Facts vs. gut feelings. That’s what preseason power rankings are. An exercise in madness as one attempts to guess at how a highly volatile league will play out through subjective statistical analysis and unseen bias. I hate every power ranking I’ve ever seen, except, of course, my own. So without further ado, here is the definitive, perfect, ranking of how the NFL currently stacks up.
New England Patriots – #1
Some things are just obvious. Buckle up for another year of dominance and just hope someone can knock them out in the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons – #2
As long as their new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, doens’t try to reinvent the wheel this team should continue to dominate. They may get a defensive boost as well, thanks to some new additions.
New York Giants – #3
Yes, Eli Manning had a down year last year. However, we’ve seen that before and he’s bounced back. Surrounded by the best supporting offensive cast he’s ever had, that’s my expectation. Also, the Giants had the best defense in the league through the 2nd half of last season, and that will likely continue.
Pittsburgh Steelers – #4
When talking about stacked offensive rosters you have to mention Pittsburgh, who may have the best overall offense in the league. The return of Martavis Bryant from suspension adds another dynamic element. Their defense is underrated as well, finishing last year above average in points allowed per drive.
Seattle Seahawks – #5
The legion of boom is getting old. But while they may not have the explosiveness they once did, experience is on their side. The return of Earl Thomas to the squad will make them a favorite for top defense in the league. Russel Wilson will likely have to continue running for his life behind a porous offensive line, but the growing connection between him and Jimmy Graham could pay dividends.
Green Bay Packers – #6
The Packers have long been over-reliant on Aaron Rodgers. However, there is a fair amount of young talent on the defensive side of the ball who will likely take steps forward and make the unit a bit more respectable. Back on offense, Rodgers has to be happy he has a solid 1-2 punch at TE for maybe the first time ever.
Oakland Raiders – #7
A lot of talent left Oakland in free agency this year, but the same is true of many of the teams in the top 10. The offense, along with new additions in Marshawn Lynch and Cordarrelle Patterson (who learned to run routes last year), look to take another step forward. The problem is that an already iffy defense may be weaker.
Carolina Panthers – #8
The Panthers have fluctuated between winning and losing seasons every year for the last five years. The return of Luke Kuechly to their defense and adding offensive weapon Christian McCaffrey will help them maintain that trend. This is an important year for Cam Newton as he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy and improve as a pocket passer if he wants to have a long career.
Dallas Cowboys – #9
The Cowboys defense wasn’t what won them games. The problem now is if it will outright lose them. With a handful of starters and depth players gone it falls on a lot of young players to fill in the gaps, which isn’t a bad longterm plan, but will likely be a problem this year.
Kansas City Chiefs – #10
The Chiefs finished 1st in total turnovers created last year and 5th in 2015, however, that is a difficult trend to maintain. Still, they masterfully execute a conservative game plan and if the “bend don’t break” defense and powerful rushing attack can maintain, they will be playoff bound.
Tampa Bay Bucanneers – #11
A strong finish to a season is a positive sign going forward. Thanks to offseason additions of Desean Jackson and OJ Howard, this team boasts one of the best group of receivers in the NFL. The problem is if the OL will give Jameis Winston time to throw. Depth added to the defense will likely give them an above average unit there as well.
Tennessee Titans – #12
This is how teams are built successfully through the draft. Both sides of the ball appear to be above average. Last year they were probably the best team in the AFC south. This year they should definitively take that crown.
Philadelphia Eagles – #13
Carson Wentz still has a great deal to prove, but it’s hard to argue that this team isn’t improving. Specifically they went out and made a huge improvement to their biggest weakness, the receiving corps. Their defense looks very solid up front as well.
Denver Broncos – #14
An elite defense, some solid offensive weapons, but a weak OL and a disaster at the QB position. Re-signing Brock Osweiler does nothing to help and you have to wonder if their once elite receiving duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel sanders are over the hill.
Baltimore Ravens – #15
Injuries stacked up to dampen the ceiling for the Ravens this year. They still have a shot at an elite defense, especially thanks to the additions of Tony Jefferson and Brandon Williams. The offense, however, lost four of it’s best players to injury, retirement, and free agency. There are also questions about Joe Flacco’s health.
Detroit Lions – #16
It’s hard to argue that last year’s eight 4th quarter combacks is a sustainable way to win games. You can make a case that the team was built specifically for that kind of situation, but you still have to chalk some of it up to luck. Theoretical improvements have been made to the OL and LB corps, however, and it may help them back into the playoff race.
Minnesota Vikings – #17
When you have a bad OL, but it’s still better than what you had, how high are your expectations? Well, if the new guys can keep the offense from going backwards quite as often, it will allow their near elite defense to hold teams in check. Delvin Cook will look to revitalize a run game that struggled last year.
Houston Texans – #18
Having an elite pass rush is a good way to win games. Having only an elite pass rush might make it difficult. With a bad QB situation, a terrible offensive line, and questions in the secondary, this team will put a ton of pressure on their front seven to make plays.
Los Angeles Chargers – #19
The Chargers boast an impressive group of receivers and they may have finally dug themselves out of the terrible offensive line hole they were in, which bodes well for the offense. The defense is still majorly lacking, however, with very few playmakers.
Miami Dolphins – #20
Despite winning 10 games last year, the Dolphins finished 26th in net points per drive. That will likely show up in their win/loss column in 2017, as they face a much more demanding schedule. Adam Gase will have to see if he can get as much out of Cutler as he did back in 2015 in Chicago.
New Orleans Saints – #21
The Saints continue to tread water, going 7-9 in each of the last three seasons. They are reliably strong on offense, although they may miss the explosiveness of Brandon Cooks, but there isn’t a strong case for the defense to be significantly improved.
Cincinnati Bengals – #22
Another offseason with major talent lost on offense, as Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler left for big money elsewhere. There are still solid pieces in the skill positions, but Dalton will likely struggle under increased pressure. This could easily be Marvin Lewis’s last year in Cin City.
Arizona Cardinals – #23
After a poor showing last season, there was a mass exodus of talent, especially on the defense. A unit that may already have been overrated may now be average at best. On offense, there are concerns about the receiving corps, and of course, Carson Palmer is a 37 year old, inconsistent, ticking time bomb.
Washington Redskins – #24
Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon were phenomenal last year and helped make Kirk Cousins look like a better QB than most people suspect he actually is. Now they are gone, and with the defense still looking bad, things look pretty grim in DC.
Indianapolis Colts – #25
A franchise QB is incredibly important in the NFL. But when the rest of the 53 man roster is filled with gaping holes, things will still get ugly. While they had net talent added in the offseason, the remaining questions about Luck’s health will keep their ranking depressed until he proves he’s okay.
Chicago Bears – #26
After being absolutely devastated by injuries in 2016, the Bears were hoping for a major rebound. The injuries continued this year, and have put high hopes on the backburner. The combination of inexperience at receiver and a backup QB pretending to be a starter will likely combine for some explosive, but wildly inconsistent offense.
Jacksonville Jaguars – #27
What two years ago looked like an up and coming team has somewhat self destructed. Blake Bortles is unanimously considered one of the worst starting QBs in the league, and they don’t have a better option. They came in dead last in turnovers created per drive, which could have been a fluke, and could mean a bit better defensive performance this year.
Los Angeles Rams – #28
They really attacked the weaknesses on the offense this offseason, but it remains to be seen if it’s nearly enough to pull one of the most pathetic units in recent history out of the basement. Meanwhile, they may have issues on defense depending on whether or not Aaron Donald decides to play.
Buffalo Bills – #29
They would probably rank higher than this if the stench of “tanking”, which used to be considered a myth, wasn’t all over them. No matter what you think of Tyrod Taylor, he’s going to have a tough go of it this season with one of the least inspiring receiving corps in the league.
San Francisco 49ers – #30
When you look at a really bad team, who happens to have had a solid offseason, it’s easy to forget that they are a really bad team. Kyle Shanahan’s tricky offense may have worked well in the preseason, but without the elite weapons he had in Atlanta, it will almost certainly sputter under pressure.
Cleveland Browns – #31
It seems like the Browns are doing things the right way, but it’s still hard to look at their team and see enough talent to win games. Kizer had his moments in the preseason, and it won’t be surprising to see them score some points, but consistency will be lacking.
New York Jets – #32
The team that made “tanking” cool. Almost every decent player they had is gone. They are a significant threat to the Lions 0-16 record.