It’s hard to imagine I made this same post back last year. This time, I’m giving it to you a month advance. Why? People can become mesmerized by the preseason, and I should remind everyone the 2008 Detroit Lions went a perfect 4-0 in August, but had the only 0-16 season in the NFL’s history. And the second reason why, is, I’m too excited about football season to wait.
Previous #D46 Power Rankings are influenced by my February 9th rankings after the Super Bowl, as can be seen here.
32. Detroit Lions (Prev. Ranking: 14) — Many will remember their second half surge, but I remember this team flushed down the can in the first half. This team received a few breaks, and ended up finishing 7-9 last year. This year, they’re without long-time #1 option Calvin Johnson Jr. Considering the loss of Megatron, the inconsistencies of Matthew Stafford to be magnified, and with Jim Caldwell still at the helm, this team is poised for disaster.
31. San Fransisco 49ers (Prev. Ranking: 31) — The 49ers asked for all they’d get when they chose to fire Jim Harbaugh, a decision made before the 2014 season ever kicked off. After the one-year experiment of Jim Tomsula, they fired him. Now, Chip Kelly is in as head coach. Many will look at Chip Kelly’s record as a head coach, but he knows how to destroy an organization from within, something the Niners have a head-start at. Let’s see if players buy into Chip’s philosophy first, before we move them up.
30. San Diego Chargers (Prev. Ranking: 28) — The Chargers were perhaps my biggest disappointment of last season. They didn’t take the leaps necessary, and when I look at their offseason, it doesn’t appear they did too much. I believe their offense is still a mess, and their defensive upgrade, 1st-round pick Joey Bosa, is currently on a holdout. I expect Bosa to start Week 1, but this is detrimental for a rookie to not be there at camp. Expect more of the same, and for Mike McCoy to be fired by the time it’s all said and done.
29. Houston Texans (Prev. Ranking: 12) — Houston is the team everyone loves, but I don’t. Their defense looks nice, and they signed the big names on offense in Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller, not to mention they have DeAndre Hopkins catching the ball, it all seems good, right? Wrong! People tend to forget players have to adjust, and titles aren’t won in free agency. Not to mention, the Super Bowl is at NRG Stadium in February, so even the best teams crumble to that pressure.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Prev. Ranking: 27) — The sophomore slump is real when it comes to Jameis Winston this season. I don’t believe the Buccaneers are talented enough to improve on their 6 wins last season. Lovie Smith was fired because of the defensive deficiencies, but I don’t think offensive specialist Dirk Koetter will improve that side of the ball. With more on Dirk’s plate, I expect the Buccaneers to be stagnant, or even to take a step back.
27. Cleveland Browns (Prev. Ranking: 32) — I believe Cleveland made strides to get better this offseason, first with the hiring of Hue Jackson, which if nothing more, takes him away from Cincinnati. Offensively the team is still muggy, but we’ll see how it goes. If Hue plays to Griffin’s strengths, the Browns might be able to be a 6 or 7-win team, but it’s really wishful thinking. The Cavaliers NBA Championship and the Indians successful 2016 season gives the Browns hope.
26. Tennessee Titans (Prev. Ranking: 30) — Talking about Winston’s sophomore slump, it likely comes to DeMarco Murray. People love the Titans, but they really shouldn’t. Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray are big names who don’t fit well in a system with Marcus Mariota, so you have to side with one or the other, and it’s going to be one big mess. Not to mention, this defense remains laughable.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (Prev. Ranking: 19) — Over the last couple of years, Chip Kelly has gave away each piece the Eagles needed to contend. And ironically, when Chip Kelly was canned, the Eagles gave away the pieces Chip got in return. The Eagles then traded twice to move up to #2, taking a FCS quarterback who won’t start this year. The Eagles won’t tank, considering they don’t keep their first round pick, but won’t be able to accomplish much. The media will be a distraction, especially if Sam Bradford and/or Chase Daniel plays poorly.
24. Los Angeles Rams (Prev. Ranking: 16 as St. Louis) — The Rams began to unload pieces on the defensive side, such as James Laurinaitis, Chris Long, and Janoris Jenkins, and I can’t recall them bringing in anyone significant to patch those wounded areas. Los Angeles traded up to get Jared Goff, and though there’s Todd Gurley in the backfield, the receiving core is pathetic, and that’s been a problem with the Rams for years. I expect Goff to have growing pains being thrown into the fire, but at least he has “Fire Extinguisher” Todd Gurley to help the team’s record.
23. Dallas Cowboys (Prev. Ranking: 29) — Don’t mistake this as improvement, because they really only improved by drafting Ezekiel Elliott and other players getting healthy (namely, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant). Dallas is relying heavily their 2014 success can be revived after a year in the grave, and this can take pressure on a defense that was already thin, now almost nonexistant with Demarcus Lawrence suspended, and of course, the uncertainty of Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory. Dallas is one injury (to Romo) from unprepared Dak Prescott.
22. New Orleans Saints (Prev. Ranking: 22) — The Saints made no real strives this offseason, so expect much of the same. Drew Brees is aging, they retained Sean Payton, and there’ll be 4,500 yards recorded through the air, and the defense will be punchline in the streets of New Orleans. The Saints won’t be able to have another Mardi Gras type of celebration until they move on from Drew Brees and tank. I believe this could be the last year of a Brees-y NOLA.
21. Denver Broncos (Prev. Ranking: 1) — Perhaps the biggest drop-off, but to nobody’s surprise. The big hit isn’t Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler’s departure, or how we saw Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan part ways, but it’s all at the same time. The Broncos quarterback situation is still undecided, and in this quarterback driven league, that’s a problem in August – especially since your choices consist of “Unknown” Trevor Siemian, “Butt of the Joke” Mark Sanchez, and “Newbie” Paxton Lynch.
20. Chicago Bears (Prev. Ranking: 23) — I feel Chicago made a lot of nice strides in the offseason, acquiring Danny Trevathan specifically. Chicago addressed their defensive woes in the draft as well, picking Leonard Floyd ninth overall and Jonathan Bullard in the third round. These SEC draft selections should contribute and be apart of a new-look Bears defense. However, this team will need Jay Cutler to have a good year without Adam Gase, and this is dependent on Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White’s health status. If all goes well, they could push for a wild card spot.
19. Baltimore Ravens (Prev. Ranking: 26) — I had this team in the top dozen headed into last year’s season, and dropped them to 26th at the end of the year. The 2015 Season was poor with injuries, namely to Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, and Justin Forsett. When you take those injuries, add it to losing Torrey Smith before the season, it didn’t add up well. I don’t believe the Ravens did too much to help themselves out this season, but just Forsett and Flacco will help them out. They could drop, but I don’t see them in the playoffs.
18. Miami Dolphins (Prev. Ranking: 25) — With the Dolphins, it’s the same narrative. They’re talented, they make the necessary moves in the offseason, but they can never take that talent and transform it into wins. I’d love to put this team in the playoffs, especially with Brady missing 4 weeks, but I just can’t. I think the AFC East will be one of the best divisions in football, if not the best, and this doesn’t go to the advantage of Miami. Adam Gase has his hands full, but he needs to work with Ryan Tannehill. And honestly, I am holding onto a small thread of hope that Tannehill actually pans out with Gase, but Arian Foster doesn’t help Tannehill’s progression. We’re looking at a 6 or 7-win season for Miami, subject to change with Gase’s magic tricks.
17. Indianapolis Colts (Prev. Ranking: 18) — The Colts are carried by Andrew Luck, and that’s been the case ever since he was drafted #1 overall in the Post-Peyton era. Luck’s taken that pressure and channeled it in a positive way, but he was broken last season, and much like 39-year-old Peyton Manning, he was falling apart. The Colts addressed Andrew Luck’s protection with drafting Ryan Kelly out of Alabama, but failed to address what’s holding them back, Chuck Pagano. Chuck should’ve been fired last season, and yet, they extended him. I’m sending them a stuffed animal at the Colts facility, because they’re soft! Soft teams never last, no matter how great your quarterback is.
16. New York Giants (Prev. Ranking: 21) — The Giants couldn’t capitalize much on Eli Manning’s resurgence with Ben McAdoo, and fell short of besting the Redskins. New York then pushed Tom Coughlin out, while hiring Ben McAdoo as the heir apparent. They made a huge splash in the offseason by signing Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon, just to name a few, and rather than being a plus, this is unfortunate. If anyone remembers the Eagles “Dream Team”, they went 8-8. The Dolphins have dominated free agency for years, but it results in 8-8, or worse. The Giants won’t reap the benefits of their free agency spree, but just top out at 8-8.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (Prev. Ranking: 24) — All seem to be high on the Jacksonville Jaguars, and figured out what I did about midseason, that Jacksonville has a bright offensive trio, the “A-Team” catching passes from Blake Bortles. Jacksonville then addressed their defensive woes at every level, but I want to see how Malik Jackson, Myles Jack, and Jalen Ramsey come together and how much of an impact they have, this before I move them up any further. Indianapolis might win this division, but we’ll see how Jacksonville does with this applause from much of the media.
14. Buffalo Bills (Prev. Ranking: 15) — I said earlier, the AFC East is the best division, and I could completely see the Bills entering the wild card chase. I actually believe the Bills roster is more talented than the Jets, but I don’t trust Rex Ryan more than Todd Bowles. Buffalo needs to protect Tyrod Taylor, and if he can stay healthy along with Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy, this offense has the potential to set the league on fire. Watch out!
13. New York Jets (Prev. Ranking: 10) — The Jets are another team who can reach the wild card round, mainly because they finally have Ryan Fitzpatrick on the team. The Jets are pretty much the same, but I want to see how Todd Bowles does in his second year to outcoach Rex Ryan and Adam Gase, and even Bill Belichick. For the first time in forever, the Jets can provide hope for their fans!
12. Atlanta Falcons (Prev. Ranking: 17) — The Falcons, I was actually tempted to rank them lower than this, but I chose not to. The Falcons have the pieces in place; a quality starter (Matt Ryan), a running game (Devonta Freeman), a 1 and 2 receiver (Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu), a steady offensive line (Andy Levitre and Alex Mack), a rising star corner (Desmond Trufant), and a potentially productive front 7 (including Vic Beasley and Derrick Shelby). The Falcons, actually, could have an amazing season, or have a poor season that leads to Dan Quinn’s departure. It’s a flip coin, really.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (Prev. Ranking: 9) — Personally, I feel this team could spend this season trying not to finish the second-best team in Cleveland. The Bengals had the second most obvious choice, they didn’t go through with, and that’s firing Marvin Lewis, who has had all the talent, yet he holds this team back. Cincinnati was undisciplined in last year’s playoff game against Pittsburgh that put you in the mindset of a 1960’s underground boxing match. The Bengals were a playoff team and kept most of their pieces in tact, which has them at 11, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they fall off.
10. Oakland Raiders (Prev. Ranking: 20) — Much like Jacksonville, people are beginning to fall in love with a young Raiders team to take the leap necessary to land in the playoffs, and I feel they actually have a shot. I love Derek Carr, I love Amari Cooper, and on the defensive side, I feel Karl Joseph could make the best contributions in terms of defensive rookies, while they also have Khalil Mack. The Raiders benefit from not facing a real elite quarterback in the division, so it should be interesting… and when’s the last time you said that about the Oakland Raiders?
9. Kansas City Chiefs (Prev. Ranking: 7) — As a matter of fact, I want to put the Chiefs up higher, but there’s two things holding me back. The Chiefs went on a horrific start, then went Jamaal Charles got hurt, the Chiefs went on an unreal winning streak and that’s hard to duplicate, and it might actually have put a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Secondly, I feel the quarterback situation has controversy all of a sudden with the signing of Nick Foles. That sounds silly on the surface, but what happens when Alex Smith isn’t being exceptional? Alex Smith was benched for Colin Kaepernick back in San Fransisco after bringing his team to the NFC Championship Game. I feel if Foles shows he can still play under Andy Reid, the competition will be real.
8. Minnesota Vikings (Prev. Ranking: 8) — I don’t move them at all from my end-of-season rankings to my preseason rankings, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be this consistent. It was a rare treat for the Vikings to make the playoffs last year, and there’s no doubt that Adrian Peterson is older, perhaps you could call Teddy Bridgewater an unproven quarterback, and there’s no established threat on the outside, unless you consider Stefon Diggs a threat. This team will be carried by the defense, and if that stays the same, the Vikings will be alright. If not, they might finish behind Da Bears.
7. Washington Redskins (Prev. Ranking: 13) — As a Cowboys fan, this stings, and as someone who closely follows the NFC East, it defies logic for the Redskins to be ranked as the best NFC East team. However, they didn’t lose many pieces, they still have Kirk Cousins on a “prove it” deal, they drafted Josh Docston, and they signed Josh Norman to an already excellent defense from 2015. I think Dallas poises the biggest threat to dethrone the current NFC East champions, if Romo and Bryant are healthy, but the Redskins have the best chance to win this division back-to-back years, the first time since the McNabb Eagles won four straight from 2001-04.
6. Green Bay Packers (Prev. Ranking: 11) — Now that Jordy Nelson is back, assuming he hasn’t lost a step from the ACL, we can value the Packers as a Super Bowl threat once more. Aaron Rodgers is still in his prime, Eddie Lacy’s dropped some weight, and the Packers defense will look to carry their low PPG allowed average into the 2016 season. If this defense can play at their level last year, we may be looking at a second ring for Aaron Rodgers.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (Prev. Ranking: 6) — I’d love to rank the Steelers up higher, as they have Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and some young pieces on defense who can contribute, but I just can’t. Le’Veon Bell is having issues off-the-field, and in spite of being the most talented running back in the NFL, that comes back to bite you, this time with a 4-game suspension. Martavis Bryant is out for the entire year with a suspension as well, so we’re one away from looking at the AFC’s Dallas Cowboys. I don’t even need to mention Ryan Shazier will probably receive fines galore from Goodell’s office this season, and might even get a suspension if he isn’t careful. A lot of potential when it comes to Pittsburgh, a lot of talent, but the entire team needs to focus on football and show self-discipline.
4. Arizona Cardinals (Prev. Ranking: 4) — I believe the Cardinals will be there in the thick of things, with this prediction able to dismiss with a Carson Palmer injury. Many could say they were NFC favorites before Tyrann Mathieu went down, but he’s there for the next 5 years and can go play football. Arizona, however, has a small window with Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald both chasing championship number one, and likely begin the decline after 2016. So win now or forever hold your peace, Cards.
3. Carolina Panthers (Prev. Ranking: 2) — The Panthers were ranked 23rd last preseason by me, and after a shocking run for much of the season, they were ranked 2nd at the end of the season. An impressive, overachieving 2015 campaign by the Panthers with MVP Cam Newton whose dabbing took over the league and oftentimes overshadowed the spectacular defensive play. They only lost two games, but one of the more important ones, Super Bowl 50 against Denver. Carolina returns much of the same team, minus Josh Norman, but also add Kelvin Benjamin on the offensive side. They have the pieces in place for another deep playoff run, but the question is, “Will they”? Or perhaps, last year was a fluke… I’ll hold that verdict until next year’s over with.
2. Seattle Seahawks (Prev. Ranking: 5) — Seattle is my favorite to go back to the Super Bowl. With Russell Wilson’s leadership, and Pete Carroll’s brilliance, this Seahawks squad can go places. They return the Legion of Boom and much of their key defensive stars are still around to keep Seattle around in late January. Also, I feel it should be noted, Jimmy Graham is still a great asset for a team, and hopefully Wilson and Graham can be on the same page in 2016.
1. New England Patriots (Prev. Ranking: 3) — But Tom Brady just turned 39… But Tom Brady’s suspended the first 4 games… But the AFC East is tougher… Yeah, and so? Tom Brady hasn’t shown any drop-off, and the four game suspension is a blessing in disguise, as he’ll stay in shape and won’t have to be brutalized until October. The Patriots don’t need a 14-2 season to be the Super Bowl champions, but all they need is to get into the playoffs. I feel the Chris Long pickup will do wonders for this defense, and they also traded for Jonathan Cooper to help protect Brady, and equate this with Gronk, the Patriots have other players on this team too. This may be a fifth for Tom Brady, if all goes in their favor.
So before you ask, last year’s preseason predictions involved the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl 48 competitors, while this year’s have the Super Bowl 49 teams at the top. This is a total coincidence, but Carolina and Denver should be pleased with next year’s preseason rankings. Also note, the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos were ranked 2nd last year in the preseason, and this year it’s Seattle… Just saying!