2016 NFL Preseason Power Rankings

A lot changes in the seven months between the Super Bowl and the regular season. After the NFL's expansion and realignment in 2002, only about half the playoff field from the previous year reached the postseason again the following season. But in recent years, it's more than half: 7-8 teams instead of 4-5.


This season, I'm picking 10 of the 12 playoff teams to repeat, which isn't really going to happen, but it's not as crazy an idea as it once was. I also have a lot of teams close to .500; I think you'll see fewer really good records than usual this season. There are some awfully bad teams, but I have trouble seeing any 13-3s this year. 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. Seattle Seahawks [12-4] — A great team with one big problem: offensive line. They used a first-round draft pick on Germain Ifedi, expected to start at right guard in Week 1, but they needed to do more. They also don't have much depth, so injuries at any position (except maybe DB) could quickly become problematic. But they still have Russell Wilson, they have brilliant defensive starters, and they have a good coaching staff. Seattle has the misfortune of sharing a division with the Cardinals, who are also very good, but unless Wilson misses extended time, it's hard for me to see this team missing the playoffs. They're a Super Bowl contender.

The Seahawks are also my Week 1 selection in survivor pools. They're playing at home, against the Dolphins, and they're favored by 10½ points. I know some people will want to save the Seahawks for later in the season, but Week 1 is so unpredictable, you need a safe choice, and Seattle is the only really safe choice out there.

2. Green Bay Packers [12-4] — Something was wrong with the Packers' offense last year. After the bye, Aaron Rodgers averaged just 5.03 net yards per attempt, with an 81.9 passer rating. He finished the season on a streak of seven straight games without passing for 300 yards, eight games without 3 or more TD passes, and 10 straight games with a passer rating below 100. The Packers went 4-6 after the bye, and didn't score more than 30 points in any regular-season game after September. Now Jordy Nelson is back, Eddie Lacy seems to be in shape, and Rodgers should return to form.

Green Bay made the most shocking roster cut of any team, dropping guard Josh Sitton on the September 3rd deadline. Sitton was by far their best offensive lineman, with three straight all-pro selections, and it's not obvious who can fill his place. Insult to injury, Sitton signed with the Bears. The Packers also retained only five defensive linemen, and as of this writing they don't have a long snapper. There are reasons to expect great things from the Packers this season, but there are also some pretty clear areas of concern.

3. Arizona Cardinals [12-4] — Is Carson Palmer okay? Late last season, an injured finger hindered Palmer, an MVP candidate. He committed six turnovers in the Cardinals' playoff loss, and he hasn't looked right in the preseason. The Cardinals have so much talent, they should make the playoffs regardless of Palmer's status, but if he can return to all-pro form, they're a Super Bowl contender. Depth on the offensive and defensive lines might be a concern.

4. Carolina Panthers [11-5] — They had a rough offseason, losing three starting defensive backs — including all-pro Josh Norman — as well as veteran pass rusher Jared Allen. But their offense gets a major upgrade with the return of Kelvin Benjamin, who missed last season with a torn ACL. I have great respect for Cam Newton, and I think the offense will be fine. But I think the defense will decline, I believe they'll have trouble keeping everyone healthy, and I don't expect the Panthers to be Super Bowl contenders.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers [10-6] — Bad news this weekend, as the team placed linebacker Bud Dupree, the 22nd overall pick in 2015, on the reserve/injured list to start the season. Le'Veon Bell is suspended for the first four games, which probably isn't a big deal, and Martavis Bryant is suspended all season, which probably is. The Steelers' biggest concern is probably the defensive backfield. They made efforts to upgrade in the offseason: signing Mike Mitchell, trading for Justin Gilbert, and using their first two draft picks on cornerbacks. But none of those look like 2016 impact players, and it's a sign that the team recognizes a weakness. Fortunately, the AFC North isn't a pass-happy division (as long as you can cover A.J. Green). As they were in 2015, the Steelers should be a playoff bubble team.

6. Washington [9-7] — Last year, DeSean Jackson missed half the season. If Jordan Reed and Jackson stay healthy — a substantial if — Washington could have one of the top receiving corps in the NFL, with Pierre Garçon, Jamison Crowder, and first-round draft pick Josh Doctson also in the mix. The team substantially upgraded its defensive backfield in the offseason, most notably by signing Josh Norman. But there's a troubling lack of depth in the front seven, and question marks at running back. If everyone stays healthy, Washington should run away with its second straight division title, maybe win the division by four or five games. On the other hand, it wouldn't take a lot of bad breaks for this team to look the way people expected in 2015. I've embraced a more optimistic projection here, but partly just because I can't envision anyone else in the NFC East making the playoffs.

7. Houston Texans [10-6] — Arian Foster is gone, replaced by former Dolphin Lamar Miller, and Brock Osweiler steps in as the starting quarterback. Duane Brown and J.J. Watt are healthy enough, we think, and who knows whether Jadeveon Clowney might finally capitalize on the potential that made him the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Honestly, though, in the AFC South, DeAndre Hopkins and Watt are enough for the Texans to be competitive. If Will Fuller can provide a legitimate threat across from Hopkins, and Clowney or Whitney Mercilus across from Watt, Houston could be one of the best teams in the AFC.

8. Cincinnati Bengals [10-6] — They might have a problem in the secondary. Reggie Nelson, who tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last season, left in free agency, as did cornerback Leon Hall. The team used its first draft pick on William Jackson to help fill the gap, but Jackson begins the season on injured reserve. On offense, coordinator Hue Jackson is gone and Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert is injured. I think the Bengals have enough juice left for a winning record and a sixth consecutive playoff appearance, but they'll need Andy Dalton to play at the level he did in 2015, not 2014.

9. Kansas City Chiefs [10-6] — The Broncos had a rough offseason, as Super Bowl teams often do, which could open the door for Kansas City to win the AFC West. Alex Smith is 32, which is not old for a quarterback, but Smith wasn't a great QB when he was 27, and mobility is a big part of his game; Smith rushed for nearly 500 yards last season. Jamaal Charles has trouble staying healthy, and fourth-round draft choice Parker Ehinger is projected as the starting right guard. Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are nearing an age where you expect them to lose effectiveness, and Justin Houston is out for the first six weeks on PUP. Under Andy Reid, the Chiefs have gone 11-5, 9-7, and 11-5 again. I'll predict another winning record, but I think 9-7 is more likely than 11-5.

10. Denver Broncos [9-7] — Other than the Ravens in 2013, I can't think of a defending Super Bowl champion with so many question marks at the beginning of next season. Peyton Manning is gone, obviously, but so is backup QB Brock Osweiler. Trevor Siemian, a 7th-round pick last year, is the starting quarterback. The receivers are great, but Siemian is going to get killed behind their offensive line. Okay, I hear you saying, but Denver's offense sucked last year, too. That defense gives them a chance against anybody.

True. But this defense doesn't have Malik Jackson or Danny Trevathan, underrated players who both had Pro Bowl-caliber seasons last year. DeMarcus Ware is 34 and clearly slowing down. I'm curious to see what the offense looks like when you replace Peyton Manning with Trevor Siemian, but I have a guess and it shouldn't make Bronco fans happy. They're a playoff bubble team.

11. Indianapolis Colts [9-7] — On August 29, they waived both Lumpkins, Keith Lumpkin and Ricky Lumpkin. You really have to question the judgment of a team that passes on the opportunity to field two Lumpkins. But there's every reason to expect a healthy and productive season from Andrew Luck, bouncing back from last year's disappointment. The Colts are relying on some aging defensive leaders, but as long as they can stay healthy, they should easily top last year's 8-8 performance.

12. New England Patriots [11-5] — I'm excited to see what they do this year. Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich are suspended for the first four games, while left tackle Nate Solder and scatback Dion Lewis both begin the year on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, meaning they'll miss at least the first six weeks of the season. The Patriots didn't have a first-round draft pick because of the ludicrous Deflategate scandal, and they chose strangely with the picks they did have. Most of their starting defensive line from last season is gone, either traded (Chandler Jones), released (Dominique Easley), or suspended (Ninkovich). DT Chris Jones, who missed last season due to injury, was released as well.

But the Patriots made some positive acquisitions, including defensive lineman Chris Long, who hasn't had double-digit sacks since 2012, but is expected to start. The Pats shored up their offensive line, and most intriguing, they traded for tight end Martellus Bennett. A couple years ago, the New England offense paired Rob Gronkowski with Aaron Hernandez, and was basically unstoppable. They could run behind two tight ends, they could pass, and no one could stop them. With Gronkowski and Bennett, they could recreate that dynamic. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo should be able to keep the ship steady until Brady returns, and when New England is full-strength, this could be a scary-dominant team.

13. Miami Dolphins [7-9] — I liked their offseason, and in particular, I liked their draft. But the Dolphins have a pattern, over the last decade, of changing too much. They have a mediocre season, so they overhaul the roster or the coaching staff or both. They need to commit to something and give it a chance to work. Miami has plenty of talent on paper, and new coach Adam Gase had an excellent record as offensive coordinator in both Denver and Chicago. It's a question of whether everything meshes, and how quickly. I'm not predicting the Dolphins to make the playoffs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do: there are a lot of parts here that could fall into place and produce something awfully good.

14. Oakland Raiders [8-8] — They went 7-9 last season, which is real improvement for a franchise that hasn't posted a winning record since 2002. There are pieces here for them to be a pretty good team: Derek Carr and Amari Cooper take the next step, the offensive line stays healthy, free agents Bruce Irvin (Seattle) and Reggie Nelson (Cincinnati) mesh quickly, first-round draft pick Karl Joseph fills in for Charles Woodson. I think Oakland is still a year away from the playoffs, but if everything clicks, they could post a winning record this season.

15. Minnesota Vikings [8-8] — Coming off an NFC North title, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is out for the year with a knee injury. Newly-acquired Sam Bradford is his most likely replacement, though journeyman Shaun Hill will probably get the nod in Week 1. Bradford himself has spent a third of his career sidelined by injuries, and he hasn't played well even when healthy. Bradford has intriguing targets in young receivers Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell, but he also has less than a week to learn the offense. Leading rusher Adrian Peterson is 31, and leading interceptor Terence Newman is 38. Chad Greenway is 33. There are some good young players, too, but their window with this group is closing. Look for defense to carry the team in 2016.

16. Detroit Lions [8-8] — Obviously, the offense will look different without Calvin Johnson. Golden Tate now becomes the number one receiver, which I'm not sure is a good fit, complemented by veteran Anquan Boldin and former Bengal Marvin Jones. Detroit used the draft to upgrade its strength up front, on both sides of the ball. The Lions went 6-2 after the bye last season, but that was mostly about strength of schedule. I see them around .500 in 2016.

17. New York Jets [8-8] — Nine of last year's 22 opening-day starters are no longer with the team, including 1,000-yard rusher Chris Ivory, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, second-leading tackler Marcus Gilchrist, third-leading tackler Demario Davis, fourth-leading tackler Calvin Pryor, sixth-leading tackler Damon Harrison, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was also the team's leading kickoff returner. You might expect that kind of turnover from a bad team, but the Jets went 10-6 last year: you don't want to overhaul a team that's already good. Expect the offense to underperform last season's success, without Ferguson, and with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall regressing somewhat toward the mean. I think the Jets fall to third place in the division, at or below .500.

18. Baltimore Ravens [7-9] — They went 4-0 in preseason, but with underwhelming talent at the offensive skill positions and an aging defense, it's hard to see that carrying over into the regular season. Joe Flacco will be passing to: 37-year-old Steve Smith; free agent acquisition Mike Wallace, whose last 1,000-yard season was five years ago; Kamar Aiken, who should be a backup; and last year's first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who's coming back from injury and whose skill set is essentially identical to Wallace's — the Wallace signing implies that the team doesn't have faith in Perriman. The Ravens are rebuilding, and if I were a Baltimore fan, I'd be pleased with an 8-8 finish.

19. Buffalo Bills [8-8] — For the second consecutive year, Marcell Dareus is suspended to begin the season. This time, he'll miss four games. Dareus is a great talent, but that doesn't do any good if he's not on the field. First-round draft pick Shaq Lawson begins the year on the PUP list, so he's not available, either. The team cut veteran DE Mario Williams in March. If the Bills are going anywhere this season, they'll have to do it with offense. Maybe Tyrod Taylor takes the next step, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins stay healthy, and a secondary receiving threat emerges from their undistinguished corps of WRs. That's too many ifs. I see the Bills at or below .500.

20. Los Angeles Rams [6-10] — Traded up for the first pick in this year's draft, selecting quarterback Jared Goff. Following an awful preseason, Goff is slated to be the second- or third-string QB. That leaves Case Keenum as the starter. His top receiving targets figure to be Tavon Austin, who has 1,133 yards in three years, and Kenny Britt, whose career-high of 775 yards came six years ago. The Rams don't have a good offensive line, either: by trading up for Goff, they ignored all their other needs. I worry about Todd Gurley. Defenses can key on him, and Jeff Fisher has an ugly history of working his running backs to death. The Rams take a step back this year, and they don't appear poised for success any time in the near future.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [7-9] — Moving in the right direction. Jameis Winston had a promising rookie season, and they have first-rate stars on defense. I didn't love their draft, but they did some nice things in free agency, signing probable starters Robert Ayers, Daryl Smith, and Brent Grimes. They also used two of their first four picks on cornerbacks, including Florida's Vernon Hargreaves 11th overall. Expect their defense, and especially the pass defense, to be substantially better this year. If you're looking for a really deep dark horse, go with Tampa Bay to win the NFC South.

22. New York Giants [8-8] — Allowed 442 points in 2015, third-worst in the NFL. Their offseason moves look like treading water, and outside of Odell Beckham, there don't look to be a lot of meaningful weapons on offense. I think the run game and defense hold the Giants back from being truly competitive in 2016. They might manage a 9-7 record in the weak NFC East, but they're not a good team.

23. San Diego Chargers [7-9] — The Chargers went 4-12 last year. For the second straight season, injuries were a massive problem. Ken Whisenhunt returns as offensive coordinator following a brief stint as head coach in Tennessee. Antonio Gates is 36, and Philip Rivers turns 35 in December; his play noticeably declined toward the end of the last two seasons. Melvin Gordon is a wildcard, and it's hard to see the offense being productive unless he has a big year, but it's unlikely behind one of the least impressive offensive lines in the league. The defense has some young guys with potential, but no one you can really count on. It's a rebuilding season for the Bolts.

24. Atlanta Falcons [6-10] — Veteran wideout Roddy White is gone, but they signed veteran defenders Dwight Freeney and Dashon Goldson. Freeney and Goldson need to provide not only leadership, but results on the field. In 2014, the Falcons allowed the most yards of any defense. In 2015, they generated the fewest sacks. I don't see that they've done enough to correct the problem, so unless Julio Jones can play safety, they're probably looking at another year close to .500.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars [6-10] — The offense showed legitimate progress last season, especially in the passing game. They added RB Chris Ivory, but focused on defense this offseason. Jacksonville signed Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, and Prince Amukamara, plus six of their seven picks spent on defense, including first-round cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who should start immediately. After years of awfulness, the Jags are finally moving in the right direction.

26. Philadelphia Eagles [7-9] — A second straight season of dramatic changes. They replaced head coach Chip Kelly with former Andy Reid assistant Doug Pederson. Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray are gone as quickly as they arrived, joined by defensive starters Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell, and DeMeco Ryans. They acquired some veterans in free agency, and traded for second-year WR Dorial Green-Beckham. Rookie QB Carson Wentz is the presumptive starter for an offense with a lot of question marks. When the Eagles traded Bradford, they admitted this is a rebuilding season. Philadelphia might be good a couple years down the line, but not this season.

27. New Orleans Saints [6-10] — Drew Brees will turn 38 at the end of the season. How long can he continue to play at an elite level? It's an important question, because the offense revolves around Brees. Equally important, though, is whether the Saints have fixed their unbelievably bad defense. I remain amazed that the team didn't draft a cornerback. The Saints went 7-9 last year, and it could have been worse. This year, it gets worse.

28. Chicago Bears [6-10] — Still in the process of rebuilding. This is Year Two for head coach John Fox, but the team has lost its successful offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, to the head coaching position in Miami. The Bears can expect better on-field talent this season, with top-10 draft choice Leonard Floyd, the return of last year's first-round draft choice (WR Kevin White, who didn't play in 2015), and the offseason signing of former Denver Bronco Danny Trevathan, who played for Fox in Denver. But they don't have an elite quarterback, Gase could be a major loss, Pernell McPhee begins the year on PUP, and the NFC North is a tough place to rebuild. They'll probably be better than last year, but still a year away from the playoffs.

29. Cleveland Browns [5-11] — The Browns are sort of fascinating. Robert Griffin looked excellent in preseason, and his top receivers are first-round draft choice Corey Coleman and converted QB Terrelle Pryor. He'll also have tight end Gary Barnidge — who gained 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns last year, compared to 603 yards and 3 TDs in seven unproductive seasons before that — and running back Duke Johnson, who should be a factor in PPR fantasy leagues. The defense is unimpressive on paper, but young. New head coach Hue Jackson has an impressive record. The Browns aren't going to the playoffs this season, but they might be a lot better than last year, and if they are, they'll probably be a pretty fun team to watch.

30. Dallas Cowboys [6-10] — Everyone knows that Tony Romo's injuries killed the Cowboys' season in 2015. Many fans don't know that the Dallas defense also generated the fewest takeaways in the NFL (11). There are problems on both sides of the ball. Romo is injured again, leaving Dak Prescott as the starting QB, and the defense hasn't made any obvious upgrades, plus several key players are suspended. Mark Sanchez will probably take the reins from Prescott at some point, but Sanchez doesn't inspire any more confidence than Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore did last season. Look for the Cowboys to finish last in the NFC East.

31. San Francisco 49ers [4-12] — It's never a good sign when everyone is talking about the backup quarterback. Colin Kaepernick made headlines recently for reasons that have nothing to do with his play. Blaine Gabbert is slated to begin the regular season as their starting quarterback, and if that inspires confidence in the team, you have optimism to spare. The 49ers have a new head coach, Chip Kelly, who might be able to make lemonade out of a roster filled with lemons. But the Niners don't even have lemons. They have, I don't know, gooseberries. San Francisco doesn't have a lot of talent on the roster, there's a leadership void because they've lost so many veterans the last two offseasons, and they play in a pretty tough division. This is going to be another rough year, probably similar to last season.

32. Tennessee Titans [3-13] — They might not be the worst team in the NFL, and I guess there's a chance they might not be bottom-five. I can't envisiion a scenario in which they're average or better. The defense actually is not terrible, but the offense is a mess. In particular, there is no one for Marcus Mariota to throw to. You're going to hear this season about Mariota looking like a bust, but it might not be his fault on this talent-starved unit. If the Titans are okay, it will be with good play from their young offensive line — where this is some promise — a productive ground game, fancy playmaking by Mariota, and a defensive lockdown, with everyone on the unit bringing his A-game. Don't hold your breath; this is still a multi-year rebuilding project.

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card: Indianapolis def. KANSAS CITY, Pittsburgh def. HOUSTON
Divisional: NEW ENGLAND def. Indianapolis, CINCINNATI def. Pittsburgh
Championship: NEW ENGLAND def. Cincinnati

NFC Playoffs

Wild Card: CAROLINA def. Giants, Arizona def. WASHINGTON
Divisional: SEATTLE def. Arizona, GREEN BAY def. Carolina
Championship: SEATTLE def. Green Bay

Super Bowl LI

Patriots over Seahawks

* * *

If those picks are too conventional for you, give the Raiders the AFC West, the Buccaneers the NFC South, and the Dolphins a wild card.

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