NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand at Start of Preseason?

Chris Simms@@CSimmsQBNFL Lead AnalystAugust 7, 2017

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand at Start of Preseason?

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    As NFL fans, we all love early August, right? Shark Week is over, training camps are underway, and every team in the league is equal—except for those that aren't. This is where the reality of the NFL rests. Yes, every team is undefeated right now, but there are some 0-0 teams that are much better than others. How ever can we rank teams? If the win-loss columns are telling the tale, the New England Patriots are the same as the New York Jets.

    Confused? Good. Because that's how the football world at large generally is before the start of the preseason.

    In all seriousness, there is a reason to put together power rankings this time of year. We've had an entire offseason of activity, and for the most part, teams around the league are vastly different than they were at the end of last season.

    I'm going to base my rankings off last season's performances, the offseason's activity and what I've seen and heard in early training camp.

    To be clear, this isn't a prediction of how I believe teams will perform in 2017. This probably won't even be how I rank teams a week from now. This is how I view teams as they currently sit. For a point of reference, I'm also including each team's ranking from the end of the 2016 regular season.

    You can listen to me discuss more about these rankings on this week's Simms & Lefkoe Podcast.

32. New York Jets

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 29

    This might sound odd to some of you, but I believe the Jets are a really good 32nd-ranked team.

    I've never seen a group with this much defensive line talent at No. 32. I like the pair of young safeties the team added in the draft as well. Defensively, this unit can be pretty good. I don't think teams can take New York lightly in 2017.

    I know there's talk of the Jets tanking this year to get the No. 1 pick in the draft—even though NFL teams don't tank—but other teams still have to go out and stop guys like Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams every week, which won't be easy.

    My problem with the Jets is they don't have an answer at quarterback—well, their answer is Josh McCown, anyway—they don't have a workhorse running back, they have offensive line questions and they lost wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in the offseason.

    Tanking? No. Entering a significant rebuild? Yes.

31. Los Angeles Rams

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 30

    I'm starting the Rams off with a low ranking to begin the preseason, though I do think this team will be remarkably better than it was last year. I certainly believe the team will finish the season higher than 31.

    The Rams added a great offensive mind in Sean McVay as head coach. They also got Wade Phillips to come to town as defensive coordinator. These additions will have a tremendous impact. The team made some good roster additions too, like Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods and Connor Barwin.

    However, it could take some time to see marked improvement.

    The development of quarterback Jared Goff is my big question with this team right now. I do expect him to make a big jump this year under McVay. Until he does, though, it's going to be difficult for this group to consistently win in the NFC West.

30. Cleveland Browns

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 32

    The Browns did a lot to improve this offseason.

    On paper, they now have one of the best offensive lines in football. I know they lost Terrelle Pryor, but Kenny Britt is a solid veteran replacement.

    The Browns also had a phenomenal draft. They added potential stars in Myles Garrett and David Njoku. They also added quarterback DeShone Kizer—who I believe will be the starter at some point this season—in Round 2. I wasn't as high on the Jabrill Peppers pick, but new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should be able to figure out how to use him.

    When I look at this roster, I see a team that should be ranked higher than 30th. However, I need to see the Browns win some of the close games they lost last year and see some semblance of stability at quarterback before I move them up.

    This is a group going in the right direction, though.

29. Chicago Bears

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    Nam Huh/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 27

    The Bears will be in pretty good shape offensively this season. Mike Glennon will be serviceable while Mitchell Trubisky learns. Dowell Loggains is one of the top up-and-coming offensive coordinators in the league. And people tend to forget that Jordan Howard was the second-leading rusher in the NFL last season.

    If Kevin White can just be somewhat of a threat, the offense will be OK.

    I have a lot of questions about the Bears defensively, though. There is talent on the defense, but there are some major questions with the secondary. The Bears had trouble playing advanced coverages last season, which meant they could rarely bring an extra defender into the box to stop the run. Conservative coverages were the rule, and against top offenses, that's a problem.

    This is still my biggest question with the Bears, and I'm not sure they're in position to change the narrative this year.

28. San Francisco 49ers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 31

    The 49ers could surprise some people this season. No, they don't have a franchise quarterback, but they have Kyle Shanahan and a quarterback with experience in his system. The offense should be light years ahead of where it was under Chip Kelly.

    The 49ers defense can be sneaky-good too. There is more defensive talent on this team than most people realize. They'll be running a Seahawks-style scheme, and they have the personnel to pull it off.

    Having guys like Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner up front and guys like NaVorro Bowman and Reuben Foster at linebacker gives San Francisco a dangerous front seven.

    Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have done a terrific job of flipping this roster in one offseason. The 49ers are on their way, but they were still one of the worst teams in football a year a go and have a long way to go.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 28

    I have the Jaguars at No. 27 because I have to see it to believe it. Can new head coach Doug Marrone turn things around? Sure. Let me see it first, though. Until then, I have to view the Jaguars as the underachievers they have been.

    Looking at the roster, the Jaguars should be in the top half of the league, talent-wise. However, they've shown no ability to win close games, and they have a quarterback I believe is one of the two or three worst in the NFL.

    The rest of roster should have Jacksonville at No. 15 or 16 in these rankings. Yet not being battle-tested, regularly losing games in the fourth quarter and having a quarterback I don't think can throw the football is going to knock a team down a number of spots.

26. Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 19

    The Colts should be better than the 26th team in football. They've made some nice moves to get more physical. They've taken steps to improve their defense. I especially like the additions of Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson in the secondary.

    However, I have to factor in the injury status of quarterback Andrew Luck. No one knows when he'll be able to play or even when he'll be able to fully practice.

    Luck is returning from a shoulder injury, which is always concerning. He needs to get it back to the point where he can throw 100, 200 balls a day in order to improve and to work with his offense in practices. He needs that work to become a consistent thrower again. Not only do I question when Luck can return, but I also question when he'll be able to get his arm back in shape.

    Favoring the shoulder can lead to elbow tendinitis in quarterbacks, so this is one of the biggest injury concerns in the league to me.

25. Buffalo Bills

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 25

    The addition of Sean McDermott as head coach is going to be big for the Bills. I have a lot of respect for him, and everything I know of him from guys around the league leads me to believe he's the right man to turn this team around.

    I have a lot less faith in new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. I wasn't a fan of him and what he did offensively in Denver, and I believe he's a huge question mark. This team is going to go as far as quarterback Tyrod Taylor can take it, and I don't know that Dennison can get the most out of him.

    My other big question with this team is whether guys like Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay can stay healthy. Even if Taylor plays well, the Bills are going to struggle if LeSean McCoy is their only offensive weapon.

    There is talent on this roster, and McDermott can get the defense where it needs to be. I have big concerns about the offense, though, and I need to see something there before I'm willing to move this team up in the rankings.

24. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 21

    Look, the Bengals have a lot of talent on their roster. There's no doubt about it. However, I'm not convinced they got any better this offseason.

    The Bengals lost their two best offensive linemen in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Yes, they have young guys in place to help replace them, but they're unproven. I need to see these guys step in and do it.

    The Bengals also lost utility back Rex Burkhead and defensive tackle Domata Peko, two underrated players who will be hard to replace. I don't think the Bengals did enough to improve their pass rush, either. They had just 33 sacks last season.

    For some reason, the Bengals didn't address their weaknesses in the draft. I love John Ross as a player, but he isn't going to bolster the offensive line and he isn't going to replace the veterans Cincinnati lost. Given his injury history, he might not be an offensive difference-maker for some time at all. Joe Mixon could be the wild card here, but it's not like Cincinnati is short on running backs.

    I'm not sure the Bengals got better as a team overall. If they didn't, this might be the last year we see Marvin Lewis as head coach in Cincinnati.

23. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 24

    The Eagles got Carson Wentz some help this offseason. The addition of Alshon Jeffery finally gives him a legit No. 1 receiver. The addition of Torrey Smith will help too. The additions of LeGarrette Blount and Donnel Pumphrey should help finally give him a running game.

    The Eagles helped their defense too. Guys like Timmy Jernigan, Chris Long and Derek Barnett should help improve the defensive front and strengthen the pass rush. However, I still have questions about Philadelphia's secondary. Can the Eagles consistently stop elite passing attacks? I don't know. I love the addition of Sidney Jones, but he isn't going to help this season.

    If the Eagles played in a different division, I'd have them ranked higher. They're the fourth-best team in the NFC East heading into the season.

22. Arizona Cardinals

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 18

    The Cardinals are a tough team to figure out. They have an upper-tier defense but lost star defenders like Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson in the offseason. They have premier offensive weapons but a quarterback in Carson Palmer who was atrocious in 2016. 

    For the Cardinals to have a bounce-back season, they need a number of things to happen. Young guys like Budda Baker and Haason Reddick need to replace Arizona's defensive losses. The offensive line needs to play better than it did a season ago. Second-year man Robert Nkemdiche has to prove his worth.

    Above all, Palmer needs to play more like the quarterback he was during the 2015 regular season, not the one we've seen since.

    This isn't a team with a lot of notable holes, but the question marks that do exist are huge.

21. New Orleans Saints

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 20

    I know I have the Saints ranked down here, but this could be a team that takes a big jump in 2017. I am worried about the injuries to Nick Fairley and Terron Armstead, but this team did a lot to improve in the offseason.

    The Saints got the best cornerback in the draft in Marshon Lattimore. That's huge. They added safety Marcus Williams in the second round—and he's already flashing in training camp. The Saints also helped their defense by adding to their backfield.

    I like the addition of Alvin Kamara. Sure, the Adrian Peterson signing got headlines, but Kamara is the future franchise back in New Orleans. With a stronger rushing attack, the Saints defense won't be on the field quite as much, and Drew Brees shouldn't have as much pressure.

    Of course, as long as Brees and Sean Payton are together and leading this offense, the Saints are going to have chances to win games. If the defense can come together and the rushing attack can improve, watch out for the Saints.

    This is a team that lost three games on late special teams plays last year and still went 7-9. Don't be surprised if New Orleans comes back with a 10-win season this year.

20. Carolina Panthers

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 22

    The Panthers could be poised for a bounce-back season. They helped their defense by adding veteran guys like Julius Peppers, Mike Adams and Captain Munnerlyn. They helped quarterback Cam Newton by adding weapons like Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel.

    There are still some big questions with this team, though. Will Newton have enough help around him? Can the new-look secondary hold up against the premier passing attacks found in the NFC South? How will Matt Kalil perform at left tackle after signing a $55 million deal?

    If Newton's weapons work out, Kalil can protect him and the pass defense—which was 29th in the NFL (268.2 yards per game allowed) last season—can improve, Carolina might be back in the playoff picture.

    If these things don't occur, we may be looking at the team's 2015 Super Bowl campaign as the anomaly, not last year's stumble.

19. Los Angeles Chargers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 26

    It stinks that the Chargers have lost Forrest Lamp for the year and are dealing with Mike Williams' injury. Those two rookies had the potential to make immediate impacts.

    Of course, I'm not sure the Chargers should have drafted Williams anyway. Going by what I heard from NFL people, the Chargers were interested in drafting Deshaun Watson but chickened out at the last minute.

    Overall, though, the Chargers could be in store for a respectable season. They lost a lot of close games late last year. The addition of Guy Bradley as defensive coordinator can help the team avoid that.

    The Chargers have a legit secondary and pass rush. Even with Williams injured, they have a tremendous receiver corps too.

    Guys like Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman and Antonio Gates makes this an explosive offense. As long as Philip Rivers is healthy and playing at a high level, the Chargers are going to have the chance to win in almost every contest.

18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 16

    With players like DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and O.J. Howard catching passes from Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers are going to have an exciting offense in 2017. Defenses are going to have a tough time countering this group.

    Defensively, though, the Buccaneers are good, not great. I didn't think the defense was big enough last year. Now, the Buccaneers did add pieces like Chris Baker and J.J. Wilcox to the defense this offseason, but I still view this as a question mark.

    I want to see if the Buccaneers can consistently stop opposing rushing attacks. I want to see if they can consistently rush the quarterback—the return of a healthy Jacquies Smith would help here.

    If the Buccaneers cannot do these things, it's going to be difficult to keep matching up with the Panthers, Saints and Falcons in 2017. Tampa already split with the Saints and Falcons in 2016, and the Panthers should be a tougher challenge this year.

    The Buccaneers need to put their big-boy pads on in this division.

17. Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 23

    This was a tough one for me because I could have justified putting the Vikings anywhere from No. 12 to No. 17. I chickened out and went with the low end because of the team's lack of offensive consistency last season and the quality of competition in the NFC North.

    The foundation for a strong campaign is in place. The Vikings addressed the offensive line by adding Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. The team added Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook to its backfield in the offseason too.

    The Cook addition is especially big. He's a franchise back who can immediately be one of the five most explosive rushers in the NFL from day one. Getting him with the 41st pick was incredible.

    I still wonder about this offense's ability to produce big plays, though. Sam Bradford was a better quarterback than most will give him credit for in 2016, but pushing the ball downfield was difficult. If a guy like Laquon Treadwell can perform, maybe this changes, but I need to see more offensive production before I'll believe Minnesota is a contender.

16. Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 8

    It sucked that the Texans had such a question mark at the quarterback position last year. They had everything else needed to be a contender. They had the defensive talent to threaten a team like the Patriots in the playoffs.

    Quarterback isn't the only question for the Texans this year. Their offensive line is also a concern. The team lost Oday Aboushi in the offseason, Derek Newton is on the PUP list and Duane Brown has yet to report to camp. The line is good when everyone is there and healthy, but they're not right now.

    If the line can come together by the start of the season and the team can get decent quarterback play, the Texans can be a threat in the AFC South.

15. Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 13

    The Broncos are leaps and bounds above the next team on our list. I have them lower, though, because the quarterback position is such a question mark. I do think the addition of Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator will help the position improve, but it's still unsettled.

    In this regard, the Broncos are like the Texans. These two teams have the best defenses in football but two of the most uncertain QB situations.

    The biggest thing the team did roster-wise was improve the offensive and defensive lines. Bringing in Ronald Leary and Garett Bolles was huge for the offensive line. Adding defenders like Domata Peko and DeMarcus Walker up front will help the Broncos defense get closer to its Super Bowl form.

    We know how good this Denver team can be when things are clicking. If the Broncos can get a solid rushing attack and some above-average quarterback play, they could again be a playoff contender in 2017.

14. Green Bay Packers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 5

    Some of you might be surprised that I have the Packers as the 14th-best football team heading into the season. Here's the thing, though: The Packers are no better than the 14th-best team in football. There's just one guy who makes them a threat. Without Aaron Rodgers, this is a 6-10 or 7-9 squad at best—and the Packers got worse this offseason.

    Yeah, I know many are pointing to the signing of Martellus Bennett and saying, "look, they got Bennett; they're going to be so much better!"


    Rodgers doesn't need more weapons. He needs a better team around him. The Packers lost two of their best offensive linemen in T.J. Lang and J.C. Tretter. They lost a running back in Eddie Lacy. They didn't do much of anything to help their team in free agency.

    Sure, the Packers got some young guys like Kevin King, Josh Jones and Jamaal Williams in the draft, but I'm not sure they'll be able to have an immediate impact. I don't see the running game or the defense—which was 22nd in the NFL last year (363.9 yards per game allowed)—improving because of them.

    I look at the Packers the same way I've looked at them the last several years. They're an average team with the greatest quarterback in the history of the game pushing them to 10 or 11 wins.

13. Miami Dolphins

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 10

    I was tempted to drop the Dolphins a few spots after the Ryan Tannehill injury, but I won't. If the team is able to rely on Jay Cutler all season, they'll be able to operate as normal in 2017.

    The Dolphins can be a dangerous team in 2017 too. They have an above-average offensive line and a dominant running back in Jay Ajayi. With weapons like Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills in the passing game, the offense was already solid.

    The big question with this team was the defense, and it will be improved. The Dolphins had the sense to re-sign guys like Andre Branch and Reshad Jones. They then added pieces like Nate Allen and Lawrence Timmons. They also added another pass-rusher in rookie Charles Harris to help off the edge.

    Even with the Tannehill injury, the Dolphins should again push for a playoff spot.

12. Tennessee Titans

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 17

    The biggest question regarding the Titans last year was the secondary. They added three good pieces to address that this offseason. Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien are two legitimate veterans, while rookie Adoree' Jackson is a future superstar.

    These secondary additions are big because—and I don't think people realize this—the front seven is sneaky-good. Jurrell Casey is a phenomenal interior lineman. The Titans also have four guys who can push the passer off the edge.

    What makes the Broncos defense so great is its ability to rotate guys off the edge and keep pressuring the quarterback. With Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Kevin Dodd and Erik Walden, the Titans can do the same. They might not be on the same level as Denver's pass-rushers, but the concept is the same.

    The Titans still have one of the best offensive lines and one of the top running games in the NFL. Adding pass-catchers like Eric Decker and Corey Davis will only help Marcus Mariota and the passing attack.

    This is a team primed for the next step.

11. Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 11

    Over the last three years, the Lions have been a two-man show. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have kept the Lions afloat. They have pushed the team into the playoffs two of the last three seasons.

    It shouldn't be a two-man show in Detroit this season. The Lions added Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang. This gives the team a legit offensive line, which is exciting. As long as Ameer Abdullah is healthy, this is going to be a much tougher offense to deal with.

    One of the weakest parts of the team last year was the linebacker position. To fix that, Detroit added former Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis. For my money, Davis was more physically impressive than Reuben Foster, who many saw as a top-three talent.

    The Lions also added depth to the defensive line and a young cornerback in Jalen Tabor to their secondary. With these improvements, they are a team to watch.

10. Baltimore Ravens

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 15

    Does the Joe Flacco injury bother me? Sure. However, I'm not ready to count this team out because of it. When you evaluate the Ravens roster, they're still one of the best teams in football.

    Baltimore is tremendous up front on both sides of the ball. The Ravens have a solid offensive line and one of the better front sevens in the league.

    Flacco has the best collection of weapons around him he's seen in his career. The strong-armed passer should be able to let the ball loose with downfield targets in Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Jeremy Maclin. If Ben Watson and Maxx Williams can thrive at the tight end spots, this will be a dangerous offense.

    Defensively, the Ravens are better too. They added speed and physicality to the secondary with Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson and Marlon Humphrey. This is a team to take seriously.

9. Washington Redskins

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 14

    This is a ranking that might surprise some people, but I like where the Redskins are trending. They were close last year. They lost a lot of heartbreaking games, and I think they'll be able to win those and take a step forward this season.

    One thing I look at is the front of the Washington defense. This was a smaller group last season, but the Redskins got bigger and better by adding guys like Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain. With young players like Fabian Moreau and Ryan Anderson also in the mix, the Washington defense should be much improved this season.

    The offense should again be a strength. I know the Redskins lost both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, but Terrelle Pryor is an upgrade. I don't think people realize that. If Josh Doctson can fill the No. 2 role, the Redskins will be in great shape.

    Kirk Cousins is a solid quarterback, and with weapons like Pryor, Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder and Robert Kelley, he should be as productive as ever. A step forward from Doctson would put this team over the top.

8. Seattle Seahawks

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 12

    When you look at the Seahawks, you know they're battle-tested and you know they're always capable of making a run in the playoffs. Seattle is just about the last team you want to see in a one-and-done situation.

    The biggest questions with this team last year were the offensive line and the ground game, which go hand-in-hand. The team took steps to improve the offensive line in the offseason, adding Oday Aboushi and Luke Joeckel. George Fant and Germain Ifedi are entering their second pro seasons, which should also help boost the line.

    Eddie Lacy was brought in to join a backfield that also features Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise. With a better line up front, this should be a much-improved unit.

    There's nothing to question about the defense. We know it's going to be top-notch. As long as the line and running game improve and the team has a healthy Russell Wilson—which it didn't last year—Seattle is going to be a contender.

7. Oakland Raiders

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 9

    The Raiders were one of the best teams in football last year thanks to Derek Carr and an explosive passing attack. They've taken steps this offseason to address the areas of the team that weren't so strong.

    The defense is still the team's biggest question mark. However, Oakland did bring in some young players in Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu who should help the secondary sooner rather than later.

    The hiring of defensive guru John Pagano—one of the most underrated moves of the offseason—should also help the defense turn things around.

    Offensively, the Raiders added Jared Cook to give the team a legitimate threat at tight end. They also added Marshawn Lynch to help boost the running game and to take some of the pressure off Carr.

    Assuming Carr comes back 100 percent healthy and the team can get a deal done with tackle Donald Penn, the offense won't miss a beat. The defense should be better, and I expect the Raiders to be a threat in the AFC.

6. Dallas Cowboys

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 2

    I have some serious questions about the Cowboys heading into the season. The team lost guys in the secondary in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. It lost a capable lineman in Ronald Leary. The Cowboys have suspensions all over the place and perhaps some possible pending suspensions. There are a lot of distractions here.

    Dallas also heads into the season as a marked team. The honeymoon is over for Dak Prescott, and the rest of the NFC East got better.

    As long as the Cowboys have that offensive line and a healthy—and available—Ezekiel Elliott, they're going to be in the conversation among the elite teams. They'll be in the game against any team in football.

    Just don't be shocked if the Cowboys aren't quite as good as they were a year ago.

5. Atlanta Falcons

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 4

    Look, I have reservations about the Falcons this season. The team lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan this offseason, which to me is a huge blow. He was one of the best offensive weapons they had last year. The Falcons are also coming off a brutal Super Bowl loss, which is never easy to shake off.

    Yet this is still a team that came within a few plays of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

    The Falcons offense should still be a threat, even without Shanahan. The team also made improvements to its defense by adding guys like Dontari Poe, Jack Crawford and rookie pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley. The defense should now be bigger and more physical up front, and it should be able to get after the quarterback more consistently.

    The Falcons are a talented football team, perhaps even better than last year's squad. With the coaching and emotional losses—plus a place in perhaps the best division in football—no one should be surprised if the team takes a step backward in the win-loss column.

4. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 3

    My biggest question with the Chiefs is this: Can quarterback Alex Smith make plays against upper-echelon teams when it matters? He failed to do so in the 2016 postseason, which is why a team that should have reached the AFC Championship Game didn't.

    The answer to that question will determine if the Chiefs are a good team this season or a Super Bowl contender.

    Kansas City is one of the five best teams in football. The defense was already phenomenal before the team added guys like Tanoh Kpassagnon, Bennie Logan and Kevin Pierre-Louis. With weapons like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Spencer Ware and Chris Conley, the offense can be dangerous as well.

    With a creative and experienced head coach in Andy Reid running the show, it's too hard for me to not consider the Chiefs one of the five best teams in the league.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 6

    The Steelers still have one of the best offenses in football. Yes, the Le'Veon Bell situation scares me, but as we're sitting here right now, I believe he'll be in the lineup in Week 1. With this offense and a defense that is good—and one that made some improvements in the secondary—this is a dangerous team.

    Pittsburgh's pass defense was the team's biggest weakness in 2016. The Steelers added depth in the secondary in Coty Sensabaugh and Cameron Sutton. They added to the pass rush by drafting T.J. Watt. I expect edge-rusher Bud Dupree to take another step this year as well.

    The Steelers are unquestionably one of the best teams in the league. My one lingering question is whether the team has improved enough defensively to get past teams like the Patriots in the postseason.

    If Pittsburgh's defense can learn how to at least slow high-octane offenses, this could be a Super Bowl contender.

2. New York Giants

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 7

    A lot of people might not realize it, but the Giants were tied for the fifth-best record in the NFL last season (11-5). The Giants also beat Dallas, the team with the best record in the NFC, twice. Now, they're better.

    This was already one of the best defensive teams in the NFL. Additions like Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram, D.J. Fluker and blocking tight end Rhett Ellison could make the offensive side of the ball equally dangerous.

    The offense was already headed in the right direction anyway. I know Sterling Shepard turned his ankle in practice, but he's been tearing it up all offseason. He and Odell Beckham Jr. are poised to be one of the most dangerous wideout duos in the league. The Giants are also entering year two of the Ben McAdoo system.

    They have no excuses this season. They're in the conversation for the best receiving corps in football, the best secondary in football and the best defensive line in football. When you have those three things plus Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Eli Manning, you have a legit football team.

1. New England Patriots

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    Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

    2016 Final Ranking: 1

    Here you go, folks. Your No. 1 team is the Patriots, as if you had any doubts.

    Look, I shouldn't have to keep explaining why the Patriots are at the top. They were the best team in football a year ago—and I don't think it was that close. They improved this offseason by adding pieces like Stephon Gilmore, Mike Gillislee, Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy and Dwayne Allen.

    Seriously, what's the negative with this team? Tom Brady is a year older?

    The Patriots continue to play chess while the rest of the NFL is playing checkers. Heading into the preseason, the Patriots are the clear No. 1 team, and the rest of the league is trying to gain ground.

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