NFL Power Rankings: Saints, Bucs show upward mobility in post-NFL Draft edition

When you put together NFL Power Rankings, there are usually a few strong teams at the top, then a few good teams, a middle class, a lower middle class and then the garbage at the bottom.

Not now.

Sure, there are a few good teams at the top -- especially the New England Patriots -- and a few bad ones at the bottom, but the rest of the league has become a giant middle class.

It wouldn't shock me to see teams as low as the mid-20s in my latest Power Rankings make the playoffs in 2017.

After a wild-spending free agency period, followed by a crazy and unpredictable NFL Draft, a lot of teams seem much improved from a year ago.

That's on paper.

We know what that means.

Weren't the Jacksonville Jaguars the paper champs last offseason? How did that work out?

That's part of what makes the league great, trying to identify teams on the rise and teams on the decline. It happens every year that a team emerges from a non-playoff season to a whole lot more, like the Atlanta Falcons last season.

I have my eye on a few possible teams in 2017, but it's early. I think the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be one of those teams, and I think the Arizona Cardinals are ready for a bounce-back season. In the AFC, it could be the Los Angeles Chargers.

Then again, it's only May. A lot can happen between now and the time camps open.

One thing that remains the same: The Patriots are still the team to beat.

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Graphic illustration by Mike Meredith
Biggest Movers
11 Saints
10 Lions
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Patriots They've actually improved in the offseason, which is downright scary for the rest of the league. As long as Tom Brady is upright, they are the clear favorites again. -- 14-2-0
2 Falcons We know the offense is going to be explosive again, but they've added some nice pieces to the defense. They will be even faster on that side of the ball. -- 11-5-0
3 Packers They added some much-needed help on defense in the draft at positions of need. If that side of the ball takes a big step forward, they will be back in the Super Bowl. -- 10-6-0
4 Seahawks They got help on the offensive line in the draft, which was a must. The time is now for this group, especially with the way they drafted in the secondary. 2 10-5-1
5 Giants Their time to push for a title with Eli Manning is shrinking, which is why taking his replacement in the third round in Davis Webb was an odd move. I do think giving him the added weapons they have will help. 2 11-5-0
6 Steelers Getting pass rusher T.J. Watt in the first round will help a defense that needs more from the edge. With Ben Roethlisberger back -- was he really going anywhere? -- they will again be in the Super mix. 2 11-5-0
7 Raiders Getting Derek Carr back healthy is the most important thing about their offseason. If he's back, they should win the AFC West. 2 12-4-0
8 Buccaneers They've had a heck of an offseason, and with Jameis Winston entering his third season they are poised to push for the division title. 3 9-7-0
9 Cowboys They had a nice draft on the defensive side, but they need those guys to make an impact right away. I just think they are taking a step back this time around. 1 13-3-0
10 Cardinals They were top-10 in offense and defense last year, which tells you they had talent. They've added some nice players as well, but this will be about Carson Palmer staying on the field and playing well. 2 7-8-1
11 Chiefs Wonder how Alex Smith will play this season knowing they traded up in the first round to get his replacement in Patrick Mahomes? Was that the right move? 2 12-4-0
12 Dolphins They are doing a nice job building this roster, having a nice draft to go with their free-agency moves. They are clearly the second-best team in the AFC East. 1 10-6-0
13 Saints They've had one of the best offseasons of any team in the league. They are ready to make a push again for a division title -- and more -- with Drew Brees getting help around him. 11 7-9-0
14 Broncos Who plays quarterback? That's the main question, and whether it's Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch, the second question is this: Are they good enough to push for a division title? 4 9-7-0
15 Bengals They had a really good draft, adding a lot of talented players, some with risk, but they could pay off big. If that happens, they could be a playoff team again. 2 6-9-1
16 Titans They clearly drafted with an eye on getting quarterback Marcus Mariota more weapons. Now comes the biggest question for Mike Mularkey: Will he be allowed to use them? 2 9-7-0
17 Panthers Here's another team that drafted with the idea of helping their quarterback, Cam Newton. They got two versatile runner-pass catchers in the first two rounds. I still worry about their pass rush with so much age. 3 6-10-0
18 Redskins Without a general manager, they've done a nice job in both free agency and the draft. It wouldn't shock me to see them much higher up this list come October. The Kirk Cousins situation bears long-term watching. 1 8-7-1
19 Chargers They drafted with the idea of making one last fling with Philip Rivers before he retires, which was the right thing to do. The offensive line will be much improved and adding a big target in Mike Williams will help. 4 5-11-0
20 Ravens Have they done enough to get back into the playoffs? I'm not sure they have, but they did add some good players in the draft. 5 8-8-0
21 Texans They say Tom Savage will be the starting quarterback, but do you really trade up to get Deshaun Watson in the first round if that's the case? I don't think so. 5 9-7-0
22 Colts It's all about improvement on defense with this team, and adding free safety Malik Hooker in the first round and corner Quincy Wilson in the second were nice picks. But they have to get a lot better on that side of the ball. 1 8-8-0
23 Vikings They've improved their offensive line and this offseason and added a feature back in Dalvin Cook. But they aren't close to being as good as the Packers. 1 8-8-0
24 Lions We saw them fold late last season, and they did little to improve a pass rush that needs it in a division with Aaron Rodgers. They fall back down this season. 10 9-7-0
25 Eagles They will be improved from a year ago with the growth of Carson Wentz, but I think it's one more year before they push for the division title. -- 7-9-0
26 Bills New coach Sean McDermott is clearly running things with general manager Doug Whaley out. They had a solid draft, but they are the third team in the division. -- 7-9-0
27 Jaguars They have a running game now with Leonard Fournette and the defense should be good. So, as usual, it's all on quarterback Blake Bortles. -- 3-13-0
28 Rams Their entire season is about the growth of Jared Goff, and they drafted with that in mind. But it will take some time for new coach Sean McVay to get the offense going. -- 4-12-0
29 Browns I think they had a nice draft, adding a lot of talent, but it's all about second-round passer DeShone Kizer. If he's good, they might win six games. 3 1-15-0
30 Bears Why pay Mike Glennon if you are going to go big at quarterback in the draft, trading up to take Mitchell Trubisky? Coach John Fox couldn't be happy about that. 1 3-13-0
31 49ers John Lynch is off to a fast start as general manager, but this team has a long way to go. There will be a lot of growing pains. 1 2-14-0
32 Jets They made some interesting picks in the draft, but it's all about quarterback. And that's a problem with this team, which is why they are down here at the bottom. 1 5-11-0
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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