Looking Back at Preseason Rankings

With only one game left in the 2015 NFL season — Super Bowl 50 — I thought I'd take a look back at my preseason power rankings to see what I got right and wrong. We'll review teams in reverse draft order: Broncos and Panthers at the top, then the Cardinals, the Patriots (who don't have a first-round draft choice because of the Deflategate scandal), and the rest of the playoff teams, all the way down to the Titans, who will choose first in the 2016 draft.

Denver Broncos

Predicted record: 12-4
Actual record: 12-4

Key quote: "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 is a lot of talent on this roster."

Last week, I predicted Carolina would win the Super Bowl, but in preseason, I picked Denver (over Seattle). I thought an explosive Peyton Manning-driven offense, combined with a defensive roster overflowing with talent, would be enough for the Broncos to overcome their playoff demons.

Carolina Panthers

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 15-1

Key quote: "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 ... The front seven on defense is the strength of this team, and if the Panthers succeed, that's where they'll win."

I dramatically underestimated Carolina's offense, which I thought would struggle without Kelvin Benjamin, nor did I foresee the excellence of the secondary, with Josh Norman and Kurt Coleman both earning Pro Bowl bids.

Arizona Cardinals

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 13-3

Key quote: "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."

Following a 2014 season marred by injuries, especially to the quarterbacks, I worried about Arizona's ability to keep key players healthy throughout the 2015 season. As it turned out, Carson Palmer held up until a finger injury late in the season, backup RBs Chris Johnson and David Johnson outplayed the oft-injured Andre Ellington, and Larry Fitzgerald had his best season in years.

New England Patriots

Predicted record: 11-5
Actual record: 12-4

Key quote: "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."

New England's defense was better than most people expected, especially following the loss of starting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. I expected the AFC East to be very strong this year, top to bottom, and I believed the Patriots might have a tougher time of things than they did.

Kansas City Chiefs

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 11-5

Key quote: "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."

There is absolutely no way I would have picked Kansas City to make the playoffs if I'd known Jamaal Charles would miss most of the season, but the team won 10 straight games with Charles out of the lineup. I don't think the injury helped the Chiefs, but it did force them to use their wide receivers more, and I think the offensive balance worked to their benefit.

Green Bay Packers

Predicted record: 10-6
Actual record: 10-6

Key quote: "Green Bay remains the team to beat in the NFC North, though the gap is closing."

I underestimated the impact of Jordy Nelson's injury, and a significant portion of my preseason projection was about Davante Adams. But the Packers got off to a hot start, Aaron Rodgers continued to avoid interceptions, and the defense helped carry Green Bay to a seventh consecutive playoff berth.

Seattle Seahawks

Predicted record: 12-4
Actual record: 10-6

Key quote: "The core of this team remains in place, and there's every reason to expect another strong performance from the Seahawks."

The Seahawks started slow, trying to figure out what to do with Marshawn Lynch in and out of the lineup, and mystified about how to use Jimmy Graham. But I, like almost everyone else, expected Seattle to make the playoffs without too much drama.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 10-6

Key quote: "Can offense carry the Steelers to another playoff appearance? It seems like a tall order. They have a really tough schedule."

It wasn't the Steel Curtain, but Pittsburgh's defense exceeded expectations. Former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, who briefly retired two years ago, had a fine season, and several young players in the secondary stepped up. The Ravens and Browns were worse than I expected (though Baltimore swept the Steelers).

Cincinnati Bengals

Predicted record: 10-6
Actual record: 12-4

Key quote: "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."

The Bengals were even better than I expected, succeeding behind the excellent play of Andy Dalton and a defense rejuvenated by Geno Atkins (fully recovered from an injury two years ago) and Michael Johnson (who rejoined the team after a year in Tampa).

Minnesota Vikings

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 11-5

Key quote: "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."

I questioned whether Adrian Peterson would still be an elite running back, but his performance — which earned unanimous all-pro selection — drove Minnesota's offense. Some of the Vikings' young defensive players developed more quickly than I anticipated, and Linval Joseph's all-pro caliber play lifted Minnesota to its first division title since '09.

Houston Texans

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 9-7

Key quote: "Houston has three winning seasons in the last four years ... Houston could win a lot of games with its defense."

I thought Vince Wilfork and Jadeveon Clowney would be the players complementing J.J. Watt, but instead it was Whitney Mercilus. The Texans took advantage of a weak division to win the AFC South title.

Washington

Predicted record: 4-12
Actual record: 9-7

Key quote: "Cousins seems like a clear upgrade over RG3, but let's be real, no one on this roster is Andrew Luck ... 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."

I wasn't as down on Washington as some people, and in particular, I wasn't especially pessimistic about Kirk Cousins, but I certainly didn't foresee Cousins' excellent season. I also thought very poorly of the defensive backfield. It's still an issue, but Dashon Goldon's on-field play and locker room leadership, combined with the development of Bashaud Breeland and the shoring up of some other positions, helped Washington to a division title few people saw coming.

New York Jets

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 10-6

Key quote: "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."

I had the Jets as a wild card team, and they just missed the playoffs, but this was one of my best preseason forecasts. Ryan Fitzpatrick has quietly played pretty well for a couple years in a row, so adding both him and Brandon Marshall, teamed with a mostly-healthy Eric Decker, transformed an offense that always struggled under Rex Ryan. Several free agent defensive backs significantly bolstered a pass defense that fared poorly in 2014.

Buffalo Bills

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 8-8

Key quote: "Buffalo went 9-7 last season, and a repeat of something in that neighborhood would make sense."

The offense was better than we expected, and the defense worse than we expected, but it worked out to about the same. The Bills took a chance by bringing in Rex Ryan and allowing Jim Schwartz to leave, and it doesn't appear to have paid off.

Indianapolis Colts

Predicted record: 10-6
Actual record: 8-8

Key quote: "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."

Probably the biggest disappointment of the 2015 season, the Colts were a popular Super Bowl pick. I didn't see them at that level, but I also didn't guess that they would struggle just to hit .500.

Atlanta Falcons

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 8-8

Key quote: "It's a rebuilding year for a team that doesn't appear to have a lot of explosive players outside of Julio Jones."

They started 5-0, then went 3-8 the rest of the way, finishing about where I expected but taking an unusual route to get there. The slow finish had to disappoint Falcon fans, but I suspect most Atlantans would have taken an 8-8 record if you'd offered it to them in August.

Detroit Lions

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 7-9

Key quote: "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."

Haloti Ngata proved an inadequate replacement for Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, while Ameer Abdullah had little impact and Calvin Johnson appears to be slowing down. Matthew Stafford had an awful first month.

St. Louis Rams

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 7-9

Key quote: "The Rams take the next step this season, with their first playoff appearance since 2004."

I expected great things from the Rams' defense. Aaron Donald delivered, but the rest of the team did not. Nick Foles failed to provide the upgrade I anticipated at QB. The Rams showed flashes of great promise — they beat Arizona and swept Seattle — but weren't consistent.

Oakland Raiders

Predicted record: 3-13
Actual record: 7-9

Key quote: "The defense still looks like a problem. Khalil Mack is developing the way the team hoped, but he's one man out of 11."

Their last two first-round draft picks, Khalil Mack (2014) and Amari Cooper (2015), both look like wins, which is a major change of direction for this franchise. Derek Carr took a huge step forward. New head coach Jack Del Rio and his staff deserve some credit for the team's unexpected success in a tough division.

Philadelphia Eagles

Predicted record: 10-6
Actual record: 7-9

Key quote: "Maybe the most unpredictable team in the NFL for 2015. Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and Evan Mathis are gone."

I don't think anyone knew quite what to expect from the Eagles in 2015. They went 10-6 in both of Chip Kelly's first two seasons, then dramatically overhauled the roster, especially at key offensive positions. I figured most of it would balance out, especially in a weak NFC East, but the personnel changes didn't work out.

New Orleans Saints

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 7-9

Key quote: "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."

Their record was worse than I expected, but mostly because the NFC South was better than anticipated. The Saints were pretty much what most of us thought: good offense, a little inconsistent, massive problems on defense.

Chicago Bears

Predicted record: 6-10
Actual record: 6-10

Key quote: "Eddie Royal replaces Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte is another year older, and Jay Cutler is another year Jay-ier ... New coach John Fox has an uphill battle to keep this team competitive in 2015."

The Bears are rebuilding, and they're doing so in a competitive division. Their first-round drat choice, Kevin White, didn't play. I think Chicago delivered the kind of season most people expected.

New York Giants

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 6-10

Key quote: "Outside of Beckham, there don't look to be a lot of meaningful weapons on offense ... the run game and defense hold the Giants back from being truly competitive in 2015."

I never understood the optimistic projections for the Giants this season. They don't have a running back, they're rebuilding the offensive line, Odell Beckham is the only plus receiver, and their best defensive player destroyed his hand.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Predicted record: 6-10
Actual record: 6-10

Key quote: "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."

The Bucs weren't quite as bad in 2014 as their 2-14 record implied, and Jameis Winston provided a spark at quarterback. Tampa has some good young players, and should make a playoff run in the near future.

Miami Dolphins

Predicted record: 8-8
Actual record: 6-10

Key quote: "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."

Fired their head coach after Week 4, their defensive coordinator the following week, and finally got around to the offensive coordinator in the final month of the season. Ndamukong Suh played well after the initial coaching changes, but the rest of the team underachieved, and Ryan Tannehill in particular seemed to regress.

San Francisco 49ers

Predicted record: 5-11
Actual record: 5-11

Key quote: "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 ... I think they'll finish last in the NFC West."

The head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator all left. Most of their best players retired or left in free agency. After losing so many key members of the team, it should be no surprise that the 49ers struggled the way they did.

Baltimore Ravens

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 5-11

Key quote: "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."

The Ravens weren't going to finish 9-7 even if they'd had better luck with injuries, but losing Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, and Terrell Suggs probably explains the 5-11 record. First-round pick Breshad Perriman, expected to miss the first month of the season, ended up not playing at all.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Predicted record: 4-12
Actual record: 5-11

Key quote: "Expectations for the offense are higher than in recent years ... I'll believe it when I see it."

I was a skeptic, but for the first time in years, Jacksonville showed an explosive offense. The run game continues to flounder, though, and the defense still requires a lot of work. They desperately need defensive backs.

Dallas Cowboys

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 4-12

Key quote: "Obviously, they're going to look different without DeMarco Murray ... 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."

If I'd known Tony Romo would miss most of the season, obviously my prediction would have been different.

San Diego Chargers

Predicted record: 9-7
Actual record: 4-12

Key quote: "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."

Last year, they had terrible luck with injuries, and missed the playoffs because of an upset loss in Week 17. This year, I thought the injuries would balance back to normal and they'd compete for the playoffs again. Instead, the injury problems continued, and the team bombed.

Cleveland Browns

Predicted record: 7-9
Actual record: 3-13

Key quote: "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 [but] Cleveland could sneak up on people. This team went 7-9 last season, and it's getting better, not worse."

I expected their rookie linemen to turn the defensive front from a liability into a strength, and it didn't happen. They struggled with substandard QB play all year, and the team seemed rudderless, without a clear direction, for much of the season.

Tennessee Titans

Predicted record: 4-12
Actual record: 3-13

Key quote: "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."

They commited the most turnovers in the NFL, and stumbled to a 3-13 record despite their weak division schedule. It's no surprise: they just didn't have enough good players to be competitive this year.

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