With the draft and free agency over, teams around the NFL are getting ready for training camps, the last prelude before the start of the season. Now there are a couple free-agents like Dez Bryant, still out there, who will greatly impact someone’s roster, but not enough to sway my feelings on all 32 teams in the league. As training camp’s begin, this is where I rank all the teams and evaluate their off-season moves. Parity will be the word of the season with most teams doing a great job of improving their rosters. The quality of this recent draft class will go a long way to improving the outlook for many teams. The last team being the exception.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars : After beating Pittsburgh in divisional playoff in Pittsburgh, had New England on the ropes in AFC Championship game. A bad call wipes out a first down and prevent defense, prevents Jacksonville from moving on to Super Bowl that they could’ve won. They acquired top offensive lineman in free agency in Andrew Norwell. Draft picks Taven Bryan from Florida and Ronnie Harrison from Alabama, will contribute right away in rotations on defensive line, and secondary. Wide receiver, 2nd round pick D.J. Chark will become a starter and may be the best receiver in the draft. Jacksonville needs a better backup for Blake Bortles, Cleveland reject Cody Kessler isn’t it. Defense and championship hunger puts them on top! Similar to 84-85 Bears.
2. Los Angeles Rams : The only reason the Rams aren’t number 1 is that this group hasn’t won a playoff game yet. They lost 26-13 at home in the playoffs to Atlanta in a game they were heavily favored to win. The leagues best offense was shut down and out coached. The Rams used free agency and trades to make all-pro veteran upgrades at every level of the defense. They acquired one of the leagues best receivers in Brandon Cooks from New England, and drafted for depth along the offensive and defensive lines. Third year quarterback Jared Goff will be looking to make amends for last years playoff loss. Rams will turn MVP caliber running back Todd Gurley II loose, 3 years removed from injury.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers : After finishing 13-3 last year and losing in a shootout at home to Jacksonville in the playoffs, the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are primed to return to the Super Bowl. There is no team that does a better job, year in and year out, in assembling it’s roster than Pittsburgh. They are the right mix of veteran and youth at skill positions. Like the Jaguars, they made beefing up their defensive depth, a priority across all three units. They won’t soon forget giving up nearly 50 points to the Jaguars in their playoff loss last winter, a point that head coach Mike Tomlin will emphasize in training camp. Possibly the most complete roster in the NFL. Steelers have size and speed everywhere. Backup running back James Connor is ready to step in, if LaVeon Bell decides to sit out. Great coaching and player leadership from Roethlisberger put’s them on top. Will be fun to watch their offense after dismissing offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who is with the Cleveland Browns now, and drafting speedy wide receiver James Washington, an Antonio Brown clone, in the 2nd round.
4. Atlanta Falcons : Before you scoff at this ranking, understand that head coach Dan Quinn has coached in 3 of the last 5 Super Bowls, winning once and losing twice. He made 2 appearances with Seattle as defensive coordinator and lost a heartbreaker as head coach, just 2 years ago to the Patriots. Last January, the Falcons came a goal line stand away from defeating the Eagles in Philadelphia. No one, outside of Belichick has more playoff wins on their resume the last 5 years than Quinn. A second year of Steve Sarkisian calling the plays will help the Falcons immensely. They improved their offense greatly in the second half of last season as the play-calling improved and everyone made adjustments. Like the rest of the teams in the top 5, the Falcons have been improving depth and preparing contingencies for injuries and player absences. They have drafted very well the last couple of years, adding weapons on offense and strengthening their defensive front seven. A chance to play a super bowl at home, looms large, for what is becoming one of the premier franchises in football.
5. New England Patriots : I’m personally disappointed to put the Patriots in this spot this year. A year ago I said it was the beginning of the end, as I predicted Kansas City to win the opener, crush their schedule and win the super bowl. For 6 weeks it looked good. Then Kansas City imploded and Jacksonville blew lead after lead in Foxboro last January. The Patriots went to the super bowl, where I correctly predicted they would lose to the Eagles. The fact is, until the other 3 teams in the AFC East turn into actual NFL franchises, the Patriots can skate into the playoffs for about 3 more years. With Brady at the helm and gathering more weapons, they are a threat to make a super bowl run every year. What’s worse is that the ineptitude of the New York Jets, Miami Dophins and Buffalo Bills is buying Belichick more time to retool! DT Danny Shelton is only 24, RB Jeremy Hill only 25, WR Corderelle Patterson is only 27, WR Phillip Dorsett is only 25. These are talented players Belichick get’s off the scrap heap, coaches them, polishes them and wins division titles with them. At least Buffalo has a plan to end the madness!
6. Philadelphia Eagles : This spot isn’t about some super bowl hangover. It’s about the fact that it lost 13 players to free-agency. Two of it’s defensive linemen, starter Vinny Curry and rotation tackle Beau Allen, went to Tampa Bay. Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata were brought in to plug those holes, but at their age, that’s a definite downgrade. The possibility of not having quarterback Carson Wentz for the first couple of games also looms over a rough start to the season. I think the Eagles repeat as division champs but it will be tougher this year. The rest of the division has improved a lot.
7. Minnesota Vikings : If any team for me seems out of place in the top 10 it’s the Vikings. I was really impressed by Case Keenum last year, he’s gone to Denver, because Minnesota signed Kirk Cousins to a record breaking deal. I don’t view it as an upgrade. But Cousins has the possibility of playing a full season with Dalvin Cook, who was spectacular before his knee injury. If Cook is 100%, the Vikings make a deep run in the playoffs, without him, too much pressure falls on Cousins and they are out of the playoffs quickly, in spite of their top 5 defense. How good is their offensive line? They signed the Bears backup guard Tom Compton, and are going to start him on the right side. Hmmm.
8. Green Bay Packers : As a Bears fan this sickens me. But I think Green Bay had a pretty good off season. In spite of losing Jordy Nelson, the Packers end up on the plus side of the ledger when you weigh in the signings of DT Muhammed Wilkerson, TE Jimmy Graham, and CB Tramon Williams. The Packers added 2 of the top 5 cornerbacks in college football through the draft, in Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Not to mention the expected improvement of last years top pick, cornerback Kevin King. The Packers have quietly added 9 rookies to their defensive front 7 in a major push to get younger. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is clearly hoping competition shakes out the best Green Bay has seen in a while. Clay Matthews is past his prime, and will be more of a stand up edge rusher this year, as Pettine was hired to blitz the hell out of opposing qb’s this year. Veteran free agent tight ends Graham and Mercedes Lewis offer reliable targets and pass blocking, when combined with Lance Kendricks for Aaron Rodgers. Whatever shortcomings at receiver there are, will be covered by moving RB Ty Montgomery back outside, and having a running back by committee backfield.
9. Los Angeles Chargers : This spot is based solely on the way the Chargers finished last season and their expected improvement under 2nd year coach Anthony Lynn. The Chargers won 6 of their last 7 games, after losing 2 last second games in a row on the road to New England and Jacksonville. Los Angeles has added heavily to an already stout defense by drafting S Derwin James, S Kyzir White, and MLB Uchenna Nwosu. The Chargers defense only gave up more than 24 points two times. They held opponents to 10 points or less 5 times. Their receiving squad is all speed, led by all-pro Keenan Allen. Phillip Rivers had one of the best years of his career behind a retooled offensive line that jelled. Running back Melvin Gordon stayed healthy and emerged as a top 10 fantasy back, posting career best numbers. Don’t sleep on L.A.!
10. New Orleans Saints : They paid a heavy price (2 1st round picks) to move up in the draft and take Defensive End Marcus Davenport. Everyone says they were crazy and it was too much. I say Bill Parcells disciple, coach Sean Payton, knows exactly what he is doing, and was justified. Many years from now, writers will look back at the teams that passed on Davenport, when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This is a case of a team aggressively filling a hole with a perfect fit. A year after drafting Marshon Lattimore 11th overall, and watching him become the leagues best cornerback overnight. The Saints knew they needed to pair him with the best pass rusher available. Davenport will be defensive rookie of the year, book it! New Orleans has skillfully upgraded every position group on their team and is going for it, before Drew Brees’ arm falls off. Heavy price, but heavy is the Super Bowl ring. Saints are the NFC darkhorse!
11. Houston Texans : Had a very underrated off season. A year after drafting DeShaun Watson and seeing the dynamic start to his career in the first 5 games, the Texans are rejuvenated, and feel like they are steps closer to a super bowl. A year after losing cornerback A.J. Bouye to Jacksonville, they poached corner Aaron Colvin and two more players from the Jags in retaliation. The Texans also signed over a dozen more free-agents trying to upgrade their offensive line, wide receiver and quarterback depth. They also signed all-pro safety Tyrann Mathieu from Arizona. For Houston, the playoffs all depends on how Watson returns from his knee injury. He says he’s ahead of schedule, and in a video posted on Twitter, he looks full speed and agile. If he is, look out!
12. Baltimore Ravens : In his last off-season at the helm of Baltimore’s personnell department, Ozzie Newsome accomplished his goal of setting up the Ravens for another run at the super bowl. Easily a top 5 off season. Every area of serious need was addressed by the draft or through free-agency. The strong mix of veterans is enough that the super bowl is within reach for LB Terrell Suggs, S Eric Weddle and OG Marshall Yanda. The signing’s at wide receiver are going to make a huge improvement for the Ravens. Former track stars like Willie Snead IV and John Brown on one side, and Micheal Crabtree on the other side. First round pick Hayden Hurst will give quarterback Joe Flacco, a Gronkowski-type option down the middle. Returning running back Alex Collins was impressive as a starter by week 4, and has solid backups in Kenneth Dixon and Javorius Allen. Didn’t even mention the RGIII and Lamar Jackson qb depth. The Ravens will surely run interesting packages, to get them on the field as weapons.
13. Carolina Panthers : It’s hard to imagine that Cam Newton won’t make the playoffs. With new offensive coordinator Norv Turner and new wide receivers, it may take a while to jell, and a slow start with one of the league’s easiest schedules would doom the Panthers chances. The offense needs to control the ball with free-agent running back C.J. Anderson and Newton on the ground, and rookie receiver D.J. Moore, and 2nd year scat-back Christian McCaffrey through the air, because the defensive front 7 will keep them in games. The Panthers secondary is among the league’s weakest, and will leave them vulnerable late in games. The NFC South is the 2nd best division in football.
14. Dallas Cowboys : This spot for the Cowboys feels low to me. If Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott play a whole season together I think they should make the playoffs, and be dangerous in January. I’d like to pick them to win the division, but I think the Eagles are ahead by the thinnest of margins, especially at receiver. The Cowboys have quality lines on both sides, and drafted for depth at every level of the defense, adding DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., MLB Leighton Vander Esch, and CB Kam Kelly. Elliott and Prescott are tough to beat when together, but the middle of the Cowboys schedule is tough, and the lack of a number 1 receiver is going to hurt. The NFC is deep, and there is going to be parity like never before. A lot of good teams won’t make the playoffs.
15. Tennessee Titans : Marcus Mariota slumped severely last year, only throwing for 3232 yards. Spending a top 10 draft pick on Corey Davis (34, 375 yards) didn’t work out as hoped. The Titans leading receiver was tight end Delanie Walker. Mariota may have been shocked by an early 57-14 loss to Houston where he threw 2 picks. In the next few weeks he led the Titans on a 4 game winning streak, but seemed to struggle a bit. The Titans took it to overtime to defeat Cleveland in a game of field goals 12-9. A four interception game against Pittsburgh in a blowout loss ended the winning streak, and turned his performance’s into more of a game management style, the rest of the year. He only threw 5 interceptions the rest of the year, and the Titans squeaked into the playoffs beating a sliding Kansas City team in the wildcard game. Another year of seasoning for Davis, improved health of the offensive line, and signing running back Dion Lewis from the Patriots, should help to give Mariota more options and confidence in his contract year. Former Patriot Mike Vrabel was hired to be head coach. They just miss playoffs.
16. Seattle Seahawks : Similar to Carolina, this seems low for the Seahawks. And similarly, it will be the quarterback/ running back/ receiver combination that will keep them in games and playoff contention. 2nd round pick Rashaad Penny is going to be a dynamic player next to Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin. There are going to be a lot of shootouts, because the Legion of Doom is gone, replaced with young, project, type of players who will need time to develop. Give them another year or two.
17. Oakland Raiders : Their drop from 2016 was pretty easy to call. Quarterback Derek Carr was coming off a knee injury from the end of the previous season. There had been a lot of player movement and they would be facing a first place schedule, not a last place schedule. Receivers like Amare Cooper couldn’t get untracked, the defense was undisciplined, and the offensive line was inconsistent. Jon Gruden was hired to install a dynamic offense that will play to strengths and toughness. And he drafted well to shore up perceived weaknesses in the run defense. Defensive tackles P.J. Hall Jr. and Maurice Hurst will bring a lot of speed, strength and athleticism to the Raiders defensive line. This will allow Khalil Mack, their superstar linebacker to make plays. The improvement in the Raiders defense will be meteoric, and almost get’s them into the playoffs.
18. N.Y. Giants : No team has had as much turnover as the Giants, who hired Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmer after his great job guiding backup qb Case Keenum to the NFC Championship game. The Giants made some great moves, trading for LB Alec Olgetree, signing LT Nate Solder from New England, and LG Patrick Omameh from Jacksonville. Their best move was not drafting a quarterback with the number 2 overall pick, because they had drafted Davis Webb in the 3rd round the previous year. They drafted running back Saquon Barkley, who they view as a game changer for their offense. In the second round, they drafted a wrecking ball of a guard in Will Fernandez to block for Barkley. They also drafted quarterback Kyle Lauletta to compete with Webb in the future. And drafted heavily on defense getting 2 versatile tackles in B.J. Hill and R.J. McIntosh, and touted LB Lorenzo Carter. In free agency they cherry picked nickel backs from all over the league, for competition in the secondary. The Giants also added receiver depth, to help Eli Manning and the Giants get back to respectability.
19. Denver Broncos : Had the good fortune of having the best defensive lineman in the draft, Bradley Chubb, fall right into their lap. All of a sudden the dynamic has changed in Denver. They believe in a possible return to the top of the division. Closer examination reveals that the offensive and defensive lines are very average. This is a weakness new quarterback Case Keenum cannot overcome on his own. The Broncos are another year away, having spent too much draft capital on strengthening their wide receiver corps and not additional defensive lineman. Their offense and defense are 3rd best in the division.
20. Washington Redskins : I like head coach Jay Gruden and the moves the Redskins have made to shore up their depth. I thought the trade for Alex Smith was brave and will prove to be smarter than people think. They have added depth at running back and receiver, but it may take a couple of games for the cream to rise to the top. Washington can’t wait, the Redskins need to capitalize on the first 2 weeks of their schedule, to be in contention at the end. Great depth thoughout the roster because of this year draft. DT’s Da’Ron Payne from Alabama and Tim Settle from Virginia Tech are future all-pro’s. I’m not sold on rookie running back Derrius Guice this year, Redskins have a lot of depth to get through. They are building a great team here. Philly’s reign may be short!
21. San Francisco 49er’s : After trading for quarterback Jimmy Garopollo, the Niners finished last season on a five game winning streak, knocking off Tennessee, Kansas City and Jacksonville, all playoff teams. This spot may be a little low, but the Niner’s didn’t improve as much as other teams did this off season. Combined with their schedule, which is sprinkled with only a few easy games, improvement will be hard to see. But this rebuilding effort is only half done and the 49er’s are definitely on the way up.
22. Kansas City Chiefs : From first to last, that’s how it goes in the NFL some years. This isn’t to say Kansas City will be a bad team. Their offense will be dynamic behind 2nd year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, WR Tyreek Hill and RB Kareem Hunt. Along with free agent receiver Sammy Watkins, they will all be great fantasy players this year. The problem is defense, where the roster has been picked over by free agency, is young and not deep. There will be a lot of shootout games for the Chiefs, who will be around .500.
23. Detroit Lions : Like every other team in the NFL with former Patriots in the front office, the Lions wanted to hire a coach from the Patriot tree, and instill that winning formula. They succeeded in hiring Matt Patricia, the former defensive coordinator for New England. That was their big move of the offseason. Free agency signings may tilt in their favor, but they lost nearly as much talent as they brought in. In my view, signing linebacker Christian Jones from the Bears, TE Levine Toilolo and RB LeGarrette Blount were the best of the bunch. When Detroit combines draft picks LG Frank Ragnow and RB Kerryon Johnson, with Blount. You definitely get the feeling that Detroit, will at times, transition to a clock eating, power running game, that will take pressure off of veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford. Blount was barely used last year. How much he has left in the tank will dictate how high Detroit can rise in the conference.
24. Buffalo Bills : Their run into the playoffs was a great story last year. That story ended when they traded Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland, after they had benched/disrespected him during last season. The Bills are turning the page and building for the long term, in what is probably a step back year, if you look at their early schedule. They drafted a quarterback of the future in Josh Allen, signed a bridge QB in A.J. McCarron from Cincinnati, and drafted a 19 year-old middle linebacker in Trumaine Edmonds. They also signed DT Star Lotulelei and drafted DT Harrison Phillips, the combine’s strongest player. The defense will be better than last year, when it ranked 29th against the run and 26th overall. But it’s the quarterback situation that will hold the team and running back LeSean McCoy back. When you look at Buffalo statically, they ranked 31st in passing. They figured they may as well make changes, because they can’t do any worse, and they made the playoffs, feasting on the Jets and Dolphins. They are a team that will rise, if they ever find or develop a quarterback.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers : With quarterback Jameis Winston suspended again, the Buc’s season is shot in the foot before it even starts. With a trip to New Orleans, and visits from Philly and Pittsburgh, it was unlikely they could avoid 0-3 anyway. Week 4 in Chicago, is when Winston will return from suspension, and try to save their season. Tampa attacked it’s defensive line problem this off-season like no team I have ever seen before. They signed 2 defensive tackles from the Super Bowl Champion Eagles, signed Mitch Unrein from the Bears, traded for Jason Pierre-Paul from the Giants and drafted Vita Vea the top tackle in the draft. They have talent throughout their roster and are rumored to be in the market for QB Teddy Bridgewater of the Jets.
26. Chicago Bears : How quickly can new coach Matt Nagy install his offense? How quickly does quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and his new receivers, pick up this West Coast spread option hybrid. Is free-agent receiver Allen Robinson ready to return to form? Can running back Jordan Howard become the 3 down back, he and they, say he is? Will anyone please step up and help defensive stalwart Akiem Hicks with the pass rush? If the answers are; quickly, quickly, yes, yes, and yes, the Bears can smell the playoffs. Reality and history suggests the answers are actually; slowly, slowly, yes, no and maybe. The Bears have made positive moves in the locker room and talent. Next year is the year. Give Nagy some time to settle in and develop his offense, because i’m not sure how having 2 fullbacks on the roster, jibes with a spread, qb option offense. They have some things to figure out within the roster size, that plays to their strengths. It’s going to be one of the most interesting seasons in a very long time.
27. Cleveland Browns : I wanted to rate them higher than the Bears but couldn’t pull the trigger. Not that I believe so much in the abilities of general manager John Dorsey, I don’t, after the Browns most recent draft. They made some mistakes and squandered the value of quite a few picks. But the trades for Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry were major pluses for the Browns, along with signing free-agent cornerback E.J. Gaines from Buffalo, and center Chris Hubbard from Pittsburgh. The biggest possible get for the Browns though, is getting suspended WR Josh Gordon back. With Taylor, Gordon, Landry, free-agent running back Carlos Hyde, 2nd round pick Nick Chubb, and Duke Johnson Jr., the Browns finally have an offense that can compete in the NFL.
28. Cincinnati Bengals : By winning their last game last season, they knocked Baltimore out of the playoffs and let Buffalo in. They also knocked Detroit out of contention the previous week. When the Bengals try to compete, they can, and those last two wins saved head coach Marvin Lewis’s job again. Will the Bengals capitalize on that momentum? Probably not, this is the Bengals after all. Last year they were wrecked by being penny wise and dollar foolish with left tackle Andy Whitworth, because of his age. Whitworth was a big reason for the Rams turnaround last year. The Bengals have replaced him and their center a year later, when they were ranked last in the league in offense. They are not a bad team, just inconsistent like their quarterback, front office and a few young players.
29. Miami Dolphins : I personally can’t believe I have the Dolphins ranked this low, but there are so many teams that have drastically improved their talent level, that there are only a few bad teams in the league anymore. The Dolphins did sustain big losses by trading Jarvis Landry to Cleveland and releasing Ndamukong Suh. The Dolphins plugged those holes with trades for DE Robert Quinn and DT Akeem Spence, also signing free-agent receivers Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. The Dolphins get quarterback Ryan Tannehill back, as they try to recoup some of the money spent of him, through playing time and quality performances, that might make him a trade able asset. Miami is in need of a total rebuild, which is odd, because Adam Gase is a talented coach. Fire the GM!
30. Indianapolis Colts : No problem putting them at the bottom of any list. You just don’t know about the quarterback situation. I can’t recall a quarterback coming back from a shoulder problem and being successful. Andrew Luck had the Colts on the verge a few years back, but that seems so long ago. Recently fired head coach Chuck Pagano couldn’t adjust without Luck, and got no help from the front office. Now former Bear personnel guy, Chris Ballard is in charge, and needs time to rebuild. They had a great draft and sprinkled fresh talent through many personnel groups. Need two more drafts like this one, to sniff the playoffs in a suddenly tough division. TE Eric Ebron is a fantasy deep sleeper, under new head coach Frank Reich, the former O.C. from Phillidelphia.
31. Arizona Cardinals : New Head coach Steve Wilks came highly recommended from Carolina. His forte is defense, and while the defense is tough and fast at home in the dome, giving up less than 20 points per game last year. They gave up 25 points per game on the road. There is a clear need for a rebuild, with the Cardinals best players also being their oldest. They need to trade every asset they can, for draft picks and start new quarterback Josh Rosen from the beginning of the season and absorb the growing pains now.
32. New York Jets : The Jets have been floundering for years, since they fired Rex Ryan and hired Todd Bowles. It’s not Bowles fault though, he has been saddled with terrible drafts and player personnel moves from the start. There has never been a coherent plan, and there still isn’t. General Manager Mike Maccagnan is a terrible talent evaluator with only a couple draft picks that have panned out since 2015, and one decent personnel group in the running backs. I could run the Jets better in my sleep. If they don’t win one of their first 3 games, they might not win all year long. Number 3 overall draft pick Sam Darnold should be kept out of the lineup until he proves he can run the team. Unlike Josh Rosen and Arizona, Darnold’s ability to read defenses and his football/ quarterback i.q. is suspect. He could be the next David Carr if thrust into the starting role too quickly on this team. This roster is almost a complete tear down, with no real identity.