By Reece Mowlem
Week 1 contained a lot of shocks and consequently there has been a lot of movement in my power rankings. Below are how the teams look entering Week 2 of the NFL season.
1. New England Patriots (Up 1)
It may have looked close at the end, but the Patriots were comfortable in their victory against the Texans on Sunday. New England looked great on both sides of the ball and Tom Brady showed no signs of elderly decline whatsoever. Also, the offensive line looked sneaky good. A solid game was all the Pats needed to climb to the top of the list thanks to a lacklustre performance from the Falcons against the Eagles on Thursday night.
2. Minnesota Vikings (Up 6)
The only thing that prevented me having the Vikings in my top 3 last week was my concern over the new offensive scheme being brought in by OC John DeFillippo, but after their game against the 49ers I'm not so worried. It was only shown in flashes, but QB Kirk Cousins moved the ball well using both Thielen and Diggs in the passing game, as well as assisting running back Dalvin Cook to a decent day on the ground. The offensive line is still a weakness, but the defensive line looked like one of the best in the league and have helped Minnesota climb my rankings after Week 1.
3. Los Angeles Rams (No Change)
The Rams started slowly against the Raiders, but the final result was as expected; an LA victory. Running back Todd Gurley continued his elite form from 2017 with 147 total yards and a touchdown in Oakland, plus new star cornerback Marcus Peters added a pick six on his debut to seal the game. Considering that most of the starters saw no preseason action, McVay's team showed me enough to remain at the number 3 spot in my rankings.
4. Green Bay Packers (Up 2)
It wasn't looking good for the Packers as Aaron Rodgers was carted off early in the game, leaving backup QB DeShone Kizer to be humiliated by a rampant Khalil Mack. But despite being down 17-0, Rodgers limped out of the locker-room to perform an exquisite second-half come back and win the game in front of the jubilant Lambeau faithful. As I said last week, Rodgers can carry this team to a Super Bowl and he showed us how on Sunday.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (Down 1)
A tie with the Browns was definitely not how the Steelers intended to start their year. Big Ben turned the ball over 5 times and kicker Chris Boswell missed a game winner, but there were still some positives to take away from the game. James Conner looked like a legitimate starter who can do much more than just simply fill in for the absent Le'Veon Bell and T.J. Watt proved himself as a potentially elite pass rusher. With Bell around or not, Pittsburgh are still one of the best teams in the AFC despite the Week 1 hiccup.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (Up 3)
The Nick Foles led offence may have been flat, but this Eagles defensive unit is one dominant group of players. Fletcher Cox and his colleagues on the defensive line were putting pressure on Matt Ryan repeatably throughout the game and helped prevent the Falcons from scoring a TD on any of their four trips to the red-zone. It might be a while till we see him back on the field, but when Carson Wentz returns he will most likely elevate the offence and make the Eagles a contender once again.
7. New Orleans Saints (Down 2)
Well nobody saw that coming. The Saints gave up 48 points at home to a ruthless Bucs team with Fitzmagic at the helm, putting Drew Brees and the offence in an almost impossible position. They managed to score 40 points of their own, but it wasn't enough. New Orleans' offence will still be a juggernaut this year, but the defence looks like a real problem right now. I did actually predict a defensive regression, but I didn't think it would be this dramatic. However, the Saints have lost seven of their last eight Week 1 games ,so I expect them to get back on track and still be one of the teams to beat in the NFC.
8. Atlanta Falcons (Down 7)
I had initially only dropped the Falcons down to fifth in the rankings, but after the news that linebacker Deion Jones has been placed on IR I had to slide them even further. Matt Ryan's arm looked like a noodle against the Eagles and the red-zone woes from last season still seem to be a problem for this offence. On the plus side, Julio Jones is a beast and the defence is still a solid group, even without safety Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. They should still make the playoffs, but I'm far less confident now than I was a week ago.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (Up 1)
The Jags were as expected against the Giants on Sunday; dominant on defence and competent on offence. Hopefully Leonard Fournette's injury won't mean he misses any time, but T.J. Yeldon is a more then serviceable backup and the offensive line looks improved. They say defence wins championships and this unit certainly could do just that.
10. Los Angeles Chargers (Down 3)
If it wasn't for big time drops and a muffed punt, the Chargers would have probably beaten the Chiefs in their Sunday shootout. Rivers had a great day through the air throwing over 400 yards and Melvin Gordon ran well racking up 166 all-purpose yards, so the offence doesn't look like a problem. The Joey Bosa-less defence however, was unable to deal with Tyreek Hill and the dynamic KC offence and will have to improve if they want to win the AFC West.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (Up 10)
The Chiefs offence, as expected, was lights out but the defence was, as expected, a bit of a mess. My biggest takeaway from this game wasn't that Pat Mahomes is a top tier QB, but that Tyreek Hill is top five receiver in the NFL and is going to continue tearing up defences throughout 2018 with his electric speed and ridiculous elusiveness.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (No Change)
It took a comeback, but the Bengals got the win in Indy on Andrew Luck's return. There were moments of sloppiness from both the offence and defence, but overall, I thought it was a decent performance. The standout player for me was running back Joe Mixon, a second-year guy who looks like he could be a Pro Bowl calibre three-down back if he can maintain a level of performance similar to the high standard he set against the Colts.
13. Carolina Panthers (Down 2)
Despite the victory, I found the Panthers Week 1 performance slightly disappointing. The defence looked great, but for the offence to only put up 16 points against a susceptible Cowboys defence was certainly underwhelming (and losing Greg Olsen won't help). Carolina are still a playoff contender, but I need to see more from Cam Newton and the offence for the Panthers to break into my Top 10.
14. Baltimore Ravens (Up 6)
The Ravens convincingly beat the Bills in Week 1 but I'm not putting too much stock in the result after seeing how bad Buffalo were. But what we can take away from the game is that Joe Flacco can still get it done, the new receiving corps looks better than last year's unit, and the defence is still pretty damn good. I think the Thursday night matchup against the Bengals will be a good measuring stick for this team.
15. Chicago Bears (Up 2)
The Bear's first offensive drive was one of the best I saw this weekend and showed the innovation of new head coach Matt Nagy, but after that they seemed to struggle to get out of first gear. The defence also started strong and seemed to fade as the game progressed. However, this team has a lot of potential and if this game is anything to go by, Khalil Mack will be well worth the $141 million that Chicago are paying him.
16. San Francisco 49ers (No Change)
Jimmy G's play was up and down in Minnesota on Sunday, but that's understandable when you go up against one of the league's best defences. Despite the loss, there were lots of positives to take away from this game for the 49ers, none more so than the rookie performances. Linebacker Fred Warner played exceptionally on his debut and wide receiver Dante Pettis, a guy I liked a lot coming out of Washington, scored a nice touchdown after coming in for the injured Marquise Goodwin. I still don't believe they're a playoff team, but there were promising signs for the fans back in San Fran.
17. Houston Texans (Down 2)
For the majority of their game against the Patriots, the Texans struggled to both get the ball moving on offence and stop New England on defence. DeShaun Watson did seem to grow into the game behind a shoddy line, but it was ultimately too late to get anything out of the matchup. Defensively, Clowney and Watt were quiet but the unit as a whole put it in okay performance. Overall, Houston were average and that's what I was expecting in Week 1.
18. Washington Redskins (Up 10)
Wherever Alex Smith goes he wins games. He was a picture of consistency against the Cardinals on Sunday, feeding TE Jordan Reed who looked as good as he ever has coming off his toe injury. Washington also looked great in the run game with 33-year-old Adrian Peterson, who was brought in late in the preseason, rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown. The defensive line also looked great, headed by a dominant performance from Matt Ioannidis. The Redskins look like a team lacking any real weaknesses and might be the second-best bet for the playoffs in the NFC East this year.
19. Denver Broncos (Up 7)
He may have thrown three interceptions, but Case Keenum looked good on his Denver debut and ultimately did enough to get the W in a close game against the Seahawks. The dual back running game of rookie's Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay was highly effective, as was the receiving duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, creating an offence much more dynamic than the Broncos' 2017 group. On defence, Von Miller feasted against the Seahawks' right tackle and racked up three sacks and two force fumbled, further cementing his position as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. The playoffs may be a step too far, but Denver look a lot better than most expected.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Up 5)
I don't really care that the Buccaneers defence looked shaky, because Ryan Fitzpatrick balled out this week in New Orleans. The veteran QB threw for over 400 yards and had 4 touchdowns in a game that shocked the NFL world. I doubt it will continue, but Fitzmagic is back and it's looking beautiful.
21. Cleveland Browns (Up 3)
All I could think about watching the Browns this weekend was that Myles Garrett might be in the conversation for defensive player of the year come the end of the season. He was the star in a disruptive performance by the whole Cleveland defence, including 4th overall pick Denzel Ward who had two interceptions. The offence did struggle, but the weather was far from easy to play in and there were some promising signs. The Browns may not have won, but at least they didn't lose.
22. New York Giants (Down 4)
How Ereck Flowers is still a starting tackle in the NFL is beyond me. He and his fellow linemen struggled to contain the Jags defensive front, causing the Giants offence to flounder for most of the game. Rookie running back Saquon Barkley did have an impressive touchdown run but was bottled up for the majority. I also saw nothing form Eli Manning to convince me that they shouldn't have drafted Sam Darnold at number two in the draft. At least we got to see Odell back out there doing his thing.
23. Dallas Cowboys (Down 9)
I expected the Cowboys offence to bounce back this year, but it looks like that prediction was majorly incorrect. In their game with Carolina, Dallas didn't convert a third down until the second half, Dak Prescott seemed to lose all his arm strength and Zeke Elliott struggled to find any real rhythm. The defence did show some signs of an improvement from last season, but unless they can sort out the offence, it might be a down year for "America's Team".
24. Seattle Seahawks (Down 2)
We don't yet know how long he'll be staying in Seattle, but Earl Thomas showed us this weekend why he is still the best safety in the NFL. The veteran stood out on a mediocre defence that couldn't seem to contain the Case Keenum led Broncos offence for large parts of their contest in Denver. However, the Seahawks' main problem was once again that the offensive line couldn't protect Russell Wilson at all, and as good he is, he can't work miracles if he has no time in the pocket. But to take something positive away from the game, rookie tight end Will Dissly made a real impact on his NFL debut and could be a real factor on this offence.
25. New York Jets (Up 6)
As impressive as Sam Darnold was in this game, it was second year safety Jamal Adams that stood out to me most in the Jets' convincing victory of the Lions on Monday night. Adams was all over the field making plays and looks like a real leader on the defence. It was also nice to see the Jets possess a solid run game with Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell both having good days in the ground. It's only one game and we might all be getting ahead of ourselves, but the future looks bright for the green half of New York.
26. Miami Dolphins (Up 4)
They had to battle through two lengthy lightening stoppages, but the Dolphins got the all-important win at home against a lacklustre Titans team. Tannehill moments both bad and good in his return from injury but did enough to get Miami across the line. He was helped by Jakeem Grant scoring a 100+ yard kick return touchdown.
27. Tennessee Titans (Down 14)
I can admit when I make mistakes and looks like I made a big one when I announced the Titans as a 2018 playoff team. Martiota and the Tennessee offensive looked uninventive and dry (even with the torrential rain) and the defence couldn't create anything to really shout about either. The one bright spark from the game was the performance of running back Dion Lewis, who was favoured heavily over fellow back Derrick Henry, even in goal-line situations. It could just have been an opening week blip, but it looks like the Titans might be a mediocre or worse football team in 2018.
28. Oakland Raiders (Down 1)
The Raiders played far beyond their expectations in the first half on Monday night, leading the Rams 13-10 as they ran into the locker-room. The second half was a different story as Derek Carr fell apart and the defence stopped bending and began to break. After the game Jon Gruden told the media that the defence failed to put Goff and the LA offence under pressure. Sounds like they need an elite pass rusher.
29. Indianapolis Colts (No Change)
Andrew Luck showed flashes of his former self against the Bengals but had some pretty rusty moments mixed in as well. It didn't help him that the Colts tackles were being beaten consistently, leaving Luck under pressure for the majority of the game. The defence played slightly above expectations but is still one of worst units in the NFL. It's great to see Luck back out there, but he doesn't have enough around him to make this team competitive in 2018.
30. Detroit Lions (Down 11)
The Lions got their arses handed to them by a Jets team that had a rookie QB starting his first ever game at just 21. That definitely wasn't the start Matt Patricia wanted as the new head coach in Detroit. Matt Stafford looked uncharacteristically lost for the majority of the contest, throwing four touchdowns to an opportunistic Jets defence. The Lions defence also decided to go missing for vast stretches of the game, allowing 48 points. Patricia will have to turn things around quickly to avoid being yet another coach from the Belichick school to fail outside of New England.
31. Arizona Cardinals (Down 8)
If Sam Bradford plays like he did against the Redskins over the next few weeks then I doubt we'll have to wait long to see rookie QB Josh Rosen take the field. But Bradford wasn't the only problem with the Arizona performance. The Cardinals were second-best all over pitch and showed nothing for the fans to cling into in terms of positives. It might be a tough debut season for new coach Steve Wilks.
32. Buffalo Bills (No Change)
The Buffalo Bills lost 47-3 to the Ravens. Need I say more?
By Reece Mowlem
With the NFL regular season just hours away, I have decided to release my first Power Rankings list of 2018. I have ranked all NFL teams from 1-32 based on how good I believe they will be this season, and therefore how likely they are to win Super Bowl LIII (in my opinion). There might be a few surprises and these rankings will undoubtedly change throughout the year, but this list reflects how I see it right now entering the first week of the NFL season. Where is your team on the list?
1. Atlanta Falcons
There were quite a few teams in the competition for the number one position on the list but the Falcons just edged out TB12 and the Pats for top spot. Atlanta were considered by most as a team that regressed last season after their Super Bowl LI appearance and they did have a small dip in results. However, they still won a playoff game and were arguably unlucky to lose to the Eagles in the Divisional round, who as we all know were the eventual champs. So despite losing their offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers, Matt Ryan and his men still had a strong season in 2017 and I see no reason why they can't go even further this year. Firstly, 2018 will be offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's second year calling plays in Atlanta and we saw the huge jump his predecessor made from year 1 to 2 with almost an identical offence to the Falcons' current unit. If anything the offence is even better on paper after the addition of wideout Calvin Ridley in the draft to join what is already one of the strongest receiving corps in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, the defence is a solid group with a star in middle linebacker Deion Jones, who had a breakout year in 2017. They may be in a tough division, but overall I think the Atlanta Falcons have one of the most complete and balanced rosters in the NFL and Dan Quinn is a top tier coach capable of winning a Super Bowl.
2. New England Patriots
I really didn't want to put the Patriots this high in my rankings after their abysmal offseason activity, but I just can't discount the Belichick-Brady combination and its pedigree, even if it is potentially coming to an end. Some important players have walked out the door in Foxborough since their Super Bowl loss, including WR Brandin Cooks, OT Nate Solder and CB Malcolm Butler, and I can't say any of them have been well replaced. On top of that, their only notable free agency signing was defensive end Adrian Clayborn (who is far from a stud) and neither of their two first round draft picks are healthy with running back Sony Michel struggling with a knee injury and offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn out for the season. Oh and Brady's go to wide receiver Julian Edelman is suspended for four games. But despite all the mess in New England, as long as Bill Belichick is the coach and Tom Brady is the quarterback, the Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC.
3. Los Angeles Rams
In my opinion, the Rams had the best offseason of all the teams in the NFL. They've brought in two playmaking cornerbacks with Marcus Peters arriving from Kansas via trade and veteran Aqib Talib making the move from the Broncos, and they weren't even the biggest signings made by the team this summer with Ndamukong Suh joining also. He'll be lining up next to the reigning defensive player of the year Aaron Donald on the defensive line, creating the most feared defensive tackle duo in all of pro football. The Rams also improved on offence this offseason by trading for Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks, further strengthening what was already one the league's most exciting offences. There are a lot of new parts that all have to click, but if they can get it right, the Rams will be one of the teams in the mix come January.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
This could be the Steelers' last chance to win a Super Bowl with the 3 B's (Ben, Bell and Brown) on the roster now that it looks likely running back Le'Veon Bell will be a free agent in 2019. There's no question that Pittsburgh still boast one of the most dynamic offences in the NFL with arguably the best receiver and rusher both in the starting lineup, however the defence leaves a lot to be desired. There's still a huge Ryan Shazier shaped hole at the middle linebacker position and I'm not sure T.J. Watt is ready yet to be an elite pass rusher, plus the secondary still lacks top tier talent. They do have a Pro Bowl calibre player on the defensive line in Cameron Heyward but there is a lot of pressure on his shoulders to be a major disruptor up front. If it all goes to plan, this team is certainly capable of winning a Super Bowl, but if they can't take home the Lombardi in 2018, they might be waiting a while.
5. New Orleans Saints
Much like the Rams' unit, the Saints offence was a beast last year and despite running back Mark Ingram serving a four-game suspension, I expect New Orleans to still be one of the league's very best. The triplet of Brees, Kamara and Thomas is probably second to only the Steelers' in terms of talent and they're well protected by a solid offensive line. I do still have concerns over the defence as I believe we could see a regression after last year's surprise improvement, even with the addition of first round edge rusher Marcus Davenport in the draft. Even so, the Saints have a top 5 NFL roster and a great coaching staff and will certainly consider themselves as one of the Super Bowl favourites entering the 2018 season, and I'm inclined to agree.
6. Green Bay Packers
This one is simple for me. Aaron Rodgers is probably the best quarterback in the NFL and that automatically makes the Packers a contender. Add to this some young defensive talent and an exciting new defensive coordinator and you might also get an improvement on that side of the ball. Yes Jordy Nelson has gone and there's no clear number one running back, but this team is always competitive with Rodgers under centre and I don't see 2018 being any different.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Those who listen to the First Down Podcast know that I have a slight crush on the Chargers so I'm hoping this year can finally be the year they live up to their expectations because everything is in place for this team to make a deep playoff run. Quarterback Philip Rivers has seemed to show no signing of ageing and is surrounded by a plethora of elite weapons, including wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Melvin Gordon. The defence also possesses a handful of superstars and arguably the best pass running duo in the league in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edge. Add in a rookie playmaker on defence named Derwin James and you have a roster capable of Super Bowl supremacy. Knowing the Chargers it will probably all fall apart by November but I think there's a good chance we see two LA teams in the playoffs this season.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Many experts have the Vikings tipped for greatness in 2018 and you can understand why. The only real difference between this year's roster and the one that made the AFC Championship last season is the addition of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is most likely an upgrade on Case Keenum. The return of running back Dalvin Cook from injury should also not be ignored. However, I do have my concerns with Minnesota and they lie mainly with the offensive line, a group Pro Football Focus ranked as the 28th best in the league. I also question how much of a drop off there will be from Pat Shurmur to John DeFillippo in the offensive coordinator role. The Vikings will most definitely be competitive, but I think a Super Bowl might still be just out of reach in 2018.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
Unlike most, I think the defending Super Bowl champions might struggle a bit this year. Although I have them ranked at nine, I wouldn't be shocked if they missed out on the playoffs with a 9-7 record come the end of the regular season. Yes they do still bags of talent across the board, particularly on the offensive and defensive line, but quarterback Carson Wentz is coming off a major knee injury and it's highly presumptuous to think he can repeat his form from 2017. I still think it's likely this team wins the division based on their competition, but Eagles fans most certainly shouldn't expect to have the Lombardi in Philly for the second year in a row.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars
If this team had even a top half of the league quarterback they'd without a doubt be in my top 5 teams on this list, but sadly Blake Bortles just isn't that. Despite showing flashes in the playoffs, I don't have faith in Bortles to make big plays consistently, especially without any elite weapons around him in the passing game. The Jags' hopes lie partly on running back Leonard Fournette but mainly on the elite defence. I'm sorry to say it but I don't think Jacksonville will be a Super Bowl winning team until they address the QB situation.
11. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are a team I wasn't sure about a few weeks ago but I have now risen on due to one main factor; Christian McCaffrey is going to be heavily involved in this offence. The second year back lit up the preseason, running well both between the tackles and on the outside as well as further confirming his abilities as a top pass catcher. I also really like rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore to be a contributor in his first year opposite Devin Funchess and Greg Olsen, giving quarterback Cam Newton a nice set of pass catchers. On defence, the secondary is a weakness, but they still have players who can bring some heat upfront and arguably the best linebacker in the NFL in Luke Kuechly. Because they're in the NFC South with the Falcons and Saints they might struggle to make the playoffs, but they'll most likely be in contention for a wildcard spot in a loaded conference come December.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
This might come as a shock to most people, but I truly believe the Bengals can be a playoff team in 2018. The Eagles proved last year that if you can win in the trenches you can win football games and Cincinnati look stronger this season on both the offensive and defensive lines than they did 12 months ago. You also can't forget that A.J. Green is a borderline top 5 wide receiver, running back Joe Mixon is poised for a breakout and Andy Dalton is actually a reasonably good quarterback on his day. They might seem like a long shot, but don't be surprised if the Bengals grab one of the wildcard spots in a weak AFC.
13. Tennessee Titans
Recent injuries to key players and poor preseason performances tempted me to lower the Titans in my rankings but I ultimately decided to stick to my guns and keep them as a fringe playoff team. This is due mainly to the addition of Matt LaFleur as the new offensive coordinator and the hope that he can get the most out of Marcus Mariota, something I don't believe we have seen in the NFL. I also like the secondary with Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Kevin Byard and Adoree' Jackson looking like potentially one of the best secondary groups in the AFC. I think a lot of people forget the Titans won a playoff game last year and if anything they look to be a stronger team in 2018, so I see no reason why they can't make a push for a wildcard spot, and maybe even the division title.
14. Dallas Cowboys
I initially had the Cowboys as potential NFC East champs a few weeks ago, but now with guard Zach Martin banged up and centre Travis Frederick battling an auto-immune disease, the Cowboys main strength has been weakened and that has an effect on the whole team. I still think running back Zeke Elliott could league the lead in rushing and I'm not as down as most on the passing weapons available to quarterback Dan Prescott, however I'm still not a fan of the Cowboys defence outside of edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence and I believe that will be the reason Dallas miss the playoffs in 2018.
15. Houston Texans
The Texans are one of the teams that I'm very sceptical about. The potential for this team may be through the roof, but I expect the reality to be much lower than the high ceiling many are hoping for. Firstly, I'd be shocked if we didn't see a regression from quarterback DeShaun Watson, especially behind probably the worst offensive line in the NFL. Then on defence, despite the front seven containing stars such as Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt, there's a lot of holes in the secondary and that could prove costly. I won't deny that if everything fell into place this team could make a Super Bowl, but I don't believe that it's likely to happen in 2018.
16. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are another team that I've been tempering my expectations on despite the playoff buzz. It's understandable that so many people are all aboard the Jimmy Garoppolo hype train after his performances last year but he's not the reason I think San Fran will struggle to make the playoffs this season. They may be building something special in the Golden State, but I think it might be a year early for a team with an unproven defence and a lack of weapons on offence. The future looks bright for the 49ers but in a conference where you might need 10 wins just to get a wildcard berth, I think the playoffs might be a (Golden Gate) bridge too far Jimmy G and co.
17. Chicago Bears
I think the Bears, much like the 49ers, are a year or two away from making the playoffs, but by trading for edge rusher Khalil Mack they've definitely increased their chances of making the leap this year. The primary reason I'm not ready to call Chicago a playoff team is that I'm not quite sure yet how good quarterback Mitchell Trubisky actually is or whether he is capable of leading the high-powered offence Matt Nagy will be bringing over from Kansas City. Another problem the Bears face is that they are in a division with both the Vikings and the Packers (and the Lions aren't too shabby either). They may end up taking a huge step forward this year much like the Rams did last season, but until I see an improvement from Trubisky I'm not ready to call them a playoff contender.
18. New York Giants
The offensive weapons the Giants possess are impressive, from superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to rookie running back Saquon Barkley, but sadly for them I think quarterback Eli Manning is too far past his peak to carry this team into the playoffs, even if the offensive line is improved from last year. I'm also not onboard with the notion that the defence will be dominant again after what was a poor season in 2017. There's no doubt they'll be an exciting team to watch this year, but they might not be a very good one.
19. Detroit Lions
Since his arrival, it seems new head coach Matt Patricia has tried to create a team that won't rely purely on the play of quarterback Matt Stafford by investing in the offensive line and putting together the pieces to forge a decent run game. Whether this will materialise or not is yet to be seen. On defence, the secondary does have talent but almost no pass rush outside of Ziggy Ansah, and even he isn't a sure-fire pressure bringer. I won't completely discount the Lions because I still believe in the talent of Stafford, but I wouldn't be shocked if Detroit finished at the bottom of the pile in the NFC North.
20. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are a team that I look at and I really don't like what I see, but they always seem to find a way to be competitive thanks to an aggressive defence and I expect similar in 2018. The defence will have to be as good as it has been in recent past because I highly doubt either Joe Flacco or rookie Lamar Jackson can be the centrepiece of an effective offence, especially with the surrounding cast available to them in Baltimore. As always, they'll probably be in the mix, but I don't see the Ravens making it into the playoffs this year, even in a weak AFC.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
On the one hand the Chiefs might have the most exciting and explosive offence in the NFL with big-armed quarterback Pat Mahomes throwing to dominant tight end Travis Kelce and speed demon wide receiver Tyreek Hill. On the other hand, the defence was pretty average last year, and it's now lost arguably its best player to the Rams. Andy Reid is still one of the best coaches in the league and KC games should be high scoring, but they could end up losing more than they win if the defence can't step up.
22. Seattle Seahawks
Not many teams have been decimated as much this offseason than the Seattle Seahawks. Key players on defence have left with Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett both finding new teams and Kam Chancellor retiring, leaving what used to be a threatening defence depleted. Then on offence, the front office failed once again to truly address the offensive line problem and that keeps quarterback Russell Wilson in a tough position. Wilson's top 3 ability could keep them in games this year, but Seattle might be one of the lower end teams in the NFC.
23. Arizona Cardinals
If I knew quarterback Sam Bradford would play all 16 games this season then the Cardinals would probably be higher up my rankings. But if history is anything to go by, Bradford will probably be injured by week 5 and that would thrust rookie QB Josh Rosen into the line-up prematurely. Now there are weapons on this offence, including David Johnson, one of the best running backs in all of football, but there's something about this offensive unit that just doesn't fill me with confidence. It's the same on defence. They have studs in cornerback Patrick Peterson and edge rusher Chandler Jones, but the group as a whole just doesn't excite me. As much as I wish otherwise, if this is to be veteran wider receiver Larry Fitzgerald's final year in the NFL, I think he'll be retiring without a Super Bowl ring.
24. Cleveland Browns
It might just be the 'Hard Knocks' effect but I think the Browns might actually be okay this season. I'm not being crazy and picking them as a playoff team like some, but they could win 6 or 7 games with this roster. There are high-end players on both sides of the ball and first overall pick Baker Mayfield looks like a potential stud, but Hue Jackson is still the head coach of this football team and I struggle to have faith in his abilities after the last two abysmal seasons. The Browns will be better in 2018, but let's be honest, they can't get any worse.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston has made me really dislike this team but I'll do my best to take that out of it while assessing the Bucs chances this season. The defence should be improved after the offseason additions on the defensive line and wide receiver Mike Evans is still an offensive superstar on his day, but this team still has major weaknesses all over the roster and I expect them to struggle in maybe the toughest division in the NFL.
26. Denver Broncos
In my opinion, the Broncos' season boils down to how much better Case Keenum is than Trevor Siemian. Rookie running back Royce Freeman could add a lot to this offence and edge rusher Bradley Chubb is a potential defensive rookie of the year, but if Keenum can't repeat something close to his form from last year then I don't think this team can get anywhere near the playoffs and may even struggle to reach last year's win total of five victories.
27. Oakland Raiders
I didn't really like the look of this roster a week ago, but now Khalil Mack has been shipped off to Chicago I REALLY don't like it. Although I do predict a bounce back for quarterback Derek Carr and the Raiders offence, the Oakland defence might be the worst in the NFL and bad defence doesn't usually win football games. Maybe Jon Gruden knows what he's doing, but I believe that the team he's put together is one of the worst in the AFC.
28. Washington Redskins
Now despite them being listed as such, I don't think the Redskins will be the worst team in the NFC come the end of the season. However, I do think they have the lowest upside of all teams in the NFC and that's why they are so low on my list. Alex Smith is a more than capable starting quarterback and if the offensive line can stay healthy, this team could be competitive. But the reason I don't like the Redskins chances this year is that the offensive weapons in Washington leave me cold and I can't see Smith raising them to a higher level. On defence, they of course have Josh Norman, but outside of the number one cornerback, the secondary is weak and I'm yet to be convinced that the front seven can be a dominant group. The Redskins could end up with 8 wins in 2018, but I'd say that's there ceiling and I expect the total to be lower in reality.
29. Indianapolis Colts
Take quarterback Andrew Luck away from this team and I'd bet the Colts win less than 5 games this year. Lucky for Indy, Luck looks healthy and ready to go. The returning QB has taken some pretty bad rosters to the playoffs in years past but I think he might struggle with this year's group as the offence looks to lack both weapons and a solid offensive line. And if anything, the defence is even worse than the offence with second year safety Malik Hooker the lone star in a sky of mediocrity. The Colts may be on the rise, but they are still one of the worst teams in the NFL entering the 2018 season.
30. Miami Dolphins
As you can probably see, the bottom three times in my rankings all hail from the AFC East. Now the Dolphins might be a tad unlucky to be this low on the lis, but I think they've been weakened significantly this offseason on both sides of the ball. Miami have lost arguably their most important players on offence and defence by allowing both wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to move on to potentially greener pastures. I do have faith in head coach Adam Gase and some faith in quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but I still don't think the Dolphins can be competitive this year despite being in a bum division.
31. New York Jets
With Sam Darnold at the helm the future looks bright for the Jets, but at only 21 the rookie might struggle in his debut season. The USC alum has possibly the worst supporting cast in the league in terms of receivers and running backs and this won't help him in what is already a tough situation for a young QB. The defence does have some promise in 2018 with second year safety Jamal Adams at the heart of a unit that could over-perform, but I doubt they'll be good enough to make the Jets relevant. You have found your Messiah Jets fans, but this year is much more likely to bring heartbreak than success.
32. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills are starting Nathan Peterman at quarterback. Need I say more?
The NFL is a game of matchups and there are plenty of exciting ones to look forward to in Super Bowl LII. I've picked out 5 matchups that I think we'll be interesting to keep track of on Sunday night. Because of Thursday's article about which Eagle should cover Gronk I've left that matchup out of this article.
Fletcher Cox vs. Patriots interior linemen
After Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox is probably the best defensive tackle in the league and his success against the Pats interior offensive line will be a huge factor in this game. From a PFF grade standpoint, Cox had a 91.5 rating this year, whereas none of the Patriots offensive line graded over 81.3. Also, Brady has notoriously done worse against inside pressure in comparison to edge rush, so if Cox can toss around the likes of Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaquille Mason like he has done to so many of his opposition this year, then the Eagles have a real chance of causing the upset.
Danny Amendola vs. Patrick Robinson
Danny "Playoff" Amendola had a huge game in the AFC Championship against the Jaguars but I think he'll have a tougher time against Patrick Robinson this week. Robinson had a PFF grade of 90.6 when covering in the slot this year, ranking him as one of the best in the league in that roll. As good as Amendola is, there are better matchups for the Patriots in the passing game so I'm not expecting the slot receiver to see as many targets as usual.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Stephon Gilmore
The Eagles No.1 receiver has been outstanding in the postseason so far, boasting a 158.3 passer rating for Nick Foles when he's been targeted. On the flip side, Stephon Gilmore has looked better each and every game he has played in his first year New England and is likely to shadow Jeffery throughout the game. This is going to be a close matchup and could have a huge impact on how effective the Eagles can be on offence.
Trey Flowers vs. Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Vaitai has done much better than expected since coming in to replace the injured Jason Peters, however he still can be taken advantage of. Flowers is a very effective pass rusher and will look to dominate the Eagles' left tackle and put some blindside pressure on Nick Foles.
Zach Ertz vs. Patrick Chung
Despite not having a touchdown in the playoffs, Ertz has made big plays at big times for the Eagles and has continued to be a reliable target for Foles. Patrick Chung is reasonably good in coverage but I think he could struggle against a player that has been dominant all season long. This could be the matchup that the Eagles can exploit on offence and get them across the line to win their first Super Bowl.
In the current NFL climate it's uncommon to see a team with a single workhorse running back and an increasing number of teams giving plenty of touches to two, or even three RB's every week. In light of this, I've decided to rank my top 10 running back duos for the upcoming season. One thing to note is that these rankings are based on the talent and production of the top two runners on each team's depth chart, so that's why you won't be seeing top running backs such as David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot at the top of this list.
10. Dalvin Cook and Latvius Murray (Minnesota Vikings)
9. Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory (Jacksonville Jaguars)
8. C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles (Denver Broncos)
7. Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden (Dallas Cowboys)
6. David Johnson and Andre Ellington (Arizona Cardinals)
5. Le'Veon Bell and James Conner (Pittsburgh Steelers)
4. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals)
3. Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson (New Orleans Saints)
If I was writing this article a couple of years ago, there's no doubt in my mind that the RB pair of Ingram and Peterson would be a strong bet for the number one spot on this list and, despite their combined age being a ripe old 59, the two veterans still make the Top 3 in my eyes.
Believe it or not, it was less than 18 months ago that Adrian Peterson finished the 2015 season as the leading rusher and on top of that, Mark Ingram is coming off an 1,000 yard season in 2016. However, despite the unquestionable talent of the Saints' duo, AP's age and injury history prevents them for challenging for the top spot on the list this year. Peterson is 32 years old and it's not often you see a 30+ year old running back put up top numbers, but the former Viking has a habit of defying the odds. In addition to this, Peterson missed 13 games last year due to a knee injury so how well he will bounce back from this injury is still yet to be seen.
Taking everything into account, I think that both Ingram and Peterson will have productive seasons and think they have a chance for combining for 1,500 yards in 2017.
2. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)
In the 2016 offseason the Tennessee Titans made it clear that their intention was to run the ball hard by trading for 2014 rushing leader DeMarco Murray from the Eagles and drafting 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, and run the ball hard was exactly what they did. Murray rushed for over 1,200 yards in 2016 while Henry rushed for 490 yards, boasting an impressive 4.5 yards per carry as the Titans narrowly missed out on the AFC South title.
Few backs have been as impressive as Murray over the last few years with the 29 year old finding himself in the top 10 for rushing yards three times in the last four seasons and in the top 3 twice.
Henry however, showed great promise despite his limited carries and proved he had a nose for finding the end zone as he scored 5 rushing touchdowns in 2016.
With Derrick Henry still improving and DeMarco Murray showing no signs of declining, I wouldn't be surprised if the Titans duo had 2,000 rushing yards between them come the end of the 2017 season.
1. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman (Atlanta Falcons)
Despite the Falcons' dynamic running back duo having 178 rushing yards less than there counterparts in Tennessee, Freeman and Coleman had 369 more receiving yards than Murray and Henry in 2016 and it's their ability in the passing game that gives them the edge and, in this instance, the top spot on my list. This past season the Atlanta offence was electrifying as they played their way to the NFC title and the running backs had a large part to play in the team's success.
Freeman posted over 1,000 rushing yards for the second consecutive season in 2016 as well as having over 3,000 combined yards over the last two years, cementing himself as one of the league's elite RB's.
Coleman also had an impressive year in 2016 as he rushed for 520 yards and 8 touchdowns from only 118 carries as well as having 421 receiving yards and 3 receiving touchdowns from just 31 catches, an average of 13.6 yards per reception.
Despite Kyle Shanahan leaving the Falcons for the 49ers this summer, I see Freeman and Coleman continuing to thrive in Atlanta and becoming the most feared running back duo in football.
There were four Quarterbacks drafted in the opening two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, three of which went in the top 13 picks. Although we haven't started the pre-season matches, or even training camp, it looks likely that none of the aspiring play callers will be the starter for their respective teams in Week one. But who will win the race and make it onto the field first?
Mitchell Trubisky - Chicago Bears
When Commissioner Goodell read out Trubisky's name as the third overall pick and revealed the Tarheel would be heading to Chicago, the NFL world went into a state of shock. Nobody, including Mr. Biscuit himself, had seen it coming and it was almost certainly the biggest talking point of the first round.
A large part of it being such a surprising move was the fact that, in free agency, the Bears had signed Mike Glennon to a rather large contract which includes $19 million guaranteed. Another main factor was that Trubisky, like all the other QB's in his class, wasn't that highly rated coming out of North Carolina and expert consensus was that he wasn't a top 10 prospect and would go at Pick 5 at the earliest (and even that would be a reach).
There's no doubt in my mind that the intention of the Bears is for Trubisky to sit for at least the whole of the 2017 season but history tells us this is not at all likely. My prediction is that Glennon will have lead the Bears to a 2-6 record before their bye in Week 9 and that this won't be deemed acceptable by the franchise. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we saw Trubisky out on Soldier Field against the Packers in Week 10.
Predicted first start: Week 10 (2017)
Patrick Mahomes II - Kansas City Chiefs
I'm going to be honest with you, I love the upside of Pat Mahomes. The problem is, he has a long way to go to reach that ceiling - the kid is raw.
The Chiefs however, seem to think they can get the best out of the gun slinger and were willing to trade up to Pick 10 in order to get him. I don't think Mahomes could have landed in a better spot as coach Andy Reid managed to get the best out of similar raw talents such as Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, but he is definitely a long term project.
KC can afford to play the long game with developing Mahomes as current starting quarterback Alex Smith continues to be a solid player for the AFC West champions, but I don't think he quite has the ability to take them to a Superbowl. Because of this, I predict that the Chiefs, with Smith at the wheel, will finish with an 8-8 record in 2017 and narrowly miss out on a playoff spot. The following year, Mahomes shows he has developed the skills to start in the preseason and is first on the depth chart for the 2018 season opener.
Predicted first start: Week 1 (2018)
Deshaun Watson - Houston Texans
Most people felt Watson was the most NFL ready quarterback in the draft coming out of championship winning Clemson, so it was no surprise that Houston, a win now team, was where he ended up.
Watson proved he could perform on the big stage in college but the professional game is a completely different fish altogether. There are concerns about many of his physical attributes but perhaps his biggest issue is the fact that he doesn't seem to like to take care of the football. He threw 30 interceptions in his last two years at Clemson and in a league where turnovers decide games, if he can't learn to play smarter then Watson's career won't be long one.
One good thing going for Watson is that his competition for the Texans starting job is Tom Savage. Don't get me wrong, Savage isn't bad but he's not gonna set the world alight and take the Texans to the promise land. Despite this, I think he'll probably be good enough to start in Week 1 but my prediction is that after a 2-1 start, Savage limps off injured in the fourth quarter of the Week 4 divisional clash against the Titans and, after coming in late in the game and showing some promise, Watson gets the start in Week 5 against the Chiefs. Whether he proves good enough to keep the job when Savage returns from his injury I'm not sure, but he will have a chance.
Predicted first start: Week 5 (2017)
DeShone Kizer - Cleveland Browns
When this year's draft process was beginning many experts, including the well respected Mike Mayock, had Kizer as the best quarterback in the class but the longer time went on, the lower his stock seemed to drop. I do however, think that the Browns were clever to avoid the early QB rush and snag the Notre Dame prospect in the second round.
Kizer had a superb 2015 season for the Fighting Irish but after losing weapons such as Will Fuller at the end of the campaign, had a very disappointing Junior year in 2016. Kizer has a great frame and an impressive arm but there are real concerns about his ability to go through progressions as well his tendency to drop his eyes when under pressure, traits that don't translate well to the NFL.
I think the battle for the Browns starting job between Kessler and Kizer will be an interesting one this offseason but I believe Kessler's extra year of knowledge of the playbook will give him the edge. But like all Browns quarterbacks, Kessler will undoubtedly get injured and, sadly, I can't even see him finishing their first game against the hard hitting Steelers. Despite him not being ready, Coach Jackson will be forced to throw Kizer in against the Ravens in Week 2.
Predicted first start: Week 2 (2017)
DeShone Kizer - Cleveland Browns
Based purely on the situation and the fact that the Browns can't keep the same QB on the field for more than a couple of snaps, I believe Kizer will be the first rookie quarterback to start an NFL game.
Mowlem is a young sports writer from Reading, United Kingdom. All articles are written by Reece Mowlem (unless stated otherwise).