Way Too Early NFL Power Rankings: Tier 2 | Playoff contenders
The teams in this tier are all talented enough to make a run in the playoffs, but each has enough questions that their status as Super Bowl contenders isn’t secure.
13) Indianapolis Colts
The Colts already proved they can win with subpar quarterbacking. But can they improve on said subpar quarterbacking before the start of 2022? The organization has already subtly, but not so subtly, called out Carson Wentz, who struggled mightily down the stretch.
Losing Eberflus throws a wrench in their plans on the defensive side of the ball, but they still have the playmakers to be a good — yet high variance — offense. They don’t have a first-round pick, but Indianapolis has about $35 million to play with in free agency. Chris Ballard doesn’t normally swing for the fences, but he could make a few moves to sure up the offensive line in order to protect Jonathan Taylor and whoever is taking snaps for Indy next season.
12) New England Patriots
How much better can Mac Jones become? He’s already shown us that he offers more as an athlete than we believed he could. Now, can he work on his flexibility and power? He needs more velocity coming from that right shoulder. If Jones adds just a bit more power, it’ll make a huge difference in how explosive this Patriots offense can be.
New England also needs more reliable receiving weapons before they rise in the NFL Power Rankings. The unfortunate thing is how difficult the Patriots’ passing concepts can be. Most receivers have a strong development curve in New England. They’re aging a bit defensively, but if they can keep J.C. Jackson, they’ll still have one of the best cornerbacks in football.
11) Cleveland Browns
The Browns defense possesses the potential to be incredibly powerful. They have arguably the best pass rusher in the league. Cleveland also boasts two outstanding young cornerbacks and a stable of good players to surround them in the secondary. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had a great rookie season, but the defense needs to play better as a unit in 2022.
Baker Mayfield needs to be better, too. Hopefully, a clean bill of health is what the doctor orders there. However, my fear is that the injury hurt him mechanically, and those habits worsened as the season progressed. It will take a lot of healthy reps in training to rid himself of those bad habits he created while playing through injury.
10) Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens went in a new direction on the defensive side of the ball. Wink Martindale is no longer the defensive architect. It’ll be interesting to see how different things will look with Mike Macdonald. Baltimore never started the season healthy, and then continued to become more injured as the weeks passed.
Lamar Jackson will get healthy and return to form. Both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards will return from injury. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters will be back on the outside. They’ll also get to see Year 2 from Rashod Bateman, and Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews were outstanding in 2021.
9) Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert and the excitement surrounding those powder blue uniforms land the Chargers inside the top 10. We’ll inevitably overrate the second Los Angeles team again next season because that’s what we do. They hand us a little excitement in a big-armed QB who’s also athletic, and we run a marathon with it.
But with nearly $50 million to work with, they should be able to add pieces to make Brandon Staley’s defense work. They desperately need to get better up the middle in the front seven. They need a gap-plugging defensive tackle and a better complement to Joey Bosa.
8) Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals weren’t as good as their first 10 or so weeks suggested, but falling apart after a really strong run didn’t make sense, either. Vance Joseph overachieved with the defensive pieces he was handed. But he couldn’t keep the train on the tracks for 18 weeks and a playoff game.
The defense needs help on the edge, and they desperately need a long-term option opposite of Byron Murphy. Kyler Murray must continue to show progress next season. He’s an electric athlete with an outrageous arm, but he must become more consistent as a passer.
7) Dallas Cowboys
Until the Cowboys actually make it back to a Conference Championship, it doesn’t seem fair to place them in any ranking as a top-two NFC team. Dallas is one of, if not the most talented team in the league. However, year in and year out, they’ve disappointed fans. It’s why they can’t be higher on the NFL Power Rankings.
Dak Prescott needs to come back fully healthy in 2022, and he must be able to use his legs as a weapon more often than he did in 2021. It’s always difficult to reproduce defensive production, so Dallas can’t expect to have one of the top units in 2022, even with talents like Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons.
The offense needs to step up next season.
6) San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are a wild card. Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t a great physical talent, but there’s no denying this offense worked with him under center. Trey Lance opens up more doors offensively, but playing to the level Garoppolo was at mentally will be difficult early on.
Seeing how the passing attack is able to evolve and stretch is scary to think about given the presence of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk. Add in Lance’s rushing ability, and we’re looking at a practically unstoppable offense if the 2021 third overall pick develops. And that defense should only get better with another year.
5) Tennessee Titans
The Titans’ defense is young, and should only continue to improve if they can keep their core together. The Bud Dupree contract is bleak given their cap situation and Harold Landry’s pending free agency. They made some “all-in” level moves with the Dupree signing and Julio Jones trade.
Tennessee needs to add another receiver in the offseason. It’s never easy to lose the top two receivers on the roster, but the Titans were particularly inept after Jones and A.J. Brown went down. Hopefully, 2021 was the exception for Derrick Henry’s health and not the new norm. Taking some of the load off Henry could do wonders for his longevity.
Way Too Early NFL Power Rankings: Tier 1 | Super Bowl contenders
Just because only one NFC team is in this category doesn’t mean they’ll walk to Arizona for Super Bowl 57. The Rams are simply in a different category at the moment than the rest of the NFC.
4) Buffalo Bills
The top four teams are all incredibly talented. The Bills have a very strong case as the most talented team in the NFL, and they were almost the top team in these NFL Power Rankings.
The only reason they’re at No. 4 is the loss of Brian Daboll. I’m not sure what it means for Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense, but surely his departure can’t be spun as an upgrade. Allen showed how dangerous he is when he uses his legs. If they can add a dynamic running back, the sky could be the limit for Buffalo’s offense.
3) Kansas City Chiefs
Continuity is important, and it at least appears Kansas City will be keeping most of their important pieces intact. They also have Patrick Mahomes, which makes up for a lot. The Chiefs need another receiving threat, and they desperately need to give Chris Jones some help rushing the passer.
The Chiefs defense needs Tyrann Mathieu, which means Kansas City needs to move some money around to seal the deal. The Honey Badger makes that defense go. They have athletic corners plus Juan Thornhill, but Mathieu’s brain keeps everything where it needs to be. That is, as long as Daniel Sorensen isn’t playing as one of the two deep safeties.
2) Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals aren’t as talented as the Bills or Chiefs, but they made it to the Super Bowl while appearing to be a year away from truly competing. Nobody expected this run. But the Bengals are just getting started. They have four more inexpensive years with Ja’Marr Chase, three with Joe Burrow, and two with Tee Higgins.
Oh, and the Bengals have a ton of salary cap space. Cincinnati must use some of that on veterans to sure up the right side of their offensive line. With an improved line, there’s really no limit on what the Bengals’ offense could accomplish with Burrow.
1) Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are in a decent enough situation to keep a ton of their Super Bowl talent on the roster heading into 2022. Los Angeles will get Robert Woods back healthy, which is a huge help in their run game. He’s one of the best blocking receivers in the league, and the Rams are currently asking Ben Skowronek to make a lot of those blocks. It’s not going swimmingly.
Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey will still be two of the best in the business. Sean McVay will still be one of the most innovative coaches in the league, and as long as they can survive rebuilding the offensive line, they’ll be within earshot of Super Bowl 57.