NFL Power Rankings: Where Each Team Stands as Training Camp Begins
The calendar has finally turned to August, which means that all 32 NFL teams have begun training camp. With preseason games just around the corner, it's time for the never-too-early NFL power rankings for 2015.
This ranking will reflect how each team stacks up for the upcoming season. It will be based on last year's performance, free-agency acquisitions, trades, drafted players, overall team health and any ongoing player discipline issues.
Speaking of player discipline, quarterback Tom Brady and the defending champion New England Patriots have made some headlines this offseason. How much will Brady's four-game suspension impact the Patriots' ranking? Where will reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers end up? And which non-playoff team from 2014 will shoot up into the top 10?
Anyone can make power rankings based on in-season games, but it takes guts to make predictions this early. Agree? Disagree? Feel free to weigh in and let us know how biased we are against your favorite team—anything to pass the time until the 2015 season finally gets underway.
No. 32: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 record: 2-14, 4th in NFC South
Picking first in the previous NFL draft is a pretty good indication that you're among the worst teams in the league. The Bucs were 30th in the league in total offense in 2014 and 25th in total defense, so there is work to be done all over this roster.
Head coach Lovie Smith already named rookie QB Jameis Winston the starter for Week 1 during a press conference. While he's the better choice over Mike Glennon, it's tough to expect him to be a star right away considering how much this team struggled last season.
A major determining factor to how Winston (and the offense as a whole) performs is the play of running back Doug Martin. Martin took the league by storm during his rookie season, with 1,926 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns, and appeared to be a star in the making.
Injuries have limited Martin to just 17 games in the two seasons since, and he's entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Bucs offensive line ranked last in the league in adjusted offensive line yards and sacks allowed, according to Football Outsiders, so that unit's performance will need to improve for Winston and Martin to get the offense moving in the right direction.
No. 31: Washington Redskins
2014 record: 4-12, 4th in NFC East
First-year general manager Scot McCloughan is considered one of the best talent evaluators in the league but dealt with some personal issues involving alcohol that led to his resignation from his front office position with the Seahawks in April 2014. Now with the Redskins, McCloughan will try to turn around the franchise after a disastrous 2014 season.
The Redskins started three different quarterbacks and lost four of their last seven games by 20 or more points. Head coach Jay Gruden enters his second season desperately needing to show some type of significant improvement.
QB Robert Griffin III posted his worst statistical season yet, playing in just nine games and posting career lows in total QBR and rushing yards per carry. Griffin has already been named the starter for next season, and Washington picked up his $16 million 2016 option this offseason, a strong vote of confidence by the organization.
The Redskins also added Ricky Jean-Francois, Stephen Paea and Terrance Knighton to bolster their defensive line. Washington tied for 29th last season in points allowed, and in a division with the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants all boasting lethal offenses, the Redskins will need to get much better on that side of the ball to contend.
No. 30: Tennessee Titans
2014 record: 2-14, 4th in AFC South
Tennessee ended 2014 on a 10-game losing streak, and as a result, it picked second in the draft and chose 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
The Titans were 30th in scoring offense and tied for 29th in scoring defense last season. Much like the Bucs, Tennessee will be relying on a rookie quarterback to turn things around in 2015.
Mariota will start Week 1 for the Titans, and he won't have too many great weapons around him. Bishop Sankey should be the starting running back, and receiver options Kendall Wright, Harry Douglas and Hakeem Nicks are a little uninspiring.
The Titans did improve on defense in the offseason, signing outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, cornerback Perrish Cox and safety Da'Norris Searcy. All three are expected to start this season.
Tennessee used five of its first six picks in the draft on offensive players and focused largely on defense in free agency. With few proven veterans on offense, it will be difficult for Mariota to excel in his first year. His knack for protecting the football, though, will serve him well as he navigates through his first year in the league.
No. 29: Cleveland Browns
2014 record: 7-9, 4th in AFC North
After a Week 12 win against the Atlanta Falcons, the Browns were 7-4 and in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt. Then things fell apart, and the season ended with five straight losses. Now Cleveland must pick up the pieces as the franchise heads in a new direction on offense.
The Browns decided not to bring back 29-year-old QB Brian Hoyer, who signed a two-year deal with the Houston Texans, but then went out a brought in 36-year-old QB Josh McCown on a three-year, $14 million contract in February.
Together, those moves seem puzzling, and signing McCown to a multiyear deal is not exactly a vote of confidence for 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel. The Browns insist they haven't given up on Johnny Football, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Northeast Ohio Media Group, though their actions might suggest that he is not expected to be a major contributor this season.
In other free-agency moves, the Browns made some minor additions who will help. Wide receiver Brian Hartline will be a reliable target for whoever starts at quarterback, though he's no replacement for Josh Gordon, who will miss the entire season while serving a suspension. Cleveland brought in Tramon Williams, and he should start at cornerback opposite Pro Bowler Joe Haden.
If McCown can recapture some magic from the 2013 season in which he threw 13 touchdowns and just one interception, the Browns can be competitive in the AFC North. But considering how much he struggled for the Bucs last season, it would be a surprising outcome.
No. 28: Jacksonville Jaguars
2014 record: 3-13, 3rd in AFC South
The youth movement in Jacksonville is in full swing. Blake Bortles played in 14 games last season, including 13 starts. After throwing 12 interceptions in his first six games, Bortles took much better care of the ball and threw just five in his next eight.
Jacksonville's top three returning receivers—Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee—were all rookies last season, and leading rusher Denard Robinson is just in his third year. The team added playmakers in the draft in running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Rashad Greene, and it also added tight end Julius Thomas from the Denver Broncos in free agency.
Losing top pick Dante Fowler Jr. to a torn ACL was a horrible setback, as he looked to be an instant-impact pass-rusher. Still, this is a team with a lot of young talent, and though it ranked 31st in total offense and 26th in total defense, the talented second-year players should make big strides after promising rookie campaigns.
No. 27: New York Jets
2014 record: 4-12, 4th in AFC East
The 2014 season had a familiar theme to it for Jets fans—great defense, bad offense and little to cheer for.
New York hired Todd Bowles as the new head coach, and he is expected to keep up the tradition of strong Jets defenses. There are plenty of other issues for him to deal with, even on that side of the ball.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, the 2013 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2014 Pro Bowler, was suspended for the first four games after being arrested on July 14. His absence should clear the path for first-round pick Leonard Williams to make an immediate impact this season.
The quarterback competition is not chock-full of proven options. Geno Smith returns after an improved yet uninspiring second season, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was acquired in an offseason trade. The Jets drafted former Baylor QB Bryce Petty in the fourth round, and all three will get a shot to prove themselves in the preseason.
It's not all bad news for Bowles and the Jets, though. Whoever wins the QB job will get to throw passes to newly acquired wideout Brandon Marshall, who should provide a big boost to the passing game if he stays healthy. All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis returned in free agency, which should bolster a pass defense that was 14th in yards per game.
As has been the case in recent years, the Jets will go as far as their quarterback will take them. Given the poor track records of Smith and Fitzpatrick, plus the unknown of a fourth-round rookie, expectations should be tempered heading into 2015.
No. 26: Oakland Raiders
2014 record: 3-13, 4th in AFC West
The 2014 draft is already shaping up to be a boon for the Raiders. The team took linebacker Khalil Mack with the No. 5 pick then selected what appears to be its quarterback of the future with the No. 36 pick in Derek Carr.
2015 first-round pick Amari Cooper has already shown flashes in training camp, and Hall of Famer Jerry Rice heralded him as the "new Tim Brown" to the Raiders' official site (h/t NFL.com's Connor Orr).
Oakland didn't do too much in free agency, but with young playmakers on both sides of the ball, the team should show some signs of improvement in 2015. If Carr continues to take care of the football and develop a rhythm with Cooper, the Raiders could surprise some people.
No. 25: Atlanta Falcons
2014 record: 6-10, 3rd in NFC South
Former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was brought in to be the Falcons' new head coach in large part to help turn around a defense that ranked dead last in the league in total yards allowed.
The Falcons defense had just 22 sacks in 2014, the second fewest in the league, and Atlanta addressed that issue by selecting Vic Beasley with the No. 8 pick in the draft.
Offensively, QB Matt Ryan had another strong season statistically, but it didn't translate to many wins. It's hard to believe that, after falling just short of making Super Bowl XLVII, the Falcons are 10-22 in the last two seasons. The NFC South lacks a true contender, making it easier for the Falcons to have a bounce-back season. That gives Atlanta a boost over some teams ranked lower on this list, but the Falcons need to make huge strides on defense for a real turnaround to happen.
No. 24: New York Giants
2014 record: 6-10, 3rd in NFC East
Despite their disappointing performance in 2014, the Giants have plenty to be excited about for 2015.
WR Odell Beckham Jr. is a budding superstar. He burst onto the scene with his incredible one-handed catch against the Cowboys, but he was a consistent playmaker all season and a big reason why QB Eli Manning had such an outstanding season.
The Giants added Shane Vereen, who should thrive as pass-catcher out of the backfield, but still have issues on defense. Steve Spagnuolo returns for his second stint as defensive coordinator, and he has his work cut out for him.
The Giants were 29th in the league in total defense last season, and they chose safety Landon Collins from Alabama and defensive end Owa Odighizuwa from UCLA with their second- and third-round picks, respectively. Both players should become big contributors in 2015, and the Giants will need all the help they can get to contend with the Cowboys and Eagles for the NFC East title.
No. 23: Kansas City Chiefs
2014 record: 9-7, T2 in AFC West
In one of the most incredible stats I've ever seen, the Chiefs went the entire 2014 season without having a wide receiver score a single touchdown.
To address this issue, Kansas City brought in Jeremy Maclin via free agency...and that's about it. The team drafted WR Chris Conley from Georgia in the third round then took Da'Ron Brown from Northern Illinois in the seventh.
QB Alex Smith and Maclin have struggled to find a rhythm early on in camp, per ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, and how they develop together will go a long way in determining how much the offense improves after ranking 25th in the league in total yards.
No. 22: San Francisco 49ers
2014 record: 8-8, 3rd in NFC West
The 49ers are going through a bit of an identity crisis, according to NFL Network analysts Shaun O'Hara and LaDainian Tomlinson, and it's not difficult to see how it all came about.
Jim Tomsula replaced Jim Harbaugh as head coach. All-Pro linebacker and future Hall of Fame candidate Patrick Willis abruptly retired in March. Chris Borland, a 24-year-old linebacker who had just finished a strong rookie campaign, retired a week later because of concerns over long-term health and safety. All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith retired in May, and the team lost key contributors Frank Gore, Mike Iupati and Chris Culliver in free agency.
Amid all the turmoil, the key to the 49ers' success in 2015 is undoubtedly QB Colin Kaepernick. Last season, Kaepernick posted career worsts in total QBR (60.2) and interceptions thrown (10), and the team ranked 25th in the league in points scored.
San Francisco added Reggie Bush and Torrey Smith to help in the passing game, but the pressure will be on Kaepernick to keep the 49ers competitive after such a dismal offseason.
No. 21: Buffalo Bills
2014 record: 9-7, 2nd in AFC East
Rex Ryan will bring plenty of energy to the Bills in 2015, but he has a similar problem on his hands to one that plagued him during his Jets tenure—finding a reliable quarterback.
EJ Manuel lost his starting job to Kyle Orton last season, and with Orton now retired, the position is wide-open. Manuel is competing with Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor, and early results indicate no clear front-runner, per ESPN.com's Mike Rodak.
Whoever wins the job will have the luxury of handing the ball off to LeSean McCoy, who was traded to the Bills in the offseason. A young receiving corps featuring Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods should give Buffalo a boost in 2015.
Defensively, the Bills are in great shape. They were fourth in the league in both points and yards allowed, and they retained most of their starters from last season. With any type of consistent quarterback play, the Bills could end up much higher on this list when all is said and done.
Despite the uncertainty under center, Buffalo's strengths at other positions and its elite defense place it ahead of teams like the 49ers, Giants and Falcons with more proven quarterbacks.
No. 20: St. Louis Rams
2014 record: 6-10, 4th in NFC West
The Rams welcomed in a new quarterback after trading Sam Bradford to the Eagles for Nick Foles. Bradford's career was derailed by injuries, which kept the Rams unsettled at the most important position. With Foles locked in as the starter, the hope is that the offense will find some consistency.
Helping that cause is a potentially stellar running back duo of Tre Mason and rookie Todd Gurley. Mason is getting all the reps while Gurley recovers from a torn ACL, but Gurley began camp on the active roster, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jim Thomas, and already has a lot of buzz around how good he can be.
On defense, the Rams were average in 2014. Their defensive line is strong, as Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald combined for 19.5 sacks last season. They signed Nick Fairley in the offseason and are hoping for a full recovery by Chris Long, who missed 10 games with an ankle injury.
If Foles can regain his form from 2013, when he threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions, the Rams can contend in the tough NFC West.
No. 19: New Orleans Saints
2014 record: 7-9, 2nd in NFC South
Similar to the 49ers, the Saints seem to be at a crossroads. They traded All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round pick, which they used to pick Clemson LB Stephone Anthony.
Offensively, they re-signed Mark Ingram and brought in C.J. Spiller, indicating that they might become more run-oriented than in recent years. Drew Brees lost his leading receiver in Kenny Stills, whom the Saints traded to the Miami Dolphins for Dannell Ellerbe, and though the 36-year-old's been able to be productive over the years no matter who his weapons are, losing Stills and Graham is a major blow.
Defensively, the Saints were atrocious in 2014. They were 31st in total defense, and they released DE Junior Galette while he was facing domestic violence allegations.
New Orleans brought in Brandon Browner to start at cornerback, and the unit couldn't be much worse than it was last year. The Saints are ranked this high mainly because of the track record of Brees and the depth at running back. The Saints lost four games by three points or fewer, and in a division as bad as the NFC South, they could reach the playoffs with some better luck in 2015.
No. 18: Houston Texans
2014 record: 9-7, 2nd in AFC South
That the Texans are ranked this high while in the midst of a quarterback battle between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer is a testament to how good their defense—specifically J.J. Watt—is heading into 2015.
Watt was the runner-up in the MVP voting as a defensive player for a team that missed the playoffs. That is an incredible feat and one that was much-deserved. His dominance earned him a six-year, $100 million contract last offseason.
With Watt anchoring the defense and with the addition of DT Vince Wilfork, it's the other side of the ball that could use some improvement. Hoyer posted a 39.8 total QBR in 14 games last season, and Mallett has attempted just 79 passes in his career.
Losing Andre Johnson is more of a sentimental loss than anything else, and the Texans did well to draft WR Jaelen Strong in the third round. With another strong season from both DeAndre Hopkins and Arian Foster, the Texans are a competent quarterback away from being a playoff team.
No. 17: Chicago Bears
2014 record: 5-11, 4th in NFC North
This ranking is more of a gut feeling than anything else. Jay Cutler threw 18 interceptions last season and averaged just 6.8 yards per pass attempt, his worst marks since 2009. For all the talent the Bears had on offense last season, their performance as the No. 23 scoring team was one of the most disappointing things from 2014.
This is a bet that Cutler won't be nearly as bad in 2015. Drafting WR Kevin White in the first round was a good move, and third-round pick Hroniss Grasu from Oregon could contribute right away.
Defensively, the Bears need to show drastic improvement. They were 31st in the league in scoring defense, and they did not really address that side of the ball in the draft, only taking two defensive players. Signing Antrel Rolle should help at safety, and Kyle Fuller had a strong rookie season at cornerback.
There is simply too much talent on this roster for the Bears to be as bad as they were a season ago. Perhaps new head coach John Fox can find a way to put it all together in 2015.
No. 16: Minnesota Vikings
2014 record: 7-9, 3rd in NFC North
Adrian Peterson is back, and his return combined with the strong rookie season from QB Teddy Bridgewater have Vikings fans excited for 2015.
Aside from Peterson, the Vikings didn't add much on offense beyond WR Mike Wallace. Defensively, they made most of their additions in the draft. Minnesota used its first three picks on defensive players, including first-round pick Trae Waynes, a cornerback from Michigan State.
Minnesota lost four games by three points or fewer and nearly posted a winning record while primarily handing off to Mike Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. Switch out those two for Peterson, who's reportedly looking like his old self in training camp, according to NFL.com's Randy Moss, and the Vikings are strong contenders for a playoff spot in 2015.
No. 15: Carolina Panthers
2014 record: 7-8-1, 1st in NFC South; lost to Seahawks in divisional round
Winners of the weakest division in football last year, the Panthers did very little to add to their team via free agency.
They did well in the draft, picking WR Devin Funchess to give Cam Newton another big target along with Kelvin Benjamin. Their first-round choice of LB Shaq Thompson was a good one, as he can step in and contribute immediately.
Carolina ranked 10th in the league in total defense, and the offense should only improve after struggling mightily last season. After signing a $100 million contract, Newton said he is still focused on all the right things, per the Charlotte Observer's Jonathan Jones (h/t Kevin Patra of NFL.com). His play will again be the main determining factor for how far this team goes in 2015.
No. 14: Miami Dolphins
2014 record: 8-8, 3rd in AFC East
The Dolphins made a big splash in free agency by signing DT Ndamukong Suh to the biggest contract for a defensive player in league history. Though the deal might end up being a steep overpay down the road, it makes the Dolphins significantly better for 2015.
Miami chose Louisville WR DeVante Parker with its first-round pick and traded for Kenny Stills. With Greg Jennings and Rishard Matthews also in the fold and Lamar Miller as the lead running back, QB Ryan Tannehill has plenty of weapons around him.
Defensively, the Dolphins were 12th in total defense, and Suh will only make them better. After coming close last season, Miami could break through and earn a playoff berth next year.
No. 13: Detroit Lions
2014 season: 11-5, 2nd in NFC North; lost to Cowboys in Wild Card Round
After a heartbreaking loss to the Cowboys in the playoffs, the Lions return with some big holes fill on defense.
Detroit was third in the league in scoring defense and second in total defense. Losing Suh and Nick Fairley hurts, but the team still has talent on that side of the ball, with DeAndre Levy at linebacker and Ezekiel Ansah at defensive end. The Lions also traded for Haloti Ngata to help fill up the middle of the line.
On offense, the Lions lost Reggie Bush but drafted Ameer Abdullah in the second round to help replace him. Matthew Stafford threw just 12 interceptions last year, his lowest for a full season, and if he continues to protect the football, Detroit should be able to get back to the playoffs next season.
Oh, and having Megatron for all 16 games wouldn't hurt.
No. 12: San Diego Chargers
2014 record: 9-7, T2 in AFC West
It was a season of what-ifs for the Chargers in 2014. After a 33-30 win at Baltimore on Nov. 30, San Diego was 8-4 and in great position to make the playoffs. But a late-season collapse that culminated with a 19-7 loss to the Chiefs in Week 17 kept the Chargers on the outside looking in.
Their first-round selection of Melvin Gordon was a bold move, and he has the potential to be a game-changing playmaker out of the backfield. Philip Rivers had another strong season, though the four-game suspension of TE Antonio Gates will challenge the offense.
With most of the roster largely intact from last season, the Chargers should be right in the thick of things in the AFC West and will be in strong contention for a playoff spot.
No. 11: Pittsburgh Steelers
2014 record: 11-5, 1st in AFC North; lost to Ravens in Wild Card Round
These aren't your grandfather's Steelers. In 2014, Pittsburgh ranked 18th in total defense and second in total offense, a far cry from the days of the Steel Curtain. This brought about more change for the team, as Dick LeBeau stepped down as defensive coordinator, a position he'd held since 2004. Pittsburgh replaced him with Keith Butler, who had been an assistant for the Steelers since 2003.
Pittsburgh did little in free agency. The team signed DeAngelo Williams as a backup, which will help it deal with Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension. With Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown back, the offense should again be lethal in 2015.
Defensively, Pittsburgh addressed most of its needs in the draft, using three of its first four picks on defensive players. It also traded for Eagles CB Brandon Boykin, who is expected to start right away. As the young guys get more reps, this team should improve next season and keep it among the contenders in the AFC.
No. 10: Philadelphia Eagles
2014 record: 10-6, 2nd in NFC East
Finally, we've reached the top 10. The Eagles have had a busy offseason, as Chip Kelly has drastically revamped his roster.
Out are LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Nick Foles and Brandon Boykin. In are DeMarco Murray, Sam Bradford, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell. Those aren't all the moves Kelly made, but they are the most impactful—and they make for an interesting team to follow in 2015.
Offensively, the Eagles have great depth at running back, with Murray as the starter and Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews behind him. They drafted Nelson Agholor in the first round, and he'll team up with Jordan Matthews and Riley Cooper to give Bradford plenty of options.
The big key, of course, if having Bradford stay healthy. If he does, there's no reason to expect anything but the Eagles scoring a lot of points n 2015 and, most likely, a return to the playoffs for team.
No. 9: Cincinnati Bengals
2014 record: 10-5-1, 2nd in AFC North; lost to Indianapolis Colts in Wild Card Round
One of these days, Andy Dalton is going to win a playoff game. It feels like a mathematical certainty.
The Bengals have plenty of playmakers on offense, with running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard and wideout A.J. Green. Green missed three games last season and had career lows in receiving yards and touchdowns, but he still eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth straight year.
The Bengals addressed their offensive line needs in the draft by taking tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher with their first two picks. Defensively, they brought in DE Michael Johnson and LB A.J. Hawk to help bolster a unit that ranked 12th in scoring defense in 2014.
Everyone has his time eventually. Dalton regressed statistically from 2013 to 2014, but not having Green at full strength definitely played a part in that. If Green plays 16 games and the Bengals can get back to the playoffs, the fifth time could be the charm for the Red Rifle.
No. 8: Arizona Cardinals
2014 record: 11-5, 2nd in NFC West; lost to Panthers in Wild Card Round
There is only one, simple stat that has Cardinals fans excited for 2015—in the six games that Carson Palmer started in 2014, Arizona was 6-0. It was 5-5 when anyone else started under center.
The Cardinals were successful last season thanks in large part to their defense, which ranked fifth in the league in scoring. Arizona made the playoffs despite enduring 342 pass attempts from Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas. It all came to a crashing halt against the Panthers in the playoffs, when the offense mustered just 78 total yards (!!!).
Consistent quarterback play is all that's keeping the Cardinals from being a legitimate contender. If Palmer can stay upright in 2015 (a big if), then Arizona will be more of a force come playoff time.
No. 7: Baltimore Ravens
2014 record: 10-6, 3rd in AFC North; lost to Patriots in divisional round
Joe Cool lived up to his nickname in the postseason. Flacco and the Ravens gave the Patriots all they could handle in divisional round, and they should be in a position to get back there in 2015.
Baltimore was one of the most balanced teams in the league last year, finishing in the top 10 in scoring offense and defense. Losing safety Matt Elam for the season is a big blow, especially with how much the Ravens struggled in pass defense against New England.
Losing Torrey Smith hurts the offense, and the Ravens did not go out and add anybody in free agency. But they took Breshad Perriman with their first-round pick, which should help. Overall, this is a team in good shape to make the playoffs in 2015.
No. 6: Indianapolis Colts
2014 record: 11-5, 1st in AFC South; lost to Patriots in AFC Championship Game
The Colts front office clearly made moves that were designed to make an immediate impact this offseason. Signing RB Frank Gore and WR Andre Johnson were not long-term solutions, but they will make the Colts better on offense in 2015.
Luck has progressed further and further into the playoffs each year he's been in the league. If that trend continues, the Colts will earn a spot in Super Bowl 50.
No. 5: Denver Broncos
2014 record: 12-4, 1st in AFC West; lost to Colts in divisional round
Yes, Manning looked like a shell of his former self in the Broncos' loss to the Colts in last year's divisional round. He's 39 years old and is about to begin his 18th season. He's not in his prime. But he's also not done yet, and the numbers at FiveThirtyEight support that.
Manning in a declining phase is still among the best quarterbacks in the league. The Broncos lost some key players in free agency, such as Julius Thomas, Rahim Moore and Orlando Franklin. Still, with Manning running the show, Denver should put up points. The Broncos were third in the league in total defense, so expect them to be back in the hunt for a championship in 2015.
No. 4: Dallas Cowboys
2014 record: 12-4, 1st in NFC East; lost to Green Bay Packers in divisional round
The catch that Cowboys fans will never forget has been replayed ad nauseam this offseason, and it has them itching to get back to the postseason.
Dallas rewarded Dez Bryant with a $70 million contract this offseason, and he will be the key for the Cowboys to make another playoff run. Dallas replaced DeMarco Murray, who was the epitome of durability last season, with Darren McFadden, who has been the opposite of that his entire career.
McFadden did not miss a game last season, but he also has carried the ball at least 200 times in just two seasons of his career. He's averaged 134.5 carries per season the past two years, and the Cowboys' backup options—Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle—are both unproven.
Defensively, the addition of Greg Hardy will be a big boost. He'll miss the first four games while serving his suspension for conduct detrimental to the league.
The Cowboys came inches from reaching the NFC Championship Game, and they have the pieces in place to make another run. Another strong year from quarterback Tony Romo should have them back in business in 2015.
No. 3: New England Patriots
2014 record: 12-4, 1st in AFC East; defeated Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX
All right, let's get this out of the way first—in case you hadn't heard, the Patriots will be without Tom Brady for the first four games for his alleged role in Deflategate. Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start in his place. He has virtually no experience in the regular season, but has the tools to be successful, according to Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports.
When Brady returns, the offense will be just as potent as it was last season. Defensively, the Patriots must replace both starting cornerbacks, which will be a challenge considering how well Darrelle Revis played last season.
The burden of defending a championship can be taxing, but the Patriots are as equipped as anyone to get it done. When we're this close to the top of the list, every detail matters, and Brady's suspension keeps New England from being ranked higher than the next two teams.
No. 2: Seattle Seahawks
2014 record: 12-4, 1st in NFC West; lost to Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX
Malcolm Butler will haunt Seahawks fans' dreams forever. The Seahawks were on the cusp of repeating as Super Bowl champions, and now they will try to get back to the big one after falling just short last season.
Seattle made a big move by bringing in Jimmy Graham. Graham was one of the most dangerous pass-catchers in 2013. The Seahawks' core is almost completely intact on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Russell Wilson signed a four-year, $87.6 million extension this offseason.
The Seahawks are still the league's best defense and have plenty of firepower on offense. The team once heralded as a potential dynasty still has a chance to fulfill those lofty goals.
No. 1: Green Bay Packers
2014 record: 12-4, 1st in NFC North; lost to Seahawks in NFC Championship Game
Here we are—the Packers are your team to beat heading into the 2015 season.
Green Bay reached the NFC Championship Game with a hobbled Aaron Rodgers, and it still took an epic collapse for the Seahawks to get by. The Packers didn't add much in free agency, and it's because they didn't need to.
When Rodgers is healthy and on his A-game, there is no defense that can stop him. With a little better luck, Rodgers will lead the Packers to Super Bowl 50 and claim his second career championship.