Way-too-early 2019 NFL Power Rankings | Media Hard

Way-too-early 2019 NFL Power Rankings

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Way-too-early 2019 NFL Power Rankings

The conclusion of Super Bowl LIII puts a bow on another NFL season — and allows us to officially turn the page to 2019.

We’re already looking ahead to next season with a way-too-early edition of NFL Power Rankings. Here’s how we think the league will stack up when next season begins. Plus, our NFL Nation reporters weigh in with every team’s best reason for optimism ahead of the new season.

How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluated how teams stack up throughout the season.

2018 record: 13-3

Reason for optimism: The Rams made their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2001 season. In two seasons as coach, Sean McVay has proved himself as not only an offensive mastermind but as a leader of an organization. The Rams have secured the futures of their key playmakers, including Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks, as well as Aaron Donald; and Jared Goff has steadily progressed as a quarterback and a leader. — Lindsey Thiry

2018 record: 12-4

Reason for optimism: Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs have a quarterback who can help keep them near the top of the division standings and the conference for the foreseeable future. — Adam Teicher

2018 record: 13-3

Reason for optimism: The Saints will still have the same star-studded nucleus in 2019 that soared to a 13-2 start and earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Although Drew Brees faded a bit down the stretch, he is still playing well enough to lead a championship team at age 40. And he is still flanked by guys such as Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore and an offensive line that had all five players who were either Pro Bowlers or second-team All-Pro selections. After 2019, this team will be much harder to afford. But for now, it’s poised to make another serious run. — Mike Triplett

2018 record: 11-5

Reason for optimism: Tom Brady. Set to turn 42 in August, he is showing no signs of slowing down and seems to be in as good of a place mentally and physically as he has been in some time. While identifying his potential successor remains a top priority, the bottom line is this: With Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have the two key pieces to build around to remain a Super Bowl contender. — Mike Reiss

2018 record: 12-4

Reason for optimism: Coach Anthony Lynn. The Chargers are 21-11 in the regular season during Lynn’s tenure, and they reached the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last season, winning a game in the wild-card round. Lynn has brought a steadying hand and has empowered other players to lead, resulting in the Chargers emerging as Super Bowl contenders in 2019. — Eric D. Williams

2018 record: 12-4

Reason for optimism: Further development of Mitchell Trubisky. He made giant strides in his second season, completing 66.6 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and a 72.8 QBR (up from 31.8 as a rookie). And he proved that the playoff stage is not too big for him, setting Bears playoff records with 303 yards passing and 26 completions in a loss to the Eagles. Another offseason working in coach Matt Nagy’s system and with some new weapons added through the draft and free agency should only help Trubisky take another big step in 2019. — ESPN.com

2018 record: 10-6

Reason for optimism: Continuity. This is the first time since the 2013 season that the only thing the Colts have to worry about is continuing to improve. General manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich are still joined at the hip. The entire starting offensive line is under contract. Quarterback Andrew Luck should build off his stellar season after missing the 2017 season. And the Colts have $ 120 million in projected salary-cap space to work with to build off arguably the NFL’s best draft class in 2018. — Mike Wells

2018 record: 10-6

Reason for optimism: Russell Wilson. The Seahawks’ winning 10 games and earning a playoff berth last season was a reminder that a team with an elite quarterback should never be counted out, no matter how many key pieces around him are gone. While Wilson’s contract situation figures to present some drama as he enters the final year of his extension, he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, barring an unlikely blockbuster trade. And whereas last offseason was about significant subtractions from the Seahawks’ roster, they’re in better position this year to keep some of the core players around Wilson. — Brady Henderson

2018 record: 11-5

Reason for optimism: The Deshaun WatsonDeAndre Hopkins connection. Hopkins posted career highs in receptions (115) and yards (1,572) in his first full season with Watson as his quarterback. Together, they form one of the NFL’s top QB-WR tandems. Watson’s ability to extend plays and Hopkins’ ability to make contested catches are a perfect match. No matter what the down and distance are, the Texans have a legitimate chance to get the first down thanks to their dynamic playmakers. — Turron Davenport

2018 record: 10-6

Reason for optimism: Development of Lamar Jackson as a passer. Jackson led the Ravens to their first AFC North title in six years on the strength of his legs. The priority this offseason is to improve him as a passer. Jackson will throw the ball “a lot” and will get together with his wide receivers for a private passing session, according to coach John Harbaugh. There’s a possibility that Jackson will work with a quarterback coach. If Jackson can take the next step as a passer, Baltimore will be a much more dangerous team in 2019. — Jamison Hensley

2018 record: 9-6-1

Reason for optimism: Better kicking and a more opportunistic defense. The Steelers can’t possibly expect to be among the league’s five worst in kicking and turnover margin in 2019. Last year’s team ranked 31st in kicking with seven missed field goals and 28th in turnover margin at minus-11. The defensive front seven led by Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt knows it needs more splash. And even an average kicking game — either with Chris Boswell or a free agent — will help secure the close games that the Steelers found ways to lose late in the season. — Jeremy Fowler

2018 record: 9-7

Reason for optimism: The Super Bowl hangover was real for the Eagles early in 2018. The long run over the season prior took its toll physically and mentally and factored into their 4-6 start, which prevented them from securing any home games in the playoffs. They should be quicker out of the gates this time around. QB Carson Wentz will help with that. He’ll look more like his old self with the ACL injury now well in the rearview mirror. — Tim McManus

2018 record: 10-6

Reason for optimism: The Cowboys had the youngest team to make the playoffs, and they have cap room to keep their core and add pieces in free agency. It’s difficult to say “trust the process” when the Cowboys have not made it to a conference title game since 1995, but the pieces are in place — including Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith — to have sustained success. They also will have Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick back after he missed the 2018 season. Selling a ninth full season of the Jason Garrett era is difficult with just three playoff wins, but the Cowboys have a talented roster ready to contend. — Todd Archer

play

1:35

Kirk Cousins joins SportsCenter to talk about his disappointing first season with the Minnesota Vikings.

2018 record: 8-7-1

Reason for optimism: If history is any indicator of a trend, 2019 should be the bounce-back year the Vikings need. Mike Zimmer’s teams haven’t been able to string together consecutive playoff seasons since he took over in 2014, but the Vikings made the postseason in 2015 after missing it the year before and again in 2017 after a disastrous end to the 2016 season. Living by an “every other year” standard isn’t what any franchise wants, but the Vikings have everything they need to regain that “nasty” edge and turn the page after a disappointing season. — Courtney Cronin

2018 record: 7-8-1

Reason for optimism: Baker Mayfield. He set a rookie record for touchdown passes, and his debut campaign is a sign of good things to come. The Browns appear to have finally found their quarterback. — Pat McManamon

2018 record: 6-9-1

Reason for optimism: The coaching change. If things had indeed run their course with Mike McCarthy, as team president Mark Murphy has said, then perhaps Matt LaFleur will inject some life into the Packers’ offense, which has finished in the top 10 only once in the past four seasons. How LaFleur and QB Aaron Rodgers connect will be key. However, recent Packers history suggests it will take a year for it to flourish. None of the previous four Packers head coaches made the playoffs in Year 1. — Rob Demovsky

2018 record: 9-7

Reason for optimism: The defense under coordinator Dean Pees, who is returning for another year. Under Pees, the Titans allowed only 18.9 points per game, which was the third fewest in the NFL in 2018. Acquiring an impactful pass-rusher via the draft or free agency will make the defense even more dangerous. After a rough start, cornerback Malcolm Butler returned to form. And inside linebacker Jayon Brown ended on an extremely good note in the season finale, posting nine tackles, a forced fumble and an interception return for a touchdown. — Turron Davenport

2018 record: 7-9

Reason for optimism: The Falcons are expected to be much healthier with the returns of two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman (groin), 2017 Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal (ACL) and free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles tendon) from season-ending injuries suffered early in the campaign. These players are difference-makers on both sides of the ball, meaning the Falcons should be much better equipped to challenge the Saints in the NFC South — that is, if they can add more toughness on both the offensive and defensive lines. — Vaughn McClure

2018 record: 7-9

Reason for optimism: Cam Newton‘s shoulder surgery came almost two months earlier than it did two offseasons ago. So this time, Newton will have longer to recover and be ready once the new season begins. If the 2015 NFL MVP comes back strong and is able to sustain his shoulder strength the entire season, there are enough dynamic pieces around him and on defense to make a run at the playoffs. — David Newton

2018 record: 6-10

Reason for optimism: The duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. New head coach Vic Fangio showed what he could do this past season with quality edge players as the Bears’ defensive coordinator, as Chicago finished No. 1 in the league in scoring defense and takeaways. Sure, the Broncos’ defense needs some attention at cornerback and there are some decisions to make overall about the future of some veteran players, including linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis. But Miller and Chubb finished with 26.5 sacks combined this past season, and Fangio already has said he believes the two of them can do even better in their new defensive system. — Jeff Legwold

2018 record: 5-11

Reason for optimism: The Giants have the No. 6 pick and perhaps the best weapons in the NFL. With Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, a young quarterback (such as Dwayne Haskins?) would give them hope to be an offensive powerhouse for the immediate future and in the long term. — Jordan Raanan

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0:55

Adam Schefter breaks down the latest on Ryan Tannehill’s status with the Dolphins.

2018 record: 7-9

Reason for optimism: A different plan to escape mediocrity. The Dolphins are the only NFL team to finish with records from 6-10 to 10-6 in each of the past 10 seasons. When owner Stephen Ross fired coach Adam Gase, he made clear that it isn’t acceptable anymore. Miami seems set to go under 6-10 in 2019, as a rebuild is coming under expected new coach Brian Flores. The Dolphins’ expected plan to find a next franchise quarterback in the 2019 or 2020 NFL draft and rebuild around young players should be a pleasant change for a fan base longing to return to championship contention, even if it means waiting through a few bad years. — Cameron Wolfe

2018 record: 4-12

Reason for optimism: A healthy Jimmy Garoppolo. The Niners entered 2018 with a lot of buzz about a quick turnaround from the 6-10 record they posted in 2017, but most of that optimism vanished when Garoppolo tore an ACL in Week 3. Better health for the whole roster would be a welcome change, but having a full season of Garoppolo should at least offer the Niners a chance to know what they truly have at quarterback and put them in better position to get to .500 or better in 2019. — Nick Wagoner

2018 record: 5-11

Reason for optimism: New head coach Bruce Arians is no stranger to orchestrating a turnaround, leading the Arizona Cardinals to three consecutive double-digit winning seasons in his first three years after they went 5-11 in 2012. Arians got the most out of quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck when he worked with them, and he already has a relationship with Jameis Winston, who enters a critical fifth year. — Jenna Laine

2018 record: 7-9

Reason for optimism: Improved health. Wait, that also was a reason for optimism last year, and that didn’t quite work out too well, as 26 players spent time on injured reserve. But here’s where it helps now: The Redskins’ offensive line should be in a much better spot with a healthy Brandon Scherff at right guard and with both tackles — Trent Williams and Morgan Moses — not coming off surgeries, as they were last year. Pair that with an excellent young talent base along the defensive line — Matt Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne — and the Redskins have some optimism. But it will be muted until they get their QB position solved. Just like last offseason. — John Keim

2018 record: 5-11

Reason for optimism: The Jaguars’ defense might not have been as dominant in 2018 as it was in 2017, but it still ranked in the top five in the NFL in total defense, pass defense and scoring. The majority of those players are back in 2019, including DEs Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue and CBs Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. The offense is going to be overhauled, but the Jaguars should be able to rely on the defense to keep things close while a new quarterback adjusts to the new offense installed by new coordinator John DeFilippo. — Mike DiRocco

2018 record: 6-10

Reason for optimism: When Matt Patricia’s mentor, Bill Belichick, took over in New England, there was a first-year downturn before things improved drastically in Year 2. So, if you believe in Patricia as a coach and what he and general manager Bob Quinn are trying to build, that’s something to hold on to. Another thing: The Lions going outside of their obvious New England/Syracuse comfort zone to hire an offensive coordinator shows they are looking for the best person for what their vision of the offense should be. Will Darrell Bevell work out? Way too early to tell, but at least it’s a coach with whom Patricia should be able to have a shared vision. That’s incredibly important in what could be a make-or-break year for Patricia, Quinn and quarterback Matthew Stafford. — Michael Rothstein

2018 record: 6-10

Reason for optimism: A new coach. The Bengals certainly aren’t without talent. They’ve got pieces such as Joe Mixon and A.J. Green on offense and Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins to anchor the defensive line. But the franchise needed a spark to breathe some life back into the team after 16 seasons with the same coach. Offense-minded coach Zac Taylor might just be able to do that, and perhaps he can get the offense back to where it was in early October, when the Bengals were 4-1 and firing on all cylinders. — Katherine Terrell

2018 record: 6-10

Reason for optimism: Josh Allen. Bills GM Brandon Beane said at the Senior Bowl that he will “sleep easier at night” this offseason knowing that Allen has settled what had been a chaotic situation at quarterback. Allen had the NFL’s 15th-best Total QBR after his Week 12 return from an elbow injury, winning three of Buffalo’s final six games and losing two others in the final minutes. There is hope in Buffalo that if Allen can be surrounded by better playmakers and protected by an improved offensive line, he can put the Bills back in playoff contention in 2019. — Mike Rodak

2018 record: 4-12

Reason for optimism: Sam Darnold. He finished his rookie season with the league’s highest Total QBR (80.7) over the final four games, fueling hope that the Jets finally have found a quarterback who can develop into a franchise player. The organization expects him to flourish under new coach Adam Gase, who was hired, in large part, because of his background with quarterbacks. The plan sounds good in theory, but the front office must do its part by surrounding Darnold with better pieces. — Rich Cimini

2018 record: 4-12

Reason for optimism: The coach and the general manager are on the same page. Sure, Reggie McKenzie insisted he knew what Jon Gruden wanted in terms of players, but he predated the coach in Oakland. New GM Mike Mayock was hired with the blessing of Gruden and, well, there you have it, for better or worse. “We are a completely open and transparent building right now, as far as the coaches and the scouts,” Mayock said last week at the Senior Bowl. “And I don’t know what was going on before and I’m not going to comment about anything else. All I’m going to tell you is … the common denominator of dysfunctional football buildings are when the coaches and the scouts don’t have a true relationship that transpires both ways.” Got it? — Paul Gutierrez

2018 record: 3-13

Reason for optimism: New head coach Kliff Kingsbury. After a dismal 2018, there’s really nowhere else for the Cardinals to go but up. Well, technically they could go 0-16, but there’s plenty of optimism around Kingsbury that that won’t happen. Arizona’s offense needed a breath of fresh air, and that’s what it will get from Kingsbury, who brings his version of the Air Raid offense to the NFL. He has worked wonders with quarterbacks in the past — such as Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech — and the Cardinals hope he can do the same with Josh Rosen, who’ll be playing for his third playcaller and second head coach in his young career. — Josh Weinfuss

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