/Belichick era, and it’s hard not to like them to do so again in the late Brady/Belichick era. Brady is coming off arguably his best season as a pro and the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. He continues to defy Father Time, and that doesn’t appear to be changing soon. Unlike Atlanta, New England also didn’t lose either coordinator. Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are two of the best at their respective jobs, and the continuity is a huge plus for New England. Besides Brady, the Patriots don’t really have a “star” on either side of the ball, but the New England coaching staff has proven over and over that they don’t need elite-level talent to win. And that’s what they’re going to do again next year.

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