Let the fun begin.
Week 1 is finally upon us, and, yes, the Bills-Jets headliner -- Josh Allen vs. Aaron Rodgers on Monday night -- is a certified banger. But I am just as geeked out for the opening act of Lions at Chiefs in prime time on Thursday night.
Those games, plus 14 more contests on Sunday, will set the table for another NFL season that's laced with intrigue. Will Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs repeat? Can Rodgers bring glory back to Gotham? (He and Mahomes are due to meet for the first time this season, in Week 4.) And, of course, there's plenty more to chew on.
In my preseason version of the rankings, there was a lot of feedback on which teams should be higher or lower. I have made some adjustments, but not (entirely) because of public pressure. After all, I had ample preseason action to watch, and some teams (e.g., the Steelers) looked better than others (say, the Rams).
One programming note: In addition to posting my rankings here on NFL.com each week, NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano and I will be breaking them down on the Power Rankings Podcast, which we're taping each Tuesday this season, all the way through Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas.
For better or for worse, here are my rankings heading into Week 1. We've made it!
It’s always a bit surprising when the rival Chiefs and Raiders make a trade. But the real reveal here is acquiring DT Neil Farrell from Las Vegas might be an indication the Chiefs really are prepared to start the season without Chris Jones, who still has not reported to the team as of this writing. Jones has already hinted at sitting out until Week 8 amid his contract dispute with the club, and Travis Kelce was pleading for his return last week. Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes seem to be taking a more zen-like approach to his absence for now. The Chiefs’ Super Bowl title defense will be challenging enough with Jones, but it’s an even steeper climb without him. They’ve been without him for two- and three-game stretches in recent seasons, but never anywhere close to half a season.
The Eagles arguably have the deepest roster in the NFL, with few obvious concerns across the board. How loaded are they? Derek Barnett is perhaps their fifth-best pass rusher now. But if there’s a position higher on the importance ladder that looks a bit thin right now, it’s wide receiver. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are All-Pro caliber. But they currently have only Quez Watkins and Olamide Zaccheaus behind them on the roster. Thus, losing either Brown or Smith for an extended period would fundamentally change the makeup of this unit. Right now, it’s not a worry. It’s the kind of thing normally not taken into massive consideration until it’s a problem. The Eagles have to hope it never becomes one.
Von Miller is out for at least the first four weeks of the season, setting up a fascinating battle in Week 1. Sure, Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers get top billing in this AFC East clash, but dig deeper and you see a shorthanded Bills pass rush against a Jets offensive line that has only recently come together as planned. But Buffalo trading Boogie Basham before the roster-cut deadline is an indication the Bills think they have enough with Greg Rousseau, Leonard Floyd, Shaq Lawson, A.J. Epenesa and Kingsley Jonathan to stem the tide until Miller returns. A strong showing against a still-jelling Jets group on Monday night would go a long way toward quelling any early fears about the teeth of the pass-rush unit.
In the preseason Power Rankings, I had the 49ers third -- way higher than the social-media cognoscenti felt was warranted. They have no quarterback, some said, which was incorrect ... but it brings up an interesting debate: Is Brock Purdy guaranteed to be the answer? His rookie effort was eye-openingly good, but that’s an awfully small sample size of eight starts -- and Purdy is coming off a serious elbow injury. Thankfully, the Niners are pretty stacked at most positions, and as last season proved, they can win big with multiple quarterbacks starting. Purdy's surpassed all expectations and has returned from injury, which likely made it easier for the team to trade Trey Lance. But there’s no doubt that questions remain about whether the former Mr. Irrelevant is the team’s QB of the future heading into the 2023 season.
This summer, coach Zac Taylor called the Bengals’ roster the deepest he’s had since he was hired in 2019. One major question heading into the regular season: Is it the final year for Tee Higgins in Cincinnati? Presumably, Joe Burrow’s extension will get done soon enough, but Higgins’ future seems less certain. At the very least, the Bengals hedged this year in drafting WRs Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas -- and keeping them on the 53-man roster over special-teams ace Stanley Morgan. They took a similar approach in 2022, drafting DBs Dax Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt in Rounds 1 and 2 prior to walk years for safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell.
The big news was the unexpected trade for Trey Lance -- and what it ultimately means for Dak Prescott. Whatever ends up happening, the move feels like a worthy one, with Lance now able to develop behind the scenes. The opportunity to become Prescott’s backup in 2024 could be there. Perhaps Prescott’s future negotiations will help put Lance in a spot where he could one day become the Cowboys’ starter. But there seems to be a healthy dose of optimism with Prescott and the “Texas Coast” offense this season, to the point where I am buying in.
Cornerback has been the position earning the most preseason hand-wringing, considering the injuries the Ravens have incurred there. But what about the pass rush? Tyus Bowser will miss at least the first four weeks on the non-football injury list. That likely means Odafe Oweh, David Ojabo and Jadeveon Clowney will be the top three rushers for the first month of the season, and Ojabo has missed some practice time with injury. Oweh is likely to be a better player than we saw a year ago, but this setup puts him squarely in the spotlight in a pivotal Year 3. The pass rush can help mitigate any issues in the secondary, but that’s only if this group shows early on it can significantly impact games.
There have been some preseason disappointments, such as losing CB Jalen Ramsey to injury, not signing RB Dalvin Cook, not signing DT Christian Wilkins to a long-term deal and keeping only two of their four 2023 draft picks. But the hope of the 2023 Dolphins was always built on a healthier Tua Tagovailoa and the work Vic Fangio can do with a talented defense. And though the schedule looks tough on paper, they do have nine home games, with seven true road contests and a contest in Germany against the Chiefs. Health will be a season-long story to monitor, but all things being equal, this team might be ready to make an incremental improvement over coach Mike McDaniel’s promising first year.
The Jaguars have the luxury of facing a rookie QB (the Colts’ Anthony Richardson) in Week 1, followed by three straight home games. The significance here is that is how long LT Cam Robinson’s four-game suspension will keep him out. The Jaguars will have to pray for good health at the position, because they’ll absolutely be thin without the veteran. Walker Little and rookie Anton Harrison are in line to start at tackle, but the Jags lost a key depth piece with Josh Wells on IR. The offense could be scary with the additions of WR Calvin Ridley and RB Tank Bigsby, along with Trevor Lawrence and other young standouts improving. But that’s also contingent on the tackles holding up early in the season.
The most important thing for Aaron Rodgers was to make it out of the preseason healthy, and the Jets’ offensive line appears to be trending in the right direction after some nervous moments in camp. The preseason felt like a success. Considering this team went 7-10 last year with three starting QBs all completing less than 59 percent of their passes, it’s hard not to see the path to improvement. But the NFL doesn’t always work that way, and the Jets have a whale of a schedule, facing the Bills, Cowboys, Chiefs and Eagles prior to the Week 7 bye. Buckle up, Jets fans. It’ll be a wild ride one way or another.
Even if the Lions aren’t quite as dynamic offensively as they were in 2022, it’s hard to imagine their defense isn’t vastly improved. Perhaps Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs pick away at them on Thursday night or, say, the Falcons (whom they play in Week 3) grind their way to success against Detroit. But top to bottom, this defense has added talent and depth during the offseason -- which speaks to the Lions keeping 29 defenders on the initial roster. And just look where they’re coming from: Last year was a struggle, even accounting for some late-season improvement. More sacks and takeaways helped mask things in 2022, but now they have more impact players in the front seven and better coverage options in the back end. Can coordinator Aaron Glenn make it work with an aggressive, man-heavy scheme? I think so, even with some expected hiccups.
Is Justin Herbert ready to make an MVP run? I’m not ruling it out. The Chargers’ offensive line is as strong as it has been since his arrival. Assuming good health, I would say the same thing about the wide receivers. Austin Ekeler is back, still likely motivated by his contract desires. Throw in some weapons at tight end, and everything is there for Herbert to have a monster season -- even with a wicked schedule. Last season, Herbert played through a painful rib injury and a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. That shortened some of his pass attempts and minimized the threat of him scrambling. With Herbert and the offensive line healthy, new coordinator Kellen Moore can marry his north-south run game and vertical passing game to make this one of the NFL’s most dangerous units.
The Seahawks made it to the postseason a year ago despite going 4-6 in one-score games. So, if we assume Geno Smith performs much like he did in 2022, Seattle really has a chance to improve off what it accomplished last season. The leaky run defense was an area of concentration this offseason, and GM John Schneider added playmakers in rookies Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Zach Charbonnet. With the Cardinals and Rams possibly in rebuild mode, the Seahawks’ focus now must be on finding a way to beat the 49ers, who had their number in all three meetings last season. But they have time to figure that out, as they won’t face San Francisco until Weeks 12 and 14.
I’m starting to wonder if this is too low. The Steelers were hot down the stretch last season, winning seven of their last nine games (including four straight at the end), and all they did this preseason was blowtorch their three opponents. The latter must be weighed carefully, but it was hard not to see how fluid and explosive the first-team offense looked (five TDs in five drives). The AFC North should be one of the best divisions, and the 49ers will be a stiff Week 1 test, but the schedule really does lay out nicely for Pittsburgh. All of this depends on Kenny Pickett making a Year 2 jump. Also, the defense needs to give up fewer big plays, but most arrows appear to point upward.
The Vikings won 13 games last season despite being outscored (-3 point differential). Going 11-0 in one-score games explains a lot of that, but it also raises the question of whether the Vikings -- who parted with some key contributors this offseason and are quite young on defense -- can repeat that effort in 2023. They should remain a fairly potent offense this season, but what new defensive coordinator Brian Flores can achieve with a heavily revamped unit could end up determining this team’s ceiling. Harrison Smith should make more plays up in the box, and there are some interesting front-seven defenders, but the cornerback position concerns me. It’s not hard to imagine a drop in wins, even if the defense improves.
The year is 2023, and we’re still talking about Michael Thomas and Jimmy Graham in New Orleans. How wild is that? Graham is back with the Saints for the first time since 2014, and it’s a story few could have imagined after Graham didn’t play in the league last season. But of the two, I believe it’s Thomas who has the best chance to rewrite his career script -- and also make the Saints contenders this season. His injury issues have been nearly unending since 2020, but Thomas just might be ready for another big season after three years of pain. If Derek Carr has enough weapons and time to throw, the Saints could reclaim the NFC South in what feels like a transition period in the division.
Awaiting Desmond Ridder is a chance to prove he is indeed Atlanta’s quarterback of the future. I think the Falcons are providing Ridder a pretty darned good surrounding cast -- a strong O-line, a potentially elite pair of running backs, Drake London, Kyle Pitts and, if healthy, Cordarelle Patterson. I also like Mack Hollins as a sneaky big-play option. With the blocking and run game, Ridder should be in favorable second- and third-down situations. If the defense becomes more of a takeaway unit (had just 17 last season) or generates a better pass rush (a 3.6% sack rate won’t cut it again) -- and I anticipate improvement in both areas -- it’ll give Ridder better field position, too. Don’t snooze on the Falcons, folks.
The Browns initially were my summer crush, the team I thought had the best chance to be this year’s 2022 Vikings. But as the days wore on, with kicking issues and injuries darkening my thoughts, my eyes started to wander. Deshaun Watson almost certainly will be better than the version we saw on the field last season. But by how much? The division has a razor-thin margin, and the Browns lost six one-score games a year ago. They can’t afford further kicking woes and disappointing QB play.
Brian Daboll built up a lot of goodwill with his surprising first-year success, which included the Giants’ first postseason win in 11 years. How high can this team fly? The Darren Waller acquisition and more speed at receiver give the offense a higher ceiling. This is a more talented team than last year’s version. But the defense must do a better job against the run and force more turnovers to net improvement in the standings. The front-seven reinforcements should help the run defense, but the takeaway question lingers. Big Blue's 13 fumble recoveries a year ago were the NFL’s second-most, but the six INTs were tied for last. Can a reshuffled secondary (that likely will feature two rookies playing big roles) change that?
We can slice and dice the roster any way we want, but let’s be honest: This season boils down to what Sean Payton and Russell Wilson do. Payton was out of the game for a year, but his offenses ranked in the top 10 in points and yards 11 times during his run in New Orleans. Wilson was on a sure-fire Hall of Fame track, a singular playmaker for a decade in Seattle before the bottom dropped out in 2022. Will this pairing work? How Wilson fares this season will go a long way toward determining his future in Denver. But it’s not just Payton helping him out. I highly recommend the recent feature by colleague James Palmer, which lays out just how important a role new quarterbacks coach Davis Webb -- only months removed from his playing career -- might play in a potential Wilson rebound.
The Packers' reported interest in Jonathan Taylor is interesting -- and I am not sure it has abated. The Colts resisted trading Taylor before cutdowns, but it doesn't feel like anything is settled in Indianapolis. The Packers' full youth movement is wild and exciting to watch unfold; on offense, David Bakhtiari (31) and Aaron Jones (28) are the only expected starters over the age of 27. Adding the 24-year-old Taylor only would make them younger. Could this play out as a transition season for Jordan Love and the Packers, similar to Aaron Rodgers' first year starting in 2008? After that 6-10 campaign, Green Bay enjoyed a decade-plus of steady contention.
Especially on offense, the Titans feel like they're entering a flashpoint season, capable of going one of two ways. Either veterans Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and DeAndre Hopkins flourish and put the Titans back in real contention, or they flame out collectively, pushing this franchise into the rebuild some (not Jeffery Simmons!) thought might occur this offseason. But there are two younger players entering critical seasons who can go a long way toward helping the veteran core: WR Treylon Burks and LT Andre Dillard. After a tough rookie season, Burks dealt with an LCL sprain in August. Can his ability shine through? Is Dillard truly a first-round talent who never got a proper shake in Philly? If those two players flourish, the Titans could really have an offensive foundation in place. If they struggle, all bets are off.
Defensively, this team should be very tough. The pass rush could be lethal if Chase Young ever gets healthy and figures it out. The secondary looks versatile and talented. Linebacker doesn't excite me, but it's hard to gripe too much. If Sam Howell can somehow have a 2022 Geno Smith type of season, why can't the Commanders make the playoffs? It would be a fitting development amid an ownership change, one that has rendered more excitement than the franchise has enjoyed in years. There's pressure on Ron Rivera to win now, one might imagine. But it's also surely there for offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who must know how much a successful season could mean for his career.
It’s hard to know what to expect from a team that looks like it could be fourth-best in the AFC East (arguably a top-two division in the league) in terms of talent. Sure, the Patriots can and will run the ball effectively, and the defense should be a good-to-very-good unit even without Devin McCourty, whose departure will be felt throughout the organization. But where’s the offensive firepower? Rhamondre Stevenson can do a lot, and Ezekiel Elliott should help prevent the third-year back from wearing down, but the pass-catching group looks like a solid collection of second, third and fourth options. There’s no one player who changes the way teams will defend New England. Even with Bill O’Brien back in the fold, the Patriots’ lack of an elite playmaker is far and away my biggest worry about this team entering the season.
There's bubbling support for the Panthers as potential NFC South champs, and ... sure, why not? Heck, they made a valiant run at it last season after firing their coach, shipping their star running back away in a trade and rolling with Sam Darnold and PJ Walker under center instead of the Week 1 QB, who was released in December. With No. 1 pick Bryce Young, a defense offering upside and new coach Frank Reich in place, one might argue their chances can't be dismissed. That's fair. But on cutdown day, Carolina jettisoned many players from the Matt Rhule regime, opting for youth at multiple spots. The excitement over Young is tangible, but this season's goals are more about Young's development, I suspect, than the Panthers' final win percentage.
Justin Fields' preseason work was fine, albeit brief. But with Fields due for a possible extension next offseason, everyone knows how important this season is to determining his future with the Bears, who are waiting for him to turn the proverbial corner. GM Ryan Poles recently said he needs to see more steps in his QB's development. "Want those sack numbers to come down, interceptions to come down, make good reads, protect himself, just see him take that next step," Poles said. The dream, of course, would be for Fields to make a Jalen Hurts-esque leap from Year 2 to 3. Their second-year numbers actually compare quite favorably, although Fields' sack rate (14.7% last season to Hurts' 5.7% in 2021) and interception rate (3.5% last season to Hurts' 2.1% in 2021) truly are concerning outliers until proven otherwise.
Some observers might be focused on what a Jimmy Garoppolo-led Raiders offense might look like with Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Michael Mayer and (now that he's returned following a contract standoff) Josh Jacobs. But if Las Vegas is truly serious about changing its trajectory, the defense must hold up its end of the bargain. Very little carries over year to year in the NFL, but the Raiders have been bottom dwellers in two major statistical categories over the past several years: turnovers and sacks. The Raiders forced a paltry 13 turnovers last season and -- get this! -- haven't topped 17 in a season since 2016, when Garoppolo and Josh McDaniels were winning a Super Bowl in New England together.
What an interesting roster here, with some truly elite top-end talent (Tristan Wirfs, Lavonte David, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antoine Winfield Jr.) but also six undrafted free agents making the opening 53. Evans' recent contract drama puts his Bucs future in doubt, and it's worth remembering starting QB Baker Mayfield is on a one-year deal. It's not a complete youth movement, but it's headed that way. If Mayfield wants more time in Tampa, his mission is clear: avoid turnovers. He's had the most interceptions (64) in the NFL since 2018, and the Bucs' defense took a step backward in takeaways last season, giving the team a turnover differential of -2 -- one reason the Tom Brady-led iteration of this squad had to scratch its way to an 8-9 mark. Operating in the red on turnovers again won't lead to more wins.
There has been a near-constant stream of disappointment for the Colts since dropping that fateful Week 18 game in January of 2022, and there's only so much light on the horizon, with Jonathan Taylor opening the season on the PUP list -- and with his contract demands remaining unresolved. It's not the way Indianapolis wanted to start the Anthony Richardson era, but these are the cards they've been dealt (and dealt to themselves). Richardson offers the best hope for a surprise season if he can have a Cam Newton-like Year 1. Newton helped the 2011 Panthers improve by four wins, limping to a slow start, then putting up an encouraging finish. That's a reasonable outlook, I think, for your 2023 Colts. Will Taylor be part of that? No one knows.
Aaron Donald considered retirement following the Rams' Super Bowl LVI victory. After a trying 2022 season, he's back as the unquestionable leader of the Rams' defense as they try to climb back to respectability. It's a very young roster, which could result in early-season growing pains. Could Donald be moved to a contender if the Rams slip out of the race prior to 4 p.m. ET on All Hallows' Eve, a.k.a. the trade deadline? I wouldn't rule out a scenario similar to Von Miller exiting Denver to chase a Super Bowl with the Rams in 2021. Los Angeles is awash in dead cap money and would surely love to stockpile future assets. Trading Donald was once unthinkable, but now it feels like it will be a quite-reasonable possibility at some point.
What would represent a successful season for rookie QB C.J. Stroud? Expectations will always be high for the second overall pick in any draft, but perspective is important. Twenty-two rookie QBs have started 12-plus games over the previous decade, and their collective averages are pretty middling: 3,161 passing yards, 60.7 percent completion rate, 17 TDs and 13 INTs in roughly 14 starts. Those numbers feel reasonable for Stroud. The run game will help, some of the young targets have promise and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik is viewed as an up-and-comer. But the offensive line hasn’t lived up to expectations, and Stroud threw cautiously in the preseason (4.5 yards/attempt). He’ll have Dalton Schultz and Robert Woods as security blankets, but this offense has limited firepower.
Even the most optimistic onlooker has to expect a turbulent season and protracted rebuild for Arizona. Those things tend to happen to teams with a first-year head coach -- and those whose starting quarterback is out indefinitely to begin the season. But I’ll offer up the caveat that sometimes the preseason bottom dwellers end up being ... not terrible. Two years ago, the Bengals were widely expected to struggle and they ended up winning the AFC North. And about this time last year, the Falcons were commonly ranked among the lowest teams in the league only to finish with a 7-10 record. That's something, right?