NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand After the Preseason?

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystSeptember 4, 2015

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand After the Preseason?

0 of 32

    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    Real, meaningful NFL football will be on your living room picture box soon.

    But first we had to reach the end of the preseason. And since Week 4 of the preseason is a time when starters are spectators, I took an overarching view with the final edition of preseason power rankings.

    What's the major question or concern for each team? Is there a crippling injury already? And has there been notable progress from a key player (like the bullet-throwing rookie quarterback above)?

    Those questions and more were considered as we tie a neat bow around the 2015 preseason and look forward to soon logging many, many football-watching hours on Sundays this fall. Say goodbye to your loved ones.

32. San Francisco 49ers

1 of 32

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 31

    This Week: 32

    Change: -1

    I'll happily be wrong about this, because it feels like the NFL produces a better product when the San Francisco 49ers aren't awful. But the job of remaining consistently competitive is hard enough without significant roster change. So when an offseason of getting decimated mercifully ends, optimism is hard to muster for all but those holding onto deep delusions.

    I don't need to recount the list of significant 49ers losses this offseason. You're familiar with that chapter-length list that includes two starting offensive linemen, two starting linebackers, two starting cornerbacks, the punter and, most recently, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who had recorded 44 sacks over 50 career games.

    The total damage was 12 notable names lost. Their replacements include wide receiver Torrey Smith and defensive end Darnell Dockett. But at some point the need for even a shred of continuity both on the field and along the sideline—where Jim Tomsula took over for Jim Harbaugh, with new offensive and defensive coordinators—becomes a backbone the 49ers don't have.

31. Washington Redskins

2 of 32

    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 32

    This Week: 31

    Change: +1

    There aren't really any jokes to make here, as this team is an annual punch line. The general manager's wife issuing a public apology before the season even begins is perhaps the most Washington Redskins thing ever. Though I'm sure they'll top it soon by reversing course on quarterback Robert Griffin III and giving him an extension through the 2019 season.

    There are reasons for optimism in Washington. The defensive front will be solid, even after a season-ending injury to outside linebacker Junior Galette. And help has arrived in the secondary after cornerback Chris Culliver was signed, bringing over his 66.5 passer rating allowed in coverage during the 2014 season, per Pro Football Focus.

    But all those good vibes will be undone by the quarterback. That's now Kirk Cousins, who's a starter only by default in Washington. On any other team a quarterback who has glaring ball-security concerns and needed only 204 pass attempts in 2014 to throw nine interceptions would be, at best, a spot starter.

    The Redskins don't have a starting quarterback on their roster. They have a group of placeholders, and head coach Jay Gruden won't be around to groom another prospect after he's fired when Washington's 2015 season inevitably begins with a face plant.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3 of 32

    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Last Week: 30

    This Week: 30

    Change: None

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback and first overall pick Jameis Winston is still adjusting to the speed of NFL pass-rushers. His journey isn't unique, as that's a process every young quarterback goes through.

    But he's quickly discovering that far too enough his offensive line will leave him exposedand possibly shattered both mentally and physically.

    Over three preseason games Winston has already been sacked seven times. That would be a painful three-game stretch during the regular season, and it's downright excruciating in August after Winston reached his sack total while taking only 99 snaps.

    Sure, Winston has played a role in some of those sacks by holding onto the ball too long or failing to make the proper read. But ideally a rookie quarterback going through his development phase should be offered some cushion by the large men in front of him and some extra space.

    That won't happen for Winston, and the result could be a highly inconsistent rookie season.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

4 of 32

    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Last Week: 29

    This Week: 29

    Change: None

    Only someone with the most rosy, peachy, aw-shucks outlook on this world could have expected tight end Julius Thomas to duplicate his Denver Broncos production after hitting free agency gold with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    He scored 24 receiving touchdowns over just the past two seasons. This is stunning, I know, but going from Peyton Manning to Blake Bortles is at least a slight quarterback downgrade.

    His job, however, was to help Bortles grow in his second season by providing a large-bodied target up the middle and a trusted red-zone presence to win contested balls in traffic. And he may still do all of that, just not until at least October.

    Thomas suffered a finger fracture during Jacksonville's preseason opener. Although there was optimism initially, he's since gone under the knife and will miss at least a month, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    Without him there's no pass-catcher on the Jaguars' roster this season who finished with double-digit receiving touchdowns in 2014.

28. Houston Texans

5 of 32

    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Last Week: 28

    This Week: 28

    Change: None

    The Houston Texans offense might not make for enjoyable viewing this season. Unless, of course, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins keeps doing his spider hands act.

    But the defense? When outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney needed microfracture surgery we were reminded that, too often, having nice things is forbidden. Now he's made a superhuman recovery, so we'll finally get to see him paired with defensive end J.J. Watt and together they'll turn opposing quarterbacks into fluffy pancakes.

    Clowney didn't appear in a preseason game. But although he used the expected cautious tone, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien has said Clowney remains on track to play Week 1 (via Drew Dougherty of Texans TV), albeit in a limited capacity.

    If and when Clowney recovers to full health, the mere thought of that tandem is enough to prompt involuntary urination. Watt has recorded an absurd 57 sacks over 64 career games, while Clowney famously ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds during his scouting combine appearance.

27. Oakland Raiders

6 of 32

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 26

    This Week: 27

    Change: -1

    It's difficult to know when, exactly, the time is right to get concerned about a young quarterback during the nothingness of preseason play. The counterargument when they stumble is both standard and expected: They're working toward a better on-field connection with new receivers, or adjusting to a new offensive coordinator.

    Oakland Raiders second-year quarterback Derek Carr did both of those things during the trial-and-error preseason process. Yet still, the seeds for concern have been planted.

    Carr threw 51 preseason passes, and only 54.9 percent of them landed safely at the desired destination. That comes after a rookie season when he was mostly impressive despite little support, but still completed only 58.1 percent of his throws. Worse, throughout the preseason he had a passer rating of 58.8.

    This is all likely a brief hiccup, and Carr will be just fine once he keeps growing alongside rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper. Let's hope so for Raiders fans, because they've endured a lot of losing for a long, long time.

26. Cleveland Browns

7 of 32

    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 27

    This Week: 26

    Change: +1

    There was a time when Dwayne Bowe mattered. For the soon-to-be 31-year-old Cleveland Browns wide receiver that time came around 2011, when he last logged a 1,000-plus-yard season. Since then he's lumbered his way to an average of 742.7 yards per season over the last three years.

    And yet somehow he managed to be awarded with a two-year contract that guarantees him $9 million. Usually that puts you in the pay bracket where a roster spot is guaranteed, too.

    Yet in the ultimate damning statement on his spiraling career, Bowe was reportedly flirting with the roster bubble prior to the Browns' final preseason game and needed to "deliver," according to a report from NFL Network's Solomon Wilcots (via ProFootballTalk).

    The statement was Bowe's presence in the game at all. The fourth preseason game is generally reserved as a time to test your depth, give inexperienced young players more snaps and, most importantly, make sure critical starters remain unbroken.

    Bowe had to fight and claw for his possible position on one of the league's thinnest wide receiver depth charts. A depth chart that will be led by (gulp) Brian Hartline.

25. Atlanta Falcons

8 of 32

    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Last Week: 25

    This Week: 25

    Change: None

    The end is nearing for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White.

    He can still produce when healthy and be a fine complement across from fellow receiver Julio Jones. But his body seems to be increasingly allergic to football. White needed elbow surgery late during training camp, and his troublesome knee has to be drained regularly.

    Let's assume the worst then and that the whole staying healthy bit is a problem for White throughout this season as he begins the 34th year of his life in November. If White does indeed crash into a wall, the Falcons will be hurting, too.

    The next man up is Leonard Hankerson, who once had the draft pedigree to be a third-round pick. He's had a fine training camp and preseason, including a 28-yard catch against the Miami Dolphins. He has the athletic ability to be a solid red-zone target.

    But despite that good first impression, is there really much security in a receiver who's recorded only 1,081 receiving yards over four seasons? Nope, which puts the Falcons in the dangerous position of hoping both White and Jones stay healthy. The latter has played only one full 16-game season.

24. Chicago Bears

9 of 32

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Last Week: 24

    This Week: 24

    Change: None

    Sometimes preseason football is about small achievements. Well, here's one from Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to keep tucked away: He's gone 33 pass attempts without throwing a single interception (!!!).

    Cutler finished tied for the 2014 league lead in interceptions with 18, which included seven multiple interception games. What we've seen this preseason either means absolutely nothing and he'll revert to making awful decisions soon, or it means Cutler is taking baby steps under new offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

23. New Orleans Saints

10 of 32

    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 20

    This Week: 23

    Change: -3

    The New Orleans Saints have surely asked every defensive back on their roster to stay away from the traditional signs of bad luck. Basically, if safety Kenny Vaccaro is caught petting a black cat while walking underneath a ladder on Friday the 13th and then breaking a mirror, he might be suspended.

    Of the four projected opening day starters in the Saints' secondary, three could be sitting out with injuries of varying seriousness. There's some optimism now surrounding cornerback Brandon Browner, who returned to practice Wednesday after missing much of August with a leg issue. But safety Jairus Byrd could be shelved on the physically unable to perform list and third-round corner P.J. Williams was sent to the injured reserve with a torn hamstring.

    Now the latest and most damaging blow comes courtesy of cornerback Keenan Lewis, who needed hip surgery. He'll miss the next four to six weeks, leaving Delvin Breaux and Stanley Jean-Baptiste occupying two of the top three spots on the cornerback depth chart. Their combined NFL experience? Oh, just eight snaps.

    This is when you look at the Saints' early schedule, notice the Cardinals' John Brown and the Buccaneers' Mike Evans among the wide receivers on deck, and expect an aerial bombardment.

22. Tennessee Titans

11 of 32

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 23

    This Week: 22

    Change: +1

    Quarterback Marcus Mariota made only a brief appearance during the Tennessee Titans final preseason game. But on one throw he showed why there's growing belief he could develop quickly.

    Mariota was in shotgun just shy of midfield against the Minnesota Vikings. He took two steps back after the snap while looking to his first read short on the right. That wasn't inviting as a linebacker closed in on running back Bishop Sankey, so Mariota's eyes scanned some more as he remained patient, bouncing in the pocket.

    There may have been instincts telling him to run, but those were buried in the back of his mind. As his head turned left a pass-rusher closed in and he saw wide receiver Harry Douglas streaking across the middle on a crossing route.

    Mariota released just prior to nearly getting whacked, hitting Douglas in stride for a 59-yard touchdown. The future is blindingly bright if he's combining patience with athleticism this early.

21. New York Giants

12 of 32

    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 22

    This Week: 21

    Change: -1

    Looking too deeply into preseason stats of any kind can be dangerous and misleading.

    But there are situations when it's good to pay attention at least a little bit. When you do that with the New York Giants there's a temptation to tilt your head, and not in the cuddly way your dog does it.

    The Giants offense is entering its second year under coordinator Ben McAdoo. There was clear progression as the season moved along in 2014, a year when they finished ranked 10th while averaging 367.2 total yards per game. That improvement included quarterback Eli Manning's yards per attempt jumping from 6.9 in 2013 to 7.3.

    His average this preseason? Over 34 attempts—nearly the equivalent of a full game in 2014—Manning averaged only 4.2 yards.

20. St. Louis Rams

13 of 32

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 21

    This Week: 20

    Change: +1

    Is this finally the year St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin unleashes his joystick ways on the NFL? Early indications say yes, we just might be in for some frequent twinkle-toe action.

    Austin started his 2015 preseason with a 35-yard catch and run against the Oakland Raiders when he juked, swerved and quickly morphed into a punt returner in the open field. Then he finished the preseason in similar fashion.

    Austin ripped off an even more impressive 43-yard reception against the Kansas City Chiefs after catching a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage. He secured the ball and saw nothing but enemy jerseys. So he planted hard, spun and reversed his field, coming all the way across and rounding the far opposite corner.

    Austin's uniquely shifty speed was wasted by former Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who made him purely a gadget option. There will be a lot of fireworks if new coordinator Frank Cignetti can orchestrate touches and get him into space more often.

19. San Diego Chargers

14 of 32

    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 19

    This Week: 19

    Change: None

    The San Diego Chargers will play four games without Antonio Gates, their primary football-vacuuming tight end, after he violated the league's performance-enhancing substance policy. In 2014 Gates finished tied for the league lead in tight end touchdown receptions with 12, and his 821 receiving yards was second among all Chargers pass-catchers.

    Playing without a football magnet for a quarter of the season is never a fun experience. And it could get even less enjoyable for the Chargers if Ladarius Green, Gates' replacement, doesn't develop a connection with quarterback Philip Rivers soon.

    He's fizzled while trying to do that throughout the preseason. Green played 43 snaps this preseason and finished with only two receptions for 27 yards.

    As a tight end he may replace Gates, but the effort to truly fill in that missing production will be a combined one shared with wide receiver Stevie Johnson.

18. Carolina Panthers

15 of 32

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Last Week: 17

    This Week: 18

    Change: -1

    Maybe the Carolina Panthers don't actually need to replace injured wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin? Maybe every pass can just be thrown in tight end Greg Olsen's direction?

    Probably not, but that's likely what they'll try if the third preseason "dress rehearsal" game was any indication.

    The Panthers' first-team offense played one drive into the third quarter during a loss to the New England Patriots. Quarterback Cam Newton threw 28 times, and nine were chucked at Olsen.

    Olsen was targeted 131 times in 2014 and he'll easily eclipse that mark if Newton stays fixated on him.

17. New York Jets

16 of 32

    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 18

    This Week: 17

    Change: +1

    Ryan Fitzpatrick is the reliable family van of average quarterbacks. You're ashamed that you own one and there are times when it has a wretched odor. But it usually gets the job done and you walk away mildly satisfied.

    Fitzpatrick can take that further. If he's in the right situation there are times when he can meet the standards required to be considered "good." And the right situation is with the New York Jets and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.

    Gailey was the Buffalo Bills head coach during Fitzpatrick's brief period of semi-stardom there. So now Fitzpatrick picks up where he left off with a very familiar offense.

    And so far his comfort is showing. He didn't throw an interception through three preseason games and 36 pass attempts, finishing with a passer rating of 106.4.

16. Baltimore Ravens

17 of 32

    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 14

    This Week: 16

    Change: -2

    When your first-round pick isn't able to run just over a week before the regular season begins, as a general manager it's probably time to wonder exactly what you did to enrage a higher power.

    That's all Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome can do now with first-round wide receiver Breshad Perriman still unable to perform basic athletic functions. Perriman suffered a sprained PCL early in training camp, and during warm-ups prior to Baltimore's final preseason game he was able to catch passes but wasn't running "at all," according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun.

    Even when he's healthy the Ravens have an ultra-thin wide receiver depth chart. But without him they lack a true vertical threat to replace Torrey Smith, who departed this offseason as a free agent.

    Smith averaged 16.9 yards per reception over four seasons in Baltimore. Perriman showed similar burst during his final season at Central Florida while averaging a whopping 20.9 yards per catch. Now he'll likely miss Week 1 of his first NFL regular season, leaving the vertical field-stretching responsibilities primarily with 36-year-old Steve Smith. He's still effective at that vintage but has been gradually fading.

15. Miami Dolphins

18 of 32

    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Last Week: 16

    This Week: 15

    Change: +1

    Having screws in your foot doesn't sound like a pleasant experience. Especially if you're an NFL wide receiver who gets paid to run far and run fast.

    Miami Dolphins first-round rookie DeVante Parker needed surgery in June to replace a screw in his foot after a previous injury. That stalled the development of a receiver with suction-cup hands who snatches everything, and for a brief time there was concern he might not be ready for Week 1.

    But fear not, because Parker made his return with a cameo appearance during the Dolphins Week 4 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing all of eight snaps.

    He'll be brought along with caution and likely placed on a snap count early in the regular season. Once he's fully healthy Parker will climb the Dolphins' receiver depth chart and be another explosive option after the catch.

14. Minnesota Vikings

19 of 32

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Last Week: 15

    This Week: 14

    Change: +1

    The Minnesota Vikings have slowly become a popular breakout team pick. That makes sense, because running back Adrian Peterson is rejuvenated after missing nearly a full season and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is quickly cashing in on that pro-ready college prospect potential we all knew he had.

    So if we're picking a breakout player on the breakout team, the decision is easy: wide receiver Charles Johnson.

    Johnson bulked up to 225 pounds over the offseason, giving him an imposing frame at 6'2". Then during offseason work with Bridgewater the two developed chemistry. As Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune observed, it's clear Johnson is now Bridgewater's most trusted receiver.

    That was evident during Week 2 of the preseason against the Oakland Raiders, when all four of Johnson's receptions went for either a first down or touchdown.

13. Buffalo Bills

20 of 32

    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 12

    This Week: 13

    Change: -1

    Everything the Buffalo Bills do offensively this season will start with the run.

    They'll run to minimize the amount of pressure inexperienced quarterback Tyrod Taylor faces. They'll run to make third-down situations more manageable, ideally ensuring the distance can still be covered with a short, quick-hitting pass. And they'll run because, well, that's what you do when LeSean McCoy is in your backfield.

    But what if he's not? That's a horrible future the Bills may have to meet head-on in Week 1.

    McCoy suffered a hamstring injury on Aug. 18 during practice. Later, ESPN.com's Josina Anderson reported the issue is a "small tear," which led to Bills head coach Rex Ryan sounding less than optimistic about McCoy's Week 1 status.

    He used the words "I hope" when speaking to ESPN.com's Mike Rodak. In a cruel twist of fate, the Bills decided to cut ties with veteran running back Fred Jackson earlier this week, which means Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown could sit atop the depth chart for Week 1. Brown averaged only 3.5 yards per carry in 2014, while Dixon was slightly more serviceable at 4.1.

    Neither one is named McCoy, which means the Bills could be severely shorthanded while hosting the AFC powerhouse Indianapolis Colts.

12. Kansas City Chiefs

21 of 32

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Last Week: 13

    This Week: 12

    Change: +1

    Sure, the instant connection Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith seems to have with new wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is nice. But tight end Travis Kelce could become the real difference-maker if the Chiefs are going to succeed with an offense that leans heavily on short-to-intermediate routes.

    Kelce had two 20-plus-yard receptions this preseason, including a 34-yarder against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3. At 6'5" and 260 pounds he's a brute after the catch, and showed that in 2014 with 503 YAC, per PFF.

    He finished the preseason averaging 16.0 yards per catch. It's not hard to see a future with him hitting the 1,000-yard plateau this season.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers

22 of 32

    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 11

    This Week: 11

    Change: None

    Nothing changes here for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They still have a rebuilding defense that might get torn to bits some weeks and necessitate a shootout win. And they still have an offense loaded with talent, but critical pieces will be missing due to suspensions early.

    That includes running back Le'Veon Bell, who accounted for 33.8 percent of the Steelers' offensive yards in 2014 and will miss games against the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers after violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

    Absorbing just that one blow would be manageable. But deep threat wide receiver Martavis Bryant will sit out four games due to the same violation. His ability to win contested catches in the red zone while going into full pogo-stick mode will be sorely missed, which became clear when Bryant blew up for 138 yards on just three receptions in Week 3 of the preseason.

    Without those two there's suddenly a whole lot of pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger early this season.

10. Detroit Lions

23 of 32

    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 10

    This Week: 10

    Change: None

    The Detroit Lions need to find the Matthew Stafford of 2011. That guy lobbed in 41 touchdown passes and threw for 5,038 yards.

    The Lions have been searching to find that Stafford for four seasons and they've often been rewarded only with an inconsistent, side-arming quarterback who has become maddening.

    Maybe some backfield support will jolt 2011 Stafford back to life, and rookie running back Ameer Abdullah can certainly provide that. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry throughout the preseason.

    And improved tight end play would be nice, too. Especially from first-round dud Eric Ebron, who can go nowhere but up after finishing his rookie year with 248 receiving yards.

    Stafford bounced back nicely in 2014 from a dismal 2013 season. Now it's time to take another step toward being his former self and advance deeper into the playoffs. 

9. Arizona Cardinals

24 of 32

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 7

    This Week: 9

    Change: -2

    The Arizona Cardinals have invested heavily in offensive line upgrades, which is usually wise when one of your quarterback's knees is being held together with a combination of elastics and baling twine.

    They signed left tackle Jared Veldheer to a five-year contract worth $35 million and used first-round picks on guard Jonathan Cooper and tackle D.J. Humphries. Yet still quarterback Carson Palmer has been sacked 50 times over his last 24 regular-season starts.

    That's not exactly a recipe for success with a 35-year-old who's essential to everything Arizona wants to accomplish offensively, and has now torn the same ACL twice. And there was little encouragement to be found during the only preseason game that kind of, sort of matters when the Oakland Raiders took Palmer down three times over only 26 dropbacks.

8. Cincinnati Bengals

25 of 32

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Last Week: 8

    This Week: 8

    Change: None

    It won't take long before an ominous quarterback controversy cloud starts to hover over the Cincinnati Bengals. Specifically, that talk will begin once starter Andy Dalton has a regular-season performance even somewhat resembling Week 2 of the preseason when he threw two interceptions on only 13 pass attempts and finished with a passer rating of 15.7.

    There are surely whispers already after backup AJ McCarron completed 70.6 percent of his passes at an average of 8.8 yards per attempt against the Chicago Bears. But realistically, the Bengals offense is strapped to Dalton, whether he skyrockets or plummets.

    McCarron still hasn't attempted a single regular-season pass and his impressive showing against the Bears overshadows his preseason debut. That's when a weak-armed McCarron completed only one pass that traveled over 10 yards through the air, according to PFF's Sam Monson.

    Dalton still has firm possession of the keys to Cincinnati's offense. Here's to hoping he doesn't repeatedly run over the flowerpots while backing out of the driveway.

7. Philadelphia Eagles

26 of 32

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 7

    This Week: 9

    Change: +2

    Just when everything was coming up roses for the Philadelphia Eagles, head coach Chip Kelly's experiment in roster reshuffling has delivered another splash of sunshine.

    Middle linebacker Kiko Alonso made his Eagles debut during Philadelphia's preseason finale against the New York Jets. Appearing in limited game action was the final step in Alonso's recovery from a torn ACL, and having him healthy means the Eagles' linebacker corps is suddenly an imposing group.

    Alonso recorded 159 tackles during the 2013 season for the Bills. He did that while finishing with 39 run stops, per PFF, which tied him for seventh among the 40 linebackers who played at least half of their team's snaps.

    When his sideline-to-sideline presence is slotted beside DeMeco Ryans—who had 25 defensive stops over only eight games in 2014—a 15th-ranked run defense should improve dramatically.

6. Denver Broncos

27 of 32

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Last Week: 6

    This Week: 6

    Change: None

    An aging and gradually fading Peyton Manning is still firmly among the league's top tier of quarterbacks. But the Denver Broncos couldn't possibly have a worse beginning stretch to their schedule, one that's not at all accommodating for a 39-year-old who was slowed by a quad injury late in 2014 and is becoming even more statue-like in his movements.

    The Broncos start their season hosting the Baltimore Ravens, then travel to play the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions. All three of those teams had defenses that finished with 40-plus sacks in 2014.

    Manning has taken an average of only 17.9 sacks per season throughout his career because of terrific instincts to get rid of the ball before pressure arrives. Now the future Hall of Famer will be tested immediately and repeatedly.

5. Dallas Cowboys

28 of 32

    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Last Week: 4

    This Week: 5

    Change: -1

    The Dallas Cowboys' offensive success in 2015 largely hinges on whether they can effectively replace departed running back DeMarco Murray. Or, rather, whether replacing Murray matters at all.

    The common belief is that a bulldozing offensive line can create its own Murray-like runner out of anyone. And that likely won't be flawed thinking, although there's still a sizable step down from Murray to either Joseph Randle or Darren McFadden.

    But there's still some concern about a Cowboys backfield that wasn't truly addressed all offseason. It's at least a little troubling that after fielding a second-ranked rushing offense in 2014, the Cowboys are now anxiously awaiting backfield table scraps after final roster cuts.

    Team vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones told Clarence Hill of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram there could be a lot of activity following final cuts, particularly at running back. Translation: The Cowboys know their strength in 2014 has the potential to become a weakness.

4. Green Bay Packers

29 of 32

    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 5

    This Week: 4

    Change: +1

    Running to either a bunker or much higher ground would have been a completely understandable reaction throughout Wisconsin after Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was lost for the season. Then gathering enough supplies to last the winter was also wise when Randall Cobb suffered what initially looked like a serious shoulder injury during a preseason Week 3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

    But please emerge to see the light of day, Packers fans.

    Cobb is confident his sprained shoulder won't keep him out of Green Bay's season opener against the Chicago Bears, telling ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky that he doesn't plan on missing a game. Sure, the Packers are unfairly deep at wide receiver, but even they couldn't have soldiered on just fine after losing both Nelson and then Cobb.

    Combined those two were targeted 304 times in 2014, including the playoffs. That put them on the other end for just over half of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' pass attempts.

3. Seattle Seahawks

30 of 32

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Last Week: 2

    This Week: 3

    Change: -1

    Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch isn't normal. You knew that, of course, and if you needed a reminder then please look to his, um, openly intimate relationship with Skittles.

    But take a moment to really absorb just how unique Lynch is as a physical specimen. He runs violently and like a beer truck without brakes. Yet over his 1,687 career touches including the playoffs since joining the Seahawks, he's missed only one game.

    That borders on a medical miracle from a 29-yard-old playing the NFL's most combustible position. It's also why the Seahawks are even more screwed than most teams with stud running backs if Lynch were to finally be somewhat human and go down at any point this season.

    Lynch is running behind a weakened offensive line after center Max Unger was part of the trade to acquire tight end Jimmy Graham. But he compensates for that weakness by being a tackle-breaking behemoth. He averaged 2.5 yards after contact in 2014, per the Football Outsiders Almanac (via ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia), and was able to run only 2.2 yards before facing first contact.

    That shows Lynch is a transcendent talent whose running style can nullify concerns about his lack of space. Without him Seattle's offense would be exposed, and forced to become even more chaotic.

2. Indianapolis Colts

31 of 32

    Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 1

    This Week: 2

    Change: -1

    The Indianapolis Colts fall from their perch atop these rankings this week only because of the New England Patriots' off-field victory. And Colts head coach Chuck Pagano could be seeking work if his team falls behind the Patriots again in the actual standings while failing to reach the Super Bowl.

    Pagano is in a "make or break" season, according to a report from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. That makes sense, because even while winning 11 games over each of the past three seasons since Pagano came aboard, the Colts have still failed to leap over a growing hump and play on the NFL's grandest stage.

    General manager Ryan Grigson did more than just shove his chips into the middle of the table this offseason. He put up every vehicle he owns, too, and his first born after splurging on veteran free agents (running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson). It's time to win now, not later.

1. New England Patriots

32 of 32

    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 3

    This Week: 1

    Change: +2

    It's swell that there was a growing belief in what New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could do over Tom Brady's potential four-game absence. Garoppolo had completed 76.2 percent of his passes over 80 preseason attempts prior to Thursday, and at the very least looked like he could weather a thunderous storm throughout September and early October.

    Now he can return to his proper title of backup quarterback and eventual heir to Brady's throne. An offense that threw the fifth-most touchdown passes in 2014 (34) has its leader back.

    Brady's suspension was nullified by judge Richard Berman, per ESPN.com. He's not totally clear yet from the snowball of mismanaged authority that is Deflategate, as the league will appeal. But Brady will definitely be under center for Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    This is when I remind you that although defensive changes were scattered throughout the offseason in New England, a championship-winning offense remains largely untouched.