Way-Too-Early NFL Power Rankings for 2018

The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots look to be the top two teams as the focus now shifts to next season

NFL Power Rankings: Bill Belichick

Super Bowl LII is in the books and what an amazing game that was as Philadelphia finally got to hoist up that elusive Lombardi Trophy in one of the most remarkable postseason runs of all time as the underdogs became top dogs. While the Eagles will still have plenty of time to celebrate their title, the result on Sunday also closes the 2017 NFL season for good and allows us to make the quick transition to looking ahead toward 2018.

 

Doing as much as one can to sort through the teams and factoring in everything from overall roster strength, to quarterback play, to the coaching staff, to free agent and NFL draft moves, here is the first early look at the NFL power rankings for 2018 and where every franchise stacks up from 1 to 32.

 

Way-Too-Early 2018 NFL Power Rankings

 

NFL Power Rankings: Eagles1. Philadelphia Eagles

Last year: 13-3, Super Bowl champions

 

It will be a bit different for the franchise going forward as the Eagles look to defend their championship, transitioning from the underdogs to the ones being hunted by every team in the league. While there are a few key free agent decisions upcoming, the bulk of the roster looks pretty set and the front office has proven to be great at scouting when it comes to the draft. The health of Carson Wentz is less of a concern with Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles likely the best insurance policy in the league.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Patriots2. New England Patriots

Last year: 13-3, AFC champion

 

It will be an offseason of change in Foxborough with both coordinators expected to depart and a likely re-tooling of the defense forthcoming. Despite plenty of rumors though, this team will still have Bill Belichick (above, right) leading the way and Tom Brady at quarterback coming off an MVP season even in the final stage of his career. They’ll benefit from being in the AFC East once again and from being in the weaker of the two conferences when it comes to title contenders as well.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Steelers3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Last year: 13-3, lost in divisional round

 

Whether the “Killer B’s” return intact for 2018 remains to be seen with Le’Veon Bell’s situation but this doesn’t look like a team that will take a huge step back even if they have to find a new tailback. Big Ben still has plenty in the tank and Antonio Brown remains one of the most dangerous defensive weapons. After getting exposed on defense in the playoffs, something says that side of the ball will be much better after an offseason’s worth of work as well.

 

4. Atlanta Falcons

Last year: 10-6, lost in divisional round

 

NFL Power Rankings: FalconsAll things considered, the Falcons didn’t have an awful Super Bowl hangover after blowing that lead to the Patriots but are probably kicking themselves at not being able to go deeper in the playoffs. Still, Matt Ryan and most of the offense is set to return and you have to think they’ll be much crisper after a rather disjointed campaign under coordinator Steve Sarkisian. They’ll be battle-tested in that NFC South but this is certainly an NFC contender in 2018.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Jaguars5. Jacksonville Jaguars

Last year: 10-6, lost in AFC Championship Game

 

The future has never been brighter for the Jaguars, who have combined all those high draft picks with some excellent free agent signings to form a dangerous roster that will have one of the best defenses in the league again next year. There is still a huge question mark at quarterback but if the front office goes all in on a free agent to replace Blake Bortles, this just might become the favorite in the AFC.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Vikings6. Minnesota Vikings

Last year: 13-3, lost in NFC Championship Game

 

How will the Vikings follow up the Minneapolis Miracle? We’ll find out quickly enough based on what the team does at quarterback with all three of their guys from this past season set to hit free agency. If they can bring back one or two, the offense shouldn’t skip a beat despite losing their coordinator and the defense will certainly be one of the best in the conference with Mike Zimmer and a ton of talent on hand.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Panthers7. Carolina Panthers

Last year: 11-5, lost in wild-card round

 

The Panthers landing a little higher than some might think is a little bit of a combination of Cam Newton returning closer to the MVP level he displayed a few years ago and the hire of Norv Turner to help an offense that was not as consistent as it should have been under Mike Shula. The defense should remain pretty solid and another good draft class could make this a team that could look beyond a division title.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Rams8. Los Angeles Rams

Last year: 11-5, lost in wild-card round

 

The Rams had the Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and the Coach of the Year in 2017 as the biggest surprise story in the league. While that turnaround was capped off with a division title, it didn’t translate to postseason success. The team is still young and growing and will be an NFC contender once again in 2018 even if the league will figure out the Rams a bit more instead of taking teams by surprise like they did last year.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Saints9. New Orleans Saints

Last year: 11-5, lost in divisional round

 

We’ll start with assuming that Drew Brees does in fact return at quarterback despite his looming free agency but the foundation of the Saints has never been better thanks in part to that incredible rookie class of 2017. The one-two punch at running back of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram is one of the best in the NFL and the progress made on defense was pretty notable. All things considered, New Orleans will once again be in the thick of things in the division and conference races once again.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Packers10. Green Bay Packers

Last year: 7-9

 

As Aaron Rodgers goes, so do the Packers but having a healthy No. 12 for an entire year makes all the difference in the world as they will once again be gunning for another NFC North crown and likely more. The draft and free agency will be keys in filling minor holes but this is still a solid football team and the recent coaching changes at both coordinator spots will be huge in jump-starting Green Bay back to their winning ways.

 

NFL Power Rankings: 49ers11. San Francisco 49ers

Last year: 6-10

 

If you’re looking at which team could follow the Rams’ blueprint and go from middling to the top of the division, look no further than the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo went 5-0 in his short tenure as the starter and no matter what kind of contract he and the team work out to get him back, an offseason with Kyle Shanahan will do wonders. The defense has better pieces than you think, especially up front, and a new crop of rookies and free agents could make this a dangerous group.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Houston12. Houston Texans

Last year: 4-12

 

There’s bad, and there’s bad luck. The Texans were the former but the latter contributed mightily. They’ll get back impact players like J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on defense but nothing is making the upcoming season have hope quite like having Deshaun Watson back under center. They’ll have plenty of cap room and, hopefully, a little luck on their side.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Tennessee Titans13. Tennessee Titans

Last year: 9-7, lost in divisional round

 

The combination of Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry and some pretty solid pieces on defense will make this a great situation for Mike Vrabel to step into and new OC Matt LaFleur should help tremendously in terms of bringing along the franchise quarterback. Given the inexperience of the coaching staff across the board and the improvement in the AFC though, this team could be just as good as 2017 but take a step back in terms of the division race and the postseason.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Chargers14. Los Angeles Chargers

Last year: 9-7

 

Not a terrible debut in their new city despite missing the playoffs and no team could be poised to take advantage of some upheaval in their division like this team. Philip Rivers can still win games if he limits the mistakes and the team will basically be getting a second first-round pick to boost the offense as Mike Williams gets healthy to help the passing game.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Giants15. New York Giants

Last year: 3-13

 

Everything seemingly went wrong for the Giants in 2018 but with a little health for some key pieces, there’s no reason to think that new head coach Pat Shumur can’t immediately boost the offense and give Eli Manning one last shot at another ring. It will be interesting to see how they use that No. 2 overall pick but it wouldn’t shock anybody if this team quickly turned things around after last season’s disaster given some of the veterans on hand.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Broncos16. Denver Broncos

Last year: 5-11

 

The defense is still going to be one of the better groups and will benefit quite a bit from an offense that should be much better in 2018. John Elway’s biggest task is finding a quarterback though and no matter if that is through the draft or free agency, this could be a team that gets right back into the AFC title race given how they’ve been built the last few years.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks17. Seattle Seahawks

Last year: 9-7

 

It was a strange sight to see the Seahawks out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011 but Russell Wilson will keep the team in contention for a spot even as it undergoes what should be a very interesting roster re-tool over the next few months. Whether the Legion of Boom gets completely broken up remains to be seen but this is shaping up to be a crucial draft for the Seahawks, as they look to keep that Super Bowl window open a bit longer.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys18. Dallas Cowboys

Last year: 9-7

 

This is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for Jason Garrett, who has Dak Prescott and a full season of Ezekiel Elliott to work with as the two young stars are primed to make another leap in terms of production. The offensive line should play better going forward but the concern is on defense even if the team franchises DeMarcus Lawrence.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Ravens19. Baltimore Ravens

Last year: 9-7

 

The defense should once again be pretty salty with no major losses to free agency and likely a few draft picks adding to the depth of the team. A much tougher schedule awaits however and the Ravens’ season may once again come down to how well Joe Flacco and the offense can put up points. Finding some playmakers for the passing game will be a big focus this offseason for a team that will be a bit of a question mark but has a pretty high floor as to what it can do next year.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Chiefs20. Kansas City Chiefs

Last year: 10-6, lost in wild-card round

 

As a team, this is still a roster with plenty of talent and some of the most dangerous playmakers on either side of the ball. Of course, how well the Chiefs will fare in 2018 comes down to the play of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. It’s going to be easy to think that there will be a drop off after Alex Smith was so good and OC Matt Nagy left for Chicago so it will be up to others to step in and pick up the slack.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Raiders21. Oakland Raiders

Last year: 6-10

 

Jon Gruden is back on the sidelines with a headset and the most fascinating team to follow in the NFL might just the one featuring Chucky’s return. Derek Carr will give Gruden one of the more talented quarterbacks that he’s worked with and there are still a ton of Pro Bowlers that dot the roster to build around. Fixing the defense will be key but it wouldn’t be shocking if the Raiders returned to the playoffs with their expensive head coach providing an early jolt.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Detroit Lions22. Detroit Lions

Last year: 9-7

 

Matt Patricia didn’t have the greatest Super Bowl performance as a defensive coordinator but he will need to waste no time making changes to the Lions’ defense upon arrival with so many key free agents potentially heading for the exits. Detroit has plenty of options with what they can do and should get better in close games with Matthew Stafford and others leading the way. Still, this is a team that could go either way and it will be up to the new coach to make sure the Lions can grab that playoff bid.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Buccaneers23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last year: 5-11

 

Maybe it was the Hard Knocks hype early in the season but there were not many more disappointing teams in the league than the Bucs. Having Jameis Winston healthy an entire campaign should help the offense find its groove but there’s still plenty of work to be done and not a lot of confidence in Dirk Koetter to get it done.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Colts24. Indianapolis Colts

Last year: 4-12

 

Andrew Luck’s return will be a welcome sight for the Colts but he can’t do it alone for an offense that needs a lot of help in the trenches and on the outside. The defense is not going to be an overnight fix for the new coaching staff either but it will be hard for this franchise not to improve by a solid amount with their field general back under center and throwing passes.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Bills25. Buffalo Bills

Last year: 9-7, lost in wild-card round

 

The Bills took advantage of an extremely weak AFC and a miraculous Andy Dalton touchdown pass to land that elusive trip to the postseason. Given how they’ve traded away key talent recently and are facing a huge decision at quarterback though, a step back seems pretty certain. No matter what happens with Tyrod Taylor, this is going to be a pivotal year for the franchise going forward.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Chicago Bears26. Chicago Bears

Last year: 5-11

 

There were some flashes last season out of the Bears as they managed to secure some big wins to go along with some puzzling losses. The new coaching staff will be a huge boon for the development of Mitchell Trubisky but the front office absolutely has to find some weapons for him. This team may not make a huge leap and contend for the NFC North title but they have the potential to help determine the winner and shape a few other postseason races as well.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Redskins27. Washington Redskins

Last year: 7-9

 

While moving on from Kirk Cousins was pretty expected, landing Alex Smith and then giving him a lucrative contract extension remains a bit of a puzzling move. Smith should be fine either way and the quarterback position won’t be the most worrying part in Washington with numerous roster issues and the potential for this thing to go south in a hurry.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Cardinals28. Arizona Cardinals

Last year: 8-8

 

Bruce Arians did a heck of a job to eke out a .500 record in his final season given everything that went wrong in the desert. Getting David Johnson back will be a nice piece for new head coach Steve Wilks to build around but the short- and long-term success of the Cardinals will come down to answering the quarterback equation. Maybe they’ll luck out but something says it will be a long ways to go in Arizona initially even if the defense should be pretty good.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Dolphins29. Miami Dolphins

Last year: 6-10

 

The Dolphins need help all over their roster and are going to be hitting a crucial offseason for the future of Adam Gase’s tenure given how many key pieces could leave (or return). Jarvis Landry’s contract is the least of the team’s worries and the QB position will be a question mark even if Ryan Tannehill returns healthy to take the job. The defense could be fine but there are a lot of veterans on that side of the ball that could start to hit a wall.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Jets30. New York Jets

Last year: 5-11

 

Some people thought last year’s roster was the worst in the league so winning five games behind Josh McCown was undoubtedly a success for Todd Bowles. They need to figure things out long term at QB and continue to nail their draft picks but this is still going to be a team that has a ways to go towards competing with the big boys again.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Bengals31. Cincinnati Bengals

Last year: 7-9

 

Marvin Lewis is back, which is something, but this team seems even further away from getting to the postseason — much less winning a game there — than it did two, five or 10 years ago. The roster has a lot of holes to fill over the coming months and things might get worse before they get better in Cincinnati.

 

NFL Power Rankings: Cleveland Browns32. Cleveland Browns

Last year: 0-16

 

The Browns are... actually making good moves? New general manager John Dorsey seems like the right kind of voice leading the front office and the hire of top-notch evaluator Scot McCloughan is big going into a draft where the team has more capital than anybody. While the roster won’t be the worst in the league at all come September, this is still a franchise that has gone 1-31 under Hue Jackson and will need to win more than one game to actually get out of the NFL basement.

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

 

(Top photo by Kiel Leggere, courtesy of www.philadelphiaeagles.com)

Event Date: 
Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 01:01

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