Let’s get rolling with the upper half team rankings. We are now in the territory where the rest of these teams have reason to consider themselves as serious Play-Off contenders.
16 SAINTS For a couple of seasons I have felt this team is on the edge of a cliff ready to fall to the depths of NFL frustration. But somehow DREW BREEES & SEAN PAYTON hold it all together and the team is respectable, if not a legit Play-Off contender. In 2015 they finally faced the sad reality of their 3rd 7-9 record in 4 seasons. Given the great season by the PANTHERS it clearly pointed out that the SAINTS were a second tier team at best. And I am not sure how this group rises to, or above .500, this year. They ad a solid Draft, but had only 5 Picks. You can’t build a team with only 5 draftees a year even if they all excel. The team also had to juggle the off-season roster again to meet Salary Cap restrictions and to trim off some ‘wrong-side-of-30’ players like MARQUES COLSTON & JAHRI EVANS. ON the positive side DENNIS ALLEN is now the DC and is on the same page with the Head Coach on what they want to do on that side of the ball. He’d better be because the team ranked 31st in the League last year in both run and pass defense. As they have often done under the guidance of GM MICKEY LOOMIS, the team also looks to have added more talent from the undrafted Rookie ranks than most of the League teams. They also brought in a small, but talented group of VFA spearheaded by TE/COLBY FLEENER who fills a big need for BREES, and is 8 years younger than the man he replaces in BEN WATSON. The real key is whether or not a reshuffled OL Coach DAN ROUSHAR can be the guru that AARON KOMER used to be in molding a group that could protect BREES.
15 GIANTS Quietly, out of respect for the deposed TOM COUGHLIN, GIANTS upper management is hoping that a new voice leading the locker room will inspire this team to bigger and better things than the 3 straight losing seasons they have struggled through.The team went of a VFA spending spree ($200,000+) this of-season and brought in multiple bodies on the defensive side of the ball. Somewhere between 4-6 new starters may emerge on Defense this Summer. The team is trying to reshuffle their secondary for seemingly the 3rd time since their last Super Bowl. Two Rookies (ELI APPLE/DARIAN THOMPSON) and VFA JANORIS JENKINS will all get legit shots at jobs, also allowing last year’s top Rookie LANDON COLLINS to move back to SS where he belongs. That would be a big positive given the D ranked dead last (32nd) in pass defense in 2015. The team must also find ways to pressure opposing QB better in 2016, after recording only 23 sacks last year to rank 30th in that category. ELI MANNING seems to be thriving under new HC, former OC, BEN McADOO the past 3 seasons. The team is excited about ODELL BECKHAM, VICTOR CRUZ & STERLING SHEPARD/R being available for targets, not to mention RB/SHANE VEREEN, who caught 59 balls last season from ELI. But my biggest concern is the right side of the G-Men OL with JOHN JERRY/G & MARSHALL NEWHOUSE/T as projected starters. The GIANTS lost 8 games by 6 or fewer points. If they can reverse their fortunes and win 50% of those close ones they might go 10-6 and that should win the NFC East, IMO.
14 BILLS REX RYAN would be smiling to himself if he read my Power Rankings and found his BILLS team ranked above both the GIANTS and JETS teams. Nothing makes folks in Western New York feel better than ranking ahead of the two Big Apple teams. Expect ROB & REX to pump up a BILLS Defense that seriously disappointed with an overall ranking of 19th in a 32 team League in 2015. The only real negative is the loss, indefinitely, of 1st Round Pick SHAQ LAWSON after shoulder surgery. The Offense needs LeSEAN McCOY back healthy and Rookie JONATHAN WILLIAMS to step up right away as the team tries to repeat as the NFL’s leading rushing attack. Doing so really takes the heat off of TYROD TAYLOR at QB to carry the team. TYROD was the team’s second leading rusher in 2015 with 568 yards. He can’t carry the ball 100 times again and expect to still be standing behind Center when December rolls around. By the way, the BILS ranked 28th in the League in passing offense in 2015. The BILLS augmented their roster with a good Draft and some solid, role playing VFA signings. REX, reminds me of the “mouth that roared”, and that brings added pressure to deliver on the field. He’s already told us he thinks the BILLS won the off-season. Now they’d better go out and win the real season. The schedule favors them, especially playing a BRADY-less PATS team in game 4. They also play 3 of that last 4 games in usually cold & windy Buffalo come December.
13 BRONCOS I’m not sure a defending Super Bowl team ever went into the season with so many key personnel losses. The biggest of which is clearly losing their top two QB, when BROCK OSWEILER took a bigger contract offer and moved to Houston. Their supporters point to the running attack as being the key to their offense. But I would point out that the BRONCOS ranked 17th last season in rushing offense. THey had better be right that R/DEVONTAE BOOKER, can step in right away and supplement the running of ANDERSON & HILLMAN. Right now the team is also assuming that MARK SANCHEZ will open the season as their starting QB. SANCHEZ leading an NFL team to a Super Bowl seems highly questionable to me. PAXTON LYNCH is the future, but his future is not likely to be in 2016. So why do I even have them ranked in the teens? In two words, WADE PHILLIPS. WADE may be the most creative overall defensive mind in the NFL right now. And he does still have enough weapons available to wreak havoc on opposing teams. Think I am exaggerating? The BRNCOS finished 1st overall in Total D; number 3 against the run and 1st against the pass. No team in the League (not even Seattle) has more secondary talent than the BRONCOS with guys like TALIB, HARRIS, ROBY, STEWART & WARD, IMO. THem stir in two Rookie S candidates in SIMMONS & PARKS. JOHN ELWAY has done a superior job as an NFL GM, and he looks to have restocked his roster nicely overall. But that QB situation makes me think they may be one-and-done when the Play-Offs roll around.
12 RAIDERS I can’t recall the last time I considered the RAIDERS good enough to be ranked above the defending Super Bowl champs. But GM REGGIE McKENZIE has done a superior job extracting this franchise from Salary Cap hell and then patiently rebuilding the core of the roster. The Draft has been a key part of his equation and the team looks to have had another solid Draft. They also brought in their best long-run group of VFA since McKENZIE arrived in town. Other than S/REGGIE NELSON, who led the League with 8 INT last season, their other key VFA additions are all under the age of 30 and likely to be around a while, still in their prime. No matter where they play him KHALIL MACK is clearly one of the top defenders and pass rushers in the NFL today. QB/DEREK CARR continues to improve each season and now has some serious weapons to show to. Last season MICHAEL CRABTREE/VFA (85 catches) and AMARI COOPER/R (72 catches). CLIVE WALFORD made nice progress over the course of the 2015 season. They have a nice stable of RB talent, but still need better OT play soon. Their 28th ranked rushing attack has got to improve. Good handed jitterbug R/DeANDRE WASHINGTON may add an elusive element to their running game. My faith in McKENZIE allows me to assume this team is still ascending. I look for the team to crack the .500 mark in 2016.
11 COLTS ANDREW LUCK returns after a season basically lost to injuries that limited him in last summer’s Training Camp and got worse over time. The big question is whether or not GM RYAN GRIGSON has brought in the right guys to fix some of the team’s problems. TE/COBY FLEENER & WR/ANDRE JOHNSON are gone and the receiving corps looks a bit depleted right now. The team drafted 4 OL, and the hope is that at least two of them can win starting jobs. RYAN KELLY/OC may be the best answer at OC since JEFF SATURDAY left town. LeRAVEN CLARK/OT may be the best overall athletic specimen in their OL group. CLARK is a specimen to put it mildly, but he faces a large learning curve after working in a run-and-shoot Offense in college. This team is going to be a lot younger than last year’s edition of the COLTS, but the expectation will be to regain the AFC South title again. The team ranked 26th overall in Total Defense, which really puts the pressure on LUCK and his offense. I sense that HC CHUCK PAGANO will have his finger prints all over the team’s D, now run by TED MONACHINO, reduce those 25.5 points per game allowed. That may indeed happen, but even so, they are likely to be a quick out once the Play-Offs start. LUCK is still the present and the future of this franchise and needs more talent around him. They need another good Draft and a more active VFA period to be considered a Super Bowl contender for my money.
10 COWBOYS In some ways I cannot imagine why I have this team ranked in the Top 10. Chances are their Defense will absolutely suck, leaving it up to their Offense to outscore every opponent. That may be in the realm of reality if TONY ROMO stays healthy, but that feels like a bit of a reach to be kind about it. The team should be poised to lead the League in rushing in 2016. Their OL is among the best in the League and their roster currently lists a RB group that is deep and talented. Vet DARREN McFADDEN rushed for slightly over 1,00-yards last year, and he may be third string behind EZEKIEL ELIOTT/RB & ALFRED MORRIS/VFA. Their receiving group is deep and talented. As you have heard constantly the past 6 months, a healthy TONY ROMO can drive this offensive group to an outstanding season. But on the D side of the ball things are a disaster, because of multiple drug suspensions and roster deletions that far outnumber additions. ROD MARINELLI, their DC, is highly regarded around the league, but Merlin the Magician he is not. As of today 3 potential defensive starters will be suspended when the regular season starts. The Cowboys were ranked 17th in total defense last season, and I fail to see where they have improved things on that side of the ball. I may be seriously overrating the team right now. This team is a couple of key injuries away from being a worse than last year’s Cowboys team.
9 STEELERS I read & listen to a lot of football pundits who have this team in the 2017 Super Bowl. I felt a bit queasy even sticking them inside my top 10. I can respect this organization without being mesmerized by their historical reputation. Once again LEVEON BELL is in trouble with the League for skipped drug tests and facing a 4-game suspension to start the season. That leaves 33-year old DEANGELO WILLIAMS to carry the load again, because the team failed to draft a RB to supplement their vets. The year long suspension of MARTAVIS BRYANT at WR and retirement of HEATH MILLER at TE also leave some pretty big shoes to fill when it comes to targets for BIG BEN. For seemingly the 10th year in a row the team is working to rebuild their secondary on the defensive side of the ball. The drafting of both ARTIE BURNS/CB & SEAN DAVIS/S, at the top of the Draft is a positive step, but is either one ready to step in and start for the mistake-hating HC MIKE TOMLIN? I’ll believe that when I see it. And barely 1 week into Camp 2nd year man SENQUEZ GOLSON, who they hoped to be their Nickel Corner, may be down for the year with a leg fracture. There DL is under repair especially at the Nose position. IMO, this team has way too many question marks to be in the Top 8.