NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 1

NFL StaffContributor ISeptember 3, 2018

NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 1

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    After a long, dark offseason, the big day is almost here.

    It's time for another season of NFL football.

    Thursday night, the Atlanta Falcons begin their quest to become the first team in the Super Bowl era to play in a "home" Super Bowl. The Philadelphia Eagles start theirs to become the first team in over a decade to repeat as champions.

    On Sunday and Monday, 30 more teams begin quests all their own. Some simply seek respectability. Others still hope for a postseason berth. And the fortunate ones have their sights squarely set on Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Super Bowl LIII.

    As they've done every week throughout the preseason, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have gathered to slot the league's teams from worst to first. No. 32 to No. 1. Outhouse to penthouse.

    Here's whom they see as the favorites to reach Atlanta...and the favorites for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.


    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.

32. Miami Dolphins

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    High: 30

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 32

    This has the makings of a very long season in Miami.

    In 2017, the Dolphins were a bottom-five team in both points scored and points allowed. And while Miami gets starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill back this season, it's hard to identify exactly where marked improvement in either regard is going to come from.

    Yes Tannehill's back. But Miami's receiving corps isn't exactly loaded with talent—especially with DeVante Parker nursing a broken finger. Kenny Stills is a capable pro. What he isn't is a No. 1 wideout. Danny Amendola was great five years and 11 injuries ago.

    The Dolphins were 29th in the NFL in rushing last year, and the team's biggest offseason addition in that regard is 57-year-old Frank Gore.

    Admittedly, things were worse than that until Kenyan Drake came on down the stretch. But Drake hasn't shown in college or the pros (yet) that he can handle a heavy workload over an entire season.

    And once you get past him and old man Frank on the depth chart, it gets pretty ugly pretty quick.

    Miami will get an early chance to prove us wrong. It opens the season at home against a Tennessee Titans club that was a playoff team last year but is hardly a juggernaut.

    Notch a win there, and Miami might be able to climb out of the basement in these rankings.

    Look at the bright side. There's nowhere to go but up.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    High: 29

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 31

    The good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that quarterback Jameis Winston looked razor-sharp in the preseason.

    The bad news is that Winston's three-game suspension means he won't see the field again until Week 4—and by then, the Buccaneers may well already be in a hole.

    Tampa appears to have angered the scheduling gods, because the stretch of games the team will play without Winston is brutal. The Buccaneers open the season with three straight games against division winners from last year: at New Orleans and then home against the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.

    That's Drew Brees followed by the defending Super Bowl champions followed by the best trio of offensive stars in the NFL—going up against a Tampa defense that ranked 32nd in the NFL in 2017.

    The only chance the Bucs have in those games is to win a shootout. They aren't doing that with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.

    0-3, here they come.

30. Buffalo Bills

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    High: 27

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 30

    The Buffalo Bills started out several slots higher in these power rankings. But as the preseason progressed, the Bills didn't look good—and their slide to No. 30 began.

    To be fair, not all of the analysts here at Bleacher Report are willing to completely write off the Bills just yet, including Brad Gagnon:

    "I see my colleagues have moved the Bills down quite a lot in August. I may join them based on what happens in September, but this is a 2017 playoff team with good pieces on both sides of the ball and a strong coaching staff. I don't think they're winning the Super Bowl, but I'm not ready to write their eulogy in the first week of September."

    The Bills did indeed advance to the postseason last year. But that was with Tyrod Taylor and an offensive line that was at least marginally competent.

    Taylor's gone. So are three of those starters up front.

    And if Buffalo's poor showing against Cincinnati in a dress-rehearsal loss is any indication, the latter's a massive problem.

29. New York Jets

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    High: 27

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 29

    It's Sam Darnold's show.

    After a solid preseason, there was very little doubt that the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft was going to be the Week 1 starter for the Jets. Those shreds were removed as soon as the Jets shipped Teddy Bridgewater to New Orleans for a draft pick.

    It's a move that ratcheted up the optimism for New York's beleaguered fanbase—hope that the team may finally have found the quarterback it's been searching for since, well, just about forever. In fairness, Darnold's shown flashes of what he's capable of as a passer in the preseason, and in Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, he has some talent at his disposal both on the ground and through the air offensively.

    But there are going to be ups and downs with a first-year signal-caller. There's also going to be a lot of pressure on a quarterback known for turning the ball over in college to match scores with opponents. On the other side of the ball, all three levels of New York's defense have issues, chief among them the apparent lack of any real pass rush.

    If this team surpasses last year's five wins with Darnold at the helm, he's a shoo-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    That isn't likely to happen, though.

28. Arizona Cardinals

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    High: 26

    Low: 29

    Last Week: 28

    It's possible that the Arizona Cardinals are better than they're getting credit for from this panel.

    The offense has some talent—an explosive tailback in David Johnson and one of the best wide receivers to ever lace them up in Larry Fitzgerald. Sam Bradford is a capable veteran quarterback who, when healthy, is one of the league's most accurate passers.

    Arizona's defense looked good in the preseason—really good. Over the first three weeks of the preseason alone, the Cardinals forced 16 turnovers—including eight in a blowout win over Dallas in the dress rehearsal.

    But Bradford's had all sorts of problems staying healthy. His odds of doing so behind an O-line that led the NFC with 52 sacks allowed last year aren't especially good. And all those exhibition takeaways won't matter one bit once Arizona takes the field against the Washington Redskins in a game that counts.

    If things break the right way, Arizona could be set for an early move up these rankings. But for now, the team has enough questions surrounding it to bring up the back end of the NFC West.

27. Cleveland Browns

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    High: 22

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 27

    Over the last three seasons, the Cleveland Browns have redefined the concept of athletic futility. Since the dawn of the 2015 season, the Browns have won four games—and lost 44.

    However, there's renewed optimism in 2018 that a remade Browns roster might actually be competitive. Bleacher Report NFL analyst Brent Sobleski is on board with the idea:

    "A strong preseason effort thanks to a much-improved roster makes Cleveland one of the league's most intriguing squads. The Browns finally have legitimate talent at quarterback, and the offense is only going to get better with Josh Gordon's return. The first-team defense, especially Myles Garrett, played dominant football during stretches as well.  Remember, though, the Browns finished 4-0 last preseason before completing the NFL's second-ever 0-16 campaign."

    That caveat at the end echoes Davenport's feelings about the team.

    "Are the Browns better?" Davenport asked. "Yes. But until I see a team that's 1-31 over the last two seasons win a game that actually matters, Cleveland slots at No. 32."

26. Indianapolis Colts

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    High: 24

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 26

    There's renewed hope in Indy after a miserable 2017 season, a sense that maybe the Colts' luck is changing.

    So to speak.

    However, as one AFC South general manager told SB Nation's Thomas George, Andrew Luck's shoulder injury and lost season remain a dark cloud over the Colts:

    "Sure, he has the tools, but that injury, anytime you start dealing with mechanics, the main mechanism, the arm for a quarterback, that is suspect and scary stuff. They've got to protect him, get him a running game and find him a weapon that he can count on, a go-to-guy. Nobody has any clue if he will ever be like he was."

    No team in the NFL surrendered more sacks in 2017 than the Colts. If the team allows close to that number (56) again, Luck's going to take a beating. First-round rookie Quenton Nelson looks like the real deal at guard, but unless he can play all five line positions at once, he can't fix Indy's issues at both tackle spots.

    You know...the guys tasked with keeping defensive ends off of Luck.

    If one of Indy's tailbacks is going to emerge as a dependable runner who will take pressure off Luck, we've seen no sign of it.

    Frank Gore is gone. Marlon Mack is hurt. The biggest red flag about the Colts ground game (or lack thereof) might be that Christine "Frequent Flyer Miles" Michael made it onto the 53-man roster.

    Luck's a very good young signal-caller (or at least he was pre-injury). But there's precious little around him. T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle...

    And pain.

25. Oakland Raiders

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    Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

    High: 23

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 22

    The Raiders took a last-minute dip in these power rankings for some mysterious reason.

    It's almost as if the team traded its best player or something.

    The blockbuster deal that sent edge-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears netted the Raiders a package of picks that included two first-rounders. It also cost Oakland the team's best player and one of the most disruptive defenders in all of football.

    For Davenport, it was the last straw for the Raiders in an offseason that's been surreal:

    "Granted, Jon Gruden inherited an Oakland team that had its flaws. But to date, it appears that all Gruden's done is create new ones. The defense wasn't good with Mack. Without him, it's hot garbage. Maybe he's such a mastermind that we mere mortals can't comprehend his brilliance, but so far, the goal of Gruden's master plan seems to be a commitment to excrement. I'm pretty sure that's not Oakland's motto."

24. Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    High: 20

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 23

    It wasn't an especially good preseason for the Detroit Lions.

    It's not that Detroit went 1-3. It's not exactly a big deal to lose three games that don't matter. But in going 1-3, the Lions starters looked choppy on both sides of the ball. The offense was out of sync and didn't run the ball much better than last year. The defense (new head coach Matt Patricia's specialty) was gashed with regularity...especially up the gut.

    That is cause for concern in a division with a Super Bowl favorite, a perennial contender getting back its superstar quarterback and a team that just swung the most aggressive trade we've seen in several years.

    Throw it all together and, per Sobleski, you have the makings of a last-place team:

    "Matt Patricia's initial phase with the Detroit Lions hasn't gone well. As the rest of the division continues to improve (*cough* Khalil Mack *cough*), the Lions' effort throughout the preseason can be described as lackluster at best. As the team transitions under new supervision, it's falling behind everyone else in the NFC North."

    Gagnon and Davenport are marginally higher on Detroit, but all three analysts now have the Lions as the No. 4 team in their division.

23. Washington Redskins

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    High: 19

    Low: 25

    Last Week: 24

    It's fair to say Adrian Peterson wasn't expected to be the center of attention in Washington as the NFL season got underway.

    But that's what has happened. Signed recently by the Redskins after the team was hit hard by injuries during the preseason, Peterson made headlines last week by firing back at critics who questioned how much the veteran tailback has left in the tank.

    "What I'm going to do when I ball out this year," Peterson said via Liz Roscher of Yahoo Sports. "I'm going to have all my fans … look up all the people who [said] something negative about me and put them on blast and prove that when they are on TV, they don't know what they're talking about."

    The thing is, it's not unfair to question Peterson's ability to lead one of the NFL's most anemic rushing attacks. Not after Peterson managed just 3.4 yards a carry between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals in 2017.

    And if Washington can't run the ball (again), the offense is going to sputter—Alex Smith just doesn't have enough passing-game assets to carry the team. Good though Chris Thompson may be (and he was last year before breaking his leg) he's a complement. Not the kind of player who will carry an offense. Much the same can be said for slot man Jamison Crowder. 

    Washington didn't pay Smith all that money to be a "game manager." But without a running game to keep defenses honest in tight or a reliable vertical threat to do the same over the top, he isn't going to have a choice.

22. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    High: 18

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 25

    The Ohio teams certainly appear to inspire disagreement among the NFL analysts here at Bleacher Report. Just as with the Cleveland Browns, there's a large spread between the high and low rankings for the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Gagnon is skeptical that this year's incarnation of the Bengals is any better than last year's squad:

    "Don't read deeply into the Bengals' decent preseason. They might be the worst team in one of the worst divisions in the NFL. They're nothing without Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, but Dalton isn't special anyway. The offensive line is garbage, the defense isn't what it used to be and they're praying that a bunch of questionable young players will come through. Worst of all, the front office seems satisfied. They hardly participate in free agency and they're sticking with the same old head coach. Things will get worse before they get better."

    Davenport, however, sees the potential for a rebound year:

    "I don't know that Cincy's O-line will be able to maintain the level of play I saw in the preseason. But if it can, this is a team that could surprise some people. Give Andy Dalton some time to throw the ball and he can hurt you, and the Bengals defensive front has looked phenomenal."

21. Denver Broncos

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    High: 21

    Low: 23

    Last Week: 21

    The Denver Broncos are something of a puzzle.

    Over the first two preseason games, it looked like the team would live to regret handing Case Keenum a fat ball of cash. But in Denver's dress-rehearsal win over Washington, Keenum looked a lot more like the quarterback who led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game last year.

    Which Keenum shows up for the season opener against Seattle (and the weeks that follow) will go a long way toward determining how long the Broncos stick around in a wide-open AFC West. It's not the only question mark facing the team (the O-line, running game and Aqib Talib-less secondary among them), but it's the highest-profile one.

    If Keenum builds on last year's success and those other uncertainties break the right way (just start Royce Freeman at running back...please), the Broncos could win 10-11 games and their division.

    But a lot of dominoes have to fall for that to happen—too many, in the eyes of our analysts, apparently.

20. Seattle Seahawks

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    High: 17

    Low: 22

    Last Week: 20

    The Seattle Seahawks are an abject lesson in the NFL standing for "not for long."

    At this time a year ago, the Seahawks were still viewed as one of the leading contenders to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They were the New England Patriots of the conference—a team that was not only good but consistently so over a period of several years. Seattle won a Super Bowl and should have won a second.

    Just run the ball, Pete.

    Fast-forward one year, and the Seahawks look like an also-ran. An eight- or nine-win team, tops.

    The offensive line isn't good. A Seattle club defined by running the ball for years can't consistently. The Legion of Boom defense is a shell of its once-fearsome self. Richard Sherman. Michael Bennett. Cliff Avril. All gone. Earl Thomas might as well be—his contentious holdout shows no signs of resolution anytime soon. And Kam Chancellor, the enforcer who held the defense together, unofficially retired in July when a neck injury left him medically unfit to return to the field.

    Yes, the Seahawks still have Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin. But the latter's already banged up, and the former can only do so much himself. Especially with his favorite red-zone target last year (Jimmy Graham) now catching passes from Aaron Rodgers.

    It was a great run. But that run is over.

19. New York Giants

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    High: 15

    Low: 23

    Last Week: 19

    It's a good time to be Odell Beckham. Or his agent. Or the guy who cleans his pool.

    After signing a five-year, $90 million extension that makes him the highest-paid wide receiver in football, Beckham's future with Big Blue is set. It was a positive jolt for a Giants team that desperately wants to wash off last year's stink as soon as humanly possible.

    However, among all the "attaboys," there have already been reasons for concern. Tailback Saquon Barkley missed most of the preseason with a hamstring pull. Second-year tight end Evan Engram also missed time with a concussion. Ditto for edge-rusher Olivier Vernon thanks to a sprained ankle. And a retooled Giants line that was supposed to be vastly improved was shaky at times.

    If the line solidifies, and his horses get healthy, Eli Manning has a top-five wideout, rising young tight end and explosive, do-it-all tailback to work with. That's not too shabby at all.

    But if that line can't get it together, Manning could be in for another rough year. If Vernon misses regular-season games, the Giants will be left without much to speak of where proven pass-rushers are concerned.

    And if guys keep going down, 2018 could be a repeat of the season before, when the Giants were just shredded by injuries on offense.

18. Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    High: 18

    Low: 19

    Last Week: 17

    Something about the AFC North makes B/R NFL analysts disagreeable, apparently. Just like the Browns and Bengals, there's a wide gap between the high and low rankings for the Baltimore Ravens—a whopping 12 spots between the low man (Gagnon) and the high one (Davenport).

    Davenport has consistently ranked the Ravens higher than his counterparts, and he said the preseason only strengthened his belief that Baltimore is a better team than many think:

    "Granted, it's a small sample size (16 pass attempts over two games). But Baltimore's selection of Lamar Jackson in April's draft certainly appears to have lit a fire under Joe Flacco. Flacco hit on three-quarters of his preseason attempts, threw a pair of scoring strikes with no picks and posted a passer rating of over 140. That pace isn't sustainable. But if Flacco rebounds this year, the Ravens could be a real player in the AFC North. This is a team that can run the ball and play defense. Give them some balance on offense, and Baltimore's postseason drought may just end."

17. San Francisco 49ers

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    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    High: 16

    Low: 18

    Last Week: 16

    The absolute worst case for any team is for a big injury to strike just days before the regular season kicks off. It's why none of the starters are on the field for the preseason finale.

    Well, someone in San Francisco opened an umbrella inside. Broke a mirror. Something. Because the 49ers were dealt a crushing blow just before heading to Minnesota to take on the Vikings in Week 1.

    Per's Nick Wagoner, on the final play of San Francisco's practice session Saturday, starting tailback Jerick McKinnon suffered a torn right ACL in a non-contact injury. He just planted his foot, went to cut and whammo. Season over.

    McKinnon was brought in over the offseason on a four-year, $30 million contract to serve as Kyle Shanahan's West Coast version of Devonta Freeman. Now, the Niners will be forced to hand the keys to the ground game over to second-year all-purpose back Matt Breida and journeyman veteran Alfred Morris.

    And the pressure on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo just ratcheted up exponentially.

16. Chicago Bears

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    High: 16

    Low: 21

    Last Week: 18

    For most of the offseason, the 49ers were the hype darlings of the NFL. But after the events of this past weekend, that torch has been passed.

    With Khalil Mack now in Chicago, there's suddenly talk of the Bears as a playoff contender. Not an improved team. Not a tough out each week. In advance of the Sunday night season opener against the hated Packers, the Bears are being talked up as a legitimate, playoff-caliber club.

     For his part, Davenport isn't ready to go there just yet.

    "Mack absolutely makes Chicago's defense better. But the defense wasn't the biggest problem the Bears had. Yes, the team added passing-game weapons in the offseason, and Matt Nagy's an offensive-minded coach. But there seems to be assumption that Mitchell Trubisky is guaranteed to take a huge step forward in his second year after tossing all of seven touchdown passes in 12 games last year. He may well do just that. But I'm going to need to see it before I consider the Bears any kind of a threat to the Packers and Vikings in the NFC North."

15. Dallas Cowboys

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    High: 14

    Low: 17

    Last Week: 15

    The Dallas Cowboys are probably ready for the regular season to start, if for no other reason than the only kind of news the team seemingly got in the preseason was bad.

    Dallas' vaunted O-line was hit with a two-pronged hammer blow. First, guard Zack Martin sprained his knee, although he should be a go for the opener against the Panthers. Then center Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disease.

    No one knows when he will return, but in not placing him on injured reserve, per David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys are holding out hope that he'll play this season. 

    It was much the same story on defense. First-round rookie Leighton Vander Esch has missed so much time that he'll open the season as a reserve. Earlier in the offseason defensive tackle David Irving drew a four-game suspension and then showed up to camp woefully out of shape.

    None of those developments are season-killers like Ezekiel Elliott's suspension last year. And the Cowboys are a talented club on both sides of the ball.

    But if Dallas is going to reclaim the NFC East from the Philadelphia Eagles, there's little margin for error.

14. Tennessee Titans

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    High: 10

    Low: 15

    Last Week: 14

    For a team that won a playoff game last year, the Tennessee Titans haven't generated much offseason hype. The Titans are viewed by many as…OK.

    The first month of the season could go a long way toward determining if that narrative changes at all.

    Tennessee gets something of a favorable draw to open the year, traveling to face a beatable Miami team. But then things tighten up in a hurry—Houston at home, the Jaguars on the road and a home date with the Super Bowl champs.

    The Titans don't have a ton of holes, although the pass rush and offensive line are nicked up to open the year. But Tennessee also isn't dominant in any single area.

    We just aren't sure how good this team is yet. But given that early slate, we should have a much better idea soon enough.

    And the Titans could be set to play chutes and ladders in these rankings—for better or worse.

13. Carolina Panthers

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    High: 11

    Low: 14

    Last Week: 13

    The Carolina Panthers have long been a team that runs the football and plays defense. If Christian McCaffrey's play in the preseason is any indication, the former isn't going to be a problem this year. So long as Luke Kuechly is prowling the middle of the defense, the latter is likely handled too.

    Whether the Panthers can make a deep playoff run in 2018 likely comes down to the biggest question mark facing the team (again).

    Carolina's ability to move the ball through the air.

    Veteran tight end Greg Olsen is healthy again. McCaffrey caught 80 passes out of the backfield as a rookie. Devin Funchess isn't Antonio Brown, but he's a decent underneath option.

    If rookie DJ Moore opens things up vertically, Cam Newton gets the passing game firing and the Panthers' revamped O-line holds up, Carolina is more than capable of hanging with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.

    But in an NFC South that has the makings of a buzz saw this season, the Panthers can't afford to be one-dimensional offensively—even if they are really good at that one dimension.

12. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Annie Rice/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 13

    Last Week: 12

    Offensively, the Kansas City Chiefs are as loaded as any team in the league. Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. The NFL's leading rusher from last year in Kareem Hunt. One of the best tight ends in the game in Travis Kelce. A one-two punch of deep threats at wide receiver in Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill that's the stuff of nightmares for cornerbacks.

    But of the top 12 teams in these power rankings, the Chiefs might be the most deeply flawed.

    In last year's run to the AFC West title, they ranked 28th in the league in total defense and 29th against the pass. And that was with Marcus Peters in town. The secondary may be worse now, and the front seven isn't scaring anyone.

    The Chiefs are going to be dangerous offensively—capable of dropping 30 on just about any defense.

    Mahomes and Co. may have to if the defense can't stop anyone.

11. Houston Texans

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 17

    Last Week: 11

    At the end of the day, there's one factor that will determine whether it's Gagnon (who ranked Houston eighth) or Davenport (who dropped the team all the way to No. 17) who is closer to accurate about the Texans this year.

    Health. Or the lack thereof.

    If quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy, the Texans offense is as explosive as any in football. Watson is capable of effortlessly flicking deep strikes downfield to DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V.

    If edge-rushers J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney are healthy, Houston's pass rush might be the league's best. Watt is a generational talent. Mercilus and Clowney are potential All-Pros. There are just too many high-end players to block.

    But Watson is coming off a second ACL tear, and he's playing behind a line that allowed 54 sacks in 2017. Watt has just 1.5 sacks over the last two years thanks to a pair of serious injuries.

    Contender or pretender—it all comes down to players not going down.

10. Los Angeles Chargers

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    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    High: 10

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 10

    This is a time of great promise for the Los Angeles Chargers—and trepidation.

    On paper, this looks like the best team the Bolts have fielded in quite some time. Philip Rivers has talent around him at tailback and wide receiver and an offensive line that's at least capable. The defensive line and secondary are both stacked and should lead the team to its second straight top-10 ranking in pass defense.

    As they prepare to host the defending AFC West champion Chiefs in Week 1, the Chargers enter the regular season as the analysts' top-ranked team in the division.

    That's where the trepidation comes in.

    The Chargers have a long history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Of seeing promising seasons derailed by injuries or slow starts. This is largely the same Chargers team that began last year 0-4.

    That season opener could be a serious tone-setter for both the Chargers and the perception of the team. Win, and the Bolts make a statement that they are for real.

    Lose, and the grumbles will begin that these are the same old sad-sack Chargers.

9. Green Bay Packers

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    High: 7

    Low: 12

    Last Week: 9

    It's a good week to be Aaron Rodgers.

    In a week that saw blockbuster contracts handed out like lollipops, Rodgers got the blockbustery-est of them all—a four-year, $134 million extension that made the 34-year-old the highest-paid player in NFL history.

    Now, when the Packers host the Chicago Bears on Sunday night, the league's highest-paid offensive and defensive players will face off.

    No one has questioned whether Rodgers deserves all that cash. As was shown plainly a year ago, as goes No. 12, so goes Green Bay.

    In Gagnon's opinion, that's the problem—and why he's the lowest ranker of the group.

    "My only concern with the Packers is they're extremely reliant on their quarterback. Sure, most teams would fall out of contention without their QB, but the Eagles won the Super Bowl without theirs. The NFC is very strong, and the Saints, Rams, Vikings, Eagles, Falcons, Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars, Texans and Chargers are better all-around teams. Green Bay could leapfrog a lot of those squads early this season, but boy does Aaron Rodgers ever have to stay healthy."

    Rodgers vs. Mack. Week 1. Prime time. Bring popcorn.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 8

    The Jacksonville Jaguars are in uncharted waters. They aren't used to entering a season as a Super Bowl contender.

    Per Cole Pepper of News 4 Jacksonville, head coach Doug Marrone knows there's hype surrounding the Jaguars—but he's doing his best to keep the team focused on the task at hand.

    "We still have work to do. I don't think you start the season feeling like you start the season and you are 110 percent hitting on all cylinders, ready to go. Us as a coaching staff, we're still going to be on the details, still going to be developing, still going to be working on techniques as well as putting in our schemes. We still have a ways to go there."

    The Jaguars possess a filthy defense and a great power runner in Leonard Fournette—a combination that was good enough for a trip to the AFC Championship Game last season.

    If Blake Bortles and the passing game can take a step forward this year, the Jaguars might be the best-equipped team in the AFC to knock off the New England Patriots.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 7

    Last Week: 7

    For most of the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been viewed as one of the AFC's top contenders. But a significant part of that ranking (and Pittsburgh's placement here) was based on the assumption that star tailback Le'Veon Bell would end his holdout before the season started.

    It's still possible he will. But it's also becoming increasingly possible he won't. Per Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post, Bell labeled a report that he planned to sign his franchise tender on Labor Day as "fake news."

    Bell, when healthy and on his game, is one of the best in the league at what he does. Bell, wide receiver Antonio Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger form a terrifying triangle of offensive talent.

    But even if Bell does report, we're talking about a tailback who carried the ball over 400 times last year who skipped the offseason two years running. The historical data on backs with over 370 touches in a season over the past decade shows that more often than not those backs struggle the following season.

    One way or another, without Bell, Pittsburgh's quest for a Super Bowl is in trouble.

    And there isn't a team in our top 10 with a shakier grip on that status.

6. Atlanta Falcons

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 6

    It's not going to take long for the Atlanta Falcons to make a case to either move up or slide down these rankings. The first game of the season features Atlanta traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles in a rematch of last year's divisional-round game.

    The Eagles won that game 15-10, and they are favored in this rematch as well. But the Falcons have it in them to beat Philly on the road.

    In fact, the Falcons have shown they have what it takes to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. The team has an MVP quarterback in Matt Ryan. One of the NFL's best wide receivers in Julio Jones. A strong one-two punch at tailback. A solid offensive line. And a young, aggressive defense.

    In totality, it was enough for Gagnon to slot the Falcons as one of the five best teams in the league—a ranking that earned them a tiebreak over the aforementioned Steelers.

5. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 4

    Last Week: 5

    This ranking will likely anger fans of the defending champions—especially given that at one point in the preseason the Eagles held down the No. 1 spot in the B/R power rankings.

    To be fair, there was a three-way tie between New England, Philly and New Orleans. But since the best individual ranking the Eagles received was No. 3 (Davenport), they bring up the back end of the trio.

    The Eagles have some issues. Carson Wentz still hasn't been cleared for contact, much less to play in a game. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery remains sidelined by a shoulder injury. And Nick Foles banged up his shoulder in the preseason and hasn't looked right since.

    Still, despite this relatively low ranking and the problems facing the team, Sobleski cautioned that no one needs to be hitting any big red buttons just yet.

    "The NFC is absolutely loaded, yet the Eagles remain among the league's best due to the team's overall depth, especially at quarterback. Even with the uncertainty surrounding Carson Wentz's recovery and Nick Foles' inconsistent preseason play, the champs still have more than enough talent to be considered elite."

    A home tilt with the Falcons to open the season will give the Eagles an opportunity to show they deserve to be ranked higher—or that the concerns regarding the team are valid.

4. New England Patriots

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    Jason E. Miczek/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 6

    Last Week: 4

    We've reached the "final four"—Bleacher Report's top quartet of teams entering the season. Only one of those teams, however, hails from the AFC.

    Shock and amazement, that team is the New England Patriots.

    In theory, this looks like one of the more flawed iterations of the franchise in recent years. The wide receiver corps lacks depth and won't have Julian Edelman for the season's first month. The offensive line lost left tackle Nate Solder in free agency. The defense was one of the league's worst last season.

    And yet, despite that leaky defense, the Patriots still nearly won their sixth Super Bowl of the Brady/Belichick era. This team shakes off adversities and problems better than any in recent memory. No matter what happens to them, the Patriots just keep winning.

    They will all but certainly win their 10th consecutive AFC East title.

    And they are the clear-cut favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

3. New Orleans Saints

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 5

    Last Week: 3

    This may be the most complete team in New Orleans since the Saints acquired Drew Brees—including the team that won Super Bowl XLIV.

    Offensively, the Saints have two talented and dangerous tailbacks in Mark Ingram II (suspended for the first four games) and Alvin Kamara. Youngster Michael Thomas is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver.

    This team is going to score points.

    Defensively, there's a top-10 defensive lineman in Cameron Jordan. A secondary anchored by reigning DROY Marshon Lattimore. And an improved LB corps that brought in an experienced leader in Demario Davis in free agency.

    Even Davenport, who ranked the Saints the lowest of any of the analysts at No. 5, allowed that they will challenge for NFC supremacy.

    "My ranking of the Saints says more about how ridiculously stacked the NFC is than it does about the team itself. This team is loaded, balanced and has a Hall of Fame quarterback. New Orleans also has a favorable schedule to open the season that could portend a hot start—and a climb in my power rankings."

2. Los Angeles Rams

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 4

    Last Week: 2

    In an offseason that's featured nothing but good news, the Los Angeles Rams may just have gotten the best news of all.

    As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, last week the Rams agreed to terms on a six-year, $135 million contract extension with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. For a few days at least, it made Donald the league's highest-paid defender—until Khalil Mack's deal in Chicago surpassed it.

    Donald's holdout was the lone dark cloud hanging over a team that was all sunshine over the past several months. The Rams have assembled a veritable "dream team" after acquiring a fistful of veteran stars either in free agency or via trade.

    A Rams offense that already led the NFL in scoring in 2017 added a proven No. 1 receiver in Brandin Cooks. The defense added two veteran cornerbacks (Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters) and brought in Ndamukong Suh to pair with Donald up front.

    The Rams are stacked. Loaded. Brimming with talent on both sides of the ball.

    If they play to their potential (or close to it), they will be very difficult to beat.

1. Minnesota Vikings

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 1

    Well, this is it. The end of the line. Bleacher Report's No. 1 team as we begin this NFL season.

    It shouldn't come as a surprise that it's the Minnesota Vikings.

    More so than any team in the league, the Vikings don't have a weakness for opponents to exploit. Kirk Cousins is an accomplished veteran quarterback. The talent at running back, wide receiver and tight end is as good in totality as anyone's.

    Defensively, the Vikings possess arguably the most loaded front four in the league—Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Sheldon Richardson and Danielle Hunter. Only Hunter hasn't already been named a Pro Bowler, and his future inclusion is inevitable.

    The linebackers and defensive backs are nothing to sneeze at either.

    Toss in one of the most underrated head coaches in the NFL in Mike Zimmer, and you have all the ingredients for a juggernaut.

    The Vikings came one game from the Super Bowl last year without Cousins. And Richardson. And Dalvin Cook.

    It's fixing to be quite the season in the Twin Cities.


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