The 2018 NFL season just ended, and a lot is going to change before the 2019 season kicks off, so these early 2019 NFL power rankings take a quick look each team and project where they might be trending heading towards next fall while also keeping this past season in mind. A lot is going to change, but this is where I see teams standing as the offseason approaches.
1. New England Patriots
Unlike some people, I never doubted the Patriots, always believing they would win the Super Bowl—but I still feel it was a stupid decision for me to have them relatively low in the power rankings during points certain of the year. New England is basically unbeatable at home in January, but Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and company have more than enough experience to get it done anywhere in the postseason. Looking ahead to 2019, it’s tough to see the Patriots having an 11-5 record again. Expect them to be in the 12-14-win range as they look for title number seven.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Coming off an NFL MVP award in his first season as a starter, Patrick Mahomes has sky-high confidence heading into his third NFL season with one of the most explosive supporting casts in football around him. The pieces are also there on defense to be more consistent, and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will look to help get his unit closer to matching Andy Reid’s elite offense on the other side of the ball. The situation with pass rusher Dee Ford, who could be franchise tagged, is interesting, and it could determine whether Kansas City has the cap space to make any other big-money moves during free agency.
3. Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff has already shown he’s a strong-minded quarterback after taking so much heat as a rookie and bouncing back to become one of the league’s best signal-callers, so I’m not worried about him moving forward after his team scored just three points in the Super Bowl. The leadership and poise of head coach Sean McVay and his quarterback should ensure the team doesn’t have a Super Bowl hangover, but the possibility of the team taking a step back after coming so close to winning a title is there. The Rams have cornerback Marcus Peters under contract via the fifth-year option, but I’d try to trade him elsewhere, as he didn’t play close to well enough this season to put up with the potential issues he’s shown he might cause if things aren’t going well.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
As was the case heading into last season, the Chargers are extremely talented with some monstrous upside if things come together—which they showed flashes of with a 12-4 record. The postseason matchup with the Patriots in Foxboro obviously wasn’t ideal, but they should remain in the mix for the AFC West and a top seed in the conference in 2019. Also, keep in mind that Melvin Gordon wasn’t 100% toward the end of the year and in the playoffs, and the offense is much harder to stop when the all-around runner is full strength.
5. New Orleans Saints
They got over the Minneapolis Miracle from last year, but Saints might need to worry about having an NFC Championship Game hangover after they feel a Super Bowl appearance was taken away from them this year. It’s difficult to blame them for being upset, and maybe they can use the missed call against the Rams as motivation moving forward; but they must move forward and cannot dwell on it like babies. Drew Brees has done a good job of setting the tone for how the team should approach next season with a post on Instagram.
6. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are in a good spot with general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich, but most people would argue they overachieved in 2018. The competitiveness Indianapolis showed every week helped them remain composed despite a 1-5 start and a roster that probably isn’t close to the top-tier teams in the league from a talent perspective. A jump similar to the one the Chargers had from 2017 to 2018 (they also finished the previous season on-fire) might happen for a Colts team that will add more pieces this offseason.
7. Philadelphia Eagles
With the way they bounced back, won a playoff game, and pushed the Saints to the brink in the Superdome, there should be optimism about the Eagles moving forward. However, there are a couple of concerns: 1) the Eagles haven’t drafted well under Howie Roseman, and 2) the Philly Voice article about Carson Wentz (which some read as a hit piece that might have been made up) appears to have been confirmed to be at least partly true by Wentz. Personally, I would keep Nick Foles and trade Wentz for multiple first-round picks, but any issues there might be between teammates and Wentz must get sorted out with the franchise committing to the former No. 2 pick.
8. Chicago Bears
The development of Mitchell Trubisky is the big key for the Bears this offseason, as he displayed the elite upside that made him the No. 2 pick in the draft a couple years ago in Matt Nagy’s first season with Chicago. The loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is tough, but Chuck Pagano was obviously a great hire—and the former Colts head coach has plenty of talent to work with as the team’s new coordinator. I like Jordan Howard, but it sounds like former Chiefs league-leading rusher Kareem Hunt is someone to keep an eye on this offseason because of Nagy’s time in Kansas City.
9. Atlanta Falcons
My 2018 preseason pick from the NFC dealt with a ton of injuries and just didn’t meet expectations during the season, but the Falcons have shown the upside to run through the conference with Matt Ryan under-center. The team has made another offensive coordinator change, but the good news is it’s Dirk Koetter, who used to be the team’s offensive coordinator during Mike Smith’s tenure as head coach. That comfortability for the quarterback to have a coordinator he has experience with should permeate the rest of the offense as the group looks to lead Atlanta to another postseason appearance.
10. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks also have scary upside for 2019, as they are in the mold of the earlier-decade’s teams that went to two Super Bowls: There’s a bunch of young, hungry players that compete hard at practice every day for big game-day roles. Having Russell Wilson at quarterback has allowed Seattle to jettison veteran players, but more pieces probably have to be added for the team to compete with the top teams in the NFC. The run defense in particular must improve next season.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
I’m assuming Antonio Brown won’t be back in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers have shown they know how to draft and successfully implement receivers into their offense over the years. JuJu Smith-Schuster is undoubtedly a capable No. 1 receiver, so there shouldn’t be much concern about the Steelers passing attack with Ben Roethlisberger at the controls. If Brown is gone, it could lead to less drama for a team that missed the postseason in 2018 anyway. Brown is great, but it’s not like Pittsburgh has won championships with him on the roster—getting rid of him isn’t as crazy as some in the media will inevitably make it out to be.
12. Houston Texans
The Texans are at the point where they’re going to hear a bunch of noise every postseason until they make a run deep into January—but they can’t let that bother them. Deshaun Watson is a clutch performer that should come back stronger after the 21-7 Wild Card Round loss to the Colts, and he needs some more help from his offensive line and skill position players around him. Look for Houston to attempt to strengthen the offensive line through free agency and the draft, with reinforcements coming at receiver via Will Fuller, who tore his ACL in October.
13. Baltimore Ravens
The progress of Lamar Jackson as the unquestioned starting quarterback for the Ravens will be one of the most important storylines leading up to September, and fortunately I think it might go under-the-radar within a division that has the controversial Steelers, the Baker Mayfield-led Browns, and a Bengals team with a new head coach. Greg Roman taking over as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator should make things easier for Jackson, as there will probably be a lot of zone-read stuff to make the former Heisman Trophy winner as comfortable as possible. I’m interested to see how they build around Jackson on offense, particularly at wide receiver after he didn’t utilize his outside weapons much as a rookie.
14. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys could be much higher than this, as they have a defense that could become the NFL’s best in 2019 along with an offense that was much better with Amari Cooper in the mix. One noticeable concern for the defense is that when opposing teams made an effort to pound the ball on them, particularly late in the season, they gave up chunk yardage—that can’t happen if the Cowboys want to win with a strong running game and defense leading the way. However, it sounds like Dallas might open the offense up, as there’s been talk about how they believe they have the pieces to be an explosive offense like the Rams, which might be a stretch.
15. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are an extremely talented team with excellent players on both sides of the ball, but team chemistry must get sorted out if they’re going to get back into the postseason after missing out in 2018. Kirk Cousins can’t think about his big contract, as it seems like he was pressing too much at times during his first year in Minnesota, which might have been because he was trying to live up to the expectations placed on him. Impending free agent linebacker Anthony Barr will be a focus for the Vikings this offseason.
16. Tennessee Titans
Initially, I had the Titans closer to the top ten of the power rankings. Mike Vrabel is heading into his second season as a head coach, with a tough defense that had elite stretches and a franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota. I like Mariota as much as anyone, but another offensive coordinator change simply is not easy on a quarterback—it’s far less than ideal, yet it unfortunately keeps happening for the Oregon product. The coordinator change is the main reason the Titans are this low, but maybe new OC Arthur Smith will actually feed Derrick Henry the ball all season in 2019.
17. Cleveland Browns
I considered putting the Browns both several spots higher and a few spots lower in these early 2019 power rankings. On one hand, they played very well toward the end of the season with a confident Baker Mayfield at quarterback. But they did it with Gregg Williams as the interim head coach, and there’s a chance that magic is lost. Freddie Kitchens was obviously a big part of Cleveland’s success as the interim offensive coordinator, but not going with Williams after a 5-3 record (which feels like a miracle for the Browns) feels like something that could come back to hurt them.
18. New York Giants
The Giants also played well down the stretch despite not having Odell Beckham Jr., who dealt with a quad bruise that forced him to miss the final four games of the season. The quarterback situation is the big question mark heading into the offseason, and I won’t be surprised if they stick with Eli Manning and attempt to make more improvements to the offensive line. Kyler Murray might be a fit for Pat Shurmur, but that situation is totally up in the air as things stand.
19. Buffalo Bills
I’m not going to put them up there yet, but don’t be surprised if the Bills become a top-ten team next season after taking a step back from their surprising playoff appearance in 2017. As a rookie, quarterback Josh Allen showed why the Bills took him seventh overall, and he has the makings of a star that could carry an offense. But I’d like to see them add pieces around Allen, particularly at receiver—there are some speedy options available in both free agency and the draft.
20. San Francisco 49ers
If Jimmy Garoppolo comes back from his knee injury and is a total stud, then the Niners have Super Bowl upside in 2019, even in a tough NFC West division. However, San Francisco simply hasn’t won many games under Kyle Shanahan to this point despite the roster arguably being in much better shape than it was for Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly in 2015 and 2016. GM John Lynch will be aggressive in whatever he does this offseason.
21. Oakland Raiders
New GM Mike Mayock, head coach Jon Gruden, and the Raiders will also be aggressive and head-on in whatever they decide to do with the roster this offseason. It’s good to see Mayock land in a good spot as a general manager in partnership with a coach he’s known for years, and I am extremely high the outlook of the Raiders for the next decade. With a bunch of cap space and three draft picks and a lot of holes to fill on the roster, I have no idea what the Raiders are looking to do with their assets—but I’m intrigued by them.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I didn’t think we’d ever see two-time Coach of the Year Bruce Arians back on the sidelines, but it’ll be good to see him back leading a Buccaneers team that meshes with his background. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard are among Arians’ new ultra-talented toys, so Tampa Bay has the makings of a top offense if Jameis Winston can take care of the football—and Arians should get the best of Winston, who is almost certainly entering a make-or-break for his career with the Bucs (and perhaps the NFL).
23. Green Bay Packers
With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers could obviously be much higher than this. But they had Rodgers at quarterback (though he was less than 100%) last year, and a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Mike McCarthy, but things still didn’t work out. This could be a quick turnaround for a team that might’ve just needed to hear a new voice leading them, but there’s a chance things take time for a young first-time head coach in Matt LaFleuer. Frankly, I don’t like how LaFleuer didn’t hand Derrick Henry the ball 20 times per game as offensive coordinator of the Titans, but maybe that wasn’t all on him as the play-caller.
24. Detroit Lions
If players start clicking in Matt Patricia’s program, the Lions have sneaky upside as Super Bowl contenders in 2019. There were some favorable matchups in there, but Detroit gave up 16.6 points per game over the final seven games of the season, and they much were better when defensive tackle Damon Harrison was acquired in a trade with the Giants. Meanwhile, new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has the tools at his disposal to have one of the better-balanced offenses in the league with Matthew Stafford, Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones Jr. all in the mix.
25. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers could be higher than this, but despite the optimism around Cam Newton’s arthroscopic shoulder surgery, there’s still uncertainty surrounding the former league MVP. Also, the team simply didn’t win many games in the second half of the season, and Ron Rivera is now on the hot seat heading into 2019—that could lead to the team rallying, or it could lead to the poor stretch continuing into next season.
26. Denver Broncos
With two great pass rushers (Von Miller and Bradley Chubb) for new head coach Vic Fangio to build his defense around, it could quickly become one of the best units in football. The Broncos could certainly be higher, but a lot will depend on the quarterback situation and the offense overall. Also, even with an elite defense, it won’t be easy stopping offenses within the division, with the explosive Chiefs, the balanced Chargers, and Jon Gruden’s potent Raiders all in the AFC West.
27. New York Jets
While the group might not have seemed like a great fit at their introductory press conference, I really like the Jets hire of Adam Gase as their head coach. Gase really had no business being fired by the Dolphins, who appear headed in a different direction than Gase might have wanted anyway. Sam Darnold should benefit by Gase crafting the offense to fit his skillset, but the team will certainly add more weapons around their franchise quarterback via free agency and/or the draft.
28. Washington Redskins
The quarterback uncertainty is the big reason the Redskins are this low, but they might jump up a dozen or so spots if they get that position sorted out in the coming months. The Alex Smith situation is just so unfortunate, but hopefully he can recover quicker than anyone anticipates and get back on the field this year. Jay Gruden’s offense will get talented young runner Derrius Guice back in the mix, but they probably need to add more players on the outside.
29. Cincinnati Bengals
The quarterback situation for the Bengals also has some mystery to it, as new head coach Zac Taylor might want to bring in his own guy at some point. For now, Andy Dalton is the leader, and he might have a mid-career rejuvenation in a brand-new offense that might excite him. With Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, John Ross, and Tyler Boyd, there are dynamic weapons to work with in Cincinnati.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
A lack of a clear quarterback is what has most of these teams in the bottom part of the power rankings, and the Jaguars appear to be the only team that’s a lock to go outside the organization for their signal-caller this offseason. If a third-round pick is indeed the price for Nick Foles, I’d give that up without thinking twice. Foles’ calming presence might get an up-and-down, high-energy roster to take a better, more even-keeled approach in 2019. Tom Coughlin probably won’t hesitate to get rid of any players he believes was an issue (Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette potentially among them) in a disappointing year.
31. Miami Dolphins
Bill Belichick is the master future Hall of Famer coach that always has the biggest hand in New England’s gameplans, but Brian Flores, who called the plays for the Patriots this season, was also a big key in shutting down Sean McVay’s offense. I like Flores, but it sounds like the Dolphins are coming about as close to “tanking” as you can get in the NFL. We’ll see if the offseason shows differently, but Miami might field the league’s worst roster in 2019.
32. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals’ hiring of Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired from Texas Tech weeks earlier, is certainly a risky move. Admittedly, I am not very high on quarterback Josh Rosen, but the first-rounder from UCLA did show unquestionable toughness while taking hits as a rookie in 2018. The franchise might not want to go with someone else after trading up to get Rosen last year, but they should at least seriously consider Kyler Murray if Kingsbury still feels as strongly about him as he did back in October. A notable bright spot for Arizona is that Kingsbury should do a better job of making sure David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald get the ball this season.