Is Green Bay going 13-3 ... or 9-7?
What about, say, the Dolphins? Are they an 11-5 AFC East division winner ... or destined to toil in the sub-.500 range?
With the all-important third week of the preseason in the rearview, I've been assigned to find ceilings and floors for all 32 teams. This means answering two questions. First, what will each team's record be if everything goes right? Like, if Carson Palmer throws over 30 touchdown passes, how many wins will Bruce Arians' group accumulate? On the flip side, what will the floor be if Jeremy Hill slumps in Cincy, or Darren McFadden is more Walk than Run DMC in Big D?
Below, you'll find both scenarios -- and how each would come to pass -- for every NFC team, with the AFC squads grouped under the tab to the right.
Before we dive in, though, I'd like to point out one important note: Health issues are only mentioned if they are pre-existing conditions -- like Arian Foster's groin ailment in Houston or Peyton Manning's 39 years on Planet Earth. Let's be honest: About 26 teams in the league would be absolutely doomed if their starting quarterback went down. So there's no reason to explore random injury hypotheticals. Every other potential eventuality is in play.
Take a gander below, and feel free to share your thoughts about the best-case scenario or basement script for your team (or any team, for that matter): @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Floor: 7-9. The Cowboys come in at a sluggish 7-9 if Tony Romo is walking around like Gollum by midseason, suffering the wrath of that bad back. Also in this scenario, the ground game fails to deliver without DeMarco Murray, while Tyrone Crawford, Greg Hardy and Gregory all fail to live up to expectations on the D-line. Orlando Scandrick's season-ending injury is a rather large step in the wrong direction.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Ceiling: 11-5. New York conceivably could win the NFC East by outscoring everyone. Conceivably. Though the Giants will have to get off to a fast start in Year 2 of coordinator Bob McAdoo's offense, which hasn't been the case in the preseason. (Big Blue's first-team offense has scored 10 points in 12 possessions.) Odell Beckham Jr. can't slump and Victor Cruz must resume being Victor Cruz. The defense has to at least hold the fort.
Floor: 6-10. Big Blue will feel the 6-10 blues if Eli Manning slumps early and Rashad Jennings is (again) unavailable to pick up the slack. In this hypothetical, Landon Collins is a bust and Jason Pierre-Paul fails to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks upon his return. The Giants don't have the horses on defense to compensate for underperformance from either player.
Ceiling: 12-4. How does Philly soar to 12 wins? Sam Bradford realizes the potential everyone's been waiting to see him fulfill since his legendary pro-day workout back in 2010. (Just keep him out of the read-option a little more often, please.) DeMarco Murray stays upright and Jordan Matthews goes from pretty good rookie to sexy sophomore.
Floor: 7-9. This team is too talented to go 6-10 or worse. I think. Even if Bradford gets hurt again, Mark Sanchez can be adequate in his stead. That said, if Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell falter, that's a problem. And if the new-look O-line fails to live up to Jason Peters' lofty expectations, this offense won't rack up the points at the rate everyone anticipates.
Ceiling: 10-6. Whoa nelly, *so *many things have to go right ... Obviously, in the wake of Jay Gruden's Monday pronouncement that this is Kirk Cousins' team, everything starts with the fourth-year pro flourishing under center. The Cowboys, Eagles and Giants are not all gonna stink, so the front seven -- particularly Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea -- needs to impose its will.
Floor: 4-12. I don't see the Redskins being this bad again, but it's possible, if Cousins struggles and neither Robert Griffin III nor Colt McCoy can pick up the slack. In this 4-12 vision of futility, Alfred Morris' yards-per-carry mark continues to drop -- going below 4.0 for the first time in his career -- while the Chris Culliver and Dashon Goldson acquisitions prove worthless.
Ceiling: 10-6. For Chicago to win 10 games, Jay Cutler has to really rally the troops, because the rest of the division is too strong and the Bears' defense is too weak. If Alshon Jeffery has a big season as the WR1, Eddie Royal catches 70 balls and the new 3-4 defense doesn't break (even if it significantly bends), why not? (Don't answer that.)
Floor: 5-11. No team in the NFC North is going 4-12, not even Chicago. Even if the defense is awful, the offense should compensate. But if Cutler continues to throw picks at a high rate, Kevin White is out and Matt Forte regresses, Bears fans are going to chuck up their bratwursts as the new-look defense gets flattened.
Ceiling: 11-5.Matthew Stafford plays lights-out, the defense doesn't miss Ndamukong Suh and Ameer Abdullah rushes for over 1,000 yards at 4.5 a pop -- yeah, all of that will net the Lions about 11 wins. Golden Tate could be due for a bit of a statistical regression, through no fault of his own, after a monster 99-catch, 1,331-yard debut season in Detroit. That's OK. Complement a healthy Calvin Johnson by logging 80 grabs and eight scores; that's what Detroit needs. And please play in those basic Thanksgiving throwbacks, Lions.
Floor: 7-9. Detroit is one team I don't see getting too far up or too far down this season. Management has put together too strong a core for Jim Caldwell's group to completely flounder. However, in a falling-to-the-floor scenario, Haloti Ngata (31 years old) would prove to be over the hill, while DeAndre Levy and Ziggy Ansah would miss playing with the destructive force of nature that is Suh.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Ceiling: 13-3. The Packers nabbed the top spot in my Preseason Power Rankings a few weeks back, but I don't see them going better than 13-3. In order for Green Bay to win 13 games, Aaron Rodgers has to put up around 4,600 yards and 41 TDs, with about 12 to 15 of them going to Davante Adams. (Remember: No Jordy Nelson in 2015, sadly.) Also, Eddie Lacy needs to provide true balance for the full schedule, while the kids in the secondary have to contribute immediately.
Floor: 9-7. Can't see this team going .500 or worse, barring an injury to Rodgers (which, as we laid out in the intro, is not in play in this exercise). However, if Julius Peppers (35) hits the career wall, Clay Matthews can't compensate and the front three struggles mightily, the Packers could be in trouble. Especially if Rodgers is less than 112.2 passer rating amazing.
Ceiling: 11-5. Admittedly, so much has to go right for the Vikings to go 11-5, like: Adrian Peterson flirting with 2,000 yards, Teddy Bridgewater posting a 98.7 passer rating with only 10 picks and Matt Blair finally making the Hall of Fame. Oh, and Cordarrelle Pattersonnot driving Vikings fans nuts. Well, he still could, but Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson can't disappoint.
Floor: 5-11. Feel like this team has a much larger swing radius than the Lions. What if the wideouts stink? What if Kyle Rudolph disappears (like he has at times) at tight end? What if Peterson isn't the same player at 30? What if the Vikes' solution at middle linebacker isn't a solution? What if Bridgewater doesn't make the jump most expect in Year 2?
Ceiling: 10-6. Somehow, some way, the Falconscould eke out double-digit wins. Though I don't think even the most ardent fan in Atlanta -- the guy with a framed poster of Jessie Tuggle -- feels that way. The defense has to generate some kind of fierce pass rush (despite limited personnel on that front) and Tevin Coleman has to be a difference-making back in Year 1.
Floor: 4-12. Big swing here for this Falcons team. Dan Quinn's motivational tactics would have to fall flat for Atlanta to win less than five games. Jacob Tamme would be a complete non-factor at tight end, and Roddy White would significantly slow down at wideout in Year 11. Most crucially, in this scenario, Vic Beasley would fail to provide a lift in the pass rush.
Ceiling: 10-6. This Panthers club probably could have been better than the one that went 12-4 two years ago -- IFKelvin Benjamin were healthy. Of course, that won't be the case this season. If Devin Funchess grows up quickly, Cam Newton uses his legs to mask his inefficiency as a thrower and Jonathan Stewart proves he can be a full-time back, double-digit wins might be in the cards.
Floor: 6-10. Carolina should win the NFC South for the third consecutive season, but 6-10 isn't that far a drop from the Panthers' 7-8-1 campaign of a year ago. Honestly, I see this team winning the division at 9-6-1. (That's right, give the Panthers another tie.) However, if Newton tries to prove he is a pocket passer, the fun rookie class of 2014 stinks in 2015 and the defense can't carry Carolina down the stretch again ...
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Ceiling: 10-6. In a world where these Saints log 10 wins ... Mark Ingram rushes for 1,000-plus yards and 10 touchdowns, with Sean Payton effectively shifting New Orleans to a steady ball-control offense. Drew Brees is not asked to carry the team. Brandin Cooks at least comes close to living up to ridiculously high fantasy expectations (give him 90 catches for 1,150 yards and 10 touchdowns). C.J. Spiller equals Darren Sproles 2.0. And Rob Ryan's defense doesn't finish in the bottom five.
Floor: 6-10. New Orleans should win more than six games ... but if the pass rush is punchless and the club gets nothing out of Jairus Byrd again, no bueno. In this six-win scenario, Ingram regresses to the non-halcyon days of 2011-13, while Cooks fails to take the next step. And the defense gets another year of 2014 Kenny Vaccaro, as opposed to the rookie stud of 2013.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Ceiling: 9-7. Tampa relives the glory days of 1979 again if ... Jameis Winston pulls a Doug Williams (by developing rather quickly) and the defense even comes close to what those old John McKay teams did with Lee Roy Selmon coming off the edge. In this scenario, Lavonte David becomes a strong candidate to knock J.J. Watt off his Defensive Player of the Year perch, while Austin Seferian-Jenkins scores 10 times.
Floor: 3-13. There's no way the Bucs can go 2-14 again, right? Uh ... unless Doug Martin can't get anything behind a putrid offensive line. And Mike Evans endures the same kind of sophomore slump Martin suffered back in 2013. Devoid of help, Winston forces enough balls to throw 26 picks. Meanwhile, opposing QBs enjoy 26 seconds to throw the ball.
Ceiling: 12-4.Carson Palmer comes out flat dealin'. John Brown evolves into a WR1 and Larry Fitzgerald (32) puts up the stop sign on the aging process. To win 12 games, the Cards have to get something out of the running game -- not the 3 yards and a cloud of blah they got last season. Also, in this scenario, the defense doesn't miss former coordinator Todd Bowles.
Floor: 6-10. Palmer plays as inconsistently as he did in some of his later days in Cincinnati. The Cardinals are afflicted with even worse luck in the health department than they were in 2014. And, perhaps most importantly, the defense fails to produce the late-game turnovers and big plays that helped this team jump out to 9-1 last season.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Ceiling: 10-6. The trade for Nick Foles gleams so brightly by the end of the season that general manager Les Snead has to clear space on the mantel for a prime piece of hardware. (No, he already owns the Hair of the Millennium award -- I'm talkin' Executive of the Year.) Todd Gurley scampers for about 90 yards per game upon returning to the field in Week 5. And the defensive front wrecks games for opponents.
Floor: 6-10. Foles can't complete a lick downfield -- kind of like early last season in Philly. Gurley's return is slower than expected, causing Tre Mason to be the man asked to carry the offense. And in this six-win outlook for the Rams, the back seven is shown to be more middle-of-the-pack than middle-of-January-football-caliber.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Ceiling: 10-6. Don't laugh ... It's possible. Colin Kaepernick must develop some touch ... some loft ... basically, refine the parts of his game that could make a wideout's job easier. Carlos Hyde becomes Frank Gore 2.0 with a bit more speed. Lastly, Aaron Lynch plays like an All-Pro pass rusher, because he might not have any help.
Floor: 5-11. San Francisco still maintains a decent talent level, even if the prognostications of a season in Mordor continue to run rampant. That said, now devoid of Aldon Smith and fresh off enough retirements to start an Old-Timers' Pro Bowl Team, Jim Tomsula sees the dearth of front-line players cause a ripple effect in his defense. #4-12?
Ceiling: 15-1. OK, so I don't see Seattle -- or any other team -- going 16-0. And even though the Seahawks take a back seat to Green Bay in the Power Rankings, they have a shot to achieve a better record if -- if -- the Jimmy Graham trade goes better than anyone expects. And if the offensive line holds up. And if the secondary gets together again.
Floor: 10-6.Marshawn Lynch (29) begins showing his age. The O-line (sans Max Unger) plays to its talent level instead of the lofty ambitions of assistant coach Tom Cable. In this hypothetical, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are not ready/available at the start of the season. And Graham's debut campaign in the Pacific Northwest? Mediocreville.