Just because the 2017 NFL season recently ended doesn’t mean we can’t speculate on how teams will perform in 2018. So here are my power rankings (pre-free agency for the 2018 NFL season).
1.) Philadelphia Eagles
While the Patriots have opened up as the Super Bowl favorites, the defending champs possess a stacked roster. Don’t let Jason Kelce’s “underdog” speech fool you, this team is now the top dog. Carson Wentz will return next year (maybe not by week one?), and he has an elite, young defense to back him up. I’m not saying this team is going to be a dynasty, but they could be putting up NFC East title banners for quite a few years to come.
The defending champs are looking to repeat. Photo courtesy Getty Images
2.) New England Patriots
Ah yes, the dark side. While I have them below Philadelphia, the Pats are probably more of a shoe-in to get to their conference’s Championship game. Will the “cliff” be coming for Tom Brady, as Max Kellerman has predicted? I wouldn’t count on it. Brady passed for 500 yards in the Super Bowl, and now that he’s getting Josh McDaniels back, he gets to stay with the same offense. If the Patriots defense makes some improvements in free agency, they could easily bump up to #1 on this list.
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers
Will they re-sign Le’Veon Bell? In order to keep their high-end talent going, Pittsburgh probably will. If the Killer Bs return, the Steelers will likely win the AFC North. Their defense is still young and talented, and will still be solid even if Ryan Shazier is still recovering from that injury. In any case, Pittsburgh can’t have another playoff meltdown like they did last season.
4.) New Orleans Saints
Putting the Saints this high may lead to buyer’s remorse, but there’s not much here that isn’t to like. Drew Brees hasn’t showed any serious signs of slowing down, though the “cliff” could soon be approaching. He had a dominant tandem of running backs last season in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and one of the game’s best young receivers in Michael Thomas. Add in a defense that actually played well (not when it mattered most though), and to me you have the Eagles’ biggest challenger in the NFC.
5.) Jacksonville Jaguars
Once again, could be buyer’s remorse here. But the Jags had an elite young defense last year that has another year to improve. Blake Bortles is inconsistent, but when he doesn’t throw a pick, the Jags usually win (it was true for every game in 2017 except the AFC Championship game). Leonard Fournette is another young RB looking to set the league on fire. Jags skeptics may point to Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson coming back in 2018, but to me the Jags are the early favorite to repeat as division champs.
6.) Green Bay Packers
Having an elite QB can shield all your team’s problems. No one knows that better than the Green Bay Packers. And because the State Farm pitchman was hurt for the vast duration of 2017, the Pack missed the postseason for the first time since 2008. Aaron Rodgers is returning with Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, and while the defense still needs work before I rank them in the top 5, having Aaron Rodgers back is a game changer.
7.) Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley is in his prime. Jared Goff has another year to improve under Sean McVay. The defense plays pretty solid under defensive wizard Wade Phillips. Heck, people don’t pay attention to that awesome special teams unit led by John Fassel. The Rams are one of the NFL’s most complete teams to me. I’m not usually one for hot takes, but they’ll be back in the playoffs in 2018.
8.) Minnesota Vikings
Perhaps a lot of people would have Minnesota higher on the list, but the Vikings aren’t going 13-3 again next year. Losing Pat Shurmur will hurt the offense, and will Case Keenum be back? He had a great year in 2017, but it could be an anomaly. So will Teddy Bridgewater be the starter? You mean the guy that hasn’t started since 2015? I don’t like putting a team with a questionable QB situation so high, but that defense alone will probably get them at least 8 wins.
9.) Oakland Raiders
We all bought into the Raiders in 2017, and all of us were disappointed. They fired Jack Del Rio after that season, and made the ultimate splash hire in Jon Gruden. To me, this will really help Derek Carr. Despite having a Pro Bowl season in 2017, Carr was quite a bit below expectations. If they can build a defense around Khalil Mack, look out for the Raiders. They can bounce back from a disappointing season.
One of the most hyped up 2017 teams made the splashiest of hires in 2018. Will it pay off? Photo courtesy Gety Images
10.) Dallas Cowboys
Speaking of disappointing 2017 teams, we have the Dallas Cowboys. Obviously the Zeke suspension hurt their offense, and Dak wasn’t quite up to his rookie season form. But with Dak and Zeke healthy (and not suspended), this team has the building blocks they need. The o-line is still great, Jason Witten is old but reliable, and Sean Lee is a force on defense.
11.) Atlanta Falcons
Until they lost to the underdog Eagles, I thought Atlanta was heading back to the NFC Championship game. But not because of their offense, but more because of their defense. Vic Beasley and Deion Jones form a great young core on defense. As for the offense, the team took a step back in 2017. Still, they have all the big pieces from that 2016 run. It’s hard to count out the Falcons in the NFC race.
12.) Tennessee Titans
While the Mike Vrabel hire at head coach is questionable to say the least, the coordinator hires of Matt LaFleur and Dean Pees were very good ones. LaFleur helped Sean McVay develop Jared Goff in LA, so he can definitely help Marcus Mariota, who struggled a bit. And while Mariota’s stats weren’t great last year, he’s still a great team leader who led an incredible comeback in the playoffs at the age of 24. With Derrick Henry and Corey Davis on offense and a solid core on defense, this team could take another step in 2018 if Vrabel proves to be a good coach.
13.) Carolina Panthers
The Panthers went from 15-1 to 6-10 back up to 11-5. With a team so inconsistent, it’s hard to find a good spot to rank them. But they kept it close in the playoffs against tough Saints team, and they are solid on offense and defense. As long as Carolina gets good Cam and not bad Cam, they will stay competitive in a tough NFC South next year. Luke Kuechly staying healthy is also essential.
14.) Los Angeles Chargers
After a horrendous 0-4 start, the Bolts finished 9-3 and just missed out on the playoffs. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are getting up there in age, which I think only makes them more motivated to win a ring before they retire. Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen also contribute to a great Chargers offense, while the defense has a rising star in Joey Bosa. Look out for the Chargers in 2018.
15.) Houston Texans
With the Texans, it’s all about health. Deshaun Watson, D’Onta Foreman, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus all suffered season-ending injuries last year. In 2018, they could all be big factors in rebounding. We all know DeAndre Hopkins is great at WR, but he needs a decent QB. Deshaun Watson appeared to be just that before he got injured.
16.) Detroit Lions
Am I buying into the Matt Patricia regime? No, and I don’t think many people are. Colin Cowherd brought up that he just has the look of a coordinator, with his unkempt beard and pencil in the ear. He looks McAdoo-ish, and as a Giants fan I can attest to that horror. However, I’ll still give him a shot. Matthew Stafford is great as we all know, and Patricia has pieces like Ziggy Ansah, Darius Slay, and Glover Quinn to work with on defense. What Stafford really needs is a running game.
17.) San Francisco 49ers
San Fran locked up Jimmy G to an enormous contract after he helped them finish the season 5-0. Garoppolo, coach Kyle Shanahan, and GM John Lynch should give the team a bright future. But I have to see some offseason improvements before I hop on the Niners bandwagon. And Rueben Foster getting arrested isn’t a good sign.
18.) Seattle Seahawks
To me, 2017 proved that Seattle’s championship window has either passed or is on the brink of closing. Russell Wilson had an incredible season, but even he couldn’t will a team to the playoffs with no help from the running game or o-line. The locker room was surrounded with drama, and the defense is a shell of its former self. This is a team on the decline.
19.) Buffalo Bills
They’ve toyed with Tyrod Taylor to the point where they benched him (and then proceeded to get humiliated in the Peterman interception fest). Who knows if Tyrod will be their QB in 2018, and that’s part of why I ranked them low. If they do decide to move on from Tyrod, will they trade for a QB in the draft? This Bills team has a great running game with Shady McCoy and Taylor, and they made the playoffs last year for a reason. The QB position concerns me though.
20.) Kansas City Chiefs
After a stunning playoff loss and trading Alex Smith away, it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in Kansas City. Maybe Patrick Mahomes will have a great season and be this franchise’s savior. He has two great offensive weapons to work with in Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill. The defense will get Eric Berry back. But the loss of Matt Nagy will hurt, and I’m just not sure how Mahomes will fare.
21.) New York Giants
To me, the Giants bottomed out last year. With a brand new coaching staff and a brand new GM, there’s nowhere to go but up. The defense is still talented, and Odell will be back. But how will 37 year old Eli Manning do? Is Pat Shurmur fit to be head coach, or did his time in Cleveland prove he’s just a coordinator? Will the o-line finally get better? The Giants have a lot to prove in 2018, and I’m enticed to see just how well or poor they perform.
22.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs, much like the Giants, have a lot of talent. But they also have a lot of problems. Unlike the Giants, their poor coach didn’t make a mistake that got himself fired. Dirk Koetter should’ve been gone after such a disappointing season. Jameis Winston didn’t perform great, and Doug Martin had a disastrous season. Will this be the year the Bucs finally right the ship? We’ll see.
23.) Miami Dolphins
After a promising 10-6 season in 2016, Smokin’ Jay guided the Phins to a 6-10 record. Ryan Tannehill will be back, but how will he perform after that ACL tear? Months after they traded away Jay Ajayi, we’re still wondering why. The d-line can only carry them so far.
24.) Washington Redskins
Alex Smith is four years older than Kirk Cousins, and has never had much success in the playoffs. I’m not sure why the Redskins did what they did, and they traded away their talented young corner Kendall Fuller to get him as well. I’m just not buying what the Skins are selling.
25.) Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore nearly made the playoffs last season, as they suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of the Bengals. The defense is solid, but Terrell Suggs isn’t getting any younger despite a resurgent season. Joe Flacco is still the same old overpaid QB. Baltimore has missed the playoffs three years in a row.
26.) Denver Broncos
While the defense isn’t in 2015 form, they’re still pretty great. Win the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, and you climb at least 10 spots in this power rankings.
27.) Cincinnati Bengals
Andy Dalton may have been the hero that guided the Bills to the playoffs, but Starvin’ for a playoff win Marvin has guided the Bengals to consecutive losing seasons. And Cincy kept him. Of course.
28.) Arizona Cardinals
David Johnson will be back, and new coach Steve Wilks looks to bring a no-nonsense attitude. The problem with this team? They need a QB.
29.) Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck’s shoulder is still a big question, and so is the team around him. Will head coach Frank Reich be the right man for this challenge? Time will tell.
30.) Chicago Bears
Mitch Trubisky and new coach Matt Nagy are looking to be 2018’s version of the Rams. Their team is led by a young QB, a great running back, and a sneaky good defense. Kind of like the Rams. To be honest, I might be ranking Chicago too low.
31.) New York Jets
Robby Anderson and the Jets young defense made a valiant effort to start the season 3-2, and prove they weren’t tanking. But let’s not kid ourselves. Josh McCown and Matt Forte are up there in age, and the team still has lots of improvements to make. That’s why they finished the year 2-9.
32.) Cleveland Browns
Get a QB. Win a game. Then we’ll take you seriously.
So, those are my pre-free agency power rankings. From the Super Bowl champs down to poor old Cleveland, this list is sure to change in upcoming months.