Written by: A. W. PATTERSON
Every year we before the regular season starts, ESPN comes out with its own Power Rankings. How can we possibly rank all the teams in the NFL before we even see them step onto the field? These Power Rankings hold no meaning. Yet, we, the fans, anticipate them coming out every year. Nonetheless, let us look at where teams landed and what I thought about their respective placements.
32. New York Jets – I actually think Jets fans like this ranking. Most of them are rooting for 0-16 to get one of the supposedly great QBs in next year’s draft class, and it certainly looks like the Jets are going winless. First, let’s look at their team last year. They couldn’t run or pass and they stunk at covering the pass. This year, they lost Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold and David Harris. Quincy Enunwa was their top wide receiver and now is out for the season with a neck injury. This might be the worst roster since the 2008 Lions. The Jets are in complete rebuild mode.
31. San Francisco 49ers – Other than being behind the Bears, this ranking is suitable for the Niners. When your defense gives up 165.9 yards on the ground per game, 1.6 rushing touchdowns per game and 1.9 passing touchdowns per game, you deserve to be at the bottom of the list. Yes, I do think Kyle Shanahan will be a great head coach and will help that offense, and I do believe Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster will help the defense. Just not enough to make them a winning team in 2017.
30. Cleveland Browns – As stated previously, I think the Browns should be above the Rams and Bears. The offensive line improved after signing Kevin Zeitler, which now makes that offensive line one of the best in the league. The defense was among the worst in the league last year, but with rookies Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers, that should help a bit. I don’t expect the Browns to be great, but they should win around 4-5 games this year.
29. Chicago Bears – The Browns and 49ers are better than the Bears. The Bears don’t have much. They were mediocre at stopping pass attacks, but they were bad at everything else. They have Jordan Howard and a great offensive line, yet they could only run the ball into the end zone 0.6 times per game. Oh, and the pass game certainly did help matters. Don’t expect Mike Glennon or Mitch Trubisky to make an impact in 2017.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars should be ranked higher than this. They would have a real shot to be a great team if Blake Bortles wasn’t still playing under center. They mad a ton of off-season changes. They now have Calais Campbell, AJ Bouye and Barry Church on their defense alone. Their pass defense was already really good last year, but now it has a chance to be among the best if not the best. The offense was bad, but has a chance to get better with rookies Leonard Fournette at running back and Cam Robinson at left tackle. The only thing crippling the Jaguars is not having a quarterback.
27. Los Angeles Rams – The fact the Rams are above the Jaguars is kind of crazy. I also think the Browns are better than the Rams this year, but say what you will. The Rams just aren’t good at much of anything. Jared Goff’s life should be a little easier with an upgrade to the offensive line, but unless Goff is significantly better than last year, the Rams will win only 2 games.
26. Buffalo Bills – This is exactly where the Bills should be. This is where we get to the teams that just have zero chance of making the playoffs. The Bills got rid of Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins to help wipe away Doug Whaley’s legacy and start completely over. Jordan Matthews was coming to Buffalo but after a couple days, he got injured. For a team with the best running game in the league with Lesean McCoy, they have nothing else. They couldn’t move the ball even with Watkins and Woods, now it’s going to be really bad unless rookie Zay Jones proves to be a stud. They have a completely different secondary this year with Micah Hyde, EJ Gaines and rookie Tre’Davious White so who knows what that is going to look like.
25. Miami Dolphins – This is fitting for the Dolphins. They are a young team with a lot of potential, and Adam Gase seems to be turning that franchise around. Like the Chargers, they are just getting really unlucky with injuries. Ryan Tannehill is done for the season, and Jay Cutler is taking over the throne of QB for the Fins. This might not hurt the Dolphins as much as some people think. Cutler showed to be successful with Gase in Chicago, and it isn’t like Tannehill was throwing up huge numbers for the Dolphins. What hurts worse in my opinion is having rookie Raekwon McMillan injured and out for the year, Tony Lippett injured and out for the year, and guard Ted Larson out for a while with a torn bicep muscle. The good news for the Dolphins is Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh are back and, recent additions in William Hayes and Lawrence Timmons should help that front 7 even more.
24. Los Angeles Chargers – The Chargers are better than about 6-7 teams that are above them on this list. They are #17 on my list. The only that kills the Chargers are injuries. They may have been even higher on my list had their rookies remained healthy. Forrest Lamp was going to help their offensive line significantly, but he is now out for the season. Melvin Gordon is a great running back, but he will not have a great line to run behind. Mike Williams was going to be a great asset to wide receiver, but he is injured as well. Phillip Rivers has been a consistently good quarterback putting the pass offense among the top 10, and the pass defense is exciting to watch with Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Casey Hayward. The Chargers are just banged for the division they are in. Having to play the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders a total of 6 times is not easy task.
23. New Orleans Saints – This is one of the most illogical rankings on the list. I know I am probably in the minority about my thoughts on the Saints, but I think they are really good. Everybody knows their offense is among the top in the entire league. Yes, Brandin Cooks is gone, but they still have Dree Brees, Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman. Brees can make anyone look good. Also, Brees now has a much better offensive line than he did last year after signing Larry Warford and drafting Ryan Ramczyk. The terrible 2016 pass defense is going to get a little better after drafting Marshon Lattimore in the first round. The biggest concern is the run defense, especially after losing Nick Fairley for the season due to heart problems. Although they were moderately successful at keeping opponents’ running yards to a minimum, they struggled keeping running backs out of the end zone so if they can address that, I think the Saints will stun many this year.
22. Cincinnati Bengals – This is slightly too high for the Bengals. There are some teams on this list that are lower who are better than the Bengals. I know they have AJ Green and Tyler Eifert back from injury, but they also lost their two best offensive linemen… That is not something to look past. Rookie Joe Mixon looks to be a pretty good running back, but if he starts, he doesn’t have many talented linemen to run behind. They Bengals will probably go 7-9 but definitely will not win more than 9 games.
21. Baltimore Ravens – This is about where the Ravens belong. The Ravens have two things going for them: a run defense and a kicker. They gave up just 89.4 yards and 0.4 TDs per game last year on the ground. To make things better, they signed Tony Jefferson who excels at stopping the run. Now that being said, their run offense is atrocious, and the pass game is below average. They did get Jeremy Maclin to help though, who was wildly successful in 2014 and 2015 with the Eagles and Chiefs respectively, but 2016 not so much. If it wasn’t for Justin Tucker successfully kicking 2.4 field goals a game, expect the Ravens to be much lower on this list. The Ravens will not win more than 8 games this year.
20. Washington Redskins – Although the ‘Skins are going to be at the bottom of the barrel in the NFC East this year, I think they should be slightly higher than #20. They certainly deserve to be higher than the Colts and Lions. Signing Zach Brown and DJ Swearinger, and signing Jonathan Allen will only help their defense. I know the Redskins struggle in the running back department, having Rob Kelley as their starter, but they still managed to score 7.7 points last year on the run. On the other hand, they had top 3 passing offense last year in terms of yards per game, but they failed to score a lot of points through the air. All in all, it is a productive offense if Kirk Cousins can continue throwing for a lot of yards and the running backs just continue closing out drives.
19. Detroit Lions – This might seem low for a team that made the playoffs last year, but I think they are worse than a #19 team. I put them lower. They have a great run defense, but that is it. The Lions have a terrible run offense, and their pass defense gives up way too many points, which rookie Jarrad Davis might be able to help. They made some offensive line changes, but their changes keep getting injured, including 2nd year LT Taylor Decker.
18. Indianapolis Colts – This is right where the Colts belong. The definition of mediocrity. I hate to see such a talent in Andrew Luck wasted for the past 5 years. Luck is pretty good at passing the ball, but the Colts aren’t very good at anything else. Maybe Johnathan Hankins will help their defense a bit.
17. Minnesota Vikings – This is slightly too low for the Vikings. They have a top 10 defense that can stop the run and the pass. Their only weakness was a run game, but they now have rookie Dalvin Cook who should contribute well to that. If not, no worries, they also now have Latavius Murray who has shown can be a decent running back. The offensive line last year was terrible, but they made a lot of changes to it so we will see what happens this year. I expect big things for the Vikings this year if Sam Bradford can continue to stay healthy.
16. Carolina Panthers – This is a good fit for the Panthers. They have Luke Kuechly back playing alongside a ton of veterans. The Panthers got Julius Peppers back and now have Mike Adams who will help support the pass and run defense. Will we see the 2015 MVP Cam Newton? Or will he struggle again like he did last year? There is a lot of hype in rookie Christian McCaffrey, who should help Newton out in the pass game. I feel like the Panthers could just as easily win 5 games as they can 14.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – I am probably flying higher with the Eagles this year than anyone. They are at least a top 7 team in my opinion. They have a top 5 run defense with Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. Derek Barnett seems to be a talented rookie defensive end. They just got Ronald Darby from Buffalo, which should put their pass defense somewhere around average. Legarrette Blount is a great fit to help the run game. Carson Wentz is in his second year with a much-needed new receiving corps, Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. If Alshon can stay healthy and out of trouble, that should help Wentz significantly. Don’t forget they have one of the best, if not the best, offensive line in the NFL. The Eagles have more potential to make some noise than any team in the league.
14. Houston Texans – No. Just no. This is insanely high for the Texans. I know they went to the playoffs last year, and I know they have Jadeveon Clowney and JJ Watt back, but they need a lot of help offensively. After the Brock Osweiler experiment “epically” failed, they are left with Tom Savage or rookie Deshaun Watson. The team ranked in the bottom 3 in pass offense, and I don’t expect either of those 2 QB’s will make it all that much better. Although they have Lamar Miller, they couldn’t really move the ball well on the ground last year either. Despite winning the AFC South last year, I think the Texans are the worst team in the division this year.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- I think this is roughly where the Bucs belong (maybe slight higher). Just like the Titans, the Bucs are getting really talented. They had an average defense and a poor run offense last year. However, Jameis and company ranked in top 5 when it came to the pass game, and they picked up Desean Jackson who fits perfectly in the Bucs’ scheme. The biggest question is which Doug Martin will we see (assuming he even starts).
12. Tennessee Titans – I know what you are probably thinking… “You think all these teams are ranked too high. Do you think anyone is ranked too low?” The Titans are certainly ranked way too low. I put the Titans in my top 3. They are building something special in Nashville. The Titans easily have a top 10 offense. They have one of the best run defenses in the league allowing 4.2 points per game last year, and they signed Logan Ryan who will surely help them stop the run even better than they already did.
11. New York Giants – This is too high for the Giants. The Giants are getting a lot of hype this year. To be successful, you need to have at least a decent run game, which in case you haven’t noticed, the Giants do not have. The Giants scored 2.8 points per game last year on the run. That’s just terrible. Okay, Brandon Marshall gives Eli an extra guy to target, but Eli must actually feed him the ball instead of feeding the defenders with picks. You can still count on the Giants being highly competitive this year with that defense though. It’s hard to have a better defense when you have Landon Collins and Jason Pierre-Paul. The run defense was unique last year in the sense that they somewhat struggled against the run in terms of yards per game, but they were extremely successful of keeping running backs out of the end zone, allowing just 0.4 rushing touchdowns per game.
10. Arizona Cardinals – I love this placement of the Cardinals. In fact, they should be ranked above the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos. They had a bad year last year, but I think they will come back closer to the 2015 Cardinals you saw and loved. They weren’t incredibly impressive at stopping the run last year, and losing Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson and Alex Okafor will only hurt that even more. However, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu are still in the secondary, and rookie Haasan Reddick is supposed to be impressive in coverage. Despite their poor 2016 season, the Cardinals were still able to rank in the top 10 offensively. Expect that not to change.
9. Denver Broncos – This is right where the Broncos belong. I would even say they are better than their other AFC West foes, the Raiders and Chiefs. Why? Their defense. Excluding the Broncos, the NFL Team average number of passing points allowed per game last year was 11.1. The Broncos allowed 5.6 points per game through the air. The next best in the NFL was the Seahawks and Giants with 7.7. That’s absurd. I expect Trevor Siemian to start, and he has shown he can be a decent quarterback.
8. Kansas City Chiefs – This is roughly where I would rank the Chiefs right now (maybe slightly lower). I would put the Chiefs just over the Raiders. The Chiefs are a more well-rounded team. It also helps when you score 3.5 non-offensive points a game. Tyreek Hill is the best returner in the league right now. Alex Smith isn’t very exciting, but he has something to play for while first round draft pick Patrick Mahomes takes a year to develop.
7. Oakland Raiders – This is way too high for the Raiders. I’m not saying the Raiders aren’t good. They just got a little lucky last year. And luck is a good thing, but it doesn’t usually carry over season to season. They have a solid offense, but despite having Khalil Mack, they ranked among the worst defenses against the run and below average against the pass. I think there are other teams this year with more talent.
6. Dallas Cowboys – This is a little too high for the Cowboys. And I’m not just saying that because of the mess surrounding Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys lost Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and JJ Wilcox in the secondary, and they have David Irving on suspension for the first 4 games. Dallas didn’t have a great defense to begin with. Now they are in big trouble. Let’s hope Dak can keep his spark because it is looking like the Cowboys will take a slight decline this year and maybe even miss the playoffs.
5. Green Bay Packers – Uhhh…what? Are we ranking passing offenses or whole teams? The Packers absolutely do not belong at #5. In fact, I would put them somewhere in the middle. Yes, I know they have Aaron Rodgers and many different good receivers, but we cannot ignore that terrible secondary. Not to mention they lost Micah Hyde and didn’t get anyone better to fill his place, which makes the terrible secondary even more terrible. I do like the addition of Martellus Bennett, which should help their great passing offense become even more greater.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers will be good this year, and they earn this spot. An overall solid team. Big Ben, Antonio Brown, Le’veon Bell and the offensive line are a force not to be reckoned with. The defense looks good as well with Ryan Shazier, Cameron Heyward, Mike Mitchell, Bud Dupree and veteran James Harrison. It’s hard to find a weakness. So just like I said the Seahawks will be the Seahawks again. Well, the Steelers will also be the Steelers again.
3. Seattle Seahawks – I have no problem at all with this ranking. With one of the worst offensive lines in the league, it’s amazing how the Seahawks continue being so good. Maybe it has something to do with both Russell Wilson and that defense. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas III are going to be back at it again. And that is just the secondary… Don’t forget about Bobby Wagner, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Yes, the Seahawks will be the same ol’ Seahawks.
2. Atlanta Falcons – Is #2 too high for a team that just blew an embarrassing 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl? I know the Falcons can suffer from this hangover, but don’t count on it. The Falcons are a great team, and if just one of the several events of that 4th quarter in the Super Bowl never happened, the Patriots would not be the talk of the NFL right now. Last time I checked, the Falcons still have some players named Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. The addition of Dontari Poe to their defense certainly will do nothing but help. The Falcons deserve this preseason rank.
1. New England Patriots – No surprise. Many believe there is no point to the 2017 NFL season because the Patriots are going to win it by default. The defending Super Bowl champions just got a lot better. Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore, David Harris and Mike Gillislee are among newcomers to the organization. Oh, and they still have Tom Brady. You may have heard of him. He is pretty good. This ranking is undoubtedly where the Patriots belong.
My thoughts on these rankings don’t indicate how I feel a team will finish at the end of the season. There are some teams I have ranked low but I feel will have a good record (and vice versa). The rankings are from a pure talent point of view. For example, I have the Texans ranked very poorly compared to the Power Rankings, but I still think they could make the playoffs as a 9-7 or 10-6 team. There is a lot to say about strength of schedule. Maybe I will write about that next.