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?
Mowlem is a sports writer from Reading, United Kingdom. All articles are written by Reece Mowlem (unless stated otherwise).