2015 NFL Preseason Power Rankings

A lot changes in the seven months between the Super Bowl and the regular season. Chase Stuart found that you are better off predicting every team to go 8-8 than to predict every team to repeat what it did last season. Since the NFL's expansion and realignment in 2002, only half the playoff field from the previous year reaches the postseason again, usually 6-8 teams per year.

This season, I'm picking seven of the 12 playoff teams to repeat, which is lower than most predictions you'll read, but in line with what we've seen the last few years. The numbered rankings below are for right now, beginning-of-season strength, and not necessarily a forecast of each team's success over the course of the whole year. However, the brackets show predicted regular-season record, and you'll find postseason predictions at the bottom.

1. Denver Broncos [12-4] — I was really glad to see them sign Evan Mathis. Three of last year's five starting offensive linemen are gone, and second-round draft choice Ty Sambrailo is slated to start at left tackle. You don't like to see that kind of turnover on a successful unit. There's a new coaching staff, which is also unusual for a team that's won three straight division titles, and Peyton Manning is 39 now. The offense is expected to go more run-heavy this season, with C.J. Anderson leading the charge. Defensively, the hope is just that everyone stays healthy. There is a lot of talent on this roster.

2. Seattle Seahawks [12-4] — A dramatic offseason saw them re-sign some key players, though (at this writing) safety Kam Chancellor continues to hold out for a better contract. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is gone, replaced by defensive backs coach Kris Richard, and the team traded away center Max Unger in exchange for tight end Jimmy Graham, who is expected to play a different role (including run-blocks) in Seattle than he did in New Orleans. But the core of this team remains in place, and there's every reason to expect another strong performance from the Seahawks.

3. Green Bay Packers [10-6] — Jordy Nelson's injury is a setback, but Aaron Rodgers has been successful no matter whom he throws to. Randall Cobb is a proven target, while second-year receiver Davante Adams had several productive games last year despite a limited role. Notably, Adams had 7 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown against Dallas in the playoffs, including some really impressive catches and broken tackles. Green Bay remains the team to beat in the NFC North, though the gap is closing.

The Packers are my Week 1 selection in survivor pools, at Chicago. Green Bay has lost its last three season openers, but no one is favored by more than 7 in Week 1, and the Packers crushed the Bears last year (38-17 and 55-14). I can't see Chicago winning, even at home.

4. New England Patriots [11-5] — Both starting cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, left in free agency. So did Vince Wilfork. But the Patriots won the Super Bowl despite injuries to some good players, and if the defense stays healthy this season, it should remain an effective unit. The offense revolves around Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and maybe Julian Edelman. When those players are clicking, New England scores points. But we've also seen Brady get really frustrated when Gronkowski is out of the lineup; he needs to stay on the field. The AFC East looks like the strongest division, top to bottom, in the NFL. I think the Patriots have enough juice left to hold off their competitors, but if the wrong player misses time, or they lose a few close games, watch out.

5. Indianapolis Colts [10-6] — Robert Mathis and Trent Cole supplement a defense that was below average in 2014, but that's partly offset by the losses of starting linemen Cory Redding and Ricky Jean-Francois. Frank Gore's arrival is expected to provide Andrew Luck with a run game for the first time in his pro career. The Colts have made the playoffs in each of Luck's three seasons, but it's time for him to take the next step. In four career games vs. New England, Luck is now 82-of-163 (50.4%) for 1,094 yards, 6 TDs, 10 INT, and a 58.7 passer rating. He has 12 interceptions in 6 playoff appearances. He's a young player, and some growing pains in big games are normal. But with aging stars like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning nearing the end of the line, it's time for Luck to step up and fill the void. I have faith in Luck — he gets better every year — but I'm not sure the rest of the team around him is ready to deliver a Super Bowl just yet.

6. Miami Dolphins [8-8] — Ryan Tannehill has improved every year, but he still hasn't been throwing downfield. So the Dolphins overhauled their receiving corps, bringing in Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, and Jordan Cameron. They signed Ndamukong Suh in free agency. It's easy to understand why they're a popular pick to improve in 2015. I worry about the back end of the defense, though. Louis Delmas tore his ACL again, and the secondary has little depth. The Dolphins begin the season with two road games, and they have a "home" game in England in Week 4.

7. Arizona Cardinals [9-7] — Head coach Bruce Arians has won two of the last three Coach of the Year awards, though defensive coordinator Todd Bowles left to coach the Jets. The Cardinals made the playoffs last year, but special teams disasters and a third-string quarterback knocked them out early. Can Carson Palmer sustain a high level of play for 16 games? Is there any chance Andre Ellington stays healthy, or that Chris Johnson can fill in with some of his old magic? Does Larry Fitzgerald still have it? I'm reluctant to understimate this team, which has consistently overachieved with Arians' guidance, but there are a lot of question marks. Barring another year with multiple quarterback injuries, the team should at least be okay, but it's hard to be confident about Arizona's chances with so much uncertainty. I think they'll begin the season stronger than they finish.

8. Philadelphia Eagles [10-6] — Maybe the most unpredictable team in the NFL for 2015. Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and Evan Mathis are gone. Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, and Nelson Agholor are in. We're not sure what to expect of Kiko Alonso. This team looks a lot different from the last two seasons, but there's even more uncertainty because so many of the high-profile new acquisitions are injury risks. The Eagles should be a fascinating team in 2015, and they're part of a three-way race for the NFC East.

9. Cincinnati Bengals [10-6] — Made the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Their offense is poised for good things, with an average QB protected by a good line and surrounded by weapons like A.J. Green, Jeremy Hill, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard. Plus, we all know that Mohamed Sanu will complete a couple of passes at some point. Defense is a question mark. Vontaze Burfict begins 2015 on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, meaning he's not eligible to play before Week 8. The Bengals made the fewest sacks (20) in the NFL last year, yet held opponents to a 75.8 passer rating, third-best in the NFL. That's great play from the defensive backfield, but it's not sustainable, and the team inexplicably failed to upgrade its pass rush in the offseason. Michael Johnson rejoined the team, but he hasn't been an impact pass rusher since 2012, and he's nursing an injury. I think the top teams in the AFC North all take a small step back this season, so Cincinnati has a very realistic shot at a division title and a fifth straight postseason.

10. Kansas City Chiefs [9-7] — Last year, they went 9-7 with no touchdowns by wide receivers. This year, they've got Jeremy Maclin, and hopefully an understanding that they'll be more successful with a dynamic passing game. If Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, and Maclin all stay healthy, the Chiefs have legitimate weapons on offense. KC quietly had the second-ranked scoring defense in 2014, with fairly little turnover once nose tackle Dontari Poe recovers from back surgery. The Chiefs are 20-12 under Andy Reid, and to my eye they've gotten a little better this offseason. A 10-6 record seems very realistic. They have a really tough first month of the season, so I'm not worried if they start 2-2, and only a little worried about 1-3.

11. Detroit Lions [9-7] — Haloti Ngata replaces Ndamukong Suh as their star defensive tackle, and Nick Fairley is gone, as well. But the Lions project to have an improved offensive line, while rookie RBs Ameer Abdullah and Zach Zenner could add a dynamic element. If Calvin Johnson stays healthy, there's no reason the Lions can't return to the playoffs, making back-to-back postseasons for the first time since 1994-95.

12. Houston Texans [9-7] — In 2014, it took a 10-6 record to make the AFC playoffs. The Texans, Bills, Chargers, and Chiefs all missed the postseason despite going 9-7. Houston has three winning seasons in the last four years. Now Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney join a defensive front featuring the most dominant defensive player in decades, J.J. Watt. The offense rolls in a new direction, with Brian Hoyer at QB and minus longtime WR Andre Johnson. Arian Foster begins the season sidelined by injury, but he's expected to return before October. Ryan Fitzpatrick had an under-the-radar efficient season last year (95.3 passer rating), and the team got 13 games of vintage Foster, so I think the offense will take a step back this season. It's probably impossible for Watt to repeat his 2014 excellence, but if Clowney and one or two of the rookies deliver, with some gas left in the tank for Wilfork, Houston could win a lot of games with its defense.

13. San Diego Chargers [9-7] — In 2013, they made the second round of the playoffs despite a pass defense that ranked 29th (4,139 yards, 96.4 passer rating). Last year, they improved to 4th in pass yardage allowed (3,427, though still with a subpar 91.3 rating), and they missed the playoffs because of a Week 17 loss. The defense is good as long as the key pieces stay healthy, but we're not sure what to expect of a revamped offense. Tight end Antonio Gates is suspended the first four games, and new faces like Melvin Gordon and Stevie Johnson should play a major role. The Chargers had bad luck with injuries to their centers and cornerbacks last year, and with better health they'll be a strong contender for the postseason. I expect them to finish the year ranked higher than 13th.

14. Baltimore Ravens [9-7] — First-round pick Breshad Perriman sprained his PCL in training camp, meaning he might not play until October, and won't yet be in sync with Joe Flacco when he does. That leaves the aging Steve Smith as the only established receiver. Former Bears head coach Marc Trestman replaces Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator, bringing a different system than the one in which Flacco and RB Justin Forsett had career years in 2014. Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee both left in free agency, and the defense continues to rebuild, with a few aging stars to complement promising second-year linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Ravens should compete for a playoff spot, but they're not a threat to the best teams in the AFC.

15. New York Jets [9-7] — Ryan Fitzpatrick is a veteran QB; it will be interesting to see what he can do with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and hopefully Devin Smith before too long. Leonard Williams joins a defense that opens the season without Sheldon Richardson (four-game suspension), but the real additions are free agent cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine. Last year, the Jet defense allowed a 101.5 passer rating: they have addressed their greatest weakness, and probably turned it into a strength. They're a playoff contender in the tough AFC East.

16. Dallas Cowboys [9-7] — Obviously, they're going to look different without DeMarco Murray. The RB duties will be handled by committee, and no one seems too enthusiastic about any of the individual members. I guess we'll get to see this year how much of Murray's success was due to the team's excellent offensive line — if everyone stays healthy, which is unlikely for a second season in a row. Last year, the Cowboys' starting linemen missed a combined total of only six games (out of a possible 80). I'd bet against that happening again. Tony Romo and Jason Witten are both a year older, and the defense overachieved last season, so expect regression for the Cowboys this season, probably to around .500.

17. St. Louis Rams [9-7] — Steadily improving ever since the RG3 trade. Their defense is stacked with talent, especially up front. Nick Foles represents a massive upgrade from the Austin Davis/Shaun Hill QB tandem of 2014, and they have a young offensive line that should improve as the season goes on. The Rams showed flashes of potential last year, beating the Seahawks and Broncos, plus back-to-back shutout wins in Weeks 13 and 14, winning by a combined 76-0. The Rams take the next step this season, with their first playoff appearance since 2004.

18. Buffalo Bills [9-7] — Fourth-ranked defense in the NFL last year, with the league lead in sacks (54) and defensive third down percentage (33%). They made headlines by hiring Rex Ryan as coach, and trading Kiko Alonso for LeSean McCoy. Tyrod Taylor will open the season as quarterback. He's a multi-dimensional threat, and Buffalo's offense will look a lot different than in 2014. A unit featuring Taylor, McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, and Charles Clay could be dynamic. Pair that with a strong defense, and the Bills should contend for a playoff spot. Buffalo went 9-7 last season, and a repeat of something in that neighborhood would make sense. Their ranking will rise when Marcell Dareus returns from suspension in Week 2.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers [7-9] — Begin the year missing Le'Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey, and Martavis Bryant. Pouncey is on injured reserve-designated for return and will miss most of the season, leaving a potential liability at center. Team MVP Bell and on-the-rise receiver Bryant are both suspended to begin the season. If the Steelers can weather a rough start, they could rebound later in the season. The season-long concern is probably defense. Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree join a unit with very few familiar names. Even longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is gone. It's unwise to read much into preseason performance, but opposing quarterbacks completed 80% of their passes against Pittsburgh's first half defense, with no interceptions and a 122.3 passer rating. Can offense carry the Steelers to another playoff appearance? It seems like a tall order. They have a really tough schedule.

20. Minnesota Vikings [7-9] — Head coach Mike Zimmer did a fine job last year, and the Vikings won three of their last five games, with both losses by less than a field goal. This year, Teddy Bridgewater has some experience, Adrian Peterson is back, and third-year receiver Charles Johnson may be poised for a breakout. There are some exciting young players on defense, notably Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen, and Harrison Smith. I think Minnesota is still a year or two away, but the team seems to be moving in the right direction.

21. Cleveland Browns [7-9] — The quarterback situation is not encouraging, the coaches seem unimpressed by any of the running backs, and their wide receivers are going undrafted in all but the deepest fantasy leagues. However, an improved defense could keep the Browns in a lot of games. Two rookies, nose tackle Danny Shelton and pass rusher Nate Orchard, could turn their defensive front from a liability into a strength. The Browns began last season 7-4, before losing their last five down the stretch. If Josh McCown plays well (or Johnny Manziel, I guess), Cleveland could sneak up on people. This team went 7-9 last season, and it's getting better, not worse.

22. New Orleans Saints [9-7] — Traded their top two receivers, Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, in the offseason, and Drew Brees will turn 37 at the end of the season. The Saints have spent a decade winning with their passing game, and that will probably continue, but there's more uncertainty than in past years, and the team may transition to a more run-heavy offense, built around Mark Ingram and/or Khiry Robinson. The biggest concern remains defense. New Orleans allowed over 400 points and 6,000 yards last year, and now leading sacker Junior Galette is gone. The additions of CB Brandon Browner and LB Dannell Ellerbe should help, but a lack of stout defense could keep the Saints out of the playoffs.

23. Carolina Panthers [7-9] — Won the division last year, despite a 7-8-1 record. The addition of rookie Devin Funchess is more than offset by the loss of Kelvin Benjamin, who tore his ACL in preseason, and there's no indication of major upgrades to last year's roster. It all puts too much burden on Cam Newton, who is a dynamic player but can't win by himself. This year's NFC South champion will probably have a winning record, and I'm not sure I see that from Carolina. The front seven on defense is the strength of this team, and if the Panthers succeed, that's where they'll win.

24. Atlanta Falcons [7-9] — Worst in the NFL in yards allowed in 2014. New head coach Dan Quinn coordinated the great Seattle defenses of the last few years, and first-round draft choice Vic Beasley immediately upgrades the pass rush. Offensive line remains a concern, and the by-committee RB situation, likely featuring a mix of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, probably won't remind Atlanta fans of the team's power-running tradition. It's a rebuilding year for a team that doesn't appear to have a lot of explosive players outside of Julio Jones.

25. Chicago Bears [6-10] — Eddie Royal replaces Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte is another year older, and Jay Cutler is another year Jay-ier. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman retired. Leading pass rusher Willie Young (10 sacks) tore his Achilles in December, and has struggled with the team's new 3-4 scheme. He's still on the roster at this writing, but might be gone by opening day. Second-leading sacker Jeremiah Ratliff (6.5) is suspended for three games and third-leading sacker Stephen Paea signed with Washington. First-round draft choice Kevin White begins the year on the PUP list and will miss the first two months of the season. Leading tackler and interceptor Ryan Mundy is out for the year. New coach John Fox has an uphill battle to keep this team competitive in 2015.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [6-10] — Top overall draft choice Jameis Winston steps into a favorable situation, with two good receivers and a promising tight end. Running back Doug Martin seems poised for a potential rebound, to relevance if not stardom. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are first-rate stars on defense. The Bucs have talent, players they can build around, and an experienced, successful coach in Lovie Smith. If Winston can deliver, the Bucs should be much improved, maybe even a dark horse contender for a division title in the weak NFC South.

27. New York Giants [7-9] — They'll sink or swim with the passing game. The Giants went 6-10 last season with Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz missing a combined 14 games. Outside of Beckham, there don't look to be a lot of meaningful weapons on offense. Jason Pierre-Paul, by far their best defensive player last season, finally met with the team, but his status remains unclear. I think the run game and defense hold the Giants back from being truly competitive in 2015.

28. San Francisco 49ers [5-11] — Last month, I wrote in-depth about their rough offseason. The head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator all left. Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Chris Borland all retired. Frank Gore and Mike Iupati left in free agency. Three of the top four receivers are gone, while the fourth is about to turn 35. Both starting cornerbacks left, starting linebacker Dan Skuta signed with the Jaguars, and Aldon Smith was cut for off-field reasons. Combine the loss of so many impact players and locker room leaders with the controversy and instability surrounding the coaching staff, and we're probably looking at a major setback for a team that had settled in as one of the NFL's best in recent years. The 49ers will have better luck with injuries in 2015 than they did last season, and perhaps Colin Kaepernick will regain some of the form he showed in 2012 and '13. But I'd be surprised if the Niners win half their games this season; I think they'll finish last in the NFC West.

29. Washington [4-12] — I know everyone's focus is on Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III. At this point, Cousins seems like a clear upgrade over RG3, but let's be real, no one on this roster is Andrew Luck. The offensive line has looked terrible in preseason, but the backs and receivers are solid, and the defense got some needed upgrades in the offseason. The defensive line is especially improved, with veterans like Terrance Knighton, Stephen Paea, and Ricky Jean Francois upgrading a unit that desperately needed it. The defensive backfield remains a problem, but an above-average pass rush could partially mask that. This is a rebuilding season for Washington — probably one of several — and the team will be an underdog almost every week, but there are some positive developments. I don't think it's a given that Washington finishes last in the NFC East.

30. Oakland Raiders [3-13] — They had the worst turnover differential in the NFL last season, -15, despite QB Derek Carr's low interception rate (2.0%), and they allowed the most points of any team (452). Latavius Murray and Amari Cooper are explosive players who could upgrade the offense, and I like new center Rodney Hudson, but the defense still looks like a problem. Khalil Mack is developing the way the team hoped, but he's one man out of 11.

31. Tennessee Titans [4-12] — Marcus Mariota played well in preseason, but ineffective QB play was not the team's biggest problem in 2014. The Titans lost their last 10 games, and have so many needs they didn't address this offseason. Brian Orakpo could help create a pass rush if he stays healthy, but the defense remains a major point of concern. Sammie Lee Hill, a nose tackle who made some nice plays against the pass last season, and who blocked a game-winning field goal attempt to clinch one of the team's two victories in 2014, is undergoing MCL surgery and will miss at least the first three games of the season. The Titans haven't had a winning record since Chris Johnson was still a high-level running back, and I can't imagine that streak breaking in 2015.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars [4-12] — Their two best defensive players both got injured last season. Paul Posluszny has earned the "injury-prone" label at this point, but he's healthy to begin the season. Sen'Derrick Marks, who tore his ACL in December, is on the active roster, but unlikely to play the first couple of games. Expectations for the offense are higher than in recent years. Second-year QB Blake Bortles should show progress, rookie RB T.J. Yeldon is the latest featured back, and WR Allen Robinson showed flashes of potential. I'll believe it when I see it. Third overall draft choice Dante Fowler, expected to bolster a defense that desperately needed it, is out for the year with an injury. The Jaguars will get better eventually, but I don't expect obvious progress this season.

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card: INDIANAPOLIS def. San Diego, CINCINNATI def. New York Jets
Divisional: DENVER def. Cincinnati, NEW ENGLAND def. Indianapolis
Championship: DENVER def. New England

NFC Playoffs

Wild Card: PHILADELPHIA def. Dallas, St. Louis def. NEW ORLEANS
Divisional: SEATTLE def. St. Louis, GREEN BAY def. Philadelphia
Championship: SEATTLE def. Green Bay

Super Bowl L

Broncos over Seahawks

* * *

That's right, I'm picking the Bengals to win a playoff game and the Broncos to win the Super Bowl.

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