NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Week 1
It's been a long time coming, but the 2019 NFL regular season is just about here. Thursday night in Chicago, the Bears will host the Green Bay Packers in the first game of the NFL's 100th season.
It's far from the only big game on the Week 1 slate.
The Carolina Panthers open the regular season at home against the defending NFC champions, the Los Angeles Rams. In Jacksonville, the Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs will meet in a classic matchup of offense vs. defense. On Sunday night, one of the AFC's biggest rivalries will ramp back up when the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots battle at Gillette Stadium. And the first of two Monday night affairs in Week 1 features two division champions in the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints.
This first round of games that count is sure to contain a few surprises that will shake up how we view the NFL's pecking order in 2019.
But we've got to start somewhere. Given what we know about the NFL's teams and what we've seen in the preseason, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have gathered to rank all 32 of the NFL's teams, worst-to-first style.
Neither the No. 1 team nor the squad at No. 32 should come as much of a surprise.
32. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are not tanking. Just ask them.
Sure, the Dolphins decided to start 36-year-old journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback instead of second-year pro Josh Rosen, despite the fact that Rosen was a top-10 pick in the 2018 draft.
But there's a reason for that.
And sure, the Dolphins just traded their best offensive lineman to the Houston Texans, despite reports the team would "revolt" if left tackle Laremy Tunsil was dealt.
But there was a reason for that, too.
That reason, as Sobleski pointed out, is that the Dolphins are tanking.
"Tank for Tua time. The Dolphins season is over before it even began. If any question about whether Miami planned a complete rebuild still existed, the organization made its path quite clear Saturday when it traded left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Texans. Ryan Fitzpatrick starting at quarterback isn't the answer, either. The Dolphins are the favorites to 'earn' the 2020 No. 1 overall pick."
31. Cincinnati Bengals
For most of the preseason, the Cincinnati Bengals held down the 32nd spot in the Bleacher Report NFL power rankings. But a late surge by the Dolphins knocked the Bengals from their perch at the top of the bottom.
Some teams just want it more.
However, don't fret, Bengals fans. Cincinnati still has what it takes to be the worst team in the league.
A mediocre quarterback who could be playing his last season with the team? Got it.
An offensive line that looks pretty danged offensive? Check and double-check. Injuries and surprise retirements have decimated a front that wasn't exactly stout to begin with.
The worst defense in the NFL a year ago? Bingo. The Bengals allowed more yards per game than any team in the league in 2018.
Add in playing in a division with three legitimate playoff contenders, and if there's a favorite to mess up Miami's quest for the No. 1 pick in 2020, the Bengals are it.
30. Arizona Cardinals
The time has come. After an offseason that was equal parts hype and scrutiny, the next time the new-look Arizona Cardinals take the field, it will be in a game that counts.
It's hard to draw too many conclusions about rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury based off a preseason in which Kingsbury for the most part kept his "Air Raid" offense under wraps.
There's been plenty of talk about how well Murray's skill-set fits Kingsbury's wide-open spread scheme. And there's no denying that the youngster's talented. But this is a team that earned the right to draft Murray by winning just three games last year and fielding an offense that was absolutely putrid.
It's not unreasonable to expect the 2019 Cardinals will be better than the 2018 iteration.
But "better" and "good" aren't the same thing, and the Redbirds have a lot of work to do to get out of the NFC West basement.
"I tried to maintain some cautious optimism regarding the Cardinals entering training camp and the preseason," Gagnon said, "but August has taken a lot of air out of that. Hakeem Butler is gone, and Andy Isabella is a 'work in progress,' and I just don't know what to expect from that offense. It's going to take some time. For now, this is a bottom-three team."
29. Washington Redskins
It's time for the Washington Redskins to face reality.
General manager Bruce Allen can proclaim differently until the cows come home, but the odds that left tackle Trent Williams ever plays another down for the team range between slim and none. Williams has consistently maintained that he's through in Washington.
It's a big blow for a team that just invested a first-round pick in a quarterback who isn't exactly known for his mobility. But at this point in his career, Williams doesn't need money, and the Redskins just don't have much leverage here.
The Miami Dolphins just got a massive haul for a left tackle when they flipped Laremy Tunsil to Houston. Tunsil is admittedly younger and cheaper, but when healthy, Williams is one of the best tackles in the league.
The Redskins aren't going anywhere in 2019. Williams isn't coming back to the team. Get what you can for him in a trade and look to the future.
Or you can dig in, be stubborn and get nothing.
28. Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have had a very Raiders training camp. There have been frostbitten feet in August. A helmet kerfuffle that dragged on for weeks.
And that was just the stuff involving Antonio Brown.
For now at least, Brown is happy. Now it's time for the team to turn its attention to digging out of the AFC West basement, beginning with a home tilt against the rival Denver Broncos on Monday night.
That's not going to be easy. The Raiders are still a team with some glaring issues, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The pass rush got some help in fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell, but it remains a unit that had just 13 sacks as a team last year. New defensive play-caller Vontaze Burfict has a long history of both injury and disciplinary issues. The secondary features at least as many questions as answers.
Never mind quarterback Derek Carr, who may well be playing for his future in 2019.
Will the 2019 Raiders be better? Quite possibly.
But "better" and "good" aren't necessarily the same thing.
27. New York Giants
The New York Giants took quite a bit of flak for drafting Duke quarterback Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall back in April. Now, after Jones shined in preseason action (leading the league in passer rating), head coach Pat Shurmur is more than willing to serve up crow to all the nay-sayers.
"Like I said, you can ask me all you want about why I like him," Shurmur said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. "I think it's time to start asking the people that didn't like him what they think, quite frankly."
It may well be true that Jones was undersold by pundits. But despite that exhibition showing, the Giants are still going to trot out what's left of Eli Manning for the season opener in Dallas. So that "endorsement" from Shurmur apparently comes with a caveat.
Jones is super-great and extra-awesome—but he's not good enough to beat out a clearly declining veteran to start for a Giants team that will be lucky to finish third in the NFC East.
26. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions aren't a team without talent. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has a 5,000-yard season on his NFL resume. They have promising young skill-position players in tailback Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Golladay. And a defense that features potential impact players at all three levels in edge-rusher Trey Flowers, inside linebacker Jarrad Davis and cornerback Darius Slay.
However, the Lions also have more than a few problems—chief among them an offensive line that surrendered a league-leading 20 sacks in a winless preseason.
And as Davenport wrote, it's hard to imagine the NFC North playing out in a way that doesn't see the Lions bringing up the rear in 2019.
"The Lions are going to try to run the ball under new OC Darrell Bevell," he said, "and if the defense can avoid any more injuries, Detroit has the ability to keep games close. But the Lions don't have the defensive talent of the Bears or the offensive talent of the Packers and Vikings. Add it all together, and you have the makings of another disappointing year in the Motor City."
25. Tennessee Titans
Up to the final week of the 2018 season, the Tennessee Titans were in the fight for a playoff spot. And given all that's happened in the AFC South of late, no team in that division can be completely written off.
But if Tennessee's "dress rehearsal" was any indication, the Titans have a lot of work to do if they're going to be any kind of factor in the division.
The Titans were dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers in every facet of the game. The offense sputtered and was blown off the ball at the point of attack. The defense didn't fare any better—especially on the back end.
The offensive line in particular is a concern. Marcus Mariota has long had issues staying healthy, and that's not going to be helped if the O-line keeps acting like five matadors. Tennessee will also be without its starting left tackle for the first month of the season after Taylor Lewan drew a four-game PED suspension.
At least Tennessee doesn't have to face a loaded Cleveland Browns front in the season opener.
Start the countdown to Ryan Tannehill time.
24. Denver Broncos
Given how great John Elway was at playing quarterback, one would think that would be the single position where the Broncos GM would have the easiest time identifying and bringing in talent.
With the exception of Peyton Manning (who just about everyone knew was good), one would be wrong. Whether it's been draft picks or free agents, Elway's done a lot of swinging and missing at the game's most important position.
Elway hacked away some more in 2019—on both fronts. Joe Flacco was brought in as the short-term answer, while Denver spent a second-rounder on Drew Lock in the hopes he's the starter of the future.
Per Davenport, it's the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII who will determine whether Denver can make any noise in the AFC West in 2019.
"There's little doubt the Broncos will play well defensively under new head coach Vic Fangio," he wrote. "And with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman in the backfield, Denver should be able to run the ball—a combination that will keep the Broncos in a lot of games. The key will be whether Flacco can make a few plays in key situations and avoid making mistakes."
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There's good news and bad news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019.
In Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard, quarterback Jameis Winston has no shortage of passing-game weaponry at his disposal. Veteran Lavonte David and rookie Devin White should form a potent one-two punch at inside linebacker.
But then the question marks start piling up. The running back situation is somewhere between unsettled and just lousy. The offensive line hasn't played up to its salary. Winston hasn't played up to his draft slot. And a young Tampa secondary was among the worst in the NFL in 2018.
It's a lot of problems for a team that plays in a loaded division featuring a Super Bowl favorite in the New Orleans Saints and a pair of playoff contenders in the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons.
Bruce Arians is a very good head coach—but he's not a miracle worker.
22. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills have made the playoffs all of one time in the 21st century. That dry spell isn't likely to end in 2019—at least in part because the Bills are stuck in the fourth circle of NFL hell known as being in the same division as the Patriots.
However, Sobleski thinks Buffalo GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have the franchise headed in the right direction.
"The Bills deserve credit. General manager Brandon Beane set the team up well this offseason by investing heavily in offensive linemen and running backs. As a result, the roster featured enough depth to flip a pair of blockers to the Browns and Patriots, respectively, and gain draft assets in return. Plus, the organization saved over $6 million by releasing former starter LeSean McCoy. These are signs of a well-run organization. Surprising, I know."
How big a step in the right direction the Bills take this year likely rests with how much young quarterback Josh Allen progresses as a passer in year two. Completing less than 53 percent of your passes isn't going to cut it in the NFL.
21. Indianapolis Colts
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
It wasn't that long ago that the Colts slotted well inside the top 10 of these power rankings. Then came the bombshell news that Andrew Luck was finished with football.
And the Colts were finished as a Super Bowl contender.
Granted, the situation isn't the same as the Colts team that went 4-11 with Jacoby Brissett under center in 2017. These Colts have better skill-position talent and a much better defense and offensive line. Brissett also isn't being thrown to the wolves just over a week after joining the team. He knows the scheme and is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL.
That's the thing, though—Brissett's a backup quarterback. There's just no getting around the drop-off in talent from Luck to Brissett. The Colts are still going to be a tough out for many teams, and the team may be able to hang around the fringes of contention in the division.
But any hope the Colts had of making a run at Miami and Super Bowl LIV retired along with No. 12.
20. San Francisco 49ers
The 2018 season didn't go at all according to plan for the San Francisco 49ers. After a summer of hype, the 49ers were ravaged by injuries and wound up winning just four games.
That face-plant was followed by another aggressive offseason of player acquisitions that included signing tailback Tevin Coleman and trading for edge-rusher Dee Ford. The 49ers hit the defensive line again in the draft, spending the second overall pick on Ohio State edge-rusher Nick Bosa.
There hasn't been as much hype surrounding the 49ers this summer—at least in part because there have already been bumps in the road. Bosa missed most of camp and the preseason with an ankle injury and may not play in Week 1. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been inconsistent and prone to turning it over on the practice field.
Garoppolo insisted the mistakes were simply a matter of working out the preseason kinks, and the Niners have the talent on both sides of the ball to at least vie for a wild-card spot.
But this is a team without much margin for error in 2019.
19. New York Jets
Adam Gase is the 19th head coach the New York Jets have had since their debut as the New York Titans in 1960. Fifteen of those coaches finished below .500.
It's been six decades of (mostly) futility. A run by Gang Green that was positively gangrenous.
However, there's room for at least some optimism that this year might be different.
The Jets were as aggressive as any team in the league in adding talent this offseason, whether it was on offense with Le'Veon Bell or defensively with linebacker C.J. Mosley. In Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, the Jets landed a player some consider the No. 1 overall prospect in this year's class.
Then there's last year's first-rounder. Quarterback Sam Darnold has looked sharp in camp and the preseason and appears capable of availing himself of the team's improved offensive weaponry.
The Jets all but certainly aren't going to challenge the Patriots for the division title, but even staying in contention for a wild-card spot into December would be something of a win for Gase.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars
If the preseason is any real indicator of regular-season success, then the Jacksonville Jaguars are in a heap of trouble. The Jaguars spent the month of August getting blasted once a week—not only was Jacksonville winless in the preseason, it was outscored 106-29.
Jacksonville's defense probably isn't going to give up 26.5 points per game in the regular season. The Jags are as loaded for bear on that side of the ball as any team in the league.
But Nick Foles, Leonard Fournette, Dede Westbrook and the offense have to show marked improvement over last year. It's the reason the Jaguars handed Foles $88 million over four years to run the offense.
Davenport thinks the team might just have what it takes to pull it off.
"The Colts are toast as a serious playoff threat without Andrew Luck, and Laremy Tunsil or not, I still have serious concerns about Houston's offensive line. If Foles can come close to approaching the level of success he had the past two years in Philly in Jacksonville, then the Jaguars may well be the team to beat in the AFC South."
17. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are the lowest-ranked team in these power rankings that captured a division title in 2018—largely because of a wide disparity in the high and low rankings from our panel.
Davenport was one of two analysts who slotted the Ravens at No. 14.
"Baltimore isn't without issues. The Ravens lost a number of big-time contributors on defense, including C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs. It also appeared that opposing defenses figured out Baltimore's run-heavy offensive scheme late last season. But Baltimore's consistently had success filling holes on defense in the past, and the team's had an entire offseason to develop both Lamar Jackson and a scheme around him. Add in additions like Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas, and the Ravens aren't going away in the AFC North."
It's simple, really. How Baltimore replaces those departed defenders and adapts the offense in 2019 will determine which side of that disparity is proven correct—the believers or the nay-sayers.
16. Minnesota Vikings
At this point a year ago, the Minnesota Vikings were the No. 1-ranked team in these rankings.
That worked out not even a little.
By now there's plenty written about Minnesota's disappointing 2018 season. Quarterback Kirk Cousins put up decent stats but came up short in big moments. With tailback Dalvin Cook banged up for much of the season, Minnesota's run game was among the worst in the league.
This year's Minnesota team is essentially the same as that 8-7-1 club that missed the playoffs, but there are a couple differences that could loom large. The biggest is a healthy Cook, which should go a long way toward providing offensive balance. A healthy, motivated Everson Griffen opposite Danielle Hunter at defensive end should boost a pass rush that was hit-or-miss at times in 2018.
The key, though, is Cousins. If he plays like the quarterback the team thought it was getting when it handed him a fully guaranteed $84 million contract, Minnesota could challenge for the NFC North crown.
If he goes MIA in big games again, we'll see a repeat disappointment—and possibly some big changes in the Twin Cities.
15. Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks are one of the NFL's more talked-about teams as Week 1 approaches.
Seattle made a huge splash on roster cutdown day, giving up a third-round pick and a pair of players to bring in Pro Bowl edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney. As Sobleski said, it was just the latest example of why the Seahawks are often held up as one of the league's best-run franchises.
"Seahawks general manager John Schneider continues to work his magic. The Seahawks had major concerns along their defensive front after trading Frank Clark, injuries to Ziggy Ansah and first-round pick L.J. Collier, and Jarran Reed facing a six-game suspension. What does Schneider do? Oh, he traded for Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney immediately steps into the lineup as the cornerstone of Seattle's defense and should form a fearsome front once Ansah, Collier and Reed return."
The Seahawks still have problems, the biggest of which is probably a lack of depth at wide receiver behind Tyler Lockett. They're also clearly not as talented overall as the Rams.
But making an impactful addition just before the season opener is quite the feat.
14. Atlanta Falcons
Will the real Atlanta Falcons please stand up?
Twice in the last three seasons, the Falcons advanced to the postseason—including a trip to Super Bowl LI. Last year, however, the team failed to advance after injuries ravaged the defense.
In 2019, the Falcons have linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal back on the field. The offense has no shortage of weaponry and an MVP quarterback in Matt Ryan. And the team added a pair of first-round picks along the offensive line.
In theory, Atlanta has more than enough talent to make the playoffs.
But it's not a sure thing, as evidenced by last year's backslide. Even if the team avoids calamitous injuries, the pass rush (or lack of one) remains a major concern in a division loaded with big names at the quarterback position.
It won't be the most discussed matchup of Week 1, but Atlanta's season opener against a Vikings team also looking to shake off a disappointing season is one of the opening Sunday's more interesting contests.
13. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers appear to have dodged a bullet to open the 2019 campaign.
After suffering a sprained foot during the preseason, quarterback Cam Newton didn't appear to be a sure thing to play in Week 1. But according to ESPN's David Newton, Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said "there's no doubt" that his MVP signal-caller will be on the field when the Panthers open the season against the defending NFC champions.
It's a rough opener, but Luke Decock of the Charlotte Observer thinks that if these Panthers are going to take another run at a Super Bowl, 2019 is the year.
"With the division in flux—the Saints getting older, Tampa starting over with a new coach, and the regrouping Falcons—the stars aren't exactly aligned for the Panthers, but they're not crossed, either," he said. "There's an opening here, and it won't take everything going right. Just most things."
With a new ownership group in Charlotte, there's more than a little pressure for Carolina to succeed in the short term. If the Panthers get off to a slow start or experience a slide like last year's 1-7 second half, major changes could be coming.
12. Houston Texans
For better or worse, the Houston Texans can't be accused of sitting on their hands.
After starting tailback Lamar Miller tore his ACL, the Texans swung a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs that netted them veteran running back Carlos Hyde—a trade that Gagnon really didn't believe was necessary.
"With all due respect to Lamar Miller," he said, "his absence won't cost the the Texans a win. I believe in Duke Johnson, and we've had countless examples showing that star running backs don't make a significant difference. Houston is the favorite in the AFC South."
Disgruntled edge-rusher Jadaeveon Clowney was shipped to Seattle for a return that can best be called uninspiring.
And then Houston really got busy.
There's no denying that Houston desperately needed to bolster an offensive line that allowed an NFL-high 62 sacks in 2018. And Laremy Tunsil is a very good young left tackle.
But Houston paid an extremely high price to land Tunsil—a price that included two first-round picks.
The moves looked quite a bit like a team with no general manager and a coach feeling the pressure to win now—and willing to mortgage tomorrow to do so.
11. Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers have had a very Chargers offseason—in that it's been one disaster after another.
First, it was Melvin Gordon's holdout—which continues to drag on. Not only is no resolution in sight for the impasse, but Chargers general manager Tom Telesco told reporters he has tabled negotiations until after the season.
Then, star safety Derwin James suffered a foot injury severe enough that the second-year pro (and linchpin of the Chargers secondary) will open the season on injured reserve. The earliest he can return is Week 9.
But wait, there's more!
Per Chris Bumbaca of USA Today, left tackle Russell Okung will miss at least the first six weeks of the 2019 season as he recovers from a pulmonary embolism.
Not that long ago the Chargers had the look of a legitimate Super Bowl contender—a team more than capable of challenging the Chiefs in the AFC West.
But the losses are starting to pile up before the season has even started—and at some point L.A. is going to reach the breaking point.
Maybe the Chargers should consider an exorcism. Just saying.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers were slotted in the same spot by all three of the analysts.
And it's possible that all three are selling the team a little short.
Pittsburgh's dress rehearsal win over the Tennessee Titans was a clinic. There wasn't an area of the game in which Pittsburgh didn't appear in midseason form. Ben Roethlisberger and top wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster were in sync. The Pittsburgh pass rush looked ready to once again challenge for the NFL lead in sacks.
The Steelers look the part (as usual) of a contender in the AFC North.
There are still potential issues, though. The secondary and a retooled inside linebacker corps remain possible problem areas, as are the wideouts behind Smith-Schuster.
It won't take long to figure out how ready these Steelers are. On Sunday night they'll travel to Gillette Stadium to face the defending Super Bowl champions.
If that's not a measuring stick, we don't know what is.
9. Cleveland Browns
If there's one team on this list most likely to leave the NFL analysts at Bleacher Report with egg on their faces, it's the Cleveland Browns.
On paper, the Browns look the part of a contender. The team has a talented young quarterback, as much skill-position talent as any in the NFL and a defensive line that could be the stuff of nightmares for opposing quarterbacks.
However, games aren't played on paper. And when it comes to the playing field, the Browns haven't had much success of late—of by "of late," I mean the past two decades.
Since rejoining the NFL is 1999, the Browns have won 10 games all of once—in 2007. The Browns made the playoffs the same number of times—and that was all the way back in 2002.
In the immortal words of Dennis Green, it might be a little premature to go crowning anyone's...backsides.
"It will be good to see the league's most-hyped team of 2019 finally take the field," Davenport said. "But even then it may take a few weeks to get a feel for how good these Browns really are. If they beat the teams they should, they'll head into a Week 3 meeting at home with the Rams at 2-0. And a chance to move even higher up these rankings."
8. Dallas Cowboys
If you're a fantasy football enthusiast (and who isn't?), then the Dallas Cowboys have been the team to watch in recent weeks as the holdout saga of star tailback (and top-five fantasy pick) Ezekiel Elliott has unfolded.
It's been quite the ride, whether it was "Zeke who?" or the preseason ascension of rookie tailback Tony Pollard. But it looks like cooler and saner heads are set to prevail—there are reports that Elliott and the Cowboys are working on a deal that will get the fourth-year pro in Dallas in time for the season opener against the Giants, but it's far from a done deal, per Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports.
Oh, the drama.
Sobleski explained why he kept the Cowboys in the top 10 despite the Elliott holdout.
"The Cowboys remained a top-10 team despite the Ezekiel Elliott drama for two reasons. First, no one really expected Elliott to hold out for an extended period of time, and the two sides seem well on their way to a compromise before the regular season begins. Second, Dallas' roster is quite talented from top to bottom. Even without Elliott at the moment, the Cowboys are good enough to start the regular season 3-0 against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins."
Still, getting Elliott suited up ASAP isn't a bad idea—after that home tilt with the Dolphins, the sledding gets a lot tougher, beginning with a Week 4 trip to New Orleans.
7. Green Bay Packers
There's a decent-sized gap between the high and low ranker for the Packers entering the season—with good reason.
The reality is we just aren't sure what we're going to get with Green Bay.
We know that so long as he's healthy, Aaron Rodgers is going to be very Aaron Rodgers-y. He's one of the best quarterbacks of his generation—a generation that's filled with signal-callers that will one day have busts in Canton.
But we haven't gotten much of a taste of what Matt LaFleur's offense will look like. Whether he'll one-up Mike McCarthy by remembering that tailback Aaron Jones is on the roster. Whether one of Green Bay's young wideouts will step up as a dependable No. 2 opposite Davante Adams.
Never mind a defense that spent a fortune on upgrading the pass rush and safety positions.
Thursday's season opener against the rival Bears in Chicago isn't going to make or break the season of either team any more than their Week 1 matchup in Titletown did in 2018.
But it's a chance for the Packers to send a message that the struggles of the past two years are in the rearview mirror.
6. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears had a fantastic regular season in 2018—they went from NFC North cellar-dweller to a 12-win NFC North champion, earning their rookie head coach a Coach of the Year honors in the process.
Now comes the hard part: backing that up. Fulfilling the expectations that come with being labeled a favorite in the division and legitimate Super Bowl contender. Winning a playoff game for the first time since 2010.
In many respects, the Bears are set up to accomplish those goals. Led by perennial DPOY candidate Khalil Mack, the defense is arguably the league's best. The offense added a tailback in David Montgomery whose skill set appears tailor-made for Matt Nagy's scheme.
But that defense lost coordinator Vic Fangio and two starters in Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan. The offense isn't short on talent, but third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky becoming more consistent is critical.
If things fall the right way, the Bears could easily represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIV. If they don't—in a division with the Packers and Vikings—the Bears could miss the postseason altogether.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
For the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019, it will all come down to one thing—Carson Wentz's health.
In each of the past two years, Wentz has suffered a season-ending injury. If it happens again in 2019, the Eagles are cooked—there's no Nick Foles in town to bail the team out now.
As ESPN's Tim McManus reported, Wentz has worked this summer on making more plays from the pocket, getting the ball out quicker and avoiding unnecessary hits. But the 26-year-old said mobility is still going to be a big part of his game.
"I feel good just going through my reads, throwing a completion and moving on," Wentz said. "When I need to make a guy miss in the pocket, when I need to get out and make a play, that's still definitely going to be a big part of my game."
You'll have to forgive Eagles fans if they hold their collective breath every time Wentz scrambles in 2019. With him, the Eagles are a Super Bowl contender.
If he goes down, the Eagles are finished.
4. Los Angeles Rams
The health of Los Angeles Rams tailback Todd Gurley's arthritic knee has been the dominant storyline swirling around the defending NFC champions this summer, but it's not the only potential problem facing the team.
Gurley wasn't solely (or even mostly) responsible for the Rams laying an egg in Super Bowl LIII. After spending most of the season as one of the most prolific offenses in the league, Gurley, Jared Goff and the Rams managed just three points against the New England Patriots.
If head coach Sean McVay has any concerns about that offense, he didn't show it in the preseason. In fact, McVay didn’t show much of anything in the preseason—most of the Rams starters didn't play at all.
We've seen several teams in recent years take a step backward after coming up short in the Super Bowl. But the Rams have the talent on both offense and defense to make a return trip to football's biggest game this season.
3. New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have been waiting upward of eight months for a chance at payback. The Saints have week after week after week to relive their crushing loss to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game and the horrific blown pass-interference call that made it possible.
But now it's time to put that out of their heads and get down to the business of getting back to the postseason.
It's not going to be especially easy. The Saints open the season against a playoff team from last year when they host the Houston Texans on Monday night. All four of New Orleans' games in September are against teams that made the playoffs in 2018—home dates with the Texans and Dallas Cowboys and trips to Seattle and Los Angeles to face the Rams.
It's an opportunity for Drew Brees and the Saints to send a message that they remain one of the NFC's best teams. But with the Panthers and Falcons nipping at their heels in the NFC South, the Saints can't afford to falter over that stretch and land in an early hole.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
We know that the Kansas City Chiefs are going to have a good offense in 2019—one of the best. They have the reigning NFL MVP under center in Patrick Mahomes and arguably the league’s best wideout (Tyreek Hill) and tight end (Travis Kelce). They also bolstered the ground game with the late addition of veteran tailback LeSean McCoy.
What we don't know is whether Kansas City's porous defense will be any better than a year ago.
There's a fresh scheme in place under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. And the team added faces like edge-rusher Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu.
But is the unit better?
If the Chiefs have even an average defense, they are one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC. Maybe the most dangerous.
But if KC struggles to make stops, it could be deja vu all over again, as the team makes the playoffs but comes up short of the Super Bowl when the defense lets it down.
1. New England Patriots
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Given that the New England Patriots have represented the AFC in the last three Super Bowls (winning two), it's not a shock that they open the regular season in the top slot.
However, they are already dealing with some adversity. Center David Andrews, who has started 57 games for the team over the last four years, will miss the entire 2019 season after being hospitalized with blood clots in his lungs, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
It's a significant blow for the champs just before the season begins. But as Gagnon pointed out, there isn't a team that's better at dealing with adversity.
"New England is the ultimate 'next man up' team in professional sports. I'm a tad concerned about the loss of Andrews combined with uncertainty at left tackle, but I'm not ready to drop the Pats out of the top spot."
We'll see if that holds after Sunday night's big matchup with the Steelers at Gillette Stadium.