Summer flew by, but I know I’m not alone in major anticipation for the start of the NFL season. There might be some extra excitement for the NFL’s 100th season, but it also helps that so many teams look to have a realistic shot at competing for a postseason spot—the Dolphins, Cardinals, and Bengals (because of their offensive line) would be the only teams that would surprise me if they make the playoffs. Seeing these teams on the field and getting into a rhythm throughout the rest of this month will be important for evaluating them fairly, but this is how I rank each team ahead of Week 1.
1. New England Patriots
As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in New England, the Patriots should be the preseason No. 1 every year. With six Super Bowl victories and nine Super Bowl appearances since 2001, the Pats are the best choice to make it back there again this season. A lot was made of the team’s receiving corps post-Rob Gronkowski, but it shaped up pretty well after Josh Gordon’s reinstatement from his indefinite suspension. While the NFL is getting smaller to combat pass-heavy offenses, watch out for New England establishing a strong power run game throughout the next few months and particularly late in the season when the weather gets cold.
2. Los Angeles Rams
A Super Bowl hangover shouldn’t be much of a worry for the Rams, as they have the mindset led by head coach Sean McVay—and star players on both sides of the ball including quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald—to get right back to work in 2019. As indicated by their record-breaking extension for Goff, I expect the Rams to be even more aggressive passing this season, as they were at their best when attacking the defense down the field. Todd Gurley’s knee issue might have been overblown leading up to this point, but we’ll see how it responds to game action and taking hits.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
I had the Chiefs at No. 5 in my pre-training-camp power rankings, but they’re up to No. 3 after injuries to the Chargers and the retirement of Andrew Luck for the Colts. Kansas City was one of the few teams to give their starters a good amount of playing time in the preseason, which could lead to them being sharper to immediately open up the season—that could be critical for both the offense (against a tough Jaguars defense) and defense (switching to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme). The addition of veteran running back LeSean McCoy, who is back with Andy Reid after their time together in Philadelphia, gives more depth to an embarrassment of riches on offense.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Full 2019 season predictions will be available tomorrow, but I think the Falcons are going to be my pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan is one of the most underrated players in football, and he has electric talent surrounding him on offense, including the return of running back Devonta Freeman from an injury-riddled campaign. The team will hopefully be a lot healthier than they were in 2018, and head coach Dan Quinn will again be calling the plays on defense—the sky is the limit for Atlanta.
5. New Orleans Saints
The Saints are in the top five of the final power rankings before the regular season, but I am slightly concerned about their outlook ahead of Week 1. The first four weeks of the season look very tough, as they face four playoff teams from 2018. They play a first-place schedule (two of those games coming in the first four), and the NFC South should be better overall behind them. The presence of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees lends optimism despite the concerns, but he’s 40 years old and is no lock to continue playing at an extraordinary level.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles arguably have as much upside as any team in the league if Carson Wentz stays healthy and the veteran offensive line plays at an elite level, and Wentz in particular might have a revenge type of mindset after he’s been forgotten about a bit. The front office clearly wanted to put their franchise player in the best possible position for success after handing him a huge contract extension, and Philadelphia could be a dominant team that runs it up on their opponents at their peak. But keep in mind the team struggled until Nick Foles took the reins last season, and things could go south if they doesn’t get off to a good start.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
Because there’s been less noise and zero known controversy surrounding the Steelers leading up to Week 1, they feel almost like a completely different team than years past—which is a good sign heading into this season, as they’ve been unable to get over the hump with some high-profile stars like Antonio Brown anyway. If the secondary plays well, the defense can certainly be one of the best units in the league; and the receiving corps led by the exceptional JuJu Smith-Schuster should remain a productive group with Ben Roethlisberger throwing to them.
8. Chicago Bears
Chicago will likely boast the NFL’s best defense this season, and they have an offensive mind in Matt Nagy leading the team, so the offense—with a bunch of weapons on it—has top-notch potential, too. The question people seem to have is about quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, as he’s become one of those guys that the overly negative social-media mob paints as a bad player. I think the third-year signal caller showed last season that he can more than do his part while complementing the defense he has to work with. The real question about the Bears in my opinion is the kicking situation—if you believe in curses, don’t be surprised if Chicago is cursed for letting Cody Parkey go for a kick that was blocked to end their playoff loss last season.
9. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were ranked No. 3 in my previous NFL power rankings, but since then star running back Melvin Gordon has held out and not returned, left tackle Russell Okung is set to miss six games, and All-Pro safety Derwin James could miss the entire regular season with a foot injury. Potential offensive line issues paired with a loss of star power on both sides of the ball could be an issue, so while the Chargers have the upside to push the Chiefs in the AFC West, they carry some definite downside.
10. Dallas Cowboys
The Ezekiel Elliott holdout is over after a massive $90 million extension, so Dallas will get a huge part of their offense back in the mix in time for Week 1. With linebacker Jaylon Smith and right tackle La’el Collins both also extended, the Cowboys are locking up some core pieces moving forward. There was optimism about a Dak Prescott extension, but it looks like the fourth-year quarterback will play out the season, which I think could get the best play possible out of him. I’m ready to see this offense led by first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore in action.
11. Seattle Seahawks
This range from 11 to about 23 is where the power rankings really get jumbled, and things could move a lot early in the season. The secondary is an area of concern for the Seahawks, but their front seven might be the best in the league after adding Jadeveon Clowney to the mix. For whatever reason (maybe because of the departure of some loud and/or well-known characters), Seattle doesn’t seem to get enough respect or recognition; but they’re coming off a playoff appearance and still have the magician-like Russell Wilson at quarterback. Running back Chris Carson and wide receiver Tyler Lockett might both continue their ascension into game-changing players on offense, while Pete Carroll relentlessly pushing competition should help the defense play up to its talent.
12. Indianapolis Colts
The AFC South looks like a total toss-up between four teams, but I’ll give the Colts the benefit of the doubt after Andrew Luck’s retirement. General manager Chris Ballard has done a fantastic job of building this roster, and this should be far from a situation where the team will totally fall apart after losing their superstar franchise player. But the loss of Luck was simply stunning and sad, and I hope that Luck can get fully healthy during his time away from the game—maybe we’ll see him back on the field again at some point.
13. Tennessee Titans
I just like the Titans as a team, as it feels like they have a pretty good culture with Marcus Mariota at quarterback. Running backs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis are friends that don’t cause issues when they’re not getting enough touches, and overall everyone seems to be willing to do what’s best for the team. That said, Tennessee should really feed Henry the ball 20+ times per game (along with more touches through the air); the former Heisman Trophy winner is simply a beast that wears down defenses, and setting up play-action (which Mariota excels at) is a recipe for success to complement a Mike Vrabel defense that should be very good.
14. Oakland Raiders
Maybe it’s the Hard Knocks bias, but I think the Raiders are going to compete for a playoff spot in 2019. There’s no question Oakland is much faster and more athletic than they were last year, which better sets them up to go head-to-head with teams like the Chiefs and Chargers in the AFC and within their division. Derek Carr has said he’s a lot more comfortable and should be better in his second season with Jon Gruden, and the offense could be tough to stop if it gets rolling with new additions like Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs, and Hunter Renfrow. One issue with picking the Raiders as a playoff team is their brutal schedule that includes another trip to London.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars
We had Josh Allen as the best player in this year’s draft class, and—while it was only the preseason—it looks like he’ll be a huge difference-maker for the Jaguars as a rookie. Jacksonville has the talent on defense to get back to their 2017 level, while former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles leads the offense along with an apparently-determined Leonard Fournette. The commitment of Fournette, who has been a volatile player through two years with the Jags, ensuring he’s in the best shape possible might be the key one way or another for the team this season.
16. Baltimore Ravens
The front seven is a bit of a no-name group compared to the past, but this secondary is probably the best in the league—it’ll be difficult for opposing offenses to consistently beat Baltimore through the air. But this Ravens offense might be the most interesting unit—offense, defense, or special teams—in the NFL for 2019, as head coach John Harbaugh has talked about revolutionizing NFL offense. If second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson is going to run the ball as much as his record-breaking rookie year (despite just seven starts, his 147 carries were the most for a quarterback in league history), hopefully he’s able to remain healthy for 16 games.
17. Buffalo Bills
While the Bills are down at No. 17 in the power rankings, I’ll be picking them to make the postseason as a wild-card team in the AFC. Sean McDermott commands a promising defense (second in yards allowed last season) with a strong mix of young talent and veterans, and the offense added pieces to the offensive line and skill positions to put Josh Allen in a better position to succeed. If Allen reaches his potential this season, watch out for Buffalo.
18. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers jumped several spots to No. 14 in the pre-training-camp power rankings, but they are back down four spots ahead of the regular season. The concern about Jimmy Garoppolo’s struggles over the summer are not much of an issue, as Jimmy G said he takes chances in the preseason, which makes sense. However, he still could be a little rusty coming off last year’s torn ACL, running back Jerick McKinnon unfortunately looks like he’ll miss another season because of his knee injury, and the receiving corps apparently hasn’t stepped up throughout the summer. I was going to pick the Niners as a playoff team, but I’m leaning towards no in a crowded league.
19. Houston Texans
The Texans made major changes to their roster over the summer, acquiring running back Duke Johnson Jr. for a third-round pick, trading franchised pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney to the Seahawks, and acquiring left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills from the Dolphins for two first-rounders and a second-rounder. Clearly, Bill O’Brien and company have gone all-in for 2019 without a general manager in place, but team chemistry could be an issue with so many moving parts. This reshaped roster will be thrown right into the fire with a trip to the Superdome on Monday night.
20. Carolina Panthers
These first four teams in the 20s in particular could certainly be much higher than this, but they all have big identifiable concerns. Starting with the Panthers, the Cam Newton shoulder injury was undoubtedly a factor in the team’s collapse last season, but it’s still concerning that the defense looked bad at times. Carolina is switching to more of a 3-4 defense, which could take some time for the unit to adjust to—but key pieces like Gerald McCoy and first-round pick Brian Burns being added could help the group get back to being a top unit.
21. Minnesota Vikings
I like how Minnesota approached revamping their offense this season, as they look like they’ll have more of an identity that centers around third-year running back Dalvin Cook and the running game. This could lead to less pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins, who at times was clearly trying too hard to match expectations in his first year starting for the Vikings. Mike Zimmer’s defense appeared to show some cracks in 2018 as they took a step back, and defenses simply don’t remain elite forever—they have plenty of talent, though, and they’ll hope a strong rushing attack makes things easier on the entire team.
22. Green Bay Packers
The Packers are led by Aaron Rodgers and an underrated defense, but I don’t think they should be the favorites in the NFC North over the Bears. Injuries were a factor, but the Packers have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and they haven’t won more than ten games since 2014. And while sometimes a team just needs change at the top, is getting rid of Mike McCarthy really going to be an upgrade? Green Bay is one of the most intriguing teams for 2019, and we’ll get to see them to kick things off tomorrow night.
23. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland has the talent to boast both a top-ten offense and top-ten defense in 2019, but buying into all the hype they are receiving could be dangerous. The offensive line—the pass protection in particular—must play well or it won’t matter how much talent they have at the skill positions. Also, I think former interim head coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had a lot to do with that 6-2 finish last season, and it frankly doesn’t make much sense that the Cleveland Browns would get rid of a coach that was able to win three quarters of his games.
24. Denver Broncos
If the Broncos were playing in a different division, they might be higher than No. 24 in these initial power rankings before the start of the regular season. The offense has received encouraging reviews during the preseason, and they could catch people off guard with former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco at quarterback in a scheme he’s probably comfortable with. And Vic Fangio could help get Denver back to being the best defense in the AFC. Pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have the game-wreaking ability to help lift the Broncos to playoff contention.
25. Detroit Lions
Detroit’s front on defense has the potential to be very difficult to run on this season, which will make things more fun for second-year head coach Matt Patricia as he looks to craft a top group in 2019. Veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford is in another new offense, but the Lions have the weapons for a solid, balanced approach—hopefully they give second-year running back Kerryon Johnson a good number of touches, as he has star upside and can set the tone for the team. I won’t be surprised if Detroit makes the postseason, but the play in a difficult division and look like the fourth-best team right now.
26. New York Giants
They’re down at No. 26 for me, but the Giants might surprise some people this season, especially with all the disrespect they’ve received over the last couple of years for draft picks that know-it-alls have claimed were “bad.” Expect another heavy dose of superstar running back Saquon Barkley behind a potent offensive line; and Eli Manning plays best when he’s under pressure, and he has first-round rookie quarterback Daniel Jones right on his heels entering the regular season. The defense added two first-round impact players in defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and cornerback Deandre Baker—along with safety Jabrill Peppers in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade—but their success might come down to the play of the linebackers.
27. New York Jets
The Adam Gase and Sam Darnold pairing should have a bright future, but the roster has some obvious holes on defense that might make 2019 a challenging season. However, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should get the most of his guys, and the front seven could be pretty good with Leonard Williams and Quinnen Williams on the defensive line and free-agent addition C.J. Mosley in the middle at inside linebacker. Cutting third-round rookie Jachai Polite was pretty stunning, and it shows there were clear disagreements between former general manager Mike Maccagnan and the coaching staff.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’m not sure it’ll lead to wins, but the Buccaneers might put up some points under head coach Bruce Arians this season, as they have a stacked set of receivers and tight ends with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Breshad Perriman, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate. But it’s difficult to buy into Jameis Winston until the former No. 1 pick plays more consistently and gets rid of the turnover bug, which might never happen. Tampa Bay has put a lot of resources into trying to improve the cornerback group recently, and new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles could be the person to get the most out of the position—if the secondary plays well, the Bucs could compete in a tough division.
29. Washington Redskins
There’s now talk that he could return soon, but the holdout of seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams (probably the best left tackle in the league) is a major blow to the Redskins. The defense could surprise people and be stingier than people think in 2019, and Jay Gruden and Case Keenum should do a good job with the offense. But Washington probably just doesn’t have the upside of most other teams in the league.
30. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals aren’t getting talked about much in the AFC North, and they might have been a really good surprise playoff pick—but the offensive line issues could make Zac Taylor’s first season as the team’s head coach a difficult one. Cincinnati will be without top receiver A.J. Green (ankle) for at least a few weeks, and second-year receiver John Ross missed most of the summer with a hamstring injury, so the offense likely won’t be firing on all cylinders to open the year.
31. Arizona Cardinals
The offense the Cardinals showed during the preseason is said to be very basic and much different than what we’ll see during the regular season; however, it won’t matter how creative or how fast the team runs plays if the offensive line doesn’t protect No. 1 pick Kyler Murray. The defense looks like it’s going to struggle, and overall, it’s difficult to see first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury coming into the NFL and winning a bunch of games after going below .500 in college.
32. Miami Dolphins
They are not going to use the word “tanking” (and they shouldn’t considering the players on the field are going to play hard and do their best in a difficult situation), but it’s clear what the Dolphins are doing this season. The franchise is looking to get in position for a top quarterback in the draft (or perhaps two, especially if they are in position to get the first pick and draft Trevor Lawrence in 2021). A lot of work must be done in Miami, and they aren’t likely to win more than a few games in 2019.