NFL Power Rankings: Chris Simms' Week 1 Rankings

Chris Simms@@CSimmsQBNFL Lead AnalystSeptember 5, 2016

NFL Power Rankings: Chris Simms' Week 1 Rankings

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    Let’s make one thing clear before you dive too deep into my Week 1 power rankings. 

    The NFL is a win-now league. And this is a win-now list. It’s not where I predict where your team will end up by the time the 2016 season. It’s not an inverse ranking of Super Bowl 51 odds. It’s not even a look at how these teams will stack up heading into Week 2.

    These rankings are based on two things: how your favorite team looks right now and how I feel they’re set up heading into their next matchup. Like the league standings, they can and will change over time.

    Are we on the same page? Good. Because after a few clicks, you might not agree with where I placed your favorite teams (Spoiler alert: They’re too low, I know). I know you’ll find me on Twitter and tell me how you really feel.

32. Cleveland Browns

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    Associated Press

    Look what head coach Hue Jackson has done this preseason with a once-unwatchable offense. Josh Gordon is back to his old form. And Terrelle Pryor! That kid has finally figured out he can make an NFL paycheck at receiver. Robert Griffin III might look rusty, but his deep ball is on point right now. 

    Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is a master at plugging holes. He’s not a miracle worker, though. This defense is in major transition, and the youth movement won’t look pretty. Guys like Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib are going to feel some growing pains.

    Next opponent: Philadelphia Eagles

    Looking ahead: I’m a Hue Jackson believer. Just maybe not on the road in Philadelphia to start the season.

31. Chicago Bears

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    Losing Martellus Bennett? That’s one of the dumbest moves of the offseason. The only red-zone threat left on this team is an oft-injured Alshon Jeffery.

    They also lost offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who’ll take his quick-release system to South Beach. If you see the old Jay Cutler creep back into the picture this season, that’s why. Cutler is probably holding the ball for way too long. That’s a no-no for any QB, but especially for Cutler, whose offensive line isn’t anything spectacular. It’s Kyle Long and four question marks. 

    On defense—and get used to me asking this—who scares you? Pernell McPhee? Leonard Floyd? The Bears are better but just not ready to take the fight to Aaron Rodgers.

    Next opponent: Houston Texans

    Looking ahead: The Bears added Brian Hoyer as a backup this offseason. They might need him early on if J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney have their way.

30. San Francisco 49ers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Go ahead and call me crazy: Chip Kelly isn’t the flop everyone thinks he is. It’s like he went 10-6 in back-to-back seasons but forgot how to coach. He’ll settle in.

    It helps his chances to have a workhorse like Carlos Hyde. The front seven is still damn scary when you really look at it. I want to watch the 49ers' two guys from Oregon—DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead—eat on defense. 

    But their passing game looks like crap. This Colin Kaepernick situation is a double distraction, given he might not even start over Blaine Gabbert. I like Gabbert to win, but I don’t like who he’s throwing to. The fact they just dealt for Jeremy Kerley shows you the Niners agree with me.

    Next opponent: Los Angeles Rams

    Looking ahead: We have a Monday Night Toilet Bowl to end Week 1. I say the Rams flush the Niners in a close game.

29. Los Angeles Rams

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    If you’re a fan of Hard Knocks, you know my old coach Jeff Fisher has about had it with going 8-8. He’s in luck; the Rams of Los Angeles aren’t poised to play .500 ball. But their record will head south before it ever heads north.

    My reasoning: It’s not easy switching cities. Just imagine this team from the Midwest getting off the plane and suddenly, there’s a beach! There’s Hollywood! There are models and movies and 20 other kinds of distractions. 

    Their front seven with Aaron Donald is special. Todd Gurley is unreal. But there were major concerns about this young team when it resided in St. Louis. Who makes plays in the secondary? Who blocks for Case Keenum (or Jared Goff)? Pick this roster up, move it to L.A. and add in a quarterback battle—that just makes things tougher.

    Next opponent: San Francisco 49ers

    Looking ahead: People won’t agree with how low this team is ranked. Then, those same people will watch the late Monday night game and see a team that will battle with the 49ers. 

28. Miami Dolphins

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Let’s start with the bad—and there’s plenty of it.

    The Dolphins have the worst back seven in football. Their linebackers are just not impressive. Their secondary has been pitiful, even with Reshad Jones. Their defensive line—Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams and Cameron Wake—needs to dominate in order to be competitive. I just don't see it.

    But I do see head coach Adam Gase working out. The O-line should (key word: should) be better with Laremy Tunsil in place and a scheme designed to neutralize pass-rushers. All Ryan Tannehill has to do is take three steps and throw. If they want the ball, DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry need to play with more consistency than they did this preseason.

    Next opponent: Seattle Seahawks

    Looking ahead: Yikes. A cross-country trip to CenturyLink in Week 1? Russell Wilson will have a field day.

27. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Look up the word "freak" in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Fletcher Cox. He has the big contract, but he’s poised to do bigger things this year.

    The rest of that defense? Serviceable. Rodney McLeod joins Malcolm Jenkins for a good safety tandem. Group their corners and linebackers together, though, and you won’t find many game plan-worthy guys.

    But here's the thing: I have great faith in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He's the guy who turned Detroit's defense into something scary, and he'll do the same with Philly's front seven.

    Quick! Name an Eagles starting O-lineman who isn’t 34-year-old Jason Peters. Lane Johnson doesn’t count if his mega-suspension holds up and leaves Philly further exposed. It’s no wonder the team is stockpiling quarterbacks.

    Next opponent: Cleveland Browns

    Looking ahead: Too low for the Eagles? I’ll look like a genius if Philly struggles to eke out a win over the last-ranked Browns.

26. San Diego Chargers

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    The normal fan on the street couldn’t name this team’s front seven if you spotted them six.

    And guess what? That’s not a great sign in a division with Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Justin Houston. The Chargers' rivals have defensive difference-makers, and they have…Joey Bosa after a four-month hiatus.

    That doesn’t move the needle for me.

    Keenan Allen isn’t a superstar. He was missed for the second half of last season, but he’s not in the A.J. Green/Odell Beckham/Julio Jones class. Philip Rivers’ favorite target will always be Antonio Gates, who can still ball.

    Next opponent: Kansas City Chiefs

    Looking ahead: The Chiefs offensive line is healthy, and Justin Houston isn’t. But they are a playoff team, and the Chargers aren’t.

25. New Orleans Saints

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    Associated Press

    Sean Payton is still there. He’s still one of the best coaches in pro football, period. Drew Brees is still there, and he’s still one of the best passers in football, period. 

    I like this offensive line with Andrus Peat, Terron Armstead and Max Unger. This is the year C.J. Spiller finally figures out what he can bring to the table. Michael Thomas is your preseason darling for a reason, too.

    Then you look at the defense and just shake your head. Nick Fairley? P.J. Williams? Cam Jordan? You need a top defense to dethrone Cam Newton in that division. They still don’t own one, and they’re already injured.

    Next opponent: Oakland Raiders

    Looking ahead: This team has won its fair share of shootouts under Payton and Brees. Looks like the Saints are poised to win another one.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    If you forced me to pick a playoff dark horse, it would be my old team down in Tampa.

    Jameis Winston is a big reason why. He’s such a natural quarterback; he has touch, power, leadership—everything. There’s not a better deep-ball passer in football (and, luckily for the Bucs, Mike Evans looks ready to rebound). Winston was great this preseason.

    So did the Bucs' first-round pick. Vernon Hargreaves is Defensive Rookie of the Year material. He’s already one of the best pure cover corners in football.

    I still have questions about the O-line. Tampa is better moving forward in run blocking—where Doug Martin shined—than in pass pro. And if the Bucs are down with two minutes to go and need a field goal, do you really feel good sending the rookie Roberto Aguayo out there? Be honest.

    Next opponent: Atlanta Falcons

    Looking ahead: Tampa is a team to watch out for. It will unleash Jameis 2.0 all over the Falcons defense.

23. Tennessee Titans

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Titans are one of those young teams that make you ask: "Can they handle this?" Maybe they can with a little "exotic smashmouth." 

    Mike Mularkey is the Sean Payton of the NFL running game. He can draw up a totally new scheme and beat you with that power game. That’s doubly true when he can rotate in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Fans might not know this, but new center Ben Jones is the ringleader of it all.

    But Troy Polamalu and James Harrison aren't walking through that locker room door. The secondary is a bit of a mess. The Titans will need second-round rookie Kevin Dodd to be a healthy contributor in pressure packages.

    Next opponent: Minnesota Vikings

    Looking ahead: Minnesota isn’t the team you want to see in Week 1 if you’re rolling out a run-first offense. Not the best draw.

22. Atlanta Falcons

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    Have you seen Matt Ryan this preseason? He looks less polished than Jared Goff.

    No, seriously. He’s making rookie-level mistakes—and collecting a salary like an elite passer. It’ll be panic time in Atlanta if that spills over into Week 1.

    Maybe a little less Julio Jones and a little more balance is what this team needs. Alex Mack comes over to anchor a kinda good running game. And the more that defense stays off the field, the better (although I do like the two rookie inside linebackers, De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones).

    Next opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Looking ahead: Who’s going to pressure Cam or Brees or Jameis? Dwight Freeney? Vic Beasley? Good luck with that.

21. Buffalo Bills

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    Tyrod Taylor attended the Joe Flacco School of Throwing Deep Passes. He graduated with flying colors.

    But that’s about all T-Mobile can do. He’s like the anti-Tom Brady—all sideline, nothing over the middle. Sammy Watkins might think that’s not a problem, but today’s NFL is about short crossing patterns. The Bills aren’t throwing them.

    They also might not be able to stop them. Let’s count the starters who won’t be available on Week 1: Marcel Dareus, rookie Shaq Lawson, rookie Reggie Ragland. Those are three guys they needed.

    Next opponent: Baltimore Ravens

    Looking ahead: Rex Ryan goes back to where he starred as a coordinator. He’ll return to find a warm seat in Western New York.

20. Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    The selection of the Colts' first-round pick (center Ryan Kelly) shows they’ve started the much-delayed process of keeping Andrew Luck upright. They need to game-plan like they’re serious about that.

    Their trio of young receivers can help. Phillip Dorsett, the team's top pick last year, can just get open. It will limit the time Luck needs to stand back there patting the football and taking hits.

    On defense…yuck. Injuries are eating away at a unit that wasn’t great in the first place. The Colts will miss a full-strength Henry Anderson. That dude could eat blockers up. Robert Mathis is still coming off the edge, but simply put: They’ll need more.

    Next opponent: Detroit Lions

    Looking ahead: The good news is they won’t have to deal with Megatron. The bad news is that defense still might not make a stop.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    The Jaguars defense is loaded—and I mean loaded—with sexy names and top draft picks.

    Look a little deeper. I really do think the Seattle-style of defense—Press Cover 3—is on the decline. Good quarterbacks (and suddenly, there are a ton in the division) can torch it. Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Dante Fowler and Co. will need to outplay the system sometimes, but none of them has played a meaningful NFL snap.

    On offense, it’s about Blake Bortles in the second half. He flat-out stunk last season. With those weapons, there’s no excuse for that. 

    Next opponent: Green Bay Packers

    Looking ahead: There's nothing like a Week 1 showdown with Aaron Rodgers to send red-hot preseason takes for a dip in the EverBank Field pool.

18. Oakland Raiders

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    I wonder where all the people calling for Reggie McKenzie’s head went? They were just here a few seasons ago, I swear. It's amazing what a few good drafts can do for a general manager.

    Four questions for this squad remain:

    1. Can the Raiders develop those promising picks, such as safety Karl Joseph, into contributors?

    2. And speaking of Joseph, is their secondary now good enough to cover anyone?

    3. Teams ran on the Raiders a bit in preseason—is that going to be a concern?

    4. The fourth question is all about No. 4. Last year, Derek Carr was playing at an All-Pro level, then hit a wall and looked like a rookie. It’s Year 3, kid—can you play like a consistent QB?

    Next opponent: New Orleans Saints

    Looking ahead: Want a test for that new-look defense? Here’s Drew Brees in Week 1. Go wild.

17. Baltimore Ravens

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    Jon Durr/Getty Images

    The Ravens are one of those teams that get off the bus and you go, “Holy crap.” You understand how they’ve been so good for so long.

    But looking good off the bus isn’t the same as looking good on the field. They had some issues—especially in pass coverage—last season. In comes Eric Weddle, but not much else has changed. They’re banking on the Elvis Dumervil/Terrell Suggs combo again.

    Here’s what I like: Ronnie Stanley. His arrival means the Ravens are bullies again. And when they’re not pushing the pile, they’re pushing the ball downfield. Mike Wallace might be in line for a comeback with Joe Flacco as his quarterback.

    Next opponent: Buffalo Bills

    Looking ahead: It’s a deep ball-off between Flacco and his former pupil, Tyrod Taylor. Just back those coverages off now.

16. New York Giants

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    Associated Press

    The Giants are a stable, status-quo franchise. Ben McAdoo is the perfect fit at head coach.

    He’ll game-plan the Giants to a few more wins in 2016. He’ll also figure out an option opposite Odell Beckham Jr., even if it’s rookie Sterling Shepard. Unfortunately, McAdoo is unable to suit up at either tackle spot. Sorry, Eli Manning.

    Steve Spagnuolo has one creative defense. He just needs players to run it, and unlike last season, he might have a few. Look for Owa Odighizuwa in a NASCAR look that some Giants fans might remember. 

    Next opponent: Dallas Cowboys

    Looking ahead: Big Blue couldn’t close anyone out on defense in 2015. The first test in 2016? It’s against a rookie QB (Dak Prescott) who tore up preseason.

15. Houston Texans

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    Associated Press

    It’s like the Texans went out and assembled my All-Man Crush Team.

    J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus—they’re just a group of freaks. Their front seven is as physical as any group in football now that Clowney is piecing it together. He might not have world-class edge-rushing speed, but that bull rush is lethal.

    One blocker can’t stop it.

    On offense, I still have questions about Brock Osweiler. He doesn’t have Peyton Manning to help him break down film in the quarterback room. What he does have, though, is a phenomenal set of weapons around him. Braxton Miller is going to be a slot machine down there. He'll be used just like Wes Welker was in Bill O'Brien's old New England offense. You watch.

    Next opponent: Chicago Bears

    Looking ahead: Osweiler made his first start against the Bears last season. This season, he better torch them with all the talent he has in Houston.

14. Dallas Cowboys

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Even with Dak? Even with Dak. 

    The game isn’t too big for the kid. The fact he was forced into action (in Seattle of all places) and acted like a veteran tells me all I need to know. Dude is the next Steve McNair. He won’t be asked to do too much with Ezekiel Elliott behind him and that line in front of him.

    Dallas shouldn’t be slighted because of Tony Romo’s injury. I'm a believer the Cowboys can still be dangerous with Dak under center. Their defense, despite injuries and suspensions, can be middle-of-the-pack good. That’s all they might need to be.

    Next opponent: New York Giants

    Looking ahead: Is a safety in the box? Dak will throw. Are there two safeties back? Elliott will run. The Giants know this but might not be able to stop it.

13. Washington Redskins

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    Associated Press

    Welcome, Josh Norman! Now go out there against Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant four times per year and live up to that new contract.

    I think of Norman as more of a system guy. But he told me that’s not the case. We’ll see if he can have similar success playing behind a front seven that's not nearly as talented. I'm not sold on that defense from top to bottom, actually.

    As far as depth charts go, Washington's best group catches passes. The team has DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Jamison Crowder can turn into a little slot machine at WR3. Josh Doctson was the team's No. 1 pick. And oh yeah—tight end Jordan Reed is an absolute freak. Kirk Cousins likes that group. He might need to really like them because I still don't know who the running back is.

    Next opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers

    Looking ahead: All is calm in Washington, D.C., for the first offseason in recent memory. We’ll see how serene it stays when Antonio Brown runs through town.

12. Detroit Lions

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    Associated Press

    You might be surprised to see them this high. But I’ve liked everything I’ve seen from the Lions on film so far. 

    Matthew Stafford looks like a totally different guy. I couldn’t believe how in shape he was when I saw his first preseason game in Pittsburgh this summer. He's not messing around in the post-Megatron era. 

    Speaking of Megatron, this offense actually has a chance to get better. Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin are in town, Ameer Abdullah is poised for big things, and that line has another year under its belt. Another season with Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter? I'm excited to see it.

    Cornerback Darius Slay is an arrow-up player who deserved a new deal. But offenses know how good he is, and they’ll show him some respect. Maybe pundits out there should do the same for this front-seven group. It's like they all forgot how good Ezekiel Ansah, Haloti Ngata, DeAndre Levy and Co. can be.

    Next opponent: Indianapolis Colts

    Looking ahead: Indy should be a nice tune-up for the team from the Motor City.

11. Minnesota Vikings

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    Sam Bradford is in town!

    But let's pause for a second on the Vikings' Super Bowl chances. It's so tough for any quarterback—Bradford, Shaun Hill, Peyton Manning, anyone—to just be thrown into game action. It'll take time to get everything set.

    Luckily, if Bradford is ever in a bind, Adrian Peterson can just take a handoff 70 yards. He's still a special talent.

    Also special: This defense that Mike Zimmer has assembled. It has Anthony Barr (watch out for him). It has a few big run-stuffers up front. The secondary is as deep as it's been in years with Terence Newman and a couple of rookie talents.

    Next opponent: Tennessee Titans

    Looking ahead: There’s nothing exotic about the Vikings’ smashmouth attack. Peterson might get 30 carries with Hill forced into action.

10. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Say it with me, guys: Alex Smith needs to push the ball down the field, not in the flat.

    That’s where he’ll be able to do the most damage with Jeremy Maclin and Baby Gronkowski. He’ll also be able to find a new target deep in speedster Chris Conley. That’s a promising development, given how the passing game struggled without a full-strength Maclin in the playoffs.

    Opposing offensive coordinators will seek to avoid Marcus Peters. But directing their passing game elsewhere isn’t safe, either. The secondary is deep. So is the D-line, which places a promising talent like Chris Jones next to Dontari Poe. Good things are about to happen.

    Next opponent: San Diego Chargers

    Looking ahead: The Chiefs can straight-up out-physical you. Expect that to show up early on versus the finesse Chargers.

9. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Remember: These rankings are right-now rankings. The No. 1 reason the Bengals are this low is that they can’t do it every year. Right?


    But you can see why people think this team is Houston-bound. A.J. Green is going to get the attention he deserves, and rookie Tyler Boyd is showing flashes on the other side. Geno Atkins is short, stubby and an absolute terror on the interior. Cincinnati lost top pick William Jackson III but possesses enough secondary depth to absorb the blow.

    I’m not the biggest Andy Dalton guy. I’m not a fan of teams with new offensive coordinators. There’s no denying this team is good, though.

    Next opponent: New York Jets

    Looking ahead: Darrelle Revis vs. Green. Jets O-line vs. Bengals D-line. This is a measuring-stick matchup right off the bat.

8. Seattle Seahawks

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s no secret how I feel about Seattle's offense. 

    It’s like first-grade addition when the Saints or Pats are like college-level trigonometry. I did some of the stuff the Seahawks do on my third day of high school ball. And they don’t have Marshawn Lynch to bail them out with freakish runs. 

    With that said, Russell Wilson can buy enough time for any receiver to separate. No tandem was as dangerous down the stretch last year as the Wilson-to-Doug Baldwin connection. Tyler Lockett might be that guy this year.

    Next opponent: Miami Dolphins

    Looking ahead: The Seahawks are almost the same exact team from last year, which means they can squeak into the playoffs and trounce teams like the Dolphins.

7. New York Jets

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    Associated Press

    You’re looking at a team with the best roster in football. There, I’ve said it.

    The Jets D-line is the best in football. Their secondary is up there, too. Their receiving corps is loaded again. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t need to do much more than dump the ball off and let his supporting cast work.

    The running game will look a little different with Matt Forte. He’s more of a pass-catcher and speed back than Chris Ivory was. If that transition is seamless, the Jets won’t face many more questions.

    Next opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

    Looking ahead: Brady is out, and the Jets are loaded. If they can’t make a move now, they never will.

6. Arizona Cardinals

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    Associated Press

    The Cardinals freak me out.

    The way they ended last year is a little alarming (that Green Bay game and then a Panthers blowout). Both lines are a mess right now. And Carson Palmer is playing like Father Time is tolling this preseason. 

    They’ll probably shake it off because they’re so damn talented. Chandler Jones, one of the NFL’s top sack artists, is now on this defense. Jaron Brown would start on your team; he’s the fourth option in Arizona. I wouldn’t be shocked if David Johnson leads the league in rushing, either. 

    Next opponent: New England Patriots

    Looking ahead: Exhibition hasn’t been kind to the Cards. The angry Patriots will be even meaner.

5. Green Bay Packers

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    Associated Press

    Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback I’ve ever seen in my life. All his toys are back, too.

    Jordy Nelson is back. Jared Cook is here. Eddie Lacy’s weight is not here. If those three don’t make a noticeable difference, No. 12 will just heave up a Hail Mary. He could probably complete one blindfolded at this point.

    The defense is also exciting. Don’t underestimate the value of another year under the belt of that young secondary. Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, etc.—they’ll all improve. 

    Next opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

    Looking ahead: The Packers are back to double-digit win form. They can handle the Jags.

4. Denver Broncos

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    Associated Press

    Write the champs off at your own peril. I say they go over nine wins.

    The Broncos lost one of the worst statistical QBs in football? How could they possibly improve? By relying on that defense, that’s how. They have the best secondary in football and a pass-rusher named Von Miller. Trevor Siemian needs to hand the ball off and not make a mess of things.

    Gary Kubiak’s offense is so incredibly simple: zone tight, zone wide, play action, repeat. It’s almost too perfect for a young quarterback like Siemian.

    Next opponent: Carolina Panthers

    Looking ahead: They’ll put up a banner Thursday night—and put their first W in the win column, too.

3. New England Patriots

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    It’s not like he’s Jimmy Crap-ollo. 

    New England’s QB2 can hold the fort until Tom Brady is back. Garoppolo has shown some things on tape that can help the Pats play winning football. Maybe getting him out of the pocket on some designed roll-outs is the best way to help him.

    Then, Brady will get back and set the league on fire. The Pats added Martellus Bennett to a starting offense that loves using 2-1 or 2-2 personnel. It’s not fair, and 31 other teams kind of know it.

    Next opponent: Arizona Cardinals

    Looking ahead: Jimmy G surprises some folks—especially the ones on the Cardinals defense.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    The Steelers are an AFC Championship team—take it to the bank.

    This offense is going to be the best in football. We know about Antonio Brown and those weapons on the outside (by the way: watch out for Markus Wheaton and Eli Rogers). We know about Big Ben. But it’s so telling that a guy like Le’Veon Bell can step out like he did last year, and DeAngelo Williams can be plugged right in. 

    I love the young pieces on defense. Artie Burns and Sean Davis look like building blocks to me. If the Steelers coverage holds up, they’ll run away with the division.

    Next opponent: Washington Redskins

    Looking ahead: Bell won’t suit up for the first game of his three-game ban. It won’t matter.

1. Carolina Panthers

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    Welcome to Aaron Rodgers territory, Cam Newton.

    The NFL’s MVP is going to hit on chunk plays—that’s just what he does. Why make moves this offseason when Kelvin Benjamin is coming back? Greg Olsen can still do his thing. Both fronts can still manhandle guys. 

    So what if the Panthers are starting two rookie cornerbacks in Daryl Worley and James Bradberry? Head coach Ron Rivera is the best at minimizing their importance, anyway. He did start an aging Charles Tillman last year, after all.

    Next opponent: Denver Broncos

    Looking ahead: They know who they are. And who they are is the best team in football, even if a trip to Denver will be tough.