NFL 2019: Eight teams that can win it all, and eight that will finish at the bottom of the league
The Pats (of course) are joined by the Chiefs and Panthers as title contenders, while others will be jostling for the No. 1 pick
I'm not much of a power rankings guy. In fact, well, I'm not a power ranks guy at all.
Listing NFL teams from 1-32 is not my thing, and, back in the day when I was forced to do them I would generally not budge them all that much from week to week based on the results of the previous weekend, because I viewed them more as my lens into the league and what I expected it to look like come January.
So, when Jacksonville beat Buffalo on a random missed chip shot field goal in late September or whatever, and I still listed Buffalo at, like, spot 28, and Jacksonville at spot 29, well, you can imagine the outrage and backlash. Silly me. Somehow I was still of the mind that one of these horribly flawed teams would still be picking a spot or two after the other come the following year's draft.
In reality, I guess the approach I was taking was of trying to sort teams by tiers, with the top eight of 32 being clubs I really believed could win big, and the bottom eight teams that would probably be fighting for a top five pick when it's all said and done, and half of the league jumbled up in the middle where one injury or one fumble or one coaching blunder could be the difference between being alive for a playoff berth in December or not.
Because, more years than not, that is what the NFL becomes. That is the reality of parity. There is a group of haves and a group of have-nots and everyone else is battling for a wild card, or, in the case of the AFC South more years than not, a division title. The difference between 7-9 and 9-7, in the average NFL season, can be quite slim, and more than anything else health and good fortune can swing things one way or the other.
Now having taken in half of the preseason schedule, having had a chance to gather a little information and assess the development of some rosters ... I'm still not going to do a full breakdown of how I anticipate the entire league playing out. I'm not going to delve deep into the murky middle class of NFL society. But in a league of 32 teams, I do have a sense of which quarter of the league I believe is best prepared to possibly win it all, and which eight teams I expect to be jostling for top draft position come January.
Eight teams that can win it all
New season, same expectations. Super Bowl or bust. Change their identity from week to week. Will have better pass catching options than anticipated a few months back, and losing Gronk will matter, but not enough to prevent another run at least to the AFC Championship Game.
Every reason to expect them to be right in the thick of it in the NFC again. All-time coach/QB combination. All-in on 2019. Should've been in the Super Bowl a year ago.
Maybe the best roster in football. Front office always adding pieces to already deep and talented group. Forward-thinking staff. Carson Wentz will be in the MVP conversation.
Would not have appeared here before the draft, in all likelihood, due to concerns about the defense. But the Tyreek Hill decision by the NFL and the addition of even more speed and game-breaking ability means this offense can overcome the other side of the ball if need be.
I will admit I am wavering on my quasi-annual impression that this could be a Super Bowl team. Damn injuries are a constant and if this Derwin James setback is followed by a few more, well, that can undermine progress.
I love what they have done this offseason to fortify the OL and pass rush. Cam Newton looked great at camp when I was there. Plenty of speed upgrades across the board.
I was a skeptic in the spring, obsessing over the loss of A.B. and Le'Veon Bell. I came away from my camp visits certain that the offense will again be uber-productive and there was some addition by subtraction in terms of chemistry and cohesion, and the defense will make gains as well.
Russell Wilson pretty much gets you to the playoffs. That much is proven. And I like this group around him better than I have the last few. If Brian Schottenheimer stops running the offense like he is still coaching Mark Sanchez, this team could take off. The playoff pedigree of QB and coach lands them in the top tier.
As for those clubs that I expect to have already turned their attention to the draft by Thanksgiving. Well ...
Eight that will be jostling for top draft position
Losing Jim Caldwell was a huge blow. Firing the OL coach a week into camp is a troubling sign. Refusing to just go Team Rosen seems quite odd. If they could fast-forward to 2021, they should.
Will Kyler Murray make it through half a season, much less an entire one, behind that offensive line? Can they play a lick of defense? Add in injuries and the Patrick Peterson suspension and a tough division, and it might be late early.
You are going to see a lot of statements about porous lines in this section. But this is the scariest situation of all with the depth and starting talent already compromised way before the season begins. I have a feeling rookie quarterback Ryan Finley plays way before anyone would have thought in the spring, and if Mike Brown wants to trim big payroll at midseason and rebuild he has no shortage of trade options (A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins).
The Trent Williams fiasco is the latest sign that this franchise refuses to get out of its own way. Offensive line could be beyond brutal. Dwayne Haskins will probably play sooner than he should. Special teams has looked very poor in the preseason. I love the defense but don't think it will matter.
Scrambling to trade a third-round pick in August for a guy who has been a third-down back, operating without a GM and being in a standoff with your franchise-tagged superstar with the season nearing are less-than-encouraging signs. Failing to land a proven left tackle to protect your top young QB seems irrational at best. The analytics community would tell you this offense has been mismanaged for years.
This QB fiasco is going to be a weekly issue. The receiver situation gives me pause. A stud running back can only carry a franchise so far in this era of football. Not sure they have hit rock bottom yet.
They will be better than last year ... but at this point I don't think improved enough to get outside the top 10 picks. This A.B. circus has already gone on too long. Not sure "Hard Knocks" will bring out the best in this bunch. Massive mountain to climb on the defensive side of the ball.
A fourth straight 9-7 season would take some doing. The prospect of Marcus Mariota looking over his shoulder concerns me. The offensive line has slipped in recent years and starting the season with a suspended LT is a problem. Will any receivers step up?
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