Alright, it’s time for my first official power rankings of the season. Preseason doesn’t show us much other than who is healthy and who the starters should be going into Week 1 of the season. These rankings are based on where every team stands today. All injuries, unsigned free-agents, and uncertain starting positions are taken into account. Where do the Super Bowl 50 Champion Denver Broncos stand? Has there been an improvement in the bottom half of the league? Time will tell, but here is a little taste.
1. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona was on the cusp of the Super Bowl last season and only got better in the offseason. The Honey Badger will be healthy, Chandler Jones came over from the Patriots, and if Robert Nkemdiche can produce remotely close to what he did in college, this defensive unit should be one of the best in the league. The offense remains prolific, and David Johnson could grow into the most electric back in the game.
2. Seattle Seahawks
Since Pete Carroll took the reigns in Seattle the Seahawks always seem to find themselves in the upper echelon of weekly power rankings. The Defense had a few departures but will still remain nasty. Jimmy Graham continues to rehab from surgery but will have a tremendous rebound year once he is cut loose. Thomas Rawls showed flashes of brilliance before an injury cut his season short, but he is expected to be full-go for the season opener. As long as Russell Wilson is under center, the ‘Hawks will always be a favorite.
3. Carolina Panthers
The surprise of the league last year was 60 minutes away from taking the Lombardi Trophy back to Charlotte. The loss of Josh Norman is why they are not number one or two on this list, but Luke Kuechly has solidified himself as a top linebacker in the league. Cam Newton gets his number one target back in Kelvin Benjamin which should help the offense become even more dynamic.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
While the Le’Veon Bell 3-game suspension definitely stings, DeAngelo Williams in very capable of carrying the torch in his absence. As long as Big Ben is healthy, this team can put up 30+ points per game. Could we possibly see a rematch of Super Bowl 43 (Cardinals vs. Steelers)?
5. Denver Broncos
Trevor Siemian has been named the starting QB in Denver. Siemian has never thrown a pass in an NFL regular-season game, however, the quarterback play last season was second-worst in the entire league (according to QB rating) and the team still managed to dominate in the Super Bowl demonstrating that Siemian doesn’t have to put up gaudy numbers in order to be successful. The playmakers on offense all return in 2016 and the O-line should be stronger with the addition of Pro-Bowler Russell Okung from Seattle. Talks around training camp are that the Defense looks even better and hungrier than it did last year, which is scary to think about. The Super Bowl rematch on September 8 will be an excellent start to the NFL season.
6. New England Patriots
The Patriots are outside the top 5 looking in for the simple fact that Tom Brady will not be playing for the first 4 weeks. While Garoppolo may have the talent to keep the Patriots very competitive during Brady’s absence, Tom is still the leader of that offense and his presence has an impact. While the departure of Chandler Jones hurts a bit, the Pats were able to add Chris Long as an outside pass rusher. If the former number 6 overall draft pick Barkevious Mingo hopes to salvage his NFL career, New England is the perfect place for him to do that adding depth for the Patriots at linebacker.
7. Green Bay Packers
Jordy Nelson returns in 2016 adding another weapon to the arsenal of Aaron Rodgers. A slimmed down and more motivated Eddie Lacy should increase production in the running game, and if the Defense can play like they did the first seven weeks of last season this will be a complete team. The addition of Jared Cook via free agency gives the Packers an athletic tight end that resembles the days of Jermichael Finely.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Probably the most consistent team in the NFL under Marvin Lewis. Unfortunately, that consistency hasn’t translated to the playoffs as the Bengals continue to exit stage left after the first round year in and year out. On paper, they are close to the same team from last year that went 12-4 and won the AFC North Division. However, the loss of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will hurt the offense and Andy Dalton’s continued development.
9. Houston Texans
When a team fights their way into the playoffs and then gets better in the offseason, you have to move them up in the power rankings. Whether Brock Osweiler is worth his almost $19 million a year is debatable, but he will surely be better than the smorgasbord of QBs that played for the Texans a year ago. Add Lamar Miller to the backfield, a healthy Jaelen Strong, and talented rookies Will Fuller and Braxton Miller to the receiving corps, and a returning defense that finished 3rd in total team stats in 2015, and you have an automatic AFC South favorite.
10. Kansas City Chiefs
When Justin Houston and Jamaal Charles return from injury this team can contend for the AFC West title. With the recent re-signing of Eric Berry, the defense will be closer to its form from last season, but the departure of Sean Smith will bring the secondary down a notch. With the roster as it stands right now with the injuries taken into account, the Chiefs are still a playoff team, but are a step behind a healthy Denver squad.
11. Washington Redskins
Kirk Cousins comes off of his best season as a pro, and Jordan Reed has supplanted himself as one of the most dangerous Tight Ends in the league giving Washington a lot to be excited about entering the 2016 season. Oh ya, the Redskins also signed arguably the best cornerback in the game, Josh Norman, after the Carolina Panthers rescinded his franchise tag. If they can get the running back position figured out, they should run away in the NFC Least.
12. New York Jets
Arguably the best receiving duo in the game in Marshall and Decker, and after extensive contract negotiations, the Jets return their starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. They added Forte in the offseason who will add consistency and veteran leadership to the backfield. The defense brings back a squad that will get after the quarterback and create turnovers. With Brady missing the first four games for New England, this Jets team can possibly compete for an AFC East division title.
13. Oakland Raiders
Super talented roster here that is possibly one year away from being in the top 10 of NFL teams. Derek Carr is becoming one of the leagues great passers, and his connection with top draft pick Amari Cooper is a dangerous one that should be lethal for many years to come. Khalil Mack broke out last season making his case as one of the top defensive players in the game and will return in 2016 as an elite pass rusher. The AFC West should be very competitive this season which will test the talented but very young Oakland team.
14. Philadelphia Eagles
The Doug Pederson regime begins in Philly with high expectations. Pederson served under Andy Reid in Kansas City where he was instrumental in making Alex Smith a very consistent, mistake-free quarterback. He will aim to do the same with Sam Bradford, and the eventual future of the team Carson Wentz. The addition of Dorial Green-Beckham via the Titans will add some depth at receiver, and if Pederson and Co. and get the full potential out of the former number 2 pick, it will be viewed as a phenomenal acquisition.
This was written prior to the Sam Bradford trade, and may be updated after Week 1.
15. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta was the surprise of the league last year in the first half of the season before they fell back into their disappointing ways. They found possibly the future at running back in DeVonta Freeman who has great vision between the tackles and adds pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Mohammed Sanu will be a good compliment receiver to Julio Jones, and if Matt Ryan can find consistency this offense can be a real threat. Head Coach Dan Quinn will try to make his defense as ferocious as it was during his time in Seattle.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Call it what you want, but 2015 was an unlucky year for the Baltimore Ravens. They finished the season 5-11, 10 of those 11 losses by less than a touchdown. Steve Smith Sr. was lost to injury. Terrell Suggs was lost to injury. Justin Forsett was lost to injury. Matt Elam was lost to injury. Joe Flacco was lost to injury. Do you get the point yet? In fact, the Ravens reached a record number of players to be placed on IR during the John Harbaugh era, and yet, amazingly, the team was still competitive in every single game, its biggest loss coming by 10 points. The Ravens return healthy in 2016 and have always been a team that you do not want to play in late November.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have possibly the most talented young roster in the NFL. The key word being YOUNG. In a league where veteran leadership can trump talent, this team may still be a year or two away before it starts making some real noise. With players like Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Chris Ivory, Donte Fowler Jr., Myles Jack, and Prince Amukamara the blueprint is set, and it will be up to Gus Bradley to build upon his talented foundation.
18. Indianapolis Colts
Here is a team that drastically underperformed last season and was plagued with the injury bug. Many analysts had them slotted to play in Super Bowl 50. When you lose your franchise quarterback early in the year, chances are you are not going to be very successful. Should improve this season, but they still have moderately weak offensive and defensive line units. Will compete for a wild card spot, but Luck will have to put up MVP numbers if they want to contend with Houston for the division.
19. Minnesota Vikings
I had the Vikings in the top 10 until a practice in August changed everything. Mike Zimmer has done a terrific job since becoming the head coach of Minnesota, drastically improving the defensive unit who finished 13th in overall team defense and 5th in points allowed last season. As long as AP is in the backfield, the Vikings will always have a viable shot at winning. This team was a 27-yard missed field goal away from having a date with the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional Round of last year’s playoffs. Unfortunately, losing their leading man, Teddy Bridgewater, for the season drastically drops them down in power rankings. Long term journeyman Shaun Hill will now be handed the keys to the car in hopes that they still have a shot at making the playoffs.
This was written prior to the Sam Bradford trade, and may be updated after Week 1.
20. New York Giants
Eli Manning is still the starting quarterback and Odell Beckham Jr. is still one of the most electrifying receivers in the game. However, the running back position is still a huge question mark and the defense was an absolute mess last season finishing 32nd in total team defense. Ben McAdoo, who is an offensive-minded coach, will have to empower his defensive coaching staff to make some massive improvements if the Giants want to be competitive at all.
21. Buffalo Bills
Here is another team that has a lot of potential but has to show me that they can be consistent before I move them up the list. Tyrod Taylor is entering his 2nd season as the starting quarterback and just got a contract extension demonstrating the team’s confidence in him. LeSean McCoy will hope to return to “Shady” form and Sammy Watkins enters a critical year to prove that he can handle true number one receiver responsibilities.
22. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is still an elite quarterback in the NFL but the focal point that surrounds this team is its consistently poor defensive play. In a league where defense truly wins championships (i.e. the 2015 Denver Broncos), the Saints cannot even be put in a nearby sentence with teams competing to win it all. Finishing 31st in team defense again will leave them short of a wild card spot, even in a very mediocre division.
23. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams proved last season that their defense can be categorized with some of the top teams in the game. Todd Gurley may be the best running back in the game, but after that, this team has a lot to be concerned about. Nothing against Tavon Austin but he would not be the number one receiver on any other team outside of maybe the San Francisco 49ers. Jared Goff, the number one pick in the 2016 Draft that the Rams sold their first-born for, has looked lost and timid in the preseason and nowhere close to ready to lead an NFL team. Their defense and Gurley are the two reasons they are above the remaining nine teams.
24. Dallas Cowboys
I had the Cowboys ranked a little higher before Romo went down with an injury. Dak Prescott has been the talk of the NFL and has been very impressive in the preseason, but he has yet to face a true defensive scheme. A rookie quarterback, a rookie running back, and a defensive unit that always seems to have at lease one player suspended, and you have a recipe for a team that will struggle until their leader can play without a back brace.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is entering his second season in a system that saw Dirk Koetter move from offensive coordinator to head coach. Doug Martin is one of the league’s premier backs and Mike Evans has the potential to be a top 10 wideout if he can eliminate the drops. Defensively they finished 10th in total defense meaning the Bucs will hang in games if the offense can eliminate costly turnovers.
26. Detroit Lions
The Lions enter another season as one of the NFL’s “forgotten teams.” With the retirement of star receiver Calvin Johnson, they are probably the least talked about team entering the 2016 season. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. will try to carry the torch that Calvin Johnson left behind. Ameer Abdullah will get another crack at starting running back duties after a very disappointing rookie campaign. Jim Caldwell enters his third season as the head coach and will hope to spark his offense like he did while he was the offensive coordinator in Baltimore in 2013.
27. Miami Dolphins
Adam Gase as proven himself as an offensive genius and a quarterback guru, but this will be his first season as the head honcho. Ryan Tannehill should see his best year statistically under Gase, but will those stats translate to wins. The Dolphins swung and missed on potentially signing Broncos running back C.J. Anderson after they let Lamar Miller sign with the Houston Texans. They added Arian Foster late in the offseason, but time will tell if he can stay healthy for an entire season. Jarvis Landry is one of the bright young stars on this team, but one talented receiver won’t help this team win the AFC East.
28. Tennessee Titans
I like Marcus Mariota, a lot, but who is going to throw to this season in Tennessee? An aging Delanie Walker was a bright spot last season but no names jump out at the wideout position. Tajae Sharpe is a promising rookie out of UMASS but time will tell if his talent will translate to the NFL. The Titans did add stability in the backfield with the additions of Demarco Murray and drafting Drew Henry out of Alabama. A tandem of good backs and a reliable tight end is a young quarterback best friend.
29. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are a team every year that seem to always field a talented roster but can never put it all together on a consistent basis. One week they can look like a legitimate playoff contender, and the next they look like a complete dumpster fire. Melvin Gordon looked like a complete bust last season but will look to improve in his second season. Keenan Allen looks like the real deal at receiver and enters 2016 with his sights set to catch over 100 passes. Philip Rivers is aging but he remains a pro-bowl caliber quarterback.
30. Cleveland Browns
The Browns could surprise a lot of people this season if they can get consistent quarterback play out of RGIII. Cleveland drafted five receivers in the draft, added Terrell Pryor Sr. in the offseason, and will get Josh Gordon back from suspension meaning Griffin III will have a lot of toys to play with. In my opinion, Hue Jackson was the perfect hire and should get the maximum potential out of his current roster. This team is definitely on the rise, but I can’t move them up the list until I see it on the field.
31. Chicago Bears
This team has looked abysmal in the preseason. I know the preseason essentially means nothing, but the first team offense looks like they couldn’t get a first down if they had first and five every possession. Jay Cutler looks like a player that has zero passion for the game anymore. My respect for head coach John Fox leads me to hope that their season isn’t completely lost before Week 1, but it certainly does not look good.
32. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers decided to try their hand at the Chip Kelly experiment. The once stout San Francisco defense finished 29th in total defense last season. Their number one receiver is an aging Torrey Smith who finished last season with a total of 33 receptions, the franchise quarterback of two seasons ago maybe sitting on the bench all year (football play related only) behind the likes Blaine Gabbert. Sunday, December 4th may be the Super Bowl for the first overall pick in the 2017 Draft when the Niners suit up against the Bears in Chicago.