It’s clearly very early and there’ll be a lot of unseen factors that will occur between now and the start of the season. Based on last season, combined with all the offseason moves and transactions for each team, I have put together a power rankings based on those factors. This is to be taken with a grain of salt with consideration to how early it is but it also could very well not change much between now and the beginning of the year.
With that said, let’s get to it!
1 – PANTHERS
Cam Newton will look to right what went wrong this past season. While they have lost a few pieces, they’ve also gained some parts that could help them get over the hump in 2016. The defense will still be top flight and the offense gets back someone like Kelvin Benjamin who will be a huge RedZone threat.
2 – CARDINALS
The Cards feel just one game short of making it to the biggest stage on the planet. They essentially have the same team on offense and got much stronger on defense with a few free agent signings and a really good draft. Barring major injury, they’ve got a legit shot at getting over the hill this season.
3 – BRONCOS
You cannot replace the wisdom of a Peyton Manning. Regardless if he was a shell of his former self, his football IQ is unmatched. Whether it be Sanchez or the rookie Paxton Lynch on offense, they will still have a lethal defense to lean on to help them achieve another playoff birth.
4 – PATRIOTS
Until Tom Brady and Bill B. retire, the New England Patriots are always going to be in the mix. They added a lot of veteran leadership through free agency on both sides of the ball and had a relatively good draft despite not having a first round pick in 2016. They have one of the best front offices in football and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time along with coaches.
5 – STEELERS
Health. If the Steelers stay healthy all year long, they have one of the best teams in the NFL on paper. There is so much talent on the offensive side of the ball that (with a healthy season) there is literally no chance they’ll miss the playoffs. Once you’re in, anything can happen. The defense does have some obvious holes, but if Pittsburgh is lighting up the scoreboard, all they need to be is average to win games.
6 – TEXANS
This is my biggest sleeper of the year. Yes, I said it. Bigger than the Raiders and Jags who seemed to have the best offseasons via free agency and the draft. However, the Texans punched a ticket without having anything close to resembling a competent offense in 2015. The additions of Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller, and Will Fuller out of Notre Dame to help out DeAndre Hopkins on the other side.
7 – COWBOYS
Much like the Steelers, the Cowboys, should they stay healthy, will definitely be in the mix at the end. However, that being said, they have to stay healthy and that has been the biggest reasons why they have stayed on the losing side of things since the 90’s. One thing that they have done to eliminate that issue is by building depth behind key positions. Should things seemingly start to go south in the injury department, they will have players to come in and fill those roles.
8 – PACKERS
When you have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, you’re always going to have a shot. Aaron Rodgers is still the best quarterdeck in the NFL. That said, will he have enough supporting cast on both sides of the ball to be effective? There are still question marks on both sides of the ball but they contend virtually every year in the same scenario.
9 – VIKINGS
This is one of the youngest most potent up and coming teams in the entire NFL. They will once again fly under the radar. Along with their young talent, the Vikings still also have enough veteran leadership. And Adrian Peterson is still the best running back in the NFL; sorry LeVeon Bell, you cannot stay healthy or unsuspended. It’s quite possible that they win the divsion this year and there’s an outside shot that they can earn a #1 or #2 seed in the playoffs.
10 – BENGALS
I think the Bengals will be a team that does not really progress or regress. For the most part, they have the same ball club. If that’s the case, what have they done or corrected to send them over the top? I do not see much. They had a decent draft but nothing too splashy or substantial enough to change my view on what Cincy will be in 2016. Of course that’s subject to chance but as of now, they are kind of sitting in the same exact spot as last season.
11 – REDSKINS
The one and only concern I have for this team who surprised a lot of people in the football following world is at running back. Does Matt Jones have what it takes to be a featured back in the NFL? I don’t know… what I do know is that Kirk Cousins has started a revolution in DC with his “You like that???” phrase that he used after a win last season. It caught on like wild fire with the fan base and now chants of “You Like That” can be heard throughout the crowd during games. Another sleeper team perhaps but not enough to get over the hump.
12 – RAIDERS
They had one of the best offseasons of any other team in the NFL with exception to maybe the Jaguars. This team started to really pull together toward the end of last season. They have added a lot of new pieces but time will tell whether or not it will all gel together. The Raiders are looked at by many of the national pundits as a team who can and most likely will make a push to secure the AFC West division once again. The Raiders have not been very relevant since their Super Bowl loss in 2002 but are primed personnel wise to change that.
13 – SEAHAWKS
“Why the hell are the Seahawks as low as 13??? You’re stupid!”. I’ll just say it for the ‘Hawks fans because the predictability in that is fail proof; along with their denial. Facts are that the Seahawks lost so many key pieces to why they have been successful. Yes, they still have Russell Wilson and yes, their defense will probably be pretty decent still. But I do not see them being the dominant force they were for the past few years. The lost too many pieces in the trenches on both sides of the ball and we all know that is where the game starts and is won and lost. Big step back for Seattle in 2016. You heard it here first.
14 – CHIEFS
Andy Reid’s Chiefs will enter the season looking to take that next step. Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in the NFL when he is healthy and is the center piece to making that offense go at full force. Alex Smith still plays with a chip on his shoulder and has built a solid chemistry with Jeremy Maclin. The Chiefs defense is one of the most underrated in the NFL. Do they have enough to go all the way though? That’s the biggest question.
15 – 49ERS
This is perhaps my boldest prediction here unless you view the Texans pick above in that manner. The Niners are looked at as a team that will finish close to last place. The only problem with that is that the Niners and Chip Kelly do not believe that. Chip Kelly’s offenses in Philadelphia finished 1st, 2nd, and 12th in his three years there. He also went 10-6 in each of his first two seasons before the Eagles unintelligent front office gave him personnel control too. Good news for Niners fans is that Kelly is just the football coach here. Personnel wise, the Niners are very young on paper. They’re very similarly stacked to how the Seahawks and Cardinals were just a few seasons ago before they emerged and started dominating.
16 – JETS
The Jets finished 10-6 last year. They will have virtually the same personnel and another year in Todd Bowles system to gel. They have moved a few pieces and gained a few but the transactions have seemed very balanced. Bowles wills till put a big emphasis on defense and the offense with Fitz, Marshall, Decker, and Forte along with all the role players will be set up nice to make another run at punching their ticket to the dance in 2016.
17 – JAGUARS
Offseason champs. Will that equate to wins though? To be determined. It looks good… like really good. And Gus Bradley is a very good ball coach. But it’s still the Jaguars and until they can show me something better than a 5-11 record, I’ll remain a skeptic. I do still have them ranked higher than what they wound up in 2015, so there’s that. All that said, I am very intrigued to follow this team and how well they progress together as one.
18 – BUCCANEERS
I am a bit conflicted with placing the Bucs this low on the totem pole. I do believe in them to a degree but seeing is believing. They’re better than the Falcons and Saints in my opinion but competing in the division and trying to take the crown from the NFC Champs of last season may be a tall task. It’ll be interesting to see if Winston falls in to the category of sophomore slump or if he will be able to bypass it like others have recently.
19 – GIANTS
The Giants look great on paper as far as the offense is concerned but their defense is a question mark. They did make a few moves on this side of the ball in the offseason, so it will be interesting to see how that gels together. Tom Coughlin is no more and things could go either way for this team in 2016.
20 – TITANS
They’ll be better than last year as long as they can stay healthy. There are a lot of new moving parts and it could take time for all cylinders to start firing the way they need to. I do think the Titans will be better than they were last year but that’s not saying much considering where they finished last season. It’s been a while since Tennessee has been relevant but this season might be the one where things start turn around.
21 – SAINTS
I want to give this team more credit. However, with all that has transpired over the past few seasons, it’s hard to imagine Drew Brees carrying the entire team very deep this year. They have some new faces but will it be enough? Obviously things can change at any moment and a team can catch fire at any point (See the Chiefs season in 2015). The defense is still a question mark and in this league, if you are not packing your defense, it’s tough to win games. Dennis Allen has his work cut out.
22 – CHARGERS
Based on the division mostly, and the probability of the Chargers finishing in last place there, I cannot imagine their season going much better across the board. Will they win some games? Of course. Rivers is a damn good quarterback. There’s a lot of youth on the defensive side of the ball but they’ve had trouble staying consistent.
23 – COLTS
Andrew Luck will be back but it remains a question as to what capacity he will playing at. The Colts have a lot of glaring holes still and certainly will have a lot of wood to chop to get back to relevancy. Last year was a disaster from injuries to lack of prep and coaching. The defense is not something this team can fully rely on and I am not sure there’s enough offense there to get it done.
24 – RAMS
A rookie quarterback with potentially the worst offensive line in the NFL is a recipe for disaster. There is a lot of talent at the skilled positions and Gurley will without question be the focus on offense. The Rams lost some great leadership on defense though in Chris Long and James Lauranitas; both of which were essentially the heartbeat of that defense for the past half decade or more. Yes, Quinn and Donald are the new faces there but it takes time to establish trust in new players at the positions left vacant by Long and Lauranitas.
25 – EAGLES
I’m not sure if Pederson will be better than Kelly was in the situation they had last season. You have a disgruntled starting quarterback and an unpolished first round rookie. At some point during the season, I imagine Wentz will get the ball either via poor production from Bradford or injury. The defense is in awful shape as well. There are few players there note worthy but overall, its a mess. I fully expect this team to be selecting top 10 in 2017.
26 – BILLS
I don’t trust Rex Ryan and Greg Roman’s offense is pretty gimmicky… and his play calling is questionable often. Bringing Rob Ryan in on the defensive side seems strange to me. Not because you have twins coaching the team but with what Rob likes to do on defense and the personnel they have to coincide with that doesn’t really match up. I think the first few years Rex had in NY were and always will be his best seasons as an NFL coach. I think this will be his last year in Buffalo.
27 – DOLPHINS
Here’s a team I would love to be wrong about. Since the 49ers beat them up in the Super Bowl in the ’84 season, I have always had a soft spot for this team. With that said, they do not have a solid run game to lean on with the departure of Miller and Tannehill is not the type of quarterback who can carry a team. The defense looks better on paper but there’s all sorts of things going on there. That could interfere with the chemistry down the road.
28 – FALCONS
On paper, this team looks potent. At least on offense. Much like the division rival Saints, the Falcons have had their fair share of problems on the defensive side of the ball for a bit. But unlike the Saints, the Falcons offense will disappear for games on end. Teams that can win and do win games are consistent. The Falcons are not consistent. However, that does not mean something cannot change. For now, they’re low.
29 – RAVENS
They will be getting some troops back and important, key-pieces to both sides of the ball. The Ravens were plagued with injury last year and it showed. The reason they are this low for me is due to their division. I believe they’ll get beat up in the division and that will bleed in to other games outside of the division that they will have to play. In some sense, I feel this is very low for them and I do expect to rank them higher as the season goes.
30 – BEARS
It would not shock me to see this team finish with one of the worst records in the NFL; if not the worst. And I think the Bears will be a team selecting one of the top 3 quarterbacks next years draft to replace Cutler. Kevin White will be healthy but as of now, he’s an unproven. Matt Forte’s leadership will be missed. And leadership is something this team lacks more than potentially any other team in the NFL.
31 – BROWNS
New year, new coach, new quarterback. No Johnny Football mess to deal with will allow the Browns to get back to just focusing on football. However, they are extremely young with a lot of unproven talent. Unproven talent can be proven though. In this case, I believe that the Browns will show signs of life toward the end of the year but by the time they do, it’ll be too late. Something to build on for the future.
32 – LIONS
I’ve been wrong before but I have a seriously hard time seeing Detroit beat anybody this year. From just a couple seasons ago, this team has taken major steps backwards. The retiring of one of the greatest receivers of all-time in Calvin Johnson, kind of stamps the high probability that this team may very well be the worst in the National Football League this year. Sorry Lions fans, but it may be time to break out the paper bags again.
Again, this is obviously not set in stone. I will be doing a few of these through the course of the season. Be on the lookout for the 2.0 version prior to week 1.