NFL power rankings entering 2022 preseason (previous rank in parentheses):
1. Rams (1): Reigning champs have several key departures and newcomers, WR Odell Beckham Jr. currently somewhere in between. But factoring a guy like LB Bobby Wagner into the equation certainly won’t hinder the quest of a team trying to become the first in 18 years to successfully defend a Super Bowl crown.
2. Bills (3): The addition of OLB Von Miller and others could put the two-time defending AFC East champs over the final hurdle. But keep an eye on WR Gabriel Davis, who had five TD grabs in the 2021 postseason – four in the divisional-round heartbreaker at Kansas City – as a potential breakout player.
3. Bengals (2): QB Joe Burrow’s appendectomy and new RT La’el Collins’ back issues might hinder early cohesion of an offense breaking in an almost entirely new line. Still, the biggest challenges to the 2021 AFC champs will probably come from a savage conference likely to include a resurgent Baltimore squad challenging for Cincinnati’s AFC North title.
4. Packers (5): QB Aaron Rodgers seems to think a village of receivers – watch rookie Romeo Doubs – can combine to approximate departed Davante Adams’ production. Hmm. We’re thinking shortening the game with more aggregate touches for RBs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon might actually be the Lombardi ticket.
5. Chiefs (8): Despite absence of WR Tyreek Hill, the guess here is the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes offense will ultimately be just fine. The real question might be a defense stripped of veteran leader Tyrann Mathieu and now counting heavily on first-round rookies Trent McDuffie at corner and George Karlaftis off the edge.
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6. Ravens (6): Baltimore still lists QB Lamar Jackson at 212 pounds, but he claims to be approximately 230 after bulking up during the offseason. Remains to be seen what this means for arguably the league’s most electric athlete, who didn’t make it to the end of 2021’s late-stage implosion.
7. Buccaneers (4): While the notion of WR Julio Jones against man coverage on passing downs is tantalizing, pretty good bet QB Tom Brady would rather have injured Pro Bowl C Ryan Jensen in the lineup on said passing downs … and all other snaps.
8. Chargers (7): No reason to be anything other than bullish about QB Justin Herbert. But he can and should get even better – and might want to start by lowering his interception (25) and sack (63) totals through two seasons.
10. Colts (10): From Weeks 6-16 last year, they were an elite outfit, going 8-2 and beating four eventual playoff teams. But former QB Carson Wentz’s COVID-19 diagnosis and subsequent lost practice time coincided with Indy’s season-ending spiral. Steady veteran replacement Matt Ryan should be a better fit who provides a smoother ride.
11. 49ers (14): Resolution of Jimmy Garoppolo’s situation would be nice, but it was more important to patch things up with “wide back” Deebo Samuel, who will undoubtedly be a key component of Trey Lance’s transition into the QB1 role.
12. Patriots (13): Despite all the speculation about offensive playcalling and good feelings around QB Mac Jones’ development, perhaps the focus should be on a defense devoid of top-tier talent. New England was steamrolled for 150 points in its final five games of 2021.
13. Saints (9): Despite longtime coach Sean Payton’s exit, don’t be the least bit surprised if this team reclaims the NFC South throne given the weaponry it features on both sides of the ball. RB Alvin Kamara’s unresolved battery case looms as a significant issue if an expected punishment is levied late in the year.
14. Raiders (11): They’ve got an exceptional group at premier positions like quarterback, receiver, left tackle and pass rusher. But the balance of the lineup is at least equally suspect. Valuable as new coach Josh McDaniels is at designing plays, Vegas better hope he learned something from Bill Belichick about masking weak points.
15. Cowboys (19): Given how Micah Parsons is deployed by Dallas, could be interesting to see if newly signed LB Anthony Barr gets to hunt quarterbacks the way he used to at UCLA but never did in Minnesota despite his four Pro Bowl nods.
16. Dolphins (21): Owner Stephen Ross’ illegal back channeling to Brady and Payton cost Miami its 2023 first-round pick, among other things. Ironically, he might have eased pressure on QB Tua Tagovailoa and firmed up his job security given it will probably now be much harder to draft a QB in 2023 … if that’s a direction the Fins want to go.
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17. Vikings (17): Justin Jefferson is the only player in the league with at least 3,000 receiving yards since 2020. Might he push 5,000 over three campaigns as a centerpiece in new coach Kevin O’Connell’s pass-oriented attack?
18. Broncos (18): There’s no sugarcoating the loss of WR Tim Patrick (ACL), but this could create an opportunity for KJ Hamler to showcase his speed – and few quarterbacks are more capable of leveraging it than deep ball sniper Russell Wilson.
19. Steelers (20): They’ll face five 2021 playoff teams plus Miami before their Week 9 bye. Not an ideal opening stretch for QB Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement … but one that suggests first-rounder Kenny Pickett could be in the saddle by Week 10.
20. Titans (16): RB Derrick Henry averaged 4.3 yards per carry in 2021, the second-lowest figure of his career. What happens to that number without WRs A.J. Brown and Julio Jones to keep defenses honest?
21. Lions (24): C Frank Ragnow’s return from a 2021 foot injury means Detroit just might emerge with the league’s top offensive line in 2022.
22. Cardinals (22): It remains to be seen if $230.5 million can buy you happiness, leadership, maturity or even a playoff win. Regardless, QB Kyler Murray, who owns a 22-24-1 record in the NFL, will always be 43-0 in high school … a data point he believes remains germane.
23. Commanders (26): Captain Terry McLaurin has been paid while fellow WR Jahan Dotson continues displaying signs he may emerge as the club’s next star. Doubly good news as Wentz tries to stabilize this organization and his career, though he’s already off to a bumpy start in camp.
24. Panthers (28): Now a halfway house for 2018 first-round QBs, Carolina could yet be playoff bound given its defensive potential and quality offensive playmakers … assuming RB Christian McCaffrey remains on the field.
25. Browns (15): No team is more difficult to slot given the uncertainty surrounding QB Deshaun Watson, who was suspended six games Aug. 1, a verdict the NFL appealed two days later. That decision makes it much more likely Watson won’t take a regular-season snap before 2023.
26. Jets (23): Their years of disarray have mirrored the airline industry at large. But this offseason’s talent infusion suggests the NYJ could be approaching takeoff speed … though it will be incumbent on second-year QB Zach Wilson to keep things on schedule while taking better care of the baggage.
27. Jaguars (27): With a legitimate coach like Doug Pederson now guiding 2021 No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence – and the offense about to get another kickstart with fellow 2021 first-rounder Travis Etienne champing at the bit to make his NFL debut – Jacksonville could be primed for a significant leap.
28. Seahawks (25): So is WR DK Metcalf, whom Seattle only extended three years, now the face of this franchise? If not, then who is? Perhaps a college quarterback who’s nine months from joining the 12s?
29. Giants (29): While much attention will understandably be paid to how effectively first-year coach Brian Daboll recalibrates QB Daniel Jones, new coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s influence on defense may define how far these Giants go.
30. Bears (31): The teardown may actually not be over amid speculation that 32-year-old DE Robert Quinn (team-record 18½ sacks in 2021) could be the next veteran on the move plus whispers Chicago is already close to giving up on 2021 second-rounder Teven Jenkins.
31. Texans (30): If we spotted you QB Davis Mills and WR Brandin Cooks, could you name three more starters for Houston? Good teams often spring from anonymity, but it usually takes a while.
32. Falcons (32): If we spotted you QB Marcus Mariota and TE Kyle Pitts, could you name three more starters for Atlanta … though it should be an easier bar to clear than Houston’s? Good teams often spring from anonymity, but it usually takes a while … and may take the Falcons longer than it does the Texans.