NFL Power Rankings: Packers begin season at No. 1, but not for reason you'd expect

It's become a joke of sorts that I pick the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots to play in the Super Bowl every year.

So keep laughing. I am doing it again.

Normally the two main reasons are Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. While they are both a big part of my rationale for doing so this year, the reason I am not only picking the Packers to get to the Super Bowl but also win it isn't Rodgers.

It's the defense.

I think the Green Bay defense has a chance to be special this season. The additions of pass rushers Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith will impact the front in a big way. 

The rise of second-year corner Jaire Alexander into one of the best at his position will impact the secondary, along with the additions of safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. 

Coordinator Mike Pettine has a lot of toys to play with to use in his creative approach to playing defense. It will be a fun, aggressive unit to watch.

If they can be a top-10 unit, you know Rodgers will have a big season. Don't buy all the talk that he can't co-exist with first-year coach Matt LaFleur. They will be fine. Rodgers will throw over 40 touchdown passes to win the league MVP.

The Packers will win the Super Bowl, which is why they are the No. 1 team in my first Power Rankings of 2019. The Patriots, naturally, are second.

The Miami Dolphins open in the bottom spot, and I would expect them to stay there the entire season, although the New York Giants will be near the bottom as well.

For now, it's all about the Packers at the top – and, for once, my pick isn't just based on the talents of Rodgers.

Biggest Movers
7 Jaguars
9 Colts
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Packers The Matt LaFleur-Aaron Rodgers relationship will be fine. The new-look offense will be fun and that defense is going to be much improved. 12-0-0
2 Patriots How can you go against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady? They might not start fast, but you can bet they will have things going the right way come December. 12-0-0
3 Rams Don't let the Super Bowl fool you. This is still a talented team and they will learn from that loss. The offense will be explosive again. --2-0-0
4 Chargers The loss of Derwin James on defense hurts, but they have enough talent to get around that during the regular season. Is this the year they finally get to the Super Bowl with Philip Rivers? --1-1-0
5 Chiefs The offense is again going to be dynamic with Patrick Mahomes, but this season will be about the defense Can Steve Spagnuolo turn that unit around? --2-0-0
6 Falcons The improvements on the offensive line will be big for Matt Ryan. The key on the defense will be the pass rush. Can they get Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley going? 21-1-0
7 Saints This team is just as good as the one that came within a bad call of going to the Super Bowl last year. Like Atlanta, they need to get the pass rush going other than Cam Jordan. 11-1-0
8 Eagles Carson Wentz will get back to being an MVP candidate this season. They are the clear favorite in the NFC East. 11-1-0
9 Steelers Getting rid of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will do this team wonders. They will still be a big-play offense and the defense will be improved. 40-2-0
10 Jaguars The defense just might be the best in the NFL this season. The offense will be improved with Nick Foles. Add it up, and it's a playoff season. 71-2-0
11 Bears The defense will again be special, but this season will be all about the improvement of Mitch Trubisky. Can he take the next step? If he does, they could win the NFC. 11-1-0
12 Seahawks Trading to land Jadeveon Clowney will help a defense that needed it. I think Russell Wilson needs to be allowed to play looser this season. 32-0-0
13 Browns They have a ton of talent, but have they learned how to win yet? I am not so sure. That takes time. 21-1-0
14 Vikings The defense will be back to its 2017 form, and I am a big believer in Dalvin Cook. But can Kirk Cousins win big games? 61-1-0
15 Texans They are clearly all-in on this season by trading two first-round picks to land left tackle Laremy Tunsil. He's a good player, but last time I checked he wasn't a top-3 tackle. 41-1-0
16 Ravens Their season will be defined by how well Lamar Jackson improves as a passer. There is still a lot of talent on the roster. 22-0-0
17 Cowboys How much time will Ezekiel Elliott miss? Will it impact the season? The defense should be nasty. 22-0-0
18 Panthers The offense will be good with Cam Newton and gang, but I worry about the pressure up front on defense. If that is OK, they can push for a wild-card spot. 20-2-0
19 Colts No Andrew Luck means no playoffs. Jacoby Brissett has some talent, but he can't carry a team like Luck. 91-1-0
20 Bills They will be feisty all season long, but they are a year away. I think Josh Allen makes big strides. 22-0-0
21 Titans This is a monster season for Marcus Mariota. Can he prove to be the long-term answer? --1-2-0
22 Jets Adam Gase will have this team pushing for the playoffs in 2020. I just think weak corners could do them in this season. --0-2-0
23 49ers This is a big year for Jimmy Garoppolo coming off the torn ACL. They are the third team in their division behind the Rams and Seahawks. --2-0-0
24 Broncos The defense should be good with that pass rush, but is the offense good enough? Can Joe Flacco find some of that old magic? --0-2-0
25 Buccaneers Look for the Bucs to play a lot of shootouts. Their defense might be better, but it's far from good. Look for big numbers from Jameis Winston. --1-1-0
26 Bengals First-year coach Zac Taylor has a lot of work to do with this team. Not having A.J. Green early will hurt in a big way. --0-2-0
27 Raiders They will be better than they were a year ago, but not much better. They are still the fourth team in the AFC West in my book. --1-1-0
28 Redskins They will be tough at times on defense, but are they good enough on offense? I doubt it. How long will Dwayne Haskins sit? --0-2-0
29 Lions Who are they as a team? Does anybody know their identity? Do they? Will Matt Patricia be in trouble by midseason? --1-0-1
30 Cardinals They will be fun to watch with Kyler Murray. But do they have enough overall talent to win eight games? I doubt it. --0-1-1
31 Giants How long will Eli Manning be the starting quarterback? Isn't it only a matter of time before Daniel Jones takes over? --0-2-0
32 Dolphins They decided on Ryan Fitzpatrick as their quarterback. Is that a good thing? Then they traded away the farm. This is going to be a long season for first-year coach Brian Flores. --0-2-0
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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