NFL Power Rankings 2018: Examining League Hierarchy as Training Camps Begin

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJuly 30, 2018

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 21: Jalen Ramsey #20 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts during the second half of the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 21, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

NFL training camps have begun around the country, and the preseason opener will take place on Thursday when the Chicago Bears and the Baltimore Ravens play in the Hall of Fame Game.

The 2018 campaign promises to be an interesting season with a few notable questions. Of note, will teams that surprised last year (e.g. the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars) stay on the top shelf of the NFL this season? How much time will the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round see in 2018? And can anyone unseat the New England Patriots for the AFC crown?

We'll find out some answers soon, as the majority of Week 1 games will take place on September 9. Until then, here's a look at a fresh set of power rankings, with teams tiered into four groups from best to worst.

         

Tier 1

1. Philadelphia Eagles

2. New England Patriots

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

4. Minnesota Vikings

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

6. Los Angeles Rams

7. Kansas City Chiefs

8. New Orleans Saints

The Jacksonville Jaguars shocked the league by going from 3-13 and last in the AFC South in 2016 to 10-6 and minutes away from making the Super Bowl in 2017. The guess here is that improvement wasn't a fluke and the team stays around the top of the AFC perch for a while.

The defense was ferocious last year and earned the moniker "Sacksonville" early in the season due to its relentless pressure. The Jags return stars such as cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue.

On offense, running back Leonard Fournette proved to be a huge boost to the team, as he rushed for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. His ability to wear down opposing defense and keep the offense on the field worked in solidarity with a defense that played fewer snaps thanks to his efforts.

         

Tier 2

9. Los Angeles Chargers

10. Green Bay Packers

11. Atlanta Falcons

12. New York Giants

13. Carolina Panthers

14. Houston Texans

15. San Francisco 49ers

16. Chicago Bears

The New York Giants' placement at No. 12 may seem entirely too optimistic considering they finished 3-13 last year, but their offseason moves have restored some faith in the team's chances next year.

Big Blue passed on the chance to draft a franchise quarterback when it took running back Saquon Barkley. Time will tell if that was the right decision for the future, but he is arguably the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. The 21-year-old should immediately rejuvenate a running game that has been dormant since the days of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The defense added some interesting pieces via the draft and free agency, including linebackers Kareem Martin, Alec Ogletree and Lorenzo Carter in addition to 3-4 defensive end B.J. Hill. With new defensive coordinator James Bettcherknown for running an aggressive, pressure-based systemleading the way, the Giants' defense could surprise the league.

It's important to note the team is two years removed from an 11-5 record and playoff appearance.

Granted, the bottom fell out from under Big Blue in 2017, but many of the pieces on that solid 2016 roster are still around. With a new head coach (Pat Shurmur) and an infusion of talent on both sides of the ball, don't be surprised if the Giants sneak into the playoffs as a wild card.

       

Tier 3

17. Tennessee Titans

18. Detroit Lions

19. Seattle Seahawks

20. Dallas Cowboys

21. Indianapolis Colts

22. Denver Broncos

23. Arizona Cardinals

24. Cleveland Browns

The Legion of Boom era is officially over in Seattle. Kam Chancellor retired, Richard Sherman is a San Francisco 49er and Earl Thomas is holding out of training camp. That trio formed the defensive identity of the team, and without them it's hard seeing the Seahawks earn their seventh straight winning season.

On the flip side, Russell Wilson is still running the offense, and he's capable of pulling rabbits out of his hat at any moment with an incredible play. A healthy Chris Carson and the addition of rookie Rashaad Penny could also help restore the run game.

Wade Payne/Associated Press

However, the Seattle secondary may be suspect without the Legion of Boom, and the latest news on Thomas doesn't sound promising (Adam Schefter of ESPN noted he is prepared to sit out regular-season games).

With the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers both improving, the Seahawks could fall to the bottom half of the NFC West.

                     

Bottom Tier

25. New York Jets

26. Washington Redskins

27. Baltimore Ravens

28. Cincinnati Bengals

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

30. Oakland Raiders

31. Miami Dolphins

32. Buffalo Bills

It may seem harsh to place the Buffalo Bills last in the NFL power rankings following a 9-7 season and their first playoff appearance since 2000, but the team simply has too many question marks at this juncture.

Of note, the team lost guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood in the offseason, so the offensive line has the potential to struggle. Teams can deal with a leaky offensive line if they have a mobile veteran quarterback (see Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson), but ex-Bill Tyrod Taylor is now a Cleveland Brown.

Buffalo drafted Josh Allen seventh overall, and he can certainly develop into a franchise quarterback. Joe Buscaglia of WKBW noted the 22-year-old has been the best quarterback at training camp in his point of view.

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

But he's likely to experience growing pains, especially against what looks to be a brutal non-division schedule (of note, back-to-back games at the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in addition to contests against the tough defenses of the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars).

Look for Buffalo to regress this year.

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