Football is back. Now that the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game is in the books, we won’t have another weekend without football until after Super Bowl 50 has been played. With the NFL preseason kicking off last Thursday night, we thought that now would be a good time to release our preseason NFL power rankings. While a lot can change from now until Week 1 of the regular season, this is our initial look at how we envision the NFL playing out in 2015. We have ranked all 32 teams (in descending order) based on roster composition and predicted success in 2015. Here’s what we came up with…
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars may have spent big money this offseason, but even that won’t be enough for them to stay out of the cellar in the AFC South. To make matters worse, the team will be without defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., their first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, for the entire season after he tore his ACL in his first offseason practice as a professional.
31. Tennessee Titans
The Titans may finally have their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, but they are still far from being a team that is ready to compete for a playoff spot in 2015. If Mariota proves to be the real deal, things could prove to be on the upswing in Tennessee, but for now, we see them as a team that will likely be picking in the top five during the 2016 NFL Draft.
30. San Francisco 49ers
No team in the league has had a worse offseason this year than the 49ers. For starters, they lost offensive guard Mike Iupati, running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, linebacker Dan Skuta, and cornerback Perrish Cox during free agency. Couple that with the retirements of linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, offensive tackle Anthony Davis, and defensive lineman Justin Smith and you have the makings of a team that could struggle to be competitive in 2015. Let’s also not forget that the team chose to release All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith after his latest off the field run-in with the law.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Early reports out of Tampa Bay are saying that Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, has the look of a future franchise quarterback. If that proves to be true, the Buccaneers will shoot up this list in a hurry. But for now, they have far too many holes to be considered as a playoff threat in the NFC.
28. Oakland Raiders
Quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, and defensive end Khalil Mack give the Raiders ample reason to be optimistic that a turnaround is imminent for the once proud franchise, but their roster is simply too thin and has too many holes for them to be consistently competitive in 2015. This team is likely one more year away from having a chance to post a winning record.
27. Washington Redskins
If Robert Griffin III can regain his rookie form, this is a team that has enough talent to surprise some people. They will need to play better on the offensive and defensive lines and in their secondary, but they do have Pro Bowl-caliber talent on both sides of the ball. Still, this is a team that lacks depth and veteran leadership.
26. Cleveland Browns
The Browns would rank much lower on this list if it weren’t for their defense that features one of the best secondaries in the game. Their quarterback situation remains unenviable, and they still don’t have a bell cow at running back. With that being said, they have enough talent on their offensive line to make things interesting. Don’t be surprised if the Browns are able to sneak up on some of their opponents in 2015.
25. Chicago Bears
The Bears are on their third coach in four years and didn’t do much this offseason to improve their roster. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who is as physically gifted as any quarterback in the league, is back, but his play continues to be largely disappointing. His favorite target, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, was traded to the New York Jets, and the team’s first round draft pick, wide receiver Kevin White, has been battling injuries for most of the offseason. And let’s be honest, the last thing Cutler needs at this point in his career is a downgraded group of wide receivers. We see the Bears as a team that is in flux heading into the 2015 season.
24. Houston Texans
The Texans have the best overall player in the league in defensive end J.J. Watt, but the rest of their roster is full of question marks. The quarterback position remains unsettled, and All-Pro running back Arian Foster is going to miss an extended period of time with a serious groin injury. With that said, if outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, is healthy and able to play this year, the Texans could have the makings of a top ten defense.
23. New Orleans Saints
If it weren’t for the fact that Drew Brees is their quarterback, the Saints would have come in much lower on this list. Nonetheless, the Saints are a threat to win every game in which the four-time All-Pro signal caller is under center. If their defense somehow improves, this is a team that could sneak into the postseason through a weak NFC South division.
22. Minnesota Vikings
There is no denying that the Vikings have a talented roster. Their quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, looked like a future Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2014, and he should be even better in 2015 with the added benefit of being able to keep defenses off-balance by handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson. For the Vikings to seriously challenge for a playoff spot this season, their defense will need to gel and mature in a hurry.
21. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are a difficult team to project. Offensively they are clearly set at quarterback with Cam Newton, and center Ryan Kalil, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, tight end Greg Olsen, and running back Jonathan Stewart are Pro Bowl candidates as well. After that, things get hazy. On the defensive side of the ball, they have one of the best overall players in the league in linebacker Luke Kuechly and one of the more underrated defensive players in the league in defensive end Charles Johnson. Beyond that, they have several question marks. This is a team we see either making the playoffs or landing a top 10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
20. Atlanta Falcons
There is no questioning the Falcons’ talent on the offensive side of the ball. With a passing game that features quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, Atlanta will be difficult to slow down for most teams. If they can develop a consistent rushing attack, they should be on of the league’s top 10 offenses. That said, things aren’t as bright for the team, defensively speaking. They did hire defensive mastermind Dan Quinn to be the team’s new head coach and they spent their first round pick on Vic Beasley, an explosive outside linebacker with game-changing ability, but they still have several holes on that side of the ball. The Falcons are our favorites to win the NFC South, but they will only go as far as their defense will take them.
19. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers believe that 2015 first round pick Melvin Gordon can be the work horse running back they have been looking for since LaDainian Tomlinson left town in 2009. If that proves to be the case, this team could quickly climb up our rankings. On defense, they still have numerous issues that went largely unaddressed this offseason, which makes us think that the Chargers will miss the postseason again in 2015.
18. New York Jets
Outside of Sheldon Richardson’s meltdown, the Jets had an excellent offseason. They added defensive end Leonard Williams, who was arguably the best player available in the 2015 NFL Draft, along with three All-Pro caliber players in wide receiver Brandon Marshall and cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. If quarterback Geno Smith can somehow turn the corner in 2015, the Jets could find themselves playing in the postseason for the first time since 2010.
17. New York Giants
If the Giants are able to build off of the success they had late in the 2014 season, this is a team that has the talent to contend for the NFC East title in 2015. Quarterback Eli Manning will be throwing to one of the best wide receiver duos in the game in Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, and the team has a solid stable of capable running backs. What’s more important though, is the fact that the Giants should have a much-improved offensive line this season. However, for the Giants to reach their full potential, their defense will likely have to overachieve in 2015 – especially with the uncertainty surrounding Jason Pierre-Paul.
16. Buffalo Bills
Rex Ryan is in as Buffalo’s new head coach, and we would be shocked if the team didn’t again have one of the best defenses in the league. They also acquired running back LeSean McCoy in an offseason trade, which should give them an improved rushing attack in 2015. Now, if only the Bills had a quarterback to bring everything together.
15. St. Louis Rams
The Rams are a team that is on the verge of breaking out. They already have one of the best defenses in the league, and could be positioned to make a huge jump offensively in 2015. The team firmly believes that Nick Foles could be the answer for them at quarterback, and running back Todd Gurley could ultimately prove to be the best player in the 2015 NFL Draft class. The Rams likely won’t challenge the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, but they are definitely in the mix for an NFC Wild Card spot in 2015.
14. Miami Dolphins
Is this the year the Dolphins can finally overtake the New England Patriots in the AFC East? A lot of it will depend on how well quarterback Ryan Tannehill plays, but with the talent this team has on the defensive side of the ball, we believe this team will be competitive in every game they play this season.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
In quarterback Andy Dalton’ four seasons as the team’s starting quarterback, the Bengals have made four-straight trips to the postseason. The problem is that they have been knocked out in the Wild Card round all four times. Their biggest issue when it comes to the postseason has been the fact that they have averaged just over 10 points per game, which is in large part due to a major drop off in play from Dalton. As a result, this could be a make-or-break year for the 27-year-old quarterback.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have the potential to do some damage in the AFC this season. Running back Jamaal Charles is at full-strength, and the team believes it took a major step towards fixing their issues at the wide receiver position by signing Jeremy Maclin to a hefty contract during free agency. The strength of their team, however, is their defense. Outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali give the Chiefs one of the best pass rush duos in the league, and the return of All-Pro safety Eric Berry could make a huge difference in the secondary. While they are not on the same level as the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs are a team we see as a serious playoff contender in 2015.
11. Philadelphia Eagles
Nobody really knows what to expect from the Eagles after their wild and crazy offseason. Our guess is that they will score points in bunches, but have some issues on the defensive side of the ball. When it comes down to it, the franchise went all-in on head coach Chip Kelly, and we’ll quickly learn if his “culture” is conducive to winning games in the National Football League.
10. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals were a playoff team in 2014 despite having wildly inconsistent play at the quarterback position after Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending knee injury. Heading into 2015, Palmer, who has won 73% of his starts in a Cardinals’ uniform, is expecting to be ready for Week 1, and the Arizona defense should again be one of the stronger units in the league. We expect this team to reach double-digit wins again in this season.
9. Detroit Lions
The Lions did lose All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh during free agency, but his replacement, Haloti Ngata, is an All-Pro caliber player himself when healthy. Aside from Suh, the vast majority of the Lions’ 2014 defense, which ranked second in the league in yards allowed and third in the league in points allowed per game last year, will be returning in 2015. Offensively, the Lions should be hard to stop. They have arguably the best wide receiver duo in the league with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, and a young tight end with immense talent in Eric Ebron. If their running game improves, this team could make a deep run in the NFC Playoffs in 2015.
8. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have arguably the best offense in the game, led by quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and Andre Johnson, and running back Frank Gore. Their offensive line is still suspect, but having a guy like Luck under center will make their jobs much easier. For this team to take the next step, though, they will have to be far better defensively. Signing Trent Cole was a step in the right direction, but far from enough for us to consider them to be a serious contender in the AFC at this point in time.
7. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys shocked the football world in 2014 by basically changing their entire approach on offense to a run-first attack. If running backs Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden can pick up where DeMarco Murray left off, the Cowboys shouldn’t skip a beat offensively. Defensively, the team will be counting on a pair of rookies in outside linebacker Randy Gregory and cornerback Byron Jones, and veteran defensive end Greg Hardy, who is suspended for the first four games of the season, to spark their turnaround. If things go as planned, the Cowboys could be a threat to win the NFC in 2015.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
In our eyes, the Steelers have one of the top three offenses in the league heading into the 2015 season. The biggest question mark for the Steelers is their defense, which is in full-fledged rebuilding mode. For this team to be a serious AFC contender, they will need several young players to step up and play at a Pro Bowl level. Only time will tell if their defense is up to the challenge, but we would be surprised if the Steelers aren’t at the very least a postseason team in 2015.
5. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have one of the most solid rosters in the league from top to bottom. Offensively speaking, their balanced attack may not strike fear into any of their opponents, but you can safely bet that they will be one of the most consistently productive units in the league in 2015. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens should again be among the league’s best defenses. In a wide open AFC race, this team has everything in place to make a serious Super Bowl push in 2015.
4. Denver Broncos
Simply put, the Broncos are clearly in Super Bowl-or-bust mode. Offensively, they may have a new scheme, but only a fool would believe that they won’t be lighting up the scoreboard again in 2015 with Peyton Manning under center. Defensively, the Broncos have the personnel to be a top five defense in the league in the 3-4 scheme of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Everything is in place for the Broncos to make another Super Bowl run in 2015, but it will all come down to the health of their key players – Manning in particular.
3. New England Patriots
With the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady’s suspension, we chose to rank the Patriots based on the idea that he will be leading their offense. In that case, they are still the team to beat in the AFC in our eyes. There simply isn’t a player in the NFL that can cover Rob Gronkowski on an every-down basis, and it doesn’t seem to matter who lines up at wide receiver when Brady is throwing them the ball. On defense, we still don’t really understand why the team let both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner walk during free agency, but head coach Bill Belichick has a nearly unmatched ability to turn another team’s castoff into a Pro Bowl caliber player. That may be a moot point seeing that as long as the Patriots have the Brady and Belichick leading their team, they will be AFC contenders.
2. Green Bay Packers
If it weren’t for an epic collapse during the second half of the 2014 NFC Championship Game, the Packers would be entering the season as the defending conference champions. In 2015, anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl will be a disappointment in Green Bay. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the best offensive player in the league, and with three top-notch wide receivers at his disposal, a repeat MVP award isn’t at all out of the question. As long as Rodgers is healthy, the Packers will be Super Bowl contenders; there really needs to be no further explanation.
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks would have been the No. 1 team on this list even if they hadn’t acquired All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. The 28-year-old tight end adds a completely new dimension to the Seahawks’ offensive attack, and his mere presence should keep defenses from being able to stack the box to stop Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle running game. On defense, the Seahawks may be without All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor if his holdout extends into the regular season. Without Chancellor they will still be a dominant group, but he is a guy that they will need in the lineup if they are going to win a third-straight NFC title. When it comes down to it, the Seahawks are hands-down the most talented team in the league.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.