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NFL Preseason Power Rankings, Part III: The Rising, the Resurgent, and the Chargers

Will the Panthers reemerge as contenders? Can Carson Wentz and Jameis Winston take the next step? And will last year’s disaster team make a run in the AFC?

Cam Newton, Carson Wentz, and Tyrann Mathieu Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This is one of those times when a daylong nap seems appealing, if only so it can be Thursday night already. In fewer than 36 hours, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and—if you read below—the in-transition Chiefs will kick off the 2017 NFL season. Like the rest of you, I’m pumped to see what ridiculous act of self-aggrandizement Pats owner Robert Kraft will put together to celebrate this championship.

2017 NFL Preview

Earlier this week, I ranked the teams I expect to finish at the bottom of the league and the teams that I expect to finish just outside the playoff picture. In Part III of The Ringer’s preseason power rankings series, I’m examining the teams that could sneak into the postseason. This group involves some bounce-back candidates and some teams poised to get over the hump; all of them should be relevant come December if they hit their potential.

As a reminder, my typical biases for great offensive line play and against awful quarterbacks will almost certainly shine through in these rankings, but this is my best effort at trying to sort out how hopeful each franchise should be heading into the year.

16. New York Giants

2016 record: 11-5

2016 Football Outsiders DVOA finish: 22nd on offense; 2nd on defense

Best-case scenario: The Giants’ defensive turnaround from 2015 to 2016 was one of the most impressive of any unit in recent history. Coordinator Steve Spagnolo’s group jumped from 31st to seventh in yards per play, and from 30th to second in DVOA. In most cases, a leap like that would precede a regression to the mean the following season. With the Giants, though, there’s an easy-to-trace reason for the upgrade: Last year’s free-agent class already looks like an all-time haul.

General manager Jerry Reese paid the sticker price for edge rusher Olivier Vernon, run stuffer Damon Harrison, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins in 2016, and all of them proved worthy of their massive contracts. That went a long way in transforming the defense. Yet the most critical development on that side of the ball was Landon Collins going from a below-average starter as a rookie to the best safety in the league in his second season. Collins’s skill set is patently ridiculous. He tallied four sacks and five interceptions while providing stout support against the run. The way he is deployed in New York’s defense makes him as dangerous as any player going right now.

If the Giants defense can avoid taking a major step back in 2017, the offense should be much better than it was last season. For New York to score points last fall, Odell Beckham Jr. had to take a slant 50 yards to the house; only the lowly Rams went three and out at a higher rate. In his search for more consistent production, Reese signed perfect Beckham complement Brandon Marshall in free agency and grabbed Ole Miss tight end and combine wrecker Evan Engram in the first round of the draft. Even if Eli Manning is on the decline, adding Marshall and Engram to Beckham and second-year slot man Sterling Shepard should be enough to boost the passing game.

Worst-case scenario: After throwing most of his resources this offseason at pass catchers, Reese did little to upgrade the Giants offensive line, which remains the weakest spot on New York’s roster. Ereck Flowers, a 2015 first-round pick, has shown almost no growth at left tackle. No tackle in the NFL has allowed more pressures over the past two seasons than Flowers’s 128, and it isn’t all that close.

Guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg are solid contributors on the inside, but the Giants will once again ride with Bobby Hart at right tackle and choose between Chargers flameout D.J. Fluker and the incumbent John Jerry at right guard. Marshall, Engram, and Beckham could make scoreboards explode if given the chance, but this line is bad enough that it might limit those playmakers’ potential.

The Giants’ upside is tantalizing. But their flaws—and any possible drop-off from the defense—could spell doom in a competitive NFC East.

Stat of note: 92 percent. That’s how often this offense lined up in 11 personnel last season (three wide receivers, one back, and one tight end), according to Sharp Football Stats, which made for the highest mark in the league by 16 whole percentage points. No other team is as predictable with formations.

Breakout player: Engram. Second-year head coach Ben McAdoo’s commitment to the 11 personnel grouping means that Engram should see the field often as a rookie. Given the Giants’ offensive line issues and Manning’s tendency to get the ball out of his hands quickly, the 6-foot-3 236-pounder should get a healthy share of targets.

Carson Palmer Christian Petersen/Getty Images

15. Arizona Cardinals

2016 record: 7-8-1

2016 DVOA finish: 21st on offense; 3rd on defense

Best-case scenario: The Cardinals have fielded one of the NFL’s most consistent defenses over the past few years, but this season they have to replace a staggering amount of production. Safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger—a reclamation project who turned around his career in Arizona—left in free agency. Linebacker Kevin Minter will now play his thumping early-down role in Cincinnati. And the heart of the defense, lineman Calais Campbell, hit the jackpot by inking a four-year, $60 million deal in Jacksonville. Surviving those losses will be tough, but Arizona added the types of guys who could keep this unit thriving if all breaks right.

Robert Nkemdiche, the franchise’s 2016 first-round pick, will be asked to provide at least some of what Campbell did as an interior pass rusher. Haason Reddick, this year’s first-round pick, should contribute early at inside linebacker. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher will have to figure out the best way to use Reddick, veteran stopgap Karlos Dansby, and safety turned linebacker Deone Bucannon. While he tinkers, the secondary should provide cover: 2017 second-round pick Budda Baker, 33-year-old Antoine Bethea, and superstar Tyrann Mathieu give the Cardinals the safety flexibility they covet.

For Arizona to reach its potential, this roster’s young talent needs to pop. Even if it doesn’t, though, the floor should remain relatively high. After coming off ACL surgery, Mathieu had a middling 2016, but he looked to be back to his old ways this summer. And the pass-rushing combination of Chandler Jones and Markus Golden should get to opposing passers no matter what happens on the defensive line’s interior.

Worst-case scenario: The concern for the Cardinals, even if the defense maintains its recent level of play, is that last year’s offensive performance could become the new normal. That starts with quarterback Carson Palmer, whose play plummeted last fall relative to his MVP-level 2015 campaign. If last fall’s drop-off was a sign of things to come, Arizona is probably cooked before the season begins. Yet the hope is that a full 16 games from tackle Jared Veldheer, better overall health from the offensive line, and a more rested Palmer could keep a repeat disappointment from happening.

While keeping Palmer upright is Arizona’s main goal on offense, finding a secondary playmaker to pair with cyborg running back David Johnson isn’t far behind. With receiver Larry Fitzgerald doing his best work from the slot and wideout John Brown dealing with a lingering quadriceps injury, there’s a chance that the Cardinals will once again have to lean on Johnson at a ridiculous clip in 2017. His 2,118 yards from scrimmage last season came on 373 touches—an absurd workload for a back in the modern NFL.

Stat of note: 52.6 percent. That’s how often the Cards defense generated pressure on line stunts and twists last season, according to Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus, and that was tops in the league. They blitzed on 40.9 percent of their defensive snaps and finished second in the NFL in pressure rate. Arizona has plenty of talent to replace on defense, but this coaching staff knows how to put its players in spots to succeed.

Breakout player: Reddick. The 6-foot-1 235-pounder is transitioning from a focused edge-rushing role at Temple to a full-time linebacker job in Arizona, and he’s exactly the kind of player that the Cardinals’ blitz-happy scheme should be able to unleash. His combine showing proved what a scary athlete he is. Arizona is better than any other team at putting the explosive traits of its linebackers to good use.

14. Minnesota Vikings

2016 record: 8-8

2016 DVOA finish: 26th on offense; 9th on defense

Best-case scenario: General manager Rick Spielman spent this offseason retooling the areas of Minnesota’s roster that sunk its playoff chances after a 5-0 start. That began with the offensive line, which last year was the most banged-up unit of the century, per Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost metric, finishing 24 games worse than any other line in the league. Free-agent signings Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers might not be top-tier options at tackle, but they represent notable upgrades for the Vikings simply by not being T.J. Clemmings and Jake Long.

Considering all the moving parts up front, quarterback Sam Bradford played pretty damn well for this team after coming over in a trade two weeks before last season kicked off. With better protection and a rushing attack centered on rookie Dalvin Cook, it’s possible to imagine a version of this offense that ranks among the top half of the league. Add that to the talent that Minnesota returns on defense, and there’s a recipe for a serious contender—both in the NFC North and the conference overall.

Head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense brings back every major piece of a 2016 group that was absolutely devastating before falling apart down the stretch. The secondary is loaded, headlined by safety Harrison Smith. Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph remain stars along the defensive line, and the somehow only 22-year-old Danielle Hunter has a chance to take over the NFL after racking up 12.5 sacks in his second season. If linebacker Anthony Barr, who bizarrely declined last fall after breaking out in a big way in 2015, returns to form, this has the makings of a top-five unit.

Worst-case scenario: Even the bleakest outlook for the Vikings defense ends with it playing like a top-12 group. That’s what kind of talent and depth lines the depth chart. But the prognosis for the offense is far less certain. The Vikings will work in four new offensive line starters, including rookie center Pat Elflein. While it would be nearly impossible for Minnesota to get worse line play than it did last season, a subpar front could still torpedo this team’s playoff aspirations.

Stat of note: 3.2. That’s the average yards per pass the Vikings defense allowed when bringing six or more rushers last season, according to the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac. Minnesota sent those types of blitzes at the eighth-highest rate in the league. When Zimmer chooses to dial up the heat, it’s incredibly effective.

Breakout player: Cook. Every so often, there comes along a player who doesn’t have the athletic profile of an NFL star but who’s so gifted that it doesn’t matter. Minnesota is hoping that Cook will fit that bill. While the former Florida State standout had a disappointing combine showing, he lives on his vision and elusiveness. He has the chance to emerge as the kind of back who makes his line look better, rather than the other way around.

Marcus Peters Jamie Squire/Getty Images

13. Kansas City Chiefs

2016 record: 12-4

2016 DVOA finish: 13th on offense; 14th on defense

Best-case scenario: Kansas City’s core features plenty of excellent, big-name players. Tight end Travis Kelce has emerged as maybe the most effective tight end in the league, Non-Gronk Division; edge rusher Justin Houston finally appears to be healthy heading into a season after missing 16 combined games over the last two years; and the secondary duo of safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters is a one-two punch that stacks up with any in football. If Houston can get back to even 90 percent of what he was in 2015 and linebacker Derrick Johnson (who’s coming off his second torn Achilles and is now 34 years old) can overcome his recent injury issues, the Chiefs should be able to field a top-eight defense.

The offense probably can’t reach that level, but head coach Andy Reid’s group might not need to for this team to contend. This unit returns the majority of its starters, and third-round pick Kareem Hunt should be an adequate replacement for running back Spencer Ware, who was lost for the season after tearing the PCL and LCL in his right knee. With the blazing-fast Tyreek Hill abandoning a chunk of his kick return duties to take over as the team’s top outside target, Kansas City could also stumble into a downfield dimension that it’s lacked in recent years.

Worst-case scenario: The reason I made it this far without mentioning Patrick Mahomes II, the quarterback whom the Chiefs took after trading up 17 spots in the 2017 draft, is that Kansas City’s coaching staff seems adamant that he’ll spend his rookie season on the sideline. To some Chiefs fans, I’m sure the preferred outcome would be Mahomes trotting into a game around Week 4, showcasing his rocket arm, and replicating the adrenaline needle scene from Pulp Fiction by bringing life to an otherwise flat-lined offense. For that to happen, though, the team’s circumstances would have be dire.

Mahomes’s college work in Texas Tech’s Air Raid system was essentially performance art that channeled the idea of playing quarterback. His tape has moments when he looks like the most talented QB in this draft class, and his play in the preseason—while occasionally brilliant—revealed a raw but gifted player living on his natural ability as a passer and improviser. The nightmare scenario for this fall would involve Kansas City panicking midseason, tossing Mahomes into a game before he’s ready, and stunting the gunslinger’s development.

If Kansas City does decide to stick with incumbent starter Alex Smith, a different (but no less depressing) reality could set in. By taking Mahomes in the first round, the Chiefs bypassed the chance to add a first-round talent who could contribute immediately. Couple that with a quiet free agency period—the Chiefs’ cap situation prevented them from adding much, as the signing of nose tackle Bennie Logan to replace Dontari Poe was the only notable move—and there’s little reason to believe that the 2017 Chiefs will be any better than the 2016 version.

Stat of note: Plus-16. That was the Chiefs’ 2016 turnover differential, tops in the NFL. Part of it was a byproduct of Kansas City’s conservative approach on offense (Smith threw 24.9 percent of his passes last season at or behind the line of scrimmage, per research by Cian Fahey) and part of it was the presence of ball-hawking players like Peters on defense. There was some luck involved, though, as Kansas City recovered 15 fumbles and lost only nine. Fumble luck rarely stays consistent from year to year.

Breakout player: Hunt. The rookie out of Toledo will get plenty of early opportunities in this offense. Ware finished the 2016 campaign with 214 carries; the Chiefs need an effective ground game to be successful, and Hunt is the guy they’ll turn to in hopes of finding it.

12. Carolina Panthers

2016 record: 6-10

2016 DVOA finish: 25th on offense; 10th on defense

Best-case scenario: By the end of last season, the Panthers defense finally resembled the group we’ve come to know in recent years. After experiencing early struggles and having its rookie starting cornerbacks picked apart, Carolina rebounded to finish fifth in weighted defensive DVOA. All the principal pieces from that unit return, and they’re joined by former and once-again Panthers Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn, who will provide depth in the front four and secondary, respectively. If superhuman inside linebacker Luke Kuechly can come back in full force after a season-ending concussion, this team should have another top-shelf unit.

The overhaul for the Panthers this offseason came on the other side of the ball. Both starting tackles from last year are gone; they’ll be replaced by Matt Kalil, who landed a shocking five-year, $55 million deal, and some combination of career backup Daryl Williams and 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moton. Neither situation guarantees an upgrade, but the Panthers’ line was so banged up last season that the play up front should be better regardless. Only four teams lost more games to injury along the offensive line than Carolina did in 2016.

Having stability in front of him should help Cam Newton bounce back from a disheartening campaign, too. And the Panthers used the first two rounds of this spring’s NFL draft to revamp their skill-position talent in a radical way. Eighth overall pick Christian McCaffrey figures to provide Carolina’s offense with a dimension it’s lacked since Newton was drafted six years ago. The Panthers threw only 13 percent of their passes to running backs last year, according to Warren Sharp’s 2017 Football Preview, second lowest in the league. The additions of McCaffrey and second-rounder Curtis Samuel should give this group two key intermediate targets to boost its efficiency. If McCaffrey’s knack for making life easier on his line translates to the NFL, this offense should see a larger jump than just about any other.

Worst-case scenario: Providing Newton with easier outlets and simpler throws, thus easing the gigantic burden he shouldered in 2016, sounds great in theory. Whether Newton can adjust and get the most out of his new weapons is a different story. Newton led the NFL in average pass length (10.27 yards) last season, and his 67.9 percent accuracy rate on throws 1 to 5 yards past the line of scrimmage was second worst in the league, according to Fahey.

The Panthers’ defense should be solid, yet Carolina could miss the playoffs if it struggles to incorporate McCaffrey and if the offensive line additions fall flat. Newton’s health is another concern. He threw two passes all preseason in order to rest his surgically repaired shoulder. Head coach Ron Rivera has said his quarterback will be ready to go in Week 1, but a diminished version of the 2015 MVP would be fatal for a team that relies so heavily on him.

Stat of note: Minus-137.4 percent. That was the difference in Newton’s DVOA with and without pressure last season, the third-highest discrepancy in the league after Philip Rivers and Ryan Tannehill. The pounding that Newton took from opposing pass rushes had a serious impact on his overall effectiveness, and now it will be up to Kalil and a pair of unproven options at right tackle to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

Breakout player: Defensive end Mario Addison. We’ve already discussed McCaffrey enough, so we’ll go elsewhere here. Addison’s career path has been fascinating. A former rotational player who served a big role on special teams, the 29-year-old signed a three-year deal (which included $9 million guaranteed) this offseason to move into a full-time spot at defensive end. Addison was the most effective third-down rusher in the NFL as a situational threat last fall. I can’t wait to see what he does with more work.

Mike Evans Brian Blanco/Getty Images

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 record: 9-7

2016 DVOA finish: 18th on offense; 12th on defense

Best-case scenario: Projecting how the Bucs can go from an NFC also-ran to a true contender is simple. By signing wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency and taking Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in the first round of the 2017 draft, Tampa Bay now boasts a collection of pass catchers that any quarterback would be lucky to have. The offensive line is still uninspiring in spots (particularly at left tackle, given Donovan Smith’s struggles in pass protection), but the pieces are all in place for this team to take a giant leap forward—if its quarterback can do the same.

For me, the most fascinating part of HBO’s Hard Knocks this summer was watching the interplay between Jameis Winston and Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter. In the first episode, Koetter explained to his third-year quarterback that while Winston’s M.O. to this point in his career has been to take risks on the field, that tendency is what could ultimately hold the team back in 2017. Only the Chargers, Jets, and Bears turned the ball over on a higher percentage of their drives last season.

If Winston can tone down his awful decision-making, Tampa Bay’s offense should soar. Jackson can manipulate coverage just by stepping on the field; that should allow superstar receiver Mike Evans to enjoy the most efficient season of his career. And if running back Doug Martin can return to 2015 form after serving a three-game suspension to start the season, the Bucs’ ground game should be much better than the 2016 version that finished 30th in rushing DVOA. Tampa Bay will be a clear playoff team if the offense plays up to its potential and the defense (which just added former Broncos safety T.J. Ward) continues to be strong against the pass.

Worst-case scenario: Both analysts and fans tend to assume that players with excellent draft pedigrees will eventually ditch their bad habits in the NFL. But that’s never a guarantee. It’s possible that Winston’s maddening knack for following eight perfect throws with a baffling pick is simply part of his makeup. The Bucs are a candidate to emerge as the most frustrating offense in the league, with Jackson spending too much time standing open downfield and Evans watching balls sail over his head. Considering what this group could be, that’d be a damn shame.

There’s no single factor (other than injury) that could sink the defense. Gerald McCoy is still a problem as an interior rusher, and the rest of the Bucs’ line should improve with the free-agent signing of Chris Baker and an added season of experience for defensive end Noah Spence. One concern is that a large part of Tampa Bay’s success against the pass last year (it ranked sixth in pass defense DVOA) was a resurgent campaign from 34-year-old cornerback Brent Grimes. Relying on defensive backs in their 30s (Ward will turn 31 in December) has historically been dangerous.

Stat of note: 5.64 percent. That’s the percentage of Winston’s passes last season that were deemed “interceptable,” as charted by Fahey in the 2017 edition of his Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue. The only QBs who had a higher clip were Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Barkley. It can’t be overstated how much an altered approach from Winston would mean to the Buccaneers’ chances.

Breakout player: Spence. The ex–Ohio State star’s well-documented drug problems led to his transfer to a junior college and his fall to the second round of last year’s draft. His talent has never been in question, though, and his teammates have said they expect him to make a big leap in year two. It’s been 12 years since a Bucs defensive end hit double-digit sacks; after collecting 5.5 as a rookie, Spence may be the one to end that drought.

10. Philadelphia Eagles

2016 record: 7-9

2016 DVOA finish: 20th on offense; 4th on defense

Best-case scenario: The Eagles’ depth chart is one of the most complete in the NFL from top to bottom. Philly came into the 2017 offseason hurting for receiving talent and secondary help; the front office used every avenue imaginable to bolster both with high-level players. By trading for former Bills cornerback Ronald Darby, this defense might have acquired the piece it needs to reach a higher plane. The Eagles feature arguably the league’s most fearsome pass rush—even considering that Seattle dealt for Sheldon Richardson—after adding first-round pick Derek Barnett, free-agent signing Chris Long, and the newly acquired Timmy Jernigan to a group that already featured Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.

The offense isn’t nearly as talented at the top, but Philly addressed its main concerns through free agency and the draft. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery came to town on a one-year, $9.5 million prove-it deal that could turn into an absolute bargain if he stays healthy. Only nine receivers have averaged more yards per route than Jeffery since 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. He couldn’t be more different from the lackluster receiving talent that quarterback Carson Wentz had at his disposal as a rookie. Jeffery, fellow free-agent addition Torrey Smith, Darren Sproles, and Zach Ertz give the Eagles a crop of pass catchers that can affect the game at every level.

With a sturdy offensive line in place, Philly now must hope that Wentz can take a major step forward in his second season. After lighting the league on fire through three games last fall, the North Dakota State product did his best Toonces the Driving Cat impression the rest of the year. He completed 62.4 percent of his passes, despite ranking 27th in average depth of target.

A progression from Wentz’s first year to his second seemed reasonable even before Philadelphia introduced Jeffery to the mix. If Wentz shows signs of improvement, the Eagles should emerge as contenders in the NFC East.

Worst-case scenario: Similar to the thought process detailed above with Winston, it is far from certain that Wentz will take a step forward with more time and better weapons. His throws should become easier now that he has a pair of field-stretching options, but if his accuracy doesn’t improve, the presence of Jeffery and Smith won’t make a difference. This offense also has injury histories to worry about. Jeffery’s hamstrings seem to be constantly plotting against him, and 35-year-old left tackle Jason Peters has back problems in his past. Philly needs both on the field to have a chance of hitting its ceiling.

The margin for error is larger on defense, but the cornerback spot opposite Darby remains a question. And the Eagles don’t want to find out what life would be like without Malcolm Jenkins or Rodney McLeod on the back end.

Stat of note: 31.6 percent. That was the Eagles’ pressure rate last season, third in the league. Then they went out and added a first-round pick who broke Reggie White’s University of Tennessee sack record, a veteran defensive end who should excel in an attacking role, and a potential stud defensive tackle who cost the franchise next to nothing in a trade. I don’t know if you can tell, but I love this collection of players.

Breakout player: Jernigan. The former Florida State standout is entering his fourth professional season, and his move from Baltimore’s scheme to coordinator Jim Schwartz’s penetrating system could unleash him in a way we’ve never seen. Jernigan is a stout run defender who should help Philly overcome the loss of nose tackle Bennie Logan; with Cox seeing plenty of double-teams on the other side of the line, Jernigan could ratchet up his sack total to new heights in 2017.

Philip Rivers Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

9. Los Angeles Chargers

2016 record: 5-11

2016 DVOA finish: 18th on offense; 7th on defense

Best-case scenario: Of all the teams in these rankings, the Chargers coming in at no. 9 may seem the most surprising. Let’s start with their 5-11 finish from a season ago. In no way, other than record, was this squad that putrid. It blew six fourth-quarter leads, including in some gut-wrenching losses that were the result of fluke sequences. In terms of point differential, the Chargers (minus-13) more closely resembled an 8-8 team in 2016.

They were also decimated by injury, although that trend has carried into this year. Standout inside linebacker Denzel Perryman is already on the IR (with the possibility for return) with an ankle injury, and second-round pick Forrest Lamp (who was expected to start at guard) is done for the season after tearing his ACL. But that doesn’t mean this group will be more banged up than it was in 2016. The Chargers finished 31st in adjusted games lost last fall, and blind luck suggests they should be healthier this time around.

The case for improved health leading to better results starts in two places: at wide receiver and on the offensive line. Let’s not forget how devastating Keenan Allen can be when he’s on the field. Quarterback Philip Rivers has quite the stable of pass-catching options in Allen, tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, and outside playmakers Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin. If the offensive line (which will feature three new starters) does its job even once in a while, this should be an efficient passing game. The ground game should be better this year, too, with head coach Anthony Lynn coming aboard after engineering the NFL’s top rushing offense in Buffalo last season. Running back Melvin Gordon looked like a different player in his second campaign; now, he may have a scheme that lets him flourish.

That’s already a handful of reasons to feel optimistic about Los Angeles’s 2017 chances, and I haven’t even gotten to a defense laden with young talent that finished in the top 10 by DVOA last season. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram form what may be the best outside pass-rushing duo in the league, and Casey Hayward and a healthy Jason Verrett have a chance to push for that same title at cornerback. Even with Perryman on the shelf, new coordinator Gus Bradley’s crew should be menacing.

Worst-case scenario: The Chargers may legitimately be cursed, and no other analysis will be relevant if the injuries pile up yet again. Rivers had the second-biggest DVOA gap in the league last season between when he faced pressure and when he didn’t; if the offensive line falls apart or the new additions fail to click, the 35-year-old quarterback may not have a chance to sustain a consistent passing game. Rivers has plenty of mileage on his body at this point. While he’s been a ridiculously steady presence for more than a decade, there’s a scenario where he wears down come December—especially if the running game doesn’t prove more effective than it was during the 2016 campaign.

There’s also the possibility that coaching changes that seem to make sense on paper don’t pan out in reality. Bradley brings his Seahawks-inspired version of the 4-3 to L.A., and while the Chargers look to have the personnel to make it work, transitioning between schemes can be rocky.

Stat of note: 285. That’s the number of combined snaps that Verrett and Allen played last season. Their availability to stay on the field in 2017 will go a long way toward determining the Chargers’ fate.

Breakout player: Bosa. It’s cheap to say a guy who recorded double-digit sacks as a rookie is going to break out, but I think the 22-year-old phenom has a chance to reach another level in his second season. Bosa managed 59 QB pressures in just 12 games in 2016, per Pro Football Focus. That gave him the third-best pass-rush productivity in the league, behind only Von Miller and Khalil Mack. Bosa is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year.