NFL Power Rankings: Rams Overtake Top Spot in B/R's Latest Expert Consensus
The NFL preseason is halfway home. In just over two weeks, the Atlanta Falcons will make the trek to Philadelphia to face the Eagles in the 2018 season opener.
The all-important (or at least as important as exhibition games get) "dress rehearsal" games are coming up this week, but already some things are sorting out across the league. Position battles are coming into focus. We're getting a feel for which rookies could be set for big things in their first seasons. And some unlucky teams have already been bitten by the injury bug.
The moving and shaking across football over the past couple of weeks has caused some shifting in the NFL power rankings compiled by Bleacher Report NFL analysts Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport.
As a matter of fact, for the third time in as many editions of these rankings, a new team has claimed the No. 1 spot.
We'll get to the top team soon enough, but first off, we have to start at the bottom—with a team that has occupied that slot from the beginning.
Note: Moving forward with these rankings, a tiebreaker policy has been instituted. If two (or more) teams tie in aggregate ranking, the team with the highest individual ranking will receive the higher rank. If teams are tied in highest individual ranking as well, the team with better Super Bowl odds at OddsShark will "win" the tie. Ties are bad.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 32
Now that the Tampa Buccaneers are 2-0 in the preseason after downing the Tennessee Titans last week, fans of the team might be wondering when the Bucs are going to get some respect from the panel.
Well, the panel wonders why the team won't bring back the "Creamsicle" uniforms. Life is full of little mysteries.
The Buccaneers looked good against the Titans, but that doesn't change the fact that Tampa has many more questions than answers. Can Tampa establish a consistent running game? Will the NFL's worst defense from 2017 be markedly better this season? And how will the Buccaneers stay in contention in an NFC South where three teams made the postseason a year ago without the services of starting quarterback Jameis Winston over the first three weeks of the year?
The answers to those questions are not with Ronald Jones averaging less than a yard a carry, not with the league's worst secondary already banged up.
And they won't.
31. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 31
It didn't take long for our new tiebreaker to come into play. The Dolphins tied the Buccaneers in aggregate ranking, but B/R NFL analyst Gary Davenport's slotting of Miami at No. 29 gives them the No. 31 slot in these rankings.
Chant along at home: We're not last! We're not last!
Since it was Davenport who broke the tie, we let him explain why the Dolphins aren't the worst team in the league—or even (in his opinion) the worst team in the AFC East.
"Don't get me wrong," Davenport said, "the Dolphins are not a good football team. The pass-catching corps is a mess, both lines are question marks, and if the first-team linebackers play all season the way they have to date this summer, the team's going to allow 427 yards a game on the ground. But Miami at least has a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who has shown he can be reasonably competent when healthy (unlike the Buffalo Bills' quarterbacks), and the secondary and ground game are better than the Buccaneers'. Miami will win just enough to mess up its draft slot."
That "endorsement" didn't ring even a little.
30. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: T28
The good news for the Buffalo Bills is that rookie quarterback Josh Allen looked much better in his second preseason stint against the Cleveland Browns than in the first against the Carolina Panthers. He was more decisive and accurate and extended a few plays with his legs.
The bad for the Bills is that Allen had better have looked better—because with veteran free-agent pick-up AJ McCarron now out indefinitely with a hairline fracture of his collarbone, the odds of Allen starting in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens have gone way up.
The Bills now face an impossible decision. Roll a rookie quarterback out there on opening weekend against a good Ravens defense or hope against hope that—despite next to no passing-game talent to speak of—second-year pro Nathan Peterman will somehow be able to move the offense effectively until Allen is ready or McCarron is back.
And with three new starters on the offensive line, either youngster's apt to spending far too much time looking out his earhole.
29. New York Jets
Last Week: T28
Maybe we're sleeping on the New York Jets again.
In 2017, the New York Jets were a trendy pick in many circles to post a winless season. Gang Green didn't come close—the Jets won five games and lost as many more close ones. Todd Bowles was hailed for doing a lot with a little to at least keep the Jets in games.
Veteran quarterback Josh McCown deserves his share of credit for New York's competitiveness, too. Not only is McCown back, but Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold have both had their moments in camp and the preseason. There's some hope that New York's desperate search for a franchise quarterback may finally be nearing an end.
But 5-11 is still 5-11. McCown is 57 years old (or maybe 39…whatever). Bridgewater hasn't played a full game that counts since the 2015 playoffs. And Darnold's next regular-season pro start will be his first one.
Never mind a defense that looks…let's go with "unimpressive" on paper.
It may be that we aren't sleeping at all, and the Jets look a lot like a 5-11 team again.
At least they came in second in the AFC East. So there's that.
28. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: T28
Like many of the teams near the bottom of the power rankings, the Arizona Cardinals are in a period of transition at quarterback. Carson Palmer is gone, replaced by a present-and-future duo of veteran Sam Bradford and No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen.
If the Redbirds offensive line looks the same as it did last season, the future will be the present by Week 3.
In 2017, the Cardinals allowed more sacks than any team in the NFC—Arizona signal-callers were hauled down a whopping 52 times.
Rosen was known for many things at UCLA. A strong and accurate arm was one of them. Mobility was not. And if Bradford was ever elusive even a little, he isn't now. He's a 30-year-old on bad knees with an injury history as long as the Grand Canyon is deep.
Arizona's most glaring weakness just so happens to be the area the team can least afford to be weak in.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, spells trouble.
27. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 26
The Cleveland Browns dropped a spot this week and are in the bottom six largely because Davenport continues to rank the Browns last in the league. He insists that no matter what happens in the preseason, that isn't going to change.
"I don't care if Baker Mayfield hits Josh Gordon with a touchdown pass that's so pretty the zebras decide to give the team 10 points," he growled. "Until the Browns win a game that counts, they are the same dumpster fire of a franchise that has one win the last two seasons. Now get off my lawn."
However, buzz has been steadily building that just maybe the Browns aren't a tomato can this year after all. And Sobleski, who ranked the Browns 10 slots higher than Davenport, is listening.
"It's amazing how the Browns have captured the NFL's imagination after an 0-16 campaign," he wrote. "Yet, this year's Hard Knocks darling is far more talented compared to last year's squad. Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield (finally) give the organization a competent quarterback duo. The team is much improved at the skill positions as well—which was true even before Josh Gordon's return. As long as all the moving pieces come together, the Browns are going to be highly competitive."
26. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 27
The Colts are climbing! Look at that surge!
Snark aside, the Colts didn't bump up one spot this week because of their defense. Said defense was last in the AFC in yards allowed in 2017. Or because of an offensive line that surrendered 3.5 sacks a game a year ago.
Talk about offensive.
No, the Colts bumped up a spot because of one thing and one thing only—Andrew Austen Luck.
As Kevin Hickey reported for Colts Wire, having No. 12 back on the practice field has given the whole team a boost.
"It's been from day one," head coach Frank Reich told reporters. "He's had that, as you said, pep in his step and good energy. I can't emphasize that enough. Just really, really good energy coming from him and the team but obviously him as our leader on the field—one of our leaders on the field."
If Luck is healthy, he's the best signal-caller in the AFC South—and that alone is cause for a measure of optimism in Indy.
Optimism that Brad Gagnon is buying into...at least somewhat.
"So long as Andrew Luck is healthy and on track," Gagnon wrote, "the Colts aren't a bottom-five team. Am I concerned about Luck's surgically-repaired throwing shoulder? Of course, but I'm giving him enough of the benefit of the doubt to declare that Indy is better than teams with obvious ceilings like Baltimore, Buffalo and Cincinnati."
25. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 25
There's a pretty big gap between the high and low rankings for the Cincinnati Bengals among our panelists. Brent Sobleski has the Bengals inside the top 20, but Brad Gagnon slid Cincy all the way to 28.
Davenport suggested the two settle it 18th century-style with a duel. In related news, Gary isn't an especially helpful person.
Frankly, which of our writers is correct will likely depend on the play of one unit above all else—the offensive line.
There's been plenty written and said over the years regarding Andy Dalton's tendency to thrive in a clean pocket but struggle in a big way under pressure. Granted, just about every QB in the league prefers not running for his life, but the gap is even more pronounced than usual with "the Red Rifle."
That line was awful in 2017, and Dalton struggled. If newcomers Cordy Glenn and Billy Price help solidify it, the Bengals could be much-improved.
But if Glenn can't stay healthy (again) or Price struggles to acclimate to the pros, it's going to be another long year in the Queen City.
24. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 24
Have you ever dreamed of bursting through the line of scrimmage, racing down the sideline and running into the end zone for an NFL touchdown?
If so, then this may be your lucky day—because the Washington Redskins are one injury at running back away from open tryouts in the parking lot at Planet Fitness.
As Ian Rapoport reported for NFL.com, after being hit hard by injuries at running back (including losing rookie Derrius Guice to an ACL tear) the Washington Redskins are signing veteran tailback Adrian Peterson.
That would be great news—if this was 2012. But Peterson averaged just 3.4 yards a carry last year in Arizona. In 2018, it looks like a Washington team that was 28th in rushing last year is going to experience similar struggles on the ground.
That's going to put a lot of pressure on quarterback Alex Smith to move the ball through the air—with a so-so group of pass-catchers and defenses knowing full well that Washington can't run the ball.
A recipe for offensive success, it ain't.
23. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 23
Want to know why the Oakland Raiders aren't ranked inside the top 20?
Because they're a bunch of short-sighted dimwits, that's why.
The Raiders are less than three weeks away from their season opener against the Rams in Oakland, but the team's best player is nowhere to be found. The Khalil Mack contract impasse continues, and while the Raiders (per Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area) have no plans to trade Mack, they also aren't close to an extension for the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.
Mack isn't just Oakland's best defensive player by a mile. He's arguably the best defensive player in the entire National Football League. A generational talent with the ability to take over a game.
The only course of action that makes less sense than trading a player like that is letting him languish because the team's either too cheap or broke to pony up the cash Mack is worth.
In an offseason filled with head-scratching decisions by the Raiders, the handling of the Mack saga is the itchiest of the lot.
22. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 22
This is the second time in these rankings that we've had a tie in aggregate ranking settled by the highest individual ranking tiebreaker.
It's also the second time that it was Davenport who broke the tie, so it's on him to explain his ranking of the Seattle Seahawks at No. 18.
"That I'm the high ranker of the Seahawks at 18th in the league is almost as staggering an indictment of how far the team has fallen as the rankings of my colleagues," he said. "For several years the Seahawks were the gold standard of the NFC. Now they're…well just look at them.
"The offensive line is bad, ranking 31st in run blocking and 25th in pass pro in 2017, per Football Outsiders," he continued. "Even with a new OL coach and an allegedly healthy Duane Brown, it isn't going to suddenly become great…or even good. The Legion of Boom is gone—no Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas (at least right now). Rashaad Penny is already hurt. So is Doug Baldwin. There's Russell Wilson, and…"
"Maybe I high-balled them."
21. Denver Broncos
Last Week: T19
If you're the type who prefers to accentuate the positive, then the takeaway from this ranking is that there isn't a lot of dissention among the NFL analysts here at Bleacher Report.
Of course, that agreement is that Denver's neither terrible nor especially good.
To be fair, the Denver offense looked a lot better against the Chicago Bears than against the Vikings the week before. Case Keenum wasn't perfect at quarterback, but the Broncos starter under center hit on 8-of-13 passes and led a couple of scoring drives.
The Broncos have invested a lot of money in the belief that the Keenum we saw last year in Minnesota is the real deal and not a one-year fluke who will turn back into the journeyman he was the first five years of his career. And Keenum has some weapons at his disposal in wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
But those weapons aren't getting any younger, the ground game and O-line are potential concerns, and Denver's defense looks more "decent" and less the dominant unit that propelled the Broncos to the Super Bowl 50 title.
That may well be the Broncos in a nutshell. Decent, but not great.
Nothing worse in the NFL than mediocrity.
20. Detroit Lions
Last Week: 16
The Detroit Lions experienced a free-fall of sorts in the Bleacher Report power rankings, dropping four full spots from No. 16 last week to No. 20.
Perhaps it's because of the team's lackluster performance against the New York Giants—a performance that Lions beat writer Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press intimated could be the result of the grueling practice regime instituted by new head coach Matt Patricia.
More likely it's the result of a Lions offense that hasn't looked good in the preseason. A Detroit ground game that was last in the NFL in 2017 continues to struggle, and while Matthew Stafford has played only a few series, those series have resulted in precious few points.
The Lions are hardly a defensive juggernaut. If this team is going to be a player in the NFC North, it's going to be because of Stafford and the offense.
An offense that had better get its collective act together in this week's dress rehearsal.
19. New York Giants
Last Week: 21
There hasn't been a team in the NFL that's ping-ponged around more in recent years than the New York Giants. Over the last three seasons, the G-Men have careened from a six-win team in 2015 to an 11-win playoff team to a 3-13 faceplant in an injury-ravaged mess of a campaign last year.
Two of the analysts here at B/R have their doubts about Big Blue. However, Gagnon thinks the Giants could be primed to rebound just as they did two years ago—provided they get the second overall pick in this year's draft back soon.
"If Saquon Barkley's hamstring injury lingers, the Giants will drop quite dramatically," Gagnon said. "But it's too early to start doubting a team that should be in line to bounce back in a major way with Barkley on board, Odell Beckham Jr. healthy and Nate Solder protecting Eli Manning's blind side."
18. Chicago Bears
Last Week: T19
The Chicago Bears are headed in the right direction. The offense added a number of weapons in the offseason. The defense was quite a bit better than most people realize last year and added an immediate impact player in linebacker Roquan Smith.
That the Bears have leap-frogged the Detroit Lions indicates the considerable optimism surrounding the team in 2018. But with a ranking of 23rd in the league (a full six spots lower than the next-closest writer), Davenport doesn't appear to be buying in just yet.
"Will the Bears be better than a year ago? They certainly should be," Davenport wrote. "The additions of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Anthony Miller give young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky much better targets in the passing game than a year ago. But in 12 starts last year, Trubisky managed just seven touchdown passes and a passer rating of less than 80. In a division with three proven veteran quarterbacks, Trubisky's the wild card—a wild card that relegates the Bears to fourth in the NFC North in my book."
17. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 18
The Baltimore Ravens continue to generate as much disagreement among our rankers as any team in the NFL. Davenport ranks the team on the outskirts of playoff contention at No. 13. Gagnon, however, expects Baltimore's struggles of the past few years to not only continue but accelerate.
If there's one man who will determine which writer is right, it's veteran quarterback Joe Flacco.
There are no shortage of people who think Flacco is not nearly as good as his paycheck—including all three writers who ranked these teams. But as Flacco told the Baltimore Sun (via CBS Sports) in response to the assertion made by Jaguars corner Jalen Ramsey that Flacco "sucks," he doesn't care what people think.
"I don't really have much of a comment," Flacco said. "I don't really care. There's plenty of people out there saying things. Just add one more to the list. No big deal."
The naysayers may not be a big deal to Flacco yet, but if the Ravens get off to a slow start, that could change in a hurry. With Lamar Jackson in town, calls for Flacco to get the hook could get loud…quickly.
16. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 17
The San Francisco 49ers are one of the league's more hyped teams—especially on the offensive side of the ball. With Kyle Shanahan guiding a unit that shelled out big bucks for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tailback Jerick McKinnon in the offseason, many expect a huge leap forward from the Niners in the upcoming season.
The problem is the team is already banged up.
As Kevin Patra of NFL.com wrote, San Francisco GM John Lynch told KNBR Radio that McKinnon will miss the rest of the preseason with a calf strain.
"The good news is it's not going to be long-term," Lynch said, "The bad news is it's going to take him up to Week 1, our opener, so his opportunity to get more in rhythm in our system, that kind of goes out the door."
It's an injury that underscores that McKinnon has never been a featured back as a pro—and that for all the potential in San Fran this year, there remain as many questions as answers offensively.
15. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 15
Whether the Dallas Cowboys are the double-digit-win playoff team of two years ago or last year's also-ran in 2018 probably boils down to one facet of the team. The big unknown this year.
The passing game.
We know the Cowboys will be able to run the ball with Zeke Elliott behind one of the league's best O-lines. We also know defensive end Demarcus Lawrence and linebacker Sean Lee will lead a defense that, while not elite, is quietly solid (eighth in total defense in 2017).
But we don't know who (if anyone) is going to step up as the Cowboys No. 1 wide receiver. Will it be rookie Michael Gallup? Free agent-addition Allen Hurns? Veteran holdover Terrance Williams?
OK—it won't be Williams.
For what it's worth, Sobleski isn't too concerned about the Dallas passing game.
"As long as the Cowboys feature the game's most talented offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott, they have a chance," he said. "But the team's biggest concern—wide receiver—seems less so than when training camp started. Dak Prescott's rapport with his receivers continues to grow, and big-play ability still exists with Hurns, Tavon Austin and Gallup giving the team options on the outside."
14. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: T13
There were positives and negatives to be gleaned from Carolina's two preseason wins.
Second-year tailback Christian McCaffrey has been a positive. McCaffrey scorched the Miami Dolphins last week, taking his first carry 71 yards for a score and piling up well over 100 total yards in limited action.
The play of the offensive line has been another story. A front five that was hit pretty hard by personnel losses and injuries over the past several months has struggled at times—especially in pass protection.
The latter is more cause for concern than the former is for celebration. McCaffrey is not going to power through contact consistently. He needs holes to run through. And if the run game sputters and the Panthers have to air it out, it takes the Panthers out of their comfort zone.
To be fair, the Panthers did just fine in that regard against the Dolphins. But that was one quarter or so of one game against a so-so defense...and even then the pass pro for Cam Newton wasn't especially good. The week before against the Buffalo Bills, McCaffrey managed just 11 yards on four carries.
At their best, Carolina wins by running the football and playing defense. By winning the battle in the trenches.
It made the playoffs that way in 2017. Made the Super Bowl that way at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
Right now the Panthers aren't winning those battles. At least not consistently.
13. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 12
If Kansas City's second preseason game was any indication, it's going to be an interesting season for the Chiefs.
There was a glimpse into just how explosive the Chiefs might be offensively, with Patrick Mahomes hitting Tyreek Hill for a long touchdown pass. Unfortunately, the Chiefs defense was as bad as that play was good, putting up zero resistance against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta starters.
These Chiefs, as presently constructed, are built to win shootouts. The offense is loaded with playmakers—Hill, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and now Sammy Watkins. The defense has Justin Houston, Eric Berry and…that's about it.
Both of those players have struggled with injuries of late, and this was a bad defensive team with Marcus Peters a year ago.
If the Chiefs earn a repeat trip to the playoffs after winning the AFC West a year ago, it's going to be on the back of the offense. Lots of 28-24 and 30-27 final scores.
These Chiefs aren't stopping anyone, though. So that playoff berth is a toss-up.
12. Houston Texans
Last Week: T13
As was mentioned last week, it's Gagnon who is beating the drum for Houston as a top-10 team.
"I don't understand the lack of love for the Texans," he said last week. "Deshaun Watson wasn't just running away with Offensive Rookie of the Year—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."
Davenport bumped the team a couple slots this week, but he still isn't a believer that the Texans are serious contenders.
"I just don't trust this team to stay healthy," Davenport said. "Or more importantly, I don't trust the players the Texans most need to be successful this year to stay healthy."
If Watson, Watt and Houston's other edge-rushers can stay healthy, this team has the potential to be a force in the AFC South.
But given their respective injury histories, that's a big pile of "ifs."
11. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 11
The Tennessee Titans won a playoff game last year. But the Titans don't get much run as a legitimate contender. Or even as a top-10 team.
That's where two of our analysts have the Titans slotted.
New head coach Mike Vrabel inherited a pretty great situation, at least by the standards of the squads most first-year head men get. The Titans have a talented young quarterback in Marcus Mariota. More skill position talent than the team is given credit for. A young, mean offensive line. And a defense that finished well inside the top half of the NFL and added a Super Bowl MVP in the offseason.
The Titans should be able to run the ball with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. The absence of Rishard Matthews hurts, but Taywan Taylor has drawn raves in camp. Tennessee was fortunate enough to replace the injured John Cyprien with another proven vet at safety in Kenny Vaccaro.
On paper at least, this is a team without many holes.
And maybe better than many think.
10. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: 10
There's a strange new emotion circling through the Chargers fanbase this summer.
The Chargers are a trendy pick to win the AFC West in 2018. Per OddsShark, the boys in Vegas agree, instilling the Bolts as the favorites. Los Angeles is the highest-ranked team in the division in these power rankings as well.
It was a limited sample size, but the Chargers first-team offense made those hopes appear justified. In his first game action of the preseason, veteran quarterback Philip Rivers teamed with tailback Melvin Gordon to move the Chargers down the field and into the end zone with ease. The league's fourth-ranked offense in 2017 was in midseason form.
There are concerns defensively (stopping the run chief among them) but strengths as well—a fantastic pass-rushing duo and loaded secondary.
It's odd to say this about the Chargers, and to be frank it feels like inviting fate—daring the cosmos to again rain bad luck on one of the most snake-bitten franchises in football.
But the Los Angeles Chargers are the most complete team in their division—and it isn't all that close.
9. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 9
It was pretty plainly demonstrated last year that as goes quarterback Aaron Rodgers, so goes Green Bay. When Rodgers went down, so did the Packers—right into the toilet.
Something else has been demonstrated during the Rodgers era in Titletown though—the thing that's keeping Green Bay toward the bottom of the top 10 here.
Even the great Aaron Rodgers can't do it all by himself.
A Packers ground game that struggled to move the ball with any consistency last year has already seen Jamaal Williams suffer an ankle injury. Green Bay's secondary is young, and it's been a while since the Packers got after opposing quarterbacks with any regularity.
If all of those things fall into place, then make no mistake—the Pack can make the playoffs. Win the AFC North. Heck, make it to Atlanta and play in Super Bowl LIII.
But if they don't, the Packers will be the same team they've been more years than not with Rodgers.
A flawed playoff contender that can't quite seal the deal in the postseason.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 8
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in uncharted territory. They enter the season as the favorites in their division after advancing all the way to the AFC Championship Game in 2017. The words "Jaguars" and "Super Bowl" are being said in the same sentence without laughter.
The reason for that is mostly the Jaguars defense. Jacksonville was one of the league's stingiest defenses a season ago, allowing an NFL-low 169.9 yards per game.
The Jaguars offense is another story. It's not that the Jags were a bad offensive team—they ranked sixth in the NFL. But Blake Bortles and the passing game were inconsistent, and as a result there were weeks when that offense sputtered.
It's that offense that gives Sobleski (who ranked Jacksonville behind Tennessee at No. 11) concerns.
"No one can deny the Jags' defensive prowess," he said. "The team is as good as it gets on that side of the ball. Although, questions still exist about quarterback Blake Bortles—despite what Jalen Ramsey says—and wide receiver. Furthermore, the AFC South has risen from the ashes, and the competition between Jacksonville, the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and even Indianapolis Colts will make Jacksonville's path to the playoffs far more difficult."
7. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 7
The Atlanta Falcons are probably going to be a good team this season. The question is how good.
Two years ago, that was pretty danged good. Matt Ryan won the NFL's MVP award, Vic Beasley was the sack king and the Falcons nearly won the Super Bowl.
Last year the Falcons fell off some offensively under new OC Steve Sarkisian. Beasley was moved to a hybrid role and saw his numbers fall off a cliff. And while the Falcons were able to down the Rams in the Wild Card Round, that was as far as they got.
That offense should be better in Sarkisian's second year. Beasley is back at defensive end full-time. And the Falcons aren't short on talent on either side of the ball.
But in a loaded NFC South in a loaded NFC, there's little margin for error. The Falcons are going to have to come out swinging and keep doing so.
Their ability to do that for 16 weeks (and on into the playoffs) isn't certain.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 6
The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't budged in these rankings. Nor is there a big gap in how the analysts here at B/R rank them.
The Steelers are a Super Bowl contender to be sure—just not quite an elite one.
The offense, as anyone who has seen an NFL game over the last several years knows, is stacked to the gills. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell aren't just the best QB/WR/RB trio in the league now.
They might be the best such trio of the past 25 years.
The Steelers also led the league with 56 sacks in 2017. They were a top-five pass defense. But wth Ryan Shazier out there's a huge hole in the middle of the defense.
If Vince Williams and Jon Bostic (or Tyler Matakevich) can fill that hole adequately and the Steelers field another top-10 run defense, the Black and Gold will be in the mix for a trip to Atlanta.
If they can't and the Steelers struggle against the run and in coverage over the middle, then another promising season in the Steel City will end in frustrating fashion.
5. New England Patriots
Last Week: 5
We've reached the last of this week's ties.
This one was both caused and broken by Gagnon. It was his ranking of the New Orleans Saints that busted the tie, and his low ranking of No. 6 for the big bad bullies of the AFC that created it.
That ranking was also Gagnon's highest of any AFC team—and that's the main story in his eyes.
"The only reason the Patriots still have the best Super Bowl odds in the NFL," he said, "is because the AFC is utterly inferior to its older brother. The Saints, Eagles, Rams and Vikings are all undoubtedly deeper and more talented than New England. That alone might not be controversial, but I also throw Atlanta in front of them. The Falcons defense is primed to be one of the best in football next season, and the offense should be back on track in Steve Sarkisian's second season."
Gagnon does have a point. On paper, an argument can be made all those teams are better. But year after year the Patriots seem to do more with less. No team is better at patching holes with duct tape and chewing gum and yet making it work.
And even if the AFC is inferior, it still gets a slot in Super Bowl LIII.
4. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 4
As stated previously, it's Gagnon who boosted the Saints to No. 4 in these rankings. He ranked the Saints four slots above Davenport and Sobleski and atop the entire NFL.
"The Saints defense became a major asset last year," Gagnon said last week, "and with so much young talent, that group could become dominant. Throw in that Brees continues to mop the floor with Father Time, and New Orleans should be considered a Super Bowl favorite."
New Orleans has a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in end Cameron Jordan. Both of the reigning Rookie of the Year winners in Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore. An elite receiver in Michael Thomas.
And a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees.
Were it not for a jaw-dropping play to end all plays last year in Minnesota, it would have been the Saints (and not the Vikings) that would have faced the Eagles in the NFC title game.
And barring something unforeseen, New Orleans will enter the 2018 campaign as one of football's best teams.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 3
It's hard to find something to criticize about the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikes have an offense loaded with weapons. A defense that's even more so. And a proven veteran quarterback in Kirk Cousins. The Vikings enter the season with a clear goal after coming so close to the franchise's first Super Bowl berth in decades last year.
It is well and truly Atlanta or bust.
Still, there are a few concerns—enough so to cost the Vikings the top spot in these rankings. Yes, Cousins was successful in leading Washington to the playoffs once. But he's never won a postseason game. Or experienced the pressure that comes with the expectations the Vikings have this year.
The NFC North is going to be a tougher go this year with Aaron Rodgers back in Green Bay. The Vikings have the misfortune of playing on the stacked side of the bracket. And lest we forget, the Vikings weren't just beaten by the Eagles last year. They were demolished.
This team could win 13 games and cruise to the Super Bowl. But all it takes is an injury or two (or a slow start to the season) for that trajectory to change.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 1
Three weeks. Three different top teams in the B/R NFL power rankings.
Imagine the chaos once the season begins.
The Eagles didn't just fall from the No. 1 spot this week. Had Davenport not stuck with his ranking of Philly at No. 1, the team would have fallen even more.
"By virtue of their status as the defending champions, I'm reluctant to knock the Eagles from their perch atop the NFL," Davenport said. "But I can't pretend that the injury news from Philly isn't becoming cause for real concern."
The Week 1 status of both quarterback Carson Wentz and top receiver Alshon Jeffery remains far from certain. As if that wasn't bad enough, backup QB (and Super Bowl MVP) Nick Foles sprained his shoulder in exhibition action.
Wentz is progressing in his rehab and participating in team drills, and Foles is expected to be OK. But there's just enough unease surrounding the Eagles right now for another team to slide around them and into the top spot.
1. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 2
We've now hit maximum hype.
The Rams are the most talked about team in the league after following up last year's shocking run to the NFC West title with a spree of impact veteran acquisitions.
Brandin Cooks. Marcus Peters. Aqib Talib. Ndamukong Suh. All were brought in to help the Rams take the next step and go to the Super Bowl for a fourth time and second in L.A.
In an offseason filled with good news, the most recent may be the best of all.
Rams head coach Sean McVay told reporters (via the team's website) there's been progress over the last week toward getting something a contract done with Aaron Donald, therefore ending his holdout.
"There's been—let's put it this way, there's increased dialogue," he said. "There's more—we feel positive about the direction that these things are going."
Donald is the team's best player and an incredibly disruptive player. And while he missed the first week of the season in 2017 holding out, he went on to be named Defensive Player of the Year.
If the situation plays out that way again, the Rams are going to be really hard to beat.