In training camp, it’s important for the first-team offense and defense to gel and iron out schemes. The most important thing about the preseason is keeping the starters healthy, and the top teams are doing just that so far.
NFL Power Rankings: Tier 4 | Rebuilding teams
Don’t expect playoff pushes from any of the teams in Tier 4. However, some of them are improving, while others are stuck in a rut of mediocrity.
32) Chicago Bears
The good news is that Roquan Smith has ceased his hold-in and will be with the team for the upcoming season. However, this team is going nowhere fast, and Ryan Poles and Co. should at least see if anyone would be willing to part ways with a Day 2 pick for Smith, who will likely net a third-round comp pick at best the season after.
This roster needs help ASAP. Braxton Jones and Larry Borom battling it out for the starting left tackle job is nightmare fuel for Justin Fields fans. Left guard Cody Whitehair is serviceable but not special. They got the good news that Lucas Patrick’s injury shouldn’t keep him from starting Week 1, but both Michael Schofield and Riley Reiff are journeymen at this point.
And in regards to the receiving corps, “In Darnell Mooney, we trust.”
31) Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons receiving corps won’t be thrown any parades either. Drake London could be special, but he’s a rookie, and expectations should not be high. Bryan Edwards, Olamide Zaccheaus, Auden Tate, and Damiere Byrd don’t inspire much confidence. At least Kyle Pitts is around — may he find the end zone in the United States this year!
It will be interesting to see what Arthur Smith can make of Marcus Mariota in an offense that will make things as easy as possible for the once-heralded QB. We shan’t forget that Smith helped resurrect Ryan Tannehill’s career.
The defense will probably still struggle as well in 2022. The roster was pretty much wiped clean by the last regime, so it will probably take time before Atlanta’s defense returns to acceptable levels of production. Hopefully, they don’t waste A.J. Terrell’s prime.
30) Houston Texans
Dameon Pierce has been the talk of the town in Houston. The rookie runner has done enough in camp to become the leader in the clubhouse to start in Week 1 ahead of Marlon Mack. But Jalen Pitre and Derek Stingley are even more exciting rookie prospects, and Jonathan Greenard finished with eight sacks in just 12 games last season.
However, the talent on this roster just doesn’t stack up within its division or with the rest of the league. They have a lot of confidence in Davis Mills, and Pep Hamilton has already proven he can squeeze talent from every pore of a quarterback. But aside from the perpetually underrated Brandin Cooks, there isn’t a lot to love with the Texans’ weapons.
29) New York Giants
While we’re breaking the theme of bad weaponry surrounding the starting quarterback, there are enough questions surrounding the top-paid target and the starting QB to warrant concerns for the Giants’ offense in 2022. That doesn’t even begin to account for Saquon Barkley’s troubling injury history.
New York’s secondary is another question. Somehow, Wink Martindale must find the answer. We’ve grown accustomed to his all-or-nothing defenses that bring pressure from every gap while putting defensive backs on an island. That’s probably a bad idea with the team’s current lot of cornerbacks.
28) Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions will still probably struggle to find their footing in 2022, but they should at least be an entertaining team. Last season, they hung around in games in which their roster had no business competing.
The Lions’ defensive backfield could be an interesting topic throughout the season. Jeff Okudah and Mike Hughes are currently listed with the second string, and 2021 third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu is listed as a backup safety, with 2022 third-round pick Kerby Joseph listed as a third-stringer. Can Okudah revitalize his career after struggling as a rookie and suffering a season-ending injury in 2021?
The offense should be more fun, especially once Jameson Williams returns. But Jared Goff is still limited as a playmaker, so the Lions remain low in the NFL Power Rankings.
27) New York Jets
Zach Wilson is on the mend, which means the elite Joe Flacco gets the call to start the season for the New York Jets. After losing Mekhi Becton, New York may have stumbled upon an upgrade by signing Duane Brown to play left tackle while moving George Fant back to right tackle. Brown’s two-year deal also gives New York a bit of leverage against Fant in contract negotiations.
If this team isn’t at least entertaining on offense, it will be because of quarterback play or schematic incompetence. Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Garrett Wilson, Braxton Berrios, Breece Hall, and Michael Carter are a great supporting cast, even for a contending team, which New York certainly is not yet.
Joe Douglas also addressed the defense in the offseason by signing Jordan Whitehead and D.J. Reed. They also doubled up in Round 1 with Sauce Gardner and Jermaine Johnson, whom many believed the Jets were targeting with one of their two earlier Day 1 picks.
26) Jacksonville Jaguars
It was relieving to see Trevor Lawrence not just look comfortable again in the pocket but actually be comfortable. Even in his rookie struggles, he managed the pocket incredibly well. But heading into 2022, his first half against the Pittsburgh defense showed that confidence is now met with competence from his supporting cast.
Things still aren’t perfect. He missed two third-down throws to Christian Kirk that the first overall pick should make. But the situation in Jacksonville is night and day from a season ago.
And while it was against a truly horrendous Steelers offensive line, the Jaguars defensive front absolutely dominated in the second preseason outing. Arden Key is proving to be a quality signing as a sub-package rusher, and Josh Allen looks to have picked up where he left off in 2021.
25) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks might move up to the next tier of the NFL Power Rankings early in the regular season, but for now, they’ll stay on the cusp of the rebuilding teams. While the numbers from Geno Smith seem uninspiring, he’s playing pretty well. Once he’s on the field with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, it’ll be easier to gauge how good this offense may be.
The defensive side of the football has enough talent up front and at linebacker to compete. And we all know the success of Seattle’s cornerbacks has always been more about scheme fit than talent. With their introduction of far more two-high looks, that becomes even truer.
NFL Power Rankings: Tier 3 | Fringe playoff rosters
It’s not impossible for any of the five teams in Tier 3 to make the playoffs. Yet, a lot has to go right for each franchise to get there.
24) Washington Commanders
The Commanders’ defense finished 31st in third-down defense a season ago. Through two preseason games, they rank dead last in that category. There are fewer teams with a larger range of possible outcomes for the 2022 NFL season than Washington.
Carson Wentz is as volatile as a lactose intolerant stomach that just ingested a pint of whole milk. He took a sack against the Chiefs to knock the Commanders out of field goal range and had this to say about it afterward, according to Ben Standig of The Athletic.
“I knew it right away going into it. Then the play starts, and the instincts take over, trying to extend the play, but I probably shouldn’t have in that situation.”
Benjamin Solak wrote about it in 2019, and the same thing rings true to this day. Wentz can flash brilliance as a playmaker and unnecessarily lose the game for your team all on a single drive. Washington must find a way to reel that in if they want consistent success offensively in 2022.
23) Carolina Panthers
The Panthers could find themselves up into the playoff contenders tier of the NFL Power Rankings when the season starts. But it will depend upon Christian McCaffrey’s health, which has been an issue since Matt Rhule arrived.
The other question mark is Ben McAdoo’s offensive attack. His offenses ranked 12th in EPA per play over his two-year span as offensive coordinator with the Giants. However, the game has evolved drastically since he last called plays.
22) Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh’s offensive line is a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck. Jacksonville’s front seven toyed with them during the first half of the second preseason game when all the starters were playing. However, Kenny Pickett’s processing speed kept him out of trouble on the Steelers’ touchdown drive just before halftime.
There should be no limitations on the rookie quarterback. From what we’ve seen through two preseason games, Pickett is more than mentally prepared to play at the NFL level. It’s time to see what physical limitations he has, if any, for the entirety of 2022.
21) New England Patriots
The Patriots feel like a bit of a mess as Matt Patricia leads the offense, and they enter Year 2 with co-defensive coordinators. However, Bill Belichick is still the head coach and architect of the defense, so they get the benefit of the doubt.
The depth chart looks like it lacks starting-caliber talent at cornerback, but we’ve seen Belichick find talent in unassuming places before. Mac Jones has redefined his body (literally) and looks to be more of a playmaker in 2022 behind an offensive line that should still be quite good.
20) Cleveland Browns
With the news that Deshaun Watson will miss 11 games instead of his initial six-game suspension, the Browns’ playoff chances took a hit, as did their standing in the NFL Power Rankings. However, if Jacoby Brissett can bring a bit of the safety he showed in Indianapolis with some of the aggression he showed in Miami, the Browns could win a few more games than expected.
Cleveland’s roster is very talented. They have a strong offensive line, a stable of good running backs, and have improved the receiving corps from last year, even if only incrementally.
Their defense is what should really scare opponents. Myles Garrett is an alien, and Jadeveon Clowney is coming off his most productive season as a pro. They have a decent linebacking duo and the potential to have the best pair of outside cornerbacks in the NFL if they can remain healthy.
But we’ll have to wait and see what Brissett brings to the table before we can justify making them playoff contenders.
NFL Power Rankings: Tier 2 | Playoff contenders
Three teams were added to the mix here in Tier 2, specifically because of the definition of “contender” in Merriam-Webster. Each franchise probably fits into the battle for their respective Wild Card berths.
19) Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota’s offensive line isn’t as bad as Pittsburgh’s, but they struggled to open up consistent rushing lanes for Dalvin Cook in 2021. They have a better quarterback than the Steelers and arguably the best receiver in football on the outside.
Defensively they feel similar. Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman were obsessed with drafting cornerbacks, but they whiffed on almost everyone over the past few seasons, leaving a giant hole in the secondary.
Clemson’s Andrew Booth has a ton of potential but is already dealing with an ankle injury, which could hurt his chances of fighting his way into the starting lineup any time soon.
18) New Orleans Saints
New Orleans’ roster is talented. Their wide receiving corps went from a group of backup-caliber players to three legitimate starting talents. Their season offensively will come down to three things. How will they look schematically without Sean Payton? Can Jameis Winston stay healthy for 17 games? And will the left side of their offensive line help him accomplish that mission?
Defensively, they should once again be one of the five or so best in the league. They’ve done an outstanding job fitting talent and schematic fit to the defensive depth chart for years. They have some of the most intelligent and instinctive coverage players in the league in Marshon Lattimore and Tyrann Mathieu.
It all comes down to the offense.
17) Miami Dolphins
It’s too early to tell if the offensive line will hold up enough for Miami’s offense to rebound in Year 1 under Mike McDaniel. We haven’t seen Jaylen Waddle or Tyreek Hill in the preseason, which is to be expected. Both are outstanding fits in an offense that will undoubtedly look to use their particular talents after the catch, along with using one another as downfield decoys to open up the intermediate area of the field over the middle.
Hopefully, Nik Needham’s injury isn’t too serious, as Miami doesn’t have much depth at cornerback. If Byron Jones can’t get healthy before Week 1, this defense could find themselves in some trouble early on as Noah Igbinoghene continues to struggle. The Dolphins are another team that could go either way in the NFL Power Rankings once the regular season begins.
16) Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals’ roster construction confounds. The entire offensive line is serviceable but underwhelming. Aside from J.J. Watt and Markus Golden, their entire defensive line is average at best. Their cornerbacks don’t fit the scheme Vance Joseph would really like to run, and they are relying on young linebackers to keep the middle of the field locked down.
Still, that same underwhelming defense produced excellent results a season ago. The question will be, can Arizona’s offense weather the storm of losing DeAndre Hopkins for six games? Kyler Murray has not fared well without his star receiver, and he already has a history of fading production as the season wears on.
15) Tennessee Titans
The Titans’ offense doesn’t look terrifying on paper. However, they still line up No. 22 in the backfield. Derrick Henry is still a man amongst boys, even in the NFL. That means their play-action game should help mask the pain of not having an exceptional receiving corps. They like Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, but one would like to see Treylon Burks become the second target behind Robert Woods sooner rather than later.
Their defense could be the difference between fighting for a Wild Card birth and the division crown. If David Long and Zach Cunningham can be serviceable at linebacker, this defense could be scary good if one of Roger McCreary or Caleb Farley is simply average opposite of Kristian Fulton. They have an elite interior rush and Harold Landry on the edge. They have a safety tandem that rivaled Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde last season.
14) Indianapolis Colts
For now, Indianapolis is still the favorite in the AFC South. That could change quickly, though. Shaquille Leonard is critical to their defensive success, and the Colts still have no timetable for his return after having back surgery in the offseason.
That thought undoubtedly makes Colts fans shudder as they recall Andrew Luck’s injury questions lingering for far too long. Leonard is the premiere playmaker at linebacker in the NFL. Losing him for an extended period hurts the Colts’ defense and, in turn, their standing in the NFL Power Rankings.
Luckily, Matt Ryan should have enough surrounding him to improve this offense from a season ago, just as long as the offensive line remains relatively healthy.
13) Philadelphia Eagles
Few teams have the same buzz surrounding them heading into the season as Philadelphia does. With no team repeating in the NFC East since the Eagles back in 2004, it stands to reason they will be the NFC East victor this season unless Washington somehow fixes their defensive woes and finds 2017 Wentz hiding somewhere.
The Eagles added weapons to both sides of the football, and there should be excitement surrounding this team. Their season will come down to how much improvement we see from Jalen Hurts and this Philadelphia passing offense. There needs to be more variety in their attack, and that will come from the personal mental growth of their third-year quarterback.
But Dallas is still the preseason favorite in the East.
12) Denver Broncos
It’s nearly impossible to choose between the Raiders and Broncos in the NFL Power Rankings before the regular season begins. The loss of Tim Patrick is significant to this offense, particularly because K.J. Hamler has struggled to stay healthy so far in his young career.
Reports from Denver are that the defense looks outstanding. But there are still questions concerning their inside linebacker play. However, their defensive interior is strong, and they have a few outstanding cornerbacks on the roster. Although Denver’s defense underwhelmed last season, they could turn things around in 2022.
11) Las Vegas Raiders
Can the Raiders’ defense continue to show signs of life in a new scheme during the regular season? They’ve performed well so far in the preseason, and Patrick Graham is lauded by players and analysts for his ability to create chaos for opposing quarterbacks pre- and post-snap.
Las Vegas’ bump over Denver in the NFL Power Rankings is because of the confidence in the coaching staff. The combination of Graham and Josh McDaniels is more accomplished than the Broncos’ staff.
10) Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys found a lightning bolt with KaVontae Turpin returning kicks and punts. While things could be a bit wonky early on offense for Dallas with no James Washington or Michael Gallup, the defense should be very good once again. And a good special-teams output could be huge for the field position battle.
Dallas still needs to find a way to improve their run game from a season ago and protect Dak Prescott long enough to see more downfield shots. Still, they will have their West Coast-inspired quick game to fall back on, where Dalton Schultz should be heavily targeted.
9) San Francisco 49ers
The time has come to stop being shy about the 49ers in 2022. Could there be some growing pains with second-year quarterback Trey Lance? Absolutely. Did confidence grow after watching him in Week 1 of the preseason vs. watching four games of Jimmy Garoppolo from 2021? Absolutely.
The way Kyle Shanahan found ways to stress defenses despite the fact his quarterback was allergic to almost any throw downfield or near the numbers is one of football’s greatest mysteries. Somehow before this rewatch of Garoppolo, that was something I missed in his evaluation, and it’s why Cleveland probably shouldn’t come calling for him.
Even if Lance is a bit slow to process things, the layers he adds with his arm and feet outweigh the negatives of his inexperience, especially with Shanahan calling the shots.
8) Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford gave the media the old Aaron Rodgers “R-E-L-A-X” recently when discussing his nagging elbow injury. He’s been on the field throwing and does not seem limited. And while elbow injuries are terrifying, being able to throw pain-free is a huge step.
The defense could take a step back this season after the departure of both Darious Williams and Von Miller. However, the offense could become even more efficient with Stafford entering his second season in the system. That offense also added Allen Robinson, who is the first of his ilk to grace the field for Sean McVay.
7) Baltimore Ravens
If the Ravens can get back to some semblance of decent health, there is no limit to what they could accomplish in 2022. Their quarterback is looking to prove to the world that he’s worth a massive contract extension. They have talent on both sides of the football and were competitive in 2021 despite a massive rash of injuries.
It wasn’t until they lost their star QB that things unraveled. Lamar Jackson needs to stay healthy and show he’s still improving as a passer for his long-term outlook. But in the meantime, there is no singular player in the NFL that is more terrifying to defend than Jackson.
6) Green Bay Packers
The longer we comb through NFL depth charts, the more appetizing Green Bay’s roster becomes. Sure, their receiving corps seems like a desolate wasteland. If David Bakhtiari looks remotely close to his former self, this offense will still be very dangerous.
But it’s their defensive talent that jumps off the screen. They have no holes on the defensive side of the ball, which is something only the Buffalo Bills can claim. T.J. Slaton looks like a solid piece behind Kenny Clark, and the trio of Dean Lowry, Jarran Reed, and rookie Devonte Wyatt are a good way to round out the interior.
Their only downfall could be injuries to one of their top pass rushers or an extended absence of one or more of their starting cornerbacks.
5) Los Angeles Chargers
We’ll continue to be broken-hearted over the team in powder blue until they break through the barrier that has been their persistent perennial underachievement. Justin Herbert could change that, but we aren’t there yet. This defense needs to turn things around first.
For all the talk surrounding Joe Lombardi’s offense last season, Los Angeles saw great offensive production. Their defense was bad, and Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco spent the offseason desperately trying to fix that. They added Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson, and a host of interior help to the roster. Only their linebacking corps can remain under question on paper.
Until we see it on the field, we shan’t believe in the Bolts.
NFL Power Rankings: Tier 1 | Super Bowl contenders
Tom Brady is poised to return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, nixing retirement questions in the bud. But his squad trails the three other Super Bowl contenders.
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady will return to the Buccaneers after all, which means Tampa Bay fans can come off the blood pressure medication they’ve been on since his sabbatical started. Unfortunately, the hits keep coming on the offensive line. Tristan Wirfs strained his oblique in the Buccaneers’ joint practice with the Titans on Thursday. Guard Aaron Stinnie was carted off the field with a leg injury during the preseason game.
Brady is a wizard who can consistently get the ball out of his hands in under 2.5 seconds. His receiving corps is outstanding if Chris Godwin is on the field in Week 1, so there isn’t a ton to worry about yet.
3) Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have been to four straight AFC Championship games, and Patrick Mahomes is still their quarterback. Until we start seeing the Chiefs lose games, they will remain at the top of the AFC West pecking order in the NFL Power Rankings.
The Chiefs got some good injury news when they received word that Mecole Hardman’s injury wasn’t serious. It will be fascinating to see how Tyreek Hill’s vacated targets are distributed.
2) Cincinnati Bengals
Aside from what happens at left guard for Cincinnati, they head into 2022 with no glaring issues on the offensive line. That is a far cry from what we saw last season. Joe Burrow still wants to push the ball downfield, so he’ll continue to take hits and sacks to accomplish that. But he shouldn’t have to take nearly as many unnecessary shots.
Adding Alex Cappa and La’el Collins to the right side of the offensive line should work wonders for the efficiency of their rushing attack as well.
Defensively, they’ve added assets in the secondary. It’s unknown whether they’ll make a huge impact this season, but there is a ton of talent between Dax Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt, so that should be fun to watch.
1) Buffalo Bills
Not much else can be said about the Bills that hasn’t already been said. If Tre’Davious White is back healthy in Week 1, they have the best defense in football. Heck, they may have the best defense in football without him. They accomplished that task without him and the newly-added Von Miller a season ago.
No defensive front has the pass-rushing depth that Buffalo has. Their defensive interior has four strong defenders. Their linebacker combo is outstanding, and they have the best safety tandem in the league. On offense, they have an alien at quarterback who is built like the middle-schooler that hit puberty before all his friends.
After heartbreakingly losing to the Chiefs in one of the greatest games in recent memory last postseason, they will be on a mission.