Bills and Buccaneers lead heading into training camp
Do you smell that? It smells like … the NFL is about to return. With its return comes the NFL Power Rankings. It’s been a long summer, but it’s winding down. That means players are about to start reporting to training camp, and fans are becoming overconfident about their team’s chances for 2022. Statistically speaking, one team probably will. But it’s pretty clear who those teams are. But who are the league’s preseason studs? How many teams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders?
NFL Power Rankings: Tier 4 | Rebuilding teams
Don’t worry, sports fans. A few of these teams are headed in the right direction, even if they’re moving at the pace of a Smart car with a 5% charge left. Luckily, being a lousy team is not necessarily a bad thing for fans. The NFL draft is big business, and the draft team here at PFN never … ever … stops working. They’re psychos. And they will help you rebuild your team.
32) Atlanta Falcons
While Fredrick W. Smith didn’t found Federal Express with nothing, he’s made it from a small startup to the powerhouse it is now that has inflated his net worth to over $5 billion. His son, Arthur, must now do the same with the Atlanta Falcons.
Mismanagement from the prior regime has manifested itself in the current roster, almost entirely devoid of talent. A.J. Terrell, Grady Jarrett, and Kyle Pitts stand as the only true difference-makers on the team. While there are high hopes for Drake London and Desmond Ridder, the Falcons could very well be in a position to draft one of the top QBs in the 2023 NFL Draft.
31) Houston Texans
The Texans still have a long way to go before becoming contenders. However, a seemingly strong draft class is an excellent first step for Nick Caserio and Lovie Smith. They improved their defensive core with the additions of Derek Stingley, Jalen Pitre, and Christian Harris.
Second-year QB Davis Mills still has a lot to prove on the offensive side of the ball. Yet, the third-round pick from 2021 exceeded all expectations last season, showing some excellent command of an offense lacking exceptional talent.
But explosive plays constitute a significant factor in offensive success. The Texans must find a way to be more explosive on offense if they’re going to squeak out a few more wins in 2022.
30) Chicago Bears
While some of the rebuilding teams in these NFL Power Rankings are projecting up, the Bears appear stagnant at best. Justin Fields is supremely talented, but he struggled last season behind an unsupportive offensive line and a lackluster supporting cast aside from Darnell Mooney.
Yes, Allen Robinson was in the building physically, but he wasn’t there mentally.
The problem Chicago will find offensively is that Fields is an excellent intermediate and downfield passer who is still progressing in the quick game. With that said, they didn’t improve their offensive line. If Fields survives, it will be a testament to his toughness and development as a professional quarterback.
29) Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions might not have their long-term answer at the quarterback position, but they do seem to have the correct answer at head coach. Although Detroit only won three games last year, they lost six contests by one score and added Jameson Williams to one of the worst receiving corps in recent history.
They’ll have a healthy Jeff Okudah in 2022 and added Aiden Hutchinson to an already stout group of pass rushers. Michael Brockers, Alim McNeill, and Levi Onwuzurike are also a strong interior group.
Detroit is building an excellent foundation for when they do acquire their franchise quarterback, which could come in the 2023 NFL Draft.
28) New York Jets
While we won’t know if Zach Wilson has matured on the field yet, he undeniably has off of it. Ultimately the Jets’ success and the success of Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh will come down to the young quarterback. If his problems persist, this will again be a bad football team, and the Jets will be in a tough spot concerning their future.
However, they added weapons on the offensive side of the ball in Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall. Elijah Moore flashed crazy potential as a rookie, and Corey Davis is still a solid option. But until we see steady improvement, the Jets can’t move up in the NFL Power Rankings.
New York’s defense must improve drastically, particularly against the pass. To mitigate those issues, they drafted Jermaine Johnson to rush the passer and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner to blanket receivers. They also added D.J. Reed, who should be an excellent addition either as a slot or outside cornerback.
27) New York Giants
Speaking of quarterbacks, the New York Giants are in limbo with their quarterback situation. But instead of blindly opting in on Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option, the Giants intelligently put his feet to the fire in Year 4.
Jones is a semi-athletic passer with a decent arm and good playmaking ability. The hope is that head coach Brian Daboll can get the most out of Jones. The problematic question of what to do if he plays well in 2022 can wait.
The Giants’ offensive line has been an issue since Dave Gettleman arrived. It wasn’t until his departure that it appeared to be sufficient. Evan Neal should slide gracefully into the right tackle slot. They’re also not short on weapons. Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard, Wan’Dale Robinson, and Darius Slayton all have name recognition, at the very least.
26) Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars couldn’t send Urban Meyer back to a barstool in Columbus fast enough. They needed to salvage Trevor Lawrence’s career, and hiring Doug Pederson was a great first step. The offensive depth chart remains lackluster, but Pederson’s offense will help Lawrence.
But Jacksonville wasn’t deficient on just the offensive side of the ball in 2021. While big spending in free agency often isn’t the most cost-effective route, it did improve the defensive depth chart on paper. They also added Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd, and Chad Muma, showing that they’re emphasizing athleticism on that side of the ball.
25) Seattle Seahawks
Seattle went from one of the potential “worst-to-first” teams with Russell Wilson to relative irrelevancy in a hurry. And in hilarious irony, the Seahawks drafted not one but two offensive tackles in the first three rounds.
Their defensive interior is strong, and they added Shelby Harris and Noah Fant in the trade. Darrell Taylor is a strong edge defender, and Jordyn Brooks is an ascending linebacker in the middle. However, their cornerback room is a terrifying basket of “what-if” players that have never found consistent success in the league.
NFL Power Rankings: Tier 3 | Fringe playoff rosters
It wouldn’t be shocking if any of the subsequent teams made a playoff run in 2022, but there are issues in each organization that will make that possibility improbable.
24) Washington Commanders
The Commanders roster isn’t bad on offense or defense. However, they have a defense that drastically underwhelmed last season, and they have been rudderless at QB since Kirk Cousins packed his bags to Minnesota.
With a roster like theirs, they could surprise us all and be playoff contenders in an NFC East that hasn’t seen a repeat winner since 2004. But in order to accomplish that, they need to see a version of Carson Wentz that hasn’t existed since 2017.
To top it all off, their owner appears to be hiding out on his yacht so that Congress can’t serve him a subpoena to testify in their investigation of his team’s misconduct, which he was allegedly directly involved in.
Those distractions could weigh heavy on the organization in-season.
23) Carolina Panthers
The Panthers needed to improve on the offensive line in the offseason if Matt Rhule and whoever played QB in 2022 had any chance of survival. They did just that with the additions of Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett in free agency. Spending their top pick on Ikem Ekwonu to play left tackle was another great addition to the unit.
Phil Snow’s defense wasn’t a problem last season. From a talent perspective, it should be even better in 2022. That doesn’t guarantee success, but it does help the team’s outlook prior to the season. Carolina is taking a calculated risk with C.J. Henderson, added Matt Ioannidis and Xavier Woods, and will get Jaycee Horn back healthy.
If Baker Mayfield plays well, this team could skyrocket in the NFL Power Rankings early in the season.
22) Pittsburgh Steelers
From purely a roster perspective, the Steelers should probably be lower on the list than 22. However, Mike Tomlin is still their head coach, and as long as that’s the case, it’s hard to believe they’ll be anything but surprisingly competitive. After all, in his 16 NFL seasons, he has never coached a team with a losing record.
That’s including the Steelers’ 2019 campaign where they started a guy nicknamed “Duck” for eight games and Mason Rudolph for another six.
George Pickens and Calvin Austin were a fun duo from the NFL draft, but the Steelers’ offensive success will come down to their line. Pittsburgh struggled to provide much help for rookie running back Najee Harris last season. But the line was also relatively young, so they’ll hope for linear growth from that unit that added James Daniels (in one of the best deals of free agency).
21) New England Patriots
Bill Belichick often makes moves that make us raise an eyebrow. And while it was … Strange … to see him trade away Shaq Mason for pennies, we can still see the vision there. Michael Onwenu will take over at right guard, and Cole Strange will be the left guard. The offensive line is still pretty settled.
But strutting out Malcolm Butler, Jalen Mills, and Jonathan Jones is not really a recipe for success against the pass. Belichick does have a stable of good safeties, but the corners still need to survive on the outside.
That said, Marcus Jones will probably play like a Pro Bowler as a rookie because that’s what Belichick seems to find in the secondary.
20) New Orleans Saints
The Saints are in a weird spot because their roster is still very talented. Still, they head into 2022 with a new coaching staff, a quarterback coming off injury, and a head coach who was arguably the best defensive coordinator in the NFL having his priorities now split.
That said, Jameis Winston was playing well before his injury. Additionally, they’ll get Michael Thomas back. They also acquired Chris Olave through the draft and Jarvis Landry through free agency. Losing Terron Armstead hurts, but they spent their second first-round pick on Trevor Penning, who will take his lumps but is a talented player.
New Orleans had a top-three defense in 2021 and 2020. They’ve been as consistently dominant as any defense in the league over the past five seasons. And they may have the most talented unit they’ve seen heading into 2022.
19) Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings are a confounding team, which is why they fall at 19 in the NFL Power Rankings. They were a horrific run-defending team and a bad rushing attack on the offensive side of the ball. The joke was always that Rick Spielman and, more specifically, Mike Zimmer had an affinity for cornerbacks. They always drafted them, it seemed.
Well, it may have negatively affected the defensive interior. And although they’d spent resources on the offensive line, the three old ladies from the 1984 Wendy’s commercial are still wondering where the beef is.
Minnesota doesn’t need to run the ball more — they just need to find efficiency in it once again. They have one of the best zone runners in the NFL with Dalvin Cook. They just need to block it.
19) Miami Dolphins
There is a lot of optimism surrounding the Miami Dolphins heading into 2022. Miami ranked eighth in defensive EPA last season. They found lightning in a bottle with Jevon Holland, and Jaelan Phillips should round into a solid pass rusher on the edge. And despite a head coaching change, the defense keeps some continuity, with Josh Boyer remaining as defensive coordinator.
The offense needed a big boost, and the Dolphins’ front office tried to attack just that in the offseason. Miami ranked 29th in explosive play rate. It’s imperative that changes in 2022. Explosive plays hold massive value to scoring points more consistently.
Their success will boil down to the progress of Tua Tagovaiola and the offensive line. Terron Armstead and Connor Williams were necessary additions, but the unit still doesn’t classify as strong. The rushing attack is important to what we think Mike McDaniel’s scheme will look like.
NFL Power Rankings: Tier 2 | Playoff contenders
There will be a few talented teams from this portion of the list that miss the playoff in 2022, but they are all worthy of recognition prior to the start of camp. Each roster is strong enough to make a run at a division title if things fall their way during the regular season.
17) Arizona Cardinals
If the Vikings are confounding, the Cardinals could make one crawl into a hole and not crave sunlight until all the vitamin D has left the body. There is no more frustrating team to project than Arizona. Last season, their defense teetered around the top five in efficiency all year.
But their defensive roster is bottom third at best, and the inadequacies in execution were evident on tape but simply not taken advantage of.
Their offensive line is underwhelming, and while James Conner was a touchdown machine, the only explosiveness coming from the backfield comes from their Energizer Bunny at QB.
The first six weeks will tell us what we need to know about this team. Kyler Murray’s performance with vs. without DeAndre Hopkins is a stark contrast. Arizona will be hoping that A.J. Green, Marquise Brown, Rondale Moore, and Antoine Wesley can hold down the fort until Nuk returns.
But if the defense doesn’t overachieve, it’ll put a ton of stress on the offense to put up a lot of points without their best offensive weapon.
16) Cleveland Browns
Until we know what the punishment will be for their QB, it’s difficult to gauge where the Browns are. That’s why for now, the incredibly talented team is sitting smack dab in the middle of the NFL Power Rankings.
The defensive interior is the only weak point of their defense. The Browns possess potential All-Pro talent at each level of the defense with good depth to boot on the second and third levels.
The offensive line should be one of the best in the game when healthy, and they added Amari Cooper to the fold to bring some consistently high-level receiver play. We’re just waiting on Judge Sue Robinson’s decision.
15) Tennessee Titans
The Titans are a bit like the Steelers in that they seem to find success even when it’s seemingly coming from nowhere. Mike Vrabel has yet to have a losing season in Tennessee and is coming off a 12-win campaign where the offense lost its engine for nine games and had Ryan Tannehill playing poorly.
However, the 12-5 Titans ranked 15th in offensive EPA and 10th in defensive EPA. They head into 2022 still looking for consistency at receiver after losing A.J. Brown, but with a defense that could be even better than last season.
Caleb Farley should return healthy. Hopefully, he remains that way, although his college career and rookie season cast a dark cloud. But they added insurance with Roger McCreary. Kristian Fulton and Elijah Molden are both young and ascending players. But it’s the safety tandem that was the key to Tennessee’s defensive success in 2021. Amani Hooker and the best safety heading into 2022, Kevin Byard, are difference-makers.
Tennessee goes about its business differently than most of the league, but it’s working.
14) Indianapolis Colts
Matt Ryan isn’t the 2016 NFL MVP anymore, but he has more left in the tank than many give him credit for. That Falcons were atrocious last year and still somehow found a way to win seven games. On the coaching side, Frank Reich probably exhaled for the first time since Andrew Luck’s retirement.
The Colts have a massive question mark on the left side of the offensive line but are a balanced offense elsewhere. Jonathan Taylor is the best runner in the league and one of two or three that can consistently make something from nothing. And Reich’s offense will help get the ball out of Ryan’s hand quickly to the playmakers on the outside.
Their potential defensive upgrades are most exciting. They swapped Rock Ya-Sin for Yannick Ngakoue and then replaced Ya-Sin with Stephon Gilmore in free agency. Isaiah Rodgers is one of the most underrated playmakers in the league, and, oh yeah, so is Kenny Moore.
13) Philadelphia Eagles
The Cowboys may be the favorite to win the NFC East, but they’re not the best bet. The curse of the East is real. No team has repeated since the Eagles in 2004. Philadelphia added to the roster in the offseason like a Call of Duty junkie does every time a new season of Warzone drops — throwing the credit card at every shiny thing they see.
Howie Roseman has done this before. But this time around, it feels more calculated. He’s older now and experienced the 2011 failed “dream team.” The Eagles already have arguably the best offensive line in the league. They added A.J. Brown at receiver, and Jalen Hurts enters his third NFL season.
Philadelphia drafted a brick house to anchor their defensive interior that already had Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox. They brought Haason Reddick in to come screaming off the edge and added James Bradberry on a friendly deal in free agency. Nevertheless, their success is tied to the success of their QB.
12) Las Vegas Raiders
There is so little separating the AFC West. Just eight spots separate all four teams in the division in these NFL Power Rankings. While that will probably sort itself out in the regular season, on paper, it’s difficult to have a strong opinion on who will win the division.
Las Vegas hired a new head coach and a defensive coordinator that will run a defense derived from this century. They threw resources at massive names like Chandler Jones and Davante Adams. And the trade for Ya-Sin was an underrated and necessary move to try and bring life to a lifeless secondary.
The offensive line remains the biggest question. However, Josh McDaniels can mitigate concerns by utilizing more manufactured touches and getting the backs involved in the passing game. Oh, and Adams’ ability to win at the line of scrimmage with the best release repertoire in the league will help, too.
But they’re last in the West and 12th in the NFL Power Rankings because changing from such a rudimentary defense to one of the more complex in the league under Patrick Graham could create more mental mistakes early on.
11) Denver Broncos
The Broncos have a ton of hype surrounding their situation. They’re the one true “worst-to-first” contender in the NFL until we know more about Cleveland’s quarterback situation. However, their defense underwhelmed in 2021 despite being coached by one of the greatest defensive minds of this generation.
While talented, they need to execute better and get better play from their linebackers, which is a tall task considering what the depth chart looks like. Adding D.J. Jones is one of the best signings of the offseason, and Randy Gregory gives them a ton of juice on the edge.
Patrick Surtain will cement himself as a top-five cornerback this season, and the addition of K’Waun Williams and the subtraction of Kyle Fuller should help with the passing defense’s consistency.
10) San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco is one of the most talented teams in the league. Their defense was one of the few examples of what being able to consistently get home with four can do. Yet, a few changes to the roster make it so they just crack the top 10 in the NFL Power Rankings.
While Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster, he isn’t the projected starter. We don’t know what to expect from Trey Lance. The North Dakota State product has only started 19 football games since 2017. He’s supremely talented but a complete wild card.
But arguably the bigger issue is the loss of Alex Mack. A veteran presence at center is massive for young QBs, and Lance lost that with Mack’s retirement. It will be fascinating to see what Kyle Shanahan can cook up with a completely different style under center.
9) Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys had a down year on offense in 2021 relative to their expectations. Dak Prescott got hurt on the final play against New England and wasn’t the same afterward. But their down year was still good for seventh-best in EPA and weighted DVOA. Defensively, they were top three in both efficiency metrics.
That’s Super Bowl-caliber stuff … on paper.
The reality is that the 2021 roster was that caliber, and they failed. Then, Dallas had a relatively quiet offseason where they saw the roster take a step back. Can Dak Prescott elevate the offense without Amari Cooper and for the first portion of the season without Michael Gallup? Will CeeDee Lamb finally ascend into the top-10 conversation?
It’s funny to think back to a year ago and see that the offense is the question. But the defense should remain stout. The schedule is kind, and the defense was led by very young talent last season without Demarcus Lawrence for a good portion. The pass rush might take a hit without Gregory, but they missed him and Tank for much of 2022, and Micah Parsons picked up the slack.
8) Baltimore Ravens
A season after losing what felt like the entire roster to injuries, the Ravens will look to bring some good health juju to the 2022 campaign. They still have an underwhelming receiving corps, but what is new there? Baltimore isn’t really worried about it. They have never been because that’s not really their game. Mark Andrews is and will remain the top target.
The defensive side of the ball is incredibly intriguing. There will be a cultural shift from Wink Martindale to Mike Macdonald. They signed Marcus Williams, who will see the line of scrimmage from his pre-snap alignment for the first time in his career. But while there are questions about how the puzzle fits, the pieces are sharp.
7) Green Bay Packers
Wide receiver problems aside, this team has an abundance of talent. Green Bay has two good runners, the back-to-back league MVP, a strong offensive line that’s finally healthy, and a defense with elite talent at all three levels.
It’s difficult to look at that defensive roster and not get a bit giddy. They’ll get a healthy Jaire Alexander back. Rasul Douglas exploded last season with Green Bay, and Eric Stokes had a very strong rookie season. They’re bolstered by one of the strongest safety duos in the league.
Then there is the front seven. Kenny Clark is elite, and De’Vondre Campbell was outstanding last season. Rashan Gary might be the most underrated pass rusher in the NFL, and Green Bay drafted two hyper-athletic Georgia defenders in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
6) Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are a paper tiger. They’re one of the strongest rosters in the league. However, every season we get excited about the Chargers, and they have consistently underwhelmed us for the better part of two decades.
Justin Herbert might be sharp enough to pierce that armor and take Los Angeles to the next level, but it’s hard to call a team that didn’t even make the playoffs in 2021 a Super Bowl contender. But boy, did they improve.
Adding J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack adds two All-Pro level talents to a defense that was embarrassing at times last season. But it was so because they couldn’t stop the run to save their lives. The Chargers attempted to fix that with Austin Johnson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Kyle Van Noy.
They also upgraded at right guard, making right tackle the only sore spot on the offensive side of the ball.
NFL Power Rankings: Tier 1 | Super Bowl contenders
These five are the elites. It wouldn’t be surprising if any of the five make it to the Super Bowl and hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
5) Los Angeles Rams
The Rams roster is still very good, but they’ve lost a few key contributors from their Super Bowl team that drop them out of the top spot in the conference for the NFL Power Rankings.
Andrew Whitworth may have been old enough to father some of his teammates, but he was still playing left tackle at a very high level at the time of his retirement. Darious Williams was an outstanding second cornerback opposite Jalen Ramsey. They also lost Von Miller and Sebastian Joseph-Day from the defensive front.
The roster is still talented enough to be a contender for the top seed in the NFC, but it took a slight step back overall. But if Allen Robinson can return to form, the offense could become even more explosive in 2022.
4) Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs’ place in the NFL Power Rankings is based more on respect and consistency than anything else. While it will be interesting to see how much of a dropoff Justin Reid is from Tyrann Mathieu, drafting Trent McDuffie will help the secondary immensely. Kansas City will also hope that George Karlaftis can be an immediate contributor because aside from his upside, there is no help for Chris Jones.
Likewise, the Chiefs will hope that Skyy Moore can adjust quickly to the NFL. Trading away Tyreek Hill instead of paying him was a calculated risk. But they need JuJu Smith-Schuster to get back to his even younger self, and they need Moore to produce as a rookie.
They still have arguably the best guard-to-guard trio in the NFL, and Orlando Brown is more than serviceable at left tackle. And that Patrick Mahomes guy still exists.
3) Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals’ Super Bowl run was a bit of a fluke. While they were an exciting team during the regular season, they weren’t seen as one of the favorites to make it out of the AFC. They can’t get away with any surprises anymore.
Cincinnati improved their roster during the offseason, addressing their one glaring need on the offensive line. La’el Collins is a mauler in the run game and an above-average pass protector. They also added Alex Cappa and Ted Karras to bolster right guard and center, respectively. If Jackson Carman can progress in Year 2, this Bengals offense could legitimately have no weaknesses.
While Eli Apple remains the butt of many jokes, he played well with the Bengals last season. But Cincinnati also added Cam Taylor-Britt and Daxton Hill to the secondary. Hill could play as an outside cornerback for a season before possibly taking Jessie Bates’ role after his seemingly inevitable divorce from the team.
2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Much like the Bengals, the only sore spot on the Bucaneers’ offensive line is the hole at left guard left by Ali Marpet’s retirement. They even took a step forward in the receiving corps with the addition of Russell Gage, who’s proven a reliable slot target in the NFC South for a while now.
From top to bottom, they are solid on the defensive side of the ball as well. They drafted Logan Hall as one of the DE/DT hybrids and added Akiem Hicks in free agency. They also have two solid pass rushers in Joe Tryon and Shaq Barrett.
And even though he’ll be collecting social security soon, that Tom Brady fella is pretty darned good still.
1) Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills don’t have the offensive lines of Kansas City, Cincinnati, or Tampa Bay. But they have some outrageous talent elsewhere, and they proved they can thrive offensively without a dominant line.
The same cannot be said for their defensive front. They have a CVS receipt full of talented pass rushers on the outside and have added some beef with Tim Settle and Jordan Phillips on the interior. Von Miller was the icing on the cake for this defense. Matt Milano is one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, and Tremaine Edmunds is only 24.
And the top-ranked defense from 2021 got better in the secondary as well. They added Kaiir Elam to complement Tre’Davious White, who they flourished without for most of last season. Taron Johnson is one of the best slot defenders in the league, and they boast the best safety tandem in the league.
Furthermore, Josh Allen continues to sharpen his skill set as a passer. The Bills are the most complete team in the NFL Power Rankings.