NFL Power Rankings: Eagles Drop, Vikings Rise in Latest B/R Expert Consensus
There's not a more important time on the NFL calendar than "dress rehearsal" week.
OK, except for the Super Bowl. And all the other playoff games. And the entire regular season. And the draft.
Other than that, though, it's really important.
Some teams have moved away from playing their starters for at least half of their third exhibition games. But over the past several days, we got the longest look at the league's biggest names that we're going to get.
That answered some questions regarding position battles—and created a few more. It also afforded Bleacher Report NFL analysts Brad Gagnon, Gary Davenport and Brent Sobleski a glimpse at which teams are firing on all cylinders and which ones still need some work.
As that trio has done the past several weeks and will continue to do all season long, it gathered to rank the league's teams from No. 32 to No. 1.
Both ends of the spectrum feature a different team than last week.
Note: If two or more teams were tied in the aggregate ranking, the one with the highest individual ranking received the highest rank. If teams were tied in highest individual ranking as well, the team with better Super Bowl odds at OddsShark "won" the tie. Ties are bad.
32. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 31
Based solely on the Miami Dolphins' dress rehearsal game against the Baltimore Ravens, it might appear as though the panel is sleeping on the Dolphins a bit. Miami lost the game 27-10, but with its starters on the field in the first half, it outscored the Ravens 10-3.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 11 of 16 passes with a touchdown. Lead tailback Kenyan Drake averaged eight yards per carry. And defensive end Robert Quinn continued his impressive preseason.
But some of the issues that landed the Dolphins at No. 32 were evident as well. They managed just 63 rushing yards as a team. A run defense that's a big question mark was gashed by the Ravens for 223 yards. That's two more yards than the Dolphins managed in total offense.
Miami looks like it is going to struggle both to score points and to prevent opponents from doing so.
That's not a recipe for success.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 32
There have been some positives for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this preseason.
The team's battle at tailback appears to have resolved itself. After outplaying rookie Ronald Jones again in the team's 33-30 loss to the Detroit Lions on Friday, third-year pro Peyton Barber has tightened his grip on the job. It would be quite the upset if Barber's not the lead back when the Bucs face the Saints on Sept. 9 in Week 1.
Unfortunately, that list of positives dries up quickly.
Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (who will start the first three games of the season thanks to Jameis Winston's suspension) was sharp against Detroit but shaky against the Tennessee the week before. A Tampa pass defense that was dead last in the league in 2017 hasn't fared a whole lot better in the preseason—in part because the Buccaneers haven't been able to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks.
In an NFC South in which three teams made the playoffs last year, the Buccaneers are a clear No. 4.
30. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 30
If Sunday's tilt with the Cincinnati Bengals is any indication, the fact that the Buffalo Bills have something of a QB controversy isn't close to being their biggest problem.
It's that the team's quarterbacks are going to be spending a lot of time fleeing in terror, whether it's AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman or rookie Josh Allen under center.
An offensive line that's breaking in three new starters this year was horrendous in a 26-13 loss to the Bengals at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Allen was under constant duress in the first half, going down five times and taking shots on a number of other plays.
It's a performance that got Buffalo no closer to picking a starting quarterback. In a vacuum, Peterman's numbers were better, but it's hard to ding Allen when four Bengals were waiting for him by the time he dropped back to pass.
If this kind of line play is the rule and not the exception, then the team's being high-balled at No. 30.
29. New York Jets
Last Week: 29
The future is now for the New York Jets.
After leading the team on a pair of touchdown drives against the New York Giants, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has made a compelling case to be its starter in Week 1.
The No. 3 overall pick completed just half of his passes against the Giants, but his stat line doesn't tell the whole story. Throughout the preseason, Darnold hasn't looked like a young signal-caller whose next pro start will be his first.
He's looked about as good as the Jets could dare hope. He's been accurate, hasn't frequently turned over the ball (just one interception) and has shown the ability to extend plays with his legs and find the open man while doing so.
With veteran Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater on the roster, the Jets don't have to rush Darnold into action.
But he's the future under center, and given how he's fared in game action to date, the Jets are rapidly running out of reasons not to start him against the Lions on Sept. 10 at Ford Field.
28. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 28
Based strictly on results, the Arizona Cardinals have to be pleased with their dress rehearsal blowout of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. That's especially true of the defense, which forced a staggering eight turnovers.
But there was also cause for concern—and it's an old worry.
Last year, the Redbirds allowed 52 sacks—the most in the NFC. And while the Cardinals' first team wasn't on the field that long against the Cowboys, it appears that Arizona's issues with protecting the quarterback are still present.
Having David Johnson back at tailback will help keep opposing defenses honest. But if Arizona doesn't get better in pass protection in a hurry, it's going to be a long first season in the desert for Sam Bradford.
Actually, it's going to be a short first season—among the many words that can be used to describe Bradford, "mobile" doesn't make the list.
Neither does "durable," for that matter.
27. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 27
The Cleveland Browns' 5-0 dress rehearsal win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday offered fans additional hope that the Browns might not be the worst team in the league this year—sort of.
As has been the case for most of the preseason, Cleveland's first-team defense was stifling. However, the offense struggled to move the ball, and the Browns got lucky when starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was able to return to action after suffering a nasty spill in the first half.
Davenport, who has consistently ranked the Browns 32nd this preseason, pointed to that near-injury as a sobering reminder of the problems facing the team.
"Had Taylor been hurt," he said, "it would have been a very Cleveland turn of events—as was head coach Hue Jackson needlessly putting his No. 1 quarterback back on the field. Like many of Jackson's decisions, it made no sense. And it was a preview of all the head-scratchers still to come. Matter of fact, the biggest head-scratcher of all might be how Jackson still has his job."
26. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 26
As Mike Wells reported for ESPN.com, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is pleased with how he's played this preseason after going 8-of-10 with a touchdown toss against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.
"I feel great, my shoulder feels awesome, the best it's felt," Luck said. "I actually feel very good, strong, my shoulder felt alive. I was a little happier with where the ball went when I threw it. I keep feeling and seeing improvement. Keep working at it."
Having Luck back is of course a big deal for the Colts. The Indy offense is light-years better with No. 12. But the line in front of Luck has already allowed him to be sacked four times in limited action this preseason.
That offensive line led the league in sacks allowed in 2017, surrendering a jaw-dropping 56. There's been nothing to indicate it's significantly better this season.
And Luck might not be feeling so awesome after a few weeks of running for his life.
25. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 25
There was a lot for Bengals fans to like about Sunday's preseason win over the Bills. The play of the defensive line was outstanding. Quarterback Andy Dalton was in midseason form.
There was also one development that was panic-inducing.
As Charean Williams reported for Pro Football Talk, starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Bills, was forced from the game with a shoulder injury in the first half.
To be fair, there's been no word the injury is serious or that Glenn's Week 1 status is in doubt. But it underscores a couple of things.
The first is Glenn's importance. Cincinnati regressed the past couple of years in large part because of poor line play. Dalton is a much different player with guys in his face than in a clean pocket.
The second is Glenn's rather lengthy injury history. The 28-year-old has missed 15 games over the past two years, including 10 in 2017 because of foot and ankle injuries.
The Bengals need Glenn on the field.
24. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 24
Adrian Peterson is back, baby!
Eleven carries in a preseason game isn't a big enough sample size to make qualitative assessments regarding the recently signed Peterson's ability to help a ground game that was among the worst last year and already lost rookie Derrius Guice to a torn ACL for the season.
However, after picking up 56 yards on those 11 carries against the Denver Broncos on Friday, it's fair to say Peterson was much more effective than either Rob Kelley (who had just 19 yards on eight totes) or Samaje Perine (who is nicked up and didn't play). If that performance was any indication, Peterson will be Washington's lead back in the season opener against the Cardinals on Sept. 9.
Gagnon, who was the high-ranker of the Washington Redskins at No. 20, thinks the panel is low-balling Washington a bit as a result.
"Peterson's legs are fresh enough to help the Redskins," he said, "and it's too early to be concerned about Alex Smith. Washington is more talented than the higher-ranked Lions, Broncos and Seahawks."
23. Detroit Lions
Last Week: 20
We've got a dropper.
After spending most of the preseason inside the top 20, the Lions dropped three spots this week to No. 23—despite piling up 33 points in their dress rehearsal win over the Buccaneers.
In that game, quarterback Matthew Stafford scuffled a bit, but no one's worried about the veteran signal-caller. Detroit's anemic ground game even got it together a bit, piling up 122 rushing yards and averaging 4.4 yards a carry.
The offense should be fine.
The defense is another story.
The stats don't show it, but new head coach Matt Patricia's defense looked awful early against the Buccaneers. There were missed assignments. Poor tackling. You could almost see the steam shooting out of Patricia's ears.
The Lions aren't good enough offensively to be able to afford those sorts of lapses. Not if they want to contend in the NFC North.
Not only do our analysts not expect that to happen, but they've also slotted the Lions as the worst team in the division.
22. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 23
There isn't a lot that can be learned from the Oakland Raiders' 13-6 dress rehearsal win over the Green Bay Packers, in that it wasn't one. Most of the starters for both teams either played sparingly or sat out altogether.
Still, Sobleski's seen enough from the Fighting Chuckys to slot them at No. 19—the highest among our experts and ahead of Denver in the division.
"Jon Gruden's approach is becoming more clear with each passing week," Sobleski said, "and the Raiders appear to be more settled than originally anticipated. They still have concerns on the roster, starting with Khalil Mack's absence and the question about which receiver will emerge as the offense's third option.
"Overall, it'll likely fall on either the Raiders or Broncos to see which team resides in the AFC West's basement."
Davenport remains skeptical.
"I refuse to have faith in any team that doesn't have the sense to pay Khalil Mack," he said.
Oakland's the poster team for the league's hardest division to figure out. On one hand, the team has a relatively proven commodity at quarterback and a really good offensive line. On the other, the defense was a question mark with Mack.
Without him, defensive stops could be few and far between.
21. Denver Broncos
Last Week: 21
It may sound odd given that we've consistently ranked the Broncos outside the top 20, but Denver's trending in the right direction as Week 1 nears.
Quarterback Case Keenum had easily his best effort of the preseason in Friday's win at Washington, completing 12 of 18 passes. Emmanuel Sanders piled up 88 total yards and found the end zone on the ground. And rookie tailback Royce Freeman (five carries, 26 yards, one touchdown) continued to make a strong case to start over Devontae Booker.
The Broncos aren't a bad team. They just aren't an especially good one either. The three analysts at Bleacher Report all ranked Denver either 21st or 22nd. Not a tomato can—but nothing resembling a playoff contender either.
Still, if the offense continues to improve and the defense holds up, this team could make an early-season move up these rankings—especially in an AFC West that's the hardest division to peg at present.
20. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 22
There was good news and bad news from the Seattle Seahawks' 21-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Friday—a defeat that dropped the Seahawks to 0-3 in the preseason.
The good news was the play of the beleaguered offensive line. Against one of the best defensive fronts in the league, the Seahawks not only didn't allow Russell Wilson to be sacked but were also able to run the ball to the tune of 4.3 yards a carry.
The bad news was that Seattle's third-down defense was horrible. Per Lee Vowell of 12th Man Rising, when Minnesota's starters were on the field, the Vikings were 7-of-10 on third down.
That's not going to get it done.
If Seattle's O-line can keep it up, Wilson will keep his team in a lot of games. But if a defense that lost a ton of veteran talent in the offseason—including Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett—can't get off the field, the Seahawks won't be winning many of them.
19. New York Giants
Last Week: 19
Someone's going to be wrong.
Davenport and Sobleski aren't buying a big bounce-back from Big Blue this year—both slotted the Giants outside the top 20.
However, as Gagnon said last week, he believes the Giants could be a surprise playoff contender this year.
"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."
Manning was sharp in New York's dress rehearsal against the Jets (17-of-23, 188 passing yards), but the Giants got another injury scare when starting tight end Evan Engram left the game with a concussion.
It's time to bubble wrap everyone until Week 1—especially the team's new (old) $95 million receiver, OBJ.
New York is going to need every offensive contributor it has when it hosts the Jaguars (No. 2 defense in 2017) on Sept. 9 at MetLife Stadium.
18. Chicago Bears
Last Week: 18
The Chicago Bears are generating some buzz as Week 1 nears.
That, in and of itself, isn't too strange. But this is positive buzz—the sort we haven't heard come from the Windy City in a while. The Bears have a good defense and a retooled offense with improved weapons for second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, including wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton.
New head coach Matt Nagy raised a few eyebrows Saturday by resting most of his starters against the Kansas City Chiefs. But Nagy said he isn't concerned his players will be rusty for Week 1, per John Mullin of NBC Sports Chicago:
"We're just at the spot right now where we're lucky to be where we're at. I love the growth as a team and as a family. I feel strong that when we go into Week 1 that those 25-30 plays aren't going to sway [the Green Bay game] one way or the other. It's really not. If we win that game against Green Bay, trust me, it wasn't because we didn't play those 25. If we lose it, same thing, I promise you that."
For his part, Sobleski isn't buying what Nagy's selling.
"Nagy decided to disregard normal operating procedure by sitting his starters during the preseason's third week because he knows his team 'better than anybody right now.' That's all well and good, but Chicago finished 5-11 last season," he wrote. "On paper, the Bears appear to be vastly improved. However, they need to be on the field to prove they're actually better."
If the Bears come out flat against the Packers at Lambeau Field, Nagy's going to have some 'splaining to do.
17. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 17
The Ravens continue to generate more dissent among the analysts here than any team in the league. Davenport slotted them just outside of the postseason at No. 13, while Gagnon's much less convinced they are a contender—like 12 spots lower less convinced.
It's understandable why there's such a difference. The Ravens were in the mix for a playoff spot much of last year and have a veteran, Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Joe Flacco, a talented young running back in Alex Collins and a solid defense.
Of course, Flacco may be the most overpaid signal-caller in football (three years, $66.4 million), and his new weapons in the passing game feature as many questions as answers. The Raiders bid adieu to a Michael Crabtree after a down 2017, John Brown hasn't been able to stay healthy and Willie Snead is as streaky as he is fast.
The Ravens haven't been to the playoffs since 2014, when they lost in the divisional round to the New England Patriots. And it will be a steep uphill climb to get back there this year.
The team could hang around in the AFC North if it can avoid major injuries and get a break or two. But the Ravens don't have much margin for error. If they get off to a slow start, it won't take long for fans to call for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson.
16. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 16
The 49ers were one of the more talked-about teams this offseason. Their five-game winning streak to end last season and the big contracts they handed to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tailback Jerick McKinnon combined to generate more than a little hype, and the team got considerable run as a dark-horse playoff contender.
Of late, the bloom's come off that rose a bit. McKinnon has missed most of the preseason. Garoppolo has completed less than 60 percent of his passes with one touchdown and a pick and a so-so passer rating of 83.7.
That could all mean nothing. But the 49ers don't get any breaks to open the season—in Week 1, they'll visit a Vikings team many think is the best in the NFL. San Francisco doesn't play a squad that had a losing record last year until Week 6—and that's a trip to Lambeau Field to face the Packers.
There isn't a team in the top half of these rankings more at risk of spiraling out of control early.
15. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 15
The Cowboys' blowout loss to the Cardinals was filled with caveats. Quarterback Dak Prescott didn't play. Neither did tailback Ezekiel Elliott.
But all the problems Dallas had can't be dismissed as simple exhibition blues.
The strength of the offense isn't necessarily Elliott. Or Prescott. It's the league's best O-line—a quintet that paves openings for Elliott and keeps Prescott's jersey nice and clean.
That line's banged up—and then some. Guard Zack Martin has been hampered by a knee injury. No one knows when Travis Frederick will return to the field after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Their absences were felt.
A large part of what made the Cowboys such a dangerous team two years ago was their ability to win at the point of attack and dictate tempo.
If Dallas can't do that, much more pressure will be piled on Prescott and a passing game that's one big question mark.
14. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 11
The past week has been a mixed bag for the Tennessee Titans.
On the field, the Titans struggled. Tennessee managed just six points against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and quarterback Marcus Mariota's tune-up was a forgettable one—just 43 passing yards, an interception and a rating of 37.0.
The performance gave Gagnon pause, though he didn't drop the Titans in his rankings...yet.
"I would have liked to see more from Tennessee this preseason," Gagnon said. "As with the Falcons, I'm trying not to overreact based on August performances in small samples, but if this carries over into Week 1, the Titans will plummet in my rankings."
Off the field, the Titans got some good news, as they activated wide receiver Rishard Matthews from the physically unable to perform list after he missed all of training camp and most of the preseason.
Tennessee's most reliable receiver of the past couple of years could help the team shake its funk.
If not, Tennessee's slide may only be getting started.
13. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 14
The Carolina Panthers are prisoners of geography. Or maybe just plain old bad luck. Were Carolina not located in the league's most loaded division, they'd be getting a lot more pub as a playoff (or even Super Bowl) contender.
The Panthers don't seem like the third-best team in their division. They have an MVP quarterback in Cam Newton. The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Luke Kuechly. And an ascendent young tailback in second-year pro Christian McCaffrey.
To Davenport, Carolina might not be getting its just due at No. 13.
"Part of me wants to rank the Panthers higher than No. 11," he said. "We know they are going to run the ball and play hard-nosed defense. If the banged-up offensive line can keep it together and an improved pass-catching corps plays to its potential, they will make it back to the playoffs and give the Falcons and Saints all they can handle in the NFC South."
Of course, they also have little margin for error. The NFC South put three teams in the postseason last year, but that could be a difficult task to repeat.
Especially with the Saints, Panthers and Falcons all playing one another twice.
The word of the day is attrition.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 13
In 2017, Kareem Hunt led the league with 1,327 rushing yards.
If you put much stock in the preseason, it's going to be awfully hard for Hunt to duplicate that feat this year.
To say the Chiefs have struggled to run the ball is being kind. Kansas City is last in rushing, managing less than 60 yards per contest. It is one of five teams to average less than three yards per carry.
Now, these problems can be partly attributed to game-planning. The Chiefs are 30th in the league in carries per game—they have prioritized getting Patrick Mahomes reps in the passing game.
But the Kansas City offensive line has been blown back at the point of attack, leaving precious few lanes for Hunt (or anyone else) to run through.
If that carries through to Week 1, the Chiefs' time in the top 12 is going to be short-lived.
11. Houston Texans
Last Week: 12
It's not all that often when a quarterback who completes three passes for 15 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 16.7 is cause for celebration.
But fans of the Houston Texans were cheering Deshaun Watson's short outing against the Los Angeles Rams—shaky though it may have been.
It looks like all hands will be on deck when the Texans open the season in Gillette Stadium against the Patriots. Watson will be lobbing passes in the direction of DeAndre Hopkins. Defensive end J.J. Watt will be doing his best to make Tom Brady's first Sunday of the season a miserable one.
With those stars on the field, Houston can be a dangerous team. The AFC South's most explosive offense coupled with a defense that isn't far behind that of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The disparity among our voters shows not everyone believes the Texans can keep those stars healthy.
10. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: 10
The Los Angeles Chargers' 36-7 waxing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints seems like it would be cause for anything but optimism.
But when their starters were still in the game, the Chargers gave the defending NFC South champions all they could handle. Rookie safety Derwin James logged an interception on the first defensive series, and Los Angeles led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.
And a team that's come to define rotten injury luck avoided having any more key players go down.
The Chargers aren't without issues—chief among them defending the run. But L.A. did that against New Orleans, surrendering just 3.4 yards per carry. If the Chargers can follow suit in the regular season, a very good pass rush can tee off and a fine secondary will have opportunities for more big plays.
Add a proven veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers and plenty of skill-position talent, and you have the most balanced team in the AFC West.
9. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 9
There are two dominant storylines surrounding the Packers: the return of Aaron Rodgers and the contract situation of the star quarterback.
Rodgers is confident the latter will work itself out, as he said on Wilde and Tausch (via ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky).
"If something does get done, it's fantastic. It's great," Rodgers said. "Then I'd think about that I can finish my career here—hopefully. And that changes the down-the-line stuff. The legacy stuff can be even more important. But I'm not thinking about that."
We saw how important Rodgers is to the Pack last year. When he went down, so did any chance Green Bay had of making the playoffs.
But there's a reason why the Rodgers era in Titletown has produced only one championship. As incredible as he is, Rodgers can only do so much himself.
And Green Bay's deficiencies relegate it to the back of the top 10 in these rankings.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 8
Every team has a mantra this late in the preseason: just get through the thing without losing any prominent players to injury.
The Jags didn't make it.
As Kevin Patra of NFL.com reported, wideout Marqise Lee, who led the team with 56 receptions in 2017, will be placed on injured reserve with a knee injury he suffered in Jacksonville's dress rehearsal against the Atlanta Falcons.
It isn't a cataclysmic injury—Lee is the Jaguars' most proven receiver, but no one's confusing him with Antonio Brown. But his absence will be a substantial one for a passing game that was already considered one of the team's weaknesses.
We know the Jags can play defense with the best of them. We also know Leonard Fournette will get his on the ground.
But if the Jaguars are going to build on last year's success, Blake Bortles will have to throw the ball.
And losing a No. 1 receiver (even a nominal one) won't help him in that regard.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 6
The Steelers didn't really drop this week. The team was the victim of a tiebreaker—one we'll get to shortly.
No one is going to dispute the Steelers look like the class of the AFC North. They aren't just the defending champs of the division; Pittsburgh is also home to the most talented offense in the division.
In fact, in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and tailback Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers have the most potent quarterback-wide receiver-running back trio in football.
But Bell still hasn't shown up—choosing to sit out camp and the preseason for a second straight year.
That marks a second straight offseason away from the team. Just because he didn't show adverse effects last year doesn't mean he won't this year. And if Bell isn't 100 percent, a team that isn't without flaws could be in trouble.
The Steelers may crack the top five in the next month. Or drop from the top 10.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 7
There's going to be some real moving and shaking in these rankings in a couple of weeks. The first game of the season features a pair of top-six teams with the Falcons heading to Philly to take on the Eagles.
Davenport didn't slot Atlanta in the top six. As a matter of fact, he barely had Atlanta inside the top 10. But he allowed that the Falcons could be set for an early-season surge.
"The Eagles look flawed right now. Beatable," Davenport said. "The offense is a mess. It presents the Falcons with a golden opportunity to score some style points with a big win on the road—the kind of win that can set the tone for a big chunk of the season."
In fairness, the Falcons haven't exactly lit it up in exhibition action. But Gagnon is confident enough in Matt Ryan and Co. to rank them fifth—which helped push them past the Steelers.
"The preseason hasn't been pretty in Atlanta," Gagnon said, "but the Falcons don't typically show much in August, and I'm not overreacting to a small sample. I believe in Ryan, who has earned the benefit of the doubt, and the rest of that offense, and I'm fired up about the young, quick defense."
The biggest question with Atlanta appears to be which Falcons team shows up in 2018: the aggressive defensive and offensive juggernaut of two years ago that made the Super Bowl or the team from 2017 that was good on both sides of the ball but great on neither.
Atlanta needs all the momentum it can get early. The schedule is beyond brutal. It features three straight games with playoff teams to open things up, including home tilts with the other two contenders in the NFC South.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 2
OK, this is where things get complicated.
There was a three-way tie between the Eagles, Patriots and Saints. But since Philly's highest individual ranking was the lowest of the lot, the defending Super Bowl champs fell three spots.
Davenport was the one who ranked the Eagles third. But that marked a drop—in the first few editions of these rankings, he slotted Philadelphia in the top spot.
Davenport said he just couldn't do it again.
"I'm all for not overreacting," he said, "and for giving the defending champions their due. But Carson Wentz hasn't been cleared for contact. Nick Foles doesn't look right. There's still no sign of Alshon Jeffery. And the offense has been hot garbage. Maybe the Eagles will flip a switch against the Falcons and I'll look like a fool. But as things stand, the Eagles have real problems."
4. New England Patriots
Last Week: 5
With another season about to begin, the Patriots are in the same spot they seemingly always are.
Sitting on top of the AFC East.
The last time New England didn't win the division (2008), it took Tom Brady's torn ACL to knock it from the top spot.
And it went 11-5 that year.
One of the reasons so many people love to hate the Pats is they are maddeningly, consistently good. They are going to win a dozen games. Capture their umpteenth division crown. And more likely than not represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII.
"The Patriots are who they are: the NFL's best-run organization and the AFC's team to beat," Sobleski said. "New England is set on offense, even though the group lacks a No. 1 receiver. Concern arises with the defense since the unit looks slow at times. Even so, there's no team in the conference that is clearly better than Brady and Co."
That defense may be the only thing standing between New England and Lombardi Trophy No. 6.
3. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 4
The Saints moved up a spot this week by virtue of winning a three-way tie with the Patriots and Eagles—a tie won thanks to Gagnon's No. 1 ranking of New Orleans. He's consistently left the Saints in that top spot throughout the preseason.
Judging by the smackdown the Saints laid on the Chargers, he may be right. A Drew Brees interception early was about the only thing that didn't go right for New Orleans, which won consistently in the trenches and looked to be in midseason form.
The talent's not in question. The Saints are loaded on offense and added a proven veteran in Demario Davis at the team's weakest position defensively (linebacker).
Even in the buzzsaw that is the NFC South, the Saints (on paper) have the look of a team that could make a deep playoff run this year.
The Saints will open the season with a pair of winnable home games (Bucs and Browns) before rolling into Atlanta to face the Falcons. Then they'll take on a trio of teams that missed the playoffs before a juggernaut two-fer at the Vikes and versus the Rams.
By early November, we should have an idea of just how good this team is. For now, it looks pretty dang good.
2. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 1
The Rams may have fallen from the top spot, but that doesn't mean they didn't have a good week.
They may be on the verge of an even better one.
As Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk reported, the Rams and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald are reportedly closing in on an extension. There's renewed hope Donald will join the team in advance of the season opener.
"You'd like to have him by the end of this week," McVay told reporters.
Donald's absence was the one negative hanging over the Rams after an offseason of positives. As soon as the ink's dry on his contract, the narrative around the team will flip to four simple words. The reason this "dream team" was assembled.
Super Bowl or bust.
With the Rams loaded on both sides of the ball, don't bet the rent against them.
1. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 3
Yep. The No. 1 team in these rankings changed—again.
That isn't an indication of the fickleness of the analysts here at B/R as much as it's a testament to how closely packed the teams at the top are—especially on the NFC side.
Three different NFC teams garnered a No. 1 vote this week. For Gagnon, it was the Saints—who have Drew Brees and both reigning Rookies of the Year. For Sobleski, it was the Rams—who have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and highest-scoring offense.
And for Davenport, his new No. 1 team is Minnesota.
"In a loaded NFC," Davenport said, "the Vikings are the most stacked team. They just don't have any holes. Kirk Cousins has skill-position weapons out the wazoo and a good line in front of him. The defense is ridiculous and just pulled off another sneaky-good signing with George Iloka. The Vikings aren't head and shoulders better than the Rams, Eagles and Saints. But they're the most complete team in the conference."
This week at least, that opinion got Minnesota the No. 1 spot.