NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand After the Draft?
Every team is undefeated right now.
Every team just added a bunch of exciting players in the draft. That means every team is undefeated AND on the rise right now. It kind of makes power rankings a drag. Shouldn't all 32 teams be tied at No. 1?
Not really. We all know the Patriots rank above the Jaguars. Even hard-core 49ers fans are braced to see their team slip in the preseason rankings. The Dolphins certainly look a little better than they did last season. The Packers have not changed much, but how much did they really have to change?
So we start with last year’s performance. I use Football Outsiders DVOA, not win-loss records, and we add or subtract free agents, trades and retirements. But there is more to a good power ranking than just that. A good draft class can have a big impact, particularly on a weak team. A bad draft class—or a draft that is so focused on three years down the road that it provides little immediate help (hello, Bengals and Seahawks), can cause some ranking slippage. New coaches and coordinators have an impact. And then there is player development: A young team with lots of budding talent should have a projection edge over a team that is growing old at several positions. You may see that phenomenon at work as you search for the Rams, Vikings, Cardinals and Saints.
Throw all the variables onto a spreadsheet, crunch some numbers and you get a pretty good power ranking. Then, if you are like me, you fudge a bit. But not too much. Surprising results could be mistakes, but they could also be revelations.
Here are my post-draft power rankings. They are as meaningless as they are entertaining.
32. Washington Redskins
Last Year's Record: 4-12
Biggest Acquisition: General manager Scot McCloughan is the key new face; all of the other Redskins moves flow from his vision. McCloughan refurbished the roster with lots of cost-effective acquisitions (Stephen Paea, Pot Roast Knighton, Chris Culliver, the draft haul) instead of blowing the traditional huge cash money wads on big names.
Biggest Departure: Roy Helu was a quality change-up back, and Brian Orakpo was a dangerous pass-rusher during rare periods of health. But the Redskins suffered few departures. Even in places where the Redskins could use a little pruning—like the three-headed quarterback quagmire—the Redskins stood surprisingly pat.
Little Move That Mattered: Niles Paul is a valuable all-purpose special teamer who can play a role on offense. Kai Forbath is consistent, if unspectacular, on field goals and kickoffs. The Redskins re-signed both. Special teams have been a problem for years, so it was wise to keep core players who aren't part of the problem.
Draft in a Nutshell: McCloughan sprayed 10 new picks across a roster full of needs. Brandon Scherff will stabilize right tackle. Jamison Crowder could become a quarterback's binky as a slot receiver.
Best-Case Scenario: Robert Griffin III regains control of both his life's narrative and the team. The pass defense regroups. A general sense of dignity returns, and the rising tide raises all boats into the wild-card picture.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Redskins rank last because they have been near the bottom of the NFL in all three facets of the game for two years and suffered a system failure at the end of last season. All of the infrastructure work they have done should stave off 4-12, but the Redskins can improve in a lot of ways and still end up 6-10.
31. Oakland Raiders
Last Year's Record: 3-13
Biggest Acquisition: Jack Del Rio and his staff have more vision and direction than that last guy (what was his name?). Rookie Amari Cooper instantly upgrades a talent-poor offense. Little things like an upgraded team practice facility will help the Raiders creep into the 21st century.
Biggest Departure: Most of last year's geezer coalition has either retired or moved on: Maurice Jones-Drew hung up the cleats, LaMarr Woodley is telling old Steelers stories with Bruce Arians in Arizona and Matt Schaub kept nodding and pretending to understand what Marc Trestman was talking about until the Ravens inexplicably signed him.
Little Move That Mattered: Jack Del Rio is the new head coach, but coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has all the buzz. He brings a valuable mix of motivation, fundamentals and scheme to the table.
Draft in a Nutshell: Cooper adds all-around playmaking ability to a passing game that could only net 9.5 yards per completion last season. Del Rio and Norton added gobs of linebackers in later rounds to get Khalil Mack a little help.
Best-Case Scenario: Seven wins would be dandy if they came with real signs of progress: a leap forward for Derek Carr (more than 5.5 yards per attempt would be swell), 40 sacks, four yards per rush and other indicators that a plan has finally taken shape.
Worst-Case Scenario: All of the headlines involve Los Angeles, San Antonio, Madrid…
30. Cleveland Browns
Last Year’s Record: 7-9
Biggest Acquisition: Dwayne Bowe was never a terrible receiver, just a terribly overpriced one. Bowe's price is now closer to right (he eats just $4.5 million in cap this season), and he brings professionalism to what has become a familiar situation for him: the role of sturdy No. 2 receiver on a team with no No. 1 and no No. 3.
Biggest Departure: Buster Skrine's absence will be felt in the secondary, but Jordan Cameron was the canary in the Browns coal mine. His eagerness to move on revealed just how poisonous the Browns atmosphere was during the dark period when Johnny Manziel had just entered rehab and general manager Ray Farmer was facing NFL discipline.
Little Move That Mattered: Holding off at quarterback in the draft sent the message that Manziel can still put himself back into the team's plans.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Browns beefed up in the trenches with safe, stout picks like defensive tackle Danny Shelton and center Cam Erving while going into utter denial about the desperate state of their receiving corps. When they finally drafted a receiver, it was Vince Mayle, whose best trait is his nasty special teams defense. A more sensible draft in the middle rounds could have moved the Browns up six or seven spots in these power rankings. You don't draft for need, but you don't go out of your way to avoid drafting for need either.
Best-Case Scenario: The Browns front seven wins a lot of games for them while Manziel gets his life and career on track. The Browns muster a .500 record out of wins by scores like 16-10.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Browns average 16.7 points. Per month.
29. Chicago Bears
Last Year's Record: 5-11
Biggest Acquisition: Pernell McPhee and Antrel Rolle spearhead a defensive free-agent surge that should be at least slightly more effective than last year's defensive free-agent surge. John Fox, Adam Gase and Vic Fangio bring a restored sense of law and order.
Biggest Departure: Is Jay Cutler gone yet? No? OK. How about now? Still no? Let's move on then. Brandon Marshall remains the NFL's dream boat: The second-happiest day of a general manager's tenure is when he trades for Marshall. The happiest day of a general manager's tenure is when he trades Marshall away. Assistant coach Aaron Kromer is also gone, so everyone is allowed to feel good about themselves again.
Little Move That Mattered: The Bears brought in a lot of underpriced defensive veterans: Mason Foster, Sam Acho, Alan Ball, Ray McDonald and others. It's a collection of troubled talents, injury cases and journeymen, but it will create competition and prevent collapses like the Bears suffered in 2013 and 2014.
Draft in a Nutshell: New general manager Ryan Pace played Whack-a-Need. Kevin White replaces Marshall, Eddie Goldman adds yet another beefy defensive line prospect, Hroniss Grasu is the center of the future and Jeremy Langford will reduce the team's reliance on fossil Matt Forte.
Best-Case Scenario: A renewed sense of hope sweeps the roster. There's playoff talent here if the prospects develop and the veterans don't go into paycheck mode.
Worst-Case Scenario: The prospects don’t develop and the veterans go into paycheck mode.
28. Atlanta Falcons
Last Year's Record: 6-10
Biggest Acquisition: Vic Beasley and Jalen Collins will be a big part of the Seahawksification of the Falcons defense. Beasley is the kind of exciting young edge-rusher the team has lacked for years. Collins is a Seahawks-sized cornerback who slipped into the second round because of character whispers and could be a steal.
Biggest Departure: Head coach Mike Smith was the major departure of the offseason. His tenure had run its course, and the Falcons appear ready to embrace innovation on both sides of the ball.
Little Move That Mattered: The Falcons re-signed Kroy Biermann, who is not flashy but handles the run well, hustles for some sacks, makes plays in pursuit and handles pass coverage so well that the last coaching staff got a little carried away and had him race up the seam.
Draft in a Nutshell: After Beasley and Collins, the Falcons added breakaway runner Tevin Coleman and slot specialist Justin Hardy. Grady Jarrett is a tough guy defensive tackle. The Falcons would get an A-plus if this were a draft grade slideshow.
Best-Case Scenario: A change of leadership is just what the doctor ordered, and the Falcons finally start to see some dividends from their last three drafts, which all looked rock-solid on paper.
Worst-Case Scenario: More of 2013-14, with inexperienced defenders tripping over each other while they learn their roles and Matt Ryan enduring sacks and losing 41-28 games during a veteran prime that won't last forever.
27. Tennessee Titans
Last Year's Record: 2-14
Biggest Acquisition: Marcus Mariota and Brian Orakpo are two recognizable players with blue-chip potential, bringing the Titans' overall total to three. Dorial Green-Beckham could make it four.
Biggest Departure: Jake Locker's retirement ends four years of waiting and wishing at quarterback. But the retirement of team president Tommy Smith will have longer-term ramifications. Interim team president Steve Underwood does not plan to make coaching or executive changes (or sell the team, move, etc.), but he's still an "interim" president; anything is possible once Underwood and the Adams-Smith family chooses a permanent CEO.
Little Move That Mattered: Perrish Cox's cornerback play slipped last season as the 49ers season descended into a gritty Netflix series. He's a capable starter for a team that needs capable starters.
Draft in a Nutshell: Mariota and DGB drastically reshaped the Titans offense. The NFL's most anonymous team is suddenly fascinating. Even later picks like David Cobb, Jalston Fowler and Tre McBride offer excitement. The Titans will be fun to play on Madden!
Best-Case Scenario: Ken Whisenhunt updates his stand-still-and-stare-sir offensive system to accommodate Mariota's gifts. All of the new offensive playmakers (and old ones like Kendall Wright) start making plays. Orakpo and Jurrell Casey drive the pass rush. The Titans reach .500 on an upward trajectory.
Worst-Case Scenario: Whisenhunt sticks his mobile quarterback in the pocket, and the Titans have the Memphis blues again.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Year's Record: 3-13
Biggest Acquisition: Julius Thomas gives Blake Bortles a dangerous and reliable target over the middle.
Biggest Departure: Other than Cecil Shorts, the Jaguars haven't lost much. When ya ain't got nothin', ya got nothin' to lose.
Little Move That Mattered: The Jaguars had real issues at center last year. Stefen Wisniewski will stabilize the position.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Jaguars weren't drafting desperately for once. Dante Fowler Jr. was a low-risk addition. T.J. Yeldon went a little too high but adds big-play capability to the backfield. Michael Bennett may have been a late steal as a penetrating defensive tackle.
Best-Case Scenario: Thomas joins Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Rashad Greene to give Bortles one of the best young receiving corps in the league. Fowler, Chris Clemons and Sen'Derrick Marks create a tone-setting front four. Several years of careful rebuilding finally reap some dividends.
Worst-Case Scenario: Blake Bortles has a tired arm. It's hard to really get the bandwagon revving when you hear things like "the second-year quarterback has a tired arm."
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Year's Record: 2-14.
Biggest Acquisition: Jameis Winston. 'Nuff said.
Biggest Departure: Jeff Tedford never got the chance to be Lovie Smith's major-domo and offensive wingman. Dirk Koetter's arrival will alleviate the confusion that marred the start of last season for the Buccaneers, when Tedford's heart condition kept him from the stadium and even snap counts sometimes seemed like an unsolvable mystery. But it would have been interesting to see what Tedford could do with Jameis Winston…or if Tedford would have endorsed Winston.
Little Move That Mattered: Retaining Vincent Jackson despite his hefty $12 million cap figure made sense for a team that needs extra leaders more than extra dollars. Jackson is fading fast as a player, but few people can better teach someone like Winston how to grow into a professional.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Bucs drafted tackle Donovan Smith and center/guard Ali Marpet to firm up Winston's pocket. The secondary did not get reinforcements, but inexpensive free agents (Chris Conte, Sterling Moore) with Cover 2 experience and some re-signings to maintain continuity should help there.
Best-Case Scenario: The defense finally hears the Cover 2 gospel according to Lovie. Winston's rookie lumps are no lumpier than anyone else's. In a weak division, with core players like Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy setting the tone, nine or 10 wins are possible. Think 2005 Bears, when Kyle Orton was Kid Whiskey but the defense led the way.
Worst-Case Scenario: Every year with an interception-happy quarterback shaves time off Lovie's sentence in purgatory. Winston takes his coach straight to heaven this year.
24. Carolina Panthers
Last Year's Record: 7-8-1
Biggest Acquisition: The Panthers are still in credit-repair mode, so big acquisitions are not part of the fiscal plan. Ted Ginn's return adds a deep threat and solid return man. Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin may be the only offensive linemen in history (let's throw Tony Mandarich in here) to be more famous than good.
Biggest Departure: DeAngelo Williams wasn't the most budget-friendly running back, but he bridged the Jake Delhomme and Cam Newton eras and found ways to earn at least a percentage of his salary whenever healthy. Greg Hardy is also gone; try to fight back those tears.
Little Move That Mattered: Jordan Todman can return kicks and play several roles as a committee back. He's the kind of useful spare part the Panthers have had a hard time developing recently.
Draft in a Nutshell: Shaq Thompson and Devin Funchess are gamble-on-greatness types. Daryl Williams is a tough guy for an offensive line that got a lot of dirt kicked in its face last season. Cameron Artis-Payne is a productive no-nonsense runner who could be part of an all-new Dual Cam Auburn Offense.
Best-Case Scenario: All of the players who blossomed during last year's unlikely playoff surge—Bene' Benwikere, Tre Boston, Trai Turner, etc.—continue to make progress. With some real receivers and blockers, Cam Newton suddenly looks like a better decision-maker. The Panthers become a legitimate playoff team again, as opposed to a technicality playoff team.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Panthers looked like one of the worst teams in football in November, and most of the principal characters are still around. If the late turnaround was a mirage, the Panthers could be headed for a regime change.
23. San Francisco 49ers
Last Year's Record: 8-8
Biggest Acquisition: Torrey Smith reunites with Anquan Boldin and brings big-play capability to a passing game that got bogged down in endless short passes last season.
Biggest Departure: Let's put it this way: Frank Gore was the 49ers' all-time rushing leader coming off his fourth straight 1,000-yard season and was one of the most respected veterans in the locker room. On the "biggest departure" list, he ranks fourth at most.
Little Move That Mattered: Darnell Dockett probably has little left in the tank: 33-year-old 290-pounders coming off ACL surgery rarely have career years. But his signing sent a message that the 49ers were still open for business at a point in the offseason when it sounded like someone pulled a fire alarm, and Dockett can also prevent a leadership vacuum.
Draft in a Nutshell: The 49ers focused on defensive players with raw tools, grabbing Arik Armstead, Eli Harold and Jaquiski Tartt to add a prospect to each defensive layer. They also drafted a punter (Bradley Pinion) for some reason.
Best-Case Scenario: The 49ers' 2013 and 2014 draft classes drew rave reviews, and while some of the prize prospects from those classes are already gone (Marcus Lattimore, Chris Borland), the depth chart is loaded with players like Tank Carradine, Brandon Thomas, Jimmie Ward, Aaron Lynch, Carlos Hyde and others who received rapturous draft-weekend scouting reports. If those prospects were as good as advertised, Colin Kaepernick gets back on track and the coaching staff is competent, the 49ers can bounce back to something not far from 2013 form.
Worst-Case Scenario: Everyone retires by Memorial Day.
22. New Orleans Saints
Last Year's Record: 7-9
Biggest Acquisition: Max Unger headlines a fascinating group of veterans (C.J. Spiller, Brandon Browner and Dannell Ellerbe are others) acquired via trade or low-priced free agency as the Saints used trade jiujitsu to wrestle their salary cap to the mat.
Biggest Departure: In Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, the Saints were forced to trade away 148 receptions, 1,820 yards and 13 touchdowns. Worst of all, the trades still did not wake the Saints up from their cap nightmare, though it was better to add pieces like Unger for one more Super Bowl surge than stand still and let the roster erode.
Little Move That Mattered: Seventh-round pick Marcus Murphy could end up returning kicks and punts and doing some of the things on offense Darren Sproles used to do.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Saints selected six defensive players, including big inside linebacker Stephone Anthony and NCAA sack king Hau'oli Kikaha, in an effort to get Rob Ryan's defense to live up to its reputation. Garrett Grayson's arrival is a sign that the Saints know what is coming soon.
Best-Case Scenario: The Saints project to have one of the NFL's easiest schedules, according to Football Outsiders (via ESPN.com). Twelve of their 16 games could take place indoors, based on who opens their roof on the road, and the Saints host the Cowboys and Lions, two teams that could dictate playoff tiebreaks if all goes well and the Saints recapture some of their pre-2014 glory.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Sean Payton-Drew Brees era has run its course, and all of the creative trading and drafting in the world cannot stop the unravelling.
21. New York Giants
Last Year's Record: 6-10
Biggest Acquisition: For the Giants, ordering an extra helping of dry toast with breakfast is considered a "big acquisition." Even a shakeup at defensive coordinator simply brought back a familiar face in Steve Spagnuolo. Among newcomers, Shane Vereen will make the biggest impact: The team needed a quick veteran receiver out of the backfield.
Biggest Departure: Antrel Rolle missed a ton of tackles last season, and his "leadership" had soured into that Tiki Barber territory where he started enjoying his own sound bites a little too much. He was still effective in coverage, however, and was one of the few remaining links to the Super Bowl defenses.
Little Move That Mattered: As usual, the Giants stressed bench continuity, re-signing veteran role players like Mark Herzlich, Henry Hynoski and Daniel Fells. When their system works (see 2011), the Giants can use familiarity to trump talent.
Draft in a Nutshell: After upgrading a porous offensive line with Ereck Flowers, the Giants had to cope with the fact that there were almost zero safeties on their payroll. Landon Collins will replace Rolle; Mykkele Thompson is more of a prospect/project.
Best-Case Scenario: The Giants are due for one of their tortoise-beats-31-hares seasons where they barely scrape into the playoffs, then win the Super Bowl. If Victor Cruz gets healthy to team with Odell Beckham and the running back depth stays deep, this could be an explosive offense.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Giants get tired of getting injured one at a time and just unleash the TS-19 virus. More realistically, Ben McAdoo's system never fully grafts onto Eli Manning's skill set, and the Giants bob around the middle of the NFC East standings for another forgettable season.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Last Year's Record: 11-5
Biggest Acquisition: Mike Iupati is an instant upgrade on an offensive line that never quite seems to come together. If Jonathan Cooper can finally get healthy and reach his potential, the Cardinals will have one of the league's best guard tandems.
Biggest Departure: Darnell Dockett was a Cardinals institution, and Antonio Cromartie could still take over games when he tuned in to the quarterback's wavelength, but defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was a master tactician and motivator who could do more with less than most coaches.
Little Move That Mattered: Extending the contracts of Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim through 2018 will provide stability that the Cardinals organization has usually lacked over the last 65 years or so.
Draft in a Nutshell: D.J. Humphries completed the offensive line rebuild; the Cardinals should not have to worry about who their fourth-string quarterback is this season. After that, most of the moves focused on restocking the depleted front seven.
Best-Case Scenario: The offensive line clicks together, Carson Palmer has time to throw, the running back committee shines and the Cardinals fight their way to the top of a nasty division.
Worst-Case Scenario: The NFC West meat grinder takes its toll, and veterans like Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Calais Campbell take a step backward before replacements can take a step forward. In the NFC West, it's easy to wind up the league's best last-place team.
19. Minnesota Vikings
Last Year's Record: 7-9
Biggest Acquisition: Mike Wallace washed out in Miami but arrives in Minnesota with lower expectations, a reduced salary and something to prove. And, for the record, he did catch 67 passes and score 10 touchdowns last year.
Biggest Departure: The Vikings suffered few major departures. Wallace's arrival offsets the loss of Greg Jennings, who never really fit. Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder are gone, so the quarterback depth chart is nice and tidy with Teddy Bridgewater at the wheel and Shaun Hill at the clipboard.
Little Move That Mattered: Standing pat on Adrian Peterson may prove to be the wise move in the long run. Despite all the agent posturing of recent weeks, Peterson is too much of a pro to hold out or malinger. Even at 80 percent efficiency due to age and rust, he can take a lot of pressure off Bridgewater.
Draft in a Nutshell: Trae Waynes gives the Vikings the nucleus of a playoff-caliber secondary, along with Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Captain Munnerlyn and great uncle Terence Newman. Eric Kendricks firms up middle linebacker. T.J. Clemmings is a steal on the line if his injury history was overblown.
Best-Case Scenario: All of the talent the Vikings have drafted and crafted for three years coalesces into an 11-win team.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Vikings have the second-toughest schedule in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. They face the NFC West and AFC West, as well as tough Lions and Packers teams in their own division. The Vikings could be a much better team in 2015, yet finish 8-8.
18. New York Jets
Last Year's Record: 4-12
Biggest Acquisition: Todd Bowles brings 95 percent of Rex Ryan's motivation and inspiration and 0.05 percent of his nonsense. General manager Mike Maccagnan appears to be aggressive but not reckless. Offensive coordinator Chad Gailey is an offensive MacGyver. The new brain trust is exciting. Also, the Jets signed every cornerback on earth, including several old friends.
Biggest Departure: Rex Ryan and John Idzik made strange bedfellows at the end of the Ryan era. Their strange experiments in the acquisition of frustrating big-name offensive talent (Chris Johnson, Percy Harvin, Michael Vick) have been purged from the roster.
Little Move That Mattered: Calvin Pace is old and on the decline, but he is still an effective run-stopper and roster stabilizer. Maccagnan picked up his contract option, and Pace can help smooth the Ryan/Bowles transition.
Draft in a Nutshell: Bryce Petty is about to colonize a huge swatch of New York's consciousness, but the Jets also got the best player in the draft in Leonard Williams, added a potential home-run threat in Devin Smith and stole Jarvis Harrison to beef up the interior offensive line.
Best-Case Scenario: The Jets might have the best secondary and the best defensive line in the NFL right now. Prop up any decent quarterback behind the wheel of one of Gailey's custom jalopy offenses, and the Jets can manufacture enough 17-10 wins to secure a playoff berth.
Worst-Case Scenario: Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Petty are capable of causing three distinct flavors of heartbreak. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie enter power saver mode if the offense descends into quarterback anarchy. The Jets turn out to be only slightly better than last year, but much more Jets-like.
17. San Diego Chargers
Last Year's Record: 9-7
Biggest Acquisition: Rookie running back Melvin Gordon can be the bell cow the team hoped Ryan Mathews could become. The Chargers wanted to pound the ball up the middle last season but never had a healthy running back (or center) to do the job right.
Biggest Departure: Nick Hardwick got hurt in the season opener last year and retired this offseason. Chris Watt showed some promise after weeks of calamity at center in San Diego; he enters 2015 with some huge shoes to fill.
Little Move That Mattered: Philip Rivers and the team threw soapy water on weeks of trade rumors and speculation just before the draft. Rivers may not be the Chargers quarterback in 2016, but there is no controversy entering 2015.
Draft in a Nutshell: Gordon headlines a small class. Denzel Perryman is a heart-and-hustle linebacker to pair with Manti Te'o in a matched set.
Best-Case Scenario: The Chargers would have been an 11-win team last year with a durable running back and a half-decent center. It’s easy to forget that Rivers was an MVP candidate in mid-October. That Rivers and those Chargers could return for a deep playoff run.
Worst-Case Scenario: A dull season of .500 football and nonstop relocation and Rivers contract talk.
16. Detroit Lions
Last Year’s Record: 11-5
Biggest Acquisition: Trading for Haloti Ngata took much of the sting out of the Lions' biggest departure.
Biggest Departure: Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley should have been the greatest tackle tandem of the decade. And they did have their moments. But they never managed to both be healthy, motivated and playing smart football at the same until their salary-cap clocks were about to expire.
Little Move That Mattered: Bringing Manny Ramirez back in a draft-day trade helped stabilize the interior line and will upgrade a running game that constantly let the Lions down in 2014.
Draft in a Nutshell: A nifty slide-'n'-draft deal with the Broncos netted two solid interior offensive linemen: Ramirez via trade and Laken Tomlinson late in the first round. Ameer Abdullah will do all the things Reggie Bush was supposed to do. It was a cheap, efficient offensive redesign.
Best-Case Scenario: A consistent running game takes pressure off Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. The defense holds steady. The Lions return to the playoffs and catch a break or two once they are there.
Worst-Case Scenario: 2014 was lightning in a bottle, Teryl Austin's defensive magic wears off without a dominant defensive line and the Lions become a .500 team facing another set of hard decisions about hyper-expensive core players.
15. Houston Texans
Last Year's Record: 9-7
Biggest Acquisition: Vince Wilfork is a massive guy, but he doesn't come with a massive cap figure or massive expectations. He'll engulf blockers aiming for J.J. Watt for 30 snaps per game and tell inspirational Patriots tales to the youngins. The Texans passed on a spending spree this year, giving themselves lots of future cap flexibility.
Biggest Departure: Andre Johnson is arguably the most recognizable and significant player in Texans history, though J.J. Watt is about half a sack from overtaking him. Johnson was also the target of over 38 percent of the Texans' pass attempts last season. He won't easily be immediately replaced by DeAndre Hopkins or Jaelen Strong.
Little Move That Mattered: By swapping out Ryan Fitzpatrick for Brian Hoyer, Bill O'Brien made the quarterback battle a two-man Ryan Mallett-Tom Savage race. Fitzpatrick had folk hero tendencies that would have complicated matters. Hoyer has "designated veteran backup" stamped on his fanny.
Draft in a Nutshell: Kevin Johnson offers secondary depth, but the Day 2 picks will have greater impact. Strong and Hopkins will grow into a formidable receiving tandem in the years to come, while linebacker Benardrick McKinney is a downhill thumper who will give the Texans one too many guys to block when Romeo Crennel draws up a blitz.
Best-Case Scenario: Fifty sacks, 1,500 Arian Foster rushing yards, a playoff appearance and a firm sense of who the quarterback will be moving forward.
Worst-Case Scenario: If Watt were to get injured, the Texans would struggle to go 5-11.
14. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Year's Record: 10-5-1
Biggest Acquisition: Michael Johnson returns after a year about Lovie Smith's pirate ship to help a pass rush that recorded just 20 sacks last season.
Biggest Departure: The Bengals don't really lose players. It's like Gilligan's Island: Guest stars can come and go as they please, but the core cast never gets anywhere.
Little Move That Mattered: The Bengals extended Marv Lewis' contract for another year and exercised their fifth-year options on both Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler. They change by not changing at all.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Bengals added offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, who will add depth in 2015. Then things got even less interesting! But seriously, Paul Dawson and Tyler Kroft livened things up in the third round: Dawson has high-impact potential at linebacker, and Kroft will be a pesky H-back.
Best-Case Scenario: The Bengals win 10 or 11 games and lose in the first round of the playoffs.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Bengals win 10 or 11 games and lose in the first round of the playoffs.
No, seriously, the Bengals' strategy of standing perfectly still and waiting for the AFC to move around them may finally pay off if Peyton Manning deteriorates, age and cap issues weigh down the Steelers and Ravens and the AFC East finally drags the Patriots down a notch or two. But man, this has been one heck of a long con.
13. St. Louis Rams
Last Year's Record: 6-10
Biggest Acquisition: Todd Gurley is the player Jeff Fisher has been looking for since Eddie George got old and crumbled to dust while standing in the Titans huddle. Gurley can make the Rams the team Jeff Fisher wants them to be; think of 40 handoffs and 10 play-action passes as the ideal game plan.
Biggest Departure: The Sam Bradford trade ends what was essentially an era of injury limbo. The release of left tackle Jake Long changes the complexion of an offensive line that has been a money-and-resource sink in recent years.
Little Move That Mattered: Releasing both Long and Scott Wells while letting Joe Barksdale drift in free agency made the Rams' draft strategy crystal clear while sending the message that the team was ready to cut bait on past mistakes.
Draft in a Nutshell: Gurley, then blocker, blocker, more blockers, lots of blockers, extra blockers and some offensive linemen. Sean Mannion provides developmental quarterback intrigue behind Nick Foles.
Best-Case Scenario: Gurley is ready to play in the season opener, five offensive linemen emerge from the crowd, the Rams defensive line lives up to its billing and the Rams become the scariest trench warriors in the league, going 11-5 on the strength of final scores like 19-6.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Rams figure out a way of losing shutouts.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Year's Record: 11-5
Biggest Acquisition: Senquez Golson will be the most scrutinized second-round rookie heading into an NFL training camp this year. The tiny, talented, gritty defender is expected to start right away. Will he thrive? Will he need a ladder to cover A.J. Green? In a depleted secondary, Golson must grow up fast.
Biggest Departure: We will miss you, Troy Polamalu. Thanks for taking Ike Taylor with you.
Little Move That Mattered: DeAngelo Williams will get the Steelers through Le'Veon Bell's suspension (which includes the Patriots game), then settle into a role as the change-up back Todd Haley hates for some reason.
Draft in a Nutshell: Golson and fourth-round pick Doran Grant are the reinforcements in the secondary. The Steelers always assume an outside pass-rusher can solve all other problems, so they grabbed workout wonder Bud Dupree in the first round. Sammie Coates adds more youth and depth to a deep young receiving corps.
Best-Case Scenario: Ben Roethlisberger drops at least 28 points per game with the help of a loaded skill position corps. Teams trying to exploit the Steelers secondary playing catchup get harassed by Dupree and a rebuilt pass rush. The Steelers challenge as Super Bowl contenders.
Worst-Case Scenario: The pass defense collapses, leading to losses against the Patriots, Colts and Broncos, plus a 1-3 record against the Bengals and Ravens. Farewell, playoff hopes.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Year's Record: 9-7
Biggest Acquisition: Jeremy Maclin replaces Dwayne Bowe and gives the Chiefs a more dynamic all-around deep threat. Ben Grubbs upgrades the offensive line.
Biggest Departure: As mentioned a moment ago, Dwayne Bowe is gone. Ever see one of those spy movies where the plane is too heavy to gain altitude, and they dump everything to make it lighter, but nothing works until one of the heroes bravely leaps from the plane himself? The Chiefs salary cap was kind of like that spy plane.
Little Move That Mattered: Keeping Tamba Hali will take some sting out of the Summer of Justin Houston's Discontent.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Chiefs addressed their thin secondary by selecting ornery cornerback Marcus Peters and mighty mite Steven Nelson. Chris Conley and Da'Ron Brown are big, high-effort receivers. Some picks felt like reaches (like center-guard Mitch Morse in the second round), but both Andy Reid and Bob Sutton have some very specific system-fit preferences.
Best-Case Scenario: Last year's Chiefs plus a receiving corps that can contribute three or four big plays per month equals a serious challenger to overtake the Broncos.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Chiefs can hover above .500 as long as Jamaal Charles is healthy, Justin Houston is motivated and Andy Reid and Bob Sutton have everyone ready to play every Sunday. But are the Chiefs building toward anything? Another season of 9-7 is going to feel like wheel-spinning.
10. Miami Dolphins
Last Year's Record: 8-8
Biggest Acquisition: Ndamukong Suh maybe?
Biggest Departure: Most of the Dolphins' losses were of overpaid, overrated holdovers from a misguided splurge two seasons ago; a few, like defensive tackle Randy Starks, were sacrificed in the name of upgrades. But Charles Clay was a multiposition contributor the Dolphins did not want to lose. Replacement Jordan Cameron is good, but he is neither as durable or as versatile.
Little Move That Mattered: The Dolphins scooped up running back Jay Ajayi in the fifth round of the draft. Ajayi has injury and fumble issues, and he sometimes runs 30 yards sideways instead of four yards up the field. But he also flashes LeSean McCoy-type talent. If he gets healthy and holds on to the ball, he can be a steal.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Dolphins really draft with confidence these days. DeVante Parker gives the Dolphins receiving corps outstanding depth. Jordan Phillips can be the Nick Fairley to Suh's Suh. Ajayi was a sleeper. The Dolphins are accentuating strengths instead of filling needs or grabbing guys.
Best-Case Scenario: This is the year when everything finally, finally, finally pays off.
Worst-Case Scenario: Joe Philbin swallows his tongue while making critical in-game decisions, Suh gives him a wedgie in frustration and Ryan Tannehill proves that he plateaued as a .500-caliber quarterback, at best, after years of sacks and confusion.
9. Baltimore Ravens
Last Year's Record: 10-6
Biggest Acquisition: Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams restock a receiving corps that lost Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels to free agency. Perriman should grow into a more versatile weapon than bomb-or-nothing Smith. Williams was the best tight end in a weak class: He's not a craftsman like Daniels, but he has size and hands.
Biggest Departure: Haloti Ngata was a critical table-setter for Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and the other Ravens defensive playmakers. As usual, the team has a pretty good replacement in the pipeline (Timmy Jernigan), but Ngata will still be missed.
Little Move That Mattered: Chris Canty is a solid run-stuffer. Lawrence Guy is a low-cost, serviceable pass-rusher and situational defender. The Ravens re-signed them both. They add up to one pretty good starter.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Ravens selected a lot of one-for-one replacements: Perriman for Smith, Williams for Daniels, Carl Davis for Ngata, Za'Darius Smith for Pernell McPhee. It was a departure from past years, when Ozzie Newsome just grabbed talented bodies and counted on player development to fill free-agent holes.
Best-Case Scenario: The replacements mature quickly, Marc Trestman's offense gives the team a different look and the Ravens enjoy one of their business-as-usual 11-win seasons.
Worst-Case Scenario: It's 2013 all over again: The Ravens cannot compensate for all of their losses on both sides of the ball and struggle to hang around .500.
8. Buffalo Bills
Last Season's Record: 10-6
Biggest Acquisition: Rex Ryan is a pretty big acquisition, and he comes with outsized ambitions. LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin and Charles Clay give the Bills offensive playmakers who can make a barely competent quarterback look like a star on the stat sheet. Which is good, because the Bills are lousy with barely competent quarterbacks.
Biggest Departure: The Bills have more than compensated for most of their departures: McCoy for C.J. Spiller, Clay for Scott Chandler.
Little Move That Mattered: Re-signing Jerry Hughes kept the Bills out of the pricey pass-rusher market and maintained continuity on one of the NFL's best front sevens.
Draft in a Nutshell: With no first-round pick because of the Sammy Watkins trade and most of the offense overhauled with veterans, the Bills quietly added a blazingly fast cornerback prospect (Ronald Darby) and some spare parts in the draft. The team ignored quarterback altogether; at press time, the Bills did not even sign a rookie free agent.
Best-Case Scenario: The 2009-10 Jets ride again, only with a more explosive offense.
Worst-Case Scenario: The 2012 Jets ride again, only this time no one is really paying attention.
7. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Year's Record: 10-6
Biggest Acquisition: On New Year's Eve, Jeffrey Lurie burst into Chip Kelly's office and thrust personnel control of the Eagles into the hands of the reluctant head coach. (Note: This might be a slightly slanted version of events.) Everything since then has just been aftershocks.
Biggest Departure: Jeremy Maclin provided the Eagles with 21 receptions longer than 20 yards and added 13 third-down conversions, making him a combination possession receiver and deep threat for a feast-or-famine passing game. But Maclin didn't fit Kelly's plan to get more cap friendly. Or was that more expensive? Younger. Older? Whatever. Maclin has again cleaved to Andy Reid's bosom.
Little Move That Mattered: Kiko Alonso either gets lost in the shuffle of Kelly's big-time moves or written off as just another vanity Duck. Alsonso was a rising star before getting injured and represents a real net gain at linebacker, as opposed to all of the noisy-but-lateral moves at other positions.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Eagles were so conventional in the draft that it was spooky. Nelson Agholor is Maclin-like. Three defensive backs add depth and competition to a secondary that let the team down in 2013 and was already overhauled (like everything else) in free agency.
Best-Case Scenario: Eagles win Super Bowl. Kelly is named Secretary of State and solves the Middle East crisis by trading Yemen to South America.
Worst-Case Scenario: All the sturm und drang of the Kelly offseason amounts to neither a Super Bowl nor some cosmic comeuppance. The Eagles simply don't gain any real ground on the Packers and Seahawks, and Kelly really gets revved up for an offseason encore.
6. Indianapolis Colts
Last Year's Record: 11-5
Biggest Acquisition: Take your pick from among Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, Todd Herremans and Trent Cole. They may be old mercenaries, but all can still play roles, and the Colts are looking for support, not superstardom, from all of them. Even Gore.
Biggest Departure: Cory Redding was a snug system fit who generated plenty of pressure and played assignment-perfect defense. Also, Trent Richardson is gone, which is why Indy radio stations have been playing "Walking on Sunshine" on high rotation.
Little Move That Mattered: Mike Adams had an exceptional season in an inconsistent secondary last year. Adams is another geezer, but re-signing him made more sense than playing the safety market.
Draft in a Nutshell: Phillip Dorsett gives the Colts an insane amount of receiving talent; when they go four wide, someone will be open. D'Joun Smith will develop into a starting cornerback. The Colts ignored running back until the sixth round (Josh Robinson) but did re-sign Boom Herron to complement Gore.
Best-Case Scenario: The Colts score 35 points every week, gain home-field advantage in the playoffs, overcome the Patriots and win the Super Bowl.
Worst-Case Scenario: Another year like 2014: brilliance tarnished by mistakes and inconstancy, an inability to beat top competition and disappointment in the playoffs.
5. Denver Broncos
Last Year's Record: 12-4
Biggest Acquisition: Gary Kubiak represents radical offensive change, even though there is nothing radical about Kubiak's offense. Wade Phillips is tasked with making a great defense excellent. Most of the roster tweaks represent an attempt to shift gears smoothly on the fly.
Biggest Departure: In Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme, Peyton Manning lost both his favorite big-play tight end and a reliable safety valve and pass protector who followed him from Indy to Denver. Kubiak binky Owen Daniels is like the arithmetic mean of Julius and Tamme: a better system fit, but not a talent upgrade by any means.
Little Move That Mattered: Gino Gradkowski looked like a minor addition when Kubiak brought him along from Baltimore. Once Manny Ramirez was traded, Gradkowski became the likely starting center. Gradkowski is not a top talent, but he knows Kubiak's calls and fits his system.
Draft in a Nutshell: Shane Ray gives Phillips the chance to create an overwhelming pass rush. Ray, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will leave opposing pass protectors with few options if all three take the field in one package. Later draft picks brought Ty Sambrailo, a Kubiak-style lateral blocker, and Max Garcia, who will be groomed to replace Gradkowski.
Best-Case Scenario: Peyton Manning discovers late in life that what he really needed all along was a system that does not really suit his talents. Miller leads a 50-sack defense, and someone takes care of the Seahawks before Richard Sherman can show up at the Super Bowl with the whole Gary Kubiak playbook tattooed on his arm.
Worst-Case Scenario: Multiply the second half of the playoff loss to the Colts by 32.
4. Dallas Cowboys
Last Year's Record: 12-4
Biggest Acquisition: Adrian Peterson brings Hall of Fame credentials and a bruising rushing style to…wait, that didn't happen? Really? The Cowboys really have changed. But not that much: They signed Greg Hardy so they could absorb national criticism, disrupt OTAs and employ him through a 10-game suspension.
Biggest Departure: It's never easy to shrug off the loss of the NFL rushing leader, no matter how good your offensive line is. DeMarco Murray will be missed, but so will George Selvie, Bruce Carter and Henry Melton, all of whom contributed to last season's defensive competence.
Little Move That Mattered: Doug Free is not a great right tackle, but he works well with his stud linemates. Cole Beasley is super-pesky on third downs. The Cowboys were wise to fit them both back under their boiling-pot lid of a cap situation.
Draft in a Nutshell: Byron Jones and Randy Gregory headline a class full of defensive players with elite tools. The Cowboys did not add a running back, which means they are either confident in the Darren McFadden/Joseph Randle/Lance Dunbar platoon or are still feathering a nest for someone special.
Best-Case Scenario: The offensive line spurs a repeat of last season, this time with an actual Dez Bryant catch instead of the non-catch which was in no way controversial if you watched it carefully and read the rulebook.
Worst-Case Scenario: The offensive line is powerless to stop Tony Romo and Jason Witten from aging suddenly, the defense lapses back to 2013 form and the salary cap gains sentience and smothers Jerry Jones with a pile of paperwork while he sleeps at his desk.
3. Green Bay Packers
Last Year's Record: 12-4.
Biggest Acquisition: The Packers rarely make any big acquisitions. We might as well list their undrafted rookie signings, because that is how Ted Thompson rolls. Hey, North Dakota State running back John Crockett and Western Kentucky tight end Mitchell Henry: Those are guys who could make a roster!
Biggest Departure: A.J. Hawk never lived up to his insane predraft hype, but you don't get to start 13 postseason games unless you are doing something right.
Little Move That Mattered: By surrendering play-calling to offensive coordinator Tom Clements, Mike McCarthy will be able to keep his eye on things like late-game defensive strategy and special teams integrity. Good idea.
Draft in a Nutshell: Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins add exceptional athleticism to the secondary. Brett Hundley gives the Packers a genuine prospect behind Aaron Rodgers and a backup quarterback who can win a spot start if necessary.
Best-Case Scenario: An offseason of drilling nothing but onside kick recovery pays off in the playoffs.
Worst-Case Scenario: There's always something: failure to defend the option, failure to acquire a backup quarterback, failure to field an onside kick. Maybe this year it will be kickoffs. The Packers will lose a playoff game because of an out-of-bounds kickoff. I see Packers fans nodding. And sighing.
2. Seattle Seahawks
Last Year's Record: 12-4
Biggest Acquisition: Jimmy Graham scored 27 red-zone touchdowns in the last three years. He can do many other things for the Seahawks, but red-zone touchdown catches are something of an obsession right now.
Biggest Departure: Max Unger was a stabilizer on an interior offensive line that needed Russell Wilson scrambles and Marshawn Lynch beast modality to appear playoff caliber. Backup Lemuel Jeanpierre re-signed to replace Unger, but he is comme ci, comme ca at best.
Little Move That Mattered: Squaring Marshawn Lynch away early in the offseason set the tone for the Graham trade and other moves. Imagine going through an offseason of Wilson baseball rumors AND dispatches from the Marshawn Mothership.
Draft in a Nutshell: The Seahawks ranked ahead of the Patriots in these power rankings until the draft. The Patriots kept things straightforward while the Seahawks, lacking a first-round pick, gambled on troubled defender Frank Clark and waited until Day 3 to add some interior linemen. Receiver Tyler Lockett will finally solve the punt return problem.
Best-Case Scenario: The Seahawks reach the Super Bowl again, where anyone on the coaching staff who suggests that someone beside Lynch or Graham should get the football at the 1-yard line is wrapped in trainer's tape and thrown in San Francisco Bay.
Worst-Case Scenario: Poor interior line and defensive regression to the mean pull the Seahawks back toward the pack in the NFC. Then Lynch decides to walk the land like Caine from Kung Fu and Wilson leaves Super Bowl superstardom for life as a middle infielder with a .228 batting average.
1. New England Patiots
Last Year's Record: 12-4
Biggest Acquisition: Jabaal Sheard is the kind of player who regresses on a team like the Browns because he is asked to do too much, then becomes a situational superstar on the Patriots, who surround him with talent and clearly define his role.
Biggest Departure: There is probably some "Patriots are better WITHOUT Darrelle Revis" logic getting slung around a remote corner of the Internet somewhere (or Revis' own Twitter feed). But really, losing one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL is a big deal, even though he was only a rental. Vince Wilfork, on the other hand, was a leader and tone-setter in a locker room full of them, and he was only a situational defender in recent years.
Little Move That Mattered: The Patriots are always a step ahead of the salary cap and rarely lose a player they don't want to lose. Restructured contracts, like the one Jerod Mayo agreed to a week ago, are one way the Patriots maintain continuity and cap consciousness.
Draft in a Nutshell: Malcom Brown will offset the loss of Wilfork. The Patriots took note of the defensive line arms race in the AFC East in later rounds, adding talented Shaq Mason and massive Tre' Jackson on the interior line.
Best-Case Scenario: After the Super Bowl, Boston columnists chisel away the faces on Mount Rushmore and replace them with 2001 Tom Brady, 2003-04 Tom Brady, 2007 Regular-Season Tom Brady and 2014-2015 Tom Brady.
Worst-Case Scenario: Suggesting that the Patriots will finally tail off got stale in 2009, and we all know that cliff diving is perfectly safe when compared to, well, playing quarterback in your late 30s. But the AFC East has gotten tougher, so the Patriots could easily face the Ravens, Broncos or Colts on the road in the playoffs. Things don't always go the Patriots' way when they are on the road.