NFL Power Rankings: Happy, healthy Rodgers helps Packers begin season in top spot

This first batch of my CBSSports.com Power Rankings is always the one you should print and save – if you like torturing me come late December, giving you even more holiday cheer.

That's because as much as we think we know this league, we usually don't. From year to year, even in a season like this one where it looks pretty predictable, it usually veers way off course.

Let's begin the season with the Green Bay Packers in the top spot. They are my pick to win it all, so that's where they begin. They have Aaron Rodgers back and I think the defense will be much improved, which is why they open there.

A richer Rodgers – thanks to his new deal – will be a happy Rodgers and one who is still the best quarterback in the league.  He seemed at peace this summer when I talked to him, almost giving off the impression that something special was coming.

The No. 2 team is the Jacksonville Jaguars, my pick to win the AFC. They are loaded across the board, and Blake Bortles is good enough, despite the critics' view, to get them to a Super Bowl.

After that, it's the New England Patriots in the third spot, followed by the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles. I have the Eagles in the fifth spot because of the early injury concerns, especially with quarterback Carson Wentz

The bottom team for now is the Buffalo Bills, and I don't think it's close. Then again, who really knows?

So dive in and look around. But make sure you save this because it's bound to make me look moronic come January.

Biggest Movers
15 Broncos
11 Buccaneers
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Packers Aaron Rodgers is back. That makes them a Super Bowl contender. The big key will be the pass rush on defense. 64-5-1
2 Jaguars The talent is as good as any in the league and Blake Bortles will be good enough to make this a deep playoff team. 13-6-0
3 Patriots As long as Tom Brady is slinging it and Bill Belichick is the coach, this is always a Super Bowl contender. They are still by far the best coach-quarterback combo in the league. 17-3-0
4 Falcons They have a loaded roster and a lot of young talent on defense that could make for a special unit. Look for the offense to get back on track in Steve Sarkisian's second season. 54-5-0
5 Eagles The roster is full of talent, but there is still some concern about Carson Wentz and his knee. It doesn't look like it will be a problem for the long term, but it's still worrisome. 44-5-0
6 Vikings They signed Kirk Cousins to liven up the offense. If he can improve it by a bunch, they could be a Super team with that defense. 25-3-1
7 Saints As long as Drew Brees is on the field and the young defense grows up even more, they will be a contender. The improved defense from a year ago should continue to grow and be even better. 28-1-0
8 Steelers With a star-filled offense, they will score a lot of points. So it's up to the defense to get them to a Super Bowl. 26-2-1
9 Rams They made a lot of big moves this offseason and spent a lot of money, giving off the idea they are going for it this season. That's a lot of pressure. 19-1-0
10 Chargers If they can get past their bad luck - already losing tight end Hunter Henry and corner Jason Verrett - they should win the AFC West. They have a good passer and outstanding pass rushers. 17-2-0
11 Texans They have a lot of talent coming off injuries, but they appear to be healthy. Deshaun Watson's growth will dictate how far they can go. 56-3-0
12 Broncos The defense should be good, but it's all about the offense. Can Case Keenum get them rolling? 153-6-0
13 Panthers They will be faster than in recent years, but they are the third team in the NFC South heading into the season. 36-3-0
14 Bengals There has been a lot of turnover on this team - including the systems on offense and defense - which might be a good thing. There are some talented young defenders to watch. 125-4-0
15 Ravens If Joe Flacco can bounce back from a few sub-par years, they could be a playoff team. That's a big if. 64-5-0
16 Titans New coach Mike Vrable and first-time offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur have to get Marcus Mariota going after a so-so 2017 season. 45-4-0
17 Chiefs It's all about Patrick Mahomes and how he fares in his first year as the starter. I think he will be fine, but I worry about the defense. 49-1-0
18 Raiders Jon Gruden is back, which will help the offense. But are they good enough on defense, especially with Khalil Mack traded? 41-8-0
19 Lions New coach Matt Patricia will bring the Patriots way to the Lions. That's a good thing, and so is inheriting Matt Stafford at quarterback. 13-6-0
20 Cowboys Will the offense get back to its 2016 ways, especially with the loss of center Travis Frederick and a pedestrian receiver group? It's a big year for Dak Prescott. 24-5-0
21 Dolphins Adam Gase thinks he has a good team, but they are clearly the second team in the division. Having Ryan Tannehill back is a good thing. 25-5-0
22 49ers I think this team is a year away. Watch out in 2019 as I see a .500 record this season. --2-8-0
23 Redskins With Alex Smith now the quarterback, they have to ask if that's an upgrade over Kirk Cousins. The defense should be improved. 26-3-0
24 Bears Like the 49ers, I think they are also a year away, even after trading to get Khalil Mack. First-year coach Matt Nagy should jump-start the offense and Mitchell Trubisky. 46-3-0
25 Seahawks This is the year the Seahawks need to turn it over to Russell Wilson and let him play fast and free. If they do that, they could be higher up this list. 65-5-0
26 Buccaneers The Jameis Winston suspension the first three weeks could really damage this team. Can they get one victory in a tough three-game span? 113-6-0
27 Cardinals How long before Josh Rosen takes over as quarterback? There is talent on this roster, but quarterback uncertainty is not a good thing. 102-7-0
28 Giants They will be better on offense, but will the defense be improved? Eli Manning has to be happy with his new weapons and getting Odell Beckham Jr. back. 22-7-0
29 Browns The roster is better, but how much better will they be? Is 2019 their season to make a playoff push? 23-6-1
30 Colts Andrew Luck is back throwing passes, which is a huge relief. But the roster is just so-so. 14-5-0
31 Jets They have a rookie passer in Sam Darnold who will have some growing pains, which will make this season about building towards 2019. 13-7-0
32 Bills The talent is thin on this roster and they have quarterback questions. That's a bad combination. 83-7-0
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

Our Latest Stories