NFL Power Rankings: Denver Broncos take throne -- then what?

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They did it.

Super Bowl 50 belonged to the best defense, football defense, in the world. The Denver Broncos never looked like the top team in the NFL, switched quarterbacks and played some sloppy football in the late goings of the season. Yet, when it was time to turn it on, they collapsed pockets easier than housing markets. It was something to see. Von Miller made making All-Pro look like playing Candy Land after his dominant -- transcendent -- performance on Super Sunday. DeMarcus Ware has served as Miller's Pat Morita, but the seasoned vet also managed to faceplant Cam Newton in straight-up Miyagi fashion (See: Cobra Kai sensei in "Karate Kid II"). Meanwhile, pulling the strings on the masterful defensive showing was this dead-serious mastermind:

What's cooler than a 68-year-old defensive coordinator trolling on Twitter? The players couldn't be prouder of their DC. Gary Kubiak cringed. Fred Flintstone probably feels like there was some copyright infringement. And we'll teach Phillips how to turn off the autofill function on the iPhone:

As for the full rundown on the NFL hierarchy after the conclusion of the 2015 campaign, check out the updated pecking order below. Two things to keep in mind:

A) How teams fared at the end of the season is heavily considered, but ...
B) ... several dropped due to new coaches and impending free agents.

We'll get deeper into the latter when we do our annual Free Agency Power Rankings in March. Until then, let us know what you think of this rendering: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

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1

15-4 BRONCOS

They are here because they earned it. Winning the Super Bowl in the 2000s has evolved -- or devolved, depending on your predilection -- into whoever is the hottest team for a month. That is precisely what head coach Gary Kubiak challenged his group to be -- the best team in pro football from January to February -- and the Broncos responded.

After seeing that some fans thought the Super Bowl was "dull," I thought I might vomit in my mouth. Call me a purist, but watching Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware execute a full cadre of pass-rush moves on the Panthers' offensive line was more pleasing than any unnecessary one-handed Odell Beckham Jr. catch you'll ever see.

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2

17-2 PANTHERS

In the wake of Super Bowl 50, much has been made of Cam Newton's handling of both a loose football and a postgame presser. It seemed that the stray football was too close to the 6-foot-5 quarterback for him to dive on it -- that said, his handling of postgame questions didn't shine up that lack-of-hustle moment during the Super Bowl for many fans and league observers. He'll be back. Newton was league MVP for a reason. If you need something to worry about with the Panthers, then perhaps Josh Norman potentially hitting the open market foots the bill. Still, I don't expect general manager Dave Gettleman to fumble that deal.

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3

13-5 PATRIOTS

Been perusing the Patriots' draft needs as of late, and it goes something like this: OL, OL and OL. That might be an overreaction to injuries and the different combinations New England had to use up front -- not to mention, no offensive front shines against Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Getting a receiver who can stretch the field wouldn't be the worst idea, either. Or even a wideout who can win on 50-50 balls in the end zone. The Brandon LaFell experience has been, well, an experience.

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4

14-4 CARDINALS

Arizona most assuredly will regroup following the debacle at Carolina -- and that includes Carson Palmer, who seems resilient enough to not let his turnoverpalooza in the NFC Championship Game seep into the 2016 campaign. In the meantime, Bruce Arians will be looking for pass rushers in both free agency and the draft. (As will over half the National Football League.)

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5

11-7 PACKERS

Said it before, many times on "NFL HQ" (Monday through Friday, 8-10 a.m. ET on NFL Network #shamelessplug), and it bears repeating here: Jordy Nelson's injury in Pittsburgh back in the preseason was the most significant injury of the 2015 campaign. How much would he have helped in the overtime thriller versus the Cardinals? How much could he have helped Randall Cobb get open this season? Speaking of open, apparently Mike McCarthy isn't repressing any emotions about Ted Thompson's free-agent strategy.

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6

11-7 STEELERS

We might be looking at a Super Bowl favorite for next year. Just onnnnnnnnne tiny, tiny, little, surmountable detail: The Steelers need secondary help. Now. Draft a safety or a corner. Or grab a corner or a safety in free agency. Heck, corner the market on safeties. Because if Pittsburgh does that, with this offense, look out. By the way, how does Mike Tomlin not get a whiff for Coach of the Year? Not a whiff! Let me get this straight: The dude loses his quarterback for a chunk of the season, loses the best RB in the game, loses the best backup RB in the game and loses the top wideout in the postseason .... wins 11 games ... and ... nothin'? What?

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7

12-6 CHIEFS

The 10-game win streak to end the regular season was awesome. The 30-zip shellacking of the Texans -- in Houston -- was awesome, too. So what can the Chiefs do to avoid repeating the not-awesome start they had in 2015? Keep Jamaal Charles healthy is the knee-jerk answer -- but wait, Kansas City was 1-4 with him in the lineup. O-line help is where it's at for this team. And it wouldn't hurt to get a little help at inside linebacker, where Derrick Johnson heads toward Year 12. Still, nice season, # ChiefsKingdom

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8

11-7 SEAHAWKS

Marshawn Lynch retiring is a huge deal, even if the specter of Super Bowl 50 obscured one of the best players since Y2K hanging up his lime green kicks. Took guff last month from a few Seahawks fans for tweeting that his absence hurt the team. They all pointed to Thomas Rawls being a superior replacement. Sure, Rawls was productive. But can he energize his whole team -- defense included -- the way Beast Mode did? Will he come up big in the clutch, as Lynch often did? There's a reason everyone was shocked when Lynch didn't get the rock at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. None of this is to say Rawls can't be fantastic, but let's not shove Lynch out the door. Show the man some respect as he exits the stage.

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9

12-5 BENGALS

The Bengals get a slight nudge up the Power Rankings with Andy Dalton being healthy again. Easy to forget that Dalton was in the MVP discussion before getting hurt late in the year versus the Steelers. After that time, Cam Newton ran away with the race, with Carson Palmer and Tom Brady finishing in a distant second place. For all the complaints about Dalton in the postseason, he's never turned the ball over six times. Read into that what you will. For all the complaints about Vontaze Burfict -- well, everyone is still complaining about Vontaze Burfict.

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10

11-6 VIKINGS

Fantastic season, at least from a macro view, for the Vikings in 2015. From the micro view, what was even more stellar was the support for Blair Walsh in the locker room. Good teams stick together (See: Carolina Panthers). What also works in Minnesota's favor is a relatively painless free agency session on the horizon, at least in terms of who the Vikes must keep. Almost all of their free agents are parts (mid-tier guys whom management can get back if they so choose). This group will hold the fort. Can Adrian Peterson hold up entering Year 10?

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11

9-8 REDSKINS

Washington resides in the 11-hole for now, but it is tenuous ground, to be sure. With Kirk Cousins' contract up, there must be a morsel of nervous energy residing in a few corners of the D.C. area. (Don't worry: RGIII will be the Cowboys' problem.) That said, looking just below in these here rankings, the Bills aren't a better team, the Jets don't have a legit QB under contract at the moment and many people don't think the Texans have a quarterback -- period. Another notable Washington free agent? Alfred Morris.

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12

9-8 TEXANS

The deal with the Texans -- and, in particular, their ranking -- has much to do with the other teams around them in the Power Rankings. Are they the headless horsemen? The Redskins and Jets hope to re-sign their starting QBs, and the Bills think they've found theirs. But Houston would be a better team than all of them with a healthy Arian Foster and a slight upgrade in Brian Hoyer's game. Of course, if you saw the playoff loss to the Chiefs, you might surmise "slight" to be a slightly-not-strong-enough word to describe the needed improvement. Or something like that.

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13

8-8 BILLS

Other than free agency issues on the offensive line, Rex Ryan's group is pretty stable. The other issue to address is what to do with defensive end Mario Williams. Put another way: Buffalo probably will cut him. Williams posted a paltry five sacks last year and reportedly "checked out" well before the season was over. The Bills will survive. But can they get over the hump? One major point of concern: This reported altercation involving LeSean McCoy. We'll have to see what comes of that.

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14

10-6 JETS

There is no question that the 2015 Jets were better than they were in the late days of Santonio Holmes or those three-picks-in-eight-passes days of Geno Smith. Yet, not making the postseason by virtue of dropping a second game to Sexy Rexy was massively disappointing. Moreover, the club must get Ryan Fitzpatrick under contract without massively overpaying. GM Mike Maccagnan's accounting cranium will be challenged this spring, as the Jets have more than 20 impending free agents, including Chris Ivory, Calvin Pace and Muhammad Wilkerson.

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15

7-9 RAIDERS

David Carr and I were chewing the fat the other day on the set of "NFL HQ" about his brother, and the conversation turned to Amari Cooper moving close by to Derek so they can work out together in the offseason. Apparently they do so at a local park, like Rocky and Apollo on the beach in "Rocky III." Both are fans of the upper-quad shorts, too, I'd presume. I also asked if the park had a fort, monkey bars and a gravel play area. It all points to a developing tandem that figures to be in Oakland (hopefully) for a long time. Well, at least they will be with the Raiders for a long time. #stayinOakland

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16

7-9 LIONS

If Calvin Johnson indeed retires, we will be forced to drop the Lions even lower, despite the 6-2 run Jim Caldwell's guys went on down the stretch. In fact, even if Megatron comes back, questions will remain: Is the passion still there? What about all the injuries he's dealt with? Oh, and what about the fact that he has appeared to slow down in recent years? By the way: For Johnson, slowing down is the equivalent of being in tip-top shape for other wideouts, which is why he's a Hall of Famer in my book.

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17

8-8 COLTS

Indy should be much better in 2016 by virtue of Andrew Luck being much healthier, among other factors. Retaining Chuck Pagano was the right move. Drafting Phillip Dorsett in Round 1 was not. Yet, that perception could change with a year under the receiver's belt. Speaking of the passing game, the Colts must re-sign at least one of their tight ends, as both Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are free agents. The ground game is another area of concern: Frank Gore heads into Year 12, while "Boom" Herron and Ahmad Bradshaw are free agents.

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18

7-9 SAINTS

Sean Payton is staying. Drew Brees is staying. Brandon Browner is not staying. Saints fans are happy about all three. Next blurb.



Well, actually, before we go, we should mention that the most high-profile Saint due to hit the market is tight end Ben Watson, at least now that we know Payton isn't going to be traded for two picks and a player to be named later. (Vance Law? Doyle Alexander? Sorry -- '80s baseball talk.) Watson was sneaky good with 74 catches for 825 yards in 2015, despite having over a decade of service in the league. His service in the community, meanwhile, makes him irreplaceable. Have enjoyed every conversation I've had with the man, including his explaining to me that the Neal Anderson sweep in Tecmo Super Bowl was unstoppable. Yes: Ben Watson, Tecmo nerd.

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19

8-8 FALCONS

Dan Quinn has much to do this offseason, and it involves more than getting more out of his defense. Quinn's discipline might be on that side of the ball, but finding a way to get Matt Ryan and the passing attack up to speed is imperative. Or, at least, helping offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan find a way to do so would be helpful. The Falcons are ill-equipped to stay in any brand of track meet with the Panthers, Saints or Bucs (if Jameis Winston continues to improve in Year 2). Atlanta needs a WR2 and a TE.

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20

7-9 RAMS

The move to Los Angeles might invigorate the Rams. Perhaps having Todd Gurley for four more starts (which is how many he missed last year) will equate to a couple more wins. This is the section of the Power Rankings where, typically, the teams with coaching changes start falling into line, so you would think that the consistency at the top with St. Louis -- er, Los Angeles -- is a bonus. Jeff Fisher is usually good for 7-9 -- i.e., 20th feels right.

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21

6-10 GIANTS

We'll try not to write an oversized blurb here about new Giants head coach Ben McAdoo. Or consider whether he is the right fit to replace legend Tom Coughlin. Maybe McAdoo's offense is tailor-made for Eli Manning, but the defense must be fixed. That starts with drafting players that suit McAdoo and Steve Spagnuolo's scheme. Bottom line: McAdoo has big shoulders to fill, following a two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach.

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22

5-11 RAVENS

Steve Smith Sr. is coming back. Joe Flacco will be healthy. Ditto Justin Forsett. Essentially, this should automatically be a better football team than the 5-11 outfit we saw this past season. How about the fact that the Ravens dropped nine one-score games in 2015? The sheer percentages say no mas to that nonsense. First step back to the playoffs: C.J. Mosley taking the next step, and getting some secondary help in the draft.

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23

6-10 BEARS

John Fox is in place. As is Jay Cutler. But Matt Forte is on his way out, and Alshon Jeffery is due to hit free agency. If Chicago re-ups No. 17 and Jeremy Langford performs as he did in 2015, the offense should be OK. The defense, of course, is a question mark. The Bears have the 11th overall pick in April; look for them to try to land someone who can get after the quarterback. That's a unique strategy, if you don't consider half the other teams in the league.

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24

6-10 DOLPHINS

So Miami really, really wanted Adam Gase. I guess Stephen Ross figured everyone else did, too. The Dolphins didn't just go after Gase hard -- they gave him final say over the 53-man roster. Gase is 37, and he's never been a head coach before. Does that mean he won't succeed? No. But working with Peyton Manning, then Jay Cutler last year -- coupled with his work ethic -- carved an impeccable reputation around league circles. The obvious first question, outside of whether Gase has the skill set requisite to be a successful head coach, is if Ryan Tannehill has the ability to be a successful quarterback.

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25

4-12 COWBOYS

Even with Tony Romo getting healthy, can't move the Cowboys any higher than No. 25, which might seem low for a team many 2015 prognosticators had going to the NFC Championship Game (before Tony Romo went down). While Romo is set to return, he still has a plate in that shoulder area, and his collarbone has been broken three times -- and let us not forget the two back surgeries he had a couple of years ago. Planning on Darren McFadden to stay healthy and rush for 1,000 yards again seems far-fetched. Time to draft a running back. Hey, at least the rest of the NFC East still sucks (especially if Kirk Cousins slips out of Washington D.C.).

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26

7-9 EAGLES

No quarterback + new front man with no head-coaching experience = low ranking. That said, unlike many pundits out there, I think the Doug Pederson hire feels right. So maybe the organization is trying to recapture the halcyon days of the Andy Reid era (well, minus the clock management), but who could blame them for that? The club did make five NFC Championship Game appearances under Reid -- though none came with Pederson on the staff. So why like the move? Because Pederson can work with whoever the quarterback is -- and let's be real, the best quarterback the Eagles will possibly have in 2016 is Sam Bradford. More Alex Smith-style play (the QB Pederson helped the last three years) and less Bradford-esque football would make even Howard Eskin happy.

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27

6-10 BUCCANEERS

Low ranking for a team that looked to be playoff-relevant ... Of course, that was before the Bucs dropped four straight to end the season, a slide that ultimately led to the firing of popular coach Lovie Smith and the scratching of many heads. In fairness to Bucs management, Smith went 8-24 during his two-year stint in Tampa, and Dirk Koetter has the tools to take advantage of the plethora of talent on offense. Of course, Koetter could afford to be more involved with Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins when he was merely offensive coordinator. Being head coach is a different animal. Getting Doug Martin re-signed would be helpful.

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28

5-11 JAGUARS

Gus Bradley, owner of a 12-36 record, is also the owner of a fresh contract extension. Snickers might be deserved (the laugh, not the candy bar), but it's nice to see an organization be patient for a change. And unless you didn't ever watch a single Jags game, the Red Zone Channel, a highlight show or the Pro Bowl, you know this offense is explosive. (Well, every offensive player looks explosive in the Pro Bowl. But you get the point.) Allen Robinson is clearly a star on the rise. Blake Bortles, if he can eliminate the situationally-caustic interceptions, is on the up and up. T.J. Yeldon can play. So Jacksonville is an easy fix -- as in, fix the defense, Gus.

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29

5-11 49ERS

The Chip Kelly hire has some excited in the Bay Area, with many, many others wondering about his first big order of business: What to make of Colin Kaepernick? Kaepernick can, no doubt, run Kelly's system better than Sam Bradford in the sense that defenses will have to respect Kap's ability to run on read-option fakes. But can the former ascending star (under Jim Harbaugh) deliver the ball on time -- and accurately -- for Kelly? These are significantly larger questions.

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30

4-12 CHARGERS

If there is any team that could fly up these charts rather quickly, it's the San Diego Chargers. They have continuity at head coach and quarterback, the first two items you look at when evaluating any pro football team. Second, there is no way they can be hit as hard by injuries as they were in 2015. But the whole L.A. B.S. -- and that is what it is -- is a distraction. And that is why they sit here at 30th. Can't wait to see what Keenan Allen does next season, though.

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31

3-13 TITANS

Immediately after Mike Mularkey earned the full-time head-coaching gig, we saw, shall we say, "an adverse reaction" on Twitter from the Titans faithful. Not sure if fans in Tennessee are still depressed about the Mularkey move or not, especially after reviewing other hirings around the league. ( Titans fans? You there? Would love to know your current state: @HarrisonNFL.) Here is what I do know: Mularkey is capable of bringing hard-nosed football back to this organization. At least he has the pedigree to do it: Mularkey played under both Bud Grant and Chuck Noll, two coaches from a different era who always fielded tough teams, albeit in different ways. And Mularkey had a morsel of success in Buffalo. Much depends on the quarterback's growth in Year 2.

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32

3-13 BROWNS

The Browns only wish they had a young quarterback to depend on ... (See: Preceding sentence from the blurb just above.) What a mess. That said, the swift decision on Johnny Manziel's future in Cleveland (or lack thereof) was the right decision. And, frankly, Hue Jackson might be as appropriate a fit in Cleveland as any of the new coaches are in their new NFL cities (or Mularkey, in his new/old city). Good news: The Browns have far fewer unrestricted free agents than most teams across the league. Bad news: Not sure Cleveland wants to retain a lot of its players anyway.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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