9 – Panthers
Up and down and up and down. The Panthers have had swings of at least five games in their final record every season since 2012. so it stands to reason they’ll have a down year this year, right? Maybe. There is certainly any number of things that could make that happen, namely injuries for a team that is very accustomed to racking them up. But, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t address their biggest issues and don’t have potential to be as good or better than 2017.
10 – Packers
If the Packers’ desperate attempts to improve the play of their secondary work out, they’ll be able to win most shootout situations. But there is a lot riding on unproven players to make that happen. Aaron Rodgers has an excellent argument as the most talented QB in NFL history, but at 34 and coming off a broken collarbone, it might be fair to ask if he can continue to single-handedly lift his team to a level where they have a real shot at a championship.
11 – Chargers
A trendy pick in the top 10 this offseason, and it’s hard to argue with considering their strong finish to the 2017 season. It’s been a minute since Philip Rivers had this level of consistency to work with, and now that the distraction of changing cities is behind them it might be time we see them really dig in and get work done. You can usually expect a Rivers-led offense, barring major injuries, to be at least average. With offseason work in mind, they could easily compete for the top defense in the league. Yet, with all that, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the Chargers will find a way to mess it up.
12 – Titans
Questions about the growth and ceiling of Marcus Mariota are probably fair. You hate to see a third-year QB struggle in that way. But the truth is, the rest of this team is full of young talent as well, and development will continue. They only just snuck into the playoffs last year, but there is plenty of potential here for them to go as far as challenging the Jaguars for the division.
13 – Ravens
I may live to regret putting a team with Joe Flacco at the helm this high in my power rankings. However, when I look at what they did last year (top 10 offense and defense in scoring), and the huge roster improvements they made in the offseason, it’s easy to see them taking a step forward. That puts all the pressure in the world on Flacco, because if the team has a shot at the playoffs and he’s not performing well, Lamar Jackson could certainly see the field.
14 – Lions
Before I started working on my rankings, I envisioned the Lions landing somewhere in the 16-18 range. When I hit the mid-range teams on my list, though, I found there were a lot of teams who had weaker offseasons than I had previously realized. One thing the Lions did that those other teams didn’t was aggressively attacked one of their biggest weaknesses. Even with only moderate expectations for improvement in the run game, if Detroit can field a mediocre rushing attack, they have the potential for a top three offense. It’s tough to predict what will happen with the defense, but the talent is sufficient to produce a mid-tier unit.
15 – Redskins
I am not sure I see a significant downgrade from Kirk Cousins to Alex Smith, so that doesn’t bother me. And while they took risks in the draft on Derrius Guice and Harold Landry, both have a good chance to be immediate impact players. A good chance at improved health and quite a few additions to the defense could give them an outside shot at the playoffs.
16 – Chiefs
It’s rare that I would put a team going through a QB change this high, especially because Kansas City is coming off such a rough defensive season. But I admittedly have a degree of faith in Andy Reid to get a lot out of almost anyone at the position. On top of that, they have one of the most intriguing rosters on that side of the ball from top to bottom. I also think that while you are looking at a lot of older talent on the defense, you’ll probably see a marginal bounce back.