(AP) — The start of the NFL season usually brings hope to most of the teams and fans in the 32-team league.
Especially in New England.
The Patriots are a strong favorite once again after winning their fifth Super Bowl in the Bill Belichick–Tom Brady era in February. They begin this season on top of the opening AP Pro32 poll released on Tuesday, receiving 11 of 12 first-place votes for 383 points in balloting by media members who regularly cover the NFL.
Brady and company play their first game Thursday night at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“How often can you say that the defending Super Bowl champions loaded up for another run?” said Jenny Vrentas of The Monday Morning Quarterback.
“But that’s exactly what the Patriots have done. It even continued during cut down weekend, when they traded their third-string quarterback for another offensive weapon.”
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The Pittsburgh Steelers, who received the other first-place vote, are No. 4.
“Pittsburgh has been busy upgrading its secondary in anticipation of a January meeting with the Brady Bunch,” Ira Kaufman of SB Nation Radio said of another possible matchup in the postseason.
The Atlanta Falcons, who blew a 28-3 second-half lead in their Super Bowl loss to New England, start out at No. 5.
“The Falcons insist they can overcome a Super Bowl hangover,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.
“We’ll see. No team has lost a Super Bowl and gotten back the following year since the 1993 Bills.”
AFC West rivals Oakland and Kansas City follow at No. 6 and 7, respectively.
“Still worried about (the) defense,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said of the Raiders, who were 26th in the league in yards allowed last season.
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“The defense is loaded, and GM Jerry Reese gave Eli Manning some help at receiver and tight end,” Glauber said. “No reason the Giants shouldn’t be in the Super Bowl conversation.”
The Tennessee Titans, who are getting quarterback Marcus Mariota back from a broken right leg, round out the top 10.
At the bottom of the poll was the rebuilding New York Jets, who were picked last by every voter.
“What, exactly, are the Jets doing?” asked Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk.