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2018 NFL Power Rankings: Pre-Training Camp

The NFL season is just 50 days away, and training camps will soon be underway. A lot is going to happen in these 50 days between now and the Kickoff Game between the Eagles and the Falcons, but this is where I believe teams stand this summer. Keep in mind, teams are very close, and the rankings could be vastly different, I think. We’ll obviously know more about how each team really looks when the season starts in September.


1. New England Patriots | Previous: 1

Tom Brady is going to be at training camp, Rob Gronkowski is going to be at training camp, and Bill Belichick is going to be at training camp. I never believed there were huge issues between Brady and Belichick, but if there were, they should end when the pads come on this summer. Defensively, the unit might be more aggressive with linebackers coach Brian Flores taking more responsibility of the gameplan. Right now, the Patriots are my Super Bowl pick in the AFC.


2. Philadelphia Eagles | Previous: 2

There’s no question the Eagles have a target on their back as the defending Super Bowl champions heading into 2018 season, but they have the culture to handle it. Adding the controversial Michael Bennett is a big concern to me, but we’ll see how it works out if he avoids his felony charge and remains on the field in midnight green. Carson Wentz’s progress in recovery from his knee injury will be one of the biggest storylines to watch the next couple of months. He’s likely one of those guys that can recover quicker than most, but the Eagles are in a great position with Nick Foles the backup if not.


3. Atlanta Falcons | Previous: 3

Hopefully Julio Jones’ potential holdout doesn’t happen or doesn’t last long, as he’s a guy you want in the building setting an example for his teammates to follow. I suspect I’m higher on the Falcons than most, but they’ve clearly been one of the league’s best teams the past two years after losing the heartbreaker in Super Bowl LII then narrowly losing to the eventual champions in the Divisional Round last season. The NFC South is probably the toughest division in football, but I really like Atlanta.


4. Minnesota Vikings | Previous: 5 (+1)

With a new quarterback (Kirk Cousins) and a new offensive coordinator (John DeFillipo), the Vikings are one of the teams I’m most excited to see this season. With Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, and Kyle Rudolph, among others, with an improving offensive line, this will be the best group Cousins has worked with in his career. And on defense, the Vikings have the best unit in the NFL in my opinion.


5. Los Angeles Rams | Previous: 4 (-1)

There’s major upside but also major downside with the Rams. With so many new pieces with sizable personalities, training camp and the preseason will be critical for a team trying to build chemistry. It’ll be a test for young head coach Sean McVay, but he’s obviously an extremely impressive person and should be able to handle it. Also, long-time coach Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator will help keep the new players like Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Nndamukong Suh in check. A long-term extension for star defensive lineman Aaron Donald, which would avoid him holding out throughout the summer again, is key.


6. Green Bay Packers | Previous: 8 (+2)

Aaron Rodgers always has a chip on his shoulder, but his edge could be heightened a bit after his broken collarbone from last season. The Rams are getting most of the publicity after their big-name acquisitions, but there might not be a team in the league that improved more than the Packers this offseason. Muhammad Wilkerson is a potential game-wrecker as an interior defensive lineman, and first- and second-round rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson could quickly help the unit become on of the NFL’s best.


7. New Orleans Saints | Previous: 6 (-1)

The four-game suspension of Mark Ingram hurts, but thankfully the Saints have enough pieces (including Alvin Kamara) to overcome the loss. “Balance” is what comes to mind for the Saints, who can obviously throw the ball with Brees and run the ball with Ingram and Kamara, and they should be good defensively against both the run and the pass. Raw pass rusher Marcus Devenport will be a player to watch during the preseason.


8. Pittsburgh Steelers | Previous: 10 (+2)

Unfortunately, the Steelers and All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell did not agree to a long-term contract, so Bell is likely to miss all of the preseason and will instead report to the team a few days before the start of the regular season like he did last year. The good news is Bell keeps himself in tip-top shape all year round, but ideally one of your best players would be with the team leading up to the season. Inside linebacker is a spot to watch with Ryan Shazier unable to play in 2018.


9. Carolina Panthers | Previous: 7 (-2)

After the draft, I said that I liked how the Panthers appeared to be rolling with second-year back Christian McCaffrey as the clear lead ball-carrier for the team; however, Carolina eventually signed 1,000-yard rusher and former Super Bowl champion C.J. Anderson. I like Anderson too, but I would have liked to see McCaffrey in a workhorse role, which is probably unlikely now. I’ll be watching how the workload will be split throughout the preseason, along with how the receiving corps, which added D.J. Moore in the first round, shapes up.


10. Tennessee Titans | Previous: 9 (-1)

With added pieces Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Bennie Logan, and first-round pick Rashaan Evans, along with a new coaching staff led by Mike Vrabel, I expect the Titans to be better this season after making the playoffs in 2017. If you look at the roster, it’s difficult to find any weak spots. The offense should be more creative and better with new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. My biggest concern about the Titans is the group of receivers, as 2017 fifth-overall pick Corey Davis needs to stay healthy and step up at the position.


11. Los Angeles Chargers | Previous: 13 (+2)

In terms of talent, the Chargers are easily a top 3-5 team in the NFL in my opinion. However, things haven’t gone their way in recent years, and it started early this season with starting tight end Hunter Henry going down with a torn ACL during offseason training. It’s a big loss, but the Chargers should be able to overcome it with Philip Rivers at quarterback and talented players around him. Led by an elite pass rushers and top-notch corners on defense, there’s a ton of potential there.


12. Kansas City Chiefs | Previous: 11 (-1)

There might not be an offense I’m more excited to see than Kansas City’s, as the team must be very confident in second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes II to move on from Alex Smith. Also, the skill position players are flat-out electric. This training camp and preseason will be very important for Mahomes as he prepares for his first season as an NFL starting quarterback.


13. Oakland Raiders | Previous: 12 (-1)

It’s for different reasons, but I’m also excited to see the Raiders offense in 2018—because I’m anxious to see what Jon Gruden has up his sleeve after getting a different perspective while broadcasting games and having time to study whatever he wanted for nearly a decade. Expect Gruden to keep things close to the vest during preseason games, but training camp will be critical as the offense is implemented.


14. Jacksonville Jaguars | Previous: 15 (+1)

The most controversial ranking as we enter training camp is probably this one. Many people believe the Jaguars are knocking at the door and could be the best team in the league this season, and I would not be at all surprised if that happens, despite this ranking. However, we were hearing similar things about the Raiders last season and that didn’t happen. Jacksonville was absolutely dominant on defense last season, but will they take a step back? This ranking has them as a borderline playoff team.


15. San Francisco 49ers | Previous: 14 (-1)

As you might have heard, Jimmy Garoppolo is undefeated as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and one of those wins came when he led his team to 44 points against the aforementioned dominant Jaguars. Remember, this success happened after he was acquired from New England at the trade deadline—the full offseason and preseason with his team will only help. There’s talk of Jimmy G struggling in practices throughout the offseason, but I’m not too concerned if that is true. He’ll turn it on when the regular season starts.


16. Houston Texans | Previous: 16

J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, and Whitney Mercilus are all returning fully healthy for the Texans, and Tyrann Mathieu was added to the roster. Include Jadeveon Clowney, DeAndre Hopkins, and Bernardrick McKinney, and the Texans arguably have front-line talent that can match up with any team in the league. The offensive line and secondary overall is my concern, especially in an AFC South that has two 2017 playoff teams and another team that gets Andrew Luck back.


17. Washington Redskins | Previous: 18 (+1)

Considering Alex Smith is the second-winningest quarterback in the NFL since 2011 (behind only Tom Brady), the Redskins should feel pretty good about where they stand heading into training camp. The offensive line is strong, with a talented group of running backs that can contribute. The receiving corps and how it meshes with Smith will be an important thing to watch throughout the summer. Defensively, the Redskins want to get tougher against the run, which they’ve indicated by some draft choices the last couple of years. We’ll see how the run defense comes together in the coming weeks.


18. Arizona Cardinals | Previous: 20 (+2)

The Cardinals also have a potential holdout to keep an eye on, as star running back David Johnson is looking for a new deal as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. The offense is going to be centered around Johnson, so he has some leverage in my opinion. Hopefully Sam Bradford can stay healthy this season, and we’ll see how the team manages his reps throughout the preseason. Arizona is going under the radar heading into training camp.


19. Seattle Seahawks | Previous: 19

It feels weird having the Seahawks this low in the power rankings, and I don’t want to count out Russell Wilson, but the roster had a lot of change this offseason. Also, Seattle being this low displays how many strong teams currently in the league. This time of year could determine the Seahawks’ success this season, as they are pushing competition with the hope of it carrying over in the form of a hungry team entering September.


20. New York Giants | Previous: 17 (-3)

I am high on new head coach Pat Shurmur and second overall pick Saquon Barkley, but the Giants drop a few spots in the power rankings heading into summer practices. The defense is looking for guys to step up on all three levels, and it’s possible more time is needed to build that side of the ball back up. We’ll have to keep an eye on Odell Beckham Jr., who handled things well during offseason training, because things could turn south if he demands a long-term contract before hitting the field for games.


21. Detroit Lions | Previous: 21

The Lions have a one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Matthew Stafford, along with a solid offensive line, a talented trio of receivers, a bunch of running backs, and the same offensive coordinator despite a change at head coach. However, the defense led by Matt Patricia will likely be the key to Detroit’s success in 2018, and it might take some time for Patricia to get the guys to play the way he wants. The Lions could easily be top 15 in the power rankings.


22. Dallas Cowboys | Previous: 22

Again, the NFL is as deep as I can remember, and the Cowboys being all the way down at No. 22 further showcases that. I expect Dallas to feed Ezekiel Elliott and run the ball a ton in 2018, but guys will need to step up at receiver to prevent too many stacked boxes. We’ll see if the recently-reinstated Randy Gregory can become a factor as a pass rusher. Another reason Dallas is this low in a tight league is that they lost leader and locker-room staple in Jason Witten.


23. Chicago Bears | Previous: 23

I don’t want to overreact to training camp and the preseason, but this is a ranking that could shoot up before the start of the regular season. Mitchell Trubisky has breakout potential entering year two, and the new offensive coaching staff led by Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich could make Chicago into one of the most fun offenses to watch in football. Defensively, guys know what to expect from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and they’ll look to use the summer to get more comfortable in the scheme.


24. Baltimore Ravens | Previous: 27 (+3)

Part of why the Ravens are so low is because head coach John Harbaugh is on the hot seat after missing the playoffs again last season. As usual, the defense should be among the better units in the league; but the offense again has some moving pieces that Joe Flacco must gain chemistry with. The acquisition of former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson might have lit a fire under Flacco, who’s shown he can play at a truly elite level when the pressure is on. We’ll see how much Jackson gets on the field with the first team in different packages this preseason.


25. Buffalo Bills | Previous: 24 (-1)

The LeSean McCoy situation is part of why the Bills remain this low in the power rankings, as there’s a chance he isn’t with the team when the season begins—and he’s a big part of the offense, especially with an inexperienced quarterback set to take over. But despite this No. 25 ranking, I expect the Bills to compete for a playoff spot again in 2018. The quarterbacks are obviously the position to watch throughout the summer.


26. Denver Broncos | Previous: 25 (-1)

The AFC West is likely to be really tough this season, and right now I project the Broncos to be behind the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders. The defense under Vance Joseph was tough to watch at times last season, but maybe that side of the ball will be better with another year in the scheme. An improved offense led by Case Keenum could also take pressure off the defense. Overall, I’m just more confident in other teams as we enter training camp.


27. Miami Dolphins | Previous: 28 (+1)

Ryan Tannehill is 100% and ready to go for the preseason, and now we just need to hope he can stay healthy and hit the field for the first time since 2016 when the season starts. Remember, Tannehill and Gase made the playoffs that first season together. I like the moves Miami made to add leadership to the locker room (with guys like Frank Gore and Danny Amendola), but the roster turnover could still have some growing pains.


28. Indianapolis Colts | Previous: 26 (-2)

All eyes will be on Andrew Luck when the Colts begin training camp, but all indications are the franchise quarterback is over the shoulder issues that have kept him off the field since 2016. I’ll be excited to see Luck back on the field, and he should inspire hope that the Colts can get back to the postseason. However, I currently have them in the bottom five of the power rankings because the roster as a whole doesn’t look strong on paper.


29. New York Jets | Previous: 29

The Jets arguably have the worst roster on paper in the league, but Todd Bowles has done a good job with an unideal situation. Bowles getting his defense to play like a top-ten unit could keep the team in a lot of games. The quarterback situation will be the team’s biggest storyline this summer, as Josh McCown played well last season but has Teddy Bridgewater and rookie Sam Darnold right there with him. Ultimately, I think Bridgewater will get the Week 1 starting nod if he’s fully healthy—which would be quite the story.


30. Cincinnati Bengals | Previous: 30

The Bengals’ hopes for 2018 probably ride on the offense, as they improved the offensive line and gave offensive coordinator Bill Lazor a full year to run that side of the ball. With a quick tempo likely to be a key part of Lazor’s offense, the next several weeks will be important for the players to get in shape so they’re ready to run that fast-paced attack in the fall. Meanwhile, the defense has the ability to be a top-five unit in 2018. I don’t think the Bengals will move up much in the rankings before the regular season, but I won’t be surprised if they compete for a playoff spot this year.


31. Cleveland Browns | Previous: 32 (+1)

The team has declared Tyrod Taylor will be the starting quarterback this season, but things should still get fascinating during training camp and preseason games—especially if first-overall pick Baker Mayfield lights it up. The Browns have talent, but I’m not ready to have them much higher in the rankings until I see some results after Hue Jackson went 1-31 as the team’s head coach through two seasons.


32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Previous: 31 (-1)

I have never been high on Jameis Winston as a bonafide franchise quarterback, and now he’ll be unavailable for the first three games of the season because of his stupidity back in 2016. Things simply don’t look good for the Bucs as a franchise at the moment, but maybe they’ll rally together and have a big season—starting with a solid summer.


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