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Week 1 NFL Power Rankings: Patriots start in No. 3 spot

WEEI
September 04, 2018 - 9:31 am
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By Tim Tully

It's that time of year again. Power rankings time!

As we head into Week 1, here's how the NFL power structure looks . . .

The Powerhouses

1. Philadelphia Eagles: Often the team coming off the Super Bowl experiences a storm of hype that causes it to falter out of the gate. I do not expect Nick Foles to carry the Eagles until Carson Wentz comes back, and Foles’ rusty preseason shows that. A certain element of the Eagles’ run last year was guys playing up and above their abilities. It’ll be interesting to see if that level of competition will remain now that the Eagles are the defending champions. However, a Super Bowl championship earns you a ring, and the Week 1 pole position in the power rankings. 

2. New Orleans Saints: It’ll be hard to find someone higher on the Saints than I am. New Orleans was a chuck and pray away from playing for the NFC title last season and it is going to be back with a vengeance this fall. Michael Thomas is coming off another great year and is being recognized as one of the leagues best receivers. Outside of Tom Brady, Drew Brees is the most consistent quarterback in the NFL and he has the weapons that Brady dreams about while he sleeps in his recovery pajamas. The Saints defense boasts a talented secondary and with Cam Jordan aiding rookie Marcus Davenport in his growth, the pass rush could finally be a strength rather than a weakness in the Big Easy. 

3. New England Patriots: Speaking of Tom Brady, for all the questions surrounding this Patriots team, the answers once again lie on the shoulders of Brady. The Patriots open with Chris Hogan as the top receiver on the roster after trying out numerous veterans in camp. Julian Edelman’s suspension handicaps New England out of the gate but as with every other challenge the Patriots have had since 2001, Brady will get through it and thrive through it. The defense remains a bit of a question mark, but you’ll have a pretty good feeling either way based on how they look trying to slow down Deshaun Watson and the Texans on Sunday.

4. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings return what was the most complete roster in the league last year, in every spot except quarterback, where they may feature a slight upgrade with Kirk Cousins over Case Keenum. To add to their already strong offense, the Vikings have Dalvin Cook healthy after an ACL tear cut his rookie season short last year just as Cook was cementing himself as a big play threat for the Vikings. On defense, as with any Mike Zimmer group, they are stacked and sound, their pass rushing pair of Everson Griffin and Danille Hunter will set up the rest of their unit nicely early in the season. 

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Remember the Jaguars? The team that was a quarter away from the Super Bowl last season before Tom Brady happened? Jacksonville comes into 2018 with a very similar roster as 2017 with the exception of their receiving core, Allen Robinson (Bears), Allen Hurns (Cowboys), and Marquise Lee (IR) are gone, but Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette made lemonade last season with most of their receivers being featured on the inactive list throughout. It’ll be nice to see Jalen Ramsey actually running on the field rather than on magazine pages, and although controversial, he may be the best corner in the NFL, and if not, batterymate AJ Bouye makes a case of his own for that title. 

6. Los Angeles Rams: Of all the teams in the NFL, nobody made more big moves in the offseason than the Rams. Additions of Brandin Cooks, Ndamakong Suh, and Aqib Talib have the Rams in ‘Going For it’ territory in Year 2 under whiz kid coach Sean McVay. Their offense will be a top unit in the league and with Aaron Donald given the key to Los Angeles last week, the defense will be just as tough to crack as it was last year.  

The Contenders

7. Atlanta Falcons: It took the Falcons a while last year to check for the monsters underneath the bed after their Super Bowl collapse. Matt Ryan has a fat new contract and a flashy new toy in rookie receiver Calvin Ridley, that will keep Atlanta in the contenders category all season long. Don’t sleep on the Falcons defense either, Vic Beasley and Co. remain a strong unit, which is a big need in what might be the best division in football. 

8. Green Bay Packers: Speaking of fat new contracts, Aaron Rodgers is healthy after missing much of last season to a broken collarbone. Rodgers will get to play with Jimmy Graham, who will help keep defenses honest as they try and stop DeVante Adams. The questions with the Packers are whether they can consistently run the ball and there are depth concerns on defense, but much like the Patriots, if their No. 12 is healthy, they are as hard to beat as anybody in the league. 

9. Kansas City Chiefs: It’s been almost a year since the Chiefs exploded for a Week 1 win over the defending champion Patriots in Foxboro, and this Sunday the Chiefs will enter a new era as a franchise with rocket-armed Patrick Mahomes taking the snaps. Mahomes and Tyreke Hill are going to have videogame like stats, and paired with Kareem Hunt in year two, that’s a scary thought. If Mahomes can keep his turnovers under control, the Chiefs should coast to an AFC West Championship. 

10. Pittsburgh Steelers: I’m not as high on Pittsburgh as a lot of guys. The Kellerman “Cliff” appears to be approaching faster for Ben Roethlisberger than for Tom Brady, and the cloud of doubt over whether holdout running back Le’Veon Bell will play this season makes Pittsburgh's fortunes hard to gauge. The Steelers do in fact still have the best receiver in football in Antonio Brown as well as an upcoming star in JuJu Smith-Schuster that should keep their offense afloat. However, the vaunted “Steel Curtain” is much closer to a shower curtain without their best player, Ryan Shazier, who suffered a spinal cord injury last season and will not play in the foreseeable future. 

11. Houston Texans: We’re going to learn a lot about Houston in Week 1. The Texans seem to get bit by the injury bug harder than anyone, but their stars will all be healthy when they take on the Patriots in the opener. Deshaun Watson was lighting it up before his season-ending knee injury last year. J.J. Watt is healthier and looks bigger and stronger than ever. DeAndre Hopkins creates a tough matchup for the Patriots defense in Week 1 and if he can get comfortable early on in the game, the Texans might be closer to the top 5 in the Week 2 rankings. 

12. Los Angeles Chargers: There’s a case to be made that the Chargers boast one of the best defenses in the NFL. They have twin nightmares in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming of the edge, a steady group of linebackers, and my pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Derwin James in the secondary. On offense, the Chargers are healthy but you have to wonder how much Phillip Rivers still has in the tank. If he shows he’s the same guy from the second half of last season, the Chargers will avoid the slow start that plagued them last season as they just missed the postseason even though they may have been the league’s hottest team in Week 17. 

The Hopefuls

13. Carolina Panthers: Carolina is standing on the edge of the NFL. It could very easily lean one way and fall back into its Super Bowl form from a few years ago, or it could just as easily lean the other and crash and burn into a top-10 draft pick. That goes for the chunk of teams on this list. Cam Newton is an exciting player but lacks the consistency week to week that Rodgers, Wilson, and Brady show. Luke Kuechly has struggled to stay in the lineup and that offensive line, WOOF. 

14. Tennessee Titans: Another year that we must look around and quietly ask “Is Marcus Mariota good?” It seems like the former Heisman winner is stuck in the odd QB purgatory that we’ve seen many signal callers disappear into. Derrick Henry will team well with Mike Vrabel’s defensive minded staff and the Titans could be a surprise team in the AFC this season. 

15. Dallas Cowboys: Dallas saw an up and down 2017 from quarterback Dak Prescott, but the heartbeat of the team is Ezekiel Elliott. If Elliott can get his mind right after a wild legal battle that clouded his 2017 season, Dallas should be back to their 2016 form. Don’t sleep on their defense, which has the potential to be a top unit with the improved health of Jaylon Smith, the return of Randy Gregory and Kris Richard’s impact on the secondary. 

16. Denver Broncos: Denver added Bradley Chubb and Case Keenum in the offseason but neither side of the ball really strikes you as a top unit in the league. The Broncos struggled mightily last year, mostly due to poor quarterback play, with Keenum they still don’t blow you out of the water but he shouldn't hurt them any more than Peyton Manning did in his final season. Still, that defense isn’t what it used to be. 

17. Detroit Lions: Matt Patricia gets his first crack as a head coach and it seems like the hype faded a bit because of the Josh McDaniels-Colts disaster. The Lions have quietly added to their running game with LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson to help out Matt Stafford, who played well last season despite a down year for the team.

18. Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson is back, but that’s about it for Seattle, which looks like it will begin its season without safety Earl Thomas, who is the last remaining member of their once vaunted “Legion of Boom.” 

19. San Francisco 49ers: Everyone’s favorite team this offseason. I fear the early hype coming out of San Francisco will hurt the team early on. Alfred Morris is going to have a career year now that he’s back with Kyle Shanahan. If you’re looking for fantasy value, go with Alf instead of heartthrob Jimmy G. 

20. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are giving Joe Flacco one last shot. They bolstered Flacco’s receiving corps, but fans in Baltimore will spend most of the season wondering what the offense could look like with Lamar Jackson running the show. 

21. Washington Redskins: Alex Smith was the man tagged to replace Kirk Cousins this offseason. In exchange for Smith the Skins surrendered one of their best defensive players in Kendall Fuller, leaving a big void in their secondary outside of Josh Norman. In the trenches the Redskins do feature one of the best OL-DL combinations, it’s just a matter of what the other guys can do for them.

22. Chicago Bears: Chicago just added one of the league’s best to their team with the shocking trade for Raiders pass rusher Khalil Mack, and that makes them wild card contenders in Matt Nagy’s first year in the Windy City. Mitch Tribisky and Nagy look to be a perfect match. The Bears offense could be really tough to stop with Jordan Howard now being helped by a passing game that features Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and rookie Anthony Miller.

The Troubled

23. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders could very well be a ticking time bomb. Jon Gruden has led a questionable offseason in advance of the move to Sin City. 

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati is once again loaded with potential but it also once again enters the season with serious concerns as to whether it can protect Andy Dalton. If Dalton can stay on his feet, the offense with AJ Green, John Ross, and Joe Mixon might be able to get the Bengals into the 30 points per game club, which is essential considering their weakened defense. 

25. Buffalo Bills: The Bills are going to start Nathan Peterman to begin the season. Yes. That Nathan Peterman. What could possibly go wrong? 

26. New York Giants: Another offseason where everyone wants to crown the Giants as back to Super Bowl form. This looks like the last rodeo for Eli Manning, and he’ll have some help with freshly minted Odell Beckham Jr and his new buddy Saquon Barkley to throw and hand off to, but the Giants still have major flaws on the offensive line in a division with some of the NFL's best edge rushers. Starting off with Jacksonville won’t help. 

27. Arizona Cardinals: The Cards have a new QB, and they get their best player back in RB David Johnson. The NFC West is a tough division with three strong QB’s in Goff, Garrappolo, and Wilson, and this is the first year the Cardinals will take the field without Tyrann Mathieu. New coach Steve Wilks is going to lean on Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones to try and stop opposing offenses, but the Cardinals have already had a few big injuries that put them in a compromising start to the season. 

28. Indianapolis Colts: The Colts are the team with the biggest question mark in the NFL: what's really going on with Andrew Luck? Luck looked healthy in the preseason but he noticeably lacked that zip that has been his biggest strength in his NFL career. If Luck is back to normal the Colts could sneak out with eight or nine wins, but their defense remains a weakness, which has been a problem since Bob Sanders was the Colts’ star safety, and with that problem against a very strong schedule of offenses, the Colts face an uphill climb. 

29. Miami Dolphins: Who is Ryan Tannehill? The oft-injured, oft-criticized QB is back after missing 2017 and forcing the Dolphins through a season long episode of Very Cavallari that kept the Phins out of the QB lottery in April’s draft. We will quickly learn whether this is the year that Tannehill makes the jump that's supposedly been around the corner since his second year in the league. The Dolphins also let their best player get away by choosing not to re-sign Jarvis Landry in the offseason. It looks like it’s going to be a long season in South Beach. 

30. New York Jets: After almost a decade, the Jets have found a quarterback they are comfortable with and excited about. Hopefully Sam Darnold is not like their last young quarterback out of USC that the city fell in love with (where have you gone, Mark Sanchez?). There will be some growing pains with Darnold, as he is surrounded by less than exciting talent, but the Jets will win one or two of those big games that will have them on everyone’s sleeper list going into 2019, much like the 49ers last year. 

31. Cleveland Browns: It’s hard not to be excited about the Browns. They were winless last year, they are everyone’s favorite team because of Hard Knocks, and they actually added some real talent. Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon are a scary combination on the outside. On top of that the Browns have finally found a quarterback, if not two in Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield. However, this team did go 0-16 last season so there is nowhere to go but up so even just a win is an improvement. The question is can the Browns start out hot and give themselves a shot in what looks to be a down year for the AFC North. 

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Last year’s all hype team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, did not do much to better themselves for this season. Their first-round pick, Vita Vea, missed all of the preseason and it’s unclear when he will return and how effective he will be once he does. Quarterback Jameis Winston is facing a three-game suspension, and the team will start Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first three weeks. The Bucs face New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh to start the season, and may be scouting the top three of next year's draft before Winston even returns.

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