Preseason always brings its fair share of surprises, but no one saw this coming. The landscape of the league has shifted in wake of Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement from football; the Texans are now the heavy favorites to win the AFC South, and there’s one less legitimate challenger to presumed AFC Championship Game participants Kansas City and New England.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings after three weeks of preseason football and one stunning retirement.
32. Miami Dolphins
Miami is looking as we expected. Josh Rosen apparently isn’t good enough to start for what will be the worst team in football, so that’s not great. They’re reportedly looking to trade large contracts on the books like that of Kenny Stills. The only reason the Dolphins might not end up with the worst record in football is because Ryan Fitzpatrick is, if anything, unpredictable. With the inside track to start Week 1, it’s well within the realm of possibility the journeyman QB steals Miami a few more wins than they deserve.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. Green hasn’t miraculously healed, which is the only reason Cincinnati will get a bump in the rankings at some point. Otherwise, their 2018 first-round pick has reportedly lost his job on the starting offensive line, and what Zac Taylor is bringing to the table offensively remains a bit unclear. The Bengals have talented players, but nothing so far has indicated they’ll be better than any other teams in the bottom tier of these rankings.
30. New York Giants
Daniel Jones has looked good! That’s about where the positive news ends. Whether it’s Pat Shurmur or John Mara’s call, the Giants seem determine to start Eli Manning in Week 1. Nobody seems ready to step up into the vacuum at wide receiver where the only option to start the year will be Sterling Shepard. Even if Jones ends up the starter sooner rather than later, this team will end up with another top-five pick this year.
29. Arizona Cardinals
The full version of what Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme will look like at the professional level has yet to be realized through three preseason games. Kyler Murray has looked okay, but nothing about him has stood out thus far. The biggest talking point around this team is the constant false starts called on their clapping quarterbacks. This team is talented in several senses, but they’re young and will struggle to make waves this year.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bruce Arians continues to reinforce his culture down in Tampa Bay, but without his team at full strength, it’ll be tough to evaluate until December. There’s reason for optimism, but even those with overflowing optimism will have some doubts about anyone’s ability to fix Jameis Winston.
27. Washington Redskins
Dwyane Haskins looks like a starting quarterback, but his skills are still visibly raw. Case Keenum looks as Case Keenum will look, which is fine. Adrian Peterson still has it. But an ugly public dispute with their franchise left tackle looms over Washington, and public perception is at rock-bottom (which is saying something for this franchise). The immediate future is not terribly bright.
26. Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen looks like he’s improved slightly from last year, but not so much so that he’ll drastically change Buffalo’s win total. The defense is looking good once more, but with an erratic QB like Allen in the backfield, it’s hard to mark down the Bills for more than six wins. Watching Frank Gore, immortal wonder, will be a delight, but the wins don’t seem to be there for Buffalo.
25. Oakland Raiders
This Antonio Brown debacle has only somehow lowered expectations for Oakland this year, and after games have been played, there’s no reason to change our minds. The young talent isn’t ready to contribute in a meaningful way, and Brown can’t be relied upon to physically show up. Hard to imagine a circumstance in which Oakland is competitive in 2019.
24. Detroit Lions
Two out of the last three first-round picks for Detroit went down with what looked to be serious injuries in the most recent preseason game. Fortunately, Frank Ragnow won’t miss serious time with a minor ankle sprain, while Jarrad Davis will likely miss the first few games of the season with a high-ankle sprain, but it looked much worse. Generally speaking, the Lions are a top-heavy team and aren’t the type of franchise to get lucky. If everything breaks right, they’ll be fighting for the NFC North crown. But they’ll realistically end up as a middling squad again.
23. New York Jets
Sam Darnold has looked razor sharp in his attempts to prove Tony Romo right. Le'Veon Bell was seen on the field for the first time in a year. Things seem to be moving in the right direction for the oft-maligned Jets, even if their ceiling as a Wild Card threat seems set in stone.
22. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee’s offensive line, supposedly the backbone of the team, has not looked good at all in the preseason. This does not bode well for a franchise that fancies itself the type of ground-and-pound, salt-of-the-earth team that leans into the identity of their line. Marcus Mariota can do things at an NFL level, but only if he’s given time to do so. Not a lot of optimism down in Nashville.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars
The defense looks good, and Nick Foles seems an upgrade over Blake Bortles. We already knew all this. It will take until the regular season to see if the jump from Bortles to Foles is enough to vault the team into playoff contention. For now, barring another historic season defensively, the team is below average as constructed.
20. Indianapolis Colts
Luck is gone, but at least not all hope is lost. Indianapolis has a good team with one of the better back-ups in the league, Jacoby Brissett, who has experience stepping in to a tough situation and leading his team to some wins. The defense has good young talent, and the offense should remain at about league average with Frank Reich calling the shots. This team is no longer a Super Bowl contender, but they’re talented and will play this season with a rather large chip on their collective shoulders. They won’t be an easy out for anyone.
19. San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo prevented radio callers everywhere from trumpeting his imminent demise with an acceptable performance in the third preseason game. Overall, though, it’s been a concerning few games for San Francisco’s franchise QB. Jimmy G will undoubtedly get better, but the Niners go as far as he’ll carry them. So far, it doesn’t look optimistic.
18. Denver Broncos
The Joe Flacco experiment will probably go as we all expect, especially since Drew Lock is clearly not ready for full-time starting duties (although they might have something there). But man, does that defense look good. Frighteningly so. The secondary isn’t as strong as when the defense brought Denver a title, but Bradley Chubb/Von Miller is the most dangerous pass-rushing combination in the NFL. If the offense isn’t a complete mess, this team could be dangerous.
17. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton got hurt again. Not great! In other news, the defense looks adequate and Christian McCaffrey remains Christian McCaffrey. Newton’s health is very concerning, but this time around it’s a foot injury. That sure isn’t good, but slightly better than another shoulder injury. Newton’s health is too big of an if to put this team much higher.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson has looked good, but no marked improvement from the passing perspective. The Ravens will need the league’s best rushing attack to hang with the better teams in the league, and it looks good so far, but not great.
15. Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott is still hanging out in Cabo. Locking up Jaylon Smithgives Dallas one of the better linebacker duos in the league, and overall the defense looks like they could be a top-10 unit. But until Elliott shows up, the Cowboys will have a lower floor and ceiling than with the All-Pro in the backfield.
14. Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook busted out an 85-yard run in his first game action after playing in only 11 games in 2018 due to injury. That alone makes all Vikings fans very, very happy. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen seem poised to claim the title of best 1-2 punch at receiver in the league. Cautious optimism is the name of the game here, but until we see proof Kirk Cousins will be rejuvenated by heavier doses of play action, cautious it remains.
13. Cleveland Browns
The Browns’ chances of making the postseason get better with Luck’s retirement likely freeing up an AFC Wild Card spot. Baker Mayfieldhad more down moments than you’d like to see from a starter in preseason, but Odell Beckham Jr. is only just now getting ready for full contact. No one’s excitement has any reason to diminish yet.
12. Houston Texans
Lamar Miller tore his ACL, and unless the Texans look for a high-level replacement, Duke Johnson will be the main man in the backfield. That’s good for fantasy but probably not great for the Texans; Johnson has always been a threat during pass plays, but has struggled to consistently succeed between the tackles. Miller wasn’t a star, but he was a steady presence for a team that needs a decent ground game to help their offensive line hold up in pass protection.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
James Washington has looked smooth so far, and seems primed to take the open No. 2 spot opposite Juju Smith-Schuster. The offense will be less explosive this year, but should still put up somewhat similar numbers. A questionable secondary and Ben Roethlisberger’s age remain red flags for a team with championship hopes.
10. Atlanta Falcons
The offensive line looks slightly better than last season, and major pieces from the defense missing in 2018 continue to work their way back for 2019. You know what you’re getting on offense from this grouping. Defense is another matter, and while they should be good, there’s no way to tell how guys like Deion Jones and Keanu Neal will perform after season-ending injuries until we see it in the flesh.
9. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks will be a top-10 team as long as they have Russell Wilson at the helm. Someone will have to step up at running back to consider them a legitimate championship contender. They’ll drop a few places in the overall defensive rankings, but they haven’t shown any reason for real concern in that area yet.
8. Los Angeles Chargers
Derwin James’ foot injury is a huge blow to the Chargers’ hopes of fielding a top secondary this season. He unlocks everything they want to do on the back end. They still have one of the scarier pass-rushing combinations in football, but losing James for what looks like half the season is a big blow. Melvin Gordon is still in limbo, and the longer they don’t do anything there, the worse it gets for everyone.
7. Chicago Bears
Mitch Trubisky has looked quite similar to how he was last year so far. Which isn’t good. The Bears’ upside rides with Trubisky’s progression, especially since it seems likely the defense will take a step back (however small it may be) after Vic Fangio’s departure for Denver. The Bears will be good, but only Trubisky can help them close the gap between good and great.
6. Green Bay Packers
Similar to Seattle, who steps up in Green Bay’s backfield (and how impactful they can be) will play a large part in how the offense performs at Lambeau this year. Of course, the Packers have far more leeway in that department with Aaron Rodgers under center. The defense seems primed for a breakout year with a load of young talent and smart free-agent signings. There’s a lot to like up in Wisconsin, but it’s all theoretical until Matt LeFleur breaks out the new-look offense.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Unless Carson Wentz comes back significantly hampered from his two seasons of injuries and missed time, the Eagles should be considered one of the best teams in the league. They have continuity everywhere, deep in the trenches on both sides, and their secondary is the only weak spot on the roster. Wentz can elevate this team to championship level.
4. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams need to put together at least an adequate season on defense, which so far has been harder than it should be with a generational talent and perennial Defensive Player of the Year in the middle. They’ll be great, again, on offense, no matter how much they play Todd Gurley. The biggest question surrounding this team is if they can mentally handle coming up short the way they did last season.
3. New Orleans Saints
With Drew Brees and Sean Payton, everything will be fine in the Big Easy. Alvin Kamara is poised for a great year. The defense needs to up their consistency to create the best possible version of the Saints, but they’ll be in championship contention.
2. New England Patriots
Josh Gordon is back, and the Patriots aren’t going to throw 200 times to Julian Edelman. Well, they still might, but regardless, Gordon’s presence opens up a lot of what New England will look to do on offense. Defensively they’ve looked very good in three preseason games, giving some credence to the idea they can carry over a dominant playoff run to a 16-game schedule.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs still reign supreme, though. Patrick Mahomes is still making absurd throws, and they’ll have a fully stocked cupboard of receiving options with Tyreek Hill avoiding suspension. Damien Williams has looked adequate, at the very least, in limited touches as the de facto No. 1 back. Still some work to be done on defense, but so far they seem like they’re better than last season. A low bar, to be sure, but they were one possession away from a Super Bowl appearance.