NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Each Team

NFL StaffContributor IAugust 7, 2018

NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Each Team

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The NFL preseason is underway. Before you know it, the Atlanta Falcons and Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles will be mixing it up to open the regular season Sept. 6.

    As we creep closer to that happiest of days, there will be no shortage of predictions regarding what will happen in the season to come. Forecasts for how things will play out. Assessments of the pretenders and contenders, from worst to first and all parts in between.

    That last one's the reason we're here—with the inaugural edition of the Bleacher Report 2018 NFL Power Rankings.

    Every week during the regular season, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport (i.e., me) will come together to rank the league's teams. From Nos. 32 to 1. Pound cake to powerhouse.

    And this first time around at least, it's the NFC's world—the AFC just lives in it.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    High: 27

    Low: 32

    Well, someone has to be last. And in this iteration, it's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who received the inglorious honor.

    Sobleski ranked the Bucs in that 32nd slot—for several reasons.

    "Because of a combination of Jameis Winston's poor decision-making and Dirk Koetter's hot seat, the Buccaneers are the team most likely to experience a severely disappointing campaign despite a talented roster," he said. "Furthermore, the team's personnel is far from complete, with lingering questions at offensive tackle and in the secondary—a secondary that finished dead last in pass defense a year ago."

    Sobleski has a point. The Buccaneers aren't without good (or even great players), whether it's wideout Mike Evans or linebacker Lavonte David. And Jason Pierre-Paul was brought in in free agency to goose the pass rush.

    But the running game and secondary are major question marks, and Winston's three-game suspension could mean an early hole in the NFL's toughest division.

31. New York Jets

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    High: 27

    Low: 31

    To be fair, the New York Jets significantly exceeded expectations last season. They were predicted to go 0-16 in some circles, but the Jets won five games and were competitive in several more.

    There are also reasons for optimism in the Big Apple. The Jets hope they have finally acquired the franchise quarterback the team has lacked for so long in third overall pick Sam Darnold. Whether it's Darnold, veteran Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, the Jets have some talent at wide receiver (Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Terrelle Pryor) and running back (Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell).

    However, all three levels of the defense are questionable—especially the pass rush. And if the Jets can't get pressure on the quarterback, a shaky secondary is going to be exposed, and New York will be hard-pressed to make stops.

    This isn't a team built to win shootouts.

T29. Miami Dolphins

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    High: 25

    Low: 32

    It's put up or shut up time for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    After missing the 2017 season with an ACL tear, Tannehill's career is at a crossroads. If the 30-year-old struggles or gets injured again, it's likely the Dolphins will look to draft his replacement. The results just haven't matched Tannehill's robust salary.

    For his part, Tannehill told Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald he feels younger.

    "I feel great," Tannehill said. "I feel great. I was telling somebody the other day, I feel like I'm 25, but 30 just sounds old."

    The biggest problem Tannehill will face has to do with the passing game. With Jarvis Landry gone, Tannehill's targets aren't imposing. The defense has issues at linebacker and up front after the Dolphins moved on from Ndamukong Suh this offseason.

    If the Dolphins are going to make noise in the AFC East, Tannehill's going to have to stand on his head.

T29. Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    High: 26

    Low: 31

    It's a time of great change in the Valley of the Sun.

    There's a new head coach in Steve Wilks. A new defensive scheme. And most importantly, a new quarterback. With Carson Palmer gone, it's Sam Bradford's show now—at least until Bradford inevitably gets hurt and rookie Josh Rosen is forced into action.

    It's possible the Arizona Cardinals could exceed the modest expectations that come with this ranking. After all, they were an eight-win team in 2017 despite being hit hard by injuries. If Bradford can stay on the field or Rosen's a quick study and the offense clicks, Arizona could be a tough out.

    However, keeping the team's quarterbacks upright could be problematic behind an offensive line that allowed the most sacks (52) in the NFC last year. If Bradford and Rosen are battered behind a leaky line, the Cardinals are going to have a tough go of it in an NFC West that stacks up as one of the NFL's most difficult divisions.

28. Cleveland Browns

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    High: 26

    Low: 32

    Full disclosure: I'm the analyst who slotted the Cleveland Browns 32nd. That's where they are going to stay too—until they win a game that counts.

    Yes, the Browns appear to be a significantly improved team on paper. Tyrod Taylor is arguably the best quarterback the team has had since it rejoined the NFL in 1999. Taylor has some receiving weapons at his disposal and a trio of tailbacks to lean on, and the defense has talent at all three levels.

    But the Browns also have an unparalleled history of futility that includes zero wins last year and a 4-44 record over the last three years. The team's 1-31 mark over the last two seasons is the worst two-year stretch in NFL history.

    Cleveland also has the NFL's worst head coach in Hue "Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory" Jackson.

    The Browns may well be better. They can't get any worse.

    But this writer will believe it when he sees it.

    Maybe I've been a Browns fan too long.

27. Indianapolis Colts

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 31

    The Indianapolis Colts are one of the hardest teams to peg.

    Last year, with Andrew Luck sidelined by a shoulder injury, the Colts were a 4-12 tomato can that ranked 30th in total defense and 31st in total offense.

    That disastrous season led to the departure of Chuck Pagano, leaving it to new head coach Frank Reich to turn around the team that won the AFC South as recently as 2014.

    It's going to be an uphill climb defensively. Not only are the Colts switching to a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Matt Eberflus, but the defense is as talent-deficient as any unit in the league. Whether it's the pass rush, the linebackers or the secondary, impact players are few and far between.

    However, Gagnon (who ranked the Colts 24th) thinks Luck's return is cause for optimism.

    "Let's remember that Andrew Luck was a Pro Bowler in each of his first three seasons, and by all accounts he and T.Y. Hilton have been killing it at training camp," he said. "I'm giving one of the most talented quarterbacks in the game the benefit of the doubt. And while Indy still has questions all over the place, the Colts won't be a bottom-five team if Luck is healthy and productive."

26. Buffalo Bills

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 29

    Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last year, the Buffalo Bills are the lowest-ranked by our panel.

    That that's also the second-highest ranking of any team in the AFC East seems to indicate the New England Patriots can go ahead and start printing up AFC East champions pennants—again.

    The Bills have issues galore on the offensive side of the ball. Tyrod Taylor's departure means a new starter under center. Whether that's AJ McCarron (three career starts in four years), Nathan Peterman (he of the five-interception NFL debut) or rookie Josh Allen, none are apt to strike fear in opponents.

    It's going to be difficult for any of those quarterbacks to succeed. Not only do the Bills possess arguably the league's weakest receiving corps, but Buffalo will also be rolling out three new starters on the offensive line.

    This is a team primed for a backslide—possibly a big one.

25. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    High: 20

    Low: 28

    It wasn't that long ago that the Cincinnati Bengals were perennial contenders in the AFC North. From 2011 to 2015, the Bengals made the playoffs every season.

    However, Cincy missed the postseason the past two years, and it isn't hard to pinpoint why.

    The offensive line has been offensive.

    In 2015, the Bengals ranked in the top 10 in sacks allowed, with 32. In each of the last two campaigns, the Bengals allowed at least 40.

    Andy Dalton is a much different quarterback with guys in his face than with a clean pocket—in a bad way.

    The Bengals addressed the offensive front in the offseason with a trade for Cordy Glenn and the selection of Billy Price in the draft. If the line's substantially better this year, they have a chance to shoehorn their way into the wild-card conversation.

    If it isn't, another six- or seven-win season and more talk about Marvin Lewis' future as head coach is on the horizon.

24. Oakland Raiders

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    Sarah Warnock/Associated Press

    High: 19

    Low: 30

    There are those, including Marc Sessler of, who think new (old) Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden could be just the guy to get the Silver and Black back in the postseason.

    "Gruden deserves the benefit of the doubt," Sessler wrote. "He's a Super Bowl-winning coach, a master motivator and a football diehard who spent years observing the league from 20,000 miles up. That can be invaluable for a coach, an opportunity most in the profession never experience."

    The analysts here at Bleacher Report aren't buying it.

    Yes, Gruden's a Super Bowl-winning coach. He also hasn't prowled a sideline in a decade.

    There's also the matter of an Oakland defense that ranked 23rd last year. A running game that gets 10 percent off at Denny's. And a holdout by edge-rusher Khalil Mack, who is the team's best player on either side of the ball.

    "Chucky" may be back—but that doesn't mean the Raiders are too.

23. Washington Redskins

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    High: 20

    Low: 23

    As Kareem Copeland pointed out in the Washington Post, there continues to be a dominant theme in the league.

    "The NFL is a league of parity," he wrote, "and 2017 was the perfect example. Eight playoff teams missed the postseason the previous season, and six of those eight had losing records."

    However, using that as a reason why the Washington Redskins could make the postseason tournament is a stretch that could result in a pulled hamstring.

    The Redskins aren't a bad team. They went 7-9 last year despite a number of major injuries and in Alex Smith now have a veteran quarterback who led the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs four of the past five years.

    The Redskins also aren't an especially good team. Smith's targets are question marks. The team's top two tailbacks are a rookie and a scat back coming off a broken leg. And the run defense in 2017 was awful, allowing 134.1 yards per game—the most in the NFL.

22. Seattle Seahawks

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    High: 20

    Low: 23

    Here come the pitchforks and torches.

    It's been a long time since the Seattle Seahawks entered a season slotted outside the top 20 in any set of power rankings.

    But here's the cold, hard truth.

    The Seahawks are not a Super Bowl contender. They might not be the second-best team in the NFC West. As a matter of fact, Seattle's closer to being the worst team in the division than the best.

    The ground game has sputtered since Marshawn Lynch left. The offensive line does an excellent impression of a matador. And the defense just underwent an unprecedented loss of talent.

    Cliff Avril. Michael Bennett. Richard Sherman. Kam Chancellor. That's four Pro Bowl players lost in one offseason. There will be a fifth if Earl Thomas is traded.

    The Seahawks aren't going to roll over so long as Russell Wilson's the quarterback. But there's only so much one man can do, and if Doug Baldwin's knee injury lingers into the season, it will be yet another hole in the boat.

    The Seahawks had a heck of a run. They won one Super Bowl and should have won a second.

    But that run is over, folks.

21. Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 25

    Speaking of fanbases who need to get it through their heads that their favorite club's run of success is winding down...

    Hi, Baltimore Ravens supporters!

    At least that's what two of our writers here at Bleacher Report believe. There was an 11-team gap between the highest rank and the pair of low ones for the Ravens.

    In the interest of transparency, I was the ranker who slotted Baltimore 13th. It's not that I would go so far as to call it a Super Bowl contender. But the Ravens have a solid defense and a good young tailback in Alex Collins, and the addition of Michael Crabtree should give the passing game a boost.

    This is a team built to keep games close.

    However, I will also allow that the defense is getting old. Collins isn't exactly a proven commodity. And if Joe Flacco struggles as much as he did a year ago, Lamar Jackson could take over at quarterback before Thanksgiving.

    The Ravens may have one more playoff run left in them.

    Or that ship may already have sailed, and it could be time to rebuild.

20. Chicago Bears

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    High: 17

    Low: 24

    Yes, you read that right. The Chicago Bears check in higher than the Seahawks or Ravens—albeit just barely.

    It could be a matter of teams heading in opposite directions. Whereas the Ravens and Seahawks are veteran teams at the end of long runs of success, the Bears hope to just be beginning theirs.

    There's more than a little reason for optimism in the Windy City. Chicago has a talented pair of young ball-carriers in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. The receiving corps got an offseason overhaul with the addition of veterans Allen Robinson II and Trey Burton and rookie Anthony Miller. And a defense that quietly ranked 10th in 2017 should be that much better if the Bears get their heads out of their backsides and linebacker Roquan Smith in camp.

    If Mitchell Trubisky is half the quarterback Chicago hoped he was when it picked him second overall last year, it should open some eyes.

19. New York Giants

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    High: 15

    Low: 22

    The New York Giants' 2017 season can best be described by the old adage, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

    The question for Pat Shurmur's club is whether that nightmare was an aberration or a sign of much larger problems.

    In theory at least, this should be a much better team. The Giants will have superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. back. The team shelled out big money to protect Eli Manning's blind side with left tackle Nate Solder. And that 2017 face-plant got New York the No. 2 overall pick—a pick it used on the player many considered the best prospect in the draft in tailback Saquon Barkley.

    However, the O-line isn't a sure bet, and the pass rush and secondary are potential problem areas.

    The Giants will surely be better. Whether they will be improved enough to contend in the NFC East is another story.

18. Denver Broncos

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    High: 16

    Low: 22

    It wasn't that long ago when the Denver Broncos were Super Bowl champions. But just a few years after Peyton Manning and the defense bested the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Gagnon sees the Broncos as something of an also-ran in the AFC West.

    "I don't believe in Vance Joseph," Gagnon said. "He wasn't qualified for that job in the first place and was a bust as a rookie head coach. I'm also not convinced Case Keenum's 2017 campaign wasn't an aberration. And it's clear the defense can no longer do the heavy lifting all on its own. This team could surprise, but there are a lot of potential problems on the roster."

    Keenum isn't without weapons in veterans Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and while the defense might not be as dominant as it once was, it's still pretty good.

    But quite a few things (including the team's new signal-caller) are going to have to click for Denver to vie for a playoff spot.

17. Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    High: 16

    Low: 21

    We've crossed into fringe contender territory. The next few teams won't be ranked highly in many predictions, but it would hardly be a stunner if they made the playoffs.

    In that regard, the Detroit Lions qualify.

    The Lions aren't a team without significant concerns. Detroit ranked last in rushing last year, and outside of Ezekiel Ansah, it's unclear where consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks will come from.

    But this is also a team that's won nine games in each of the past two seasons and made a playoff trip two years ago. If rookie Kerryon Johnson and free-agent addition LeGarrette Blount can get the ground game going, an offense that features a Pro Bowl quarterback in Matthew Stafford and two dangerous receivers in Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. could put up a lot of points.

    The Lions might be a pretty good team. The problem is they're the third-best squad in the NFC North.

16. San Francisco 49ers

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    High: 17

    Low: 18

    A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers were widely regarded as the NFC West's cellar-dweller.

    That they've climbed ahead of the Cardinals and Seahawks is a testament to Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch's work. That many fans will blast this ranking as too low is a testament to how much hype that work has generated.

    After peeling off five straight wins to end last season, Jimmy Garoppolo is a set of blue tights and a red cape away from being hailed as a superhero. New arrival Jerick McKinnon is the darling of the fantasy football community.

    Folks in the Bay Area aren't just talking playoffs; some are talking Super Bowl.

    However, Garoppolo is still a quarterback with seven career starts under his belt. McKinnon has never touched the ball more than 213 times in a season. The defense is a work in progress.

    The Niners may rise as the year wears on.

    But for now, we're slowing our roll here at Bleacher Report.

T14. Houston Texans

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 21

    The Houston Texans had one of the biggest spreads between their highest and lowest rankings. Gagnon was on the former end, slotting the Texans inside the top 10 and ahead of both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

    "I don't understand the lack of love for the Texans," he said. "Deshaun Watson wasn't just running away with Offensive Rookie of the Year, but the dude was an MVP candidate before going down with a midseason knee injury. At that point, Houston had scored 33-plus points in five consecutive games. With a healthy Watson and J.J. Watt, there's little doubt this is a top-10 team."

    Gagnon could be on to something. With Watson, the Houston offense is explosive. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney are a frightening trio of edge-rushers.

    But if injuries slam the team as hard as they did in 2017, it may not matter.

T14. Dallas Cowboys

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 16

    The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most polarizing teams. Many fans love them—and an equally large group loves to hate them.

    They're also something of a difficult team to peg. Two years ago, Dak Prescott was great in winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Ezekiel Eliiott ran wild, and the Cowboys won 13 games and the NFC East.

    Last year, Prescott backslid, Elliott was suspended for six games, and the Cowboys fell to 9-7.

    Critics are correct when they point out the passing game is an enigma. The number of proven, productive, durable wide receivers equals my number of career NFL touchdowns.

    But this is also a team with arguably the best O-line in the league, a bell-cow running back in Elliott and a front seven that's better than it gets credit for.

    If Prescott and the passing game click, Dallas could win a dozen games and be a force in the NFC East—but that's a sizable caveat.

13. Carolina Panthers

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    High: 11

    Low: 15

    Full disclosure time again.

    In our recent division winners predictions here at Bleacher Report, I picked the Panthers to win the NFC South. This wasn't because I believe Carolina is the best team in the division. I don't—even though I'm the high ranker for it in this poll.

    Things don't always go according to plan, and while the Panthers might not be the NFC South's best team, they are good enough to win the division.

    Carolina has a stifling defense led by Luke Kuechly that ranked seventh in yards allowed, third against the run and third with an even 50 sacks.

    The Panthers also have an MVP quarterback in Cam Newton and an intriguing one-two punch in the backfield in Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson. Carolina was fourth in rushing last year and should rank near the top again.

    The passing game could be a problem—tight end Greg Olsen isn't getting any younger, and the wideout corps is short on proven commodities.

    But there's enough talent or the Panthers to be a factor—even in a stacked NFC South.

12. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 13

    This is as close as our analysts came to a unanimous slot in these power rankings. Two writers had the Chiefs as the 12th-best team. The third had them one slot lower.

    I can't speak for my cohorts, but Kansas City was also one of the hardest teams to peg.

    Defensively, the Chiefs may have problems. They won the AFC West in 2017 but ranked 28th in total defense and 29th against the pass—and that was with Marcus Peters.

    Just like last year, though, it may not matter, because the offense has the potential to be terrifying. KC is stacked with game-breakers: Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, Travis Kelce may be the league's best tight end, and wideouts Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins can take the top off a defense.

    If second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes can pick up where Alex Smith left off, this will be a team built to win track meets.

11. Tennessee Titans

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 15

    Tennessee is one of the better teams no one wants to acknowledge.

    Despite winning a playoff game on the road last year, the Titans get very little run as a player in their own division—much less the NFL as a whole.

    Tennessee has a dual-threat quarterback in Marcus Mariota. A "thunder and lightning" backfield in Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Capable veteran pass-catchers in Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker. A potential field-stretching No. 1 wideout in Corey Davis. And an excellent offensive line.

    The defense may be even better. The Titans are solid at all three levels and feature a slew of talent, from tackle Jurrell Casey to edge-rushers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo to inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard to cornerback Malcolm Butler and free safety Kevin Byard.

    If new head coach Mike Vrabel can get Tennessee to play to its potential, it will give Jacksonville all it can handle in the AFC South.

10. Los Angeles Chargers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    High: 9

    Low: 11

    The Los Angeles Chargers are the best team in a wide-open AFC West.

    For reals. Offensively, the team has just about everything needed for success. There's a proven veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers. A do-it-all tailback in Melvin Gordon III. A star receiver in Keenan Allen and complementary target in Mike Williams. And a sneaky-good offensive line.

    It's the same on defense, with the exception of question marks up the middle. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram might be the best end duo in the NFL. Casey Hayward is possibly the most underrated corner and the backbone of a pass defense that ranked third last year.

    The Chargers nearly made the playoffs in 2017 despite an 0-4 start. Provided the team's terrible injury luck doesn't get worse, L.A.'s four-year postseason drought could come to an end.

9. Green Bay Packers

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 12

    The Pack is back, baby!

    Well, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is back. The rest of the Green Bay Packers just so happen to be tagging along.

    If there was any question about Rodgers' value, it was put to rest a year ago. The moment he went down with a broken collarbone, the Packers went from Super Bowl contender to also-ran.

    Now that Rodgers is back and healthy, the bigger question is just how much of a contender they are—especially since they are no longer the favorites in their own division.

    Any time No. 12 takes the field, Green Bay has a chance. But part of the reason Rodgers has just one Super Bowl ring is that even he can only do so much. He can't carry the running game, rush the passer or make stops in the secondary.

    Those are all areas of concern for the Packers, who have little margin for error in an NFC North that has tightened up a lot.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    High: 6

    Low: 9

    We are living in strange times, friends. Strange times indeed.

    The Jaguars are Super Bowl contenders.

    Jacksonville achieved that status in large part because of a defense that is scary. It ranked second in total defense and first in pass defense a year ago en route to the AFC Championship Game. The latter unit allowed a jaw-droppingly measly 169.9 yards per game.

    In today's pass-wacky NFL, that's a tiny number.

    Sobleski thinks the Jags can hang with any team—provided the offense holds up its end of the deal.

    "The Jaguars may own the league's most talented roster," Sobleski said. "Coming out of the AFC South unscathed will be no small feat, though, with a revitalized Titans squad under Mike Vrabel's supervision and a healthy Texans roster. Plus, Blake Bortles' performance will be an indicator if Jacksonville has enough to make another deep playoff run."

    Three years ago, had you predicted Super Bowl LIII would feature the Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams, you would have been laughed at.

    No one is laughing now.

7. Atlanta Falcons

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 10

    Two years ago, the Falcons were an offensive buzzsaw. The team ranked second in total offense and in the top five in rushing and passing yards. The result was a berth in Super Bowl LI.

    We won't discuss what happened in that game. I have a heart.

    But last year, with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, the offense was equal parts more predictable and less explosive. Atlanta wasn't terrible offensively—the Falcons checked in at eighth overall. But the backslide was plainly evident, and Atlanta was sent packing in the divisional round.

    There are other areas in which the Falcons need to improve, but if the team is going to recapture to top spot in a loaded NFC South, none is more important than offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian getting Matt Ryan and Co. back to firing on all cylinders.

    Two of our rankers must believe the Falcons have a good shot at doing just that—they slotted Atlanta inside the top six.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 7

    This is another team that had the analysts here at Bleacher Repot in lockstep. One ranked the Pittsburgh Steelers seventh, and the other two placed them sixth.

    It's hardly a surprise the Steelers are viewed by this group as the prohibitive favorite to win the AFC North for the fourth time in five years. Or that Pittsburgh is behind only you-know-who among AFC teams.

    In quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers have the most explosive skill position talent in the NFL. They present the sort of matchup nightmares that keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.

    Yes, Bell's holding out. But he'll report—he isn't going to leave almost $1 million per game on the table.

    What will determine how far Pittsburgh advances in the AFC bracket, however, is the way it compensates for the loss of rangy linebacker Ryan Shazier, who showed the coverage skills that are so important to his position in today's NFL.

5. New England Patriots

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 6

    This ranking will probably send a few eyebrows upward.

    It's not that the Patriots are the AFC's highest-ranked team. Of course they are. Half the offense could be kidnapped by aliens, but so long as the team still had the Golden Boy at quarterback, New England would run away with its 48th straight AFC East title.

    But the AFC's big bad bullies made it only as high as fifth despite appearing in three of the last four Super Bowls—and winning two of them.

    The offense lost Brandin Cooks, may not have rookie Sony Michel to start the season and will be without wideout Julian Edelman for the first month. But no one doubts the Patriots will score points.

    As the Eagles showed in Super Bowl LII, however, the Patriots' ability to stop teams from doing the same is very much in doubt.

    And that's enough to drop them to the bottom of the top five—at least for now.

4. New Orleans Saints

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 5

    It's fixing to be quite the season for New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

    Assuming Brees' right arm doesn't fall off between now and October, the 39-year-old is going to become the NFL's all-time leading passer. Even more importantly, Brees has a good chance at taking the Saints to the Super Bowl for the first time in almost a decade.

    The offense gets most of the run—with good reason. There's talent galore in New Orleans' high-octane unit, including the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year in running back Alvin Kamara.

    But the defense is nothing to sneeze at either. End Cameron Jordan is one of the best players in the NFL, and New Orleans also has the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year in cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

    The Saints aren't just really good; this team is as balanced as any team Brees has led since the 2009 team won Super Bowl XLIV.

T2. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 4

    News flash—the Eagles are pretty good.

    Philadelphia isn't just the defending champion. Or the defending champion that knocked off New England in Super Bowl LII with backup quarterback Nick Foles at the helm.

    The Eagles are also a better team than they were when they won that game.

    Not only is it looking more and more like Carson Wentz (who was the MVP front-runner before he tore his ACL in December) will be ready to roll for the season opener, but the Eagles also added veteran defensive end Michael Bennett to a front four that was already loaded.

    Philly is loaded on both sides of the ball. A team without an obvious weakness. And a team that's shown it can seal the deal in the face of adversity.

    That's why it was this writer's pick for No. 1.

    You wanna be the best? You gotta beat the best.

    The Eagles, in their last two games, did just that.

T2. Los Angeles Rams

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    High: 2

    Low: 4

    You may not have heard, but the Rams were a bit busy in the offseason.

    Fresh off the NFC West title in 2017, the Rams loaded up on veteran stars and are a trendy Super Bowl pick in many circles. Sobleski, who was one of two writers to slot the Rams second, is on board with the idea that Los Angeles is as good as any team in the NFC.

    "The great philosopher Ric Flair often said, 'To be the man, you gotta beat the man,'" Sobleski said. "However, the Eagles aren't necessarily the NFC's best or even second-best squad. The Rams, in particular, have done as much, if not more, than any team to earn Super Bowl contender status. Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Brandin Cooks will make Los Angeles even better than last year, when it finished 11-5."

    The Rams look like a dangerous team, combining a high-octane offense and a stifling defense.

    If all their high-maintenance vets can get along and keep their eyes on the prize, look out.

1. Minnesota Vikings

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 3

    When last we saw the Minnesota Vikings, they were getting spanked by the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

    However, much has changed since then.

    The Vikings swapped 2017 Cinderella quarterback Case Keenum for a more proven commodity in Kirk Cousins. It cost the team a three-year, $84 million contract that's fully guaranteed. For that kind of cabbage, the edict is clear.

    It's Super Bowl or bust.

    On defense, the Vikings made one of the best value signings of the offseason with the addition of 3-technique lineman Sheldon Richardson. With Richardson joining Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph, the front four went from really, really good to flat-out filthy.

    The two-headed receiving monster that is Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The return of dangerous tailback Dalvin Cook. A secondary that's equal parts deep and talented.

    This is a team built to do one thing: get payback against the Eagles and advance to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.