2020 NFL Awards: Picking the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and more

The NFL regular season is officially over! It was a wild year with elements that no other NFL season has ever faced. Between social justice initiatives (that have very noticeably faded as the year has gone on), COVID-19 and no offseason, there is no question that this season will be remembered forever.

Now that we are headed for the playoffs, it is time to hand out some end of the season awards. This has been one of the most fascinating MVP races in recent memory. Defensive Player of the Year is crazy competitive as well. There could be some history made with the Offensive Player of the Year award as well.

Let’s make this clear, I am not predicting who will win these awards, simply deciding who I would vote for if I had a vote in these types of situations. There were some really tough decisions to make, so I did my best to break down why I chose these players (or coaches) to win in each category. Let’s (hypothetically) hand out some hardware!

Coach of the Year

3. Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
When you end an 18-year playoff drought, you end up getting some love for Coach of the Year. Kevin Stefanski has turned the Browns around very quickly. A year ago, the Browns were a 6-10 team without much leadership. Now, Cleveland is headed to the playoffs at 11-5 and there is stability in the locker room. Stefanksi deserves a ton of credit for finally getting this team over the hump. The five-game jump they made this year is tied for the biggest turnaround in the league. This team still has some major shortcomings and has gotten blownout a few too many times, but Stefanski has really pushed them further than any coach in recent memory has.

2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
While they did not make the same level of a jump as some of the other teams in the league this past season, it was hard to improve a whole lot from a 10-6 record a year ago. Buffalo still won three more games this year, locking up the No. 2 seed in the AFC and looking incredibly consistent in the process. There were some hiccups in the form of an early-season blowout against the Titans. The defense also unquestionably took a step backwards, but the Bills still competed with some of the top teams in the league and won their first division title since 1995. Sean McDermott did an excellent job leading this group and this team is poised to win its first playoff game in 25 years.

1. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins
No team outperformed expectations more than the Dolphins this year. Brian Flores deserves so much credit for turning this team around in such a short time. Miami’s roster is full of unheralded names, players looking for a second chance and young players still learning how to acclimate with the NFL. Flores got the most out of that talent, handling a complicated quarterback situation in the process. While the regular-season finale leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Dolphins fans, finishing 10-6, one game out of the playoffs is a massive accomplishment. It bodes well for the future of the franchise and it is clear Miami has a leader in place to build behind.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

3. James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
My third spot came down to James Robinson and Jonathan Taylor. I gave the edge to Robinson in the end for being a more consistent presence on the Jaguars offense throughout the season. Keep in mind, this was a 1-15 team. Jacksonville started three different quarterbacks and none of them were good. His offensive line is not a great one either. Yet, Robinson still finished tied for fifth in rushing yards and scored ten total touchdowns. He provided a ton of stability on an offense that had very little. Is Taylor more talented? Absolutely. But, I think Robinson had a better overall season, where Taylor essentially just got hot in the final six games of the year.

2. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
When you are breaking Randy Moss’ records, you are doing something right. Justin Jefferson had an unbelievable rookie year. He finished with 1,400 receiving yards, fourth-most in the league and most by a rookie receiver in the Super Bowl era, and punched in seven touchdowns. Jefferson showed a great ability to stretch the field as well, averaging the ninth-most yards per reception this season. As if that wasn’t enough, Jefferson dropped just two passes on 125 targets this season. In just about any other year, he likely would have won this award. In 2020 though, there was another guy named Justin who broke a bunch of rookie records this year.

1. Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
This is just what we all expected, right? The third quarterback taken in the 2020 draft and the guy who couldn’t beat out Tyrod Taylor to start the season wins Rookie of the Year. That’s how it goes down in my book this year. Justin Herbert shocked everyone with the level of dominance he displayed this year. He set tons of records for rookie quarterbacks, including most passing touchdowns (31) in a season and most pass completions (396) in a season. He finished 38 yards shy of Andrew Luck’s record for passing yards by a rookie, becoming just the fourth rookie to pass for over 4,000 yards. Herbert actually averaged the most passing yards per game in NFL history, but didn’t start the first game of the season. He also posted the second-best completion percentage by a rookie ever, trailing Dak Prescott. Give Herbert the award. He has earned it.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

3. Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys
This ended up being a less-than-stellar race for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but there have still been some impressive performances. Trevon Diggs had some rough moments, as you would expect most rookie cornerbacks to when they are thrown into a starting job without an offseason or a preseason. Still, Diggs took his lumps and improved over the course of the season. He finished with a top-20 completion percentage allowed at 54.2 percent. He did give up five touchdowns, but also came up with three interceptions. He missed four games in the middle of the year, which knocks him down a bit, but still put together a solid first year.

2. Jeremy Chinn, S, Carolina Panthers
Is a safety, is he a linebacker? I don’t really have the answer to that one, but he is a damn good football player. Jeremy Chinn burst onto the scene for this young Carolina defense. He led the team in tackles this year and made a big impact with his playmaking. He had two forced fumbles, an interception and two defensive touchdowns. He did struggle in pass coverage, which holds him back from ultimately winning this award, but he feels like a Budda Baker or Jordan Poyer-type asset to this Panthers defense.

1. Chase Young, DE, Washington
This was not the forgone conclusion I think many expected coming into the year. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that Chase Young should win this award. He is a dynamic player on a super talented defensive line. Young finished the year with 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He didn’t just get home either, he knocked the ball loose, tallying four forced fumbles on the season. Young also recovered three fumbles and scored a defensive touchdown. There are few players who have been such a focal point of opponent’s offensive game plans than Young. I think he comfortably wins this award.

Offensive Player of the Year

3. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
In one of my power rankings a few weeks ago, I noted that we probably take Davante Adams for granted way too often. This is me doing my best to not make that same mistake. In 14 games this season, Adams had an NFL-leading 18 touchdown catches to go along with 115 catches, which is tied for second-most and 1,374 receiving yards, which is tied for fifth. Imagine the numbers he could have put up in two additional games! What I think people overlook is Adams’ ability after the catch, where he put up the second most yards in the league, trailing only Alvin Kamara. Adams is a complete receiver and one of, if not the best one in the game right now.

2. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Whenever you run for over 2,000 yards in a single season, you end up getting consideration for the top offensive player in the league. Derrick Henry, has continued to show that he is the most difficult running back to stop in the league. He had his fair share of ineffective games this season, but his usage is also one of the most impressive in league history. What limits Henry’s claim to the award is his role as a pass-catcher in the Titans’ offense. He finished the season with just 19 receptions. Henry deserves credit for how dominant he can be on any given week, but I don’t think he managed to outshine the next player on this list.

1. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
This award was first handed out in 1972, and never in its history has it been won by a tight end. That should change. Travis Kelce has, almost quietly, put together the most dominant season by a tight end in NFL history. With 1,416 receiving yards, he broke George Kittle’s record for the most by a tight end in a single season and ranked second in the NFL among all players. He finished tied for fifth in receiving yards and receptions among all receivers as well. What shocks me most about Kelce’s season is that he is third in the league in yards after the catch. As if that wasn’t enough, he has only two drops, one of the best marks in the league. Kelce deserves this award after the season he has put together.

Defensive Player of the Year

3. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
By far the most difficult award for me to figure out, Aaron Donald narrowly edges out Myles Garrett for the third spot on the list. A fixture in the Defensive Player of the Year by now, Donald put together another stellar year, racking up 13.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Both rank among the top six in the league. He once again dominated along the interior of every offensive line he faced. Donald is the best interior pass rusher in NFL history and he has shown no signs of slowing down yet.

2. Xavien Howard, CB, Miami Dolphins
Sure, interceptions are a sexy stat. That only tells half the story for Xavien Howard. He has been targeted a ton this year, and I can’t seem to figure out why. Howard has allowed just 51.5 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. While Howard did allow four touchdown passes this season, he was still one of the best lockdown corners in the league. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 48.3 when he was in coverage, trailing only Bryce Callahan for the best mark in the league. Between leading the league in interceptions and pass break ups, it is easy to see why he is in the running for the award.

1. T.J. Watt, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers
No player in the NFL has been more disruptive for opposing offenses this season than T.J. Watt. He led the NFL in sacks with 15 this season in 15 games and racked up 23 tackles for loss, also the best mark in the league. He also was tops in quarterback pressures and quarterback hits. Simply stated, Watt is the hardest player to stop in the league right now. That is evidenced even more so by him having the best pass-rush win rate in the league. ESPN detailed earlier this year how Watt has the fastest pass-rush get off in the league. Teams have had all year to try to figure out how to stop him, and right now, no one has an answer for Watt.

MVP

3. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
A few weeks ago, it seemed like Patrick Mahomes was running away with the award. Then he just kind of slowed down. He still put together a fantastic season. Mahomes finished with an impressive 38 touchdowns to just six interceptions. His 4,740 passing yards ranked second in the NFL, behind his draft mate Deshaun Watson. The biggest knock on Mahomes is his completion percentage, which is still solid at 66 percent. However, that ranks 16th in the league overall. Mahomes absolutely deserves to be an MVP finalist, but I don’t think he did enough to win the award again.

2. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
If you asked me at the beginning of the year, I would never have believed Josh Allen would be in the MVP conversation. Yet, here we are. Allen scored 45 total touchdowns in 2020, 37 through the air and eight on the ground. What has really jumped him from fringe starter to elite quarterback though has been his improved accuracy. Allen has always had a rocket for an arm, but he polished his technique. His completion percentage jumped up to 69.2 this year, the fourth-best mark in the league. As a result of all of this, he has the fourth-best passer rating and third-best QBR in the NFL. He has led this Bills offense that is solid, but lacks elite playmakers to a 13-3 record and put together a season that in most years would be enough to win this award. Unfortunately, he had to come up against this next guy.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
It took me a while to recognize just how great Aaron Rodgers has been this year, but I’m not missing it now. With 48 touchdowns, only five interceptions and a passer rating over 120, Rodgers put together one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. His QBR and completion percentage were the best in the league as well. What is even more impressive than any of that though is Rodgers throwing a touchdown on 9.1 percent of his passes this year. Russell Wilson had the second-best mark at 7.2 percent. Only Peyton Manning in 2004 and Ken Stabler in 1976 had better marks in the Super Bowl era. Without a doubt, Rodgers is deserving of the award this year.

8 teams that should sign Colin Kaepernick

If the 2019 NFL season taught us anything, it’s that there are a lot of teams who have neglected the backup quarterback position. The teams that sufficiently addressed it (Kansas City, Tennessee) weathered the storm when their starter was ineffective or hurt. Meanwhile, teams that clearly had no real succession plan (Detroit, New York Jets) saw their seasons unravel with sudden, er, absences at the position. Does mononucleosis count as an injury?

 

colin-kaepernick
Kaepernick has been out of the NFL since 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality in America. (Wikimedia Commons)

Finding a backup quarterback is important and there aren’t many players more qualified for the job than Colin Kaepernick. With the NFL admitting it mishandled the national anthem protests in 2016 and commissioner Roger Goodell even going as far as encouraging teams to sign Kaepernick, the door finally seems to be for the former 49ers quarterback to return to the league. Sure, he has been out of the league for a few years, but Kaepernick has the experience and talent to be a spot starter.

Don’t believe me? Let’s compare Kapernick to the league’s average backup quarterback. I compiled every backup quarterback’s stats into this Google Sheet.

On average, the NFL backup completes around 61.1 percent of his passes and averages roughly 6.95 yards per attempt. Additionally, they throw a touchdown on 3.8 percent of their throws while 2.7 percent of their attempts result in an interception. The average backup also has a career winning percentage of 46 percent in the regular season. These numbers look much worse if you remove some of the long-time former starters currently in backup roles like Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub. 

Kaepernick by comparison completed 59.8 percent of his passes for an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. He threw a touchdown on 4.3 percent of his passes and an interception on just 1.8 percent of them. His career regular season win percentage sits at 48 percent. Additionally, Kaepernick has playoff experience, including a Super Bowl appearance. Flacco and Nick Foles are the only current backup quarterbacks who have started a Super Bowl.

The biggest knock anyone could possibly have on Kaepernick is his ability to hold onto the ball. He averaged almost eight fumbles per season over his five years as a mostly full-time starter.

If you want to put a label on what Kaepernick represents to the NFL right now in terms of position value, it is a high-end backup. Those averages, which he mostly matches or beats, don’t factor in his running ability either. His mobility is a plus for any team evaluating him. 

Without a doubt, Kap could still cut it in the NFL. Let me make this clear though. I don’t think Kaepernick has what it takes to be a starter in this league anymore. He is 32 and has some mechanical flaws he is not going to fix now. However, he is still good enough to win a game if his number is called. From his workout in 2019, he clearly still has the arm strength and the zip on his throws to make plays. Kaepernick should be no team’s first option, but there are much worse plan B’s. Here are the eight teams that should consider signing Kaepernick for the 2020 season.

Denver_BroncosDenver Broncos
With Drew Lock sufficiently entrenched as the starter for the Broncos, this could be an ideal situation for Kaepernick to work his way back into the league. Denver’s current quarterback room outside of Lock includes Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and Neal Riley. Driskel is far from a reliable backup having struggled in stints filling in for Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford over the past two seasons. He is 1-7 as a starter and has completed under 60 percent of his passes in his career. It helps that Denver’s current running backs coach Curtis Modkins was the 49ers offensive coordinator during Kaepernick’s final season in San Francisco.

Titans logoTennessee Titans
Few teams had a better quarterback situation last year than the Titans. When Marcus Mariota proved to be ineffective as the starter, Ryan Tannehill came in and worked wonders all the way to the AFC Championship game. With Mariota now in Las Vegas, Tennessee is left with Logan Woodside and undrafted rookie Cole McDonald on the roster. Neither one of them has attempted an NFL pass. The front office made a wise move last year to find a stable backup plan. Kaepernick would give the Titans the same assurances that Tannehill provided for them last year.

Bengals LogoCincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the future in Cincinnati, but with Andy Dalton now in Dallas, the solution to a Burrow injury is unclear. Ryan Finley tanked in two appearances last season. Jake Dolegala is a fellow second year player who did attempt a pass last season. If Burrow were to go down, there is no one reliable to step in for the Bengals at quarterback. My biggest hang up with Kaepernick joining Cincinnati is I think they need someone who can start this season to ease Burrow into the NFL. I’m not sure Kaepernick quite fits the bill after so much time off.

Patriots Logo

New England Patriots
The Patriots have clearly latched their wagon to the Jarrett Stidham train. I’m not sold on him as the long term answer after only four career passes, but the rest of the quarterback situation in New England is nothing to trust either. Brian Hoyer is back for another stint, but the Pats actually cut Hoyer last season after the preseason, and he struggled in relief of Jacoby Brissett after signing with the Colts. New England’s other two options at the position are Brian Lewerke and J’Mar Smith, two undrafted free agents from the 2020 class. Rumor has it the team is interested Cam Newton, but Kaepernick could also make a ton of sense.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)

Arizona Cardinals
No one will be replacing Kyler Murray any time soon. However, when you have a mobile quarterback, particularly one with as slight of a build as Murray, there is always the risk of an injury arising. Arizona’s current backup plan is Brett Hundley. He has more interceptions than touchdowns in his career and a completion percentage south of 60. The only other options on the roster include Drew Anderson and Chris Streveler, both of whom have never attempted an NFL pass. Kaepernick has a similar play style to Murray, even if he cannot replicate the level of production. I could see him being a good fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s modified Air Raid system.

Los Angeles Rams logoLos Angeles Rams
Who is currently backing up Jared Goff? John Wolford, Bryce Perkins and Josh Love are all undrafted free agents L.A. signed over the past two years. None of them have taken an NFL snap. Goff might be one of the least sacked quarterbacks in the league, but the Rams certainly need a better replacement plan if he were to get hurt. Kaepernick might not be the most seamless fit in the Rams system given his struggles as a play-action passer, but I trust Sean McVay to find some creative uses for his arm and legs. Even four years removed from football, he would provide a much more reliable solution if Goff were to suffer an injury. 

Seahawks logo

Seattle Seahawks
Don’t even begin to argue with me that Kaepernick would not be an upgrade over Geno Smith as a backup quarterback. As a Jets fan, I watched him struggle wildly to perform on a consistent basis and regularly commit back-breaking errors in important moments. Luckily for Seattle, Russell Wilson is one of the most durable quarterbacks in the league. Still, finding a better replacement than Smith would be smart. Pete Carroll has been open in his support of Kaepernick, admitting he regrets not signing him previously. The team met with Kap prior to the 2017 season. His ability to extend plays with his legs is not on the same level as Wilson, but he could help Seattle avoid a massive fall off if Wilson were to go down injured. 

Ravens logo

Baltimore Ravens
This last one is less about the team’s need at the position and more about the offensive scheme. Baltimore has the league’s reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson. Though Jackson has proven to be durable and smart about avoiding unnecessary hits, they have a clear backup plan in Robert Griffin III. They even have two young, dual-threat college quarterbacks on the roster behind RGIII. Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley are definitely both project players, but this has the feel of a very sound quarterback room. However, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers while Kaepernick dazzled the football world with two deep playoff runs. I’m not saying Roman would be able rekindle that kind of magic, but given what Jackson has been able to do in this system, I think Kaepernick could find some level of success in a backup role. 

NFL Draft Podcast – NFC Free Agency Primer and Draft Implications

In this week’s episode, Chris breaks down the key free agents for every NFC team and discusses how these crucial decisions will impact the draft strategy for each franchise. Dallas dominates the NFC East conversation with its trio of high-impact free agents, but New York, Washington and Philadelphia have a couple of notable players no longer under contract. Pretty much every team other than the Falcons has questions at quarterback in the NFC South. The Saints, Panthers and Buccaneers all could have new starters in 2020. Most of the NFC West teams have a few important players that could hit the open market. Chicago has very few notable free agents, but will likely be aggressive anyway. Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit have several players they will be focused on bringing back. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
https://anchor.fm/theaftermath

NFL Draft Podcast Episode 6

There is no shortage of drama in football this week as Jalen Ramsey heads west and the College Football Playoff suffered a major shakeup as Georgia went down. Catch up on all of that and check out this week’s studs and sleepers. Plus find out which games to watch and the prospects to watch in each contest. You can find every episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

NFL 2019 Week 1 Power Rankings

Welcome back to another NFL season football fans! After the 8-month long drought of meaningful football, we are now just two days away from the season kicking off. This is shaping up to be a very interesting season in the league. It feels like there are very few teams who seem to have no shot at the postseason this year. There will undoubtedly be surprises that very few saw coming. That’s what makes the league so much fun to watch every year.

This year, it feels like there is a pretty deep group of contenders. Picking the top team out of that group is difficult. Ranking the list of contenders is probably even harder. Every team has flaws. There is not a team that feels head and shoulders above the rest. Even the reigning champs have a couple of question marks after the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and departure of high-priced free agents. Yet, I will give it my best shot and fill you in on much of what happened during the offseason for each team. It’s time for the season’s first power rankings to begin.

Rams logo

1. Los Angeles Rams: Lost in Super Bowl
Los Angeles will try to buck the trend of teams who lose the Super Bowl struggling the follow season. New England certainly did, follow up its Super Bowl loss to Philly by taking home the Lombardi. The Rams return the majority of their roster. There was some turnover along the offensive line as both John Sullivan and Roger Saffold departed. However, the front office bolster the defense by keeping Dante Fowler Jr. and signing Eric Weddle from the Ravens. Oh and they also get Cooper Kupp back from injury. LA is far from a lock to win the Super Bowl, but they feel the best positioned to right now.

Patriots Logo

2. New England Patriots: Won Super Bowl
The champs are here. Winning the title and dropping one spot in the power rankings is not too bad when you consider how much roster turnover the Patriots had this offseason. I already mentioned Gronk moving on, but Trent Brown and Trey Flowers also left for greener (lots of green actually) pastures. New England added some savvy veterans like Ben Watson (suspended 4 games), Demaryius Thomas and Michael Bennett. The receiving core has also been bolstered by the conditional return of Josh Gordon. There are certainly holes on this Pats roster and Father Time will catch up with a number of key contributors eventually, by doubting Bill Belichick is a very questionable approach.

Saints logo

3. New Orleans Saints: Lost in NFC Championship
New Orleans should have been in the Super Bowl and actually caused a rule change this offseason. The Saints return all of its key offensive and defensive contributors. Mark Ingram does depart though after eight seasons in NOLA. This team was explosive to start the season, but really fizzled down the stretch. The lack of proven receiver depth behind Michael Thomas is a major concern, but the addition of Jared Cook at tight end should help alleviate some of the pressure. Latavius Murray also signed on to fill Ingram’s vacated role. If rookie center Erik McCoy transitions well to the pros and the defense takes the next step, the Saints could be hosting an extended Mardi Gras party in February.

Chiefs Logo

4. Kansas City Chiefs: Lost in AFC Championship
Will Patrick Mahomes replicate his 50 touchdown season? Can he lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl? Is he the greatest thing since sliced bread? These are just some of the questions floating around Chiefs’ camp coming off their deepest playoff run in 25 years. Kansas City tried to address its woeful secondary by signing Tyrann Mathieu and drafting Juan Thornhill in the second round. KC also allowed Justin Houston to walk and shipped Dee Ford to San Francisco. Bringing in Frank Clark from Seattle should ease those losses, but the defense once again feels like a question mark potentially holding the Chiefs back from a chance at a title.

Bears logo

5. Chicago Bears: Lost in NFC Wild Card
It is hard to know what to make of the Bears. Chicago shocked everyone by dominating the NFC North last season. It was a great run cut short by a a kick hitting the upright against the Eagles. Mitch Trubisky enters year three without a clear top receiving threat. The collection of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton did just enough to power the passing game. Chicago is very excited about David Montgomery and still returns the best defense in the league, but it is down a few key pieces. Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan both departed in free agency, leaving some holes in the secondary. Da Bears took fliers on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Buster Skrine to help patch it up. The front seven is still fearsome and should be good enough to mask any weaknesses in that back four.

Eagles Logo

6. Philadelphia Eagles: Lost in NFC Divisional
You know who would really like to make Philadelphia forget about Nick Foles? Carson Wentz. The former North Dakota State star has missed the conclusion of each of the previous two seasons due to injury. Foles stepped in and led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win and divisional round appearance respectively. Philly was likely an inexplicable Alshon Jeffrey drop away from a trip to the NFC Championship game as well. Now its Wentz’s turn to show he has what it takes to lead the Eagles deep into the postseason. The backfield is restocked with rookie Miles Sanders and import Jordan Howard. DeSean Jackson is back for another run. The secondary is finally healthy. If Wentz can stay on the field this year, Philly is going to be one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL.

Chargers logo

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Lost in AFC Divisional
It feels like now or never for the Chargers. Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekler, Hunter Henry and Mike Pouncey are all in contract years. We’ve already seen that Gordon is not happy about entering the season without a new deal. However, Los Angeles needs to make significant progress from the team that was shelled by New England in the playoffs last year. Some improved offensive line play should definitely help solve that. Thomas Davis also adds a veteran presence to the defense, already boasting a stud pass rusher in Melvin Ingram. The AFC West will be tough, but the Chargers are in a good position to finish on top of the division.

Pittsburgh_Steelers logo

8. Pittsburgh Steelers: Finished 2nd in AFC North
Even with Antonio Brown in Oakland and Le’Veon Bell in New York, the Steelers actually feel like a more complete team in 2019. Adding Devin Bush, Justin Layne and Isaiah Buggs through the draft gives Pittsburgh some young building blocks. Mark Barron is also an intriguing free agent signing. James Conner and Jaylen Samuel form a solid backfield tandem and the offensive line is among the best in the league. The front seven is among the better groups as well. If the Steelers can finally find some answers in the secondary, expect them back in the postseason this year.

Falcons logo

9. Atlanta Falcons: Finished 2nd in NFC South
No team was more ravaged by injuries last year than the Falcons. With a healthier defense, a retooled offensive line and the return of Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator, I am optimistic about the Falcons this season. They have depth at the skill positions and some intriguing talent on defense. If Vic Beasley can regain some of his 2016 form and Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen pick up where they left off before their injuries, the Atlanta should be a lot closer to what we saw in the back-to-back playoff appearances. Matt Ryan is an MVP-caliber quarterback with one the best receiver cores in the league. Keep an eye on these birds.

Vikings logo

10. Minnesota Vikings: Finished 2nd in NFC North
There is no question 2018 was disappointing for the Vikings. Coming off an appearance in the NFC Championship game (a beatdown though it was), expectations were high for Minnesota. Instead, the Kirk Cousins-led offense sputtered and the defense could not do enough to carry them to the postseason. The Vikings invested a lot of draft capital into the offense and Dalvin Cook should be back in action as well. With possibly the best receiving pair in the league now with Adam Theilen and Stefon Diggs, Minnesota should be knocking on the door of the playoffs once again.

Browns logo

11. Cleveland Browns: Finished 3rd in AFC North
This is easily the highest I have ever had the Browns in the power rankings to start the season. Cleveland went out and acquired Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon from the Giants this offseason. It also added Sheldon Richardson and Greedy Williams. While many are picking the Browns to win the AFC North, that offensive line has me a little worried, particularly after shipping Kevin Zeitler to New York. And while Baker Mayfield was amazing last year, this will be his first full season as the starter and Freddy Kitchens first full year as the coach. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but an ample amount of them to be cautious as well.

Packers logo12. Green Bay Packers: Finished 3rd in NFC North
Talk about turnover. The Packers fired Mike McCarthy last year, replacing him with Matt LeFleur. Rumor has it Green Bay will run the ball a bit more this season, a wise choice with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams available to carry the rock. Aaron Rodgers is still trying to find a second weapon to rely on in the passing game behind Davante Adams. If Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Jake Kumerow can finally step up, this offense should get back to where we expect it to be. Defensively, the secondary is deep, but pass rushers are hard to find. The Pack took fliers on ZaDarius Smith and Preston Smith. Rodgers is talented enough to overcome a lot of this, but he could desperately use some help after being stranded for the past several seasons.

Texans logo

13. Houston Texans: Lost in AFC Wildcard
Seem low for the Texans after reaching the playoffs last year? Maybe it is. They had an extremely busy offseason, adding Laremy Tunsil to bolster the offensive line, a move it desperately needed to make. However, it lost Jadeveon Clowney, a blow no matter how you look at it. Elsewhere, Deshaun Watson also needs some help from someone not named DeAndre Hopkins, a task made harder with Lamar Miller suffering a major knee injury. The defense is still one of the better ones in the league, led by J.J. Watt. The secondary took a few hits, but adding Bradley Roby should help mitigate any losses. In a tougher AFC South, the Texans need to play at a high level to make it back to the playoffs.

Seahawks logo14. Seattle Seahawks: Lost in NFC Wildcard
If you are a fan of old-school, smash mouth football, the Seahawks are your team in 2019. With an improving offensive line, the dynamic duo of Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny and of course Russell Wilson, Seattle is going retro. It was the only team to run the ball more than it threw it last season. With Doug Baldwin, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor all gone, it is truly the beginning of a new era though. Adding Jadeveon Clowney should help, but it is possible these key veteran departures could be too much for this team to overcome. Even with Bobby Wagner leading the defense, Seattle has some work to do to replace that leadership.

Cowboys logo15. Dallas Cowboys: Lost in NFC Divisional
On one hand, I get it. Paying a running back a ton of money seems like a questionable way to spend cap space. However, this is probably the most complete running back in the NFL we are talking about. Ezekiel Elliott powers that Dallas offense and I would be very wary of them making the playoffs, much less winning the NFC East if his holdout carries deep into the season. Sure there is other talent in Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, but the Cowboys are a bit short on proven skill position players. They are counting on Michael Gallup to take the next step and Jason Witten to pick up right where he left off after a year in the broadcasting booth. Thankfully, the defense does not seem to have too many holes, which should keep Dallas in the mix if the offense sputters.

Ravens logo

16. Baltimore Ravens: Lost in AFC Wildcard
Baltimore had a tough offseason. Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, ZaDarius Smith and Eric Weddle walked away, signing with new teams. The Ravens did fill the void by bringing in Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram, but it wasn’t enough to make it feel like the team had taken the next step. Surrounding Lamar Jackson with talent is the key, but there is no one right now that inspires confidence right now. Marquis Brown is explosive, but Willie Snead and Chris Moore are far from elite receivers. There are a lot of question marks on this offense and more on the defense than we are used to.

Denver_Broncos17. Denver Broncos: Finished 3rd in AFC West
Another year, another quarterback for Denver. This one though has the best resume of anyone since Peyton Manning hung up his cleats. Joe Flacco is no Manning, but he is a former Super Bowl MVP. With Emmanuel Sanders looking healthy, some solid tight ends and two young receivers coming up, this passing game should improve in 2019. Pair that with a lethal defense and this has the makings of a sleeper playoff team. Denver just needs to find a way to survive the juggernauts in the West.

Titans logo

18. Tennessee Titans: Finished 3rd in AFC South
Defense wins championships and Mike Vrabel has built a defense worthy of championship contention. He bolstered the group with veteran pass rusher Cameron Wake. Now if only the offense could find a way to support it. Marcus Mariota is in his finally year of his rookie deal and is out of excuses. He has a better receiving core after Adam Humphries joined this offseason. Derrick Henry is playing better and Tennessee still has Dion Lewis as well. Not having Taylor Lewan the first four games due to suspension is going to be hard, but this is the Titans year to either break through or look at a rebuild.

Jaguars logo

19. Jacksonville Jaguars: Finished 4th in AFC South
I’m buying the Jaguars turning things around this year. I know Nick Foles is not going to suddenly become Tom Brady, but he will be an upgrade from Blake Bortles. He has tons of big game experience. Leonard Fournette obviously needs to improve after a rocky season. It also remains to be seen just how good this receiving core is, led by Dede Westbrook. Defensively, Jacksonville is still stacked. Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Yannick Ngakoue, Marcel Dareus, Calais Campbell, Myles Jack and now Josh Allen. This is an explosive group with tons of talent. The Jags feel like the team that could grind their way to a playoff appearance.

Panthers logo

20. Carolina Panthers: Finished 3rd in NFC South
Which Panthers team are we going to see this year? The one that started 6-2 or the one that finished the season 1-7 after that? Much of that will depend on Cam Newton’s health. He has been banged up throughout his career. Carolina can rely heavily on Christian McCaffrey once again, but the difference between the Panthers being a postseason contender or a middling team will be Newton’s health. Luke Keuchley will have even more responsibilities with Thomas Davis gone. Edge rusher Brian Burns is making some early noise, but the corners remain a bit of an unknown. The Panthers are a quality team, but we’ve already seen how inconsistent they can be as a group.

49ers Logo

21. San Francisco 49ers: Finished 4th in NFC West
The 49ers will almost undoubtedly be better in 2019 simply due to staying healthier and being a bit luckier. No one had fewer interceptions than San Francisco did last season and that was after losing Jimmy Garoppolo. With him back, Tevin Coleman and Deebo Samuel making plays and more talent on defense, the Niners are creeping into .500 territory. Make no mistake, this team is still a few pieces away from truly competing. We’ve already seen the struggles for Jimmy G coming back from his torn ACL in the preseason. If Nick Bosa can finally get on the field, this should be a fun team to watch on both sides of the ball.

 

Colts logo

22. Indianapolis Colts: Lost in Divisional Round
When I started working on this, the Colts were top 10 team. Then Andrew Luck retired. It’s easy to forget this team started last year 1-5. Indianapolis clearly showed what it was capable after that, finishing the regular season 9-1 and beating the Texans in the Wild Card. After boasting the best rookie class in the league last year, the Colts still have things to be excited about, but hopes of a Super Bowl walked out the door with Luck. The addition of Justin Houston gives Indy a proven pass rusher, so maybe the defense can find a way to carry it to another postseason appearance, but I’m not ready to put that much faith in Jacoby Brissett.

Buccaneers logo

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Finished 4th in NFC South
Time for the Bruce Arians era. For what feels like the 5th year in a row, there is a flickering of optimism surrounding this team. It still remains to be seen if that optimism will ever result in the Bucs taking a step forward. There is no question Jameis Winston will need to show some consistency this year if he hopes to still be on the roster next season. After an up and down year, Tampa does not feel like a true playoff contender, but should be more competitive in the NFC South.

Jets logo

24. New York Jets: Finished 4th in AFC East
Years of mediocrity could finally be coming to an end in New York. However, for the Jets are on their third coach in six years, meaning the direction of the franchise has changed once again. They also held onto Mike McCagnan through the NFL draft and then fired him in the middle of the offseason. A fresh start was probably needed, and there is some hope still in the form of Sam Darnold. The other major storyline playing out on Broadway this year will be the return to action for Le’Veon Bell. If he can regain his level of dominance he had in Pittsburgh, perhaps the nine-year playoff drought will finally be snapped.

 

Bills logo

25. Buffalo Bills: Finished 3rd in AFC East
The Bills are not ready to challenge the Patriots quite yet, but there is no question they closed the gap. That has more to do with what happened in Buffalo this offseason and less to do with any developments in New England. Adding John Brown and Cole Beasley should help Josh Allen’s progression. Even after cutting LeSean McCoy, the Bills look much stronger and deeper across the whole offense. Considering this is traditionally a talented defense, perhaps Buffalo can make some noise this year.

Raiders logo

26. Oakland Raiders: Finished 4th in AFC West
It’s hard to know what to make of Oakland. There is no question this team got better during the offseason after addressing a bunch of needs with its three first round picks. There are still some major holes though, as Oakland lacks a proven receiver and still needs help throughout the defense. The Raiders will be more competitive this season without question, but they are playing in a tough division with a roster full of young players. There will be some growing pains.

Lions Logo

27. Detroit Lions: Finished 4th in NFC North
I have been yelling it from the rooftops for years now. The Lions will never be a good team as long as Matt Stafford is the quarterback. Detroit enters another season with a ton of question marks across the roster. It let Ezekiel Ansah walk and replaced him with Trey Flowers, a smart move, but years of poor drafting has left the defense in shambles. Kenny Golladay, Kerryon Johnson and TJ Hockenson should form a solid trio of skill players, but with an average line and not much depth, it looks like another disappointing season is coming in the Motor City.

Giants Logo

28. New York Giants: Finished 4th in NFC East
No team shed more top-tier talent than the Giants this summer, sending Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon to Cleveland and letting Landon Collins walk to Washington. With a porous offensive line and a battered defensive front, it looks like a long year for the Giants. Eli Manning is still the starter, even with Daniel Jones waiting in the wings. This is a massive transitional year for New York that could ultimately decide Pat Shurmur’s fate as the team’s coach.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)29. Arizona Cardinals: Finished 4th in NFC West
If nothing else, Arizona will be a lot more fun to watch this season. Between Kyler Murray taking over at quarterback and Kliff Kingsbury coming in as the new coach, the offense should definitely receive a jolt. The line still isn’t great, but the franchise has turned the corner in it’s rebuild. Don’t expect much immediate success, but success for this team should really be judged by how well it progresses with Murray at the helm. Look for Byron Murphy to play a major role early on as well with Patrick Peterson suspended the first six games of the year.

Washington made up logo30. Washington: Finished 3rd in NFC East
This ranking is not indicative of Washington’s offseason. Landing Dwayne Haskins and Landon Collins give them building blocks to push this team forward. Expectations are low though for any team that plans to start a rookie quarterback at some point. However, there is a lot of potential for this team to outperform those expectations. Derrius Guice is back after he missed his rookie year with a torn ACL. The defensive line also boasts a pair of former first round picks in Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne. Considering how good this team was last year before Alex Smith got hurt, there is still potential for Washington to make a playoff push.

Bengals Logo

31. Cincinnati Bengals: Finished 4th in AFC North
If there is anyone stuck in the middle of an awkward transition, it is the Bengals. They are still holding onto the veterans from the previous era who will not be on the team the next time Cincinnati reaches the playoffs. Topping the list of holdovers is Andy Dalton, who is on his last leg with the franchise. Dalton has never won a playoff game and hasn’t made it back to the postseason since crashing out in 2014. That isn’t for a lack of skill position talent with AJ Green, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and Giovani Bernard surrounding him, but the Bengals might have the worst offensive line in football other than potentially the Dolphins.

Dolphins logo

32. Miami Dolphins: Finished 2nd in AFC East
Speaking of the Dolphins, welcome to the bottom of the pile Miami. That’s what happens when you trade your stud left tackle, starting middle linebacker and most reliable receiver less than a week before the season. Who am I kidding, the Fins would’ve been here anyway. This is a team banking on Ryan Fitzpatrick delivering some of his magic once again, who also brought in Josh Rosen to see what he could do. Miami is the clear frontrunner for the first pick heading into the year and there is a good chance that won’t change much.