It’s hard to believe that the start to the most extraordinary NFL season in the league’s history is just over the horizon. The total lack of preseason games has, for starters, robbed me of the notion of time, but it’s also made it far more difficult to surmise the caliber of the league’s teams, the quality of their depth, and the abilities of their rookie and free agent classes―particularly those teams with new coaching staffs or quarterbacks. In other words, we don’t have a whole lot of new information to work with. Nevertheless, let’s crack on: Here’s my preseason NFL Power Rankings.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs return with most of the key pieces for their high-octane offense this year―and add a dynamic pass-catching back in first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire―and the now-fully-healthy Patrick Mahomes should be ready to resume carving up opposing defenses. Pairing Mahomes with Andy Reid’s pass-first, super-aggressive philosophy creates the foundation for a Super Bowl repeat, and the team’s top-tier special teams unit doesn’t hurt matters either. If the Chiefs can field even a league-average defense again this season (that group finished 14th last year in DVOA), Kansas City has a good shot at defending its title.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore is the easy favorite to be the league’s most unstoppable rushing offense again this year. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman deploys a brilliantly schemed option-based run game that perfectly accentuates Lamar Jackson’s unique skill set as a runner. The Ravens will have to adjust to losing future Hall of Fame guard Marshal Yanda, but the addition of rookie running back J.K. Dobbins gives that group more explosiveness in the backfield. I’m expecting Baltimore’s young pass-catching unit, led by Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews, to take a big leap forward as well, providing a big boost for Jackson in the likely scenario he’s asked to throw at a higher rate this year than he did in 2019. Add in its strong defense and typically elite special teams group, and Baltimore is well positioned to knock the Chiefs off their block in the AFC.
3. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans might be the most balanced team in the NFL. I’m expecting the Drew Brees–led offense to once again rank among the league’s most efficient (it finished fourth in Football Outsiders DVOA in 2019), and both the team’s defense (eighth) and special teams units (third) bring top-tier potential in 2020. The Saints will face stiff competition from Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in the NFC South, but Brees and Co. may have a big edge in the continuity department, which could be crucial after a COVID-shortened offseason. We’ll see how much that factor matters when New Orleans takes on Tampa Bay on Sunday.
4. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ dominant defensive line helped carry the team to a Super Bowl berth in 2019, and that stifling unit held opposing offenses to a league-low 4.8 net yards per pass attempt while finishing second in DVOA against the pass. They’ll hope to manage that type of performance in 2020 sans All Pro defensive tackle Deforest Buckner (whom the team traded to the Colts), but this team can lean on its still-formidable front-line group that features Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas, DJ Jones, and rookie first-rounder Javon Kinlaw. Offensively, Jimmy Garoppolo may have to carry a heavier load this year, a task that’ll be made a little bit easier once Deebo Samuel (foot) and rookie Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) are both fully back from preseason injuries. Look for Kyle Shanahan to scheme George Kittle up and give his playmaking tight end plenty of opportunities to run defenders over in the open field early on in the season.
5. Seattle Seahawks
I don’t think Pete Carroll is going to #LetRussCook by transforming Seattle’s offense into a wide-open, pass-heavy offense, but the Seahawks may be forced to turn to Wilson earlier in games this year because of the team’s mystifying inattention to its pass rush over the offseason. After letting Jadeveon Clowney walk in free agency and failing to sign any big-ticket names to fill the void, Seattle’s going to need an otherworldly performance from its new-look secondary. I’m not expecting the Seahawks’ defense to make a massive leap this year, even with newly acquired Jamal Adams leading the charge, which leaves it up to Wilson to pick up the slack. The ninth-year vet will face off against the second-toughest slate of opposing defenses this year, per Sharp Football Stats. But with Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Josh Gordon, and Greg Olsen running routes, I’m expecting another highly efficient, explosive performance from this group in 2020.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers offense should get a massive boost this year, not just by the return of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but by virtue of facing the projected easiest slate of opposing defenses, per Sharp Football Stats. After finishing 31st in offensive DVOA last season under Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges, this unit has a chance to jump back up into the top 10. Pair that with a defense that finished third in DVOA and tied for fifth in points allowed in 2019 (just 18.9 per game), and Pittsburgh looks ready to challenge the Ravens in the AFC North.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pretty much everything Tom Brady does in his age-43 season will be setting a new bar for NFL quarterbacks of his age, and there’s no telling whether this is the year when his performance finally falls completely off a cliff. I’m still betting against Brady’s decline, however, and reports out of training camp are that his arm looks live and that he’s developed some nice rapport with his new receivers. I’d guess Brady has another year of top-level play in him, especially considering he’s throwing to a talented pass-catching group led by Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Defensively, the Buccaneers have assembled a talented and formidable group over the past few years. With standouts in Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David, and Devin White, plus a budding defensive secondary, Todd Bowles’s defense should rank among the league’s best again in 2020.
8. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are facing rare depth issues on the offensive line following center Travis Frederick’s unexpected offseason retirement and right tackle La’el Collins’s preseason hip injury, but the team’s star-studded skill group should help mitigate those losses. With Dak Prescott at the helm, Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, and Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and rookie CeeDee Lamb running routes downfield, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will have plenty of playmakers at his disposal. Defensively, the DeMarcus Lawrence–Everson Griffen combo should provide a nice foundation for the team’s pass rush, and veteran Aldon Smith has been getting some real buzz in camp. For Dallas, talent is not a question; it’s whether new head coach Mike McCarthy can get more out of it than his predecessor.
9. Buffalo Bills
The Bills could field the best defense in the NFL in 2020, and that unit alone gives the team a shot at competing for the AFC East division title. But for Buffalo to take that next step, to go from simply playoff contenders to Super Bowl contenders, quarterback Josh Allen needs to take a big third-year leap. Allen was atrocious throwing the ball deep last year, so the team went out and got him the best deep ball receiver in the NFL. With Stefon Diggs now in town, the pieces are in place for Allen to improve his efficiency and cut down on backbreaking mistakes. If he can do that, the sky’s the limit for this Buffalo team.
10. Tennessee Titans
It would be unreasonable to expect Ryan Tannehill to post the same types of absurdly efficient numbers he accumulated over the second half of last year in 2020. Regression, in some form, is almost surely coming, whether we’re talking about his career-best touchdown rate (7.7), his career- (and NFL-) best yards per attempt average (9.6), his career- (and NFL-) best passer rating (117.5), or his career-best 70.3 percent completion rate. That said, I do think Tannehill will lead an explosive, methodical passing attack that relies heavily on play-action and his receivers’ ability to create yards after the catch. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith showed a penchant for using his skill players exactly how they should be used last year―and I expect heavy doses of Derrick Henry runs, A.J. Brown catch-and-run plays, and some calculated deep shots from Tannehill. And I expect that it will all work well. Oh, and by the way, the Titans signed Jadeveon Clowney on Sunday―adding another highly disruptive piece to their already-talent-packed defense. I like the Titans in the AFC South.
11. Green Bay Packers
The Packers’ 13-3 record from last season is slightly misleading when it comes to expectations for 2020 (they finished with the second-worst DVOA ever for a 13-3 team, per the Football Outsiders Almanac), but while Green Bay did have the ball bounce their way a few times and get a bit lucky in one score games, they’re still my early favorites to win the NFC North again this season. Offensively, we’re now going into Year 2 of the Matt LaFleur era: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers should benefit from better understanding of the scheme, a healthier Davante Adams downfield, and a slightly more experienced (albeit still underwhelming) pass-catching group downfield. If one of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, or even Jace Sternberger can emerge as a reliable playmaker to complement Adams, this group could make a jump. I like Green Bay’s potential on the defensive side of the ball, too: Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith are a top-tier pass-rushing unit, Kenny Clark is a premier interior lineman, and the team has a promising young defensive backs group led by Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage Jr.
12. Indianapolis Colts
I can’t wait to see what the Colts offense looks like in 2020. A lot hinges on what the team gets from new quarterback Philip Rivers. The veteran looked cooked at times last season, forcing poorly thrown balls into double or triple coverage far too frequently. But Rivers should benefit from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and by playing in Frank Reich’s quarterback-friendly scheme. If Rivers can cut down on his Hero Ball moments and distribute the ball to his playmakers more efficiently, guys like Parris Campbell and rookies Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor could quickly emerge as potent offensive forces. The aforementioned Buckner acquisition could be a catalyst for a big jump on defense too, and he should help transform Indianapolis from the middling 7-9 team it was last year into a real contender in the NFC South.
13. Los Angeles Rams
I expect the Rams’ offense to bounce back in 2020. That group struggled during stretches of last season but finished off the year on a strong note, switching midseason from a primarily 11-personnel-based scheme to more “heavy” two-tight-end sets. This sea change, which was accompanied by adjustments in blocking schemes up front, seemed to help unlock the run game and help give Jared Goff more time to throw. With most of the team’s key offensive pieces returning in 2020―plus an infusion of rookie talent in second-rounders Cam Akers and Van Jefferson―I think head coach Sean McVay is going to have this offense humming again this year. As for the defense, when you have Aaron Donald leading the vanguard, this group is always going to make things tough for opposing passers.
14. Philadelphia Eagles
I probably would’ve had the Eagles higher on this list a few weeks ago but a series of preseason injuries—left tackle Andre Dillard and guard Brandon Brooks both suffered season-ending injuries, and receiver Jalen Reagor and running back Miles Sanders are both nicked up heading into Week 1—has me tempering expectations a bit, at least early on in the season. Overall, though, I’m optimistic that quarterback Carson Wentz will have his best statistical showing since his MVP-caliber 2017 campaign. And I love that the team has made it a major focus to add speed to that offense, adding Reagor, John Hightower, Quez Watkins (also on IR for now), and Jason Huntley over the offseason.
15. New England Patriots
The Tom Brady–less Patriots are one of the toughest teams to project heading into 2020. The team’s top-tier defense certainly provides a comfortable floor for the team to compete this year, but it’s unlikely that unit reaches the heights we saw last season. New England could struggle to create takeaways at the same rate it did last year (when that unit notched 36 total takeaways, including a league-high 25 interceptions), and the Patriots will face a tougher schedule (ninth hardest) this season than they did last year (easiest). Of course, Cam Newton is the obvious X factor for New England’s prospects this year. Newton won’t benefit from being surrounded by a surplus of talented playmakers at the skill positions, but he really never has in his career. I won’t be surprised if Newton plays well, though, and I expect the Patriots to shoot up this list as the year goes on.
16. Minnesota Vikings
For most teams, the loss of a key cog like offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski could act as a major setback, requiring a ramp-up period in which the team’s new coach has to install his scheme, language, and style and get onto the same page as his quarterback. Minnesota mostly skips through all of that by turning to Gary Kubiak, though, who had his hands on the team’s offensive design as an “offensive advisor” and assistant head coach in 2019. That’s good news for Kirk Cousins and the team’s overall passing game. The bad news, though, is that Stefon Diggs is gone, leaving Adam Thielen and a bunch of question marks as the team’s de facto no. 2. Rookie Justin Jefferson has a shot to emerge in that role, as does sophomore tight end Irv Smith Jr. In any case, the Vikings could struggle early in the season as they try to cope from the loss of such a talented pass-catcher in Diggs.
17. Houston Texans
Bill O’Brien shipped DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals during the offseason, a bizarre decision that will have consequences for the effectiveness of the team’s offense in 2020. Deshaun Watson’s got the makeup to overcome the loss of his top wideout, but he will need all three of Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, and David Johnson (who came over in that Hopkins trade) to stay healthy for Houston to make another run to the playoffs in 2020. I’m dubious that the relatively recent acquisitions of former first-round cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves will be enough of a spark to turn this middle-of-the-pack defense around, as Houston did little else of note over the offseason to improve that unit.
18. Atlanta Falcons
I’m expecting big things from the Falcons’ passing game, which should benefit from continuity between offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, quarterback Matt Ryan, and receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. But the offseason additions of running back Todd Gurley and tight end Hayden Hurst both present question marks (Is Gurley’s knee right? Can Hurst assume the Austin Hooper role without much of a ramp-up period?). Atlanta’s still shallow at key spots on defense, including edge rusher and cornerback. That unit could have tough sledding this year as it’s set to face off against the toughest slate of opposing offenses, per Sharp Football Stats.
19. Denver Broncos
A defense that quietly finished 13th last year in Football Outsiders DVOA now adds pass rusher Bradley Chubb (back from an ACL tear), five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey (trade), and cornerback A.J. Bouye (trade) to the mix (though they did just likely lose Von Miller to injury). The team also took major steps toward surrounding second-year quarterback Drew Lock with the talent he needs to make a jump, grabbing Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy (who came in at no. 7 on my NFL draft big board) in the first round and Penn State speedster K.J. Hamler (no. 63) in the second. With receiver Courtland Sutton already entrenched and tight end Noah Fant on the cusp of a breakout season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Broncos shoot up the ranks over the next few weeks.
20. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona’s offensive turnaround last year under head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray ranks among the all-time best year-over-year improvements from any NFL unit, ever. After finishing dead last by a long shot in offensive DVOA in 2018, the Cardinals ranked a respectable 13th last year. Notably, they finished eighth in weighted DVOA, which accounts more heavily for performance later in the season. In other words, this offense was trending up, and that was before adding superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a blockbuster trade this offseason. The Cardinals have the sixth-toughest schedule of opposing defenses this year, but their explosive, balanced offense should be enough to help them compete in a tough NFC West. The team’s pass defense, though, which ranked 26th in DVOA last year, will have to improve dramatically for Arizona to contend.
21. Chicago Bears
The Bears boast a strong defense with playmaking star power in Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Jackson, but unless the offense makes a big jump in 2020 under incumbent starter Mitchell Trubisky, their upside is capped as a middle-of-the-pack also-ran. That offense finished 25th in DVOA in 2019; did it get a whole lot better over the offseason?
22. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers truly seem cursed. L.A. lost superstar safety Derwin James for the year to a meniscus injury two weeks ago, a massive blow for the team’s talented defense. The Chargers will still be a tough out for everyone they face―Casey Hayward, Chris Harris Jr., Joey Bosa, and Melvin Ingram will make sure of that―but they’ll need starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor to elevate the offense if they’re going to make any noise in the AFC West.
23. Cleveland Browns
Only Jameis Winston threw more clean-pocket interceptions (16) than Baker Mayfield (15) last year, according to Pro Football Focus, a troubling indictment of the former top pick’s sophomore campaign. New head coach Kevin Stefanski’s balanced, play-action-heavy offense should be a better fit for Mayfield than whatever it was the Browns ran last year under Freddie Kitchens, but Mayfield simply must improve on his decision-making and accuracy in Year 3 if Cleveland has any chance to compete with the Ravens and Steelers in the AFC North. I’m cautiously optimistic that Mayfield will recapture the playmaking moxie he showed as a rookie―and Cleveland does have the seventh-easiest schedule of opposing defenses, per Sharp Football―but he still has a lot to prove before I can put Cleveland any higher.
24. Las Vegas Raiders
The additions of receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards bolster the Raiders’ ascending skill-position group led by running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller. That unit should give Las Vegas an exciting nucleus of playmaking talent to build around long term, but Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock are still in the nascent stage of their roster overhaul and the Raiders may not have enough established talent on defense to make a big jump in 2020. It doesn’t help that Las Vegas faces the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL, according to both the Football Outsiders Almanac and by projected Vegas win totals. Derek Carr’s numbers improved across the board last year, but this is a pivotal year for the veteran quarterback: Considering his dead cap number drops to just $2.5 million in 2021, the Raiders have an easy out if Carr struggles.
25. Detroit Lions
The Lions’ offense is better than people probably remember, and getting a healthy Matt Stafford back under center is a massive boost for a team that went 0-8 without him in 2019. Detroit’s defense is a big question mark, though, and after losing cornerback Darius Slay over the offseason they’ll be asking top pick Jeff Okudah to step in and make a difference on Day 1. Ultimately, I’m not sure I trust that Matt Patricia is the coach to right the Lions’ ship.
26. New York Giants
I’m actually pretty excited to watch the Giants’ offense this year, but that might just be my fantasy football obsession talking. Quarterback Daniel Jones had his ups and downs as a rookie―he desperately needs to cut down on fumbles after leading the NFL with 18 (11 lost) as a rookie―but it is noteworthy that the former Duke star had exactly zero snaps with all of Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Darius Slayton on the field together at the same time. That’s a pretty talented, and shockingly fast, playmaking group, and this New York offense could score more points than people expect. The only problem is that the team’s defense will probably give up more.
27. Miami Dolphins
Last year’s plucky Dolphins squad outplayed expectations down the stretch, rallying around first-year head coach Brian Flores to win three of their last five games and finish 5-11. This season, new challenges await. The team’s new-look offensive line may have some growing pains, especially from rookie left tackle Austin Jackson. And there’s a lot of work to do for a defensive unit that finished last year 29th in the NFL in DVOA. I like the direction this team is headed in, especially with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa waiting in the wings behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they’re probably still a year away from making much noise.
28. Cincinnati Bengals
Last season’s 28th-ranked defense by DVOA still has plenty of holes, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a Cardinals-esque turnaround from the Joe Burrow–led offense. The top overall pick has drawn rave reviews in training camp and has an underrated skill-position group (which features Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Auden Tate, and Tee Higgins) to work with. His offensive line is a question mark, but it’ll help to get last year’s first-round pick, Jonah Williams, back on the field. Despite their low ranking here, Burrow makes Cincy one of my must-watch teams in 2020.
29. Washington Football Team
Adding pass rusher Chase Young to an already talented defensive line gives Washington a real chance to set the tone in the trenches this year. Young is my easy pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year and, along with Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Montez Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, and Matt Ioannidis, should be a catalyst for Washington taking a big step forward on that side of the ball. I don’t expect big things from Washington’s offense, but it will be fun to watch quarterback Dwayne Haskins continue to develop while distributing the ball to ascending superstar Terry McLaurin and the team’s young, exciting skill group―which includes rookie running back Antonio Gibson, Bryce Love, Antonio Gandy-Golden, and a favorite sleeper of mine, Steven Sims.
30. New York Jets
The Jets’ defense was quietly pretty good last year, finishing 11th in DVOA, but the loss of All-Pro safety Jamal Adams (who was traded to the Seahawks) will hurt their cohesiveness in 2020. The lack of an outside pass rush or depth at cornerback won’t help much, either. Offensively, I want to believe that Sam Darnold is on the cusp of a breakout season, but preseason injuries that have limited Breshad Perriman and rookie Denzel Mims have taken the wind out of my sails on the Jets offense. There’s not too much to get excited about when it comes to this Adam Gase–coached team.
31. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are heading into a full-on defensive rebuild with the offseason departures of Gerald McCoy, Vernon Butler, Mario Addison, Luke Kuechly, Bruce Irvin, and James Bradberry, among others, so there’s bound to be some ugly play on that side of the ball in 2020. The offense, on the other hand, could be one of the more interesting groups in the league: New offensive coordinator Joe Brady has some exciting talent to work into his wide-open scheme, and it will be fun to see how he deploys Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars’ offense under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden should make this team watchable on Sundays, and I’m a Gardner Minshew believer; he’ll certainly benefit from throwing to D.J. Chark, and rookie Laviska Shenault got top marks during the shortened training camp and preseason. But while the offense could be fun, the “Sacksonville” defense we all fell in love with on the team’s run to the AFC Championship in 2018 has been summarily dismantled. Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue, and a handful of others are now all gone―putting the Jaguars right back into rebuild mode and a last-place finish on this list.