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

NFL StaffContributor ISeptember 8, 2020

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

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    Doug Benc/Associated Press

    After the strangest offseason in NFL history, the 2020 season is about to begin.

    On Thursday, the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will play host to the Houston Texans. There's a full slate of games Sunday, including an NFC South showdown between Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

    Given the relative lack of practice time and no preseason games, there's more uncertainty in 2020 than ever before. We know the Chiefs and Saints will be good. But for everything we do know, there are three things we don't. How will the truncated offseason affect the incoming rookie class? Which teams are best positioned to take a step forward this year? How bad will the 2020 Jacksonville Jaguars be?

    With the season opener just around the corner, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski got together to rank the league's teams from worst to first.

    Enjoy the Week 1 edition of the Bleacher Report NFL Power Rankings.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

1 of 32

    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    High: 32

    Low: 32

    In 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars made it to the AFC Championship Game on the back of a defense that sported a half-dozen Pro Bowlers.

    Three years later, not one of those defensive stars remains on the roster.

    Dating back to last year, the Jags have been purging veteran talent at a dizzying rate. Over the past week alone, they released 2017 No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette and traded starting safety Ronnie Harrison to the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round pick.

    "Tanking" is a harsh word, but it's hard to look at what's left of the Jaguars roster and see this team as anything but the front-runner to sport the NFL's worst record this year.

    "This is now a confirmed tank job," Gagnon said. "The Jags are undoubtedly the worst team in the NFL. Why the heck did they pay Joe Schobert? But at least it now makes sense why they didn't pursue a veteran quarterback."

31. Carolina Panthers

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    High: 28

    Low: 31

    Back in 2015, the Carolina Panthers went 15-1 and represented the NFC in Super Bowl 50.

    A lot can change in five years.

    The 2020 season is the beginning of a full-on restart for the Panthers. Longtime head coach Ron Rivera is gone, replaced by Matt Rhule. The MVP of that 2015 season, quarterback Cam Newton, is gone, replaced by free-agent signee Teddy Bridgewater. Former Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly is gone, replaced by journeyman Tahir Whitehead.

    The Panthers aren't completely bereft of talent. Christian McCaffrey might be the best running back in the league. Wide receiver DJ Moore broke out with over 1,100 receiving yards in 2019. Edge-rusher Brian Burns showed flashes of being an impact player as a rookie.

    But in an NFC South that features a 13-win New Orleans Saints team and Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the darlings of the 2020 offseason, the Panthers are clearly the No. 4 team in the division.

    A six-win season in Rhule's first year might actually be an accomplishment.

30. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    High: 28

    Low: 31

    Among the teams at the bottom of these power rankings, the Cincinnati Bengals enter the 2020 season with the most optimism thanks to No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow.

    Fresh off perhaps the best season by a quarterback in college football history, Burrow now must turn around a team that hasn't sported a winning season since 2015 and hasn't won a playoff game since 1990.

    According to NFL.com's Marc Sessler, Burrow has lived up to the hype so far.

    "He's just been impressive," head coach Zac Taylor said. "He's what we expected when we took him No. 1 overall. He hasn't disappointed one day he's been out there."

    Burrow has plenty of skill-position talent at his disposal between Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. The Cincy offense could be quietly formidable if the offensive line holds up.

    However, the Bengals also need their defense to drastically improve to help them make real progress in their climb back to respectability in 2020.

29. Washington Football Team

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    High: 29

    Low: 30

    The Washington Football Team finished with the worst record in the NFC last year. It doesn't appear 2020 will be substantially different.

    There is at least one bright spot in the nation's capital. With No. 2 overall pick Chase Young now in the fold, head coach Ron Rivera's new four-man front features five first-round picks—Young, 2019 first-rounder Montez Sweat, tackles Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne and veteran edge-rusher Ryan Kerrigan.

    After that, though, things get bleak quickly.

    Second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. struggled as a rookie, and other than wideout Terry McLaurin, Washington doesn't have much in the way of offensive firepower. On defense, the linebacker corps and secondary are both question marks.

    Washington might be able to improve on last season since it will take only four wins to do so. But this team remains at least a year or two away from contending.

28. New York Jets

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    High: 25

    Low: 29

    New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is heading into a quietly critical season.

    The 2018 No. 3 overall pick has been mostly disappointing to date, in part because of a revolving door of personnel around him on offense. However, he told ESPN's Rich Cimini that he has to make the most of what he has:

    "Everyone knows that eventually we're going to need stability, but we have to find the right pieces. We all trust Joe [Douglas], Rex [Hogan] and Adam [Gase], all those guys, to find the right pieces. That's all I've really got to say on that. My job is to play football and play at a high level, and make sure everyone is on the same page."

    With a retooled offensive line and improved passing-game weapons, Darnold may be in better position to succeed. The Jets may need a big year from him since their defense is as talent-deficient as any in the NFL.

27. Chicago Bears

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    Dylan Buell/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 30

    The Chicago Bears' biggest storyline this offseason was their conundrum at quarterback.

    After his three less-than-spectacular seasons at the helm, the Bears turned down Mitchell Trubisky's fifth-year option and traded for veteran signal-caller Nick Foles. However, head coach Matt Nagy is sticking with Trubisky as his Week 1 starter against the Detroit Lions.

    "He actually looks like a whole new player this year," wideout Cordarrelle Patterson said about Trubisky last month, per Alyssa Barbieri of Bears Wire. "I see it in his eyes and everything. He's got that fire in him. That's what we need out of our quarterbacks...that competition—it brings the best out of everybody."

    However, Trubisky will likely be on a short leash. The Bears have a relatively easy schedule to start the year, so if they come out of the gate slowly, it won't take long for the calls for Foles to ramp up.

    "Chicago once again has kicking issues with Eddy Pineiro dealing with a groin injury and veteran Cairo Santos being cut," Sobleski said. "It's hard to take the Bears seriously as a contender when they can't seem to properly address the position. Sadly, the same applies to the team's handling of the quarterback position."

26. Los Angeles Chargers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 26

    Two years ago, the Los Angeles Chargers were a 12-win team that knocked off the Ravens in Baltimore in the playoffs. But last year, the play of quarterback Philip Rivers went off a cliff, and the Bolts finished 5-11.

    That caused a seismic shift in the franchise. 

    For the first time since 2006, Rivers won't be the team's Week 1 starter. Veteran Tyrod Taylor is keeping that seat warm until No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert is ready to take over.

    The Chargers have plenty of talent, whether it's an impressive duo of defensive ends in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III or a solid stable of pass-catchers led by the recently extended Keenan Allen.

    However, Taylor was terrible during his brief stint as a starter for the Browns in 2018. While the Chargers' future could be promising, the present will likely involve far more losing than winning.

25. Detroit Lions

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    High: 20

    Low: 28

    The Detroit Lions got off to a hot start last year. Had they not blown a 17-3 second-half lead against the Arizona Cardinals, they would have started the year 3-0.

    However, everything fell apart from there.

    Injuries started mounting—including a back injury that cost quarterback Matthew Stafford half the season. A 2-0-1 start wound up a three-win nightmare of a season in which the Lions went winless after Halloween.

    The Lions will have a healthy Stafford back under center in 2020, and he'll have wideouts Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., running backs Kerryon Johnson and D'Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson at his disposal. They also added running back Adrian Peterson as a veteran presence and between-the-tackles grinder.

    But unless Detroit's defense improves by leaps and bounds over last season's 31st-ranked unit, the only real competition the Lions will be in this year is with the Chicago Bears for last place in the NFC North.

24. Miami Dolphins

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    High: 22

    Low: 26

    The Miami Dolphins spent most of the 2019 season attempting to set themselves up for 2020—and 2021. They dumped a number of veterans to assemble as much draft capital as possible, including three first-round picks in the 2020 draft.

    They spent the first of those picks on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. While the No. 5 overall pick won't start Week 1 against the New England Patriots, he has impressed veteran teammate Ereck Flowers.

    "He's learning his plays watching film, watching Ryan [Fitzpatrick]," Flowers said, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. "I think it'll be good for him, taking time to [learn]. How he's doing things, he's been going about everything the right way. When he does get his shot, he's going to do well. He's going to do very well."

    In some ways, Tagovailoa is a microcosm for the entire Dolphins franchise. It's young and unproven. If there is improvement in this year's record, it will likely be incremental.

    But this team hasn't been constructed for short-term gains. The Dolphins are trying to build a consistent winner from the ground up. That takes time.

23. New York Giants

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    High: 21

    Low: 27

    Strictly from a results standpoint, the 2019 season wasn't kind to the New York Giants. Led by rookie quarterback Daniel Jones for most of the season, the G-Men won only four games.

    However, Jones told Steve Serby of the New York Post that he thinks both he and his teammates have made significant strides heading into his first full season as a starter.

    "I think you need to look at where we started camp and how much progress we've made ... the level of execution and understanding of the offense," he said. "I think we've made considerable strides there and we'll continue to improve."

    Gagnon buys the Giants as a team that could be on an upward trajectory in 2020.

    "Unlike my colleagues," he said, "I don't think the Giants are a bottom-10 team. Saquon Barkley can bounce back, Daniel Jones has a high ceiling, and there's enough talent elsewhere to stay afloat in the NFC East."

    However, Davenport is more skeptical of how much progress the team will make in Joe Judge's first season as head coach.

    "If the Giants can stay healthy at wide receiver, Jones could make some noise behind an improved offensive line in 2020," he said. "And Barkley is as good as any running back in the league. But I'm not especially confident in any level of the defense. That leaves the Giants as the clear No. 3 team in the NFC East."

22. Las Vegas Raiders

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    John Locher/Associated Press

     High: 21

     Low: 26

    It's "put up or shut up" time for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.

    The Raiders have gone only 11-21 during the first two seasons of Jon Gruden's second stint at the helm. But after going 7-9 in 2019 and making a number of offseason improvements on both sides of the ball, there's room for optimism as the Raiders kick off their time in Las Vegas.

    However, with that optimism comes something else—expectations.

    With an improved wide receiver corps, a talented young running back in Josh Jacobs and an above-average offensive line, Derek Carr needs to play more like the quarterback that made the Pro Bowl three straight years from 2015 to 2017 than the one with only 40 touchdown passes over the past two seasons combined.

    With upgrades at linebacker and a promising, young edge-rusher in Maxx Crosby, the Raiders should field a better defense than last year's middle-of-the-pack unit, too.

    The Raiders aren't likely to knock off the Chiefs in the AFC West. But if they fall off the pace for a wild-card spot, optimism could quickly give way to anger. 

21. Los Angeles Rams

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    High: 19

    Low: 23

    One year ago, the Los Angeles Rams were the defending NFC champions and a top-five team in the Bleacher Report power rankings entering Week 1.

    This year, they're coming off missing the playoffs and rank outside of the top 20.

    The Rams still have arguably the NFL's best defensive player in Aaron Donald and a talented one-two punch at wide receiver in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. But the roster attrition in Los Angeles over the past year has been staggering.

    Running back Todd Gurley, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, edge-rushers Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews and inside linebacker Cory Littleton all made significant contributions for the Rams last year. None are still on the roster.

    Heading into last season, the Rams looked like arguably the class of the NFC. Now, they look like a flawed team with a real chance of finishing last in their own division.

20. Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    High: 18

    Low: 21

    As Sobleski pointed out, the Denver Broncos made one of the more surprising late roster cuts of the 2020 offseason, bidding adieu to veteran inside linebacker Todd Davis.

    "Denver decided a change was needed at linebacker," he wrote. "In a surprise move, the Broncos cut last year's leading tackler, Todd Davis. They'll move forward with Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell manning the middle of the defense, with Mark Barron now serving as the veteran voice in the room. This may not seem like a big change, but a new voice will now lead the unit after Davis started the last four seasons."

    That move aside, the Denver defense should be good enough to keep the Broncos in games. The bigger question is whether young quarterback Drew Lock can build on last year's 4-1 finish.

    Denver took steps to help him this offseason, signing running back Melvin Gordon III in free agency and using a first-round pick on wideout Jerry Jeudy.

    If Lock and the offense can continue improving and the defense stays healthy, there's at least wild-card potential in the Mile High City this year.

19. New England Patriots

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    High: 15

    Low: 24

    No team has a bigger disparity of opinion among our analysts than the New England Patriots.

    The Patriots have had a stranglehold on the AFC East for most of the past two decades. The last time they didn't win the division was 2008, and that was the only season in which they didn't since 2002.

    Of course, that was with Tom Brady under center. He's in Tampa now, and the Patriots are replacing him with Cam Newton, who was the league MVP in 2015 but has struggled with injuries for the past two seasons.

    New England also fielded the best defense in the NFL last year, but that defense was ravaged by personnel losses and player opt-outs in the offseason.

    If the Patriots can somehow overcome all of those losses and win the division again, it will likely be the best coaching job of Bill Belichick's career. But it's equally possible (if not more so) that New England's days of dominance in the AFC are done.

18. Houston Texans

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    Brett Coomer/Associated Press

    High: 16

    Low: 17

    At first glance, this might seem a low ranking for a Houston Texans team that has owned the AFC South in recent years. The Texans have won the division in four of the past five years, including 2019.

    The Texans also have one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson. And after an offseason of curious moves by head coach/general manager Bill O' Brien, the Texans recently did hand Watson a four-year, $160 million extension.

    But there are questions in Houston—big ones.

    Can David Johnson stay healthy and recapture the form that made him one of the NFL's most dangerous running backs in Arizona? Can wide receiver Brandin Cooks not only stay on the field but also help to replace the production of the departed DeAndre Hopkins?

    Maybe we're sleeping on these Texans. Perhaps Houston can shake off last year's collapse in the playoffs against the Chiefs and win the division yet again.

    But in an offseason where the Indianapolis Colts appeared to take a significant step forward, the Texans (at best) decided to tread water.

17. Cleveland Browns

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 11

    Low: 20

    One year ago at this time, the hype surrounding the Cleveland Browns was in overdrive. After a number of splashy additions, the Browns started off the season inside our top 10 in these rankings.

    They went on to be one of the season's biggest disappointments, winning only six games. But perhaps the hype was less misplaced and more premature.

    Cleveland has as much skill-position talent as any team in the league. The addition of tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. should be a huge boost to both the run game and quarterback Baker Mayfield. And edge-rusher Myles Garrett has the potential to vie for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

    On paper, the Browns have the makings of a contender. But one of our analysts will believe it when he sees it.

    "Mayfield needs to show he can cut down on turnovers after leading the AFC in interceptions last season," Davenport said. "The linebacker corps in Cleveland was already a weak spot before Mack Wilson got hurt. The Browns might be better than 6-10, but I'll believe they can hang with the Ravens and Steelers when they show they can."

16. Tennessee Titans

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 19

    The Tennessee Titans were the surprise stars of the 2019 postseason. After barely making the playoffs, the Titans stunned the Patriots at Gillette Stadium and then knocked off the 14-2 Ravens in Baltimore.

    The 2020 iteration of the team is largely unchanged from a year ago. The Titans re-upped both running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They upgraded their pass rush with the addition of edge-rushers Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney. The only departure of note was right tackle Jack Conklin.

    But as this ranking indicates, there's still quite a bit of skepticism surrounding the Titans. Can Henry hold up with another big workload and build on last year's success? Can young wide receiver A.J. Brown repeat his otherworldly per-target production? Was Tannehill's career year a fluke? Can Beasley and Clowney add pop to a pass rush that ranked in the middle of the pack a year ago?

    The answers to those questions will determine whether the doubters or believers are right about the Titans in what should be a tightly packed three-team AFC South race.

15. Arizona Cardinals

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    High: 14

    Low: 18

    NFL teams don't get a trophy for winning the offseason. But if they did, the Arizona Cardinals would be in the running.

    The Cardinals made easily the biggest trade of the offseason, acquiring wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. With Hopkins joining youngster Christian Kirk and the ageless Larry Fitzgerald, Kyler Murray now has perhaps the NFL's best trio of receivers at his disposal.

    Arizona's riches don't end there, though.

    Running back Kenyan Drake was a revelation after joining the Cardinals in a midseason trade last year. Edge-rusher Chandler Jones has been as consistent over the past few years as anyone at his position. The Cardinals have talent at all three levels of the defense, whether it's Jones, linebacker Jordan Hicks or safety Budda Baker.

    On paper, the Cardinals appear to have the potential to contend for one of the NFC's three wild-card spots. They just have to put it together on the field.

14. Atlanta Falcons

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    High: 9

    Low: 19

    Among our analysts, there's a 10-spot difference between the highest and lowest rankings for the Atlanta Falcons. That makes sense since we saw two vastly different Falcons teams last year.

    Over the first half of the season, the Falcons were a bumbling, 1-7 mess. The offense was inconsistent. The defense was consistently bad.

    After their bye, the offense caught fire. The defense wasn't great, but it was light-years better it was than earlier in the season. The Falcons peeled off six wins in eight games to finish 7-9 and save Dan Quinn's job.

    Quinn might need to guide the Falcons to the playoffs to stay in Atlanta past this season. The Falcons have the talent to pull that off, especially on offense.

    But in an NFC South that now includes the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there isn't much room for error. And Atlanta's defense is going to be tested early and often.

13. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 18

    The Philadelphia Eagles have enjoyed plenty of success under head coach Doug Pederson. They won the NFC East last year and brought home the franchise's first championship with a win over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

    However, injuries could upend them in 2020.

    "The Eagles usually find ways to overcome every situation since Doug Pederson became the head coach, but left tackle Andre Dillard's season-ending biceps injury adds uncertainty along a usually reliable offensive front," Sobleski said. "Now, the team has to hope aging veteran Jason Peters has one more good year left in him after he was originally set to move to guard in 2020."

    It isn't just Dillard, either. Rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor won't be ready for the start of the regular season after suffering a labrum injury. Neither will veteran wideout Alshon Jeffery. Running back Miles Sanders appears to be a go for Week 1, but he's missed practice time as well.

    The Eagles are banged up along the defensive line, and both the linebacker corps and secondary (outside of Darius Slay) are shaky.

    Oh, and oft-injured quarterback Carson Wentz already missed practice time with a soft-tissue injury.

    All of that is working against the Eagles before the season even starts.

12. Buffalo Bills

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    James P. McCoy/Associated Press

    High: 10

    Low: 15

    The Buffalo Bills haven't won the AFC East since the days of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith in the 1990s.

    These Bills aren't as good as the Kelly-led team that represented the AFC in four straight Super Bowls. But after making the playoffs last season for the second time in three years, the Bills are for real.

    Buffalo's offense features a solid duo of young running backs in Devin Singletary and Zack Moss and a wide receiver corps that is far better with the addition of Stefon Diggs via a trade with the Minnesota Vikings.

    Buffalo's defense ranked second in points allowed last year and sports young talent up front (Ed Oliver), at linebacker (Tremaine Edmunds) and cornerback (Tre'Davious White). Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer might be the best safety duo in the NFL.

    "The Bills might not have a ton of star power, but they do have balance," Davenport said. "This isn't a team with a lot of weak spots. If Josh Allen can improve as a passer in 2020, the Bills are capable of not just making the playoffs again but also making some noise once they get there."

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    High: 11

    Low: 12

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are to 2020 what the Cleveland Browns were to 2019. Since the moment Tom Brady signed with them, there hasn't been a more hyped team in the league.

    Brady isn't the only big name the Buccaneers landed this offseason, though.

    Tight end Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join his former teammate. Running back Leonard Fournette recently joined the team after the Jaguars cut him. The Bucs re-signed last year's sack king (Shaquil Barrett), and a run defense that led the league a year ago largely returns as well. Meanwhile, rookie tackle Tristan Wirfs should help keep the Golden Boy upright.

    "I'll admit that I've maintained a level of skepticism about the Buccaneers this offseason," Davenport said. "But the Fournette signing addressed one of the larger problem areas on the team. If the offensive line does its job in protecting Brady and the secondary holds up, the Bucs might be a legitimate threat to the Saints after all."

    However, Sobleski still sees at least one possible problem.

    "The Buccaneers added yet another big name when they signed Fournette," he said. "However, they did so at the expense of special teams captain Dare Ogunbowale, who was subsequently cut. Tampa Bay also decided to part ways with kicker Matt Gay after only one season despite spending a fifth-round pick on him last year. The Bucs are loaded, but special teams could be a creeping concern."

10. Green Bay Packers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 17

    The Green Bay Packers have been perennial contenders to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for years. Last season, they won 13 games, captured the NFC North and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

    And yet, the Packers barely cracked the top 10 in these power rankings.

    There are a few reasons for concern with the Packers in 2020. The first is a group of wide receivers that consists of superstar Davante Adams and not much else.

    Although Adams was the only Green Bay pass-catcher with more than 500 receiving yards last year, the Packers did next to nothing to improve the group this offseason. The one veteran they did add, Devin Funchess, opted out of the season.

    There's also the matter of their inside linebackers. When Blake Martinez bolted for New York in free agency, the Pack replaced him with Christian Kirksey. The 28-year-old has shown the potential to be productive when healthy, but he has also missed most of the last two seasons.

    The Packers remain a legitimate threat. But in an offseason where many of the NFC's top contenders made significant improvements, Green Bay may have taken a small step backward.

9. Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    High: 7

    Low: 13

    The Indianapolis Colts were a mediocre 7-9 last year. But if their offseason moves pay off, they could be primed for a quick bounce-back.

    The Colts boast perhaps the NFL's best offensive line (and lineman in guard Quenton Nelson). They added an impact running back in Jonathan Taylor to a backfield that already included a 1,000-yard rusher in Marlon Mack. T.Y. Hilton anchors a group of wide receivers that includes quite a bit of youth and upside.

    DeForest Buckner joins a defensive line that got a huge boost from the addition of Justin Houston last year. Darius Leonard might be the league's best off-ball linebacker. The secondary lacks big names but not talent.

    Whether the Colts live up to this ranking likely rests with the right arm of Philip Rivers. If he can turn back the clock a bit and take advantage of the talent around him, this Colts team could easily win the division.

    But if he continues to be the noodle-armed turnover machine that he was last year, both the Colts and our analysts are going to be cleaning egg off their faces.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    High: 7

    Low: 9

    The Pittsburgh Steelers had a 2019 season to forget.

    They were blown out in Week 1 by the Patriots, lost starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to an elbow injury the following week and lurched their way to an 8-8 record, missing the postseason for the second year in a row.

    But with Roethlisberger healthy and back under center, a quick turnaround could be in the offing this year.

    Pittsburgh fielded one of the NFL's best defenses last year, pacing the league in both sacks (54) and takeaways (38). The addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick proved to be a game-changer, and he's out to prove last season was no fluke.

    "From all indications, Roethlisberger's elbow is no longer an issue," Davenport said. "The Steelers have plenty of offensive firepower, a good offensive line and one of the league's most formidable defenses. If Big Ben plays in 2020 like he did in 2018 (when he led the NFL in passing yards), the Ravens are not going to walk away with the division as easily as they did last season."

7. Minnesota Vikings

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 10

    The Minnesota Vikings made a huge splash last week, swinging a trade with the Jaguars to pair edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue with Danielle Hunter. According to Gagnon, that might have altered the balance of power in the NFC North.

    "Ngakoue could be a difference-maker in Minnesota," he said "Not only has he recorded at least eight sacks in each of his first four seasons and 14 forced fumbles in 63 career games, but he's the perfect complement to Hunter. Having two elite edge-rushers could put the Vikes over the top."

    The Vikings also have a proven veteran quarterback in Kirk Cousins and skill-position weapons such as tailback Dalvin Cook, veteran wideout Adam Thielen and rookie first-round pick Justin Jefferson.

    Minnesota has the ingredients for a deep playoff run. But a secondary that lost its top three cornerbacks in the offseason could derail that postseason trip.

6. Dallas Cowboys

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 8

    The Dallas Cowboys sported the NFL's No. 1 offense last year and a defense replete with young talent. However, they missed the playoffs thanks to a 2-4 finish, which cost longtime head coach Jason Garrett his job.

    The Cowboys brought in another veteran head coach to right the ship in Mike McCarthy, and he has no shortage of tools with which to work.

    Dak Prescott is one of the better young quarterbacks in the league. Ezekiel Elliott is annually among the NFL's leading rushers. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb are an outstanding trio of wide receivers. And Dallas' offensive line has been one of the best in the game for years.

    There are some questions on the back end of the defense after cornerback Byron Jones left for Miami in free agency and the team cut veteran safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But on paper, the Cowboys appear to be the best team in the NFC East by a fair margin.

    The question is whether they will perform to their potential under their new head coach.

5. Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 6

    Since Russell Wilson joined the NFL in 2012, he's guided the Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs in all but one season.

    At the beginning of that run, the Seahawks were a defensive-minded, ground-and-pound team. They still like to run the ball, but Wilson's passing has become more important in recent years.

    And as Sobleski wrote, Wilson may have picked up another weapon just before the season gets underway.

    "Josh Gordon is the ultimate lottery ticket if/when the NFL reinstates him," he said. "The Seahawks already have a sound roster with an MVP candidate leading the way in Wilson. Gordon can potentially be the X-factor to a promising season if he can stay on the field."

    A Tyler Lockett/DK Metcalf/Gordon trio should be imposing, but Davenport still has concerns about Seattle on the other side of the ball.

    "The Seahawks ranked toward the bottom of the NFL in sacks last year, and the pass rush doesn't look any better in 2020," he said. "They may be able to weather that storm in September, but against Dak Prescott or Drew Brees in January, the inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks will get you beat."

4. San Francisco 49ers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 4

    Getting to the Super Bowl is hard. Getting back to the Super Bowl after losing it has been next to impossible in recent years.

    That's the task facing the San Francisco 49ers this year after they blew a late lead in Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs. It's a tall order, in large part because of the roster attrition that can often leave a sizable hole in a contender's roster.

    The Niners' biggest hole is on the inside of the defensive line after they traded DeForest Buckner to the Colts. Per ESPN's Nick Wagoner, head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted replacing the Pro Bowler won't be easy.

    "You can't underestimate losing a player like DeForest," Shanahan said. "He's as good of a teammate and one of the best players in the league at his position. We feel we have got some guys there and stuff, but that's not easy to just come in and replace someone like that."

    The Niners appear to have a ready-made replacement in first-round rookie Javon Kinlaw. But as talented as he may be, he's never played in an NFL game.

    In a loaded NFC West, the 49ers can't afford for Kinlaw to be anything other than a quick study.

3. New Orleans Saints

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 4

    The New Orleans Saints have been no stranger to postseason letdowns in recent years, and the same held true last season. The Vikings upset the 13-win Saints at the Superdome in the Wild Card Round as star tailback Dalvin Cook rumbled for 94 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

    Despite that letdown, two of the three our analysts ranked the Saints as the top team in the NFC.

    "The Saints have as much balance as any team in the NFL," Davenport said. "They have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees. No shortage of weapons for Brees on the ground and in the air. A top-three offensive line in both run blocking and pass protection, per Football Outsiders. And a defense with Pro Bowl-caliber talents at all three levels. This team is capable of making a Super Bowl run, provided it can avoid another January collapse."

    It won't take long for the Saints to get their first true test of the 2020 season. On Sunday afternoon, Tom Brady and the new-look Buccaneers come calling at the Superdome.

2. Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    High: 2

    Low: 3

    The Baltimore Ravens ripped off 12 straight wins last year to finish the season a league-best 14-2. However, that didn't stop the underdog Tennessee Titans from stunning them at home in the divisional round.

    That loss dropped 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson to 0-2 in the playoffs, but he told reporters that he's currently focused on the season opener against the Browns:

    "I've just got to go out there and do my job, go out there and win games, make it to the playoffs. But our job is to focus on the Cleveland Browns right now. I can't really dwell on the playoffs because those games—that was my rookie season. People didn't even expect us to go to the playoffs at all. And last year, none of us expected to lose. They came out. They played well. We didn't. But now we've just got to focus on the Cleveland Browns. Then we get back to the playoffs, then we're going to go from there."

    The Ravens have the talent to go on a deep playoff run in 2020. They're ranked where they are for a reason. But Gagnon also believes Baltimore could take a step back this year.

    "I will say that the gap between Kansas City and Baltimore is huge," he wrote. "I don't trust the Ravens based on last year's playoff experience, and I'm concerned about potential regression with a target on Lamar Jackson's back. They'll also miss retired guard Marshal Yanda."

1. Kansas City Chiefs

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 1

    At only 24 years old, Patrick Mahomes has already become one of two quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards and 50 scores in a season. He's been named NFL MVP. He won Super Bowl LIV in February. And this offseason, he signed a 10-year contract extension that could be worth more than a half-billion dollars. 

    But Mahomes feels like he's only getting started (h/t Ron Kopp of Arrowhead Pride):

    "I'm just as excited, I'll promise you that. Every time I go to the football field, Arrowhead Stadium, or whatever field we're playing at, to get to suit up and play for the Kansas City Chiefs, I have the ultimate excitement, no matter if it's preseason or the Super Bowl. I promise you I'll have that mentality going into this first game."

    Mahomes isn't the only reason that the Kansas City Chiefs are atop these power rankings. Nor is he the only reason Kansas City is the favorite to rep AFC in the Super Bowl again.

    But so long as he keeps playing the way he has the past two seasons, the Chiefs aren't going anywhere.